A Warning To The Reader: This Book May Have Been Self-Published!

Man, there are people online who will make zombies out of anything.
Man, there are people online who will make zombies out of anything.

I received my Kindle Fire as  Christmas gift from my in-laws in 2011.  As a person who reads quite a bit and lives in a one-bedroom apartment with my wife, it was a great gift, a real space-saver, especially since I had to give away maybe three quarters of my book collection when we moved from New Jersey to New York state for my job.  Being able to fit a massive library in a single device was a godsend.  And since it came from Amazon, I was able to use it to buy books directly from them.  Initially, I went for their free stuff, that being public domain works, many of which were quite rewarding, like the first of Edgar Rice Burrows’ John Carter novels.  I was a wee bit wary of buying too many books, since the device made buying them so easy, and many looked to cost about ten dollars each.  That adds up after a while.  So while looking around, I found a book that sounded interesting that would cost me a whopping $1.99.  It was called Alice in Deadland, and it promised to be a story mixing zombies with the 19th century children’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Hey, Alice was my favorite book as a kid, and I do enjoy the occasional zombie novel.  What could go wrong?  A lot, apparently.  The book wasn’t terribly good.  Mostly it was terrible.  Not only does Amazon make it easier to buy books, it makes it easier for people to self-publish books.  These books tend to be cheap, and, you generally get what you pay for.

Now, I won’t sit here and say that all self-published books are bad.  That is hardly the case.  There are some genuinely good authors out there, working hard, and making their wares directly available to the reading public, often without charging too much.  Some of these authors even write the occasional book series that must do well enough for them to devote that much time to selling books.  Heck, the author of Alice in Deadland has written at least 8 books in that series, so someone must be enjoying them, even if it’s just the author himself.  Hell, I am more or less self-publishing right now!  True, neither I nor the Gabbingest of Geeks are charging anyone to read my words (and if they are, we need to talk, Ryan, Watson, and Jenny), but I write these up, proofread them a few times, and they go live on the site for all the universe to see.  My Bella-Swan-is-Silver-Age-Lois-Lane write up can be found if you google “Lois Lane” and “Bella Swan” on page two of the search.  (Yes, I am full of myself enough to check that.)  It’s not like I am some crank shouting into the void for only my own entertainment.  My wife would probably want to sit me down with a good therapist if that was the case.

I just wanted to use this image again for no reason.
I just wanted to use this image again for no reason.

The problem is Amazon offers many books at low prices from their Kindle store, and few are labeled as self-published or not.  Self-publishing is a very easy thing to do these days, and I have some friends who’ve done it and managed to craft some good stuff to read.  The cartoon book 99 Reasons to Hate Cats by Tom Briscoe is a favorite of my niece, and rather funny to boot.  Erik Allen and David Gibson co-wrote a fantasy novel involving a cattle drive and princesses and magic, How to Become an Adventurer, that was just a fun read and those two guys probably only had each other for editors.  Now, I may be going easier on these folks due to knowing them personally, but these were just good books, and I was glad to read them.  Heck, I’ll be fair and endorse a stranger’s book:  Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors by Benjamin Wallace was a good bit of light fun.

But many of the self-published books seem to require a bit more polish that having a professional editor might garner.  Let’s take Alice in Deadland as an example.  The first sentence actually does a good job of mirroring Lewis Carroll’s style.  Everything after that, not so much.  A girl named Alice, living in India after a zombie apocalypse, sees a zombie loping around outside her settlement wearing a pair of bunny ears.  She decides to follow him.  As far as recreating Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, there’s a zombie Mad Hatter, an intelligent zombie Queen of Hearts, and that’s about it.  Alice herself, despite being 12, is a sharpshooter who soon becomes leader of the rebellion against the real enemy (apparently, it wasn’t the zombies), who grown adults look to for advice and inspiration.  She has one real flaw, being illiterate, but she’s learning to read by the end of the book.  Then, SPOILER ALERT HERE, Alice gets infected herself, but she had a cure that, if administered, will make her an intelligent zombie.  She does this, but the main bad guy, who left her to be eaten, returns because he forgot his ID card.  That is pretty much exactly how the book is written.  He returns because he apparently forgot his ID card.  That’s awfully convenient.  Almost as if the author couldn’t think of a reason to bring him back to the room to die.

Ever roll your eyes while you were reading a book?  Literally roll your eyes?  I did when I read that part.

See, there’s a reason some people can’t get published.  I’ve read a few of these, often without realizing right away the nature of the publishing, and many need…something.  There are often good or interesting ideas at play, but the execution is lacking something.  A good editor could have said, “Really?  Forgot an ID card?  Revise that chapter so his reason to return is spelled out well before he steps back into the room, or figure out some other way for Alice to follow him.  That’s kind of dumb.”

Self-publishing will continue to revolutionize and, dare I say it, democratize the ways we get and read books.  But let’s remember that having a good editor onboard to at least act as a sounding board can be just as helpful, and that’s something many self-published books sadly lack.

9 thoughts on “A Warning To The Reader: This Book May Have Been Self-Published!

