Reed All About Tit by Erastes

Self-publishing is a good option for keeping hold of your creative control. It gives you the major share of your royalties and these days it’s a cheap option—I remember when it cost many thousands, before the days of digital.

But….

If there are many quality self-published books in the gay historical genre, then please Show Me Them, because I’m having a hard time loving self-publishing when book after book after book that I read is an appalling confused mess.

I don’t judge anyone for going after the self-publishing option. In today’s market, it’s a good option—although it’s unlikely to be at all lucrative. You may be writing something – like literary stream of consciousness m/m that publishers just aren’t ready for. Most of the e-pubs who want m/m are after romance or erotica, and if you are exploring the inner mind then it might be a tricky sell. I understand this.  You might have an old novel that has been published before and no-one wants to take it on, and you think that it would be nice to bring it out yourself. That’s fine. It’s probably already been professionally edited anyway.

What makes my heart sink time after time is when I find a new gay historical from my daily searches for new books it turns out to be self-published. I try not to pre-judge, but it’s hard to do when so many have had more typos than pages. There are publishers who I have that same sinking feeling with, but they are rare. Sadly, badly presented/shoddily written self-published gay historicals are not.

I know that self-publishing can work, and is the preferred method for many people. People like Mel Keegan, who had been traditionally published for many years, started own publishing house and from the looks of things it’s doing pretty well. There are a couple of people I can name who did the self-publishing route and then were picked up by more traditional publishers, people like Ann Herendeen, Christopher Paolini and Ruth Sims. Publishers such as Dreamspinner started basically as self-publishing houses for groups of friends, and look at them now.

But. And this is a big butt (and that’s no lie)

They did it professionally. I have no doubt that Keegan hires—for professional rates—editor(s) to make sure the product is the best it can be.

Not so with the majority of self-published books that I read for Speak Its Name. It’s all very well cutting out the middle man of the traditional publisher (be it electronic or paper or both) and going it alone. I applaud you! It’s a brave decision and takes dedication, time and money. BUT if the product you are handing out to people to exchange for their hard earned cash in the hopes that they’ll like your writing and read the next one is unedited, unfocussed, riddled with continuity errors, has a baffling plot, subject confusion, dangling modifiers and more unnecessary commas than I can shake a stick at, then you are Doing It Rong.

The book that spawned this post—the straw that broke the camel’s back, if you like—is sitting open on my Kindle at the moment. I won’t name it, because that wouldn’t be fair. It’s not badly written, it has flashes that I really like, some prose which makes me sit up and say “oh, that’s nice,” and had I been an acquisitions editor in my mythical gay historical publishing company that I’d love to start up one day I would have asked to have seen the full manuscript. The prose is strong in segments and the main character intrigues from the first chapter. I can see that there is a germ of a GOOD IDEA about this book.

But oh my God, the rest of it is horrible.

And the sad thing is, that ALL of the horrible could have been avoided with a damn good editor. Someone who could have said things like “I don’t get this, this is really confusing, this part, why does he expect to meet x person here, he doesn’t live here?” or “Why has the character’s name changed?” and “clarify” and “clarify” and “clarify.”

I know what it’s like. As an author, I am word-blind. I don’t know if this is a universal problem and there’s probably a medical word for it, but my mother had it, and I assume it’s hereditary. I simply can’t see many of my typos at all. My mind fills in the words in that aren’t there, and when I get my first edits back, sometimes, I’m often baffled (and terribly embarrassed) that the manuscript I thought was “editor-ready” was nowhere near it. And I’m talking from a missing words/typos/grammar and punctuation line-editing point of view. The editorial content is something else again.

What a good editor can do for you is something no friend or relation (no, not even your mum) can do for you. They will help make your story better. They have a Lovejoy-like ability to be able to spot the wrong, the plot-hole, the purple prose, the endless epithets, the changed name, the unnecessary paragraphs, the gratuitous sex scenes, the lack of any action, the lack of conflict.  They can see where you’ve forgotten to tie something up, or have tied it up but done it in a way that will baffle your reader. They are The Universal Reader and they are worth their weight in gold.

So find one, (check their credentials in same way you would with any tradesperson) and PAY THEM TO EDIT YOUR BOOK.

