Monday, May 23, 2011

Friends don't let friends self-publish bad books

Let me begin by stating that I have encountered many good self-published books. Heck, I have a few titles I've recently put up myself on Kindle/Nook/etc. so that makes me a self-published author in addition to being a traditionally published one.

But this weekend I encountered what is possibly the *worst* self-published book ever printed. A slim hardcover (a few clicks of research informed me that the author paid about $1,200 to have this tome brought to life), it is lifeless, lacks any sort of story arc, and -- unbelievably -- is filled with artwork (I shudder to even refer to it as such) drawn by the artist herself. The artist/author is an adult, but the drawings look like a five-year-old's refrigerator art.

I am not kidding. And I'm not exaggerating.

As you know, I write books. My daughter, Robyn, is an illustrator (her website is here). The person who lent me the book did so because she thought it might inspire us to work together to create a children's book of our own. While Robyn and I have talked about that possibility, this book serves to inspire nothing but disbelief that anyone thought it worthy of publication.

I wish I could share the book's title here, but that would just be mean-spirited on my part.

Here's the thing. Someone must have seen this manuscript before the author submitted it to the printer. Someone must have seen these drawings. The author must have shared this with friends. I can only hope that this author's friends attempted to talk her out of spending more than $1,000 to put this into book form. I can only hope.

If she persisted, she must have believed in her story. But the author had to have known in her heart of hearts that the story stunk and the drawings were even worse.

Really, I can't even tell you how bad this was. When I shared it with my family, they were all open-mouthed, aghast. I swear it wasn't just me.

The thing is, this teeny tiny (20 page) hardback book is priced at almost $30. The author sold it to an acquaintance of mine for less than that because they're co-workers.

I understand my acquaintance buying it. We all try to support those we care about. And by the time the book was published, it was too late to change anything, anyway.

No one likes to be criticized. And once a book is published and distributed, it's usually not a good idea to tell your friend what you think they did wrong.

BUT... writers usually share their works with friends, first readers, and family before they bring it to the world. Someone who cared about this woman should have talked her out of publishing. They should have suggested she wait. Maybe the urge would have passed. They should have suggested she read other children's books. They should have suggested the story have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They should have begged her not to include those drawings.

Here's the thing: there are so many wonderful books out there. So much wonderful art. If you have a friend who's intent on publishing himself or herself, and you're convinced what they've created is great, then - by all means - encourage them to pursue their dreams. But if what they've created is not ready for publication, please give an honest opinion. Save them from disappointment and possible embarrassment.

Companies are getting rich off of writers' dreams. The woman who wrote this book probably believed that parents would rush to pick up her "charming" story. I know that won't ever happen. If you saw this book, you would agree.

Who wins in this situation? The company who printed the book. That's it. They have $1,200 on their income statement. And what did they provide this woman? Five (5) copies. Seriously. She must have paid even more to have extra copies made because she's selling them where she works. What an opportunity, huh?

Again, there are good books out there that are self-published. Lots of them. And I believe that people should be persistent in following their dreams. No question about that. But before a writer plunks down significant dollars to see his or her name on a book spine, that writer ought to have enthusiastic support from those around her. If that enthusiasm is missing -- if all support is tepid at best, maybe it's time to rethink the "opportunity."

Let's help each other. Friends shouldn't let friends publish bad books.


scottdoornbosch said...

This just proves what I keep saying. FIND A WRITING GROUP. Of course your mother said it's wonderful. What else is she going to say. A writing group will tell you what they really think and if it's any good they will help make it wonderful. If it wasn't for my group my book never would have seen the light of day. By the way, Julie, thank you for introducing me to them.
Scott Doornbosch - Author of BASIC BLACK - selp-published

Julie Hyzy said...

Thanks, Scott. I'm looking forward to my first peek at BASIC BLACK. I've heard really good things about it!

Linda said...

To talk someone out of self publishing might be the correct thing to do, but it's complicated. As a non writer who was presented with a couple of chapters of someone's first book, I can tell you that it's pretty hard to give negative criticism when you can tell that the person isn't really open to it. And, as a non writer I didn't feel qualified to give suggestions. So, the friends of the person you talked about might have felt that $1200 was a small price to pay in order to maintain a friendship or not alienate a family member.

Julie Hyzy said...

You make a valid point, Linda. I know I would have a hard time telling someone that their book is terrible, but telling them that it's wonderful when it isn't, isn't a good idea either. I don't think you're advocating that, but I'm thinking that if we're cautious in our commentary, if the friend who wants to be published is able to sense our lack of enthusiasm, that may be enough. If a friend came to me with a bad book and asked my opinion (it's happened), I often suggest they try again. That maybe they take a class or get other feedback from experts before they move forward. It is very hard to do, but I think it's harder to see them struggle later when the book comes out and it's a horrible flop.

But I do agree with you re: maintaining friendships. It's hard to walk the tightrope between kindness and honesty sometimes.

dollycas aka Lori said...

Your daughter's artwork is amazing!!! I didn't realize she illustrated Jessica's Flat Out Love. I am so waiting for it to come out in paperback.

I was sent a self published book last year and like you won't name names but it was dreadful, full of so many typographical errors and the poorest grammar, run on sentences. I really tried to read it at first because I thought if I could get past the errors and the story was good I could at least give the author some type of positive criticism or review but after 5 very large, it was on 8 1/2 by 11 paper with a nice cover, I just had to put it down. Then I didn't know what to do with it, it is criminal to just throw a book in the trash,(hear my English teacher's voice) plus the author kept pushing for review. It took me almost 4 days to write a very tactful letter to her, proofread by several others trying to explain how to have someone edit for her, because the story had a good premise and then maybe publish it again in it's new form. She wrote me back telling me I was crazy, didn't know what a good book it truly was and "I should get a real job!" She paid $1500 to get it published and the publishing company thought it was wonderful and was going on a Virtual Book Tour for another $750 dollars. If it was a good book why would she get a Book Tour.

The book stayed on my shelf until last December and then it went with a bunch of old clothes to Goodwill. At least that way someone else could decide if it truly belonged in the trash, which I am sure they did.

It is sad to see these people taken advantage of. I know rejection hurts, but everyone does not have a book inside of them. That's why I read them and don't write them.

Julie Hyzy said...

I'm so sorry, Lori! That's terribly sad, and worse that the writer took her anger out on you when you were doing your best to help. I bet you struck a nerve when you suggested she try again. I'm sure that in her heart she knew the book was no good, but was embarrassed to have spent so much money on it and the only way for her to feel better about it was to insist that you were wrong.

What a shame so many people are taken in by scams.

But thank you for your kind words about my daughter's artwork. She really is talented, isn't she? I'm a proud mom.