  1. As a self-published author myself, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that almost everything you claim above is absolutely correct. I haven’t read Alice in Deadland (probably won’t, from your review), so I can’t say for certain whether that’s got any truth to it.
    But here’s the problem…the concept of quality doesn’t necessarily stop along the lines of traditionally published verses self-published. I’m not going to discuss my own books here, simply because I may be a little biased, but I’ve read a ton of self-published (and indie…because general indie titles probably deserve to be in here as well), and I’ve seen some stuff that is purely phenomenal and stuff that is utter drivel…of course, I’ve read a ton of traditionally published stuff and found the same to be the case. In fact…for a while I stopped reading because I just found myself reading terrible book after terrible book during those formidable high school years where terrible books seem to be all that’s written for your demographic.
    Of course, that’s one of the reasons why having so many systems for reviewing books should be awesome…unfortunately, all authors game the hell out of those systems, making it almost impossible to get a real concept of what’s good and what’s bad.
    An editor is definitely needed by all authors, if not merely for an unbiased perspective on their work (many authors, especially self-published ones, go off their family members reviews…) But even more than that is the need for a good editor.
    But in the end, I’ve found that most of it boils down to a matter of taste. I’ve read books that I’ve found to be completely unreadable and never should have seen print, only to learn that they have massive followings and movie deals and…well..yeah.
    Although books have been around for forever, we’re in the midst of a major paradigm shift in how we find books we want to read…a shift that, unfortunately, seems to make it rather difficult to make sure the best stuff rises to the top, instead of the cheapest.

    1. Oh, hey, I am well aware that there’s crap even among the professionally published. And further, I am well aware that sometimes stuff many would consider outright crap becomes incredibly popular. Plus, I’m not some snob who believes only my own tastes rules. I do make my living as an post high school English teacher, so I do read…a lot. i also know what I like, but I’ve found myself far too disappointed in too many books, both self-published and otherwise.

      What I think I would personally prefer is some sort of way of knowing where books came from. Just having an independent editor would be enormously helpful. I mentioned two friends above who self-published a book that, from their own accounts, took them a couple years to write, something that the two of them probably edited heavily. I think I may be biased since I know the guys who wrote it, but it turned out pretty good.

      I also know I’m tempted to go that route myself if I can ever discipline myself enough to actually write something that long and that I was proud enough to call my own.

      I’ve just seen too many things that really needed an editor. It probably wouldn’t hurt if the self-published at places like Amazon were labeled as such somehow.

  2. I fear I may have come off a little too defensive of the self-publishing community, as I agree, there’s plenty out there that shouldn’t be out there. (And, for the record, you can often get a good idea of whether something is self-published or not by looking at the publisher information as listed on Amazon. If it’s from Createspace or Amazon Digital Services (I think…I forget the exact term at the moment), it’s definitely self-published. Also, self-pubbers can create any publisher name they want for a nominal fee, but they are often obviously self-pub publisher names).

    I guess my concern is more for the propagation of any terrible books, over where they were derived from. Sure, you could have a requirement to list an editor, if one were used (which many self-pubbers who use editors like to list anyways, just to show that they were edited), but again, there’s the research element beforehand that comes into play.

    I guess I could see where there might be some want for readers to be able to instantly tell where things came from (ie a warning that states it’s a self-published title), but I see that as being more of a detriment to the current revolution in novels, as opposed to really helping us find what is good.

    And actually, thinking about it a half a second more…as a self-published author, I might be wiling to have that warning plastered on my books, not just because I take pride in the fact that my art is my own, but because I don’t want someone to come into my books expecting anything different than what I have. I don’t hide my status as a self-published author, and will outright admit that I’m certain that although my books go through many hands for editing before finally coming to their final form, they still need editing. And I definitely know that my stuff isn’t for everyone.

    But yes…there is definitely a large pile of stuff that I would never want to read that comes through as self-published. Stuff that the very idea that anyone has paid any money for the ability to read it is frightening. That stuff is the type of stuff all self-publishers fear being lumped in with. And maybe that’s where my initial hesitation comes into play here. Putting a warning on a book like that is basically stating that there’s little reason to believe that any good could come of reading it…which is even more shallow than judging a book by its cover (another situation for self-published books that could be talked about at length).

    1. I had not considered that angle. I am actually quite glad to learn some of this, and would gladly read a good book no matter who wrote it or how it got out there. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that getting officially published makes something “legitimate”. I think the real “danger” is people rushing stuff to purchase, without really doing a good job going over things.

      Besides, maybe the biggest problem for any reader is figuring out whether whatever you pick up is any good, no matter where it came from.

      And no worries. I didn’t find you the slightest bit defensive. Heck, I’d be wary if some stranger went and expressed problems with something I do on the side with a great deal of passion too.

      1. There’s a danger in the rush to purchasing, as well as the danger in the rush to publishing…Like I said, there’s definitely more than enough bad stuff going on in the realm of self-publishing. But you got exactly where I’m trying to focus by saying “maybe the biggest problem for any reader is figuring out whether whatever you pick up is any good, no matter where it came from”. Currently, from my perspective, the best way to figure that out is just by going by word of mouth. If your friend recommends something to you, you know whether or not to trust that friend.
        Of course…if you’re the voracious reader in the group, you’re generally ahead of everyone else.

        That is one of the things I like about the Kindle Unlimited program, or Oyster, or Scribd, or, you know, the public library…, is that you can take a chance on something but not have any real financial risk involved. That means, if it’s really terrible, you can just put it down and not feel like you owe it to yourself to finish it.

  3. I was nervous when I first saw this post but it looks like I dodged a bullet.

    Unfortunately, you’re right about what’s available out there. And, sadly, some authors put more effort into their blurb and marketing than the actual book. I’ve found that reading the preview is a pretty good indication of how well the book has been handled. Poor material usually reveals itself in the first few pages. Often the first sentence.

    Thanks for the plug.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: