Self Publishing – a Blessing or a Curse?

That depends on who you talk to, of course.

pothi edition

The self publishing boom has given rise to the publication of millions of new books, the majority of which would never have been published traditionally because they would be either deemed to be of insufficient interest to return a profit to the publishers or because they were, frankly, just too terrible to see the light of day.

How good a book is can be very subjective in many ways, but certain rules must apply.

If you buy a traditionally published book, you may be reasonably certain that it has been edited and proof-read to a high standard, the printing and layout of the book is of good quality, and the actual contents – plot, dialogue, character development et al – are sufficiently well written as to repay your reading time.

There are no such guarantees with a self published book.

As a member of several Goodreads groups, I receive regular emails which consist largely of other members promoting their books. These promotions frequently consist of a synopsis of the book, extracts, and links. All well and good, but the number of extracts that are poorly written, unedited (it would seem), with poor print layout, and the number of synopses that are equally poor, is very high indeed. Probably the majority, unfortunately. And should I follow the link to the ebook sales site and read a longer extract, frequently this, too, is filled with more of the same errors.

As far as the plot and dialogue and all that goes with that is concerned, I admit that may be partly down to taste. I have no doubt that some poorly written and poorly plotted books still give great pleasure to many readers, and good luck to them. There are certainly examples of the same amongst traditionally published books. And styles go in and out of fashion, anyway.

What I do take issue with, though, is poor, sloppy editing.

Most people cannot afford to pay for professional editing – I certainly can’t. I understand that. It means doing the job yourself, but taking infinite time and care over it. Check it over and over again until it is the best you can do. The odd mistake will slip through, but that happens even in a professionally edited work. Persuade others to act as beta readers for you. They may not be professionals, but they will spot things you don’t. You are too close to the work, anyway.

If you can’t do that, don’t publish the book.

Let’s take layout first. It only takes a careful look at half a dozen professionally published books to get a good idea of what that layout should look like. And you can buy books that supply more detail. If you are serious about your book, you should do that.

Spellcheck is a useful tool, but only if it is used properly. It recognises a correctly spelled word in its database, but has nothing to say about the suitability of its use. I do find it particularly irritating to come across passages where the completely wrong word has been used, no doubt because Spellcheck flagged it up as the correct spelling. Common examples are groyne / groin, sheer / shear, alter / altar etc. etc. etc.

Grammar is the biggest minefield, though. We all get that wrong at times, even the best of us. But at least avoid the biggest howlers – the so-called grocer’s apostrophe, for example. Put the manuscript through a program such as Grammarly, which is free to download, to pick up the majority of the errors.

Another phenomenon I have seen recently is a 4,000 word story published on Amazon as a ‘Novella’. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with selling a story that length, but anything that comes in at 4,000 words is a short story. And quite a short one at that. To describe it as a novella, no matter what price it is being sold at is, quite frankly, a bit of a bloody cheek.

Please don’t do that.

And I’m sure many other readers have their own pet peeves.


79 thoughts on “Self Publishing – a Blessing or a Curse?

  1. I agree with much of what you write, Mick.

    As you say, traditionally published books have been edited and other quality checks have been performed, which is not (always) the case with self-published books. Having said that, I have come across a couple of traditionally published works and have wondered to myself why they ever saw the light of day. I remember once reading a novel only to discover (in this traditionally published book) that a page was missing. Obviously this is down to the publisher (not the author). However assuming that a whole print run had a page missing, this is a poor advertisement for the publisher in question.

    Best – Kevin

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I’ve come across that once (I wonder if it was the same novel?). And, as you say, that was clearly the publisher’s / printer’s fault. I do think it possible that the proof-reading wasn’t all it might have been, although I wouldn’t know whether the plates would be set up afresh for the actual print run, or whether the plates from the proof run would simply be corrected (if you see what I mean!).

      Liked by 2 people

  2. There does seem to be a real fashion for novellas at the moment and I agree with you – a lot of them are really short stories. It’s a little bit of a cheek, quite frankly, when the downloads sell for the same price as full length novels.
    You make excellent points about editing. I am incredibly unhappy with the editors used by my publisher, so much so that I am seriously considering taking the remainder of my series elsewhere. Bad editing lowers the perceived quality threshold of the entire work and it is a real shame for writers, both traditionally and self published. You are right, of course, a few typos and whatnot pop up even in the most high-end publications – but it doesn’t make it any the less irritating.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Exactly. I don’t suppose I would have a problem with a short story being sold as a short story and for a proportional amount, but they are, as you say, generally the same price as a novel download.
      As for the editing, I admit now I was in two minds (as a friend) whether to comment on some of the editing on ‘The Vanishing Lord’, and decided against it. I had similar feelings with ‘The Box Under the Bed’. Perhaps cowardice on my part.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I am very, very disappointed with the editing in all three PG books and, while the people I work with are great and lovely, the overall quality just isn’t high enough for my liking. Without wanting to sound arrogant, I believe my work deserves just a little better. The Box Under The Bed was edited by Dan Alatorre, as far as I know. I have declined to contribute to the next anthology.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I think I’m a firm convert to the beta readers idea.

