Why Your Self-Published Book May Suck A Bag Of Dicks

This Old Rustbucket

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been exposed to a wondrous number of self-published goodies, whether by excellent writers seeking an avenue for their unpublished (or presently unpublishable) works or by tried-and-true DIY storytellers who have been honing their own punk-publishing endeavors to an icepick’s point.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?

Hound Riders

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?

Take your cover and compare it to these covers. Is it anything like this great cover? Or howabout this one? Or are you instead closer to this?

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.

Because, ew.

So rude.

174 comments

  • An interesting thing about the self-published books you link to (which look truly horrendous) is that they actually have glowing reviews on Amazon. Is there some kind of shenanigans going on here (are some authors sad enough to create fake identities and praise their own books) or do people just go easier on self-published titles?

    • @Zach:

      What covers are you talking about?

      The first two covers — TERMINAL DAMAGE and FIRE BURN CAULDRON BUBBLE — are, by my estimation, great covers. Very different covers, mind, but great just the same. Easy to envision on a bookstore shelf. (Which to me is the metric: if your cover doesn’t look like a cover you’d find on a bookshelf, back up and hire a cover designer).

      — c.

  • Thank you for the entertaining and enlightening article. It should be required reading for Indie Authors. By the way, I’m one of them. Self-publishing is a business, like any other–you need a quality product that feels a need or a desire, and you need to invest in that product to make it the best you can. That means: a good story well told, a great cover, quality editing, clean formatting.

    Great imagery. My only question: what’s wrong with a bag of dicks?

    Suzanne
    Indie writer
    Dating My Vibrator (and other true fiction)
    Vestal Virgin

    • @Suzanne:

      I suspect the “bag of dicks” is unpleasant because it is a bag. Of dicks. Or rather, disembodied dicks — possibly removed from their owners with a sharp (or not-so-sharp?) implement.

      It is also possible that the dicks are all fastened to one another. Forming something that looks not unlike Cthulhu’s tentacle beard.

      — c.

  • first, the comments from a. nonamiss made me laugh!

    YOU THINK ITS FUNNNY TO LAUGH AT A SELF-PUBLISED WRITER WHOS SOLD THREE COPYS OF MY EBOOK THE TEMPLAR DENTIST IN ONLY SEVEN MONTHS? (USED TO BE 4 COPIES BUT ANOTHER HATER RETURNED 1)

    WELL YOU SHOULD BE LAUGHING AT SOMEONE ELSE, LIKE THE POOR, OR MINORITIES, BECAUSE I’M A SELFMADE MAN AND I’M LIVING MY DREAM!

    AND YOU WANTA KNOW WHAT’S REALLY FUNNY?!?! I GOT A 7 ON MY A.C.T TEST IN HIGH SCOOL, PUNK!

    ANYONE CAN RIGHT A BOOK, EVEN IF MY ENGLISH ISN’T “PERFECT” QUOTE UNQUOTE OR IF MY GRAMMER DOESNT CONFORM TO THE NAZI STANDARDS OF STRUNK AND WITE. SOON AMAZON.COM (GOD BLESS YOU JEFF BEZOS) WILL HAVE MILLIONS OF KINDLE EBOOKS BY INDIE AUTHORS JUST LIKE ME, AND THE NUMBER 1 EBOOK OF THEM ALL WILL BE “THE TEMPLAR WITH THE TREE TATOO” WHICH IS THE THIRD BOOK IN MY TRILOGY WHERE THE HERO TEMPLER DENTIST/SLASH/KNIGHT HAS KILLED ELFMAN BU NOT BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE AND HIS WIFE IS TUNRED INTO A TREE! (I WAS ALSO THINKING OF CALLING THE EBOOK “DON’T BE SUCH A BIRCH”). SO HE GETS A TREE TATTO OF HIS WIFE AND THEN HE REZURRECTS (SPELLING?) ELFMAN TO BRING HER BACK BUT INSTEAD HE STEALS A BUS FULL OF RETARDED KIDS SO THE TEMPLAR DENTIST MUST SAVE THE RETARDS!

    BTW CHUCK I BOUGHT YOUR REGULAR CREATURES EBOOK AND YOUR A REALLY GOOD SPELLER. WANT TO SWAP 5 STAR REVIEWS?

