Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Vase: Part 2 of Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think

The vase was beautiful. He'd spent years studying under the masters and now he had finally created his own that was worthy enough to display in the public square. It would sell immediately, he was sure of it, but when he got to the square other vases sold before his and nobody paid attention to his vase. It was just as good as the others. He was sure it was better. Why weren't they looking at it? He waited all day, but the vase didn't sell or attract any amount of attention.

He went to his masters and asked them what he'd done wrong, and they inspected the vase and told him he'd done nothing wrong. Keep trying to sell it, they told him. You've accomplished something great. Be proud. So he went to the public square again, his hopes higher than before. This time he announced loudly that his vase had the master stamp of approval. A few people turned their heads, but nobody bought the vase that day, either.

He went home, completely dejected. That night his friend knocked on the door, a huge grin on her face. She had sold her vase, she beamed. Didn't he see it? Didn't he see people flocking to her work? The man stepped back and shook his head. He hadn't noticed anyone looking at her work. He had been too focused on his own. Something started to gnaw at his heart. Something green with sharp razor teeth. He was truly happy for his friend because he knew she had worked very hard to get to where she was, but eventually the razor teeth bit him so hard that he told his friend to get out. He slammed the door. How was that fair? His friend hadn't studied under the masters. What made her work so much better?

The next day he didn't take his vase to the public square. He sat at his table and stared at the vase. He began to see flaws in the workmanship. He began to see what he could have done better, and in a fit of rage he lifted the vase and threw it to the floor where it shattered. He marched to the master's quarters and asked them why they had lied to him. His face was red and hot.

The masters looked at him and smiled. We didn't lie to you, they said softly. You did accomplish something great. Keep trying to sell your vase. Every vase is unique. There will always be flaws. Accept them.

But what about my friend? How is it that she sold her vase and I could not?

Do you feel you want to be her because of that?

No, well…maybe. Okay, yes. I want recognition. I want to create a vase people will buy. Like hers. But…and he thought very hard before he spoke to the wise masters…I want mine to be even better because she did not study under you. Hers cannot possibly be better than mine. It must be a fluke that others are acknowledging her work.

No, it is not a fluke.

Then what is wrong with mine? He turned away and thought of telling the masters how he had smashed his vase, but decided against it.

We told you already: nothing is wrong with yours. Keep working, but perhaps since you have not had luck with your current work you should try a vase in which you branch away from what we have taught you. We masters do not know everything. Customers sometimes tire of what our students put forth – not that it is of any less value – but we notice some of our students relying solely on what we have taught them and what they think others want instead of what they want themselves.Their true talent shrivels under this system.  

He stood still for a moment, struck with the weight of the masters’ words. He thought of the shattered remains of his vase still on his floor and then bid goodbye to go sweep up the mess he had made. But, he thought, perhaps it wasn't a mess after all.

I hesitated to share this story with you. I don't want to dissect it and tell you what I meant everything to stand for because I think there are multiple layers and meaning that will work for each person depending on their situation.

One thing I'd like to say is in the years I have been writing and learning about publishing, I've learned two very important things: (1) Most writers would never write if they had no one with whom to share their work - publishing allows us this, and there are many ways to publish. No one method is inherently better than another, but other methods allow us to share with wider audiences. Wider audiences, however, do not necessarily mean better reception nor better quality of the work nor more happiness for the writer when all is said and done. This is different for everyone. (2) The method you choose will most likely change your end product.

Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think Series

Do You Want to Jump the Fence? - August 26th
The Vase - September 1st
What Going Indie Will Cost You - September 8th
Whither The Author-Artiste? - September 9th
Influences & Self-Publishing Might Just Stink For You - September 16th 
The Absolute Nightmare (or not!) of Formatting a Print Book - September 22nd
Cheaper Than Kinko's - September 23rd 
Don't Listen to Me - September 30th


  1. wow - profound and thought provoking. You're right - so many layers.

  2. It's a beautiful story, and I immediately had my own interpretation of it. :)

  3. So, instead of burning my manuscript, I should self-publish? Or, maybe, I should become a potter? Are you getting the feeling that I'm not such a deep thinker?

  4. Worth in any kind of art is such a hard thing to determine. It can be frusterating to define exactly what your goal in making it is . . .Thank you for the story.

  5. I think everyone, or most everyone, agrees that the different modes of publishing will suit different needs. In this story, both of the vase makers win in some ways and lose in some ways. The male wins by having made something that he was proud of. He got approval from other vase makers he respected. He didn't sell, but the silver lining is that he learned something from not selling. The woman also made something she was proud of. She got approval from a different audience. She did sell her work, which perhaps means she won't push herself hard the next time she is making something--but maybe she would.

    So, given that different ways of publishing can all lead to success and happiness, how do we choose? Or what factors do we base our decision on? I hope you get to this!

  6. Yeah, different ways of publishing should be driven by, really, why we're writing in the first place. The older I get, the longer I'm at this writing business, the less I care about the idea of sales and the more I care about my personal aesthetic and my own ideas about literary values. Probably this means I'll be looking mostly at small independant publishers instead of the Big Six. My own laziness will probably stop me from self-publishing, because that's a lot of work I don't want to do.

  7. Mary: Thank you for reading!

    Tara: I'd love to hear your interpretation...!

    Chuck: Read Domey's comment below. That might help you out. Of course, it is different for everyone, and self-publishing isn't for everyone, either.

    Taryn: You're welcome, and I do agree with you that it's frustrating to define what your goals are. Our emotions are so complex they often muddy things!

