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Writing and Publishing

Three Possible Problems with Self-Published Books

Self-published Book Problems

Self-Published Book Problems: 3 common mistakes to fix

Self-published books carry a stigma of poor quality: weak writing, shoddy editing, second-rate production, and a product that often screams “amateur.” Unfortunately, this perception stems from the growing evidence provided by many self-published works. Though not all self-published books are substandard, too many are.

Here are thee examples self-published book problems from some of my recent reads:

1. A Lack of Editing

This printed book had a nice cover and looked professional. It unveiled a pleasing storyline and contained no errors (at least that I noticed). What I needed, however, was a thorough copy-edit, as there were continuity issues, implausible events, and an impossible timeline.

Also, the author tied up every loose end to produce a fairytale conclusion for almost every character. Despite many promise, the journey was unsatisfying.

2. The Rough Draft

This novella-length e-book had a decent title and acceptable cover. The storyline was intriguing—and those were the good points. It had significant issues with flow and continuity, but worse yet, I felt I was reading the first draft.

To its credit, the book had a killer surprise ending I never saw coming and delighted me immensely. But, unless someone options this for a movie (which could happen), I see no value to this book—either commercial or literary.

3. Missing Substance

A third book had none of these shortcomings. Well written, it benefited from careful editing and proofreading. The author had an enjoyable voice and wonderful concept.

What this book needed, however, was more substance and the removal of some idealistic recommendations that surely no one would follow. Though the majority of the book had value, the impractical parts threatened to overshadow the rest.

This isn’t to imply all self-published books are bad. There are good self-published books out there, which don’t suffer from these self-published book problems. They contain no consequential flaws and are enjoyable or valuable to read.

Unfortunately, in my experience, good self-published books are not as common as they could and should be.

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Writing and Publishing

Just Because You Can Self-Publish a Book Doesn’t Mean You Should

As the price barrier to book publishing lowers, too many books show up with too little quality

self-published anthology of short stories

I once read a self-published book by a “NY Times Best-Selling Author.” I’ll let him remain anonymous. It was a short story anthology of “the best” short stories in a certain genre. I expected much and received little.

A Self-Published Anthology of Short Stories

Perhaps I focus too much on flash fiction (short stories under 1,000 words). Possibly I read too many YA (young adult) books to appreciate writing that is more “serious.” It could be I lack patience. Or maybe I don’t know how to truly appreciate short stories. But just possibly this collection is not all that good, certainly not “the best.”

Here are the good parts: the cover design was okay, the interior layout was professional, and I didn’t notice any editing shortfalls. Failure in these areas is emblematic of shoddy self-publishing. So at least he covered the basics.

I started every one of the short stories but only finished a few. The one that I actually thought was well written and even had a twist at the end, elicited a “so what?” response from me and a stifled yawn.

Too often the stories failed to hook me at the beginning—and I always gave them a full page to do so. (I give books the first chapter to grab my attention.) And the few with promising openings that had me turn a couple of pages, failed to establish any reason why I should care about the protagonist. When you don’t wonder what happens to the lead character, there is no reason to turn the page. Ho-hum.

Don’t Bore Your Readers

The book’s introduction was copied from one of the author’s other books. (I tried to read that one, too, but ended up too bored to even skim it.) He may have tweaked a few words, but if so, it wasn’t enough to notice or give it a fresh feel.

He also provided a short preview about the writing of each story, highlighting what he liked about it and the strengths he appreciated. This may have been helpful as a learning experience, had not the stories been too painful for me to read.

I selected this book to learn about short stories. What I learned was don’t bore readers or waste their time. And if you self-publish, it had better be good.

Although a worthy concept, I doubt a traditional publisher would have touched this book. This is likely why the author self-published it. He shouldn’t have bothered.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Researching Competitive Titles

Competitive Titles

A common part of many book proposals is a “competitive works” section. I recently researched competitive titles for one of my book proposals. What I saw enlightened me.

Traditionally Published Books

To research competitive titles, I first looked at books from traditional publishers. They gave me pause. I had to think a bit to determine how my book was different and how it would stand out. This challenged me, but it was good exercise.