  • Great post, Chuck. I’m an acquisitions editor at a publishing house, and I’ve had a loathe/hate relationship with self-publishing for a long time now. This was a delightful start to my work day. Please keep spreading the word!

    Sometimes I get self-published novels or memoirs sent in with query letters attached to them that say, “Hey editor whose name I spelled wrong! Want to publish my book? As you can see, I’ve already self-published it, but my entire family gave it 5-star reviews on Amazon, and my high school English teacher read it and said it was great. So now that I’ve got all this success, I figure I’ll try and break into the big, scary, evil publishing industry just to show ass-hat editors like you how wrong you were to reject me 7,000 times before I eventually decided to self-publish! What do you think?!” To which I reply: “Hell no.”

    What annoys me about queries like that is… well, the rudeness. Do they think publishing is like major league baseball, with a farm system? Self-publishing your book does not give you cred with a publishing house. Deciding to self-publish because you’ve been rejected by “too many” publishing houses (let’s say 3 or 4 to the average impatient author) is the wrong decision. If editors and agents are rejecting your book, it might just be because your book sucks a big bag of dicks.

  • Chuck, this was great. In fact, I ranted about this very thing not too long ago (although in a far less colorful manner). In my writing life I have published magazine and newspaper articles, 4 media tie-in novels for major publishers, a collection of short stories from an indy press….and found myself with no takers for my novel. It’s a good book. I’m proud of it. (Heck, I’m proud that there are no vampires or zombies in it!) After much inner debate (and a long time trying other avenues), I decided to self-publish. Have I put a nail in my coffin? Hard to say. Sure I’d rather have some high-toned agent/publisher pick me up, but it didn’t happen this go-around. And I believe in my work strongly enough that I don’t want it to die. So.

    But those who treat writing (and publishing) like a game, like it isn’t work (which it most assuredly IS and hard work on top of it), make me want to round them up and call open season. If they aren’t going to care profoundly about what they put out there, if they don’t know the difference between good and bad and can’t be bothered to learn, they should move aside and let those of us with a clue do what we’re made to do.

  • Awesome. Shooting your brains out so that they form a middle finger on the wall? The aborted fetus of a manatee rotting on a reef? I was just cracking up. Why did this post ever stop? The vitriol was so delicious that I could have kept reading for ever and ever and… hey. You publish novels, eh? I’m going to go take a look…

  • I think what most people don’t get, with regards to vanity publishing, is that it’s the equivalent of your average audition for American Idol.

    Take one of those massive cattle calls of 30,000 or so people, record every single audition and throw the files up in an American Idol Sound Store without anything indicating which ones can sing or not.

    Every one of them would be able to technically call him/herself an “American Idol Artist” by virtue of being in the store, and you know there are a few tracks worth listening to, but once you’ve sampled 67 mangled renditions of the same 4 songs, you lose the drive to dig any deeper for the good stuff.

    Vanity published books are the same. It’s high volume and low pay-off for the reader. Sure you might hit a winner, but when you consider that out of those 30,000 hopefuls on AI, they pick 38 to continue on, who wants to take the odds?

  • BTW CHUCK, MAYBE YOU GOT AN ANSWER TO THIS. DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG EBOOK NOVELS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE?

    MY BOOK “THE TEMPLAR WITH THE TREE TATTOO”, THE THIRD BOOK IN A THREE BOOK TRILOGY, IS 5469 WORDS LONG (INLCUDING THE 2345 WORD EXCEPRT FROM THE FIST TWO BOOKS, TOLD IN FLASHBACK AND PARTLY AS A TEN PAGE MONOLOGUE).

    IS 5469 WORDS LONG ENOUGH FOR A NOVEL? THE EBOOK IS $25.99 ON AMAZON, WHICH IS THE SAME PRICE AS A LOT OF HARDCOVER BOOKS, BUT MY BOOK IS BETTER THAN THE HARDCVOER BECASUE THOSE BOOKS ARE BADLY WRITTIN CRAP BY BESTSELLING AUTHORS WHO AREN’T EVEN TRYING AND MINE IS BETTER. ALSO EBOOKS ARE THE FUTURE AND I’M GOING TO GET RICH SELLING EBOOKS LIKE JA CONTRATH. HE SAYS EVERYONE WHO PUBLISHES ON KINDLE WILL MAKE 3 MILLION DOLLARS A YEAR AND EVEN THOUGH HIS BOOKS SUCK I BELEIVE HIM BECAUSE HE HAS A BLOG AND ALL BLOGS TELL THE TRUTH.

