Those of you who follow me on Twitter will be aware of my dilemma about going for the self-publishing option, which is why I’ve been taking a particular interest in the recent crop of publish-to-kindle books issued by otherwise unpublished novelists.
I think I’m trying to work out:
a) ) how my own work compares with what’s already out there
b) if there’s enough ‘quality’ in the self-pub e-book domain to make me want to be part of it, i.e. is it now ‘okay’ to go it alone?
As a result I’ve been trying to read, or at least sample, as many self-pub e-books as I can, and I’m starting to work out what criteria I’m using in making my judgments. In fact I just hopped over to Jane Smith’s self-publishing review, where she applies the values of a professional editor in rating conventionally self-published books. I’ve always thought this was an excellent idea, and although I’m not a professional, when I read a self-published e-book, I’m still assessing in my own mind if it has simply been unlucky in not finding a commercial publisher (i.e. got lost in the slush-pile, arrived with an agent on the wrong day, or didn’t quite cut it with the marketing department) or if in fact this book isn’t quite ready for the world. At the same time I’m aware that my reaction can only be subjective. I’ve read quite a few commercially successful novels that would never have got past my editor’s desk!
I’m not dipping into the e-book word at random. So far I’ve read novels issued by writing friends and acquaintances or recommended by online associates and fellow Tweeps, and I’ve decided to feature those I really admire on the blog.
On the subject of criteria, it’s actually fairly simple.
Even if I’ve only paid 0.99, I’d like the thing to look reasonably professional: an active contents page isn’t vital but it’s nice, a cover image gives a visual clue and the sense of an artistic entity. No proper title page or stray bits of html? Not good!
The title matters. Would it make me pick it up in a bookshop?
I’m less picky over minor errors (repetition, mis-related participles, oddities of punctuation and typos) than I once was, but any in the first few pages do jump out. Finding lots in the first few chapters is a no-no.
The rest is all about the writing, or perhaps more crucially, the story-telling. Jane Smith (I hope you already know her other blog) says here I’ll read no more than five pages of boring prose before I give up. How to define boring? For me, cliches and clunky prose ring alarm bells, but if the story is going somewhere, or the character is immediately sympathetic, I’ll read on, at least for 50 pages or so. Nothing will feature here unless I’ve read to the end.
But even if you’ve done all this, i.e. produced a competent work of fiction, let’s say a Strictly ‘Seven!’ you might still not make it onto the review page. For me to think yes, there has to be a special something: in the style, in the story, or most likely both, that lifts it from competent writing to something memorable. So stand by for those e-books that so far have got to the dizzy heights of 8, 9, or even 10. That’s what it will take to get a real endorsement and a Click to Buy recommendation. These are the ones that might lead me to think the publishing world really is changing. For better or for worse? That’s another argument!