I have a side job right now where I review “indie” books, which mostly means self-published books, although some small-press books are also thrown into the mix. Reading on average one self-published book a week for the past several months has made me very pessimistic about the quality of self-published books in general. In fact, it’s pretty insulting to readers, some of the dreck that’s being sold to us in these days of instant self-publication. A book may be a piece of art, it may be your baby, but it’s also a product that is being sold, and readers deserve a professional product. I view my little reviews as something of a public service, either a message to the author that the book was not nearly ready for publication, or if that’s not something the author wants to hear, then a message to the reader to beware.
It’s not all bad news. Self-published nonfiction tends to be better quality than fiction, I think because nonfiction is more likely written by a professional in his or her field. When it comes to fiction, though, I have a hard time recommending any of it. Of all the books I’ve reviewed, I’ve only given an unqualified recommendation to books published by a small press, which had obviously received the attention of an editor, a copyeditor, a designer, and a cover artist.
Based on my forays into the world of self-published books as a reviewer, I’ve developed a prejudice against them as a reader. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s the natural result of being exposed to so much amateurish self-published writing. I can assure you that I’m not the only reader who is rapidly learning never to touch a self-published book. I would caution any new writer to think long and hard before choosing to self-publish. For a small subset of writers, self-publishing may be a good way to build a readership and maximize profits. However, most writers won’t be able to distinguish themselves in the rapidly expanding ocean of self-published books out there, and they may be putting their work out for judgment before it’s mature enough.
For further reading, here’s a small collection of links about deciding whether to self-publish:
- The case for self-publishing by Neal Pollack, who by the way was already a traditionally published author when he decided to self-publish; self-publishing may be a good career move for writers who have already established themselves.
- Is self-publishing a viable option for literary fiction writers? by Jane Friedman. An important question to consider is whether your chosen genre is a good fit for the self-publishing market.
- Self-published authors have great power, but are they taking responsibility? by Sangeeta Mehta, tackling the question of quality when it comes to self-published writing.
- All the things that are wrong with your screenplay in one infographic: I love this because it gathers together all the problems I’ve seen with self-published fiction into one handy chart (these problems are not limited to screenplays, not by a long shot). I often use this a cheat sheet when I’m trying to pinpoint exactly what’s gone wrong with a book I’m reviewing. Print out the recurring problems and pin them above your workspace.
Finally, if you decide to go the self-publishing route, make sure that your command of spelling and grammar is impeccable. Readers should not have to read your book with a red pencil in their hands. And please, I’m begging you, learn the difference between passed and past.