    SO FAR NO PUBLISHERS HAVE CONTACTD ME ABOUT MY TEMPLAR DENTIST SERIES, BUT WHEN THEY DO I’LL TELL THEM “HA HA FUCK NO YOU LOSERZ BECAUSE I’M GETTING RICH ON MY OWN!” BUT I DO WANT TO GET AN AGENT BECAUSE I THINK THE TEMPLAR DENTIST CRONICLES (SP?) WOULD MAKE WICKED COOL 3D MOVIES AND I DON’T KNOW ANY OF THOSE DICKS IN HOLLYWOOD AND I NEED AN AGENT TO SELL THE MOVIE WRITES.

    I NOTICE YOUR SELLINGYOUR REGULAR CREATURES EBOOK FOR CHEAP. IT HAS A LOT OF WORDS IN IT, SO ITS WORTH MORE THAN THAT. YOU SHOULD PRICE IT AT $59.99 BECAUSE THEN YOU’D MAKE FAT BANK EVERY SALE.

    I LIKE BACON.

  • At this moment, you have been elevated to a god-like level in my eyes. It won’t last, but I just wanted to give you a chance to bask. 😉 Thanks for this post. Harsh is good.

  • Great post, Chuck.

    Somehow, I think of story collections as something different than novels when it comes to the discussion of self publishing (and I apologize if this has already been mentioned, I didn’t read ALL of the comments you’ve earned). The rules still apply as you’ve laid them out — good cover, good (hopefully edited by SOMEone) writing, etc. But with there being not much of a market for short fiction these days, for folks who just want their work to be read it seems a great way to get it out there besides just throwing it out on one’s blog. Maybe I’m just justifying it because I intend to do something along these lines myself, but I’ve really enjoyed the collections I’ve picked up thus far (8 Pounds, Terminal Damage, Discount Noir, and yours — which I just ordered and haven’t read yet).

    Why would I consider doing this? First off, because I’ve written some stories I’d like people to have a chance to read. Second, because, with a couple exceptions, I’ve grown weary of submitting short stories to online pubs that take months to respond, if at all, and longer to publish if they are accepted. I understand why that is, and don’t necessarily begrudge those intrepid publishers (except in the case of those who simply don’t respond), I’d just rather not wait. And if 20 of my friends drop .99 for a collection, that’s still more money than I’d make “publishing” anywhere else.

    Anyway, again — great post.

  • The thing that gets to me is the way anecdotal evidence is trumpeted to the heavens to “prove” that self-publishing is the guaranteed way to fame, fortune, weight loss, and perpetual orgasm.

    It’s like the guy who says, “But my grandfather smoked for 97 years and died by getting struck by a comet while fucking a cheerleader the morning after he summited K2.” Great for him, but that doesn’t change the fact most smokers aren’t going to see such results.

    Sure, there are self-publishing success stories. And yes, there are plenty of damn fine self-published books. And that’s great. But that doesn’t change the fact that way too much self-published effort suffer not only from a lack of baseline craftsmanship, but they also don’t make their authors any money.

    Piccirilli’s point is also a critical one. Just because you CAN do something, and just because it’s easy for you to do it, doesn’t mean you should. He expressed it beautifully.

    I’m not against self-publishing. I actually recommended to someone recently they go the self-publishing route. It’s a choice which I think makes sense for them and where they’re at in their writing life. Just as it may make sense for many others, especially those who are cognizant of the issues you bring up. I think L.J. Sellers is a fine example of self-publishing done right, for example. She is, I’m afraid, the too rare exception. Too many others are too anxious to hold an object in their hands or collect stars on Amazon.

  • I just found your blog through Janet Reid’s suggestion. Holy crap on a Jesus stick. I want to have your baby.

    Wait.

    Did I say that out loud?

    That was my warped way of saying that I loved this post and will definitely be returning. A lot. And possibly stalking. What’s your address again??

