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Opinion: The Core Problem with Self-Publishing is Quality Assurance

IMG_6912 (2)From Australia, Tahlia Newland, author, editor and founder of Awesome Indies Books, shines her spotlight on what she considers to be the biggest bugbear in self-publishing:  quality.

Self-publishing well isn’t easy, and selling your book is a major challenge, but there’s plenty of assistance around to help you solve both of these problems, at least to some degree depending on your resources in both skills and finances. There is, however, one issue with self-publishing that will always remain for so long as an author makes the decision themselves whether or not to publish.

Good Enough to Publish?

The problem is that not every book written is worthy of publication and, in general, the author is the least qualified person to make the decision as to its worthiness. Even for an experienced author, the temptation to publish just because you can is strong. How many self-published authors stop and consider whether their book is actually worth publishing or, better still, ask someone objective and well read that question?

Even if they find someone objective, will that person really be willing to say, ‘Actually, I don’t think this one is good enough to publish.’

The fact is that for all the books written, only a small percentage are worthy of publication. During the days when traditional publishing was the only practical way to get published, publishers used to pick up around 5% of what was submitted to them. One publisher I did a workshop with said that around another 10% were well-written, but they weren’t something the publishers felt would sell.

That 10% are the books that self-publishing is great for, the ones that give quality variety for readers and books for niche markets.

A Mass of Mediocrity

four leafed clover

Good luck is not enough

But the advent of easy self-publishing hasn’t made 85% of the books written any better, it’s just made it possible for readers to read them. So what we can get, at best, is a lot of mediocre books because authors are not that discerning in deciding if their book is worth the effort. They just want to see it published.

If you only want to see your book in print and have it available for your friends and family to read, and don’t mind that you won’t get your money back, then go ahead. Just don’t expect to make money or get rave reviews from discerning readers.

But if you want to write a book that will garner good critical reviews, and you want to establish a career as an author, then the decision of whether or not your book is good enough to publish is one you need to consider very carefully.

Personally I can’t sell something that I wouldn’t find excellent myself, and most authors would have some kind of standard they feel their book should be before they publish (or submit to an agent), but I wonder how many self-published authors have such a discernment of quality that they have a fully written unpublished book in their archive folder.

The Value of Self-publishing

I’m not saying that the (relative) ease of publishing is bad, not at all. For at least 15% of books written, self-publishing is great, it gives the authors better returns (if they’re able to market it) and readers more quality books, but for the other 85% of books written the value of self-publishing is debateable. The author spends a lot of money getting out what might be, at best, a mediocre book. Some will make their money back, but most won’t. Some will get reviews that aren’t too scathing (a lot of people don’t bother to write a review if a book isn’t worth finishing), others will get slammed, and others will get enough good reviews and sales to make them think that their writing is pretty good, even if it isn’t.

Putting out mediocre books isn’t good for an author in the long run. A discerning reader won’t give you a second chance, and only good books encourage people to read more.

One Route to Quality Assurance

Statue holding scales

Fine judgement needed

The problem of quality in self-published books will only be solved when authors ask a publishing industry professional if their book is worth publishing, and if they get an honest answer and are prepared to not publish. Sounds a bit like a gatekeeper, doesn’t it?

Well, there was a reason for them, and the reason still exists: to protect readers from books that aren’t that great, and to protect authors from the career-killing repercussions of ill-advised publication. I recommend that before you publish, you book a manuscript appraisal from someone who will give you an honest and informed opinion.

So authors, do you ask your editor or other authors if your book is good enough for publication? And if you do, do you think they tell you the truth? Are you prepared not to publish if beta readers don’t respond well? Do you have an unpublished book sitting on your computer?

NOTE: Although Tahlia’s shared the link to her own firm’s manuscript appraisal service, there are of course many other service providers in this sector, including fellow members of the Alliance of Independent Authors. 

Also relevant to this discussion: Kelly Hart’s recent post last week for Writers’ Wednesday: What’s the Difference Between Critiquing and Manuscript Appraisal?

