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.
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.