    (kidding)

  • Chuck-
    Excellent post – loved this from beginning to end, especially because it’s 100% on target. Nothing wrong with going the indie route, and I think that the future of publishing is wrapped around a combo of e-publishing and traditional print. BUT just because a writer can put out a book on his own doesn’t mean he should……like Chris Rock once said, “just because you can drive a car with your feet, it doesn’t mean you should.” What we put out there still needs to be polished and edited and professional (and sadly, too many writers are taking shortcuts just to get their name in print).

    Writing is a craft – writers write, but good writers work at itt 24/7 and never stop trying to improve the quality of what they do.

  • The sad thing is, I can’t tell the parody writing here from the truly innocent and clueless writing.

    But “FICTIONAL NOVEL” got me. As opposed to the many, many non-fictional novels I’ve read so much about.

  • Great post!

    It’s too bad that those who really need to stop self-publishing their work won’t see themselves in it as demonstrated so beautifully by A. Nonamiss. Though, after reading their third comment, I have to wonder whether the person is real or posing as a self-published writer to drive the point home.

    There’s an interesting phenomena around creative people that I have noticed. How good someone is at a creative endeavor is inversely proportional to their opinion of their work. The best writers think their writing sucks. The worst writers think their writing is the best thing since Homer jotted down a few lines of poetry. It’s very rare to find a person who can be objective about their own work. This is true of actors, singers, dancers, poets, writers, et al.

    As a corollary to this phenomena, the worst writers are the least likely to accept constructive criticism of their work. The more horrendous their writing is the more defensive they are about it.

    They’re also the least likely to study the craft aspects of writing. They’re so brilliant, they don’t need to understand characterization, plot points, setting, description, etc.

    And the really sad thing is that they will never get it.

  • The cover test is important. After all, there are plenty of presses that will put a cover like that on your book for you. Usually, publishing with one of them is pretty much the same as self-pub.

  • Though, after reading their third comment, I have to wonder whether the person is real or posing as a self-published writer to drive the point home.

    THE POINT IS THAT EVERYONE CAN PUBLISH THERE WORK NOW SO EVERYONE SHOULD. WHILE ITS TOO TRUE THAT SOME WRITERS MAYBE WILL SUCK A LOT, EVEN THOSE WRITERS WILL MAKE MILLIONS OF $$$ BECAUSE READERS ARE SO DUMB THEY CANT TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SWILL LIKE “GREAT EXPECTATIONS’ BY SOME NO-TALENT NAMED CHARLES DICKENS (THAT’S GOTTA BE A FAKE NAME) OR MY OWN TEMPLAR DENTIST TRILOGY, WHICH IS NOW FOUR BOOKS BECAUSE I WROTE ANOTHER ONE THIS AFTERNOON CALLED “TEMPLAR VS. VAMPIRE’ BECAUSE VAMPIRE BOOKS SELL LIKE CRAZY AND IT FEATURED THE RETURN OF ELFMAN WHO IS NOW A CRAZY BLOODSUCKER WHO WANTS TO BITE THE TEMPLAR DENTIST WHO DEFEETED HIM WHEN HE SAVED THE POOR LITTLE CRIPPLED CHILDREN ON THE SHORT BUS FROM THE NAILBITING PREVIOUS BOOK.

    SO WHILE THEIR ARE SOME GOOD EBOOKS ON AMAZON THEIR WILL ALSO BE SOME E-TURDS THAT SUCK FARTS FROM DEAD GOATS. LUCKILY, BECAUSE M,OST READERS ARE SO STUPID, EVEN BAD BOOKS WILL MAKE MILLIONS BECAUSE NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE. JUST LIKE NO ONE CAN DECIDE WHAT TO WATCH ON TV OR SURF ON THE INTERNET, EVERYONE WILL BE FORCED TO BUY BAD BOOKS BECAUSE THEY WON’t HAVE A CHOICE AND HAVE NO BRAINS TO MAKE DESISIONS!!

    WHEN ENUFF WRITERS HAVE ANTEDOTAL EVIDENCE AND SHOW HOW MUCH MONEY THERE MAKING THEN ALL OF YOU HATERZ WILL HAVE TO EAT YOUR WORDS BECAUSE THE CREAM WILL RISE TO THE TOP AND YOU DON’T THROW OUT THE BABY WITH THE BATHWATER OR LOOK A GIFT HORSE IN THE MOUTH FROM ROMANS SO PUT THAT IN YOUR PIPE AND SMOKE IT SUCKA.

