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Why Self-Publishing Gets A Bad Name

I’m going to be honest with you: Until recently, I thought self-publishing was a last resort for authors who wouldn’t get published otherwise.

I was wrong. In the last year or so, I’ve noticed an increase in self-publishing. And I’ve learned that some authors aren’t self publishing because a big publishing house shot them down—though that might still happen anyway because big houses like to publish crap—but because, with a self-published book, the author retains a lot of control and a lot of the possible revenue, among other valid reasons.

Yet, there are still a lot of self-publishing duds out there. These aren’t just books that didn’t sell well. These are books that are awfully written, unedited, and full of more plot holes than a Dukes of Hazzard episode.

For example, take The Moon People by Dale Courtney, a novel that led Huffington Post to ask the question: Is this the worst novel of all time?

Before I go further in this post, I want you to know that I’m not making fun of Dale Courtney. I actually feel sorry for him because the outlet he used to self-publish this book obviously did nothing to really help him at all, other than throw his copy on a printed page.

Here is how Mr. Courtney’s novel, The Moon People, opens:

This story begins on a Beautiful sunny day in Daytona Beach Florida With a man by the name of David Braymer. A 45-year-old Single man that works at the local High school as a science teacher and astrology in the 12-grade level. Now he’s been here about 5 years and has become kind of partial to a young lady by the name of Cheral Baskel a local restaurant owner in Daytona Beach. At the moment Cheral’s preparing her restaurant for another Shuttle launch at the cape and everyone always gathers at her place because you can see the launch real good at her place. It’s also on the water and its real close to the cape and she really decks the place out.

Doesn’t everyone love to watch a train wreck? That’s the amazing thing about The Moon People. The novel has basically turned into the William Hung (he, of American Idol fame) of self-publishing. It’s been reviewed 104 times on Amazon and has 4.5 star rating out of 5. Say what? How?

That’s because the reviewers, almost all of them, are mocking Dale Courtney and his writing style. One reviewer, Sloat Fresno had this to say about the book:

This is a book. And Also its a Good book, one to read. The auther who goes by the Name of Daryl M. Corteney really has a nack for Good science Fiction telling. Also the Story. Now I dont want too Give to much away. In my review, So your going to have to. Read, the Book you’re self. But serve ice it to Say, your going to Read some things here. That you really did’nt expect. I Took one star Off for being Short and Singlespaced. But hey.

Okay, that’s kind of funny. But it’s sad because I’m sure Courtney thought he wrote a good book. And he had no one to tell him otherwise. No editor. No proofreader. No agent. Apparently, no English teacher. Nothing.

And it’s not like Courtney is just some unemployed slacker wasting his time. His bio, while horribly written, shows that he’s been successful in his main career:

D. M. Courtney is Married and a father of three, a writer and also does work for National Security on the part of foreign policies and war strategies and world economic equality. My hobbies are Scuba diving and fishing. I was raised in Miami Florida at the time of the Muriel flotilla of refugees from Cuba in the early seventies. Also did a tour in the military in the Army, went to Korea for a year. I’ve always enjoyed Writing about science fiction and I hope you really enjoy my book Moon People. Thank you and may God Bless your life.

No one said, “You know what, Dale. Maybe this book thing isn’t such a good idea. Feel free to write it for yourself and your family. Share it with a few friends if you want to. But I don’t think you should self-publish this one. It’s just not good, buddy.”

No one said that. Or, if they did, Dale was too stubborn to listen. And, amazingly enough, there have been two sequels!

Or could it be possible that Dale Courtney is pulling one over on us? Trainwrecks get a lot of publicity, and idiot bloggers like me will be sure to write about them. Could that be it?

Either way, The Moon People is one of those books that gives self-publishing a bad name. The fact that, literally, anyone can write and publish a book is both a beautiful thing and horrible thing.

I don’t know a lot about the process for self-publishing, but I’m learning more about it. And I even think it might be a viable option for me in the near future.

But if I go that route, I’ve got to invest in a professional editor who isn’t scared to tell me a sentence sucks, a chapter sucks. Or, even, that the whole book sucks. (Here’s an excellent article on Jeff Goins’ blog that walks you through the self-publishing process.)

I don’t want to sound like a pretentious jerk, but, while everyone can theoretically write, not everyone should be writing a book and attempting to publish it, just like not everyone should be flying a plane or swallowing two-foot long swords.

Write. Write. Write. Start a blog–they are great for honing your craft. Keep at it. But, for the love, don’t put your book out there in public before it’s been through the editorial ringer.