OVER TO YOU Do you agree with Tahlia’s assessment and statistics or does your experience (or your optimism/pessimism!) tell you otherwise?

All #selfpub #authors should have their mss appraised says @TahliaNewland Click To Tweet

 

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50 Responses to Opinion: The Core Problem with Self-Publishing is Quality Assurance

  1. Abigail Thrift September 23, 2016 at 2:33 am #

    As a writer, and as someone who interns at a publishing group, I can say that I wouldn’t be confident self-publishing. There are far too many things I do not yet know or understand and I fear my finished product would not be able to reach its full potential because of that. While some authors are incredibly successful self-publishing (and some publishers are unsuccessful with what they produce), I’d be more comfortable with someone who knows what they are doing by my side.

    I briefly touch on the subject in a blog of my own, citing Tahlia Newland’s article as a wonderful source! http://abigailthrift.weebly.com/blog

  2. David Lieder January 27, 2016 at 2:57 am #

    What Tahlia is offering is called a “conceptual edit.” Traditional publishers always have this for their books. A real marketer would never believe that the “abundance model” will pick the winners any more than the “free market” allows everyone to compete equally.

    The problem here is that indie authors are ignorant of basic professional services, including the “conceptual edit,” so the majority of these comments read like a high school writing club trying to explain rocket science. “Conceptual edit. That is a word not in my vocabulary. I am only and indie author so don’t expect too much in the way of professionalism.”

    Although I would not trust Tahlia for any other type of edit. There are a lot of grammatical errors in her article. But I would definitely pay her for a conceptual edit.

  3. Denise Barnes November 13, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

    I’m afraid to say that in general indie-published books have far too many typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, clueless punctuation, inaccurate timing of events…the list goes on, even when the story and characters are great. I think this is one of the key points Tahlia Newline was making – that many would-be authors don’t bother to have a professional edit. So many times I’ve heard self-published authors say, ‘Oh, I’m really good at grammar and spelling so I’ve done my own proof reading.’ Then you read their book, and its awash with mistakes, thereby stopping you from becoming fully absorbed.

    Such a shame. I’m also indie-published but pay heavily to have not one, but two professional edits, as well as my wonderful critique writing partner. I think I’m brilliant at English but there are always dozens and dozens of mistakes I haven’t spotted.

    On that note…

  4. Mitchell Medford November 11, 2015 at 3:56 am #

    I would rather trust the evaluation of my writing to 10 beta readers in my genre than to the judgment of a score of self-styled critics. The free market will eventually sort out the digital self-publishing industry. The biggest problem lies not with energetic authors but with the glut of “experts” who tantalize inexperienced self-publishers with the carrot of success while fleecing them of hard-earned cash.

  5. Pelham McMahon November 10, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    Clare, I love this comment you just made! I always ‘look inside’ as I know what I like to read. What do you think about this, sometimes the title puts people off! When I originally wrote the Cranford Hall series, I got myself enbroiled with a publishing house whose boss insisted on calling it the DCI Teasedale Murder stories. But he could not see my point, that the books were about redoubtable old people, more than the policeman. I had to wait two whole years until I could CreateSpace them under the Cranford Hall title. Now I make more in a month from them than I ever did in two years with VDU publishing. He still has them on sale and I still get neither statements or cheques from him.Be warned! Keep going Claire, I think you are great! Pelham

  6. clare weiner November 10, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    On joining ALLi I set myself to read books written by self-pub/Indie authors and have found both quality and books of a really low standard (in the story-telling department) There are sadly quite a few very mediocre, uninteresting, poorly styled novels coming from self-pub authors – but reviewers have often praised these as a story they enjoyed – so, just looking at story-telling, and including whether this includes accuracy and readability (or un-put-downable-ness) with interesting character development obviously books I:d reject as a publisher are still satisfying some, Amazon-reviewing, readers. readers …

    However, I still would say that overall we Indies could up the writing standards as a group, and that should be encouraged – not only at the beta-reader stage but by encouraging would-be writers to read well-written books, think about character and plot development, maybe (though not necessarily) take courses/attend writing days, not expect to write a book in a short time, etc.