  • I am sitting here with my hand plastered to my mouth because I can’t keep myself from laughing out loud. In a very conspicuous manner. At work. Where I’m supposed to be working. Tears are forming out of the corners of my eyes and it’s fucking awesome. LOL!

  • Okay…I’m reading a book right now that totally bites, but at the same time I just want to commend the author for *trying*. I’ve been blessed with great work thus far from some really great writers, and I think I just *assumed* all DIY writers were of the sam calibur. I was wrong. You are…right. But I would never by clothing made out of your pubic hair no matter how colorful that part of your hair growth may be. Just sayin’ 😉

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for so many reasons, but especially for hating bad cover art. I know that we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but frankly, if your idea of quality cover art sucks, there is a big chance your idea of quality writing sucks too.

    As long as you’re paying for an editor, pay for a graphic artist too. No, by graphic artist, I don’t mean someone who knows how to manipulate that free version of PowerPoint they got with their laptop. I mean someone who pays the mortgage based on their skills with an actual Adobe product. How many books in Barnes & Nobel (or Borders if they don’t go tits up) have covers like the one you just whipped out by dragging and dropping in Word? Now take that number and divide by how many you would actually buy based on the cover alone. Now since it is impossible to divide by zero, multiply that result by how many people will buy your book based on the cover art.

    If self-publishing is going to be considered a legitimate industry, then those who participate are going to have to make strides to be professional. Publishing a book you haven’t had thoroughly proofread with a cover that is horrifyingly bad is akin to going to a job interview in sweats and putting your feet up on the interviewers desk. It makes you look like an idiot and you don’t deserve the job.

  • Chuckie Boy,
    I read your piece a couple of times in order to try to understand your point. The more I think about it, the more pissed I get. Yeah, people need to work hard on the quality of their writing and the overall presentation of their work if they are nervy or desperate enough to have to resort to self-publication, which, as you indicate, is viewed as the literary equivalent of onanism. I also get that many self-publishers fail to meet the standards of the publishing industry. My question is: So what? Do you really in your heart of hearts believe you’ve done anybody a service here? And does your coarse, crass and smirky delivery posed as helpful jocularity really get the job done?
    I don’t think so.
    As you should know, writers tend to be serious about their work. They spend hours alone working on their frail little word craft only to find themselves unable to get anybody to help them launch it. Now comes a guy, a published writer, telling them what they either already know, will learn at some point, or are too clueless to ever learn. Nobody who is truly serious about writing simply “vomits” forth their work and assumes anybody would want to read it. If they are at all serious, they know writing something worthwhile is laborious and painful, lonely and scary, and that the marketplace is a prickly minefield sewn with Claymores set to go off. If it’s your intent to join the gatekeepers, congratulations, you have. If it’s your intent to be helpful, well, think again. Your ham-fisted attempts at helping have fallen flat. Few are going to tell you that because you’ve set yourself up as judge and jury. People assume you know shit. My God, they think, he’s been published. Would-be writers spend a lot of time meekly kissing ass, not rocking the big boat of publishing, afraid to offend the gatekeepers, worried their little boat will never set sail, frightened of those Claymores.
    Fuck that. Give people a break. Let them dream and find out for themselves the joys and cruelties of their chosen world. Nobody needs yet another asshole telling them what to do.

    • @Don:

      Maybe I’ve done nobody a service. At the very least, one hopes I’ve been amusing to some.

      That said, I don’t really make a lot of hay out of “dreams.” That’s not to say I don’t think people shouldn’t follow their dreams, but following dreams means engaging in reality to do so. Reality is a harsh mistress, and too few people who cling to their “dreams” seem willing to look into reality’s eye and recognize what waits for them there.

      I am, at the core, exhorting people to do better and suck less.

      I do not consider that an unreasonable message.

      YMMV and all that.

      — c.

  • diana said:
    > It’s too bad that those who really
    > need to stop self-publishing their work
    > won’t see themselves in it
    > as demonstrated so beautifully by A. Nonamiss.
    > Though, after reading their third comment,
    > I have to wonder whether the person is real or
    > posing as a self-published writer to drive the point home.
    > …
    > …
    > …
    > And the really sad thing is that they will never get it.

    that diana is quite the prankster, isn’t she?

    -bowerbird

    p.s. a. nonamiss, don’t worry, because
    the people, untied, will never be defeeted!
    rise up in revolution! become a millionaire!

