The Pitfalls of Self-Publishing
Posted by hyperpat on June 25, 2007
The latest book I read reminded me very forcefully why self-publishing is frequently not a good idea. This particular book violated just about every rule there is for good writing:
1. Grammar: run-on and incomplete sentences, inappropriately placed commas, semi-colons, quotation marks, near-random improper capitalization, disagreement between subject and verb, use of the wrong homonym (‘there’ for ‘their’), spelling, verb tense-the list continues on and on. A lot of this would have been caught by any standard word processor, which obviously wasn’t used, and this really can’t be blamed on the typesetter, as there were just too many of the things (and even if it was, even a cursory proof-read should have caught and fixed most of this).
2. Lack of definition of precisely where in time a scene was. Apparently this author did not know how to indicate a break in the action or a shift in time, leading to many cases of reading two or three paragraphs before realizing that the focus had shifted to a time point several days after the preceding scene.
3. Chapter breaks not related to an actual conclusion of a particular scene. This sometimes led to ‘chapters’ as short as a half-page, and the succeeding chapter directly continuing the preceding artificially short chapter’s action. This also indicated a larger point: much of the work was not constructed in normal setup- conflict-resolution fashion, indicating the author did not have a good handle on where he wanted his story to go from one page to the next.
4. Introducing and then dropping large numbers of characters (sometimes by killing them off, sometimes merely by forgetting to ever mention them again). Now this isn’t much of problem for minor spear-carrying characters, but when this is done to major players, it becomes very hard to maintain any involvement or interest in the story.
5. Related to (4) is the introduction of entirely new major players late in the story, separated from the original cast by hundreds of years, without any handles given to the reader for how these new people relate to the earlier portion of the story.
6. Basic errors of fact, such as referring to the constant pi (spelled ‘pie’!) as a recurring decimal, something it decidedly is not, and this is by a character who is supposedly a mathematical prodigy.
7. Large info-dumps that interrupt the story flow (what there is of it).
Now why should I go into such detail about a bad book? Because, underneath all the problems, I could see the elements of a good story, with a fairly well worked out future ‘history’, some interesting speculations about where science and technology may be heading, and a thematic message of current relevance. The self-publishing service that this author used has services that would have corrected most of the grammatical and formatting problems, and could probably have given the author some good advice about the other problems. Of course, these services cost a bit more than their basic no-frills package, which is pretty obviously all this author paid for.
Now self-publishing can work, but it requires that the author do a lot of due diligence on his story, not the least of which is having someone else read the thing before pushing it out into the wild world, if nothing else to catch simple mistakes that the author just can’t see because he’s too close to it. But it should also be a very large red flag if the story has been submitted to and rejected by multiple traditional publishers that there just might be something seriously wrong with the manuscript. The author should think very long and very hard before deciding to go the self-publish route (at the very least, this is a big economic decision, where you have to pay out instead of getting money coming to you). Said author should have some very big overriding factor to go this way (such as, say, the work is so cutting edge or controversial that no traditional publisher will touch it). And he’d better be pretty sure that it is just some such factor that caused all the rejections, not that the book is poorly written. Because no amount of advertising or promotion will help a bad book, and once something bad is out there for all to see, it will leave an indelible impression, telling any prospective buyer of future works “Avoid! Avoid!”
If you decide you must go the self-publish route, at the very least work with a firm that has good editorial services. Use them. Long-established authors pay attention to what their editor tells them. You should too. The end result will be a better book, and the extra cost of those editorial services will eventually seem like a bargain.