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SELF PUBLISHING – A CAUTIONARY TALE

February 29, 2012

            I recently heard about a guy who wanted to publish his books, but didn’t want to let a publisher get a piece of the pie. He brought up some good points about how when authors go through most publishers, their (the author’s) cut of the take shrinks substantially, especially if they don’t sign a decent contract, or have a good agent. Even if they do, unless said author is a big name, they are only going to make pennies on the dollar on their book, where the publisher is going to make a killing, when and if the book ever sells. There are many financial reasons one might want to take the self-publishing route. A biggie is if one possesses the entrepreneurial spirit, or one wants to be in complete control of their own destiny.

            Now, how many times have I mentioned the old garage full of books? In this case, we have a relatively successful self-published author who has managed to sell quite a few of his books through his own marketing skills. He’s pretty much emptied his garage. He and his writing partner have an intimate subject knowledge about something with a wide appeal. They are in an excellent position to exploit that knowledge and turn it into a popular franchise.

            My cautionary tale comes in with his ready admission that he isn’t the best writer in the world. He never mentioned whether his partner is. Apparently his editor or editors aren’t either. I’ve never read any of their books. However, out of curiosity, I looked up the series on Amazon.

            When I run across something like this, I usually dismiss the five and four star reviews right at first for the simple reason that they could be family, friends, or just plain fans that are easy to please. I go for the one and two star reviews. On that end, I automatically dismiss any reviews that are Kindle related such as the price is too high, or the book didn’t download properly or such. I go to the reviews about the actual story. I want to see why people hated the book to look for consistent patterns.

            What jumped out at me from completely different people, over four of the five books I looked at were the same things each time. They mention lousy editing including bad grammar, misspellings, pacing, timeline shifting, mixing points of view. Almost to a reviewer, the exact same words!

            Second, and this was almost the exact wording, was way too much detail about stuff that didn’t matter. The authors went into details that sidetracked the story. It seemed they were trying too hard to impress the reader with their knowledge of the subject.

            Third. Two of the novels in particular had major side stories that had nothing to with the main plot. These side stories did nothing to move the plot along.

            Finally, and I’m paraphrasing here, they all said each book could have been about 200 pages shorter without missing anything. A few of the readers actually took their books back.

            Mind you, there were mostly four and five star reviews, but if it were me and I had that coming consistently from book to book, I wouldn’t be blowing it off as just some disgruntled readers. No conventional publisher would ever let an author get away with that!

            My point is that you can go out and sell your book to anyone once. However, if you want them to sell themselves, they need to be the best they can be. If you attend a writer’s group and consistently get the same feedback that you don’t like, maybe they are trying to tell you something! Maybe you’d better step back and listen!

            If you’re going to self publish, I’m not saying you need to go out and spend hundreds or thousands on a good editor. That is an option, but there are other ways too. What I’m saying is you need to go over that MS with a fine-toothed comb, over and over again, get beta readers, wheel and deal if you must to get it edited, whatever it takes. Most importantly, learn your craft!

            Finally, if you are ever going to self-publish, make sure you don’t ignore the details, no matter how good you are at selling your books. One day it will come back to bite you!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ann Marquez permalink
    March 3, 2012 5:29 pm

    I definitely won’t self-publish again. 😀
    But I’ve learned so many skills in the process … things I never thought about like creating a book trailer, recording in a studio, working with a printer and editors, (BTW – finding a great, legit editor is a MUST!) formatting, helping others to publish on their own, small business details (taxes, deductions, etc.) … I’ve learned about websites, blog sites, publishing audio books on iTunes and publishing videos on YouTube.
    Most self-published authors only “move” an average of 100 books each, it’s a rough row to hoe … thankfully not a waste. 😉
    Good post, Fred!

    • March 4, 2012 2:58 am

      Annie,

      How true! While many think I am totally against self-publishing, I am not. Though it’s not for me, at least in print, I’d do it electronically. As for print, it really is a cautionary tale. The burden is on you, the author. You not only have to make sure it’s right, you have to do all the work. Not only that, you have to find the right publisher that will put out a decent book for you and decent editors that will not let you put out a piece of crap. Someone to tell you no when you need it said to you. There ARE some good self publishing houses out there, but if you’re working in fiction, I still don’t think it’s the best way to go, at least in print. For non-fiction and memoirs, yes maybe, but fiction is a whole different animal and is a lot more risk, different market and all. E-pub is the way to go if you want to dip your toes into that.

      Thanks for writing!

      Fred

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