Sometimes blog posts are a good way to put your thoughts in order on a particular topic. Last week I found I was giving myself a whole list of good reasons for changing my mind about self-publishing. Heck, for a few hours I even found myself considering going down that route with something of my own.
This week I’ve been reminded very firmly indeed of why I always thought it was a bad idea.
Hands up anyone who disagrees with this premise: it’s a rare and unusual book that doesn’t benefit from an editor’s attention before it gets into print.
I’m guessing not many hands were raised there, and none at all which belong to real working writers with a professional approach and a track record of publication.
Cut to the chase. I read a self-published book. Not on Kindle, you understand; that change of mind is a long way in the future. This particular book was the print version, of which very few exist – but those few are identical in every detail (except the way they’re actually produced) to the version which is available as an eBook.
Every typo, every punctuation glitch, every wobbly sentence, all exactly the same. Even the sadly inevitable bit where a character’s eyes change from blue to grey. (I know that’s an editor’s cliché, but clichés only become clichés because they’re true.) There were a couple of holes in the plot too.
I won’t go into why I read it; it’s not as if I’m exactly short of reading matter. Let’s just say it seemed like a good idea at the time. And potentially it was a good idea: even with all the errors, I wanted to keep turning the pages, and not just to see if there could possibly be any worse bloopers. There’s actually a great story in there, and some characters I didn’t want to leave behind when I reached the end. But if I had a pound for every wince or teeth-gritting as I was reading, I could probably afford the Botox to smooth away the new purse-string lines around my mouth. (Botox... Now, that’s a whole other post, though possibly not for this blog...)
All the above would be easy as pie to fix. If only someone had pointed them out in time.
I like to be absolutely, strictly and one hundred percent fair, so I gave the book to my other half for a second opinion, and I have to say he wasn’t halfway near as distracted as I was by the glitches. Maybe, as I was moved to observe a few weeks ago, these things leap off the page when you’ve trained your eye to look for them, but fade into the background for most people. That said, even other half spotted a handful, so in this case it wasn’t just me.
Of course, this is a problem not confined to self-publishers. To quote just one high-profile example, last year there was the Great Terry Pratchett Scandal, when the publishers were forced to withdraw an eBook edition of Snuff for a while, to correct a whole slew of errors just to make it user-friendly. And it’s not even just eBooks; plenty of conventionally published, conventionally printed books are littered with minor errors. And I have a feeling the problem isn’t going to go away any time soon.
If memory serves, and it sometimes still does, in the days long, long ago when this blog was young and I was, well, younger than I am now, I waxed eloquent about the need for even more careful editing than usual if you were planning to self-publish, because at its best a self-published book can be a showcase which may even lead to greater things.
Certainly Amanda Hocking, E L Grey et al didn’t say no thanks, I’m fine as I am, when the big guys came knocking. But these days every book trade newsletter or magazine I pick up seems to carry an article which challenges the need for publishers or editors. Does that mean another challenge too, for the premise that correct spelling, punctuation which ensures the words say what you mean, and proper consistency through the text actually matter?
If this is the way the world has turned, maybe it’s time I gave up.