Each book was impressive: an attractive cover, nice title, a great concept or theme where the content flowed nicely, and professional editing and formatting. However, I didn’t think about any of these qualities at first. I expected these characteristics. Since they met my expectations, I gave these traits no thought—until I looked at some indie-published books.

[bctt tweet=”Our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

Indie-Published Print Books

Next, in my competitive titles research, I looked at some print books that were indie-published. At first glance, the covers were of similar quality and the titles were almost as good.

The content, however, was not the same. The concept of these books was lacking and their execution, disappointing. Also, the writing wasn’t nearly as good. One didn’t even appear to have been edited, with sloppy formatting and missing words—and that from reading less than one page. The fault in all this is not is a tool they used to publish the book. It is the author. If you put garbage into the tool, you get garbage out of it.

Indie-Published E-Books

Last, in my competitive titles research, I considered a pair of indie-published e-books. They offered no print options.

These suffered even more. Their covers weren’t as good, and their concept was questionable. As far as the writing, the interior layout was so bad that I couldn’t force myself to read it. I didn’t include them in my “competitive works” section because I didn’t view them as competition, merely a distraction.

Takeaway

From all this, I’m reminded, once again, that indie-publishing (self-publishing) is an attractive option and an affordable solution when traditional publishers take a pass on our books. While this could be for reasons outside of our control, it might also be that our content is ill-conceived or our book still needs work. Sometimes this is hard to determine, especially after we’ve poured ourselves into writing it.

Regardless, if we choose to indie-publish, we need to keep in mind that our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.

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Writing and Publishing

What Do Readers Care About?

What do book readers care about?

When book readers consider our book, few will bother to look to see who published it. They won’t care if a major publisher, let alone any traditional publisher, produced it. When it comes to publishers, there is little brand loyalty, let alone much brand recognition. The imprint is of no consequence. How the printed book gets into their hands or the e-book gets into their reader doesn’t matter to them.

Here’s what does matter:

Book Readers Care about the Cover

What they will look at is the cover. They will, in fact, judge our book by its cover. First impressions matter a great deal.

Book Readers Care about the Title

The title is critical, too. Depending on how they discovered our book, whether they see the title first or the cover first, the other element will seal the deal—or not. If the cover is great but the title, lame, they will dismiss it. Similarly, if they see the title first, a great cover will move them towards a purchase, while a bad cover will move them to a different book.

Book Readers Care about the Formatting

Next, they will look at the insides, whether thumbing through the actual pages or clicking online. If the layout looks “normal,” they will proceed. If it looks odd—even though they won’t know why—a red flag pops up.

[bctt tweet=”What is your experience when buying a book? What do you care about?” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

Book Readers Care about the Content

If our book passes these first three screens, they may actually read a section or two. Great writing beckons them; bad writing or editing—even average writing or editing—sends them packing.

Only when they get this far will they consider buying it.

Readers don’t care if our book is traditionally published or self-published; they care if our book is professional looking, well written, and interesting.

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Writing and Publishing

What Type of Book Will Yours Be?

My books are overflowing my shelves

A couple of years ago, I wrote about “Six Types of Books in My Library.” In summary, this is how I view my books on my bookshelves:

  1. Books Worth Keeping: I enjoyed them once, and I’ll read them again.
  2. Reference Materials: Books with the information I want to keep.
  3. Books I Plan to Read: I really do intend to read them—someday.
  4. One Reading Was Enough: I enjoyed these books, but once was sufficient.
  5. Books I Started But Never Finished: Despite initial promise, I gave up on them.
  6. Books That Seemed Like a Good Idea: I’ll never get around to reading them.

Running out of space and wanting to downsize, I gave away all my books in the last three categories. Some of those books will be read, many will be thrown away, and the rest will be dismissed—again. At some point, my books in category 3 will likely go, too.

With self-publishing options so prevalent today, anyone can publish a book. The question is, what category will these books end up in? Too many will fall into category 5 and 6. Some may not even rate that high. That’s because too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work.

[bctt tweet=”Too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work.” username=”Peter_DeHaan”]

While we can’t guarantee that the books we write will end up in the “worth keeping” category, we can increase the likelihood through:

  • Careful writing and rewriting
  • Listening to feedback from critique partners and beta-readers
  • Hiring a copy-editor
  • Paying for professional cover design and interior layout

May your next book be one that people actually read and then keep to read again.