What are your thoughts on self publishing and/or the legitimacy of The Moon People?

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44 Comments Post a comment
  1. The sad thing is, books like this one are why so many of us are hesitant to give self-published books a chance. Without any gatekeeper, there’s no telling what you’re going to get. I’d much rather give my $10 or $15 to a small press I know publishes quality work – heck, I’ll read anything coming out of Small Beer Press or Other Press, because I know their history of publishing good books, and I admire that they’re doing it independently.

    As much as I want to support people publishing their work on their own, I don’t have the energy to wade through plot synopsis after plot synopsis until I find a novel that (a) appeals to me and (b) appears to have been copy edited. I know there is some fantastic work that I’m missing, but there are too many books I want to read as it is.

    Like

    February 10, 2012
    • Great points. For me, I would read a self-published work, but I would probably only do so if I see that it got high reviews or it was recommended by someone whose opinion I trust.

      There really are some great self pub books out there, but, like you say, you’ve got to sort through a lot of junk too. Not that big houses don’t publish junk, but usually at least it’s edited junk.

      Like

      February 10, 2012
      • Right – it’s so much the same as indie films vs major studio productions. There are plenty of terrible blockbuster movies, but they have great production value. Sometimes that’s all it takes for me to sit through a movie…or, though I hesitate to admit it, a book.

        I’ve picked up a couple self-pubbed titles based on recommendations and my sense of the author (things like whether they’ve been published in magazines, why they chose to self-publish). And these titles, which show how much effort has been put into producing a good (and edited, and copy-edited) novel, can be inspiring examples of how some people are trying to move beyond the constraints of traditional publishing schemes. Also raises interesting questions about why more and more people now want to move away from that traditional path to publication, including removing the editor as someone who plays a great role in shaping the book.

        Liked by 1 person

        February 10, 2012
        • Amanda #

          Also the volume of studio pics is less than Independent. 10,000 or so independent productions were submitted to Sundance. Beyond that 10k no one really knows how many indie movies are out there. So while the studios have their duds it’s still less of a volume of product as with traditional publishers vs. independent/self published.

          Case in point go to CD baby and listen to the many audio files of independent bands, musicians, singers etc.

          Like

          January 4, 2014
  2. There’s an award in the UK for the worst sex writing. Apparently people WANT to win because it guarantees loads of publicity. I’ve self-published and I like people reading my words – if all it takes is Really bad punctuation, and no Editing. Then guess what? I’m willing to get on that trend. MOON PEOPLE has had so many Amazon reviews – green with jealousy… For a chance to laugh at the typos in my enovel (for kindle) see COCONUT WIRELESS at http://www.smashwords.com and via amazon or http://www.nicolabaird.com

    Like

    February 10, 2012
  3. Blogging is a form of self publishing, albeit without the editorial net.

    The true beauty of of the internet is that allows for Moon People to be published and the free market to determine its quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 10, 2012
    • Like I said, it’s beautiful and horrible at the same time.

      I wouldn’t say that self publishing has an editorial net either….Moon People being a prime example. An author who knows what he or she is doing will make sure to get freelance editor, but I’m also sure some people will just let the spouse look at it and then click publish.

      I’m all for self publishing. I just think it gets a bad name because of crap like this book.

      Like

      February 10, 2012
  4. Allie #

    I have read both duds and what I’d like to term ‘rising stars’ in the self-published book realm. I agree that it is very important to have a good proof-reader or editor prior to self-publishing. I have been writing an alternate reality novel and I find it is important to re-read your own work. Also, it’s a good idea to ask friends who like the genre of your novel to read the novel. Feedback from multiple people can help ensure that your novel is ready for publishing (or sending in to a big publisher.) Be sure to ask for feedback in the following areas:

    1. Basic spelling, punctuation and grammar.
    2. Ease of reading. (is it disjointed or is it easy to picture what’s happening?)
    3. Continuity. (did the people walk to the restaurant but then pick up the car from the valet after dinner?)
    4. Enjoyability (Would you pay to read this book?)

    Having good, honest feedback in those areas can help you avoid the problems that were evident in “The Moon People”.

    Right now self-published books are somewhat like the bargain movie bin. You have to sort through a lot of mediocre stuff in order to find some real gems.

    Like

    February 10, 2012
    • Tom #

      Unless you have some serious cniceotnons in the world of people promoting books I guess it’s a dead end. Paper books is a slow and painfully going to grave with all the ebook readers taking over the market. Of course, paper books will be around for quite some time, but it’s faster and cheaper to publish electronically. Unless you’ve got some crazy idea under the rug that you plan to pull I suggest try something else.

