Thursday, March 15, 2012

Eating the self-pub dogfood

My name is Tom Bruno, and until this year I was a self-publishing hypocrite.

You see, although I had decided to take my fantasy novel Confessions of a Gourmand - which I had shopped around to prospective agents only to get a couple of encouraging words but nothing more - and offer it online as a Kindle edition through Amazon, up to that point I had only read one self-published book (which a friend had written a couple of years ago, way ahead of the self-pub revolution) and nothing else, always opting for traditionally-published fiction instead whenever it came time to decide on something new to read.

That I didn't see this for the hypocrisy that it was is testament to how deeply ingrained the bias against self-publication is among would-be authors such as myself. Even now many aspiring writers would still rather keep editing, workshopping, and re-writing their manuscripts and querying the ever-shrinking pool of literary agents or publishing houses in hopes of landing a contract rather than attach the stigma of self-publication to their books. To these defenders of the traditional publishing model, self-publication is nothing more than a vast digital slush pile that floods the market with writing that didn't deserve to be published in the first place and drowns out "legitimate" authors from getting more attention than they would have gotten otherwise.

Or so the argument goes. This post is not about debating whether or not this is in fact true, although my own personal belief is that quality will always find its way to the top, and that (in the words of a fellow self-published author) "I'd much rather have 10000 people write crap and enjoy doing what they're doing than 9999 people never let their work see the light of day". No, this is about practicing what I preach. If I truly feel that self-publishing has become as legitimate a path for writers as the traditional publication route, then shouldn't I be supporting self-published authors with my dollars and my reading time?

There's a term for this: Dogfooding. Eating your own dogfood is a concept that goes back to the 1980's, supposedly from the old ads for Alpo dog food featuring Lorne Greene, who made a point of saying in the commercial that he fed his own dogs Alpo. It was a Microsoft executive who coined the actual phrase, however, expanding the concept beyond actual dogfood into a general vote of confidence in one's product by promoting its use by your own employees. Dogfooding is therefore not just an exercise in public relations, but an active proof of concept.

I've decided to adopt this idea and apply it to self-publishing - to that end, I've resolved that I will only read self-published fiction in 2012. So far I have read three self-pubbed works this year: two novels and a novella. One was a literary thriller, another a fantasy offering, and the the third was a post-apocalyptic science fiction tale. All three were excellent, and each could just as easily have been published via traditional means, had the authors chosen to pursue that route.

While I'm sure that during my yearlong experiment in dogfooding I will no doubt find myself forced to wolf down an unappetizing clunker or two, I must say that I am encouraged by the quality of these initial readings. Perhaps there's more good stuff to be found out there than self-publishing's many detractors would have us believe...


Anonymous said...

Based on the description of your own novel, I bet you would like mine, or at least like parts of it (it is free):

Overall, more importantly, I commend your project, respect your resolve, and will be watching to see how your year goes.


--Miracle Jones

Tom said...

Thanks for your comment and your book recommendation. I'm downloading "Sharing" now and look forward to reading it next.

Jim Downey said...

Cheers - trying to break out of the mindset we grew up with, that the only 'real' publishing is done by traditional publishing houses, is damned tough.

But it is rewarding to do so. Both in getting your own work out there, and in finding new voices to enjoy.

Having just self-published my novel (and getting an excellent response to it to date) I have also waded further into the depths of what is available.

Good luck!

Jim Downey

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