DearAuthor’s doubts on self-published and POD novels

DearAuthor.com“Truthfully, when I see a book that is self published, either in e-book format or print format, I tend to believe it is simply not good enough for a publishing house and therefore not worth my time. This may be completely inaccurate and I might be missing out on great books, but with the enormous number of books available from NY and reputable ebook publishers, I can’t think of a reason I would take a chance with my time and money on a book neither set of publishers wanted.” – Jane at DearAuthor.com, who, in a related vein, also wonders about the economics of POD books. So, gang, what do you think?

8 Comments on DearAuthor’s doubts on self-published and POD novels

  1. We’ve heard for years that the web allows every author to sell directly, eliminating the bottleneck that publishers provide. This is true, to a point. But it ignores the fact that publishers aren’t just a bottleneck. I reject most of the books submitted to BooksForABuck.com for publication. Why? Some of them because they don’t fit our guidelines (write a great memoir and I won’t touch it because I only do novel-length genre fiction). Some I reject because they’re beautifully written but the plot doesn’t hold together. Some I reject because they don’t make any sense at all.

    What’s my point–a publisher isn’t just a bottleneck, we’re pre-screeners. If you buy a book from a publisher, you know at least one editor read that book and loved it. It might still be bad–we’ve all read books from major NY publishers we thought were bad–but someone other than the author and her mother thinks it’s great. Great enough, in the case of the publisher, to spend real money on. Publishers also edit, which means every book we sell has been through an extensive editing process–not guaranteed in the case of self-published books.

    On the economics of POD, POD is a great way to get small volume print books. It’s a horrid way to make money. I do offer print books, but believe me, I’d rather you bought the eBooks. And, unlike some of the big publishers, BooksForABuck.com’s eBooks are MUCH cheaper than the paper versions.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher, http://www.BooksForABuck.com

  2. Rob on self-publishing and POD: On target–and just the kind of comments I hope you’ll make in my PW comment area, while remembering that many people there won’t be as up on E as we are. If nothing else, it’ll be a way to show BFAB’s flag in the publishing world. I’ve really appreciated your comments here and hope they continue! Thanks. David

  3. (A disclaimer that, in addition to being traditionally published, I’m self-published online, but I’m addressing here the reader’s point of view.)

    I think the people who don’t like self-published POD books and self-published e-books are the same people who don’t read self-published online fiction. And that’s perfectly fine; I was in that category a decade ago. But those of us who have found a lot of good online fiction are more likely to take a chance on self-published books, particularly if they’re from an author we already know from their online writings.

    My experience with reading self-published online fiction has been very positive, since I don’t read online stories randomly but instead seek them out through reader reviews or through forums and archives that are known to attact high-quality submissions. In other words, I agree with Rob Preece that pre-screening is helpful; I just think that pre-screening can take place in ways other than an editor or publisher making the decision as to what is worth reading.

    Many of these authors have no interest in being traditionally published, so it’s not a matter of them trying for publishing houses and being rejected.

    I understand – from those who have had the misfortune to plow through the offerings – that the average quality of self-published e-books and POD books is considerably lower than that of online fiction, but I think this will change as more authors get their works properly edited. (In certain parts of the Web, this process is already in place for online fiction.) What is important, I think, is identifying which authors are worth reading, and this is where review sites such as DearAuthor.com can play a vital role – though I’m not trying to twist Jane’s arm into taking up this role.

  4. Dusk: Many thanks for your perspective. Perhaps in the future Jane can experiment with reviewing self-published works that are selling well and generating online raves. As it is, however, she’s plenty busy with the formally published variety. It’s great she and others are reviewing E, period. Meanwhile the best of luck with your own books! – David

  5. I think it depends on the niche. I mean, look at Scott Sigler—self-published his way to a six-figure deal, didn’t he? He thought of a way to differentiate himself and get an audience. I don’t know if his eventual goal was a print contract or not, but he did well. And Cory Doctorow has also done well by releasing his novels on the net under a Commons license. I personally bought one of his books in print after previewing bits of it on-line, and I am very happy with the purchase. Part of it was because I wanted the book, but part of it also was because I believe in supporting authors who do things creatively, to prove to them it works.