    It depends what you want, of course: I ‘looked inside’ 50 Shades and that was enough to convince me I’d get bored, whatever was happening, by the plodding style! It sold: did everyone who bought read to the end? If so, what for?

  7. Shawn Spjut November 10, 2015 at 11:59 am #

    While I agree that self-publishing may have opened the door to poorer quality work, I have to throw this in the tank – as an avid reader, I can’t tell you how many poorly written books I have picked up and discarded that were published by traditional publishers. Books that, in my opinion, and really this is all about opinion, should never have been given a green light. Fact is, my usual reaction to one out of every five traditionally published books I read is “Who in the world thought this book good enough to publish?”

    I think quality of writing across the board is changing. With smaller budgets, shifting landscapes and challenging venues, publishing (be it Traditional or Indie) is an evolving beast that refuses to be caged. We may lament the changes, but change is inevitable. And, at a speed that is almost faster than the speed of light. The most we can hope for is to not get lost in the quantum leap.

  8. Evelyn Stice November 10, 2015 at 5:36 am #

    This post made its point quite well. I’m sure there are self-published books that are amazing and wonderful and sweet, heavenly bliss, but many of the problems I have seen with self-published books are objective: poor spelling and grammar, monotonous sentence structure, logic errors. Problems that a sufficiently sophisticated piece of software with no AI whatsoever could detect. On the flip side, most problems with books that have made it through the publishing machine are subjective (though self-pubbed books often suffer from these as well): flat characterizations, tensionless narrative, too much description, and so on.

    That is to say, generally if I don’t like a traditionally published novel, my thoughts are something like, “Well, that wasn’t for me.” (And plenty of books that I love are not widely acclaimed.) But I’ve read a fair amount of self-published fiction that made me think, “Wow. That was BAD.” Of course there are exceptions to both sides. I’m merely talking percentages.

    I’ve noticed that every author I respect, almost without fail, regularly thanks their editor and various other bits of the publishing “machine” for helping their manuscripts get to a finished state. Why in the world would a writer intent on self-publishing take offense to the idea that having other writing professionals review their work is necessary? Bit of hubris, there.

  9. Prue Batten November 10, 2015 at 2:07 am #

    Whilst I agree with Tahlia to a point and indeed Orla, and many others who have commented, I have to say that I have shelves full of gatekeeper-selected titles which bore me (i must get rid of them) and are badly edited, and a Kindle full of indies whom I love and who have gone the whole nine yards to produce a great story.

    In the end, like reviews, the marketplace is a subjective thing, (like gatekeepers, assessors, beta-readers etc) and the marketplace will be the decider. It’s too big an entity to persuade. Someone will either love, hate or be ambivalent about any one title.

    From my own POV as a reader and a writer, I just appreciate the democracy of the new developments in publishing that allow a whole plethora of fresh and exciting writing to get into that marketplace.

  10. Kim Lambert November 9, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

    Apologies for a few spellos and odd words in my previous comment – gotta love sneaky autocorrect on the iPad!

  11. Kim Lambert November 9, 2015 at 10:49 pm #

    For me, the key question here, which has not been addressed in the article, and which only a few of the comments have touched on, is “How do you define’good’ writing?”

    Beyond the basics of getting spelling right, using the correct words in the right places, and having sentence structures that are comprehensible, it all gets very subjective. Some readers like a light, way to read novel, with relatively lightweight plot and character development, that is quick to read and just for fun. Others prefer something that is complex, with lots of twists and turns, deeply explored characters and lots of setting description. Others again like very literary pieces, which are more about exploring the human condition and less about telling a story. A reader who likes one type of work will usually hate the others, and regard those that they don’t like as “bad writing”.

