What is it about self-publishing that upsets some?

Over the last six years, self-publishing has taken off in a phenomenally steep curve and is here to stay.

However, I continue to encounter a degree of disdain and even the occasional snide remarks from people in the literary arts. Such behaviour from people with vested interests – publishers and legacy published authors – is understandable but not condoned. Even more galling is the great clamour by some book reviewers, journalists and ill-informed readers.

This is a pity because instead of encouraging, such reactions serve to stifle and destroy the confidence of many budding authors.

I recall vividly how I lost interest in one of my favourite subjects in school – history. The school curriculum was crafted by “educators” – notice the parenthesis – who took a devilish delight in destroying my ardour.

They made us memorise and tested us on names of royalty, dates of their rule and dates when their empires rose and fell. We read some vignettes about the kings’ and emperors’ deeds and follies and nothing more. Oh, we also had to memorise all the names of Henry’s wives and mistresses.

But I was interested in more mundane stuff. How on earth did ordinary people live? How did they do their toilet? How did they tend to flesh wounds and illnesses? Did lovers actually kiss – what with their poor oral hygiene? Yes, I was at that stage in my life and had begun to take notice of females-girls-women-ladies of the fairer sex. How did they light fires? I meant literally. What were you thinking?

Did people carry with them flint and kindling in pouches, I once bravely asked my teacher. The man, a local Singaporean – a Mr Yong – didn’t know. I thought he would check and get back. That’s what the British military wives who taught me English and literature would do. My father worked for the Royal Navy and I was brought up in stiff upper lip correctness and had no reason not to expect the same from my local teachers.

However, Mr Yong turned red around his ears, pinched my stomach and ordered me to sit down. He then posed a history question taken from a chapter we had not yet covered and when I fumbled, he derided me – to the embarrassed amusement of the rest of the class, who felt obliged to fall in line with Mr Yong’s smirks. Shades of “the Great Leader’s” North Korea. Yes, Singapore was ahead of its time in many arenas. (Jeez, Eric, what did you have for breakfast? Well, certainly not a full English, my man.)

But, I digress from the topic at hand. Poor wit? Nope! Books? Getting warmer. Ah, self-publishing. Bingo!

One of the biggest bugbears for self-publishing’s naysayers is quality. Self-publishers are notorious for putting out poor content. Quite often – and I refer specifically to works of fiction – the stories meander hither and thither; character development is non-existent or inconsistent; and of course, the technical aspects of authoring are horrendous – sentence structure, grammar, paragraphing, and, typographical errors.

I agree the world of publishing is now clogged with flotsam that tries to pass off as literary works but my issue is with the propensity to wield a single brush to feather and tar all writers. I also believe, in time, the reading public is discerning enough to separate the kernel from the swarf.

That as it is, I wonder whether self-published authors are held to unreasonably higher standards. I wonder whether book critics who gloat over legacy published books wear rose-tinted glasses.

I regularly discover errors in legacy published books from brand name publishers – books that make it to the New York Times bestseller list, no less.

FALSE IMPRESSION by Jeffrey Archer (NYT Bestselling author)

This is what the Daily Mail had to say: Plotted with his customary skill, it moves at a breakneck pace. Best Archer novel for many years.

False_Impression_cover

I found numerous inconsistencies in the novel. Here are a few:

  • Page 353 – The assassin, Krantz, swung up on a handstand and executed a difficult gymnastic stunt – days after she was shot in the shoulder.*
  • Page 413 – a few hours later, it is all the more interesting as she could not even lean on her right shoulder.*
  • Page 414 – she is in excruciating pain. Right!*
  • Page 421 – Krantz went over a wall and ‘rolled over’ – no more excruciating pain in the shoulder!*
  • Page 426 – Nakamura refers to his visitor as ‘Lady Arabella’. Then he switches to addressing her as ‘Arabella’ and reverts back to ‘Lady’ Arabella’. These are two people who just met, steeped in culture and history and very formal in all their interactions.

*All the events between pages 353 and 421 happened within a couple of days after she was shot.