      Like

      May 29, 2012
  5. As a self-published novelist, I have to agree that the Moon People seems to be the worst of the worst. Maybe it’s a parody. Who knows? But for anyone to judge a whole class of writers by one book is like judging a nation or a race, or even a religion, by one individual. Realistically, that’s what people do, so it’s rather futile to fight it. If I let the fear of antipathy or scorn toward self-publishing frighten me away, I might just as well stop writing. But books like that have no influence on my creativity–or on my sales. I have to establish a reputation based purely on the quality of my writing, and perceptive readers judge only by quality.

    I read an enormous amount of self-published work, and it doesn’t take any more effort to find it than it takes to find readable work that’s traditionally published. They both require a lot of slogging through crap to find the good stuff. But recommendations and reviews help clear the path. And generous samples of any digital work can take the place of thumbing through pages on a bookstore shelf.

    The world is changing. There was a time when I thought the height of happiness would be publication by a well-known traditional company. By the time I finally got around to writing, it was clear that I’d be wasting time and energy going down that path. From the moment I finished my first novel, I knew that I’d be going indie. My work. My decisions. My rewards. No middle man.

    Liked by 1 person

    February 10, 2012
    • Do you feel like the negative view of self-publishing is changing? I do. Books like Moon People don’t help, but I think there’s a lot of great stuff out there.

      If all self-publishers did one small thing–hire an editor–I think it would make a huge difference.

      Liked by 1 person

      February 10, 2012
      • Robert, it’s too early in the game to tell if the general view is changing much. As long as so much of what’s published is garbage, I don’t think it will change significantly. For those of us who work to produce books that can compete with print in writing quality, it will be an uphill battle for a long time. Unfortunately, all the calls for writers to edit their work fall on mainly deaf ears. You have to know that your writing doesn’t come up to the most basic standards before you’ll consider doing something about it. A lot of the bad stuff is published out of laziness, but I’m convinced that most of it is published out of sheer ignorance.

        I’ve never hired an editor and never will. First, I simply can’t afford it. Second, I have the knowledge to do my own editing. What I do need, and sometimes get, is the input of others who can see what I may miss. Would I like to have a professional give me a thorough critique of my work? Yes. So I keep learning and working, striving to improve with every novel. Can we expect that of every self-publisher? ‘Fraid not.

        Like

        February 10, 2012
  6. Don Heath #

    Caveat emptor! To be sure, the large publishing houses do publish a lot of garbage because they believe that the public will buy gargage. The evidence says that they are right. Before paying good money for a book, it behooves the customer to get a feel for what ii is they are buying; regardless of the source of the book.
    Have a great weekend. Happy reading.

    Like

    February 10, 2012
  7. Everything you say is true. And no, there are no editorial safeguards on these self-publishing sites. The volume of wanna-be writers uploading novels makes editing for the site managers impossible. All it takes to publish is the ability to operate a computer.

    Normally, the reviews can not be trusted either, as they are written by friends, family members and sometimes the author, using an alias on another computer.

    I wish there was a reliable review system that could chop through the slush for me. I’d pay a couple of bucks every month to let someone else lead a path through the literary jungle.

    Traditional publishing is too limited, and self-publishing is….well, you know what it is.

    Like

    February 10, 2012
  8. I tend to avoid self-published books because finding a good one is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Yes, there are self-published books that are well-written, but they’re the exceptions rather than the rule, and I don’t have hours upon hours to read samples from thousands of e-books trying to find one that appeals to me. Librarians tend to not have that kind of time either, which is why self-published books generally won’t end up on library shelves when there are traditionally published books out there that have already been professionally edited, vetted, and reviewed by professionals (ie. Library Journal, Kirkus, etc.). One one hand, I wish that publishers would treat their authors better, but on the other hand, with self-published books, anybody can publish anything and lots of people publish crap.

    Like

    February 10, 2012
  9. Sturgeon’s Law – 90% of everything is crap.

    The internet in many ways is proving that Sturgeon was an optimist. I don’t read self-published books. In part this is because I prefer actual books (I don’t use an eReader) but mostly it’s because I don’t want to wade through the piles of books that should never have seen the light of day.

    I see all the time on blogs how writers complain about the ‘gatekeepers’ (publishers) who won’t publish their book. You will never hear anyone say “I wrote a book, but it’s not good enough to be published.” Most people are more likely to say “I wrote a book, but the traditional publishers won’t buy it, so they’re obviously stupid and don’t understand how great I am because I wrote a book.”