    Which does not make any of them bad writing. It simply means that the right reader needs to find them.

    So, whilst I agree that review is helpful to assess publication readiness – ie, are there plot holes, are there continuity errors, is the spelling etc right, are there context issues ( if you are writing historical, get your period terminology right!) does it flow, or are there bits that the author may need to adjust for clarity etc etc, it is not any editor / assessor so place to be the one who chooses whether something ‘should be published’ or not. If the author wants to publish, let them.

    It’s a big world – part of the gatekeeper effect in traditional publishing was purely because of the big upfront investment in printing and marketing that they needed to make before ever seeing a sale, combined with the fact that all of that was going on in limited and localized territories. So a book that would never sell a thousand copies in one country, might, in this global age, sell tens of thousands of copies when the whole world can find it. So we should no longer be driven by a cost benefit analysis definition of quality, based on an outdated model of big business economics.

    I am all for quality in books, but let’s allow that much do that is still “in the eye of the beholder”.

    • Pelham McMahon November 10, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

      Thanks Kim, I think I love your comments, going global is my salvation. Pelham McMahon

  12. Mike Coville November 9, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    I had high hopes about this post based on the title, but sadly I feel Tahlia misses the mark.

    I will address one of the glaring mistakes in this post:

    “The problem of quality in self-published books will only be solved when authors ask a publishing industry professional if their book is worth publishing” – Absolutely false. “Publishing industry professionals” are not objective. They have a motive that may be counter to that of the author or the reader. The only people qualified to determine if a book is worth buying is the reader.

    There are numerous “best selling books that I would never label as “good” books, but people bought them and the authors were encouraged to publish more of the same. These are also books that some “publishing industry professional” (PIP) approved of. But ask yourself this, who is the quality control gate keeper here? Is it me, the critic that disliked the book? Or the PIP that approved publishing it? or was it the reader that spent their own money to be able to read the book?

    Ultimately it is the readers that are the gate keepers. Sure some mediocre books will make a buck or two, but no one will make a living from publishing books readers do not enjoy. But, if you write a book that readers like and they spend their money every time you publishing one, does it really matter if a PIP liked it or not? Of course not.

    One last thing. There have been millions of books that those all powerful “Publishing Industry Progressions” gave their seal of approval to be allowed to go to publishing that readers did not purchase. Where those “good” books?

    • Tahlia Newland November 10, 2015 at 2:33 am #

      Okay, clearly that’s not such a great term. I wanted to be as inclusive as possible, so used ‘publishing industry professionals’ not to mean those who choose books for mainstream publishers, but to mean authors, reviewers, and editors. If you have a bunch of trusted author friends to beta read for you, then that fits the bill.

      Also I’m not suggesting that you give this person or people – who you choose is up to you btw so obviously choose someone whose opinion you value – total power, you can still choose to ignore their advice.

    • Grace November 10, 2015 at 2:46 am #

      Mike, you saved me a bit of typing by expressing thoughts that were very similar to mine. I read the title of this piece and was excited, as I too agree that there’s a quality issue in self-publishing. And, while I agreed with some of this post, I found the tone it a bit condescending. “Others will get enough good reviews and sales to make them think that their writing is pretty good, even if it isn’t.” If readers enjoy a book and give it good reviews, who are we to say that the book was mediocre or of lesser quality?

      Also, we recently learned that 2015 Man Booker Award winning author, Marlon James’s first novel was rejected 80 times by traditional publishers. Who were the gatekeepers in those instances and on what did they base their judgment? Are these the same gatekeepers who would judge my novel, with its unusual premise and its black female protagonist, and dismiss it as niche and unmarketable? And, as someone else stated, what about all the “mediocre” traditionally published books that got the seal of approval of professional editors, agents, and publishing houses? Your argument seems to be that traditional publishing gets it right more often than self-publishing does but from where I’m sitting, traditional publishing has a long tradition of getting quite a bit wrong.

