Does Self-Publishing Mean Substandard?

image copyright Ellen Gable Hrkach

Although I now own and run and a publishing company, all my books were self-published. I don’t like the connection that people often make between self-published books and “bad” or substandard writing. The truth is, the vast majority of self-published books (I’ve read a lot of them) are indeed substandard quality. I download free Kindle books every day and many of them aren’t worth downloading because they are embarrassingly bad. I’ve also read some wonderfully written self-published books, but these are in the minority.

So…is the ease of self-publishing bringing the overall quality of books down?

Well, in a word, I believe it is.

Unfortunately, many self-published authors think they can write a book without extensive editing. Others, who do have editors, don’t employ professionals, and instead use friends and relatives. Another self-published novelist I know used a published author as editor but this particular “published” author had no experience in fiction so this showed in the characters and plot. Still others publish their books with little or no proofreading.

Going with a “Self-Publishing” company like Trafford or iUniverse also doesn’t guarantee high quality. Large companies want your business and while they can be helpful, they are also more expensive than a self-publishing book coach.

In my capacity as a reviewer for CatholicFiction.net as well as a reviewer for other websites, many self-published manuscripts come across my desk (or computer) that are so atrociously written, I won’t even review them.

I’ve come up with a few ways to increase the likelihood that your self-published book will not be included in the “badly written” bunch.

Avoid Thinking “I Can Do It All”
I’ve won awards and have had bestselling books precisely because I realize that I can’t do it all. I hire editors, copy-editors, proofreaders and my husband (a professional artist) designs my covers.

Employ a Professional Editor (for overall plot, characters, setting, writing style) and humbly consider their advice. If you’re writing fiction, find a fiction editor. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, find one who specializes in non-fiction. Authors should want their work to be the best it can be. Sometimes a book has to go through many edits in order to be polished and of good quality. My first novel went through about 30 edits. My second and third novels, ten. Be open to construction criticism. Don’t we all want to produce quality books?

Use a Copy-editor (for grammar, word usage and punctuation)
One author I know used a friend as copy-editor. This person (I’m guessing) had little experience in professional copy-editing. That particular book was a great read, but had many comma, quote and apostrophe errors that made it distracting to read. When a reader gets distracted, they’re pulled from the story.

Proofreaders, Proofreaders, Proofreaders!!!
Ask at least 10 of your friends and relatives if they could read your manuscript and find typos. One novelist I know didn’t use any proofreaders (he said he proofread his book himself, which was a big mistake…authors can be blind to their own mistakes). Unfortunately, it showed. Another author used one proofreader, but one isn’t enough to read through 100,000 words and find all the typos. With my second novel, In Name Only, ten proofreaders went through the book and missed “Brtish.” I didn’t catch it until I converted my book to Kindle.

Employ a Professional Cover Designer
The book may be good, but if the cover looks like a five year old designed it or the font is too light to read, then people may not even consider buying your book. A good cover must also look eye- catching in thumbnail. Many of the self-published book covers I see on Kindle are not professionally designed. In fact, many look like a child designed them.

Research
If your book takes place 100 years ago, please do the research that is necessary. I once read a self-published novel that takes place in the 1870′s and the author included an automobile (those didn’t appear on the scene until 20 or 30 years later…).

Kindle Conversions
If you don’t know how to convert your manuscript to Kindle (or other ebooks), hire a professional. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve downloaded on Kindle that were virtually unreadable because of the poor conversion.

If You’re Going to Print…
If you’re printing your book, hire a Print on Demand (POD) Company who has extensive experience with printing books. A company that prints brochures, business cards and flyers may not be the best company to print your book. Create Space (Amazon’s POD Company) prints over 100,000 books per week and, for the most part, they know what they’re doing and their customer service team is extremely helpful.

Consider Using a Book Coach For a small fee, book coaches (like myself) walk the self-published author through the maze of self-publishing. As a book coach, I sometimes help with editing (although not always) and assist the self-published author in releasing a quality book. The book coach’s fees are usually much less than an author would pay for self-publishing companies.

Following all these hints will not guarantee that your book will be high quality, but it will certainly lessen the chances of it being “embarrassingly bad” or substandard. In the future, I hope to see more quality self-published books so we can remove the stigma and the frequent connection that self-published books equal substandard quality.

Have you self-published? If so, did you use a company, a book coach or did you do it yourself? Feel free to comment below.

Copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach

About Ellen Gable Hrkach

Ellen Gable Hrkach is the president of the Catholic Writers Guild. She recently published her fifth book, A Subtle Grace (O'Donovan Family), which reached #1 in Religious Drama on Amazon Kindle within two weeks of publication and remained there for five weeks. Her third novel, Stealing Jenny, was an Amazon Kindle #1 Bestseller in Religious Drama (June/July 2012) and has been in the top ten of that category since November, 2011. She is also the award-winning author of In Name Only, a Catholic historical romance and the first of the O'Donovan Family books as well as the 2010 IPPY Gold medal winner in Religious Fiction. Her books have been downloaded nearly 500,000 times on Kindle. Her website is www.ellengable.com. She and her husband are the parents of five sons and they live in Pakenham, ON Canada.
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8 Responses to Does Self-Publishing Mean Substandard?

  1. Pingback: Does Self-Publishing Mean Substandard? « Plot Line and Sinker

  2. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Great article!
    Topic for your next one: how do I know (before it’s too late!) that the firm I hire (for editing, conversion to e-formats, etc.) actually know what they’re doing?

  3. Thanks for commenting, D.C. Make sure you do your research about whatever company or person you hire. Ask the company or person for references and other jobs they’ve done. I asked my first editor what other books she had edited and promptly bought them. This will also give you a good idea of the sort of editing they’ve done.

  4. I am terrified of being in that group of “embarrassingly bad” writers and look eagerly for editors to clean things up. I knew that as a gardener if I was to become a writer I would need help…and a lot of it. I am blessed to have the CWG for guidance and support, to point me in the right direction, and provide connection to professionals who can make my work better. God may give us words, but others help us arrange them. Thanks Ellen for the sound advice.

    • Thanks, Margaret! I wish that most new authors had the same fear of being embarrassingly bad! You’re right that God may give us the words but we can all use help arranging them! God bless…

  5. Great advice Ellen. Two things I’ve learned, one on my own, one from reading an otherwise great self-published book:

    1) Proofread as you go. Even in the first draft, if you see a typo, fix it ASAP. Never assume you’ll remember to catch it on the final draft. (I know in that first draft you also need to just spit it out and not slow down for perfection. But still, catch what you can.)

    2) Proofread for formatting errors. This is a technical issue, and I don’t know if the error is on the writer’s PC or in the print publisher’s download process, but I read one (great!) print book with serious paragraph formatting problems spread throughout the book. I really couldn’t give a wholehearted endorsement to a book that wasn’t up to pro quality, and that was a disappointment, because the story was super.

    Jen <– Thrilled to have a publisher to help with all this editing stuff, terrified that mistakes are still going to make it into to print. Argh.

  6. Also great advice, Jen, and thanks for commenting. I’ve seen typos in well-known traditional published authors’ books too. When you think of how many words are in any given book (my current WIP is 112,000 words), it’s not surprising that a typo can slip by so many proofreaders. I think the point I was making is that some self-published authors use only one or two proofreaders, and I believe every manuscript can benefit from a whole team of proofreaders.

  7. Don Mulcare says:

    Ellen,

    Thanks for sharing your insights!

    Don Mulcare