“A loser is the guy with a for sale sign on a dirty car just phoning it in.”
— Mark Burnett (seen via a tweet by Mike Monello)
Dear Self-Published Word Badgers,
I’d like to take a little time out to commend you for your intrepid publishing spirit! And by “commend you,” I mean, “slap you about the head and neck with your own bludgeoning shame.”
No, I’m not talking to all of you. A good lot of you are doing as you should. I have in the past week alone been exposed to a wondrous number of self-published goodies, whether by excellent writers seeking an avenue for their unpublished (or presently unpublishable) works or by tried-and-true DIY storytellers who have been honing their own punk-publishing endeavors to an icepick’s point.
I am, however, talking to some of you.
Some of you should be really quite floored by the quality — or, rather, the sucking maw of quality, a veritable black hole of hope and promise that leeches the dreams from the minds of little girls sleeping and replaces those dreams with nightmares where unicorns are stabbed repeatedly by interlopers on icy sidewalks and left to whimper and bleat until the police come and finally end their misery with a single round from a service revolver bang — that your work puts out into the world.
You think I’m being mean.
Okay. You’re not wrong. I’ll cop to that. I’m not being a nice man.
Here’s the thing, though. I (and I’m sure other capable writers) have noticed and noted that self-publishing bears a certain stigma. With the term comes the distinct aroma of flopsweat born out of the desperation of Amateur Hour — it reeks of late night Karaoke, of meth-addled Venice Beach ukelele players, of middle-aged men who play basketball and still clutch some secret dream of “going pro” despite having a gut that looks like they ate a basketball rather than learned to play with one.
Self-publishing just can’t get no respect.
This is, of course, in contrast to other DIY endeavors. You form a band and put out a record yourself, well, you’re indie. You’re doing it your way. Put out a film, you’re a DIY filmmaker, an independent artist, a guy who couldn’t be pinned down by the Hollywood system. You self-publish a book, and the first thought out of the gate is, “He wasn’t good enough to get it published. Let’s be honest — it’s probably just word poop.”
This is in part because it’s a lot harder to put an album or a film out into the world. You don’t just vomit it forth. Some modicum of talent and skill must be present to even contemplate such an endeavor and to attain any kind of distribution. The self-publishing community has no such restriction. It is blissfully easy to be self-published. I could take this blog post, put it up on the Amazon Kindle store and in 24 hours you could download it for ninety-nine cents. It’s like being allowed to make my own clothing line out of burlap and pubic hair and being allowed to hang it on the racks at J.C. Penney.
And so it must fall to the community to police itself. You cannot and will not and should not be stopped from self-publishing. But, when you self-publish the equivalent to a manatee abortion rotting on a reef bed, you should be dragged into the city square and flogged with your own ineptitude for gumming up the plumbing with your old underpants.
If, perchance, you don’t know if I happen to be referring to you, let’s see if you pass this easy test. Don’t worry — it’s just a handful of questions. Relax. Take a deep breath. And begin.
Does Your Cover Look Anything Like This?
Fond of the Papyrus font, are you? Or Comic Sans, perhaps? Do you enjoy book covers that seem to make no visual sense? That offer titles whose design and meaning are utterly indiscernible? That when seen at a glance are merely puzzling, but that when viewed up close accidentally provoke vomiting and dizziness in all but the most stalwart, war-tested super-soldiers?
I know what you’re saying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Mm-hmm. Sure, no, no, I hear you. Let’s try this experiment: I’m going to dress in a Hefty bag. Then I am going to roll around in a dumpster. If I’m lucky, I’ll manage to get a week-old Caesar salad stuck in my beard! Then I’m going to come to your place of work and try to sell you a sandwich. No? Don’t want to buy my delicious sandwich? It’s really good. Wait, what’s your problem, man? Does my smell turn you off? Hey. Hey. Don’t judge a book by its cover. You should look deeper. Beyond my eye-watering odor. Beyond my beard-salad. Gaze into my heart, and then buy my motherfucking sandwich.
No? Still not cracking the wallet?
Same thing goes for your e-book, pal.
Hire a cover designer. Your book should look like a book someone can find on the shelves at Borders.
(Or, at least, before Borders goes tits up.)
Does Your Book’s Product Description Read As If It Were Written By A Child, A Monkey, Or A Schizophrenic (Or A Schizophrenic Monkey Child)?
SET IN PRESENT DAY VICTORIAN ENGLAND, DARYL WALDROP IS PROTECTED AT NIGHT BY A GORUP OF INVISIBLE BEINGS NOWN AS THE HIGH COLONY AND THE HIGH COLONY UNDERSTAND THAT DARYL IS SPECIAL SO THEY SEND HIM ON SECRET MISSIONS TO QUEST FOR THE GOLDEN STEAMPUNK CLOCKWORK HORN OF —
*gun in mouth*
*brains form a middle finger on the wall*
I swear to Christ, you read some of these descriptions and I think, “I could write better than this when I was in the eighth goddamn grade.” This isn’t good. Because I was a talentless little shit in eighth grade (and may still remain one, but you keep your damn fool mouth shut, you).
I know, I know, I’m being mean again.
But seriously, somebody has to be. Your product description is designed in some way large or small to entice me. It is both a sales pitch and an emblem of your writing ability. If you can’t even string together three sentences without resorting to ALL CAPS HOLY CRAPS or without confusing me from the outset, I gotta tell you, you’re pretty much fucked.
Did Anyone Actually Edit Your Book?
Anyone at all? Your mother? Your evil twin? A semi-literate orangutan?
If the answer is no, well, then, your self-published book might suck a big ol’ sloppy bag of dicks.
Best fix: hire an editor. Or at least farm it out to a capable wordmonkey friend who will do you a solid.
Or: orangutan. I mean, it’s better than nothing.
Is Your Free Downloadable Sample A Testament To Your Raging Lack Of Talent?
Your sample is supposed to be representative of your work. It should be shining testament — an unyielding pillar — demonstrating just how much I’m wetting my man-panties trying to give you my money.
Unfortunately, when I click most free samples, my panties? Dry as a saltine cracker.
I see: bad grammar, awful spelling, opening paragraphs so flat and full you could use them to pound stakes into hard earth, hateful spasms one might refer to as “characters” (if one were being charitable), and other outstanding goblins that earn only disdain and dismissal.
It’s like the quote at the fore of this article says: don’t slap a for sale sign on a dirty car.
Don’t put your worst foot forward. Of course, with some of the self-published e-books out there, my worry is that your bile-soaked downloadable sample is actually your best foot forward.
In which case, uh-oh.
Yes, Blah Blah Blah, I’m A Big Blue Meanie
Not only am I a meanie, but I’m taking easy shots. Hell, I already told you, self-publishing has a stigma. I’m not making it up. It isn’t new. Everybody knows to throw iceballs at the fat kid with the ice cream on the ground and the self-published Book Seven Of Made-Up Fantasy Series under his pudgy wing. By this point, I’m just throwing snow on that fat kid’s long-decaying body.
You want self-publishing to stand on its own feet? Get your shit together. You think publishing is full of mean ol’ myopic gatekeepers and you can do it better? How is anybody supposed to take you seriously when you can’t even approach a fraction of the quality found in books on bookstore shelves, books put out by publishers big and small?
You’re going to put something out there, make it count. Don’t fuck it up for the rest of the authors — you know, the ones who actually put out a kick-ass book. Hell, some of this stuff goes for me, too. I can do better. I can always do better. We should always strive to improve our books, our sales, our connection to the audience.
More succinctly: stop splashing around in the kiddie pool.
And while we’re talking about, stop peeing there, too.