Saturday, June 8, 2013

Self-published authors, take heart!

A few days ago I decided that, as a writer and an editor, it would be a good idea to take a closer look at what other people are reading. So I decided to download whatever happened to be the New York Times Best Seller at the time. I also decided to download one of the books discussed by Jennifer Byrne and her colleagues on The Book Club (ABC TV, Australia). The first, the New York Times bestseller, turned out to be Inferno by Dan Brown. The second was Jennifer Byrne’s ‘classic’ selection, William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, published in 2003. I will leave aside, for the moment, the issue of whether a book published ten years ago can really have earned classical status. It was clearly a book that many people considered to be very good.

I parted with AU13.00 for the ebook version of Inferno. Yes, $13.00 does seem a little exorbitant. At the moment I am about one third of the way through. The grammar is poor; the writing is amateurish, at best. The plot is boring, unoriginal and poorly conceived. The story jumps from one implausible, badly constructed scene of ‘jeopardy’ to the next implausible, badly constructed ‘escape’ sequence, with little purpose and absolutely no subtlety or finesse. This book has the literary merit of the storyboard for a video game. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had parted with $13.00 for this, I doubt that I would read on. I am sure that the manuscript for this shoddy and slapdash piece of writing would not have been given a second glance by any publisher had it not carried Dan Brown’s name. But what do they care? What does Dan Brown care? People (including this schmuck) will buy it, it seems. No doubt it will appear shortly on our cinema screens.

I haven’t yet read Pattern Recognition. I sincerely hope I will enjoy it. (Incidentally, it cost a much more modest $7.00 or so.) However, this book immediately raised another issue for me. I scanned the first page or two, and what did I see: ‘ new that it’s interior smells...’ This was on the second page on my Kindle. It would probably be on the first page of the print edition. Yes, ‘it’s’ instead of ‘its’. This, in a Penguin publication. Now, I am probably overreacting to this, but I know why. I become very angry when I detect errors like this in my own work, after it is published. I feel that I have let my customer down if I overlook something like this when I am proofreading their work. Yet here it is, on the first page of a book published by a reputable publishing company which, presumably, has the best resources available.

Several months ago I wrote a rant here about the quality of many self-published books (‘A Self-Publishin Rant’, 30/01/2013). I stand by what I said there. But the other side of that argument is this: There are many, many, MANY self-published books that are of a much higher standard and better quality than Dan Brown’s New York Times bestseller. When such success comes to Dan Brown with work as mediocre as this, what incentive is there for him to lift his game? I, for one, won’t be buying any more of his books.

The second thing that I draw from this is encouragement, about my work both as a writer and as an editor. At times, like every writer, I have doubts about the quality of my work. Am I really any good? Although I will probably never receive a definitive answer to that question, this exercise has at least confirmed for me that neither being published nor being a bestselling author are indicative of the quality of a piece of writing. I am also encouraged about my work as an editor. If a (presumably) top notch editing team can miss such a basic error as ‘it’s’ on the first page of a novel, I am probably not doing such a bad job myself.

Let’s you and I, the self-published and indie-published authors among us, set the standard that the traditional publishing world no longer sees fit to maintain.


  1. I'm just commenting on your "No apology" stance for what you say and write. I respect that. When I review a book, I give it an honest grade (1-4) whether I know the author or not, and whether it's a popular book or not. If you don't do that, then your blog has no credibility.

    I had one author who I established a very nice email relationship with. I liked his 1st book and was looking forward to the 2nd. I thought it was poorly done. I emailed him to tell him that, unfortunately, I was going to have to give it a pretty rough review. He was a gentleman, but our email relationship ended. It was tough to do, but it's our obligation to be honest. Enough said.

  2. Thanks for this. I am self-publishing in the young reader market (not quite YA) and I feel an extra frustration that I have no reasonable means of marketing to my target readership. My fiction is well edited and professional (I have published non-fiction academic articles) and I, at least, enjoy the stories I am telling. I just feel as though the YA and younger self-publishing market is almost impossible because of my inability to reach out to the target market.