  • Nobody who is truly serious about writing simply “vomits” forth their work and assumes anybody would want to read it.

    THAT’S SO TRUE! IT TOOK ME ALMOST 18 MINUTES TO EDIT THE FIFTH BOOK IN MY TEMPLAR DENTIST TRILOGY CALLED “TEMPLARPEDIC” WHICH IS ABOUT THE TEMPLAR DENTIST TAKING A NAP ON A BED THAT TURNS OUT TO BE POSSESSED BY THE SPIRIT OF DEAD VAMPIRE ELFMAN AND IS ALMOST 1328 WORDS LONG.

    I TRIED MY HEARTEST TO MAKE THIS THE BEST EOOK EVAR, AND MY MOM SAID SHE LIKED IT SO IT HAS TO BE GOOD. THERE IS NO SELF-DELUSION IN WRITING BECAUSE GOOD WRITERS AUTOMATALLY KNOW THEIR WORK IS GOLD THAT WILL MAKE MILLIONS OF $$$.

    IT’S LIKE EATING A PIG. I CAN HAVE A PORK CHOP SAMWICH WITH A SLICE OF HAM ON IT AND TWO STRIPS OF BACON ON THAT AND ALL THREE TASTE SO DIFFERENT BUT SO DELIEICOUS ITS LIKE THREE SWINES DANCING ON MY TONGUE. I MEAN, CAN CHICKEN DO THAT? NO! ITS THE EXACT SAME THING ABOUT WRITING.

    WHAT MATTERS IS THAT ALL WRITERS SELF-PUBLISH BECAUSE THERE IS NO MORE LEARNING CURVE OR GATEKEEPERS AND EVERYTHING WILL MAKE MONEY AND BECAUSE TRYING HARD ALWAYS EQUALS QUALITY WORD. WRITING ISN’T A CRAFT ITS A GOD GIVEN GIFT AND IT MAKES PEOPLE RICH. I WONCE JUDGED A WRITING CONTEST AND LET ME TELL YOU EVERYONE OF THE 10,000 STORIES PEOPLE SUBMITTED WAS EQUALLY GOOD AND COULD MAKE KINDLE MILLIONS BECAUSE ALL WRITERS TRIES HARD,

    PS-I KNOW SOME IDIOT WILL DISAGREE AND SAY ‘BUT TURKEY BACON IS GOOD TOO” BUT TURKEY BACON IS LIKE A PRETENDER TO THE BACON THRONE PIGS ARE THE REAL KING!!!

  • To say nothing of the fact that this post is superlatively written and vastly entertaining, I have to say that I agree 100% with its contents. I suppose some indie authors will get their panties in a knot because as Chuck states if his post offends someone it’s probably because they’re the guilty culprits. If the authors attacking this post would get off of their high horse long enough to pay attention to the actual message of the post, they would see that this is not a manifesto against self-publishing. The authors who are the most vocal against Chuck’s rant are the very ones uploading unedited drivel to Amazon and other ebook stores.

    The post, however provocative, is not arguing for who should decide what is good writing and what is bad, or if traditionally published authors think they are better than indie authors. The post, is however, asking a very practical question: Are indie authors putting the kind of effort into publishing his or her book that their readers deserve?

    The democratization of publishing has opened up the floodgates to a lot of crap that has no business even being written, let alone put up for sale.

  • I use to clutter up my kindle with free books and think I had hit a gold mine. Most of them read like first draft garbage, thinly veiled with the idea of a plot. And regrettably even those thinly veiled ideas were bad.

  • <>

    I do now!

    Chuck, you don’t think these arguments could be levelled against traditional publishing too? I can think of dozens of examples of terrible covers, books that need editing, back cover copy that sounds as if it was written by a lobotomized duck… and those are just my own.

    • Chuck, you don’t think these arguments could be levelled against traditional publishing too? I can think of dozens of examples of terrible covers, books that need editing, back cover copy that sounds as if it was written by a lobotomized duck… and those are just my own.

      @Al:

      Heh.

      To answer more seriously, yeah, I think that traditional publishing could stand to up its game, but it’s in a whole different realm compared to what you find in the tangle of self-published books.

