Thursday, December 6, 2012

Self-Publishing: The Good, The Bad And The Fugly

With the impending release of my debut novel in 2013 (yay!), I’ve been spending more and more time hobnobbing with indie authors. Very soon I’ll be one of them, so the sooner I get to know my crowd, the better. Hi everybody!

In the past couple of months, I've met wonderful people and shared laughs and tips. Still, something's bothering me... and it's BIG. 

     I won’t lie. When I was still working on my first draft, I had no idea what lay ahead of me. To be honest, I wasn't too keen on the traditional publishing route: the queries, the waiting--oh, the months of waiting!

Before even finishing my novel, I started thinking about self-publishing. I talked to several people who had gone indie, and the idea, I must say, was compelling. You see, believe it or not, there are multiple benefits:

-          Complete control over your work, the pricing, the marketing scheme, the cover…

-          If you published with a traditional house and your book didn't fare too well, don’t expect the house to print a new edition or buy the sequel. You’re pretty much done. Finito. That’s the end of your story, amigo. With self-publishing on the other hand, you can always adjust your novel, edit it one more time, change your cover or your blurb, and just upload it again once the new version is ready.

There are many more reasons why I chose to self publish, but these two were the deal-makers for me. So if I’m self publishing and it sounds so great, why do I still get iffy when I sit down to read a self-published book?

Why can’t I shake away this feeling of dread and distrust whenever I approach a self-published novel? Am I being too tough on the author? Am I still too rooted in traditional ways? Am I downright evil and deserve an exorcism?

Let me share with you what happened to me the other night. I got into bed, ready to read a book I’d heard about and had noticed several weeks ago. The title and cover art were stunning, and they were what really drew me to the book.

In the very first paragraph, I stumbled across a massive run-on sentence. Okay, take a deep breath, it’ll get better. But then the point of view kept hopping from one character to another as they had a conversation. Come on, Nadine. The author’s obviously going for omniscient point of view. Don’t be so harsh. I finished the prologue, and encountered this:

Thirty five years later

If you can't see the mistake, click here.

By then my good mood was crumbling, and I had only just started the first chapter. But all right, let’s give it a pass. It’s probably just an honest typo, let’s see if—The next sentence was forty-two words long and I had to read it four or five times to make some sense of it.

As you might have guessed, I closed the book and probably won’t be opening it again anytime soon.

This experience made me wonder... Is this what we have to expect from indie books? I sure hope not! I have high hopes for the industry. I want to be a part of a respected indie publishing system, of authors who put out top-notch novels that can compete in quality and content with whatever the “big six” are bringing out. I want to be able to pick up an indie book without worrying too much over how many typos it might have, or if the author’s style still needs maturing.

I want to write in a world where all indie authors respect and honor their trade, instead of dragging it, kicking and screaming, down the gutter. Oh, the aforementioned example is nothing compared to some stuff I’ve seen around the web, man. Crazy stuff. Stuff that would qualify as attacks on indie publishing. I’m not fond of criticizing without offering an earnest helping hand, but some cases are too far out there. Want an example? Click here and choose the look inside option. I dare ya’.

What I'm trying to say is that we the authors are the ones in charge of giving our work a good reputation. To accomplish this and free indie publishing from the stigma it still bears (and trust me, it does), we have to be professional.

1)            Make your book the best. Great quality along with exciting content are essential factors in making a novel a success.

2)            To help you achieve the first point, I recommend you join a critique group. There are many out there, both online and face-to-face. My favorite is Critique Circle. The people on there saved me from an eternity as a lost soul wandering the pre-pub wastelands. Since I joined, my work has improved significantly, and not only thanks to the critiques I receive, but also the ones I give.

3)            Have professional (-looking) cover art. If you can’t pull it off yourself, hire someone to do it. I know, I know, we all have money issues. However, your novel’s cover is one of the first things potential readers will see, so it’s best to make a good impression. If you’re low on funds, I recommend browsing Kindle Boards. That’s where I found my cover artist, and I was able to take advantage of a special deal he was offering.

