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
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
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