DIY’ers – the forgotten consideration

The Wall Street Journal struck gold with today’s article Cherish the Book Publishers – You’ll Miss Them When They’re Gone. The gist is that while DIY’ers squidge with glee about sticking it to us publishers by doing it themselves – going so far as to invent the oh-so lame term “legacy,” as if print books are passé and we are yesterday’s news – there is a group they forgot to consider: READERS.

Readers don’t want to read crap, which, sadly, is the bulk of *DIY books because there is no standard for excellence. While publishers produce some questionable books, for the most part there exists a line of defense that shields readers from those whose desire to be called “published author” outweigh the necessity of learning their craft.

With DIY, now anyone can “publish” a book. Who cares if you don’t know anything about POV switches and pacing? Story organization? Whazzat? We don’t need no steekin’ organization. Publishers want to cookie-cut our tomes of brilliance. Pah! To hell with them. And who is the ultimate victim of this hubris?

The reader.

Now it’s even harder to determine a good book from one whose literary grapes are still green. The DIYers have been prognosticating the death of commercial publishing because we’re dinosaurs, so I’d like to toss my hat into the ring and suggest that readers will revolt and scream for the return of good books that undergo more literary scrutiny other than the spin and rinse cycle of a broken down Maytag.

There is a lesson that publishers have known since the beginning of Time, and that one never underestimates the power and voice of the marketplace. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and I hope DIYers who already have us publishers six feet under are ready for it.

*DIY – The particular group of DIYers I’m referring to are those who don’t know anything about the industry and don’t care. There are many DIYers who don’t fit this group because they understand the business and have figured out a solid plan on how to sell a good book. They’ve hired excellent editors and cover designers. They know how to promote and market effectively.

18 Responses to DIY’ers – the forgotten consideration

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    That is the EXACT reason I hesitate to self publish. On top of paying for a good editor, paying for cover art because I can’t draw…how do I know the book is WORTH publishing?

  2. Digital Dame says:

    So with you on this. I am constantly bombarded on Twitter by ‘self-pubbed’ authors exhorting me to buy their books, which may or may not be readable. How do you know, until you plunk down your money? I don’t want to play that game. Along with knowing the business and how to market and sell, the DIYers need to know How to Write, along with basic grammar and spelling. Too many do not.

  3. I completely agree with you on this. I have read three self published books in the last year and all of them were riddled with mistakes. Misspelled words, improperly used words, and one of them had an error every five pages or so….

    I’ll be much more careful which books I choose to lay good money out for in the future.

  4. I’ll buy self-pubbed books if I already know the author. But of those self-pubbed I’ve read, every one of them needed a really good editor.

    Generally if the price is between $2.99 or $0.99 (or lower!) it’s already setting off warning bells with me that this has not had the right people working on it.

    It’s not about wasting my money, it’s about wasting my time.

    I like books to take me away, not books that make me work.

  5. Becky Mushko says:

    I have both self-published and vanity-published. I would not have self-published my novel in 2001 had it not won a contest sponsored by a local arts council. The arts council paid a third of the first press run (1,000 copies) and set up numerous readings/speaking engagements for me. A lot of local book clubs used my book. After I’d sold 700 copies of the second press run, sales maxed out. I did turn a profit, though.

    I POD vanity-published two collections of my newspaper humor columns because I knew I had a readership already in place. I also POD vanity-published two collections of previously published short stories. These sold modestly in local gift shops for a couple of years. I didn’t lose money, but I didn’t make much either.

    I was fortunate to be in a couple of writers groups that provided me excellent beta readers and workshop experience. Because I’d written for local publications and had a newspaper column, I already had a following. I can’t imagine DIY publishing without an established readership.

    My last two books have been through a small press. My small press experience has much better than self- or vanity-publishing.

    What Ebony said above applies to me, too. I’ve read a handful of self-published books that were excellent, but buckets full that weren’t. Ditto for the vanity-published books I’ve read.

  6. Personally, I’m far less concerned with the money risk of a vanity book than I am the time suck. I consider the time I spend reading good stuff an investment in myself. I consider it an escape when it’s Charlaine Harris or Cracked online (loves me some Sookie Stackhouse when I’m feeling down about reality).

