Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Notes on Self-Publishing

As a reviewer, I'm often asked why we don't review self-published books. There are many reasons; some more straightforward than others. But as a person who always roots for the underdog, listens to self-produced music, and reads plenty of start-up literary magazines, it seems that if anyone would review self-published books it would be me. The easy reason is that my editors wouldn't accept the review. But here are the real reasons:
  • When a publishing house puts out a book, I know it has jumped through a series of hoops. I know it has been read and edited by countless pairs of eyes, hopefully catching mistakes and rewording awkward sentences. When a book is self-published, usually, it is only the eyes of the author that have seen the final product, and this usually leads to mistakes. I know some self-published authors turn to their critique group or significant other or whoever to read the book and give feedback, but many don't. Many just write a book, do maybe one more draft and then put it out there. Too many self-published books read like first drafts and that's not what I signed up to review.

  • The point of reviewing is to promote books, to let readers know what's out there and if it's any good. Self-published books aren't out there. They are not easily accessible. My review may help get the person's name out there, but in order to sell books, the books have to be readily available, preferably in Barnes and Noble or Borders, but Amazon works too.

  • I'm a skeptic and a cynic, so this last reason may just be me. When someone hands over a self-published book, my immediate question (in my head of course) is why the book was self-published. Is the writing bad? Does the plot have holes in it? Did the author try to sell it to a house or get an agent? I am well aware that not all good books sell, let alone get published, but many of the self-published books that have seen, didn't get published for a reason. That is not to say all self-published books are bad books, but like in my first bullet point, if they had gone through the editing process, the editor and author would have worked out the kinks.
As with every rule there are exceptions. And his name is Darren Callahan. I've read two of his books (the latest one is on the way) and one of his screenplays and this guy is a very talented writer. Who's his publisher? Kinko's. Darren prints out his books with a high quality printer and then takes them to Kinko's to get bound. The whole thing cost him five bucks. He sells them on his website for ten. And because he's a marketing genius, he's sold thousands. I won't steal his thunder and talk about his reasons for publishing books the way he does, but I will say I respect his decision.

Basically, my advice for those who weren't able to sell their book: don't self-publish. Keep it in that drawer, write another book, and maybe someday that first novel will reappear on bookshelves everywhere. Because when it comes to marketing and selling a self-published book, unless your Darren Callahan, it is close to impossible.

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