    • Pelham McMahon November 10, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

      Thanks Mike Coville, My super edited and proofread ‘An Actors Place’ made me next to nothing [under£200] and 15 years on is consigned to rare and secondhand book shops. My ‘Aftermath’ leads the money coming in every month, and yes, I have a circle of people I have never met, who buy all my works and who don’t review, because they don’t feel they can write properly, people who believe they are poorly educated, but who e.mail me via my web page and tell me they love my stories. Suddenly its great being dyslexic, it no longer bothers me, the tools are in my own hands, even though at this moment I look at what I have written here and cannot see if i have made a mistake. If I have please forgive me. Good luck, thanks for the encouraging words in your reply above. Thanks, Pelham McMahon

  13. Jennifer Jensen November 9, 2015 at 9:28 pm #

    I mostly agree with Tahlia that gatekeepers have a place: I don’t think that place includes “should it be published,” but definitely should provide guidance on whether or not a piece is READY to be published. From stilted dialogue and flat characters to simple typos and formatting, any author needs educated feedback.

    However, for example, I have a senior member of my critique group who doesn’t understand children’s adventures and is always asking for more description, and for me to slow down and spend more time in the character’s head. There is some kid lit where that would be appropriate and desired, but not mine. While he gives good comments on much of what I write, he just “doesn’t get” children’s adventures. The few YA writers in the group give balanced feedback and the other adult writers point out things my children’s writers group misses, so it just seems to be his personal tastes. I’m glad he’s not my editor!

    There are different purposes for different books, and a wide variety of readers with their own opinion on what they want from a book. I do NOT want a gatekeeper to tell me what’s salable – that’s the whole purpose of going indie. I wouldn’t mind a “gatekeeper” who analyzes fairly for the specific style/genre, but not one who can’t get past his/her personal tastes.

    As far as hiring someone, I think the key is to make sure they have extensive experience in my genre – the same way I choose beta readers.

    And yes, I have unpublishable books in the drawer – my first, which will remain forever unseen, and another which needs a complete re-write someday.

    • Tahlia Newland November 10, 2015 at 2:28 am #

      Good point. It’s the same as choosing an editor, you have to find someone who understands your genre and your intention, someone who aims to help you achieve your goals – not their idea of what they think your goals should be.

      I wasn’t talking about sale-ability though, just readiness to publish.

    • Jane Steen November 10, 2015 at 2:22 pm #

      I have people among my beta readers who don’t really “get” my books (and still want to beta read them, which is slightly odd). I find their critiques interesting, and since I’ll inevitably get readers like that when the book’s on sale, it can be useful to see what they think!

  14. David James November 9, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    If only we could all agree on what is a ‘good’ book and what is ‘bad’ or ‘mediocre’ then Tahlia’s comment would carry more weight. It often takes years, generations indeed, before an artist becomes recognised as worthy. Orna seems to welcome all comers to publishing, which is very democratic, but causes problems of excess of junk to wade through. Personally I don’t find the abundance model ‘exciting’ in fact wearying, but what can you do if the gates are open? So let them all in, and leave a book’s survival chances alone; worthy books will survive in the end – although the author may never be credited in his/her lifetime.

  15. Katherine Hayton November 9, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

    “One publisher I did a workshop with” is not an accurate basis to extrapolate data across an entire industry.

    Quality is an extremely subjective term (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, anyone?) and having a gatekeeper imprint their opinion of quality onto the industry is exactly what self-publishing freed us from.

    Having new gatekeepers self-appoint defeats the purpose; to let readers see everything and decide for themselves. We all know of examples where the traditional publishing gatekeepers have been wrong about what was going to capture the imagination of the reading population. Their opinion of quality doesn’t equal an informed opinion of what will and won’t sell; or what readers will or won’t like.

    Unless you have magical powers to interpret the Zeitgeist of the reading public, then you’re asking self-publishers to pay for a report from one reader expressing her opinion; something that’s widely available for free.

