Or, I’m not Really Opposed to Self-Publishing, It Just Sounds Like It. :)
In a recent post I was discussing Eric Felton’s recent Wall Street Journal article about the rush to self-publish by folks whose manuscripts may or may not be worth reading. So let me be clear: what I am bothered by is the rush to self-publish by well-meaning, excited folks who think all they need to do is bang out a novel, run spell-check, upload it to the Kindle store, and then grow rich selling it to strangers at $2.99 a whack.* (Or in John Locke’s case, just 99 cents a whack.)
Actually I think the print-on-demand publishers serve a wonderful purpose. When I finally get around to compiling my family history, scanning all those old photos, and laying out the book I want to create for the Boy and his cousins, I’ll go right to Lulu.com. I have a friend who takes beautiful nature photographs; she plans to combine these with her daughter’s poems to create a gift book. Think about how nice a class- or family-reunion yearbook could be with Lulu’s TLC. I recently worked on a career retrospective for an important musician; at the last minute a small press decided to publish the book, but our original plans were to use Miss Lulu. There are many, many good reasons to self-publish—some of which may well include an inability to get a traditional publishing deal (in fact, Catherine Ryan Howard had one).
There are no good reasons, though, to do it any differently than a traditional publisher would—that is, with care and attention to detail and high production values. These include things like hiring a professional designer to create the cover. (Honestly, did you use that link to go to Locke’s site? Did you look at those covers? Ick.) It also includes hiring editing professionals: a proofer at the end of the process, a copyeditor in the middle, and at the very beginning, a developmental editor to have a look at the substance of the story itself (plot holes are just the tip of the iceberg).
None of these services are inexpensive, but any author who’s been through the developmental process recognizes the value of it. Still, writers who have book deals have covers and editorial and marketing paid for by their publishers. If an author is going it on his own, he’ll have to pick up this tab instead.
As Felton points out, there are a few writers who have gained a lot of publicity selling large numbers of cheap books. (And yes, I chose that word for a reason.) He mentions Amanda Hocking and John Locke, though there are others. Entertainment Weekly—in an article titled “The Hottest Self-Published Books: Amanda Hocking and John Locke publish their own novels—and they sell like crazy. But are they any good?” (July 29, 2011)—awards a grade of D to Hocking’s latest offering (Virtue) and a C to Locke’s Vegas Moon. “Hocking, it’s safe to say, is not a stylist. Her work reads like a high school creative-writing assignment, full of typos and misused words and lifeless language,” EW says. About Vegas Moon the reviewer says, “the book’s neither suspenseful nor especially clever … It’s cheap stuff, which makes sense given that the book sells for just 99 cents.” In both cases, these folks are very, very good at self-promotion and not so good at self-editing.
Which is my point. Many (most?) self-published books have received little or no editorial oversight. “My mom is a retired sixth grade teacher and she looked it over for me” isn’t what I mean. Nor is “My best friends read it for typos.” If you’re going to do it, do it right. In fact, do it like Catherine Ryan Howard.
Howard recently cautioned her fellow self-publishers (and followed up here) that readers have begun to complain about the low quality of self-published books: “I … saw on a blog post this past week [that] Kindle owners are now avoiding the Science Fiction category because it’s become so clogged with self-published junk.” She goes on to say,
Amazon is effectively the adults’ table, and we self-publishers have been allowed to join. … But the stunning success of a very few has imbued some of us with a rebellious over-confidence that seems to make us think we can put our elbows on the table, make faces in our food and throw peas at the other guests, and that we can do it ad infinitum without ever being asked to leave. But that just isn’t the case. If self-publishers don’t buck up and start acting professionally, if we waste these opportunities that have been handed to us on a plate, if we insist on taking advantage of the situation without keeping up our end of the bargain—producing quality content—then we’re going to get sent back to the kid’s table.
I agree. And I’m here to help! :)
*Yes, I understand it’s a free country. I understand caveat emptor too.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”