I have been fortunate to have been on the outskirts of the South African book industry since 2012 or so when the first incarnation of this blog was created. As a result, I have learnt a lot about publishing for someone who has never finished a novel of my own. I am not an expert, but I am a reader and I have some pretty strong feelings on the self-publishing industry which many, especially those authors who are self-published, might take umbrage to.
I am OK with this because there are things that need to be said. Some hard truths that I am going to outline here and explain why I am not exactly enamoured with the Indie book scene.
Please understand that this blog post is simply a generalization. There are many authors whom I respect and to whom these comments don't apply. I also do not feel that self-publishing in and of its self is a bad thing. It is just being abused.
So let us break this down.
1. Being Able to Write Doesn't Make You a Writer
One of the biggest pitfalls of self-publishing is that anyone can throw words together and publish it with a pretty cover. There is no auditing involved other than what the authors themselves deem is necessary.
The problem is that a good editor costs money, so many authors (I use this word with a cringe) feel that they can bypass this process and do the work on their own. Or get the opinion of a best friend or relative. Unfortunately, even NYT bestselling authors have a professional team behind their success. Any writer needs an outside perspective on their writing, especially one who is not afraid to be honest.
Writing is a craft that is honed through practice, reading and more practice. It takes time.
What adds to this is this crazy desire self-pubbed authors have to shit out as many books as possible to make as much money as they can. If corners can be cut along the way, all the better. As long as it looks good with a fancy cover, right?
The result of all of the above is a market flooded with terrible books. Many of them with equally terrible covers. But, we all know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. A rule of thumb for potential authors? If your cover costs you more than anything else, you are doing something wrong.
It is really important that authors set aside any hubris and be realistic about their novel. Stop putting weak, half-assed books out into the world.
2. Quality of Story
Storytelling and writing should be viewed as separate things. A good writer might not be able to tell a good story and vice versa.
Basically, no one wants to read a boring book. Life is too short for boring books.
Of course, this is something traditionally published books also suffer from, but that I blame on literary critics reading overly verbose books in a feigned attempt at intellectualism.
Yeah, I also can use big words good.
Any book worthy of a reader's time should have a plot and well-developed characters who aren't self-inserts. This is pretty rare in self-pubbed books as many characters fall into Mary Sue territory. Mary Sues are boring for anyone else other than the writer.
3. Plagued by Plagiarism
I am not going into detail on the various scandals circulating the self-publishing industry, but they include things like blatant plagiarism, book stuffing, ridiculous copyright claims and more.
I don't know about you, but this makes me even leerier of buying self-pubbed titles.
Again, it comes down the industry being unregulated. People can literally publish anything and, unless a discerning reader flags it as a problem, they will get away with it.
I have serious trust issues as it stands with the quality of self-published titles. Now I also need to worry about ethics too. This just seems like hard work, honestly.
4. The Authors Themselves
Most self-published authors are, usually by necessity, their own agents and marketing team. This is great if it can be done with, I don't know, some sense of tact?
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. A lot of authors end up being their own worst enemies by pushing their books too hard and overselling them.
I appreciate that the author feels their series is "the next Hunger Games" but saying it to me doesn't make it true. Especially if the author came up with that marketing tagline themselves.
This makes it very hard to follow and support authors, as 99% of their social media content is promoting their books. Seldom do these authors actually read and talk about books from other authors unless this is an agreed promotion where author A will promote author B's title if they promote author A. I would put money on the fact that most Indie authors have not read the books by other authors they are promoting.
Rolling on from this, writers should never stop reading. They should never stop being advocated for other books they love as this is surely what shapes them into the writers they are today. I am actually shocked at how little many Indies I have been keeping a passive eye on actually read. And if they do, they certainly don't talk about it, perhaps in fear that it would derail their own self-promotion train.
Trad-published books are not without their flaws, but I am 99% certain they have been edited, reviewed and refined before they end up in my greedy reader paws. So I am happier to spend my money on them because I know there is a greater chance of me getting a quality product. It is really as simple as that.
In summary, be better at what you do. Spend money on trusted professionals to make your novel be the best it can be. Not everyone is a naturally talented author and it will often take many attempts before your novel is perfect. It is only going to further damage the perceptions readers like myself have of the self-published industry if steps are not taken by the community as a whole to improve quality.