Once again, I have had an unacceptable absence from these hallowed halls, and for that I should be purged, I should be flogged, I should be whipped, I should be tied up, I should –
(Muse: You sound turned on.)
Quiet, you! Anyway, I have been reading a bit lately, mostly on my Kindle. Said it before, and I will say it again: love that little device. It is so awesome to have on the treadmill or elliptical, makes the workout zoom past. Most of the stuff I have been reading is small-press, or self-published – things I picked up from the Kindle store for $1 or less. The prose itself runs the gamut on quality but what strikes me the most are the staggering errors.
I can see a novelist going it on their own. It's ambitious and speaks to the best entrepreneurial spirit in humankind. I admire the idea and kinda hope to do it myself at least once. But I think it has to be done well, or why bother? Here are a few things I have noticed by reading some of the small-press and self-published stories out there – things that I would call amateur mistakes, born of desperation and inexperience.
– I recently finished reading a book I will – for fear of litigation – refer to as the Little Book of Happiness. The book itself was a bundle of scary stories, some obviously better than others, including a few that I thought could have a home in larger publications. The material was fine. What killed me was that about at about the 2/3 mark, a story passage was underlined – and underlined – and underlined, ad infinitum to the end of the book. Somewhere in the process, the editor never turned off the underlining. Sloppy, says I; a perfectly good collection marred by a formatting error. The takeaway? Always, always, ALWAYS triple-check your formatting.
– I read another book that was riddled with spelling and punctuation errors. I am mega-lax in these areas but for stories I submit for publication, I go through them with a fine-tooth comb. Almost every submission guideline I see says that loads of technical errors result an automatic rejection, before they ever find out if the story is good. The takeaway is obvious: if no one else will publish it because it is chock full of bad grammar, neither should you.
– A ways back, I read a self-published trilogy that was pretty good and talked about on this blog. As I skip around Google, I find the author's work reviewed – for good or bad – in many other places. It's out there, it's (somewhat) known. I just finished reading a similar (part of a trilogy) book yesterday, that I downloaded from Amazon. When I look around the net for reviews, I get nothing outside Amazon. Nada. Zilch. Even if you have a good story, how the heck would anyone know? You have to make like the lead marcher in a nudist parade, and just put yourself out there. Takeaway: if you self-publish, you have to do the legwork and simply cannot wait for people to come to you.
– Don't even get me started on derivative fan fiction. Takeaway: don't. (Yes, 50 Shades of Gray, I am speaking to you.)
None of this is terminal but I think it speaks to the mindset of someone charging without surveying the battlefield. A boss of mine once said, "Slower is faster," meaning that the better prepared one is, the less they will have to backtrack to repair.
And I agree, none of this is new or mind-bending information, and these concepts have all be covered before. This is just my stab at gathering the empirical evidence. To me, it's convincing.
So by all means, dear readers, please self-publish if you like. I'll be cheering for you.
But please do it right.