    I’ve done enough critique groups to know how much work goes into a “finished” piece. Also, I am (forgive me publishers everywhere) a library rat, and there are a million amazing books I need to get through before I seek someone’s self-pub’d book unless I know or have heard great things about it. I also find great stuff on online literary journals to read free of charge, that the gatekeepers have vetted. If ANYONE can publish a book, who can anyone else find a good one?

    I want to peruse before I purchase, and I’m not the only one. This is why a real bookstore will never die, and they don’t want self-pub’d books either. So, no bookstores, no libraries, where are you going to find your readers? And unlike John Hatch and Amanda Hocking, so many would-be writers don’t want to do the real work of editing or self-promotion necessary to sell a book even if it is really good.

    I’m sure there are amazing books being self-published, but it’s kind of like a needle in a haystack – why look in the haystack when there’s a full loaded sewing room inside the house?

  7. Lev Raphael says:

    But is it really harder? I mean, before ebooks, in a book store, how did you know crap from good writing? You opened the book and read some of it. The same principle applies on-line where you can download a sample, sometimes a really big chunk of the book. Many many books by even established authors have turned out to be unreadable or just boring for me before ebooks and after. I think we as readers still have the power to make our choices–that hasn’t changed.

  8. Vanessa Russell says:

    Oh so true … a number of years ago I read the Outlander series written by Diane Gabaldon. The first book was excellent, the 2nd two, good … but the 4th was a (large) brick that I couldn’t finish. It was as if she and the publisher were cranking out paper based on the name of the author alone. I felt like a sucker in paying another hard-back price for nothing more than filler … and the ending to be read in yet another follow-on book….she lost credibility with me and with other readers I know. I can name more as well, where it becomes obvious that large name publishers with clever editors do not release a book based on its own content, but based on the cover page alone.

  9. Becky Mushko says:

    Because a bookstore doesn’t take everything—and similar books are grouped together on shelves, you don’t have to do as much searching to choose something you want to sample.

    Plus you can ask the employees for their recommendations.

  10. I just completed reading my third, traditionally published book that was a disaster. Fact checking was turned off, there were huge awkward stretches of terrible writing, poor syntax, awful dialog. No plotting at all.

    I know that the Publishing Industry is responsible for setting up a level of quality in what it produces, but the past few years, that seems to have been tossed out the door in favor of what will sell to the lowest common denominator market, or celeb-written books.

    That’s understandable, of course, but I don’t believe that one should preclude the other. I’ve been as disappointed with much-ballyhooed “best sellers” with serious writing issues, published by big houses with deep pockets, as by the occasional typos that may be found in self-pubbed work. By and large, I don’t think the big guys have much left to stand on when they pull out the old gatekeepers banner.

    Small presses, are another matter completely. If literature will endure at all, it will be because they actually care about the quality of what they produce. Writing will continue as an art and an honest pursuit because somewhere there are readers who appreciate what makes a good book, good. Apart from whether it had good marketing behind it. I hope.

  11. Saman says:

    I work for a women’s magazine. We get unsolicited review copies and press releases for new novels all the time. Some observations:

    1. I often request a book based on the press release.
    2. I have never requested a self-pubbed book based on the press release.
    3. Half of the time this is because the release was a shining example of how not to write.
    4. A quarter of the time it’s because I spot the publisher is iUniverse or AuthorHouse and get a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach
    5. The rest of the time it’s because there is no publisher mentioned and I reckon the person is trying to conceal they are self-published

    Please don’t accuse me of contempt before investigation. I follow this sanity-saving method with the releases because of my actual experiences with the actual review copies that show up. Like any human being (including readers in the real or virtual bookstore), I always crack them open and read a few pages. Many of the self-pubbed books have great cover art and pleasing typesetting. Not one yet has had good pacing or interesting characters. Most have a typo every few pages. I’ve not reviewed one in the magazine yet.

    So Lynn is 100% right, in my case. A third-party publisher with impartial standards naturally became my quickest and best method of sorting time-wasters from something worthwhile. I’m well aware that I’ve no doubt missed a gem or two. But self-publishers are ruining it for other self-publishers.

  12. Mel says:

    I agree with you, but with one caveat: that, in order to maintain a clear distinction between themselves and self-publishers, the traditional publishing industry revert to allowing editors to actually edit, and to judging a book on more than whether it “fits” an already-established marketing niche.