    • Tahlia Newland November 10, 2015 at 2:24 am #

      Yeah, I’m not actually suggesting a return to ‘gatekeepers’ in any sense of the word, just that authors get objective opinions on their work, rather than assuming that just because they wrote it, it’s worth publishing. And if you can get a professional to give you their opinion for free, or you have a bunch of authors as beta readers, then great. This isn’t about money, it’s about attitude.

      • Dana Alexander January 8, 2016 at 8:25 pm #

        It is about about attitude, Tahlia. With so much mass mediocrity available, publishing a quality read over a “mediocre” read is what some of us Indi authors strive to achieve by being dedicated to the craft, willing to pay a good editor, seek beta readers with the ability to provide constructive criticism, hire quality cover designers, etc. to be taken seriously as writers. There is a point made above and beyond the monetary investment that gatekeepers will allow mediocre work through (with examples provided in this chat). I’m not talking about whether the book sells, but instead that poorly written work has come through those same agencies/publishers for any number of reasons, and primarily for the only reason the topic is hot at the time…and therefore sells (I recall 50 Shades being referred to in a large writing group as “Fifty Shades of Bad Writing”, as one example).

        I suppose the question is if an Indi author has a quality read, based on legitimate critical reviews, published after receiving “objective opinions” and investing in hard core editing, exactly how can that author be differentiated/noticed in a “mass of mediocre” writers who can buy 5 star reviews? Good marketing, one might say. But that’s another investment too, and that means it (producing a quality book for more than one’s family to read) may be about money as well as attitude. And even then, getting noticed is still quite the challenge.

    • David Lieder January 27, 2016 at 2:52 am #

      Readers don’t “see everything.” If you think the abundance model brings the best books out, that is just wrong. And in regards to Tahlia’s opinion compared to the mass of readers, most readers are not going to be able to give any type of objective view because they have other agendas including their own entertainment.

      Tahlia is offering what is called a “conceptual edit.” I guess one characteristic of being an indie author is supposed to be ignorance, ignorance of what a conceptual edit does and that this is actually a service that traditional publishers use as well.

      In all honesty, Tahlia is very opinionated (I base that on reading her comments and article) and I would expect she would be opinionated about a conceptual edit, which has value. That is WHY IT IS CALLED A CONCEPTUAL EDIT. Because it is part of the editing process, in the professional publishing world, but I guess I shouldn’t expect indie authors to have any clue about that.

  16. Jane Steen November 9, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

    “Are you prepared not to publish if beta readers don’t respond well? Do you have an unpublished book sitting on your computer?”

    Yes to both. I left my first try at a novel unpublished because I was aware that although the writing is good, I didn’t know the techniques I needed to end up with a good novel. So I learned them.

    I rewrote the third book I wrote extensively because beta reader comments, and particularly those from my trusted critique partner, were lukewarm. Then I rewrote the first 32 chapters, cutting plot lines and characters, because two knowledgeable readers said exactly the same thing about why the book worked wonderfully from chapter 33 onward, but less before that. The whole process took forever, but it resulted in a much better book.

    Although I agree with Orna that the abundance model is what is exciting about self-publishing, I think your friend was spot-on about the 15 percent. But the system is self-regulating–most writers of mediocre books will either get better or stop writing. The successful ones will be those that continually pursue excellence, no matter where they started from. And I think that’s true of traditional publishing too.

    • Tahlia Newland November 10, 2015 at 2:21 am #

      Yes, and if more writers had your attitude, more of them would write better books.

  17. Evangeline November 9, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    The core problem with self-publishing is rip-off merchants who set themselves up as gatekeepers and arbiters of quality so they can help themselves to other people’s money.

    • Tahlia Newland November 10, 2015 at 2:19 am #

      Luckily we have the Alliance who checks out services for us. We know that ones they make partners can be trusted.