    I prefer the system of gatekeepers. Even if there are books that I don’t enjoy reading, I know that those books at least had to get past someone before they were published. It means that the grammar in the book won’t make me want to puke (as the excerpt from Moon People does) and that the story is structured in some way.

    Like

    February 10, 2012
  10. I enjoyed reading your opinion and all the comments that follow. I too was considering the self-published option, but hesitated after going through all the junk there was (although I found A FEW that were worth it). But I really mean only a few, and guess what, they were among my Twitter friends, not on Amazon as you would expect. I have to say that I dont have an e-reader and prefer the contact of paper novels. Maybe I am not keeping up with progress, but In my opinion, nothing équals going into a bookstore and sorting through all the newbies that you can turn the pages and sample.

    Like

    February 10, 2012
  11. I have to agree on some level with everyone here. However, not all self-published works are unedited. I write every day and send in my novellas to an editing company and then they return them for a reasonable rate, ready to publish and distribute. There is a lot of waste out there, I won’t argue that. A little editing goes a long, long way…

    http://www.amazon.com/JOHN-RABID-Ultimate-Fantasy-ebook/dp/B007AW6CP8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1330383701&sr=1-1

    Like

    February 27, 2012
  12. Guest #

    I take pride in, and actually enjoy, “honing the craft.” However, being unemployed and downright unemployable in this ravaged economy makes it difficult to afford quality services like editing and critique for my efforts at the written word. I don’t think I would attempt the self-publishing route unless it was through Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award, which partners with Penguin (a reputable major press) to publish the winner. The reason: because of its anarchic anything-goes model, self-pubbing is the Scarlet Letter (“A” for Amazon, but “F” for quality) that brands a writer as worthless among the so-called Gatekeepers who, I believe, do still have a valid purpose in the vetting process that weeds out the golden grain from the chaff. Or the top-choice from pink slime, depending on your culinary preferences (mine lean towards golden grain with garlic and Ragu). 🙂

    However, I wonder your opinions on the viability and respect of some of Amazon’s publishing imprints other than Create Space, which seems to be where most of these digital T.P. titles end up. Amazon has opened up its own imprints, Thomas & Mercer, Montlake Romance, and 47 North, among others, which appear to accept inquiries and submissions via email, the “old fashioned way” suggestive of traditional imprints such as Random House and Macmillan. Does this smell of so-called vanity publishing? Are Amazon-published (not Create Space) books available in brick-and-mortar stores and not just through Amazon, thus potentially increasing visibility?

    Like

    September 12, 2012
  13. In my creative writing class, we’ve been discussing, albeit briefly, the importance of editors, and the lack of time small, short story magazines have to devote to editing the work they receive. I suspect even big time publishers don’t want to dedicate as much of their more than ever limited resources to editing. The onus is on the writer; I’m hoping, if and when I’m able to publish, to have someone in my court, someone looking over my shoulders, looking for the two cliches I just wrote.

    Like

    January 22, 2013
  14. The world of self publishing both frustrates and invigorates me. Like someone else stated in the comments, “without a gatekeeper, there’s no telling what you’re going to get.” And unfortunately, the current state of the Kindle store is such that you’re likely to get a lemon. That makes me sad, because there are a lot of good authors who should be heard, but they end up being drowned out by an ocean of poorly written and unedited books. Traditional publishing is in shambles right now as well. It’s a frustrating time to be an author.

    I think part of the problem (with self publishing) is that when Kindle Direct Publishing was new, it was relatively easy to get your book noticed. As a result, early adopters started making money. It ended up being a gold rush. Everyone had to get in on a piece of the action. Also, because there was no barrier to entry, people who had good intentions but lacked the skill to write thought that they too could find success. Whatever people’s motivations were, the market is now glutted, and it’s very hard to make a sale.

    That being said, I think success is still possible. But to make sales, a few things are necessary: 1) You have to write good books. 2) You have to have your manuscript edited. You need an ongoing relationship with good professional editors. It can be costly, but it’s essential. 3) You have to find a way to get people’s attention without selling them a book first. Trust is low, because everyone and their grandmother is shouting, “Hey, I wrote this great book. Come and read it!” and nobody knows which is gold and which is lead. Slowly cultivating a readership over time through blogging and sharing tidbits of your writing (so that people can get a taste of the quality of your work before they buy) is essential.

    We live in interesting times.