  13. Lev said:
    Many many books by even established authors have turned out to be unreadable

    So true, Lev, and that’s why it’s impossible to speak in anything but generalities. In the case of self pubbing vs. commercial publishing, the odds are with the house that they’ll produce a better book and get it distributed in more venues.

    Richard said:
    the past few years, that seems to have been tossed out the door in favor of what will sell to the lowest common denominator market, or celeb-written books.

    I think this is an over-generalization. I still see a huge number of debut authors and oft-pubbed midlisters coming out of commercial publishing. You’re right that the big presses are looking for the blockbuster books in order to satisfy their corporate masters thirst for huge sales, but they are still pubbing great stuff.

    What gets my goat is that so many of the newer editors in the big houses are about twelve years old, and they aren’t as experienced at digging into the editing process.

    Saman: excellent insight – thank you for sharing. Having a name behind a book is so important. I noticed this when we changed distributors. Our previous distributor was about as lame as they come. Consortium, on the other hand, is fantastic and carries a very well-respected reputation. Why? Because they’re picky about whom the decide to add to their list of publishers.

    Book reviewers know this, so suddenly our books gather more reviews. Genre buyers know this and tend to order more units. This means that readers will see more of our books in more libraries and bookstores.

    Exposure is key in this business, and that’s why DIYers have an uphill battle. They’re competing against what established publishers already possess – the ability to get a quality book to market and into readers’ hands.

  14. NinjaFingers says:

    I actually talked to somebody at a con who’s publisher is AuthorHouse, but her cover art was excellent, the production values on the books were sufficient that I could not immediately tell they were not from one of the better small presses (I could tell it wasn’t a big house because of the type of paper). She’s making money, she’s selling books and she has a possible traditional deal in the works. She told me if that falls through she’s making her own imprint.

    But this is somebody who is going to cons, paying for editing, caring about the quality of her product and who can write (I didn’t buy any of the books because I’m on a ‘book diet’ until my to be read pile has vanished, but I went to her reading and read some excerpts. Perfectly good, perfectly readable traditional fantasy).

    The problem is, that is the *exception*. Self publishing today is as easy as converting a file and uploading it to CreateSpace…and a lot of these books are either not publishable or needed about three-four more drafts. In some cases, people self publish for good reasons, like having a book that is *good* but not currently *marketable* for reasons unrelated to its quality. In most cases, they either can’t be bothered to try traditional publishing, or have a manuscript *everyone* has rejected and think that it is because it is not marketable when it’s actually no good.

    Personally, I would not go the DIY or vanity route without evidence that the book I have in my hands is indeed worth publishing and reading. How one obtains that may well be one of the questions for the future as publishing changes. But I would rather go through a nice small press. (Still looking for that sister of yours who does Spec Fic, Lynn ;)).

  15. You’re right, Ninjie, she’s the exception. Stories like this are what pro-DIY advocates showcase in order to argue their benefits. I’ve seen the occasional good-looking AuthorHouse book. They look better because the author had their cover designed by a professional and not one of AH’s in-house designers. They also paid to have their manuscripts properly formatted and edited.

    I’ve also seen AuthorHouse books where they did all the design work and formatting…which really isn’t formatting because they simply take whatever the author turned in and put it into book format. Formatting is an art, and authors have no clue as to how this is done. And neither does AuthorHouse. Nor do they care because, hey, they got their money up front. There’s no incentive for them to provide any excellence because most authors who sign with them don’t know the difference. Those who do, go elsewhere.

  16. NinjaFingers says:

    She works hard, she makes very little actual profit because she plows most of it back into A. Going to cons to sign and B. Ordering more books.

    And she has the unfair advantage of being a very talented artist. Her excellent covers that were what convinced me she wasn’t self-published? She did them *herself*. Which is so not fair. I hate her ;).

  17. Lauren says:

    One of the problems for self-published and vanity-published books is that it is so easy for anyone to do this with current technology. No one has to be savvy or well-educated in the publishing process (editing, design, etc.) in order to join in, resulting in the ocean of books in which the relatively few fine ones are set adrift among the masses. They may come to light by garnering attention but they aren’t going to find it easy. Lev’s book, for example, is excellent. But I do wonder if he will find the success he deserves.

  18. [...] are lost in all the hype about the internet as a new medium for disseminating entertainment. (See here and [...]

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