Friday, April 13, 2012

A handful of self-publishing "don't"s

There are many subsidy/POD publishers out there, and I've never been one to dismiss as a group their prodigious output of Civil War related materials of all types. I have purchased more than my share of dreck, but I've also been able to add to my library many fine original works. That said, even with otherwise good books, I repeatedly encounter a number of poor decisions on the part of the author that I'd like to share here. I could come up with many more, but this is just basic stuff that gets constantly overlooked.

1. Don't ever send your manuscript to the printer without first having at least one third-party with competent editing skills mark it up.  This should go without saying.   Most self published Civil War authors seem to have little notion of their own limitations as writers.

2. It seems that POD services allow authors to alter their manuscripts at will without disclosure to the buyer as to what version they are getting. Taken to an absurd level, each book printed can have the same ISBN but different text. I know a guy that submitted several different versions of his manuscript within a single month, many of the changes suggested by customers that bought the first version. I could detect nothing that would indicate that the guy recognized how much of a disservice he was doing to the customers that purchased the book soon after release. Don't drag your book down to the level of buggy computer software requiring the release of a series of patches merely to make it respectable. It's even worse than that. Software patches are free but manuscript fixes require full price repurchase.

3. Don't offer pre-orders unless you first understand what the concept means. A friend and I recently pre-ordered a book (full price plus shipping) from an author with the understanding that the print run would be limited. Soon after, we discovered that it was in fact a POD book and an online retailer had it in stock and was selling it for almost 40% less with free shipping. Several weeks later, neither of us have our copies in hand.

4. Do use blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to promote your book (if you don't, who will?) but don't ignore questions from potential customers. In countless instances, I've solicited information from authors only to receive no reply.

5. Along similar lines, unless you want potential customers to consider your book vaporware, don't fail to regularly update your social media site. A simple progress report takes only seconds to write but it can keep web surfers from deleting your 'dead' site from their bookmarks folder and forgetting about you.


  1. Thanks so much for this post. I have steered clear of many self-published titles for reasons one, two, and three. Unfortunately, the lack of editing is also showing up more and more on e-book titles.

    Scholarship alone is not enough to build a reader base. If a writer never intends to publish anything again, he/she could ignore your advice, I suppose, and simply "take the money and run". Unfortunately, an author doing that also manages to perpetuate the new stereotype that POD is nothing more than vanity-press drivel.

  2. Authors looking to have control of the publishing process should not look for "self-publishing" options unless they are prepared to hire professional editors, designers and individuals who understand the publication and distribution. A better option can be "partnership publishing," where an author can work with an established publishing house that handles editorial, design, distribution and paperwork, and the author participates in the print run and is able to sell books directly. The self-publishing movement has been wonderful for allowing many voices to reach the marketplace, but what the glut of sub-standard books available now points out is that raw content dumped into a dustjacket or an ePub file does little good for anyone.

  3. Here's one: don't, under any circumstance, use illustrations by friends or relatives unless they are real pros. They all - ALL - look silly and hurt the book.

    1. No kidding. The instance most memorable to me is an author's use of his pre-teen son's colored pencil sketches of the generals as book illustrations. They had no business being there.

      I did consider adding an offshoot of this to my list -- don't have only a close family member proofread the manuscript.

    2. Good points, Drew. I find it (slightly) amusing when we turn down a manuscript for all the right reasons, only to see it self-published 45 days later with all the obvious problems we pointed out to the author in the cold hard light of permanence. We see this same thing with a particular press that doesn't, apparently employ editors of any variety, be they developmental or proofers.

      Being of libertarian bent I welcome all the options we have today and the weakening of the traditional gatekeepers. However, they also played a role in weeding out the chaff from the wheat.



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