Anyone who thinks that they can send their book out into the world via self-publishing without having it professionally edited is suffering from the worst kind of author hubris. No-one. Repeat. No One can get away with that. You will miss things. You can’t help it. You might think it’s edited, but believe you me, it’s not!  And the first people you send it to for review, if they are as eagle-eyed as Jessewave’s great reviewers will find these mistakes and they will roll their eyes and they will say “ oh God, another badly presented self-published book.”

Which doesn’t help the reputation of self-publishing and doesn’t make me rush to read the next one I find on Lulu or Amazon.

Hence my point.


Erastes’ Contact Information

email: erastes@erastes.com

website: http://erastes.com

Author

Erastes is an author of gay historical fiction. Her novels cover many time periods and locations. She lives in Norfolk UK with demanding cats and never seems to have enough time to serve them.

42 comments

  • Hi folks,

    It’s Jade here – editor and cover artist from DreamCraft, just needing to set right a couple of factual errors in the article. It states above that Mel Keegan started his own publishing house; and that he more than likely hires professional editors at pro editing pay scales, to ensure tip-top manuscript qualities.

    In fact, this is far from correct – though I realize a great many self-marketing authors could wish otherwise! The information regarding the foundation of DreamCraft is given on Mel’s website, as well as on our own website:

    http://www.dream-craft.com/about.html

    …but to save you the trip over there, I’ll paste it in here: “DreamCraft began in 1995 as a multimedia studio and circa 2000 we branched into book packaging and small publishing. Since then we’ve worked with numerous writers to package and market books on a vast variety of subjects, from nature magic to fine food. Currently, we’re working with several writers in the GLBT fiction arena, and closer to Christmas 2011 we’ll be releasing a range of cookbooks.”

    In fact, Mel Keegan came to DreamCraft in 2000, when GMP Publsher Ltd., in London, died in a fiscal paroxysm involving its being sold to Prowler Press, which was subsequently sold to the Millivres Group which, in the next twelve months, discontinued its paperback list and left more than a few writers high and dry. MK found himself needing a publisher to take over his list, and at the same moment DreamCraft – then a 5-year-old multimedia studio – was running an experiment. We were several years ahead of the curve: we wanted to retail ebooks, but with download speeds being so slow in the late 1990s we were experimenting with books-on-disk. Would readers buy big-file ebooks – too large to be downloaded at the modem speeds of the day – on CD-Rom? Since CD-Rom was where we lived in those days, what we needed was content, and we were talking to all kinds of writers. Mel is local – we’re all in the fair city of Adelaide, South Australia – and better yet, we were already well acquainted. It was a natural move for MK to come to us…

    But no, Mel did not “start” DreamCraft, and DC remains a multimedia studio even now, rather than a traditional publishing house. Having said that, book publishing by now accounts for a large percentage of what we do, and it’s my hope that in the future this arm of the business will expand and squeeze out the rest of the work – simply because I vastly more enjoy the process of editing and illustrating over staring at pages of code!

    Which brings me to the other error in the article above. I am the editor at DreamCraft, and Mel’s new works arrive on my desk on jumpdrives, pristine and yet-unread. The reasons the Keegan books are impeccably well prepped prior to issue are twofold. As an editor, I’m incredibly lucky that MK delivers flawless copy. All I do is proofread it … and as anyone who ever read the old GMP editions would know, MK is not the world’s most accurate typist! Far from it. GMP seldom proofread properly, while Millivres was guilty of publishing one work, Aquamarine, directly from the raw files which Mel had emailed to them from Fairbanks, Alaska, where the book was written. However, in the hands of DreamCraft, all MK’s documents are proofread – as clearly distinct from being edited in any way! – five times, by different pairs of eyeballs, before being committed to release.

    By the same token, MK is incredibly lucky to have joined us and to have access to our book packaging and marketing mechanism, because – as readers on this site will most likely know – professional fees run upwards of $75/hour, even if a pro editor finds him- or herself doing no more than a proofreading job. You’re probably aware that Mel’s books are very large indeed. Pro fees charged for a document the size of, for instance, Dangerous Moonlight or Nocturne, would run to a couple of thousand dollars before the book were released.

    The other side to this question is, how much can an ebook or short-run paperback reasonably earn, to rationalize the investment in such pro editing services, when paid by the self-marketing writer? The bottom line is that a shorter book needing a thorough edit, or a very large book requiring merely professional proofreading services, would need to sell around 300 copies to break even (calculated from the maximum price allowed by Amazon Kindle of $9.99 to qualify for their 70% royalty deal). And of course, only a very small percentage of the books which do their business outside the marketing streams dominated by the traditional and mainstream publishers go on to sell more than this number.