    I’m looking at you, Mick! I’m concurrently doing 2 projects – one, I’m paying for assistance, one I’m working my way through with the help of blog friends and amateur aficionados. Will call,
    for help!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not a writer but there is nothing worse when you’re reading than bad grammar or poor editing. It takes your focus away from the story which is obviously not what the writer wants. Surely multiple edit-phases by different people and beta-reading is an essential for any writer. I wonder if some people just want to be ‘published writers’ and don;t care too much about the finished article?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Jonno. It spoils the story, and certainly does nothing to encourage you read anything else written by that author. I’m sure the allure of being published pushes some people to just shove anything out there, but it is counter-productive.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Arv. That is an interesting article, even if I don’t agree with all of it. It is correct in that a lot of what we regard as correct or incorrect usage, and therefore correct or incorrect grammar, is down to what is popular / accepted / current style, but the inference it draws that it is therefore perfectly acceptable to flout these conventions is definitely dodgy ground. It may be perfectly acceptable for ‘experimental’ work, such as Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, but by being an experimental work, that flags up a warning that the grammar (etc) may be inconsistent with what is currently normal. Its use in more ‘popular’ writing I think just puts people off.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you have evaluated this quite well, Mick. My own thoughts are that the world is moving towards a very casual society. These changes are quite noticeable in clothes, communication and so on. The way things are changing who knows what will be the future of books and writing styles? The youngster these days don’t even use regular words they have their own “lingo”. well, everything is open for interpretations though. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, language always changes, but those changes are accelerating at quite a rate, now. I suspect this is entirely down to social media and TV, so no sooner has one group come up with a new term that is ‘cool’ than it has been shared all over the world.

          I don’t know about writing styles, but I find it hard to imagine that books won’t survive in one form or another. Surely?


  5. I have to agree with you about good editing, it is an extremely hard thing to do on your own work, but if a person intends to publish (self or otherwise) it seems like an essential step.

    Good editing, good grammar and spelling enhance the readability of something. and there is no point in publishing anything, no matter how good the story if it is impossible to actually read!

    I have to say I have never actually tried to edit (or write) a book or story, but am a technical author by profession and I find it really hard to find people who actually read in such a way that they are seeing errors and such. Perhaps these are the people who are okay with reading a badly edited book…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely essential, Sam. As I say in the post, I can’t afford to pay an editor (although after Lucy’s experiences, that clearly isn’t always a perfect solution, either), but that doesn’t mean I can’t take a lot of time and care over checking my writing, and enlist friends to also take a look. A fresh pair of eyes is always good.

      As a technical author, I would assume that your grammar skills are of a high standard and that you tend to notice errors in anything you read. Does that make it harder to read for pleasure, I wonder?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It does make it harder to read for pleasure, but I have a separate reading style now for technical / factual things. I just have to remember to switch between the two.
        I do quite often find myself proof reading published works to some extent, it is worse when I read instructions for things to be honest. I have to stop myself analysing them!


  6. Hi Mike,
    I just self-published a book and totally relate to all you’re saying about editing, grammar, layout, etc. I would also like to add though, that many self-publishing companies offer packages that include editors, layout specialists, etc. Yes, you do have to pay more for those services, but some of the fees are not completely outrageous. Most importantly, for what it’s worth, I didn’t shop my book around to see if I could find a publisher. I wanted it to be exactly as I had written it, my vision, and didn’t want to make creative compromises in that particular case. (As a writer, I’ve done that countless times when working professionally.) There is something very freeing and wonderful about creating a book that is exactly as you feel it should be. Just my two cents. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cathi. Yes, a friend took one of those packages, and it didn’t work out too well. That’s not to say there aren’t some excellent ones out there, but you do have to shop around and do your research. In his particular case, he paid quite a lot and the finished product wasn’t, frankly, worth it. I found a lot of basic editing errors in it (everyone’s favourite – groyne for groin!), he felt the editor was pushing him into re-writes that deleted what he was trying to say, and their idea of ‘marketing’ was to have it available to buy on their website.

      I absolutely agree that you are free to be your own creative director, which I like, but am also left with the nagging doubt that a professional editor would have suggested changes to my own book that would have improved it.

      Ah, well. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

      But I don’t have those sort of worries really, as the cost of those services is out of reach for me.


