Self-publishing isn’t dead, it attracts the suicidal.

I have four self-published books and you’ve outsold me hands down. In spades. My son asked me to publish his book and I agreed, but warned him he’d have to put a lot of work into marketing and even then, it would never be a best seller.

“Maybe your books, but not mine, dad,” he said as he hit me up for a five thousand dollar advance which he would pay back in a month out of sales. I loaned him two, “loan” meaning I never plan to see the money again, but that’s okay. He never asked for anything before and, since he’ll owe me that money for the rest of my life, he’ll probably never ask for another penny.

I never planned to make money. I’m simply hoping to build an audience who takes something of value from my work, no matter how long it takes. But I recognize I’m in a small (extremely small) minority, but when I realized a traditional publisher would abandon me to my own marketing anyway, the cost-benefit ratio tipped in the favor of self-publishing.

I do disagree with your assessment that editors and cover designers should be bypassed. I can say that because I worked as an editor and graphic designer for a number of years, even having the opportunity to teach college writing and design. However, when I scroll through the covers of self-published writers, or read their prose, I cringe. The color palettes of the foreground images compete with the colors an overly busy background, and the titles often are splashed across the cover in a shareware script face (and the author’s name in a competing shareware font, say “Star Wars”). Or authors choose an immense solid color background with a tiny object dead center in the foreground and titles in Hobo font. Those books are certain to sell a dozen copies.

As hard as I try, I can’t make this cover look as bad as some of the covers I’ve seen for sale on Kindle.

When I scroll through the covers of self-published writers, or read their prose, I cringe. The color palettes of the foreground images compete with the colors of an overly busy background, and the titles often are splashed across the cover in a shareware script face.

Then, when I flip to the pages I encounter five setup chapters telling me about the master character’s childhood traumas, getting us to kindergarten in chapter 6, or an opening chapter that walks us through every opinion written on the topic (at least on the Internet). This is the reason I download sample chapters before I read (sample chapters which pay nothing).

In short, many books fail to sell because they’re awful. This isn’t the only explanation; I’ve groaned my way through bestsellers as well (thinking, “how did they build an audience for this crap?”). But I would say the number one reason I won’t buy the book is an awful cover combined with a boring tagline.

In the end, I agree with Yann Girard. Self-publishing is a terrible way to make money. But so is traditional publishing. And some people write for other reasons than to get rich. But if wealth is your goal, you’ll have an easier time hustling Amway knock-off products.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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