When I conducted a seminar on fiction writing, not surprisingly, the question of self-publishing popped up.

The general slant is – self-published books are of a poorer quality. There is much truth in this – but to tar the entire community? The implication is – books that go through a publishing house’s mill are of higher quality. There is obvious truth in this.

The idea is never to put down anyone but to encourage everyone.

Therefore, I pull out my ready list of books from publishing houses, including contemporary best sellers that contain errors – typos, sentence structure, inconsistencies in storyline, book cover, and so forth. These publishers have the services of professionals. What chance for the rest of us? The established authors have paid their dues, I reckon, and one should celebrate their success. The rest of us in the herd are held to higher standards – perhaps rightly so, until we too pay the dues that we owe our readers.

The occasional minor error is okay, I suppose. However, beyond a tipping point –

The idea arguably is not to be perfect, though this would be super, but to minimize errors such that readers either don’t spot or chose to overlook them – because the storyline, the characters and style by themselves are so captivating, distracting and marvellously enjoyable.

Perhaps that’s why I continue to relish a well written book – whether self-published or legacy published. And when I notice the occasional error, a smile – they’re human too – and I’m too busy enjoying the page turner.

What is your take on this – as readers and authors?

********** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2014 ************

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79 comments

  1. There are a lot of great self-published books out there, some better than traditionally published ones probably, but the problem will always be finding them among all the not so good ones. The review/recommendation system works to a point, but it still relies on someone to take a chance and then leave a review of the book.

    1. All you say is true, David.

      I believe this explosion in self-published books will level off – once the majority, who have but one book in them, get it out of their system. I know many authors who publish a couple of novels and then, go on to a collection of short stories – in most cases, it’s a hint that the cup is running dry.

      With every year, the quality of self-published books will increase.

      We shall see.

      Thanks David, for visiting and commenting so soon (after your recent hospital stay),
      Eric

    1. Very true, Eva dear – and with a publisher we get many other benefits such as publicity, distribution channels and so forth.

      We can dream and also work to realise those dreams 🙂

  2. thanks Eric – the demon of errors is difficult to exorcise – despite my best efforts at revising agood book i published after reading time and again till i was sore and hated my writing, and even after giving it to an agency on payment for the task – a few errors to my horror remained after the book was on the stands – really annoying and one felt far from perfect wanting to tear the page away or hide in shame!

    1. Well, Indrajit, I can understand your frustration and disappointment – especially since you paid for professional services.

      But as I noted in some earlier comment – I’ve detected typos even in New York Times Bestsellers – novels by literary luminaries, and published by brand name legacy publishers.

      So, don’t beat yourself over it – as you already know, authoring is a journey and we get better with every mistake recognised. For most of us mere mortals – perfection will remain an allusion, I suppose.

      Peace,
      Eric

  3. I’ll pass on this one…I’ve seen some pretty shoddy stuff both legacy and self published…the problem is that with all the writer’s out there, it’s nearly impossible even to get an editor to look at one’s unsolicited manuscripts and authors are often just not up to the editing required to get a clean job out. I know that I’m my own worse editor, after a bit, I don’t see the errors anymore and if I keep re-writing a piece I just get more and more confused. Oh! guess I didn’t pass after all….

    1. LOL! That was some pass 🙂

      I try to keep the manuscript stashed away and when taken out a few months later – the errors all spill out – it’s as if I caught them all partying and I walked in on them 🙂

      Cheers,
      Eric

      1. Now that is a great idea…and love the image of partying errors spilling out! (I really did think to pass…then the ideas began to pop up…just call me Gabby 😀 )
        Cheers to you too,
        Georgia

  4. Self publishing provides an opportunity to writers to be heard. Of course, everyone would love their stories to be published by some publishing house, for that would mean more readership and fame. Sadly, however, budding writers hardly have the chance to do such a thing (they are, most of the times, bombarded with rejection letters from publishers). So the only alternative is to self publish.

  5. A lot of great conversation here. The self-publisher definitely has the odds stacked against them. There seems to be a lot of different perspectives on how it can go. I think that if you choose to go that route, you should be ready to invest more time then another author who is using a more “traditional” method. There is just so many things that go into the production of a book. If the author isn’t going to take the necessary time and energy to create a quality product/story, the mistakes become a glaring truth to others that read it.

    Thanks for stating the convo!

    1. Very true, an author who chooses to self-publish must possess many skills related to the publishing, marketing and distribution aspects. If they’re prepared to invest the time (and money), they can learn the skills – but it’ll most often be a long haul and seldom, if ever, an overnight success.

      Happy to have you join this conversation.

      Cheers,
      Eric

  6. I agree about the value of outside editing/proofing but have to add a word of warning about the difficulty of finding a qualified individual. I “previewed” (i.e.: paid to have the first ten pages of my novel reviewed) three different people listed as professionals. Each had typos and/or grammatical errors in their cover letters and/or comments. One suggested I change a word to another word that I had already used in the previous sentence. Friends, eager as they may be to help, are hesitant about being thought judgmental, and so, don’t usually make objective, forthright critics. You’re lucky if you find someone who is good and with whom you enjoy working.

    1. You’re right VB,

      There are many frauds out there claiming to be expert editors and all. Due diligence is definitely called for and looks like you did well by testing first. In that regards, I’ve had a couple of grammar Nazis get on my case right here, in my blog. Sadly, all of them made such obvious errors in their own comments and became a laugh.

      Thank you for reminding us to be cautious when engaging ‘qualified’ people – this is sound and timely advice.

      You’re right about friends.

      Cheers,
      Eric

  7. My take on this subject is pretty much the same as yours, except I’ve read far too many self-published authors who have much more than a mistake or two.

    Since my writer’s group is advertised on the Florida Writer’s Assoc. website, we used to get people drop in who had a story to tell but didn’t know how to write. They’d drop down a printed-out story and expect us to fix it for them. When I took over as leader, I had to put a stop to that. I only wish that those of us who really work at our craft, then promote and market our own self-published stories, didn’t have to get tarnished by those who don’t. From my experience, I’ve run into many who thought because they had a story to tell, that they could write.

    On the other hand, there are many who have joined our writer’s group who started out very green (including myself), and worked hard through our critiques of one another. Over the past six years, I’ve seen many amateur writers evolve into phenomenal authors. So, yes I do think everyone deserves a chance … if they’re willing to work at it.

    Whew, that was long-winded. Thanks for bringing up this topic.

    1. Hello Lori,

      First off, thank you for all the information you emailed regarding hosting a writers’ group. This is much appreciated 🙂

      I too do not entertain ‘writers’ who hope to dump their drafts on me and expect to receive a polished manuscript in return. You’re right, people have to realise that authoring a book takes very hard work and long hours of dedication, determination and inspiration.

      That’s true too – publishing houses set certain minimum standards, something missing in many self published works.

      I would love to be a singing sensation – but can’t sing for nuts. Similarly, people have to realise that not everyone is cut out to an author – how very true.

      But I believe that after the current flash flood of self published books dies down – quality will improve.

      Thank you for sharing, Lori dear – and no, it was not long winded. As a facilitator of a writers’ group – your thoughts will find favour with many readers. I certainly took it to heart.

      Peace and blessings,
      Eric

  8. As a reader, I get so engrossed in books I may not notice unless the errors are so many.
    As a an amateur writer, I wish I could write a ten page pamphlet to begin with.

    1. Well, Onyango, my friend,

      You can compile your posts into a “Book of the Unholy”.

      Just avoid any country where you have the chance of getting burned at the stake, drowned in a cage, stoned or beheaded. LOL!

      Peace,
      Eric

      1. Hahaha- a book of the Unholy. That’s touche! But I prefer a book of all things reasonable 🙂

        Thanks for the thumbs up. I will remember the places to avoid once I start publishing.

  9. When thinking of that indefinable term ‘quality’, I often think of Robert Pirsig’s seminal ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’, in which a main theme is the desire for greater aspiration toward quality in every endeavour, for the benefit of all. Never let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good enough’, yes. But I believe that it is in the pursuit of excellence that the ‘great’ is distinguished from the merely ‘good’.

    I know that some don’t find typos a distraction. I’m a bit peculiar in that respect: my mind tends to trip on spelling errors (in particular) sufficiently hard that I find that it seriously distracts from the flow. Though, arguably, a character flaw that perhaps I should work on — nobody likes grammar nazis (except other grammar nazis?) — in the right circumstances, it can be a useful trait.

    One thing I’m wondering: we’re all different; we all have strengths and weaknesses. I would think that there is nothing to be lost, and everything to gain, by recruiting willing help from a circle of friends. Perhaps not so much ‘self-publishing’ as ‘group-self-help-publishing’?

    On the odd occasion when I’ve discovered that a friend is writing a book, I invariably offer my services as a proof-reader — but it’s rare that my offer is accepted. I don’t understand why that would be… given that writing has an objective ‘rightness’ that can be mutually agreed, there’s a difference between being critical of a person (we’re all different, and so it should be) and being critical of that person’s writing. Perhaps it’s the failure to recognise that distinction which is what causes some to balk?

    I have a handful of unpublished short stories gathering dust, and some poetry. Perhaps it’s time I took another look at the idea of ‘self-publishing’… after all, what is there to lose?

    You’ve provided much food for thought here, Eric. Thank you!

    1. This is very generous of you my friend – and don’t be surprised that after this comment of your goes viral, writers flood you with requests to proof read their manuscripts 🙂

      Not many writers can accept criticism of their works – and not many critiques can criticize the work and not the author.

      In 2010, I engaged the services of a so-called professional editor and that idiot spent more time arguing with me about my plot line than doing the proofing work. At the end of the day, he took my money and absconded. Because he lives in Australia, I had very little avenue for legal recourse.

      Oh well, lesson well learnt!

      Cheers,
      Eric

    2. @Eric ‘viral’… heh, I wish. Though I’m not entirely sure what generosity you’re referring to… ? If it’s “… when I’ve discovered that a friend is writing a book, I invariably offer my services as a proof-reader…” then I guess I should risk reducing my, er, virality, by emphasising the key word ‘friend‘ in there.

      <goonerism>I may be mad, but I’m not a fool y’know!</goonerism>

      Sorry to hear you got stung. It can be hard to know whom to trust :/

      1. Of course, you hold the trump card on who is a ‘friend’ 🙂

        A year after cheating me, the fraud tried to secure a writing/lecturing assignment in Singapore – of course, I know enough people here to put a stop to that!

  10. As an English teacher and an editor, I encourage my writers to respect and honor the English language and embrace proper usage. It’s a courtesy to the reader as well. The work represents the author and should be presented in top form. It’s a matter of pride. When I read a book with many errors, I tend to stop reading it. Why waste my time with an author who evidently doesn’t care about my reading sensibilities? This may sound “snobby,” but if we take a look at all the well-written books, and they number in the thousands, why do we have to settle for shoddy work? Yes, if you’re going to self-publish, hire a good editor. Publishing houses make mistakes,too, but they are usually few and far between. So, if you are self-publishing, go boldly where no man or woman has gone before, but be sure you have someone edit it first.

    1. Yes, you’re right – we need to respect the language and be courteous to our readers. We do this by adhering to the highest standards possible.

      I don’t think what you say is ‘snobby’ – and especially when inundated with choices regarding how we spend our time (and money).

      All good wishes,
      Eric

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