Saturday, August 19, 2006

Shooting yourself in the... foot? Mouth??

Recently I received a "publicity" piece from an author, and it generated as much sympathy as it did less generous emotions. I won't identify the author, out of pity and the hopes the author will learn to do a better job.

In this piece, the author proclaims "I am a self-published author, so I have to do all my own promotion."

First of all, never, ever walk into a group of publishing or book industry professionals and proudly announce "I'm self-published!" It says a few things, mostly not complimentary.

First of all, it says you probably don't know what you are talking about. True "self-publishing" means you went to R.R. Bowker and purchased the minimum ten-ISBN block, established a relationship with a printer, and paid the printer to produce your book, carrying your own ISBN. Very few people do this because of the effort, time and cost involved.

What you probably did was to go to a subsidy publisher of some kind and pay them (or to Lulu, who gets their money in more subtle ways) to publish your book with their ISBN on the back. That is not self-publishing. It's subsidy publishing, often less kindly referred to as vanity publishing. "But my publisher said I'm self-published!" you may say. Think about that statement!

Here's your best test: IF you own the ISBN and are free to take it to another printer and use it on your book there, to produce the same book with the same cover, etc., but with a different printing company, then you are self-published. If you can't take the ISBN with you when you leave the printing company, then you aren't. Simple.

OK. I said "First of all," which implies there is a "Secondly," and there is.

Secondly, as unfair as it may be, being self-published is not a badge of honor in publishing and writing circles. Generally people assume, rightly or wrongly, if you had to self-publish your book or subsidy publish it, nobody else thought it was good enough to publish commercially. This does NOT include your Mom, your Aunt Mabel who always doted on you, or anyone like that. We're talking objective readers.

I'm not saying they're right. A number of famous authors self-published, or subsidy published, or whatever you want to call it. And some of those books actually attracted positive attention once they hit the streets! But the sad truth is, most subsidy published books are pathetic things. Their cover design is often terrible. Their editing is very poor or non-existent. Their authors are often laboring under the mistaken idea that, if they write the book, people will come to them to buy it.

A few months ago, before I was exposed to so many subsidy-published books, I became indignant when someone made snide remarks about them or their authors. "Such prejudice!" I thought.

I'm going to call subsidy-published-books SPBs from now on, because I'm lazy

Now that I've tried to read and review quite a few, I understand. Seldom does an SPB come across my desk that is worthy of the time to read and review it. That's so sad! Why don't the authors believe in the idea of getting an outside editor? Heck, I'm an editor with years of experience, but when I read my OWN work, it's darn hard to see the little errors that creep in. It's because I see what I expect to see instead of what is there. It is always easier to edit someone else's work.

And the covers! I've had a couple come in for me to read, where I swear the authors commissioned a local twelve-year-old to create the cover art using crayons. That's OK for a kid's book, but it looks tacky on an action-adventure-suspense book for adults.

Yes, there is a "Thirdly."

Thirdly, it doesn't matter if you are published by yourself, by PublishAmerica, by Wolfmont Publishing or by Tor Publishing (a big name in the SciFi arena), chances are you are going to do a lot of promotion. With the number of books hitting the market now, and with limited budgets because of constraints mandated by shareholders and/or bean counters, it's the rare author who doesn't have to do the majority of promotion for his or her book. There are some big names who get money shoveled in their direction to go on book tours and so forth, but the majority of authors invest both money and "sweat equity" into the promotion of their books, hoping for a return in sales and readership.

Lastly, everybody knows you think your book is great. Hey, if you didn't, why did you publish it? Get some objective outside opinions and use quotes from those to promote your book. If you can't get any positive ones, maybe that should tell you something....

It's great if you can get authors in the same genre, but if you don't know any (bad sign there!) get other professional opinions. If it's a medical mystery, get a doctor or two to read your book and give you a quotable opinion. If it's a police procedural, get quotes from a detective or cop. Get the idea?

If you are trying to promote your book, don't do the kind of things that will turn people away from your book before they even open it up! You may actually have a decent story in there, but if people won't read the book it won't matter.

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