Monday, 14 May 2012

So you want (me to read the book you've decided) to self-publish, eh?

I don't know much about the book publishing biz. I've never tried to publish a book, and I don't imagine I ever will. But I sure like to read them. And I know I should say this with shame, but it's not my style, so I'll just say it: I'm prejudiced against self-published books. Occasionally someone sends me one, or is nice to me and makes me feel obligated to buy theirs in digital format, and they're usually only $1.99, so I do.

A lot of people say that they're only self-publishing because they don't want to turn their labours of love into money-makers for the man (big publishing). That's fine. I'm picking up what those people are laying down. If, in fact, you're not just self-publishing because you can't be arsed to write a book anyone knowledgeable would think worth publishing, here are some ideas to help entice me to read your book:

1/ If you want to write fanfic, write fanfic.
Some people like fanfic. I don't. What I dislike even more than fanfic is being offered something to read and realizing it's just fanfic with the names changed. Not only is this frustrating, but it also reeks of idea infringement. Before your pen even hits paper (or fingers touch keys, as the case more likely is), please be brutally honest with yourself about whether you're creating something new or making a worthy exploration of an existing world. If it's the latter, embrace it, find the right outlet, and run with it. It's a great way to practice writing, and your own story will come eventually, I'm sure.

2/ Understand that your circle of friends is composed entirely of lying assholes.
Okay, they may not be assholes, but I'm not sure what else you'd call a person who would let someone spend a lot of time and money on writing and publishing a sub-par, barely (or even un-) readable book.

I'll be fair: the job of your loved ones is to support and encourage you. They believe in you because they know you're a great person, and the odds are good that you really are the best writer they know. Let them keep being your cheering section. Turn to them when you need that. Don't ask them for real feedback. But do make sure that you get constructive criticism from people who are qualified to give it and in a position to do so. You owe it to everyone you know, to your book, and to your future readers to take this advice.

3/ Pay someone to tell you that you suck.
I don't know what self-publishing costs, but I can tell by the price of most self-published books, that you have not had to factor the expense of an editor into your cover price. Do. Please. Hire an editor. I can barely point my browser in the vicinity of an online classified site without my mouse scrolling over a few freelance editors' looking-for-authors ads. Even if you can't afford a really good one, or a very experienced one, please hire someone to be your editor.

That doesn't mean get a proofreader. Editors do so much more than that. An editor often works with an author even in the early stages of developing the story, and can help you shape the plot and characters, tell you where there are gaps and gratuitousness, and offer a critical perspective on how your book will be received. Editors understand what you're trying to do and want to help you make a success of it, and unlike your lying friends, they will tell you what you need to hear for that to happen. And they'll probably proofread it, too.

4/ Market test it.
This means get people to read it. People who enjoy whatever genre it is that you're writing. But not your friends and family. Do you know why they pay people for doing market tests? It's not because nobody would do that otherwise (people love that sort of thing)--it's because if you're being compensated for your opinion, you feel that it's important and you should be forthcoming. Yes, I'm suggesting you pay people to read your book. Send them an e-book (free for you) and offer them even a $5 or $10 bookstore gift card upon completion of your survey.

Spread this cost out over all those extra books you're going to sell now that you have honest feedback, and it's worth it. And if right now you're thinking that you'll never sell enough to recoup those costs, then go back to point number one and try again, because if you don't have a book worth buying for a reasonable price, you don't have a book worth publishing.

5/ Okay, fine. Publish your book then.
Did you do it? Did you decide it's not fanfic, and then separate your cheerleaders from your critics, and did you hire an editor, and then did you market test it, and then did you go back to your editor, and then market test it again, and then weep to your family who cheered you on, and lather, rinse, repeat until you had a book that finally is great?

Awesome. Now I believe you when you say that you wanted to write a great book, but just didn't want to publish it with a subsidiary of General Electric. And I can't wait to read it. It's gonna be great, I bet. Thanks for doing all that.