So I came across this article, “The Overwhelming Majority of Self-Published E-Books Are Terrible.”
As the four or five readers of this blog know, I go self-publishing right now. I find it much less frustrating than dealing with reams of rejection letters and the wasted time they represent. I would enjoy having a “gatekeeper” to authenticate my quality, but I also really love the freedom to do with my book what I will. I think I’m putting out quality product, and now that I am starting to put some marketing behind it, it’s even becoming marginally remunerative.
But my dirty little secret is that I completely agree with Mr. Franklin. When I see a self-pub POD title, my first thought is that it is going to be SHIT. And that goes double for “books” that are e-pub only and self-published. VERY rarely have I ever come across self-pubbed fiction that would pass muster at an actual publishing house. That said, I totally support self-published authors and even buy their books, but I can’t say I often read them.
Am I just a raging hypocrite or what? I like to think that I’m not. My books are, in my opinion, of a high caliber and wouldn’t seem out of place in any publisher’s catalog. Of course, that’s my OPINION, but I think it’s pretty solid since I do editing and fiction teaching and all that good stuff and know what makes a good story and what doesn’t. My main problem with publishers is that my work doesn’t fit any particular genre completely — which is sometimes a sign of great originality and sometimes a sign of base cluelessness.
So I publish my own work, the science fiction novel that reads (as one reviewer put it) “like Philip K. Dick wrote for Mad Men.” (I love that.) The thriller that is raunchy as a Judd Apatow movie. The literary novel that is half straight historical fiction and half Calvino-like fantastic interludes. The short story collection with three (published) zombie stories, a deep and meaningful (published) meditation on Buddhist philosophy, and a (unpublished) story about a porn star moving to Middle America. It jumps genres. It is wacky and weird sometimes, and then other times sedate and restrained.
Working (and publishing) this way makes me realize that I am a writer who wants his work out there for people to read and who then wants to go write some more and get THAT out there, and not just someone trying to move a product. Maybe that’s stupid — as the good Doctor Johnson said, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money” — but self-publishing gives me that freedom.
Back to the question at hand, however — does most self-pub fiction stink to high heaven? Yes, yes it does. Most of these writers have never WORKED on their writing, have never reworked and rewritten a piece in their lives. For them, a published book is like a “Tough Mudder” t-shirt: It tells the world that they accomplished something difficult. And that’s great for them! But I do get frustrated when the 10% of self-pub fiction that is good (using Sturgeon’s law) gets lumped in with the 90% that is crud.
What’s the way around this, you might ask? Well, I shall tell you — the way to prove to the world that your self-published fiction isn’t garbage is to get yerself a Web page and put up free samples for prospective customers to read. That’s what I have done at my website for my books, including The Act, which isn’t even out yet, as well as my other novels and short story collection. It not only shows confidence (which is great, but dunces often have amazing self-esteem) but also lets the reader judge whether or not this is something s/he wants to spend time reading, no matter how inexpensive in monetary terms the e-book might be.
I apologize for the rambling character of this blog entry, but this really is something I think about a lot. So, in keeping with the random walk of this post, let me correct something that someone in one of the comments to this article said in regards to Sturgeon’s Law, which, for the uninitiated, says:
Ninety percent of everything is shit.
Why are most movies so unwatchable? Sturgeon’s Law tells you why. (Specifically, the SF writer Theodore Sturgeon said, “Ninety percent of science fiction out there is shit. But then, 90% of everything is shit.”)
What I want to bring up, however, is in response to the commenter saying that OF COURSE 90% of self-published books suck — 90% of EVERYTHING sucks. That may be the case, but one cannot compare apples and oranges here: Ninety percent of something suck in its own category. Traditionally published books are 90% shit for traditionally published books, which are undeniably usually of higher quality than are most any self-published books, if only because they have been edited and measured and proofed by professionals. But 90% of self-published fiction books are shit by the standards of self-published fiction, which is with a few exceptions a bar so low as to be indistinguishable from the ground.
As a self-published author, I can never allow myself to think “Hell, this is better than 90% of the fecal matter put out as self-pub e-books as it is, so I don’t even need to work on it any more.” That way lies madness and sorrow. I want to tiptoe through the tulips of agented, big-publisher fiction someday — but that means the books I write and publish now are my calling card and cannot be any less than the best work I can do.