Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Do it yourself? Not so much.

Let me start by saying that I am not descended from a long line of home handymen. My dad changed lightbulbs, plunged blocked toilets, and killed spiders. Anything more complicated involved paying someone else. But I always enjoyed watching the workmen who came to our home when I was a kid, and I absorbed quite a bit, at least in terms of respect for people who work with their hands.

As a youngster (there’s a word you don’t see much nowadays), I picked up some skills here and there on weekend volunteer projects and, of necessity, as an impecunious apartment dweller in New York. Then, in 1975, my wife and I and another couple bought a farmhouse that was built in 1875 and needed work.

In the course of repairing, restoring, and remodeling that house over the eighteen years I lived there, I learned to draw a fine distinction between the tasks I could do well myself and those I should hire a professional to tackle. I did a lot—and because I had carefully watched skilled craftsmen when I was younger, had read authoritative guides on how to proceed, and had practiced, as the instructions always say, in a concealed corner, I did it well (if not quickly)—but I also could see the areas where learning as I went along was not going to be sufficient to ensure a satisfactory job.

The same principle applies to self-publishing your book. Too many authors think self-publishing means you have to do everything yourself, and the results of this self-delusion are gathering dust in garages all over the country.

As in any other field of human endeavor (sports come to mind), the professionals make it look easy. We forget, when we watch Tiger Woods crush a golfball, the many thousands of hours Woods has spent plying his trade. The surgical training model—watch one; do one; teach one—does not work here. You cannot watch Woods once and then go out and do what he does. (You cannot watch ER once and then perform heart surgery, either.)

The problem arises because we all got passing grades in English and believe that therefore we are qualified as writers. The fact that the livelihood of public school teachers, college faculty, and the institutions that employ them depend on giving everyone a passing grade in English, whether they deserve it or not, somehow escapes our attention when we reflect on our own language skills. Trust me on this: Most people cannot reliably produce well formed English sentences, let alone string such sentences together into a series of cogent paragraphs.

Nonetheless, the world is full of authors—people who have authority, knowledge or thoughts or insights worth sharing. It’s just that they’re not writers. So, right from the get-go, chances are good that self-publishing authors need help with the writing, whether they know it or not.

After the writing is done, the publishing process can begin. But that is a multi-step process of some complexity—the subject of future blog entries. Here, I just want to say that every corner you cut affects the quality of the finished product, and it is the quality of the finished product, together with the energy and skill used to market it, that determines its ultimate success. Can you execute all the steps yourself, well enough to turn out a good book? Yes. Many people have demonstrated that. Is it easy? No. Is there a middle ground? You betcha. Draw that line for yourself between the things you can confidently do yourself and the things you need a pro to help you with.

1 comment:

Lori Stephens said...

I agree 100% (this coming from a self-published book writer who edits books of other self-published writers). Excellent article.