    Like

    October 31, 2013
  15. You realize that it is entirely possible that Mr Courteney wrote this book so badly on purpose. The book is so astoundingly badly written that it reads like a mockery of all bad writers. If I set out to make fun of bad writing, I don’t think I could write as beautifully badly as Mr Courtenay. The man is an artist. I find it hard to believe that such art could occur by accident. So I am forced to conclude that it was written as a joke. I applaud the man, but it makes me sad. I want to believe that Mr Courteney is a true innocent genius. But I find it so hard to believe that this could be true.

    Like

    December 10, 2013
  16. The crushing depression from working my ass off to get these books off the ground and getting absolutely nowhere drives me to drink these days.

    I’ve done everything right – sink money into editors, marketing, taken writing courses, had beta readers go over my work, et cetera. I’ve got over 600 rejection letters from publishing houses rotting in a shoebox (either generic forms or ‘it’s not what we’re looking for’). Most people I could toss my doorstoppers on said my writing’s “decent”, but I couldn’t finagle even a 1 star review for the life of me, nor push any sales.

    After blowing 5k for dated cover art and still hadn’t moved any copies, unless you count me blowing $60 on books I bought to gift on relatives I hate, for ten years, I’ve been writing and hadn’t sold a damn thing. I thought I might have a shot going the indie route once it became cheaper to do so. Not happening there either.

    Either I suck super hard at writig or don’t suck hard enough, relegated to the destiny of being a poor writer of tree-killing books no one bothers to read until I die from overwork.

    Like

    July 12, 2014
  17. jamieaaron03 #

    For me a good or bad book can come from anywhere. I own some self published books that are great. Sometimes I think they could use some help, but thats part of the charm too. This moon people book isn’t one that’d I’d read even if someone went through and corrected all the mistakes.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 10, 2014
  18. These are indeed frustrating times for a writer. I’m planning to self-publish within a month, after years of crafting something I think is worthwhile. But I have no high expectations. I’ve gone the traditional route of seeking out a publisher, with only lukewarm results. And so I’m patiently blogging, posting excerpts, tweeting, trying to draw some interest, but it’s slow going. All I can do is what I’m doing and see what happens.

    Like

    October 10, 2014
  19. Reblogged this on Ordinary Handsome and commented:
    Excellent article, though a little depressing for someone about to self-publish.

    Like

    October 10, 2014
  20. Karen K Hrdlicka #

    As an editor who has had to re-edit works that were supposedly “edited” thank you. While not everyone should write, not everyone who was “good in English class” should edit. While spell check is a valuable tool, editing is so much more. I cringed when I read a print book by a “professional” editing service when in the span of a page and a half the the heroine suffered heart brake three times. Or the romance I read suddenly became a paranormal book as the woman work up a little horse. Authors need to ask for sample edits so they can see what they are getting before they pay big bucks for editing and then get slammed in reviews for poorly edited books. I applaud authors for wanting to put themselves out there but they need to put out the best product possible in this marketplace or they will be lost in the shuffle. Editing is the key to a good product.

    Like

    April 25, 2015
  21. sstogner1 #

    I’m also a freelance editor. 99% of writers need an editor of some sort. I edit books for authors who are also professional editors…cause they know. One of the biggest problems writers face is con artists. The selfpub world is ripe for the picking. Most novice writers are taking advantage of by editors, cover artists, and marketing companies. A writer must take the time to learn the process. Need an editor? Find a book you think is well edited and ask the author who they used. Same with cover art.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 26, 2015
  22. Amadeus #

    Still too proud perhaps. The main reason I might have to self-publish this novel is length. It is going to go over the generally prefered limit–120k words. It is good to not be too long, so to speak, but don’t sacrifice the quality of a story for the sake of “too many words” My story got deep when I wrote this 10k chapter, and said, “Yeah, that is good! That really opened up my characters. That really extended the story! Forget that rule! The book will be as long as it has to be to tell the story.”

    But it is fine to try and keep under 120k words. You just have to use discretion. Hard to explain. My other work I am researching (a novel), I think can stay under, because it deals with a specific real life incident fictionalized. But I think the long one is going to be a quality work. And thinking your work quality is important too. Be capricious! Be manic! Think the work good one minute, and then bad the next! That’s how you have to be! You must have confidence, and judgment–do not seek advice all the time. But you have to be humble. That helps you, self or traditional publishing. Self, because you won’t publish like above work about a rocket launch, and traditional because you won’t send a half-good work off to an agent.

    Liked by 1 person

    April 17, 2016

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