    Another example—Jennifer McCann at the Vegan Lunch Box blog. Started the blog, it was popular, self-published a cookbook and it sold out. It has now been picked up for a second printing by a “real” print publisher. Nothing at all wrong with the way she went about things. I guess in all of these cases, the trick is either having a gimmick nobody else has (podcasting, etc) or having a built in audience (blog readers)

    If you only read books in bookstores on principle, I think that’s a fairly close-minded attitude. Progress never happens from sticking to the status quo. If you see something on-line that looks interesting, don’t reject it just because it’s from an unknown. Half the music on my ipod is from unknown indie artists I find on-line, and I have had friends say they would not listen. They are missing out on some great music! And I think it’s silly to be doing that ‘just on principle.’ Go on, try something new, it won’t kill you :)

  6. I agree that — for now — POD must be considered as on average below the level of ‘canonical’ editorially-approved fare, p or e. This is simply because of mathematical averages: among the POD and self-published are texts that are ungrammatical ravings and amateur works.

    This to my mind opens up a prime business opportunity: call it the half-publisher. This would be a group of people (probably focusing on one genre or nonfiction topic) that scour the POD and self-publishing piles as if they were slush-piles, and publish recommendations. Not reviews but only recommendations. Go to the site of one such half-publisher and get a list of recommended thriller, or romance, or SF, or mystery texts available out there.

    These half-publishers would act as screens between us readers and the enormous piles of 1,000’s of books offered POD, ebook, self-published, to winnow the grain from the chaff. The half-publishers would get free copies from the authors/POD houses, and maybe a cut of sales through their sites.

    And they would be worth their weight in gold to us readers, for the tedious, wretched work.

  7. “As it is, however, she’s plenty busy with the formally published variety.”

    And as I said, I wasn’t trying to prod her to do so. :) Sorry that my post ended up sounding as though I was. I think reviewing of any type of medium should only be taken up by those who have a strong interest in the medium. There are thankfully quite a few self-publishing review blogs out there now.

  8. Something that Jane may not know is that it is marketing, not editors, who choose what books will be published by the New York houses. This means that those who really know about books are not the ones with final say. No wonder when I walk into the big chain bookstores most of what is for sale has little appeal for me.

    Jane would probably consider the titles of Oestara Publishing books she would assume the New York editors turned down and so would not want to risk “wasting her time” on them. Oestara Publishing is a family business, in the sense that we sell the family’s books. For instance, we sell my father’s novella, “The Joshua Machine,” which was first published by Canto Review of the Arts, a literary journal. When Canto went out of business, Dr. James H. Clay’s gem of a historical novel went out of print. However, we have made it available as an e-book. It has earned a glowing review and was a 2003 Eppie finalist in historical fiction. Jane would probably also miss out on Vector Theory and the Plot Structures of Literature and Drama, by me, Cynthia Joyce Clay. A New York academic press editor was interested in this book, but marketing said no. Ben Bova, Hugo winner and president emeritus of NASA read it, loved it, and gave it a glowing review even though he never reviews books. Go and read his blurb on our website. Oestara Publishing also publishes my father-in-law’s book Mundilla, a Spanish language book which is a utopian thriller based on the ideology of the co-op movement. Joaquin Ramón-Huguet, a leader in the co-op movement, wrote the co-op laws for Venezuela and established an internationally successful co-op. Every single one of these books was edited professionally. Indeed, all Oestara Publishing e-books have been edited professionally—by a non-family member as well as family members. For instance, The Oestara Anthology of Pagan Poetry, which tied for the 2006 Eppie for Best Poetry, had four editors, the three contributing editors, Raymond T. Anderson (a non-family member), Cynthia Joyce Clay, and Delight Clay, plus our house editor who was responsible for the final edit. Dr. Ronald Hutton author of Triumph of the Moon gave us The Oestara Anthology of Pagan Poetry a rave review to post on our web site.

    Oestara Publishing has other titles which have received reviewer plaudits and have delighted readers. Yet, it is difficult to get the word out that OestaraPublishing.com is a place to find fully professional, worthwhile books because so many people feel as Jane do. As a “self-publishing” publisher, I particularly admire those adventuresome readers who are willing to search out and purchase what they enjoy, not being slaves to the publishing decisions of marketers. Jane, take a risk; it’s fun! Come to Oestara Publishing. You’ll be glad you did.

    And for those who want some pure Halloween entertainment, we’ve got the Romance of the Unicorn.

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