By the way, in page 353, Krantz escapes from the hospital where she was restrained in manacles by pulling out a lock pick she had hidden in her anus. She had set out to make a hit with a lock pick up her anus – in case, just in case, she was shot and put in cuffs. Reminds me of aliens appearing in chapter 14.

THE LOST SYMBOL by Dan Brown (NYT Bestselling author)

LostSymbol

I’m not going to highlight the errors. If you have a paperback edition, check out the pages and see if you can find the errors.

  • Page 37 – 5 lines from the bottom
  • Page 54 – last sentence, 2nd last paragraph
  • Page 55 – Chapter 10, last paragraph
  • Page 99 – 2nd last line
  • Page 377 – his body were (was)
  • Page 537 – last paragraph

The older novels are not free from errors too. However, they did not have the technology, such as spellcheck, we now take for granted.

DRACULA by Bram Stoker (A true classic)

  • Page 27 “It is more dangerous that (than) you think”
  • Page 121 – It at once occurred to me that that this wound

Nevertheless, I enjoyed DRACULA and it remains one of my all-time favourites.

1959 Book Cover

Incidentally, you might not find this Dracula book cover on the internet. It’s a 1959 edition, a tattered copy included in my antiquarian book collection.

Back to the topic…

It’s not my intention to disparage the works of other authors but rather to point out that the brickbats tossed at self-published authors regarding “quality” could be toned down and be a bit more selective. After all, even top publishers, with their vast resources and expertise get it wrong.

My second point is, and I’ve said this before, one should not strive for perfection. Let’s leave that to the grammar Nazis. However, neither should one have to endure silly errors in every page. These are distracting, demolishes one’s reading pleasure and reels us back to reality from the worlds we readers seek to escape to.

Let me digress again and highlight some writers whom I immensely enjoy. Their language and writing melds into one and I simply and unabashedly love their use of words – and I’ve mentioned this in my blog posts before. And, in no order of merit, some of my favourite writers are:

There are others in blogosphere whose contents I thoroughly enjoy reading. Some have since stopped blogging – so sad. For me, where language and words are concerned, the above writers have a unique draw.

You will notice that none of them are legacy published. They don’t have the services of an army of editors and advisors. Straight from the gut. Straight from the heart. And as raw as it gets.

Moving along, I can live with the occasional error in books. These are wont to occur in most novels that run into 60,000 to 100,000 words. But perfection? Is there such an animal in literary works – works conceptualised within human minds and written by human hands.

That said, I’ve yet to find any errors whatsoever in novels that won Man Booker Prizes. Then again at my age, fully aware of the temporal nature of life, I reach for my reading glasses – the rose-tinted variety.

Your comments are very welcomed. And you’re also welcome to share this post on your Facebook, blog or Twitter.

I also plan to share some thoughts on Man Booker Prize winning novels. Perhaps for another time.

All good wishes 🙂

P.S. In case you’re wondering – and even if you’re not (Heh! Heh! Heh!) – upon leaving school, I gravitated back to my love affair with history and had been devouring history books ever since. She has been a faithful and nurturing friend. History led me to fell in love with reading. And reading led me to writing. 

P.P.S. I’ve since gone over this post and corrected the numerous errors. Amazing how these miss one’s eyes. 16 July 2016

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26 comments

  1. Sounds like we had the same history teacher 🙂 My two-bit on self-pub is – while there should be no disrespect for self-pub books, I hear about it being touted as an “easy” solution for writers who could not “convince” traditional publishing houses. All you have to do is put up a little bit of money and you are ready to go. On many occasions, this has led to a poorer quality being churned out. If it is an option, why should people not use it?

    1. You are like my other friend, Ankur 🙂
      Please read Surinder’s comment. And yes, we both had the same history teacher 🙂
      Your observation is right about how many use self-pub as an easy avenue. They waste their lives. For someone who reads the first poorly written book, by a particular author, will also be the last. (I think I can rewrite this sentence better :-))
      Cheers,
      Eric

  2. Majority of the critics and “reviewers” are the “failed” writers. And first and foremost duty of a majority is to see that the minority doesn’t get out of hand.

    Self published or not, the critics do want their pound of flesh.

