On Self-Publishing

As someone who put out his first eBook (the novella anthology, Panverse One) back in 2009, I suppose I’m something of an old-timer in the field. And even in the eight months since I published my own book, Aegean Dream, the eBook revolution has gathered steam. Though there’s still some stigma–rather too much–attached to self-published eBooks, I see cracks starting to appear, as more self-published books break from the shadows onto bestseller lists, or are snapped up by traditional publishers for big money. One day, who knows, self-published authors may even be able to get reviewed in a mainstream venue.

One thing bothers me though: a lot of strong writers who self-publish simply aren’t prepping and polishing their manuscripts well enough. Without agents and editors involved, too many people are simply throwing books out there that are still in draft condition and definitely haven’t been copyedited or proofed, even if they often have decent (but rarely more!) covers. And the fact that they’re offering the reader a novel for $2.99 instead of $12.95 absolutely does NOT excuse them. Shoddily-produced eBooks hurt us all, but most of all they hurt the writer and their future sales.

Yeah, yeah, I know–you can’t afford to hire a cover artist at $75/hr or a copyeditor at a cent a word or so; fair enough. So get together with other (good) writers and swap critiques and copyedits. Proofread for one another. Because the truth is that any writer is way too close to their own work to see its flaws, and certainly utterly unable to proofread for typos etc.

It’s painful to me as a writer to read an otherwise strong book, especially one written by a friend (and I’ve seen a few now) that really should have had AT LEAST one more revision pass and then been proofread. Plot logic holes, changed character names, radical shifts in tone and diction, awkward paragraphs, typos by the score, this is all stuff that will kill you in the market. Yeah, I know that traditional publishers have cut back on copyediting and proofing too, but agents and editors between them still provide a great screening and polishing process for the traditionally published writer. And that’s who you’re competing with if you choose to self-publish. If nothing else, your own sense of professionalism should spur you to take the extra time and effort to ensure that your manuscript is the best it can be and at least as good as anything else out on the market in terms of presentation and polish. And since the royalty earned from a self-published book at $2.99 is roughly equivalent–often more!–than we’d get from a $12.95 book traditionally published, there is simply no excuse other than laziness. As for the cover art, find a graphic designer, even a student,  who wants to beef up their portfolio, and give them cover credits and a mention in the acknowledgments.

In short, behave like a publisher. Only better.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “On Self-Publishing

  1. Pingback: Crises of confidence: the de-valuing of reviews | Lynette Aspey

  2. ABE

    Ah, the number of times lately that I have found an intelligent blogger, read lots and lots of the blog’s previous posts and liked what I saw there, and followed that by locating the blogger’s books and buying them! IOW, good marketing.
    Then I read the books. And realize that they are nowhere near the standards I would like to see for good writing. It’s – when they mean ‘it belongs to’. ‘Character’ felt annoyed – instead of showing the character feeling and behaving as if the character were annoyed. Reactions by a character to an obvious piece of dialogue explained and overexplained by the narrator – because a reader wouldn’t get it otherwise. Eyes held – in someone’s hand? Things I would never find in a Sue Grafton or a Margaret Attwood. Each one of these little problems yanks me out of the fictive dream and the willing suspension of disbelief. I feel like a ping-pong ball.
    It saddens me. It also annoys me, because in each of these cases I bothered to read the available samples – and the writing quality in the first chapter or two was acceptable.
    The cumulative effect of regular grammatical errors, spelling errors and typos, and unresolved standard craft problems makes me quit after a couple of chapters are more work to read than I’m willing to put out. Then it leads, usually, to me reading the last couple chapters (to see if the problems continue), thus giving the author one last chance (“the first chapter sells the book, the last chapter sells the next book”?). Then I form the resolution never to read that author again.
    I’m not ready to lower my standards, and I’ll keep searching, but it saddens me.

    • Abe, thanks for your comment. It’s a real problem. I think with self-published books one has to spend more time in the screening process, reading the ‘free excerpt’ portion (usually available, and encouraged by Amazon, Smashwords et al.) before committing; though the plot may still unravel later, it’s at least revealing of whether the basic grammatical/formatting competence is there or not. Writers really need to understand that once they betray a reader’s trust or expectations, that reader’s gone, almost certainly for good. They need to go through all those steps a traditionally-published book would. Far too many are careless, and rush gleefully into print without getting proper feedback and proofreading, etc.

      I read years ago in the context of some real-world marketing study that a pissed-off customer would typically generate something like 20 or 30 negative recommendations, whereas positive recommendations from satisfied customer tended to be in the ones and twos. Wow.

  3. lynetteaspey

    Yes! Spot on observations, Dario. It is not just the issue of proofing and editing, but the misuse of the review system that are major issues to the credibility of indie-publishing. I’ve drafted a post that I hope to finish tomorrow on just this issue, and will link to your comments here. Cheers, Lyn.

    • Lyn, thanks, and I look forward to your own post 🙂 Reviews are a problem, and one I’m not sure has a simple solution. I have to say I’m skeptical when I see every one of multiple reviews is a five-star, if that’s what you mean. But getting reviewed in a mainstream publication as a self-published writer, even if your work is solid at every level and very professionally presented remains an impossibility. I can see the problem from the reviewers’ side… they were drowning even BEFORE self-publishing became big. But given that 90% of what the traditional publishing industry puts out is vile dreck, it seems grossly unfair.

  4. Reblogged this on The Clockwork Pen and commented:
    I read this blog entry from Dario Ciriello this evening, and found it to have great advice for anyone, not just those who want to self-publish.

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