Saturday, 5 June 2010

Self-publishing - friend or foe?

The sun is glorious, there's not a cloud in the sky, the sea is like a mill pond, and I am sitting at my desk, working and missing it all. Such is the life of a freelancer. This has made me bitter, so I'm going to have a rant. Please forgive me in advance.

I'm currently proofing a manuscript that makes my heart cry. I'm always torn when I receive work that I don't rate. I'm full to the brim with admiration for the author, who has devoted their time and soul and managed to set their ideas down on paper and complete a book. I'm only too aware this is no mean feat - I've been writing and rewriting the first three chapters of my humble offering for about 6 months now. I'm struggling to get off the starting blocks, finding that my need to edit and proof as I go (an occupational hazard) is slowing me down and drowning my creativity. This is something I'm working on.

But the flip side to this admiration is when the work I read (in my opinion, obviously) is not good. The majority of manuscripts I proof are self-published, which doesn't surprise me as I fear no agent or editor would touch them with a barge pole. Plots are as leaky as the Titanic, if there is a plot at all. I have found Ann Summers shops, AK47's and drug addict-riddled high-rise flats lurking in Victorian England settings - honestly, don't even get me started on that one. Grammar and spelling are hurled by the wayside - what happened to polishing your work before you send it out?

A common problem I find, particularly with children's novels and sci-fi, is a complete inconsistency in the spelling of invented names and places. Seriously, how hard is it to make up a name and write it down on a piece of paper, so that you ensure you spell it the same way throughout the book? I have found myself, on more than one occasion, creating glossaries for the author so that if there is a sequel, they have a point of reference for their own creations.

I can't begin to explain how much it frustrates me. Mainly because it's such a colossal waste of my time and I don't get paid nearly enough for the amount of basic work I have to do to make the manuscripts make any kind of sense (which is surely the job of the author?). But there's a small part of me that is frustrated because I know, if only I could get past my bad habit of editing myself, I could do better! That's not a boast, I would put money on the majority of people out there who call themselves writers being able to do better also.

So my thought for the day is this - is self-publishing a good way to go? Personally, I would rather write something and take the agent route. If I'm told that my work is no good and unpublishable then I will feel sorry for myself for a while then move on. I would rather that than think my work is amazing when it isn't, publish it myself because I'm so convinced the world will want to read my words, then sell five copies to close family and friends who tell me it's great because they feel they have to, not because it really is. It's like the people who audition on X Factor because their mum and dad have told them they're the next Whitney Houston. Simon Cowell tells them, actually, you're distinctly average, and mum and dad (or gran) come barging in, affronted, and pick a fight, telling the expert he's wrong.

My feeling is, listen to the experts - if your writing is good, they will tell you that and they will help you. If they reject you, there's a reason for that. Take a step back, look at your work objectively and honestly, and fix it. Then try again.

And my tip for the day is this - if spelling and grammar are not your strong points, that's okay - but buy a book on punctuation and learn it. Some people find it easy, others don't, but if you're writing a book, you need to know when to use a full stop or a comma or a colon; you need to know when to put your punctuation within quotes or without; you need to know when and how to use an apostrophe. Spare a thought for the person who's going to be proofing your work while the sun is shining outside. It's also the kind of thing that will help an agent decide whether you're worth representing. They get so many manuscripts that a missed apostrophe in the first line could send your book into the bin.

Okay, I'm clambering down from my enormous horse now. I shall return my attention to this overly complicated book, with Regent's Park spelled Reagents Park (come on!). Fortunately, my friends are arriving in an hour or so to rescue me, and we're going for a picnic on the beach, so all is not lost!


  1. Wow, I'm so glad I dropped by, because reading your posting has made me realise the route I'm taking is the right one. I don't think self-publishing is bad, if you are aware that you have to work very hard to make sure everything in your novel is as it should be and not a rushed job. I would rather be paid than to pay out.
    Have a great day with your friends,

  2. Hi Jar

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Absolutely, self-publishing can be a viable option, but you have to work doubly hard to make everything bullet-proof. Such manuscripts do exist, I've read a couple, but they're the needles in this literary haystack! And I agree, I would much rather be paid to write than pay to write.

    Good luck with your writing! :o)