    Not all of them are cruel. Some of them are very kind and are always willing to write a kind word or two for a price. But then if we can get and afford self-publishing, then a little more can not hurt any one. We can institutionalize this expense also. Shall we call it “self- critic’d” or “self reviewed” or simply “self paid reviews” !!

    And finally I don’t remember any monument built anywhere in the world in the memory of a great critic. I strongly suspect that it is due to their tendency to ask for their pound of flesh.
    Karma !!

    1. Dear Surinder,
      I laughed when I first read your comment and laughed again today – especially regarding monuments for critics. You have not lost it, my friend 🙂
      Now, that’s an idea – pay for reviews and charge it to expenses 🙂
      Thank you for your visit and comment,
      Eric

  3. Like this post and your anecdotes about history. I teach British lit to seniors in high school. Of course, literature is intimately tied to history. They certainly perk up when I talk about the era of Henry VIII and some other rather scandalous (it does not take much where I teach for them to think scandalous) people. History is better than fiction frequently if taught “right”.

    A downside of the self publishing industry is that some do not do a sufficient job of editing, etc. This puts a stain on all of it in some ways.

    1. Thank you, Juliana,
      Very true and it takes a teacher to highlight this – how much history and literature are intertwined.
      Yes, if only self published authors invested the time to polish their work as much as they can. Recently, I read of a guy on Facebook who proudly claimed he had written – from scratch – and published a book, all within one month! I dread to think about the quality of the book, especially from reading his FB posts. Oh, well.
      Cheers,
      Eric

  4. I’ve self-published three novels. I edited them all myself. There are no errrrrorrrs. It would have been nice to have a publisher, and it would have been even nicer to sell a few more. It’s a problem: people read less, publishers only want sure things. Still, I’m glad I got my stuff out there here.

    1. Three novels! You’ve been busy too, I see, Stephen 🙂
      Yes, I agree. Even I’m self published and know the process, it’s not something I like doing, preferring instead to simply write. And you’re right, publishers are businesses and they have to keep a keen eye on ROI.
      All good wishes with your next novel,
      Eric

  5. I never fail to attend the annual Singapore Book Festival and hear the usual question – “Who is the publisher?” – whenever someone mentions a book he/she had written. When they say, “I’m self-published” they receive “looks”. These are usually followed by the soft rattling of chairs as people try to discreetly leave the room.
    I’ve also attended a Publishers’ Symposium in Singapore and paid good money, if I might add. The publishers, local and foreign, were so full of themselves and kept harping about how they add value to the business. It is interesting, as you once said, the authors invest upfront and first but wait in line to receive the rewards, if any, last. And they get peanuts – 5% or if lucky, 10% of the selling price.
    The current business model used by publishers is non-sustainable. Full-stop!

    1. Wow! Windy 🙂
      Obviously, publishers add value to the pipeline – in areas such as marketing, distribution and media reach. With regards to writers getting paid last – well, this is not totally accurate as quite often, authors do receive an upfront payment even before the books hit the shelves.
      Cheers,
      Eric

  6. Eric, you leave me almost wordless – such praise coming from you, who are so cultured and well informed, is a great honor: I sincerely thank you. I regard you as my very special blog mentor!
    Once hard back publishers scoffed at paperbacks and even more so at e-books, not realizing that anything which increases the availability of the written word is a good thing. I include self publishing in the same category and agree that it is unfortunate that publishing house publishing is not a guarantee of quality. Ultimately it is the reader who will always have the final decision.

    1. Hello Jane, dear,
      My apologizes for the delay in responding. I had been rather busy with a deadline. And next week, I’m off to catch up with Lisa who is already in Australia visiting our daughter’s family. We are having a small gathering there to celebrate our first grandchild’s birthday. Isn’t that lovely 🙂
      Everything I say about your writing is true, Jane, and it has been my pleasure to read your words. Unfortunately, there are only 24 hours and time does seem to disappear. It is you who do me honour by referring to me as “my very special blog mentor”. Thank you.
      And you are so very right – ultimately, the readers will decide.
      All good wishes,
      Eric

  7. Generally a few typos are no big deal but if there are plot holes and seemingly nonsensical timelines or even characters that’s unacceptable in self pub or other.
    (Btw what a horrible teacher you had)
    As for the disparaging remarks on self pub books, I get it, but it isn’t a fair assessment. I have read plenty publishing house books that were dire and the few I bought through bloggers have been really good.
    I think the point you made is true, that quality will rise to the top and it has only been approx 5 years since ebooks kicked off.

