Monday, April 25, 2011

I'd like to support you, but the book sucks...

This is happening to me more an more often, as self publishing becomes (supposedly) as simple as uploading a MS onto CreateSpace. (There are other one button uploaders, but this one seems to have the most traffic.)

I've been told that this digital self productions and distribution mechanism is the 'great equalizer'. While you could always pay a printer for bound copies of your manuscript, the 'ebook revolution' (sorry for the number of quotes) allows anyone to upload a copy onto, say, Amazon, and reach a network of millions of potential readers with one click.

POTENTIAL readers, not guaranteed readers. Amanda Hocking is a fluke, darlings. A wonderful, hard working fluke and, if to judge by her blog, a capital human being to boot.

Amanda Hocking is not you. Or me. And the people trotting her out as an example of self publishing success are feeding into the illusion that it could be you. Or me.

I could win the lottery next week as well - the odds are about as good. Intellectually, I know this. I also know I have the self promotion skills of a hamster. Yet late at night as I stare up at the ceiling waiting sleep, I wonder if I could be the next break out.

Everyone does - so don't feel guilty about that. Miss Hocking did it the best way she could - she had covers designed, hired editors (who still didn't help as much as a publisher round would) and is also incredibly prolific.

Are you any of these things? And do you have a bit of disposable cash to spend on a cover and a real editor?

Doing this right is HARD (as Miss Hocking herself has mentioned, particularly at the editing end of things), and most people just don't do it right.

Which brings me to my current quandary. Each and every person has this little voice in the back of their head that just KNOWS they're going to be this exception. No matter how logical you are - it's the same little voice that makes a person play lotto (if you do), take 'opportunities' that may not actually be as presented (I'm guilty of this one) etc. It's called hope.

This springs eternal in the artist, and isn't totally a bad thing - it keeps us from giving up.

The issues I see, are where hope and ability don't mesh, and the creator genuinely doesn't understand this. Add in the research and practice factor, and goals will eventually be reached - but that only happens when the artist understands what level they perform at, and what to do in order to reach the level that they want.

This self publishing thing cuts out the middle man, sure. But that middle man involves all of that research and practice and learning. I have honestly yet to see a work of fiction on CreateSpace that comes anywhere close to a commercially published story, in terms of writing, story arc, or grammar. Sorry guys, that's just the truth.

And the authors themselves are relentless promoters. Usually, not good ones, just relentless. I get dozens of new updates every day from friends and acquaintances who have opted to self publish.

I do want to support their efforts, I really do. I just can't bring myself to buy something where the excerpt either bores or makes me cringe. If the grammar is fine, the writing is flat.

And don't get me started on covers. This is THE thing that's going to make someone click on your book - and the covers range from god awful to non existent. Some of these writers are even trying to charge others for their cover design 'skills', which is terrifying. Owning photoshop does not make one a cover designer. People spend years of time, effort, and schooling to become designers. There's a reason.

For whatever reason, the cover design tends to be indicative of the quality of writing within - I keep waiting to be surprised by a gem that just has a lousy cover, but it hasn't happened yet. I have no idea why this is. Perhaps the same people that have delusions regarding one skill have similar issues looking objectively at their other skills?

So, a few more helpful hints:

1. I understand the being 'so close' frustration, I really do. Here's where you might think this option is viable - if agents and editors have requested fulls. That means either you're nearly there, or you are there, and there's just no room in the line up right now. If you're not getting past the query or partial stage, there's a reason.

2. Unless you have a graphic design background, don't do your own cover. Please. It's going to suck. Don't assume you'll be the magical exception.

3. You CANNOT edit your own work. Your mom, teacher, college prof, etc, also cannot edit your work. Every single time I've seen something edited this way, it sucks. Every time.

4. Be aware - if all of your sales are coming from friends and family, there's one of two things going on: either your marketing sucks, or your book sucks. I'm sorry to say, it's probably both.

I can't help but feel for some of these books, if not the writers. How many could have been something with a real editor and copy editor, with a real cover design, etc. Now those first rights are gone, and the poor writer is stuck with an unsellable mess where they could have made a few bucks.

I hear all the time 'better to have it out there to maybe make money, what's the harm?'. Besides your first rights being gone? If it's terrible, no one will probably notice it, and it'll disappear. No big deal - unless you count all the effort of writing the thing in the first place.

Your work is worth more than that. If you are going to self publish, please do it right.


  1. You've got good points there. I think writers lose sight of the fact that their work is an investment, and when they're turned down by agents/editors, the message is that this work is not a good investment that will repay in the future. If a writer makes an "investment" in themselves through self-pubbing, how that investment takes form in the finished product speaks volumes on its worth.

    My day job is in graphic design; and even I hesitate to throw my hat into the self-pubbing ring, because the responsibilities of marketing, online presence, legal issues -- it's a huge step, no matter how easy a one-button publishing site may make it seem. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should. And I think it's great for the people who choose to do it, (I think Aaron Polson has great covers, a good presence and reputation) but the fallacy lies in a failure to understand publishing/marketing/graphics/editing and how they all interrelate.

    But bad covers? I always thought it was just me because I do nothing but put together weekly publications for hours every day, but bad covers turn me off. If I don't like the way an antho looks, I won't submit to it for the same reason . . . IMHO.

  2. Thank you!

    I agree on all points.

    Books are a product. Please put the best product forward or don't do it at all.

  3. Couldn't have said it better myself. I self published my first novel via Lulu because I just couldn't wait to hold a copy in my hands. It was mediocre at best and just plain embarrassing now to have attached to my name. Especially knowing that if THAT book is the first one of mine someone picks up, it will most likely be the last.

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, guys!

    @Martin - it's not just you. While a layman may not be able to articulate as well what specific weaknesses there are in a design, it'll turn them off just the same.

    @Jen - is there a way to make a product 'private' on Lulu, so no one else can buy it?

    @Saranna - I'm an artist at heart, and do come down on the 'for art's sake' with many things. Novels just aren't usually one of them - the novel that's truly just that unique and breakout (House of Leaves, anyone?) is a once in a great while kind of thing. And most of these being thrust at me are not works of art - nor are they attempting to be. They're genre fiction.

    Genre fiction is a product. Not that the product cannot be brilliant or artistic (Terry Pratchett), but they do follow specific conventions.

    Next post is going to be on bad marketing.

  5. Eh, I've tried but there "support" system leaves quite a lot to be desired. They don't sell it on their site any more but it's still listed all over the web. Luckily most of my other stuff has drowned it out. So it falls under the category of not worth the effort.

  6. Catching all those links can be a nightmare - I've heard that one before after people have decided to self publish and then change their mind.

    It's not as easy to go back as one would think. Luckily, you have the other books that far outnumber the one.

    It really is something to think hard about before deciding, one way or the other.

  7. @Martin - do you have a portfolio site with some sample book covers on it? I suspect we might have some readers interested.

  8. I'm more than a month late in response to this :/ But . . .

    . . . if anyone is still interested and wants graphics from me, my blog and website is entirely my own work; also, I just designed Mr. Jason Rolfe's header at Bibliomancy: Interested parties, feel free to contact me thru blogger or any other social media I'm hooked into.

  9. Hot damn! That's a great looking header!