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
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
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 Amazon.com 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
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
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
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 ChristianWriters.com 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.