Yesterday, when I started looking for something to blog about, I made my way over to The Passive Voice. TPV is an excellent source of information for every author out there, traditionally published or indie. One post in particular caught my eye. It asks the question we have heard asked so many times over the last few years: Are self-published books inferior to professionally published books?
Now, without even reading the article, I knew I wasn’t going to like the post TPV had linked to. The title of the article itself shows a bias, not by TPV but by the author of the article TPV linked to. It assumes that self-published books, what we call indies, aren’t professionally published. Take that one step further. By phrasing the headline the way it did, the author of the article signals from the beginning that indies aren’t as professional or as good as traditionally published books. Otherwise, why not rephrase the title of the article as “are self-published books inferior to traditionally published books?”
So, without even reading the underlying article, my back is up. I can’t speak for anyone except myself but I am a professional writer. I make money from writing, enough to pay my bills. I simply chose not to take the traditional publishing route. That does not make me any less of a professional than any other writer who has chosen to try to find an agent, get a contract and publish with one of the Big 5 publishers.
But let’s move on and see what the article itself says.
Let’s see, the original appeared on Quora. The author of the post is Archie D’Cruz who, according to his byline, has “been involved in publishing all my working life.” Hmm. Could this be another indication of a bias? We’ll see.
So overall, how do the books compare? For the most part, self-published books do not even come close to what a major publisher puts out.
Wow. That’s a very broad statement without any sort of qualifications. It also sets the tone for the rest of the article. Our so-called expert has just told everyone who might be looking for good information that indie books don’t come close to what a “major publisher” puts out. Now, while this is true on some levels — indies aren’t restricted to writing to what publishers want to fill their catalogs, for example — it also skews away from the topic as put forth in the headline to the post. Remember, it wanted to know if self-published books were inferior to “professionally” published books. Now, suddenly, we have gone away from the “professional” aspect to “major publisher”.
Let’s see what else he has to say.
His first knock against indies is when it comes to editing. According to the OP, he is surprised “so many” indies see no need for an editor or proofreader, etc., to have a look at their work. I don’t know what indie authors he’s been talking to but I don’t know a single indie author who is serious about her work who doesn’t have beta readers, proofreaders and and editor look at her work.
What they [traditionally published authors] benefit from is having multiple sets of eyes review and make edits; often many rounds of edits. Copy is also checked for spelling consistency and reviewed using a style guide (typically the Chicago Manual of Style).
Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. Yes, there are some good editors out there but they are few and far between. I know several traditionally published authors who have taken to hiring editors to go over their work before they send it to their publishing house because the level of editing there has gotten so bad. There are stories from authors where their editors have not only missed errors but have made changes that were flat wrong, whether it was changing a foreign language word into something different and inappropriate for the context or using modern maps and landmarks for historical fiction. As for making sure the book follows the CMS, I think one of the commenters at TPV had it right. Most readers couldn’t care less if the CMS is followed or not as long as the book holds their attention and the grammar and punctuation isn’t so bad it throws them out of the narrative.
His next issue where he thinks indies fall short is cover design. I’ll admit, there are a number of really bad covers out there. Whether it is because of bad cover images, the use of totally wrong fonts, or what, indies have done some terrible covers. But so have the traditional publishers. I don’t remember the title of the novel right now, and I think it was a romance, but the woman on the cover had three hands. He does, grudgingly, admit that sometimes trads use stock art. But that is buried after he talks about photo shoots and multiple attempts to find just the right layout, etc.
I’ll even admit this is probably the one area where most indies are the weakest. However, a smart author, one who is serious about their work, will find someone who can help with cover design. It isn’t something that has to cost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. What it does take is someone who understands how to signal the right genre with images and fonts. It is also something that an author has to understand.
Design and layout is the next area where the OP thinks indies fall down on the job.
The production values for the interior of the book are just as important. I cringe when I see the ghastly Times New Roman used as body type in a book. The same goes for type set too close to the binding (something that needs to be taken into account while laying out the book), or when hyphenations are set to ‘On’ when the type itself is justified, or when the type is set so close to the page borders that it is not allowed to ‘breathe’.
Now, do you see what I see here? Notice, nothing is said about e-books. Either he doesn’t think e-books are a valid form of publishing or he doesn’t think there is such a thing as production value for e-books. Or could it be that he realizes that indies know, often better than trads, how to put out a good looking e-book?
When it comes to print, it isn’t as difficult as he wants to it seem. Again, he is using very broad strokes to condemn a large number of authors for mistakes made by only some of them. He also doesn’t mention the problems I have personally seen with some traditionally published books where I’ve had the pages suddenly turned upside down or have had a section of the book missing when I bought it.
Here’s the thing, folks, I hate articles like this because not only are they a comparison of apples to oranges but are so overly general in their application that they don’t offer any valid data to support their allegations. Here’s the thing, there are some bad indie books out there. Bad in production values, bad in style and bad in cover design. But there are also bad traditionally published books out there as well. How many times have publishers given huge advances to some politician or celebrity only to have the book tank? How many times has a publisher put out a book only to find out the co-called true story wasn’t or to learn the story had been plagiarized?
As indies who want to be viewed as professionals, we have to treat our work as just that: professional. We have to make sure it is edited, proofed, well laid out and has the best cover we can find. It is our job to not only meet but to exceed the quality readers have come to expect from traditional publishers. It is our job to prove that folks like the OP are wrong.
Last week, I posted a snippet from what was then an untitled work. Since then, a title — as well as a series title — has been decided on. Witchfire Burning will be published later this week as an e-book. The print version will be available in a few weeks. Check here or at my blog for updates and a link when the book goes live.