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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bring on the Gatekeepers, or Why I Won't Read Any More Self-Published Novels*

I came out of the closet this week. No, not that one. The "Anti Self-Published Books" closet. I've been afraid to say that out loud since many of the people in the writing groups I belong to have taken that path. I include the many "small publishers" whose entire author list consists entirely of themselves or their family members in that category, as well.

No offense to anyone who has self-pubbed their fiction or gone through a small, indy publisher. My first novel, Marina Melee is published by a small indy publisher, Casperian Books, and since they only publish print books and I put out the electronic version myself, I'm technically self-published, too. So, I'm sure there are some perfectly wonderful books out there, but because of the poor quality of the vast majority of these, I've made the decision to stop reading self-pubbed books*

Call me a reading snob if you will. I love to read, I love good writing, and even more, I love a good story. I'll forgive a lot of bad writing for a great plot. In the past few years, I've wasted loads of my valuable and limited reading time slogging through books that have neither good writing, nor a good story. They are just not ready for prime time. Mostly, the self-pubbed books I've read, with few exceptions*, read like the first draft of something I might like to read--after the author has outlined and cut out the tangential mess, revised, rewritten, edited, and reedited the story, then sent it to a professional editor.

Too many writers think one round of self-edits is plenty. Yes, Browne and King's Self-editing for Fiction Writers is a terrific resource, but every manuscript needs at least a second set of eyes to review it, if not a third and fourth. Marina Melee went through four rounds of editing: my own, two critique groups, and a professional editor, before going to the publisher. Their editor found a few more errors. Even after all that the book ended up with 2 typos. When I saw them, I wanted to cry. But, it was a good lesson and made me a kinder, gentler reader. I've stopped looking for "perfection" in editing, but if I'm going to spend my time and $$ on a book, I want it to at least have been proofread.

I know many self-pubbed authors will immediately come back with, "But I've read books by the big publishers that aren't very good." True, the big-6 make some poor choices, like giving giant advances to Jersey Shore "celebs" who can barely speak, much less write in English. Even though I wouldn't read that book, if I did I'd at least feel confident that the publisher had hired a ghost writer and editor. There might be a few typos in the books they put out, and there's no guarantee that the book will be my cup of tea, but I at least know it's not someone's first draft.

I expect my new stance against reading self-published novels* to raise hackles. So far though, I've been pleasantly surprised to hear I'm not alone. My time is too valuable to wade through all the crap out there looking for that one-in-a-million good self-pubbed novel. If it's that good, an agent or publisher will find it, or the buzz will be big enough that I'll hear about it. Of course, those aren't guarantees of a good book (as  demonstrated by a current novel that started as a self-pub, was bought by a big house, and is now on the bestseller list), but it greatly increases the odds that it won't be total tripe.

When the current self-publishing tidal wave ebbs and some vetting process evolves, I'll give self-published books another try. Who knows? If the vetting process is effective, maybe I'll even consider self-publishing in the future. Until then, bring on the gatekeepers! I have a new appreciation for everyone in the publishing industry who will slog through all the crap so I don't have to.

*except for those by authors whose work I know and trust