      1. Hi Mike,
        The cost of those services are basically out of reach for me as well. In my case, I found a few outside people I had researched who did a good job but didn’t charge a lot. You hit the nail on the head when you said, “You have to do your research.” And…you’re taking some chances. I guess the bottom line is you have to ask yourself, “Why do I want to publish this book?” Thanks for your thoughtful response.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I find this all the time too – the poor editing. I try very hard to support indie authors because that’s the way I have published, too. However, it pains me when I find these avoidable errors because it puts a tarnish on all of the authors self publishing their work and some are very good! Another good suggestion for doing your own editing is to buy a style guide. You can get one for around $50 and it will be worth every penny!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I imagine there will have to eventually be a way to sort the gems from the junk other than reviews, of course. They can be ‘bought’ or influenced for both good and bad. I sure wish it was easier to attract the attention of an agent!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It was ever thus, Meg. Agents are about as likely to speak to us mere mortals as royalty are. And I suppose the sifting system will still be the old one – most sink eventually without trace, while the rest float on the surface.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks Mick, this helps. One of these days I am going to put a book together but quality is something that worries me. I think beta readers are about the best idea out there. They are usually not professional proof-readers nor editors but then they are not under time and financial pressure either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s the best, possibly the only, way to go, Greg, unless you’re rolling in money or have landed a publishing contract. Even then, they would want a decent manuscript, though.

      Looking forward to the release of ‘Stan’s Guide to Life.’


      1. Mick, you inspired me to check my grammar. I found a free website called Scribens and used it to check several blog posts. Sure enough, it found an average of three items per post. Some of them were relatively minor, like failing to terminate a sentence with a period. But others were bone-headed mistakes (it’s, its) and past tense in a present sentence.

        I would not recommend using it for anything professional or for publishing – but for blog posts and a final grammar check before handing a piece over to beta readers, it is not bad.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ve not seen that before, Greg, so I went and had a look. I put this post through it, actually, and I’m glad to say the faults it picked up were things like sentence over-runs or too many commas, rather than huge bloopers. But it looks pretty decent for free.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I looked into Grammarly and it is free to download but there were complaints about the pesky marketing and the price for subscriptions. If I were looking to publish, I would go that route but for the light editing of blog posts, it seems Scribens is a good tool.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. I am not as accomplished as you and would never attempt to right a book, regardless of the length. However, whilst I know you will read this and heave a sigh ( please dont, though) I want to say that I simply loved your book, Making Friends with the Crocodile, and thought it a marvellous read. Now as everyone knows, the proof of a good book is having some empathy with the characters and I loved them so much, I asked you for a sequel. THat, apparently isnt going to happen any time soon, but I really think you need to think about that again!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, not a sequel, but I’ve almost finished the first draft of my next novel, which is set in a hill station in Northern India, but featuring rather different characters from before. So although I’m afraid I can’t update you with the lives of the characters from Making Friends With the Crocodile, there might be one or two new ones to interest you (or not, of course).

      And I didn’t sigh!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Well said, Mick. Traditional publishers are becoming increasingly wary of taking on unknown writers, so for many self-publishing is the only way to go.

    The other catch is, most (or all?) trad publishers expect a book to have been professionally edited before they receive it.

    Yes, their own editor/s may also have a pick at it, but if a professional-looking manuscript isn’t submitted, they’re unlikely to give it a glance. (Why sample an obviously half-baked cake?)

    Unless, of course, you’re a sports star, survivor of terrorist attack, retired dominatrix or …. In which case you’ve probably been commissioned to write it (with or without a ghost).

    The biggest favour writers can do themselves is learn how to edit their own work like a pro. Being “creative” doesn’t cut it – if it ever did. (Though I did read somewhere that Daphne du Maurier’s grammar and syntax left much to be desired.)

    Otherwise, pay someone to edit for you. I don’t think there’s any other option.

    I tend to think (others may disagree) that trad publishers missed the e-bus. It costs much less to publish an e-book than do a print run. It’s a pity trad publishers didn’t develop the early strategy of saying to unknowns, “OK – we’ll publish and market this as an e-book and if it does well enough we’ll do a print run”. But as far as I know, none did.

    The problem with self-publishing is, not that the bar is too low, but that there’s no bar at all. There may well be minor masterpieces out there, but how to find them?

    Feel free to disagree – I could be wrong about all of this.

    Just one last thought. If I were to ask a craftsman or woman to make me a timber dining table and it was delivered to my door unsanded, or even unoiled and polished, I wouldn’t be happy. And if the craftsperson said to me, “Oh, I’m much too close to the timber to do that,” I’d laugh. So what makes writers different?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You raise some interesting points there, Denise. It had never occurred to me that traditional publishers might ‘experiment’ with e-books – I think I’ve felt they all turn their collective noses up at them, although I might be wrong. And that is odd, as there’s a far better return on them than on printed books. That would be an interesting strategy, and one that would certainly appeal to writers. Perhaps publishers might feel they would disappear under an avalanche of submissions.

