Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Should you publish your own book?

Google "self-publish" and you'll find countless websites exhorting you to become your own publisher. Self-publishing is quick. It's easy. It can be cheap. Best of all, you are in total control. No more wasting time with publishers or agents who just don't get it.

For a different opinion, read Melissa Foster and Amy Edelman's op-ed piece, "Why Indie Authors Don't Get No Respect", first published, ironically, on IndieReader.com ("a venue for discriminating book-lovers to find and purchase books published by the people who wrote them."). Publish your own book, these authors say, and you're likely to get bad editing and crappy covers. By bypassing the "gatekeepers," you will release your book into a vast pool of unfiltered and usually inferior content. That's no doubt why the New York Times will not review self-published books, and it's why I duck and run whenever I see one coming my way.

But I may have to change my opinion.

Last week I reviewed (not for this blog) two books published by small but conventional publishers. One  was so unattractively designed outside and in that at first I assumed it was self-published, or perhaps a galley. But no. This was the final copy.

The other book looked somewhat better, but the copyediting and proofreading, if any had been done, was abysmal. The text was sprinkled with typos, of course, but it also featured misused apostrophes, incorrect capitalization, dangling modifiers, faulty parallelism, misspelled words and names, incorrect punctuation, homonym faults, misused words, incorrect citations, mistakes in subject-verb agreement--and even a running head that actually dips down and interferes with the first line of type.


As I was recovering from these two books--both of them worth reading, by the way, and certainly worthy of better treatment than they got from their publishers--I got an over-the-transom request to look at a self-published book. I was heading into my instinctive crouch when I suddenly thought: How could it be any worse than the books I'd just reviewed from conventional publishers? So I checked out the author's website. Hey, not bad! Good design. Good marketing. Much better than the publishers' web pages for the two authors I'd just read. I may regret this, but I agreed to look at her book. I hope she used a competent editor.

I still agree with Foster and Edelman, at least on principle. Gatekeepers, editors, and designers can vastly improve the quality of published material. Most self-published books interest few people beyond their authors. But you know, if publishers think they can no longer afford expert designers and editors, then why would any author in his or her right mind want to accept their lower royalties?

Should you publish your own book? Probably not, unless you're willing to hire a team of professionals to ensure a good product which even then will be rejected by most book stores and reviewers. But before offering your proposal to a publisher, be sure you're dealing with a house that still places high value on design and editing. When publishers stop doing that, they make themselves irrelevant.


  1. I've always been skeptical of self-published books. You're right, a great book requires a great team.
    Self-publishing may be cheaper, but it doesn't ensure a quality finished project.

    As an aspiring author, I know that when the time comes to propose my book, I will seek out a publisher that cares about design and editing - because those things still matter.

  2. I'm published by a small publishing company that did a great job on my cover and layout. I did virtually all of the editing myself, though (I teach elementary and middle school language arts. I also ran it by my sister who has an advanced degree in English and does some freelance editing.) I think between their cover/layout and my editing, we turned out a decent product.

    I've seen some abysmal covers and editing from small publishing companies. If you're not going to get a good product, self-pub (especially if you've got a decent sized platform) might be well worth it.

  3. The problem with this thinking is that you assume "self published" means an independent effort, with no editing, etc., while "publisher published," means there is a team. I've written and published 8 books through a publisher, and seen many of them translated into second languages and published in large markets abroad. My experience is that you sometimes get good editing, you sometimes don't. It's hit and miss.

    My one self published book, while it's a complete bomb on sales, I actually spent money sending through three different editors for independent review. The storyline itself was reviewed by three or four different people. The cover, I think, is fine (if not in the "modern half dressed girl in an action shot" style). I've had more "teamwork" on the self publishing side than the professionally published side.

    The point is it's up the author, not the publisher. The publisher represents a place that normally has good resources to throw at editing, marketing, etc., but you can't count on it. The final responsibility lies on the author in either case.