    In fact, the ongoing success of the Mel Keegan list rests on two foundations: Mel’s ability to deliver flawless copy which doesn’t consume great gobs of an editor’s time (meaning, my time!) and DreamCraft’s ability, as an existing multimedia studio, to both package books to a professional standard and to get them into the online stores where the majority of today’s book retail trade takes place. The work is a collaboration — and this is the same arrangement we have with several other writers who came aboard with us since 2000.

    Hope this serves to set the matter to rights! I know some of the information here is not what self-marketing writers want to hear … modest sales, correspondingly modest royalties, the high cost of professional editing and marketing services, all conspire to place successful publishing on a level with the holy grail. All I can add here is to exhort writers not to work in a vacuum. Network with friends, make the acquaintance of a postgrad student to whom the nuts and bolts of the language are second nature, and who would enjoy editing as part of a creative collaboration, for a share of the profits. Find someone who knows how the business of bookselling really works – don’t be shocked into painful awareness by the retail pricing structure of physical bookstores! Know the waters you’re navigating before you set out, and be as cautious as you’re resourceful. Such publishing models can and do work.

    Good luck to all those who are treading the self-marketing path. Sometimes it’s like taking a machete and going bushwhacking, but it can be a lot of fun, and a great education — as well as a lucrative enterprise.

    My best,
    Jade (editor, DreamCraft)

    Reply
  • A pro editor I’ve known for ages suggests reading a draft line by line, FROM THE BOTTOM of the page, backwards. The mind doesn’t fill in the blanks when it’s confronted with words in an unexpected order.

    I don’t always do this myself–it is difficult–but it’s usually effective.

    Reply
  • LOL i would happily ‘let’ a good proof reader find my mistakes, cant speak for others but i cant afford a pro service and am waiting to see if any editors want to take me on, so penniless writer that i am have to rely on friends to spot mistakes.
    and all humans are fallible; my friend said 3 proof readers missed the same mistake in his work, and ive just chortled to myself when ive read a passage from a big published paper book and seen mistakes.

    this said, i think it would be a good place to point out that the MM romance group on good reads has a ‘be/want a master beta’ thread.
    tee hee!! 😀

    Reply
    • There are lots of no-charge editing places, Melanie. I started out on a yahoo group where you have to read and crit or edit three or so chapters before you can put your own stuff out there.

      All books have mistakes in them, but there’s a difference to “oops, we missed that one word on page 220 and another on page 23” to “this author can’t spell, hasn’t bothered to run this by anyone.”

      I do think that if people can’t be bothered to get anyone to edit their work–then they really shouldn’t be self-publishing, it just insults the reader. I found a blurb on Amazon the other day which actually said “this is the first draft, my unedited manuscript” – my response was “this is me walking away with my money.”

      Reply
      • I found a blurb on Amazon the other day which actually said “this is the first draft, my unedited manuscript”

        Oh, tell me about it. I’ve seen a thing where the person couldn’t be bothered to run a spell-check before submitting, and admitted it in a kind of “aren’t I cute, here’s my mess for you to fix” way. I’m all for parents encouraging a kid’s creativity, and that’s necessary. However, when you’re asking someone to pay hard-earned money for your work, the spontaneous outpourings of creativity just don’t hack it. Rex Stout may have been able to do his novels in one draft, but even he had an editor.

        Reply
  • Someone explained to me a long time ago why proofreading your own material is a bad idea. It’s because you’re seeing what’s supposed to be there and not what is actually on the written page.

    As a voracious reader, I beg of you, PLEASE, PLEASE let someone else proofread/edit your books. Nothing ruins a book for me faster than name/character switches, continuity errors, typos and grammar mistakes. I am not a writer so I will not pretend to understand the process one goes through but I do have a hard time understanding the (seemingly) complete inattention to detail that plague some books.

    A perfect example of this is A.M. Riley’s Amor en Retrogrado. I thought it was a really great book but the character name switch near the end drove me crazy. Instead of being engrossed in the story, I became thoroughly distracted by why and how that happens. The book was not self-published either so there really was no excuse for it.

    When I find an author I like I tend to read all of their stuff. So you should do yourselves a favor and let someone else edit for you. I can’t speak for all readers, of course, but I know that I wouldn’t pick up a second book by an author whose first offering was a mess.

    Thanks for this post Erastes. You’ve really hit on my pet peeve!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Laura and thank you for commenting!

