Preconceptions about Self-Publishing

In a strange way, self-published books are held to a higher standard than traditionally published books. Here’s what happens: a reviewer or reader receives a book and is informed that it’s self-published. The reader then reads the book looking for clues about why the book was self-published. And when you’re looking for something to criticize, you’re going to find it.

By all means, there are self-published books that should never see the light of day. But the same can be said for some traditionally published books as well. I’m not a great fan of writers like John Grisham or Dean Koontz. There’s a factory-line quality to the writing – as if it was written by a computer. And one of the disappointments about self-published writing is it seems to be written by people who aspire to be the next Koontz, rather than writing something that has yet to be done.

Certain mainstream writing just isn’t that much better constructed or fleshed out than mediocre self-published writing, but Koontz is famous and successful so he gets a pass. I would love to conduct an experiment with editors at mainstream houses: a blind test of self-published and traditionally published books and have the editors try and guess which books were self-published or not. The results would probably be surprising. Their prejudice against self-publishing may just be revealed.

I collect quotes from books to be used as epigraphs. Not to dig into Somerset Maugham, who is great, but I put aside this quote as an example of jumbled writing by a writer who’s a member of the literary canon:

“It is a sound instinct of the common people which persuades them that with this all that needs to be said is said.”

Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

That’s a verbatim quote – your guess is as good as mine what he’s trying to say. If this was in a self-published book, it would be met with the response: “See? Self-published writing sucks! It needs an editor! No wonder it wasn’t published!” But because it’s in the book of an established writer, it’s overlooked.

Every book is flawed. Every single book. Even books deemed masterpieces. As someone said, “Art is not finished, it’s abandoned.” There are ways to rewrite any sentence. But self-published writers are judged unfairly from the start – as not being legitimate, as assumed to be poorly written or it would have found a taker. And so the book is immediately judged based on not having a publishing contract, rather than the quality of the writing – “It must be bad.” That is an unfair standard that is not placed on other books.

  • Replace the “which” in that sentence with a “that” and put commas around “with this” and it’s a perfectly legible sentence. At least to me… maybe not to people without degrees in English literature. (Though it would help to know what the “this” refers to.)

    Other than that, all I have to say is, “yes, this.”

  • The problem with mainsteam publishing is that marketing considerations dominate editorial quality, Books are rushed to market before they can be properly fact-checked and edited. I found some howlers in Norman Mailer’s “Harlot’s Ghost” recently. Very simple stuff that could have been checked in a minute in a book priced at $30.00 retail. There have been a lot of complaints about errors in Meyer’s fourth Vampire book. I knew, going in, that I would have to be as close to perfect as possible, so we read aloud all 115,000+ words twice to detect errors and bad sentence construction. (Writing is a form of speech. If it doesn’t sound right when you read it aloud, you need to fix it.) At the so-called “Vanity Press” panel at the World Science Convention in Denver last year, Jana Oliver, who has self published three books that she didn’t bother to submit to agents or other publishers, said that the biggest problem with self -publishing is that “people don’t want to do the heavy lifting”. Something with which I completely agree. Rushing to market will create errors every time. We have to be better than the average to get any traction in the marketplace. Editing errors are to be avoided because they create dissatisfaction for the reader. They feel a little cheated because their attention has been drawn away from the narrative to the mechanicals. What we are doing when we self publish is not just creative expression, but also creating a product. One which has to be designed to maximize consumer satisfaction. Every element from cover design to interior typeface must be carefully arranged to provide value. People are spending money for entertainment and information. You don’t want them to feel cheated.

  • Patrick McDonald

    Bravo, Francis Hamit:

    I am just about to send off what I consider an excellent non-fiction work to Infinity Publishing. I am simply tired of spending years jumping through the “traditional hoops.” I can honestly say that my writing has been praised by agents & editors at every turn; that I’ve “paid my dues” and won national awards. It matters not. I remain, at this writing, seriously “under-published.” In the meantime, a recent best seller in my area of expertise was so flawed I went through the book with a yellow highlighter – there were that many errors. The sad fact is, our cross to bear, as self-publishers, is identical to the serious UFO reporter. Because 90% + of what is said is ridiculous, the other 10% gets painted by the same sloppy brush. Pity. It’s like panning for gold in a seriously muddy river: hard to find anything that sparkles.

    Thanks for your terrific assessment of our predicament.