    Domey: I think you nailed this - at least as far as my own interpretations go. Thank you so much for defining what you think here, and yes, the point of this vase story is to lead right into how we choose.

    Scott: I haven't been writing as long as you have, but I'm right there with you on realizing that I care more about my personal aesthetic and my own ideas about literary values than sales, popularity, and even respect from a bunch of writers I don't even know. It is nice to be wanted and respected and loved for your creative pursuits, but is it absolutely necessary in the end? Tough to tell! And something I think every writer needs to figure out before they decide how to publish.

  8. Great post -- esp with so many publishing blogs out there denouncing self-publishing. It's not a bandaid route for anyone who wants to get published, but I appreciate your input and thoughts on the topic!

  9. Audra: Self-publishing certainly isn't a bandaid route, you're right. It's sad when I see very young authors going after only one route, though. I'm not sure they know there are options and that those options are not the stigmas surrounding them.

  10. Well, I can sure tell you that sending out my full manuscript to 4 agents and having it ‘declined’ and waiting on the 5th definitely makes me wonder what I really want out of all this. There’s a part of me (which grows every day) that can’t wait for the final rejection in my mailbox so that I can go back and write my story the way I want it—break the rules that I’ve finally come to grips with—run way over the word count allotted for a genre that I’m not entirely convinced my novel fits in anyway—and eat ice cream for breakfast!

  11. Oh, very nicely done, good lady. An Aesop's Fable for our publishing times. Thankfully, unlike vases, novels can be thrown on the floor and trampled on, and yet still picked up and worked on the next day. Unless, y'know, you hit the delete button and used a data scrubber to erase it completely from your hard drive. Then you'd pretty much be screwed. But you'd have to be really dedicated to trashing it to take that course of action.

    Where was I? Oh yeah. I <3 this series. Hurry up and write the rest of it. :)

  12. I think people have to think about why they write. Do they write for the recognition or the big money? Or do they write because the story spoke to them and they want to share it with others. Great post

  13. Bridget: I can't imagine how you feel. I think it's important, though, that you decide what you want early on. It's so hard to know. I hope this series helps!

    Simon: I was thinking "delete button" when I wrote about smashing the vase, yeah. I'll be posting another one post in this series tomorrow. Yay!

    Clarissa: Thanks for stopping by! Yes, those are some fundamental questions every writer needs to ask themselves.

  14. I love the story...and your thoughts on the matter!

  15. Christine: Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

  16. This story is a great vessel ( no pun on vase intented!) to carry your message. Well done!

  17. I LOVE this post! Awesome! I'm going to go back and look at the first post in the series, but yeah. I love this. lol.

  18. Love your writing. And yes, there are many masterpieces out there locked out of the gate because the gatekeeper is busy or too full at the moment. It's so amazing we have all these wonderful choices these days!

  19. wordsareforwriting: Hah! I love that pun even if it wasn't intended. :)

    Mary: Thanks! It's really great to share the love here and help try to expel some of the stigmas against this publishing method.

    T. Anne: I agree. I certainly don't think self-publishing is for everyone, possibly only a small percentage of writers, but it is something that shouldn't be overlooked.

  20. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It’s easy to self-publish and thousands upon thousands are doing it who shouldn’t. Not yet anyway. Self-publishing has gotten itself a bad name because too many people were in too much of a rush to see their name in print and their products were not up to scratch. I think this is something that a lot of authors, both those who choose to self publish and those who go down a traditional route need to get into their heads: a book is a product, just like a pair of jeans or a can of cola. As long as the marketplace is flooded with knock-off novels, badly written, poorly edited and produced then the public, the people with the money in their pockets, is going to assume that all self-published books are cheap and shoddy and produced by wannabes.

    A bad reputation can be overcome. For years the car manufacturer Skoda was the butt of schoolyard joke (along with the Lada) because their cars were crap. A change in the product and a clever advertising campaign – Yes, it really is a Skoda – and things turned around for them. They’re never going to outsell BMW any day soon but they’ve become a respectable option.

    I review books on a regular basis – mostly from traditional publishers – and I compare their products to my own three self-published books and others that have passed through my hands and often the self-published book is of a higher quality. Why? Because it’s handmade as opposed to the rest which often feel as if they’ve just rolled off a production line. The last book I was sent had typos, misnumbered chapters and missing chapter headings: that is the kind of thing people have come to expect from the self-published book but the publishing game is changing and the same care is not being taken by traditional publishers today as was even ten years ago. As their standards fall so the standards of the self-published should rise to meet the challenge.

    I never say that my books are self-published when I talk about them on my blog. To do so invites criticism. They’re published – end of story.

  21. Great post Michelle!

    I'd like to add that not only do writers want to share their work, but each writer's path to that end is unique and wonderful in its own way.

  22. Jim: Thank for your thoughts here. My aim in providing these self-publishing posts is to show people that it's a serious business, and one should not rush into it and should treat it as a "way out" or "the last option" - it should be a choice you make because you honestly feel you'll succeed at it and that you have the skills, time, and resources to do it correctly.

    Of course, that's me hoping and wishing people will listen and get all that. I think most of our readers here would. Sadly, it is authors out there who have no real clue about publishing in general that just spit out their books in the Indie market. They haven't done research. They haven't edited properly. They haven't put money and time and a real professional effort into their product. Still, I don't think for one second that they are ruining anything for anyone. The good works will stand out on their own. A flower in a field of weeds is easy to spot - and it's just as beautiful as if it were surrounded by other flowers. If not more beautiful... :)

    Gabi: Very true! We are all unique. I hope my posts in this series help others make choices to lead them down their own path.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.