Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why I Rarely Purchase Self-Published Books

Self-publishing has been a boon for those budding authors who have had a hard time claiming the few spots open to authors at traditional publishing houses. Many writers can now realize their dream of holding a book with their name in their hands, something that may never have been possible ten years ago. But I have to admit that I’m still a “book snob.” I’m much more likely to purchase a book from a traditional publishing house because they offer writers something they can’t do themselves: quality. A lot of self-published books have come across my desk for review, and I’ve seen the following problems occur again and again.

Poor writing. You may have an exciting story in your head, but that doesn’t mean you know how to get it down on paper in an interesting way. Join a critique group or have other people read your story and give you honest and constructive feedback. Ask them what parts put them to sleep. Could they relate to your characters? Did they behave and speak like real-life people do? Don’t ask your mom. She’ll love anything you write, no matter how bad. Develop a tough skin and be willing to do re-writes. Not all opinions are valid, but be willing to ask yourself if they might have merit.

Poor grammar and spelling. I can’t emphasize this enough: Every writer should hire the services of an experienced copyeditor. It’s worth the expense. Hire one who specializes in your genre, or at least in fiction vs. nonfiction editing. Have her tighten up your writing and look for inconsistencies, poor sentence structure, and plot holes. She will correct poor grammar and, of course, spelling errors. Even if you’re an English major, you’ve probably read your manuscript so many times that you’re no longer seeing the mistakes. A fresh, professional eye is essential.

Ugly or boring cover. The first thing people usually see when they look at a book is the cover. How many times have you scanned a shelf at the bookstore and picked up a book with a cover that caught your eye? It happens all the time. Do your research. Check out the books on the bestseller list. Very few of them have a boring cover (or title, for that matter). Which ones do you like? Go to the bookstore and look at books in your genre. What do they look like? If you’re not a graphic artist, hire one.

Incomplete back cover description. After checking out the cover, potential buyers turn over the book and read the back cover because that’s usually where the book is described. (If it’s a hardcover book, it may be inside the jacket flaps.) Needless to say, after reading your back cover, you want it to incite people to purchase it. Does the book sound different from other books out there? Does the plot seem riveting? If it’s a nonfiction book, does it tell the reader what your book will do for them? I get frustrated when books only feature glowing quotes on the back cover. I want to know what the story is about or how the writer’s words will help me. Your front cover got your potential reader to pick up the book. The back cover will close the sale if it’s done well.

Flawed inside design. I’ve seen text that wasn’t fully justified, misnumbered pages, incorrectly formatted running heads (or footers), inconsistent chapter title styles, and so much more. Get a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and learn about formatting a book before you send it into the publisher. Look at books from traditional publishers and study how they’re laid out. Then, when you receive a proof from the publisher, have someone look at it who knows how to format a book. Don’t assume the publisher knows what they’re doing or checked the layout after it was typeset. Have several people help you look for mistakes. At traditional publishing houses, they have many professional editors look at a new book, and mistakes still slide through. If they can’t catch them, you won’t either. But mistakes are more likely to be caught when more people look through the manuscript.

Don’t look like an amateur if you’re self-publishing your book. Make sure that every part of your book looks and reads like it’s been professionally produced. Offer a high-quality product, and your readers will be begging you for your next book!

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