    • Pelham McMahon November 10, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

      Thanks, Evangeline – that has been my problem all my life. I may not be a genius, but I have gone on the road and written because I must. It is how I breathe. So, I am an Indie author – it is like cooking, we all need to cook and eat. But unless we have the courage to believe that our baked beans on toast are as good as the next man’s, we would all starve. Personally, I love the natural style of the Indie writers – I love all our sinful mistakes, I love that nobody knows who I am, but I hug to myself the joy of seeing 21 of my 40 rejected manuscripts lined up on my bookshelf, as self published paperbacks. I always use the free CreateSpace service and I thank Dragon Naturally Speaking for giving me the life I have longed for – for over 70 years. I am no longer ‘Hitler’s Child’ a dyslexic nobody. Sorry Tahlia, and Co, my book, ‘Aftermath’ the first book printed without one of you proofreading or pulling it apart and it sells and sells and I am smiling even though no-one knows its me, as I get wheeled around Liverpool a smiling grumpy old lady who now believes in herself. Pelham the fat old lady sings at last!

      • Orna Ross November 12, 2015 at 8:18 am #

        What a fabulous comment. Who can argue with that? Thank you Pelham for reminding us that the creative process has value, in and of itself, for the writer, and that it’s not all about pleasing even our readers. Sing on!

  18. Warren Shuman November 9, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

    Tahlia, I love that you get directly to the point. The-ease of DIY e-books have created a huge swath of e-books that are amateurish. I believe that much of the fault is Ignorance of Story and no studied awareness of Plot and Structure. Wanabees watch too much TV and think that they can copy these styles, without an iota of the planning and techniques that go into writing a blockbuster. As a base, they need to read and study Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”, and John Truby’s “Anatomy of Story” and more. Learning screenwriting is a great teacher for writing novels. .

  19. Orna Ross November 9, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

    Wherever new creative forms and formats flourish, people complain about excess. Erasamus, who was writing in the wake of Gutenberg, grumbled about the masses of bad books emerging: “Is there anywhere on earth exempt from these swarms of new books?” http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1331167.files/Erasmus%20reacts%20to%20printing.pdf

    Important ideas (among which he included his own) would get all mixed up with the bad stuff and “lose all their goodness”.

    I disagree with his perspective. I like that publishing no longer works a scarcity/commercial model but a creative/abundance model and think that what’s important in any publishing model is not how many bad books, but how many good books, are enabled. 

    Yes, the new means of expression available to more people produces more tyro and aspirant work, but it also results in more accomplished and virtuoso work — the expanded tip of an enlarged mountain.

    We can see, looking back, that Erasamus was wrong, that the opposite happened: his was a gold age of knowledge and writing. We see that throughout literary history whenever new forms and formats flourish, this gives rise to great writing.

    I believe we’re seeing this in our own time too … because that’s the way a creative model works. With the efficiencies of online search and digital sampling, it’s never been easier to find great books. For me that’s far more significant than the “bad” or “mediocre” books, which fall away to the bottom anyway.

    • Dan Holloway November 9, 2015 at 7:32 pm #

      Exactly this 🙂

    • Mike Coville November 9, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

      Perfectly said

    • Tahlia Newland November 10, 2015 at 2:14 am #

      I guess the section headed The Value of Self-Publishing wasn’t clear enough. I agree with you Orna, but I don’t see that doing our best to minimize the possibility of publishing mediocre work is at odds with the flourishing of creativity. Be madly creative, just make sure it’s polished before you foist it on the public.

      I guess the issue in this respect is whether you can trust the professional you approach to evaluate your book in terms of what you’re trying to do rather than what they think it should be. I reminded the AI reviewers of just this point recently, and that we must honor the integrity of books that may not take the approach we would personally take. This post isn’t about the AI, but people often assume that our criteria cut out the ground breakers, when in fact we honor them. Experienced reviewers can see where something ‘breaks the rules’and succeeds.

      • Orna Ross November 12, 2015 at 8:09 am #

        Sure Tahila, and you know that ALLi always encourages beta reading, book doctoring and self-editing as part of the writing process, then insists that editing and design are absolutely fundamental to publishing, not nice-to-haves or add-ons. Basic and utterly essential.

