Dave Meigs

David Meigs is a novelist with a background in youth outreach, specializing in ministry to at-risk youth and their families. Though his writing is enjoyed by all ages, his novels provide a unique, life-changing quality, critical for the youth of today. David and his family lives in Seabeck, Washington.

Life-Transforming Fiction

The DIY, Life-Transforming Novel

From time to time, I receive requests from authors to review their books. I enjoy doing this, particularly for emerging novelists. It is especially satisfying when they win awards or their sales breakout. It feels good knowing that I had a small part in helping to get the word out.

Unfortunately, before I finish the first ten pages I disqualify ninety percent of the books I’m asked to review, because they desperately need editing. In every case, they are self-published titles. This is never true with a traditionally published title, where each manuscript goes through rigorous rewriting and editing until the finished product emerges ready for printing.

Before you send any hate mail, I have favorably reviewed and recommended self-published titles. The difference is that these authors went the extra distance and expense of properly preparing their manuscripts before printing. The end result is a novel that people can enjoy.

I’m writing about this for two reasons. First, if you are considering self-publishing, do it right. There are no shortcuts to success. It takes a lot of hard work but is well worth the effort. Second, I would like to offer a lifeline to anyone who self-published a title before it was ready. I have been down that road myself. I hope you can learn from my mistake.

Several years ago I was about to finish my third novel when I decided that I should find a home for my first novel. I had rewritten it and received editing help from a few friends. Bulging with pride after all the praise from my family, I was sure the book was ready. Everybody told me so. (Does any of this sound familiar?)

A quick Internet search on publishing turned up a long list of POD companies, all crying a similar mantra: Traditional publishing houses did not accept submissions directly from authors but only from agents. I added several potential POD publishers to my favorites and started searching for agents.

A quick shake of my piggy bank warned that I could not afford an agent yet. I put this decision on hold and researched further. I read several blogs that warned of some agents’ predatory practices. My heart sank. Whom could I trust? I spent several hours each day learning all I could about publishing, which only confused me. Some kind of revolution was going on in the publishing industry. The shared consensus of the few writing blogs and POD Websites I read declared that the old model of traditional publishing was dead—traditional publishers just didn’t know it yet.

After talking with a pastor friend and the few ladies from my church who edited my novel, I decided to find a good, cheap POD publisher. POD companies seemed to agree that their best new authors were being discovered every day. All I needed was a book in print, then an agent or acquisitions editor would be sure to order a copy from and the rest would be history. After all, God was on my side.

I chose the cheapest company. I couldn’t afford the bells and whistles such as copyediting or the recommended substantive edit. I didn’t need it. My friends’ edits were good enough. Between the three of them, they had discovered hundreds of typos, which I had fixed. They had also talked me into spicing up my tags, or total lack of them, with a creative use of verbs. Now my characters were belching, barking, spitting, mumbling, and growling. It felt wrong somehow, but I made the changes anyway.

I spent a few weeks of anxious waiting after placing my order. I received a steep discount by ordering a few hundred copies at the time of signing the contract. I had to check my advance

copy, approve it, and my books would be printed. I was excited. Then the advance copy came—all one-hundred-sixty thousand words of it. Life was good. Soon a star would be born.

I will never forget the feeling of opening that first copy, turning to one of my favorite scenes, and seeing a typo. I quickly scanned a dozen pages and on every one was a typo. I e-mailed the POD representative and stopped the presses. After a couple weeks of frenzied editing, I approved the order. Then began the long wait for the books to be shipped.

A few weeks later, the big brown truck arrived, delivering several heavy boxes. “It is my first novel,” I explained to the driver. I could tell he was really impressed. “Let me get you an autograph,” I said, but before I could finish opening the box, he handed me his clipboard. “Sign here,” and then he drove off in a hurry.

I lifted out the closest book and scanned the pages for errors. Almost immediately I found typos, and some were new. Stomach acid rose in my mouth.

My search revealed five or six misprinted books in every box. These I set aside for a refund. Then I discovered a couple of the boxes held nothing but misprints. Some covers were misaligned, and others were delaminating. Still others had sections of upside down text, or the page numbers were out of order. My favorite was the one with blank pages. The stomach acid taste became an all-out, acid-churning slug-fest in my gut.

Then I learned about a forum called Faith in Fiction, which was operated by an acquisitions editor from Bethany House, David Long. He’d established the forum to discover fresh voices in aspiring writers. That had to mean me.

I lurked for a week or two before joining the discussions. Everyone was friendly and helpful. I sent Mr. Long an e-mail, asking if he would be interested in reading my book. What was not to love? After all, it was a one-hundred-sixty-thousand word work of art.

His answer came in the form of a post on his forum the next day. It changed my life. He said that he would never consider a self-published title, and he said why. All of my mistakes and wasted efforts became as clear as the nose on my face.

After some soul searching, I knew that self-publishing my novel had been a big mistake. I decided to pull it off the market after only a couple months. I was embarrassed, but I would own my mistake, and I learned my lesson well. I had to be more careful about whom I listened to and whose advice I followed. Most important, I would seek the company of experienced writers. No more hurry to get the book out. I would write other books and grow in my understanding.

If my experience feels eerily close to your own, perhaps this is your wake-up call. I am not suggesting you should never self-publish. It makes perfect sense for some; however, if I’ve described your experience, take your book off the market, at least until every word is perfect. If you need some help getting it into top-notch condition, I whole-heartedly recommend Websites such as or joining American Christian Fiction Writers. These sites are full of experienced writers who are eager to give friendly advice to anyone looking for help.

Until next time, own your mistakes. Step up and do the hard work to make your book all it can be. And if you’re in the market for a misprinted copy of my book, have I got a deal for you.