    1. Very true,
      Readers are the best judge of quality. However, we also know that without the publicity, marketing and industry reach, most self-published authors will take quite some time to garner the attention of a substantial following.
      Cheers,
      Eric

  8. Eric – Self publishing (as compared to Vanity Press) is here to stay. Much the way indie music and film are as well. So true that educators have their own agenda. I believe the Prussian schooling system was done deliberately to create followers, not thinkers. There is a great divide in education, but that’s another subject. I have now self published 3 books, and I agree it is tedious, and many do not like the work involved. One must read and re-read the entire volume a dozen times, and there are still errors. As you say, even publishing houses distribute books with errors, so perfection remains an absolute. Let’s encourage those who would write to take the time to iron out the creases! After all, as it has been said – an abundance of information creates a poverty of attention.

    1. Hello Peter,
      Thank you for the visit and comment, and I do apologize for the delay in responding due to some deadline commitments.
      All you say is true and I especially like your take on ‘Prussian schooling’ – good one, that.
      All good wishes,
      Eric

      1. No problem, life does take our focus at times! The school systems / public education is a wonderful idea, but like any organized endeavor it can become corrupted … We must always be free to question what we are taught. Hope all is well by you.

      2. All’s well, Peter, and thank you for asking.
        I’m leaving for Australia this week to visit my daughter and also for a short holiday, before I get back to writing.
        Note to my readers:
        If you’re into poetry and well read and thought through commentary, pay Peter’s blog a visit.
        Cheers,
        Eric

  9. Thank you so much for the mention Eric. I’ve always looked on you as the master of words. To put in my two bits I see paperbacks and bound books of the future in decline along with the huge printing establishments that straddle the market still. You happen to be one of the leaders in going electronic. I remember when I did my studies in creative writing in retirement my teacher crossed out all the “good” English I learned in school and told me if I want to write stories and expect the public to read I have to write in language they understand. If you listen to people on the streets you’ll find they don’t indulge in the “purity” of the language. English has been in transition since the time of the Angles and is still borrowing from other languages. We don’t have to write gutter language, but we do need to keep pace with how people express themselves today. I wonder if University trained editors are keeping up with current English expression or still hankering for the days of Dickens? Now there are perils in putting your work up on the web. Hackers find ways to pirate anything found on the web these days be it music, video or literature.

    1. Ian, I have to tune into your comment and add my personal peeves about some of the transitions in our language which I deplore. Your prof might not be always right! If one listens to the average person describing anything and observes how they decrease the impact of their observations by the use of “really”. Example “I really like ..” says less to me than “I like…” Another peeve is the dropping of the word ‘area’ “what is the area?” is now asked as “what’s the square footage?” Another is “A short period of time” Ugg. I’d better stop as I know that you, who have not succumbed, understand my message and agree.

      1. I could not but smile – for, we share the same sentiments. But I admit, I too have been guilty of all you say, Jane. And I have a ready excuse – I am not a native English speaker 🙂

    2. Wow! Ian,
      Such high praise – and thank you so much 🙂
      And all you say is true – and English, like all languages is constantly evolving – some say getting destroyed 🙂
      With the advent of the Twitter genre and generation, soon books will be written where you and I might need a dictionary to decipher.
      IMHO, this is FYI the trend and we can cry or ROFL 🙂

  10. Great post. I self published two books and some people give me the eye roll when they find out about it. They never read my work, but they assume it is subpar based on the publishing method.

    1. Congratulations, Lynn,
      On your two books!
      And it’s also sad people are quick to judge poorly without giving you the benefit of a read. Strangers are bad enough but it gets worse especially when they are people who are supposedly close.
      Keep at it and who knows what awaits around the bend 🙂
      Eric

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