Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Self Publishing

I have things I should be doing. Still have to get my tax stuff together. Could be writing the next Alibi Jones novel - just cracked the 49K mark on the first draft. I could be working on the next Vatican Assassin comic book – Cristian Navarro is up for the art duties once again. He just needs me to get him a script. Could even be revising the script to a romantic comedy I'm working on, based on the feedback from last week's writer's group. Instead, I find myself writing this blog post.

Why? There's been a flare-up online this week involving a self-publishing writer who lost her temper on a blog reviewer. Her outrageous reaction and behavior - and her poor quality product – reflect badly on all of us trying to put our work out in front of the public. Instead of rehashing the exchange, you can read it for yourself here: http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html - Be sure to read the comments, at least the first few exchanges between the author and other commenters – gets redundant after a bit. Almost makes me wonder if it's faked...

I've received my share of bad reviews, and they do sting, especially the accurate ones. Big Al's review of Ms. Howett's eBook was accurate and fair – kind, even. Her reaction was uncalled for and unprofessional. I was embarrassed for her at first, but also angered that she was making self-publishing writers look bad through her comments.

Then I took a look at her eBook. Oh My Lord...

It was poorly formatted. BUT... It's unreadable! Its worst offenses are grammatical. This supposed writer is guilty of doing horrible things to the English language in this work. I was again angered – she compounded the earlier offense caused by her reaction by drawing an enormous amount of attention to a shining, negative example of everything wrong with self-publishing! Ms. Howett's "book" gives tinder and fuel to every critic who wants to dismiss self-published works as trash, to every apologist for old school publishers insisting that only what they bless is important, only what they publish is worthy.

With her selfish, immature and public fit, Ms. Howett erodes the progress we self-publishing writers have been making with the online reading public. With the inferior product she releases, she has no right to demand serious consideration, and her attempt to do so is insulting to those of us who have taken the time and effort to release books that will stand up alongside any published work.

Grrr... I've been trying to gather my thoughts and calm my anger. Figured the best way to do that was to write about it. I did feel some empathy for Ms. Howett at first – as I said, I felt embarrassed for her. I've been doing this for a while - there's a lot to learn if you're doing it all yourself. I've been putting out my own books since 2005, and I'm still learning all the time. For example, just updated the cover art and design of my latest novel, Alibi Jones, after coming to grips with the fact the original art and design were horrible – or at least bad enough they weren't doing the book inside any favors.

I think my design skills are catching up with my writing skills. My writing has certainly improved book to book, and that's thanks to a lot of work – both on my part, and by others who help me improve my work. I've got five people who read my books when they're still in manuscript form – some might call them "beta readers". They serve, in some ways, as my editors. Each has a different strength in the mistakes they find, whether it's grammar, continuity, repeated words and phrases, etc. Each of my novels is read through several times by several sets of eyes before I do my final corrections and rewrite.

I've recently taken an additional step in preparing the final, print ready file. My "day job" is in radio. Years ago I began narrating and offering my novels as free audiobooks, applying my professional skills to my publishing. Now, I read and record the raw audio for the eBook using the final draft of the manuscript. There's nothing like reading text word-by-word aloud to help you find your final mistakes!

Guess what I'm saying is... It takes a lot of work to put a book out. I'm still trying to get it right. As a writer, I'm still struggling to find more readers and listeners. DIY means a lot of self-promotion. But I'm out there working at it – been able to sell about six hundred "dead tree" books and five hundred eBooks. The free audiobooks have been downloaded over four thousand times – those who do find my work seem to like it. There have been both good and bad reviews. If I've replied at all, I've tried to do so graciously.

I love it- but it's hard work to get it right. That is what is most galling about this whole incident. Ms. Howett has obviously NOT done a whole lot of work putting her book out. Yet my efforts get lumped in with hers just by dint of us both being self-published. Grrr.

What can I do about it? Not much. I didn't comment on the original blog yesterday when I could have – why pile on? But it has been bothering me enough to try to process it in public here. Guess the best thing I can do is concentrate on making my books better. As a self-publisher, my name is my brand... So? Strange as it sounds, I've got to do all I can to prove that "Mike Luoma" is a quality brand. Hate the way that sounds, but it's true. When I finally have as many people posting and tweeting about me as Ms. Howett does, my hope is they will be saying good things...