I know the title says this blog post is about the prejudice against self-publishing. In a way, it is, but you and I both know that there have been countless articles and blog posts on this already. There is so much material online about the difficulties self-published authors face that there is nothing of value I could possibly add to the subject. Everything that could be said has been said.
So why am I writing about this? It occurred to me that there is an abundance of material on how and why self-published books and authors get dismissed unfairly, but there is very little material on how to fix that.
I don’t have the answer to ending prejudice against self-published authors on a wide scale but I do have a pretty good idea of how readers can get around their fear of self-published books. There are a lot of self-published books that are just complete garbage. I’m not denying it, but there are diamonds hidden in the coal. A lot of diamonds, in fact, not just a few here and there. For the most part, readers shy away from self-published books because they don’t know how to tell whether that book is a joke or a serious piece of literature that’s worth their money and their time. If readers knew how to distinguish between quality self-published works and dumpster trash, they wouldn’t fear browsing self-published books. I’m here this week to give readers the tools to find those diamonds in the coal mine.
There are five things I always do when I look for self-published books to buy. Keep in mind, these are just general rules of thumb that I’ve picked up through personal experience. If a book passes all but one of these “tests,” then it might still be worth it. Use these as a general guide but not as the gospel truth. Use your own judgment as well.
5 Ways to Separate the Serious Literature from the Junk
I know the saying goes “Never judge a book by its cover,” but it’s wrong. I’m sorry, but it is. It’s a great metaphor when you’re talking about not judging human beings solely on first impressions, but when you try to apply it to books in a literal sense, it becomes clear very quickly that a bad cover is usually a good indication of a bad book. This is especially true when it comes to self-published books. Authors who aren’t serious about their work have no qualms about using a default CreateSpace cover or a horrendous assault on the eyes, complete with eye-bleeding colours and unnecessarily flashy fonts. We all have our own artistic tastes, of course. A book cover might be aesthetically pleasing to your friend, but not to you. When you examine the cover of a self-published book, you should ask yourself “Does this cover look like someone who has never used Photoshop before slapped this together in under an hour?” rather than “Do I like this cover?” Personal tastes vary but a botched Photoshop job is just universally bad. If the cover looks like someone took some time and care with it, then it passes this test.
The Synopsis and/or Sample
Grammatical errors, typos, and misspelt words in the book’s synopsis are a huge red flag. If the author couldn’t even bother to proofread two or three paragraphs of summary, she probably didn’t bother to proofread the book either, let alone have an editor look at it. Check to see if there’s a free sample of the book available online somewhere. Many self-published authors offer the first chapter of their books for free on websites like Wattpad. Even if they don’t, Amazon has a Look Inside feature on most books that will allow you to read a sample of the book before you buy. If the sample is error-free and you enjoyed reading it, then the chances are good that the book is worth buying. If either the synopsis or the sample looks like a mess, don’t waste your time on it.
You know that old saying “You get what you pay for?” Well, unlike the saying about judging books by their covers, this one’s actually solid advice. An author who is confident in his work and serious about building a career as an author will price his books accordingly. While spending $20 on a self-published book might seem like a risk, it should actually provide the reader with some security; the author clearly thinks his book is good enough to contend with the average traditionally published book on the shelves at a major bookstore chain. It shows that the author put a lot of time and care into the creation of the book. Someone who spent a year or more of his life on a product is going to charge more for that product than someone who cobbled something together in under a month. To give you a ballpark to look for, check the format of the book, first. Is it an ebook or a paperback? Both ebooks and paperbacks can be fabulous reads, but take a look at the price. If it’s a free ebook or a $0.99 ebook (and the book isn’t on sale or part of some kind of limited time promotion), the chances are high that you’re getting a product that’s not worth much because not even the author thinks it’s worth much. If it’s a paperback and it’s under $10, the same applies. Paperbacks cost money to produce. They require paper, ink, and physical equipment to print and bind the book, so self-published authors are bound by a minimum price they must charge in order to cover the printing costs. That price varies depending on the publisher, the paper type and the book length, but it’s usually somewhere around $10. Be wary of free ebooks and paperbacks priced at $9.99 or less. It may seem like a great deal, but, well… you get what you pay for.
The Author Bio
The author bio is often overlooked by readers, but paying attention to the author bio can give you a lot of insight into not only the author’s background but the kind of person the author is. Author bios are almost always written in the third person, but most authors, especially self-published authors, write their own bios. Is the author bio boastful? Does the author claim to be a bestselling, award-winning, five-star author? Fact check these claims. Are the author’s books on any bestseller lists? Have any of the author’s books won awards? What are the average ratings for the books on Goodreads and Amazon? How many reviews are counted in those averages? If the author claims she’s an award-winning, bestselling, five-star author but her name doesn’t appear on any award or bestseller lists and she only has a handful of good reviews from her friends and family on Amazon and Goodreads, don’t waste your time. The author is dishonest and trying to make herself look more accomplished than she really is. If the author has to lie to sell copies, that doesn’t bode well for the quality of the book. Having said that, I must stress one thing; never pass up a book just because it doesn’t have hundreds of raving reviews and hasn’t won any awards. There are so many wonderful books out in the world that have yet to be widely discovered. That’s not a reason to scoff at them. All I’m trying to say here is compare the author bio to the books. If the author bio is nicely written without overselling the author’s achievements, then it passes this test.
The Author’s Online Presence
Serious self-published authors know that they need to be utilising every social media avenue they can to get their books in the hands of readers. They don’t have a publishing house to market their book for them. That burden falls on the author’s shoulders. Do a quick Google search for the author’s name. Does he have a legitimate Facebook page and not just a personal profile? Is he on Twitter? Instagram? Snapchat? Goodreads? Wattpad? Does the author have a website and a blog? An up-to-date, professional-looking website and a blog are a must for a self-published author. Besides that, a serious self-published author should have at least two or three popular social media platforms that he is active on. Look at the content the author posts. Does he engage in thoughtful conversation with other writers and readers? Does he generate or contribute to meaningful discussions? On the flip side, are his social media posts just an endless onslaught of spammy, pushy advertisements for his books and not much else? A serious author knows that being active, engaging and personable online is a much more effective way to build a reputation and sell books than being a glorified spam-bot. So what does this tell you about the book you’re thinking of buying from this author? Well, for starters, if you can’t find the author anywhere online or if the author seems to have no interest in the book community except to advertise his own books, that’s a good indication that he’s not serious about a career in writing, which means he probably doesn’t take his books seriously, either, and neither should you.
Being aware of these five things to look for should help readers feel more confident in browsing through self-published books. When you know what to look for before you buy, buying doesn’t seem like as much of a risk anymore.
So go on and give a self-published book a chance now that you know how to pick out the good ones.
Copyright © 2017 A.A. Frias