      What I get from some authors–when I point out this stuff, is “oh it’s only fantasy anyway” (presumably because they think that gay men didn’t get it on in times of yore -“so why does it matter?”

      Writers with that attitude need to have their writing fingers broken.

      Reply
  • Hello! *waves*
    interesting discussion…if i may join in?
    currently i am a self published author.
    ill try and keep this short! lol
    ive read and written male/male themes for a long time. i used to read fan fiction but never wrote any, what i wrote were half hearted fantasies. last year i wrote a story i thought was actually good enough to share, i met a friend who happens to convert text into ebook format, and i was able to actually publish something which made me very happy.
    apart from the technical side of formatting, which i left to my friend, with the book i had no help apart from 1 friend reading the first couple of chapters. after that i felt like i was bullying people to help me, so i had to do everything myself.
    since publishing on amazon and re-reading my book with fresh eyes i did see typo’s, which pained me. so i took the book down and re-edited it. i know theres still 1 typo there now, but at the moment ive just had to leave it! lol

    since my circumstances changed ive had more time to browse the net, ive found some great communities, like yourselves, and on goodreads, where ive found people who were actually EAGER to beta read (which has been amazing!) and offer helpful advice.
    ive also had a look around at publishing houses and have currently submitted a new manuscript to see if anyone wants it, lol.
    not that i dont mind self publishing, its more the promotional aspect. to me, the more people see my work and enjoy it the better. if a publisher wants to help me promo my book then thats great, otherwise im happy.
    my book is currently rating 4.35 on goodreads, and i think its good. its not the best in the world, but when i read some published work out there im sorry to say, its a lot better than that!!

    if you want to read it and tell me if its a gem let me know, id like more reviews on my book.
    whether self published or with a publisher, you’ll be seeing alot more of me because its down to the author if something is good, the odd typo non withstanding, if its good its good, if it sucks no editor on earth can save you.
    lol!! 🙂

    hope that wasnt too long!! 😯

    Reply
  • I’m reading a self-published book at the moment – admittedly not a historical or even fiction, being the memoirs of a houseboy in a gay menage relationship (Fun With Dick and Shane by Gillibran Brown). It’s a great read but I have noticed a few typos and part of me wants to email the author offering my services as a beta reader in future. I’m not going to – I have enough on my plate right now – but yes, typos are frustrating. I’m inclined to forgive Gilli, though, as he’s written such a funny and honest book.

    It’s the typos and errors in books that have come from the smaller presses I find most irritating. I definitely give self-pubbers a bit more leeway. Not too much, though, and they’ve got to tell a bloody good story if they want me to forget the typos.

    Reply
      • Maybe there should be a peeve-fest. My own pet title-peeve is when someone takes the name of a very successful film or song and uses it for a book. I know you can’t copyright titles, but that seems to me such a blatant grab for search engine attention. I’m sure it works, but I don’t respect an author for using it.

        Reply
  • Hm. Didn’t Alex Beecroft self-pub “Witch’s Boy?” I know she’s since placed it elsewhere and the original POD was beastly expensive, but it was exceptional. (Of course, it’s NOT gay historical…)

    Offhand, The Filly is the only readable self-pub book I can think of, but there must be some others. If a book is good, I don’t really pay too much attention to whether it’s self-pub or not, if it’s awful I just make a mental note that I probably won’t like that writer’s other stuff. I’ve read awful pro stuff, too, sad to say. Writing and rewriting my own stories has made me far more critical of other writers’ work–I really count on review sites to let me know when something is riddled with typos or other problems.

    And, yeah, I think self-publishing is POTENTIALLY a great thing, but many writers who go that route really aren’t doing themselves any favors. I could sometimes shake Josh Lanyon for that blasted book on writing m/m, because I think it encouraged a lot of people who were really not ready for publication to throw their stuff into the ring. Writing is fun, but it’s also work. Rex Stout may have been able to write one draft and go with it, but even he had editors.

    As for that ‘fill in the blank’ thing? Everybody has that to some degree. It doesn’t even have to be your own writing. There was a study at Cambridge that gave people horribly scrambled paragraphs and they were still able to comprehend them. Over here: http://www.notsoboringlife.com/ramblings/mixed-up-words/

    Reply
    • Yes – I’d forgotten about Alex – wish I’d cited her now and not Keegan!

      I have read a few well edited self pubbed book, but they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

      Reply

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