4)            Hire a professional editor. Again, I know. I understand. We’re already juggling a mortgage, the car payments, kids… it’s hard enough to scrap together a couple bucks. But think about it. You really want your book to shine, right? As Victorine Lieske says, at a dinner party you wouldn’t want to serve your guests raw chicken, so why serve your readers unfinished, unpolished work? I don’t think it’s a good idea to try to do the final edits yourself. You might be too attached to your work, or tired from reading the same passage for the millionth time, so you might skip over things a professional editor is trained to find. Put your manuscript in their hands. You won’t regret it.

5)            Be humble. This is so important I have to say it again and put it in bold. Be humble. Several weeks ago, I had a shocking experience. I'm not so sure I should be sharing this, but I need to make my point. I encountered an indie author who was crying out for help. The author had just received a very negative review on a short piece. In an attempt to offer a solution, I downloaded and read it. After an eyebrow-raising read, I composed a very heartfelt, conscientious report. I introduced myself and my writing experience, then I pointed out what I considered were the issues that might explain the negative review (there were several, including quite a few misspelled words). I offered the author help with the edits or the possible rewrite, suggested joining a critique group, and wished the author the best of luck. Then I waited for a response.

              The author said I hadn’t understood the story.

Make the left eye twitch a little and that's me.

More people came to the author's aid, but as far as I recall most were pretty much... well... dismissed. So what can I say?

Up-and-coming author: be humble.

Listen to other people’s advice.

Join a critique group.

We only want to help.


If you lock yourself up in a self-proclaimed tower of literary genius and shoot down other authors who try to give you advice, chances are you’ll spend the rest of your life cooped up in your musty tower, counting cobwebs, without readers to write for and without the help and support of others. That type of attitude is detrimental to all of us. Take some time to reflect, and if you’re self publishing, use everything in your power to make the novel the freaking best it can be. Everyone will thank you for that.


  1. Congratutations on your forthcoming book!

    While improving, the stigma of self-publishing still exists to some extent. The traditional publishing system, from agents to the publishing house, are gatekeepers with a highly coveted mark of approval. What I've learned as a reader, is that this mark of approval doesn't stand for as much as I thought it did. I see typos in both traditionally published and self-published books, and I've found little difference between the best of both worlds. A good indie book is just a good book that took a different path to my ereader or bookshelf.

    Most of the time, I'm able to find the good self-published books by downloading and reading the sample chapter. If I like the sample chapter, I have no reason to approach the rest of the book with dread.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks for commenting! Yes, I agree there are also mistakes in traditionally published books. I've seen typos, characters suddenly switching names and ages...

      However, because self-publishing still bears a stigma, I think it's especially important that we show what we're worth. Don't you think?

  2. I feel the same way about self-publishing as the person above me. I've seen the very mistakes in traditional books as I've seen in indie books. So I don't know where this snobbishness comes from. I'm nowhere near publishing either way since I've only just began posting poems on my blog, but I've gotten rejection letter after rejection letter so it's irritating when people say self-publishers are only people who can't handle rejection.

    Good luck with your book though.

  3. One of the reasons I've decided to try the traditional route first, is that I have trouble getting behind Indie authors as a reader. I can't find an Indie book I love. They're either well done but not a story/genre I love, or they have a great concept/subject matter but aren't up to the standard I'm used to with traditional published books.
    The appeal of Indie publishing for me, is being part of a system that is ran by the authors. Except right now, as a reader, I can't honestly call it that. Some of the writers of some of these books do not deserve the title of author.
    The problem I think, is the slush. As a reader of traditionally pubbed works I find most genre matches on the NYT Bestseller list appeal to me, and rarely is there a traditionally published book that is distractingly bad. As an Indie reader, without a review board I can trust yet, and with so many genuinely bad books out there, I haven't found a filter that works for me yet.

  4. Good luck with your upcoming release.

    To me, it sounds like you will be a great addition to self published and indie writers. Since there are no publishers to play gate keeper, it is up the the author to ensure their work is the best it can be. That means cover art and editing. Know your weakness in writing. For example, I know I am hopeless with comma rules, so for my debut I hired an editor. Same for the second release because I'm still hopeless. I will always hire an editor because I know my weakness.

  5. Excellent article and advice! I too have just self-published a novel and I learned these points along my journey as well.


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