        The “self” in self-publishing is a bit of a misnomer. Nobody ever wrote or published a good book on their own. Publishing is always a collaborative process. And now readers are more part of that process too.

        My comment aimed to address the widespread worry about “bad” books, which I believe is far less important for literary culture than we publishing types think and, for many writers, a distraction from getting on with the job. And my comments about the creative process were addressed less to the content of the book than the value of self-publishing as a more creative publishing model.

        What is “good” or “bad” in a book/movie/play/picture will always be a subjective assessment at the level of content but at the level of mechanics (punctuation/grammer/pacing/plotlines) is far easier to spot and fix. Writers also need to encourage each other, to know that if we are in creative mode, we will make all kinds of mistakes — including choosing bad editors, publishing too soon and publishing a book that should have stayed in the drawer.

        What’s most important, as creatives, is that we simultaneously do our very best AND give ourselves permission to fail, while drawing in all the help we can.

        That’s what I love most about self-publishing. We can, as Beckett put it so very well, “try, fail, try again, fail better”, as we slowly build a readership and an understanding of what we have to offer. A “bad” book is sometimes a necessary step on the way to a “good” one.

        While I’m here, can I take the opportunity to say thank you for the great work you do for indie authors. We are nothing without our editors.

        • Dan Holloway November 15, 2015 at 8:13 pm #

          You know my feelings on this 🙂 I wrote a piece a few years ago entitled “we need more bad books”

    • Anthony Puttee November 11, 2015 at 11:17 pm #

      As it has been said, the cream will rise to the top.

    • Dana Alexander January 8, 2016 at 7:40 pm #

      Very well said, Orna.

    • David Lieder January 27, 2016 at 2:44 am #

      I completely disagree with your point.

      Erasamus didn’t have to deal with four million bad eBooks and PLR dumped onto Kindle. Having an “open market” would be nice, but that’s not what we have right now in 2016. The only authors who get noticed are those at the top of the organic charts, and everyone else on Amazon falls unnoticed to the bottom. And on other platforms, the same rules of commercialism still apply. It’s not the masses who are deciding what sells, it’s the advertising and hype behind it. Is it any accident that most of the best-selling self-published books out there are related in some way to sexuality and even erotica? How does that show that “the best” books are making it into the public eye?

      And while the article is a bit of a shameless plug on Tahlia’s part, I can see how it would be beneficial, if they do what they say and read the book fully with a real skill of providing feedback. I agree with Tahlia and Stephen King, who say that the opinion’s of family members and friends are subjective, unprofessional and usually not representative of the target market, or any market.

  20. Keefer November 9, 2015 at 3:39 pm #

    Tahlia raises the most obvious and depressing side of self-publishing: just because you CAN publish a book yourself, does not mean you SHOULD. I’m not sure about percentages of what should see the light of publishing day, and what shouldn’t, but it’s fair to say that a good percentage of self-published content is mediocre.

    The problem I have with her point of view is: (1) a good percentage of what publishers consider good content that can sell, is in fact just as mediocre; (2) many successful films started at self-published books like “The Martian,” “Still Alice,” “50 Shades,” etc., which of course begs the question that the so-called gatekeepers of traditional publishing have a terrible reputation for picking winners.

    Ergo, having a “manuscript appraiser” like Tahlia weigh in may not get a self-published author any closer to success.

    Perhaps it’s simply better to allow the marketplace to decide what should be read and let it go at that, instead of subjective, ill-defined and randomly effective “manuscript appraiser.”

    Just sayin’

    • Tahlia Newland November 10, 2015 at 2:00 am #

      I’m not talking about asking someone whether or not a book will sell, I’m talking entirely about evaluating the strength of the story. Unfortunately, sale-ability does not necessarily relate to quality. This is for people who want to make sure that whatever they publish is of a good standard. Sales are a different matter and quite out of my (and most editor’s) area of expertise.

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