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Self-Publishing Misconceptions – Part Two

September 10, 2010

Continued from yesterday’s post, these misconceptions tend to be about self-published books themselves.

No self-published book is “good enough” to be traditionally published.
As has been stated on many occasions by many agents and editors, many books are turned away because they can’t be sold, not because they aren’t good enough to be published. So many good books are turned away simply because they aren’t the subject du jour.

Good is also terribly subjective. It’s why a book can have both 5- and 1-star reviews. It’s why a movie can be panned by critics but held as amazing by the general public. What is ‘good’ to one person is not necessarily ‘good’ to another. Hell, it’s why an author can submit their manuscript to 48 places and be rejected at all but that final one that accepted them.

Just as there is dreck in traditional publishing, there is dreck in the self-publishing spectrum. Luckily, the market does help the cream rise to the top. The good books sell and receive high reviews and ratings while the crap just sinks to the bottom. Again, much like the traditionally published books.

Self-published books are unedited.
Yes, these exist. No point in denying it, and I don’t want to deny it. Some self-published authors do not thoroughly edit their work before putting it out for the public. However, as with all of these points, it is disingenuous to generalize based on a few examples.

On the other side of the spectrum, are self-published authors who subject their work to round after round of grueling edits before considering their work suitable for publication. It all comes down to how much pride a particular author takes in their finished product.

My particular editing schedule tends to look like this: finish rough draft → first round of self-edits → second draft goes to husband who picks it apart → proofreader (1-3 proofreaders/beta readers) → second round of self-edits integrating all of that feedback → professional copy editor → third rounds of self-edits based on copy editor’s remarks → typesetter (who, amazingly, also does a round of proofreading and line edits as she’s working) → final round of self-edits → and then we consider the work complete and ready for publication.

The entire editing process takes 4-5 months from the time we finish writing the initial draft of any book. A traditional publishing house is unlikely to put in any more effort than that, and an e-press is unlikely to do even that much (since editors at many e-presses are either other authors paid a small fee or professionals who are paid on a royalty schedule). Also note that there are traditionally published authors who have a no edit clause in their contracts, meaning that many self-published works are actually much more edited than those traditional authors.

All self-published novels have outlandish plots.
It depends on how you define ‘outlandish’. Yes, it is true you are likely to find in the self-publishing world plots that you probably would not find in a traditional publishing house. The reason for this is simple: publishing houses want to make money, and so they only accept work that appeals to the broadest possible audience. The result is scores of derivative works on the heels of whatever hot topic was selling that month or watered down traditional storylines designed to avoid controversy or needless thought provokery.

Again, this is why agents will tell you a number of otherwise ‘good’ books aren’t published. There is no currently established market for that sort of story, and so it’s passed on. Self-publishing allows an author to write what they want to write rather than what publishing houses tell them they think people want.

Is it outlandish? Maybe. But, it’s not entirely a bad thing to write outside the box sometimes.

Self-published books have crappy covers.
Okay, yeah, a lot of them do, but this is not a crime self-publishers are solely guilty of. There are sites dedicated to mocking the terrible covers traditional publishers put out, and it’s a regular affair on my blog feeds to mock 90% of the covers released by e-presses. Bad cover art is a terrible thing, and it happens to a lot of people. The only defense a traditionally published author has that a self-publisher doesn’t is that they tend to not have any control over their cover art.

Bad cover art usually comes from trying to save a buck or two. Good cover art costs a lot of money. In each budget I set for my books, cover art is second only editing. Most self-publishers can’t afford that, and so they either get a friend to do something as a favor, or they throw something together themselves. Bad idea, in my opinion. There is a time to do things yourself, and then there is a time to pay someone what they’re worth to get a quality product. Editing and cover art are the top two places to spend the money (though I am in the minority of self-publishers that advocate that third place be a typesetter).

It all comes down to how much pride a self-publisher wants to take in their finished product. If their aim is to produce a novel that is indistinguishable from a mass market paperback, then they will take all the necessary steps to produce a product that is exactly that. In self-publishing, an author can do as much or as little as they choose, which is both a blessing and a curse. Assuming that every shitty cover is the product of a self-published book is just silly, and assuming that every amazing cover is the product of a traditional publisher is rude. Self-publishers can and do offer up books with amazing covers.

Self-published books don’t offer excerpts.
This is probably the biggest WTF so far. Don’t offer excerpts? Where are you shopping? You’re 2-3 times more likely to find samples from a self-published author than a traditionally published one. Self-published authors know that they don’t have a major name or the backing of a big house to sell them. All they have is the work itself.

Amazon’s Kindle automatically offers a free sample of any book in the database (usually the first 2-3 chapters). Smashwords allows you to set a sample percentage (I usually use 20%, but some people go as high as 50%). We want you to read an excerpt so you will, hopefully, like what you read and buy the actual book. Samples are an invaluable marketing tool for self-published authors, and those who don’t use it are probably not authors you want to buy from.

But I don’t know any self-published author (and, admittedly, my circle of indie authors is not HUGE) who doesn’t offer samples of their currently available work, usually alongside a number of free reads. If you want to get to know a self-published author’s work prior to investing money in them, it is possible. You just have to check the attitude at the door first. Going in expecting nothing but shit will ensure you to see nothing but shit, I promise.

All self-published books are created equal.
This pretty much sums up all the previous points. Which is to say, the assumption is that because some self-published books are of a lower quality, they must, therefore, all be. That’s simply not true. People like to generalize. It’s human nature. But, quite often, we generalize too much and too often. I recently read a comment to an unrelated blog entry that basically stated ‘I didn’t like the Twilight books, so I’m not reading another vampire book ever.’ This, to me, is patently absurd. It’s obvious (at least, to me) that all vampire books are not the same as the Twilight series. To this commenter, though, it was a perfectly reasonable reaction.

In the thread which sparked this, a commenter defended the generalization of self-published books by the metaphor of eating out at a restaurant. It was perfectly reasonable, the commenter said, when one has had a badly prepared dish at a restaurant to never eat at that restaurant again. I disagree that this is a valid metaphor. While I will say that it is reasonable after not liking a book by a particular author to not read that author again, to generalize a few bad self-published books to the point of eschewing all of them is more like having a badly prepared piece of chicken at a restaurant and then declaring that all chickens are inedible.

All self-published books are not the same. There are good ones, and there are bad ones, and just like in the traditionally published world, to any given reader, there will be more books they don’t like than books they do. It is not a reflection on the practice, it’s just basic math.

Tomorrow evening’s post will be about publishing itself. 🙂

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