Self-Publishing: A Reviewer’s Perspective

Over the past 3 years that I’ve taken more of an interest in learning about the publishing industry, my views on self-publishing have been varied.  As I seem to be cursed with the ability to see both sides of nearly every issue, I can understand where both supporters and opponents of self-publishing are coming from.  But as a book reviewer, my views on self-publishing have taken on a new angle and are likely different than Joe Schmoe off the street.  What are these views exactly?  Well, read on to get a good look at how complex my opinion on this is.

Good: Books that normally would not be published are being published.

Bad: Books that normally would not be published are being published.

One of the good things about self-publishing is that it gets out some excellent books that would never be accepted by major publishing houses.  Maybe the book is too controversial, unusual or the publisher doesn’t think there’s a market for it (note that these three things are not mutually exclusive).  These are the kinds of self-published books that I love.  On the other hand, sometimes there are good reasons for major publishers not accepting it.  Like the fact that it is complete crap designed to fulfill its creator’s fantasies.

Good: The author is in complete control of the process, including editing, cover design and marketing.

Bad: The author is in complete control, rather than the trained professionals who do such things for a living.

While I absolutely loved Andrew Levkoff’s self-published debut novel, I’ll be one of the first to admit that it should have been proofread better and that the cover is not exactly the most attractive I’ve ever seen.  While he has corrected all of the errors I caught in his latest editions, this is a common problem for self-published authors.  It’s also one of the best and worst parts of self-publishing: the level of control the author has.  Sure, they can hire freelance editors and professional artists, but will it be as good as a traditionally published novel?  In 999 cases out of 1000, probably not.

While I have caught mistakes in novels from major publishers, these are usually typographical errors and are extremely rare.  Self-published novels…well, sometimes they can be painful to read because of all the errors, especially when the author has not hired a professional editor.  Poor grammar drives me crazy, especially when it’s my own, and sometimes I think I’m dangerously close to an aneurysm when I encounter self-published novels with sloppy editing.

Good: Technology has made self-publishing easier and more efficient than ever.

Bad: Now any idiot with a bit of money can be a published author.

Ugly: The real 99%: The percentage of crappy self-published novels compared to the 1% that are good.

Self-publishing has expanded at an exponential rate as the internet and digital reading technology have developed.  The good thing about this is that it’s easier and cheaper than ever for those who want to go the self-publishing route.  The bad thing is that any idiot can slap out 70 000+ words and pay to have it published.  This, along with the terrifying statistic that 81% of Americans think they could write a best-selling novel, floods the market with a lot of crap and has spawned a vanity publishing industry.

So what’s the final verdict on self-publishing?  As a reviewer, reader and strict grammarian, I would encourage most hopeful authors to go through the traditional route.  But if you’ve decided that traditional publishing is not for you, make sure you’re dedicated to being self-published properly so you can stand out from the crowd.  As a self-published writer, you are your own boss, meaning that your novel’s success hinges greatly on the amount of time and effort you put into polishing, publishing and marketing your novel.  You have no one to blame but yourself if things go badly.  And for the love of all that is holy, hire a professional editor to save grammarians like myself from:

a) having an aneurysm

b) developing high blood pressure

c) aging prematurely

d) gouging out our own eyes to make it stop

e) any combination of the above

The Association of Grammarians thanks you for having our health in mind.

15 comments

  1. scullylovepromo

    This is an excellent piece! I’d like to share it on my Scully Love Promo Facebook page, if you don’t mind. I’ve tweeted about it too. I work with self-published authors and writers need to know this!! Well done!

  2. Catana

    As an avid reader and an indie writer, I feel your pain. I loved The Bow of Heaven, but the cover is . . . That’s one of the many areas of my own writing life that’s improving very slowly since I do everything myself, including the editing and cover design. A good part of the problem for self-publishing, aside from the fatally self-deluded and/or incompetent writers, is that in the heady air of freedom to do it our way, we tend to rush into things. I recently posted about the poor quality of my first book covers. My major mistake was leaving them until last. When the book was done, I was ready to publish. Not only was I in the very early learning phase of design, I needed time to back off and objectify the cover the same way I do when I edit my writing. Because I rushed, I didn’t see the faults that became so clear very shortly after publication. We need to learn our craft, whether it’s writing, cover design, or marketing, and we also need to learn patience. Epublishing is a long tail; so is becoming the writer we want to be.

    • Carrie Slager

      Thanks for such a detailed comment!

      Anyway, at least you understand your mistake and have worked to improve it. Without much feedback from professionals, most self-published authors do not and continue to swim around in a sea of their delusions. This is why I lean more toward traditional publishing, which usually wheedles out the trash (although that’s definitely not always true!).

  3. Caleb Flanagan

    It’s been a long-time dream of mine to publish something, but I totally understand your premise here. Lots of people do think that the ability to self-publish means that they have a “right” of some kind to being read by everyone. In my view, there was something to be said about having to kick down the door of a publisher with quality writing to get published in the first place before self-publishing became the new hotness.

    On the other side, there are a few authors out there who have talent and were published traditionally, but due to various things decided to self-publish some of their other ideas just so their fans could get ahold of them even if their publisher didn’t want them at the moment. That kind of thing is what I wish more authors would do with self-publishing technology as it stands today.

    • Carrie Slager

      That’s also true. I like the idea of published authors self-publishing when the publishers don’t think there’s a market for the material they currently have. What my main focus was in this article was novelists trying to break into the industry and not getting a contract because their novel isn’t good, then turning to self-publishing. I believe that when an author wants to publish a novel, every effort should be made to publish it traditionally before turning to self-publishing. That’s just me, though.

      • Caleb Flanagan

        I agree. Skipping over traditional means just to be able to say “Hey, look! I’m a published author!” is a bit cheap.

        As for me, if I ever actually wrote something I felt I wanted others to read I think I might just get it all set up in ebook format so I could pass it around to family and friends with e-readers. Not sure I would ever want to put it up on Amazon for worldwide consumption though.

  4. Judy

    It’ not just getting a professional editor to look at your work,..it’s getting a GOOD professional editor to look at your work. I just paid $$$ and found they both didn’t catch some very blaring mistakes.

      • Judy

        Now to find such a treasure. My concern as a Indi is to continue to learn and improve this craft. As an Inde it is easy not to. Where agents and Editors help their authors do this. I don’t hear this mentioned in the self pubbing realms. much.

  5. Judy

    Reblogged this on Dreamin' and commented:
    Some good advice here to consider if you are thinking of Self Pubbing. As one going the Self Pubbing route these are some definite things to consider. J

    • Carrie Slager

      Thank you! But I have changed my views since I wrote this article and while I don’t think self-publishing should be what authors first consider I have more tolerance for it now.

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