      And no, there is no bar at all. That becomes abundantly clear if you work your way through a number of self-published books and literally cringe at what you find. The only consolation I find is that I look at some of them and think ‘Hey, mine ain’t too bad after all!’

      I’m not sure about your last point, though. Writing is certainly different from, say, carpentry, and I don’t suppose the same sort of feelings would ever arise. And if they did, of course, a different craftsperson could undertake different processes on the product.


      1. Trad publishers seem to be disappearing by the minute. HarperCollins no longer has a branch in NZ, and Penguin and Random House have amalgamated. Apparently they like to be called Penguin Random, not Random Penguin. (For obvious reasons: penguins of several kinds are fairly random here.) The Indies are struggling unless they have a niche market.

        As for writing being different from carpentry or any other trade? We may agree to disagree. “Feelings” have nothing to do with it. Feelings are a luxury writers can’t afford – not if they want to be reviewed by professional critics who aren’t their friends.

        Many years ago, I came across a quotation from an English composer who, when asked about the nature of musical composition, replied, “I have an eighteenth century attitude towards this. Composers compose, dogs bark.” To which wise words I’d add, “Writers write.” More recently, a musical friend of mine told me the composer I like to quote – probably slightly inaccurately – was Elizabeth Lutyens. I must have known her name in connection with the quote, but I’d forgotten it. So there you are.

        Do composers expect others to polish their work for them? I don’t know. But I do know that the idea of the creative genius working in isolation is a very modern one, dating from the Romantic movement of the 19th century – and even the Romantic poets didn’t work in isolation.

        In my experience, anyone who aims to produce anything has a decent go at it, then asks others what they think. Then has another go. And many more if need be. I daresay the roof of the Sistine chapel took more goes than your average sand castle. But ultimately, the end product is the responsibility of its creator, and no-one else.

        True, patrons or publishers may seek changes to the end product that the creator has to suck up and then take the blame for once the critics have a go. But that’s another story.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m not sure we’re disagreeing, actually. My suggestion that a carpenter might employ another to finish off his table was slightly tongue in cheek, although that is something that does happen sometimes. But I didn’t really mean to compare a carpenter with a writer in that way. The way a writer gets over being too close their work, of course, is for it to ‘rest’ for as long as it needs for them to be able to approach it with a fresh and open mind.

          And then to polish it up to the best of their ability. Then the beta readers, an editor if one can be afforded (I didn’t have one as I quite simply could not afford to). And update and check and check and check.

          I would like to think I am a typical writer in that I want my finished product to be the best it can be. Which is why it surprises me that so many poorly and very poorly books make their way onto the market.

          I like the quote by Elizabeth Lutyens. It makes perfect sense. In my other vaguely artistic role as a painter, I would not expect someone else to finish off one of my paintings. Nor would I allow it to see the light of day unless I was satisfied it was the best I could make it, which would sometimes include the opinion of others (although not to the same degree as I would as a writer).

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ah, exactly! I’d forgotten you were also a painter, but I was thinking as I wrote that painters would be extremely unlikely to rely on anyone to polish their work. Apprentices often used to have a hand in the works of their masters, but that was part of their training, no more.

            Liked by 1 person

  11. lol – well said! I read Indie fiction almost exclusively, and I’ve found some brilliant stories and storytellers, but I’ve come across the odd con as well. I guess it takes all sorts, but it is rather disappointing.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Yeah, it was monumental in scope, which is perhaps why it didn’t take off. I was involved with it for a very short time as a…vetter?…of books to be accredited. It was supposed to be a mostly mechanical check – i.e. spelling, grammar, readability etc – but I’m sure style, taste and genre crept in too. lol If the aspiring gatekeepers can’t agree then what hope is there?

            Liked by 1 person

              1. Technically they weren’t looking at any of those elements, but I can’t see how they wouldn’t creep in regardless. Plus I think the organisers ended up falling out or something. That was years ago now.

                Liked by 1 person

  12. On editing: ‘It means doing the job yourself, but taking infinite time and care over it. Check it over and over again until it is the best you can do.’

    Absolutely, Mick. Accept at the outset that no matter how good and error-free you think your ‘finished’ draft is, it’s nowhere near finished and is going to require as much work again to get it so.

    Then again, don’t bother polishing a turd.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I remain a fan of traditional publishing because (a) it filters out a lot of crap and (b) it makes it possible to publicize books in ways that self-publishers can’t. I respect other people’s choices, but there really are, I think, some built-in problems in self-publishing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. A friend self-published a short story collection and was dismayed when only 3 people bought copies–and they were all related to her. It really is hard to make a book stand out in such a crowd.

        Not that traditional publishing’s solved that problem, but it’s a bit better at it.

        Liked by 1 person

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