      If I walk into a B&N and pick up ten random books, I may not be thrilled with the books I’ve picked, but generally speaking they meet a bare minimum standard. Professionals worked on those books and for the most part, it shows. That doesn’t mean the books are *good* — just that they meet some kind of aesthetic standard, even if that standard is a low common denominator.

      Self-publishing — understandably — has no standard. The presentation and writing of such books do not necessarily meet even the lowest watermark set by traditionally published materials.

      That said, some of the self-pubbed stuff is also leagues ahead of what you find in stores. Really top notch stuff.

      — c.

  • Someone posted a link to this blog yesterday in one of the “Let’s mutual-flog our self-published books!” threads in the Science Fiction forum on Amazon.

    I laughed a good few minutes over the “Hound Riders” cover. Brilliantly done. This should be required reading for anyone who wants to self-publish!

  • Hi Chuck, it’s me again, back from the sequel essay’s comment section. Here’s my experience with self-published novels that have actually gone to print; I’ve bought and read 3 in my life. One of them is excellent, and I can tell the author actually went to an editor and carefully revised. The plot is simple but its gritty detail really gets to you (it’s about a P.O.W. who is the protagonist.) So, that one gets an A.

    The next one could have been good. I’m guessing the writer is one of those shy, introverted people who are intelligent but not the geniuses they think they are. He/she published anonymously which I’ve found is usually a bad sign for having confidence as a writer. The plot is somewhat confused/confusing but if given a solid revision and some heavy editing, the good ideas in there could have been fleshed out and brought to the forefront. This one I’ll give a C because you can tell the author is trying.

    The last one though is utterly awful. It’s the most half-assed, pretentious, unreadable drivel I’ve ever seen committed to print. It’s as though the writer smoked a pile of L.Ron Hubbard’s feces and coughed into a word processor. Repeatedly, with no traces of revision, editing, coherent thought or even effort. It’s written with the same mentality that Internet cretins have: “I had a thought therefore the whole world should know and everyone should care.” Well I’d hate to break it to that writer, but no I don’t care. I’m embarrassed that I even bought it, but at the same time I’m keeping it handy as an example of what to never, ever do while writing/publishing.

    I’m still mad that trees died for it though. That part is unforgivable, but the bright side of these bad books being published in only digital formats is that no paper will be wasted.

  • Chuck: “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.”

    I haven’t been in a Penneys store in years, but when I was a kid they made Wal-Mart look up scale. I think it might work.

    Here’s a deal. You line up willing girls and I will shave them.

  • As a self-published author I was very interested in your post. I laughed until I cried because what you say is true, however, there are some “traditionally” published works that probably should not have been.

  • When I started reading I thought, here we go another post slagging off the self-published and I admit my hackles were raised. I am a SP author, and I interview other SP authors on my blog. I think out of the many I’ve interviewed I’ve only come across a few that I felt weren’t ready for publication. So this leads me to the feeling that people like you, and those who are kissing your shoes, seek out poorly edited/bad covered books to make themselves feel better about their own work?

    But then you say, “That said, some of the self-pubbed stuff is also leagues ahead of what you find in stores. Really top notch stuff” and I immediately forgive you.

    I don’t want to be banded with those who fail their books (does anyone?), but slagging one another off isn’t the way to go.

  • I just stumbled upon your blog today, good sir. I have no idea who the hell you are, but as I left you gave me the impression of being a witty badass. You’ve got yourself another fan and reader.

  • Chuck,

    I found the link to this on Janet Reid’s blog… and I love it! A few months ago I had been considering self-publishing one of my novels; but after taking a look at some of the ones out there, I had to really think to myself “Do I want my book to be next to something like this? It seems almost like something I did for an English project back in grade 3.” So it’d either be stellar in comparison, or be dirtied by association. Not that I have anything against ALL self-published authors, a dear friend of mine is a fantastic writer, and is self-published.
    That is not to be all egocentric, and saying that I’m a fantastic writer – heck I know I’m not! I wouldn’t compare any of my novels to the great literary geniuses which can be found displayed in Borders. I’d like to think I’ve got at least a shred of talent though. So with fingers crossed, I’m working for the traditional method. (Though, as a comment mentioned, traditional publishing does NOT equal to the book being decent, though there is a tendency for an orangutan or two to have edited and at least partially read it!)

    With this article you’ve got a new fan and a reader!
    -Rebecca L.

Leave a Reply to sarajacobelli Cancel reply