Once upon a time the mountain of manuscripts rejected by the world’s publishers would, after their last submission by their hopeful creators, languish in a bottom drawer somewhere and no one, aside from the author’s undoubtedly long-suffering family, was any the wiser.
These days such tomes are electronically ‘self published’ in increasing (and alarming) numbers.
If you are not an eBook reader you probably haven’t experienced the bewilderment of being offered a self-published ‘book’ for review or, worse, trying to trawl through a self-publishing dumping ground like Smashwords browsing for something readable. I know I hadn’t before last September when I bought my eReader.
The only word I can use to describe the experience is depressing. If you’re a bit ‘iffy’ about the whole eBook thing anyway a quick trip to the site or one like it is guaranteed to turn you off completely (and no I don’t mean to pick on Smashwords particularly, I know there are other sites too and not everything at Smashwords is junk but Smashwords is probably the best-known of these sites and the ratio of junk:good stuff at any of the ones I have visited is about 9,999:1 in my experience).
Leaving aside for the moment the sadly obvious fact that much of the self-published material was clearly rejected for a jolly good reason, virtually none of it has even had the treatment that traditional publishing would provide. It is this treatment which transforms a manuscript into a book and it is this treatment that all books, regardless of the way they are born, should go through before they are presented to the reading public. The treatment includes professional editing (objectively helping to shape the prose and flow of the book), proofreading, continuity/conflict checking, permission checking when quotations or song lyrics have been used, cover design, and providing a readable and eye-pleasing page layout. As far as I am concerned without such treatment a manuscript is still a manuscript.
I’ll finish off with some advice from a reading blogger’s perspective to self-publishing writers (everyone else is giving you advice these days, at least I’m not trying to sell you this lot):
- Think carefully about what you want to self-publish. Would you be better to restrict your self-published efforts to some short-stories which you can use to build name recognition and get some feedback while keeping any full-length manuscripts for a more traditional form of publishing? [As a reader I am much more likely to read a small anthology of short stories from an unknown author than I am a full length, self-published novel]
- If you do decide to self-publish your manuscript obtain the services of professionals to do the major activities that a publisher would normally provide. At a minimum this would include editing, proofreading, graphic design (covers are still important to readers in the eBook world). and page layout (though you can probably do this yourself if you buy some decent software and take some time to learn how to use it properly). Note: editing does not mean getting your Aunty Sharon who was always good at spelling to check your manuscript (aside from anything else your family will not be objective critics) (even if you find a family member that doesn’t like you they’re still not being objective).
- If you are going to ask random strangers (i.e. book bloggers you’ve never met) to read your book then take 30 seconds to skim their ‘about’ page and (if they have one) their review policy. If you happen upon a book blog at which the blogger’s ‘about’ page and/or review policy says they don’t read the genre of book that you’ve written then pass that blogger by in your quest to be reviewed/discussed. They will not suddenly develop an interest in your genre simply because a random stranger has a book in that genre to flog. Even if some other random stranger on Amazon/Good Reads/Smashwords has given said book a 5-star rating.
- If a book blogger politely declines your invitation to review your book do not, under any circumstances, try to cajole, browbeat or otherwise argue them into thinking that yours is the genre novel that will make them love steamy sex/talking cats or whatever other quirk you’ve used. Accept that some people are not your readers and move on.
- Don’t do this (which came from here). You wonder why a whole host of people don’t take self-publishing seriously? Behaviour like that. Sure you can ask people nicely to post a review, but requesting 5-stars is simply not on and if you ask someone contrary like me it’s almost guaranteed to generate a snarky bad review just ‘cos I can.
- If you tweet (or blog or do whatever it is one does at facebook) have a semblance of balance between blatant self-promotion and other content. See this post at Jen’s Book Thoughts if you need more tips on not being annoying in social media.
- Think really carefully about the price of your book. Every man and his dog appears to be doing some kind of experiment about the sweet-spot for eBook pricing these so I won’t presume to tell you what the price should be but I will tell you that as a reader if I’ve only paid $0.99 for your book I don’t value it much and if it doesn’t grab me in a few pages I’ll happily consign it (and everything you write in future) to the digital scrapheap. You need to give me a bit of incentive to keep reading.