Publish Like the Pros
A Brief Guide to Quality Self-Publishing
Michele DeFilippo
(Cadence Group)
Self-publishing a book is fraught, so fraught that you are better off taking the money you would spend on it and wire it to Chicago to the CBOE and take a flyer on pork bellies. Or soybeans. Or feeder cattle.

Long or short. Makes no difference. You will save a lot ---in cash, in self-respect --- in the long run.

The truth of publish-on-your-own is contained in a tiny item to be found on the home page of ALA-Booklist. The American Library Association is just that, an august association of those people who store our knowledge for us, have been doing so for the last 100 years. Their bi-monthly magazine, Booklist is one of the big four of the prepublication world. Each issue carries reviews of several hundred new titles that are going to be unleashed on the reading world in the next few months.

On ALA's homepage you'll find The Big Secret of publishing --- Harper & Row, Random House, Harcourt, Boise State University Press, Duck Press, Diddlesquat Books, you --- hidden away on a brief link entitled "Submitting Review Material to Booklist." Here lies the ultimate truth of how your new baby will be received. In small, very small type, you'll find this sentence: "Due to the volume of submissions (more than 60,000 per year), we are unable to notify publishers whose books have not been selected for review."

Sixty thousand new book-babies each year. And you and your modest book of poems, or the novel that has been eating at you for the last few years, or recipes from your aunt's great kitchen ("Armenian Best Cooking for the Awfully Busy Cook"); or a warm tale of your grandmother surviving forty-five years on a ranch in West Montana among the snowstorms, coyotes, prairie dogs, ticks and chiggers; or a children's title (stories about a cheerful raccoon) that so pleased your children; or a paean of love to your husband of so many years. This book of yours will be competing with 60,000 new titles (this year) 600,000 new titles (this decade), 6,000,000 new titles (this millennium) --- all destined for the diminishing number of book readers of the world. Good luck.

§   §   §

To publish your own! Sounds so easy. You write it on your computer for a year or so and then deliver it to a POD (print-on-demand) or a self-publishing house along with a check and you are in business with Fat Chance Books, no?

Well, no. For in all probability, for those of us in the book review biz, yours will be another of the 100 - 200 new titles a month (for small publications), 1,500 titles a month (for the local newspaper and magazine book sections), the 5,000 titles a month (for the biggies) that will come in the mail, begging for attention. My guess is that ninety to ninety-five percent of these new self-published titles will be ignored by the media. Why?

Sheer volume is one reason. You are competing against 60,000 others. Another is the frippery of the publishing world, not mentioned in Publish Like the Pros. Publication date (a biggie) for one, along with all the other teeny rules in place which are required for submitting books. The little details, the bothersome details that may pass you by.

If your book is a novel --- and it seems to me that at least half of the new books we reviewers get are novels --- there's the problem of investment of time. Not your investment of time. Ours.

A book of poetry or short stories or even a technical how-to-do-it is one thing. A reviewer, always in a hurry, can scan these quickly and (in quick order) give it a brief review. But to read even the first 50 pages of the dozens and dozens of novels that come in each month eliminates most right off. Reviewers look at novels with dread --- especially any running more than 200 pages.

In addition, I've found that most people writing novels do not, unfortunately, study composition and point-of-view and pacing at the University of Iowa ... don't know squat about how to squeeze out plot and character and style and inspiration and genius to make the novel work. Guaranteed.

For every E. L. James, there are a thousand poor souls who don't know yet that they don't know yet that they don't have a voice.

§   §   §

Forget the big-time (or even the small-time) reviewers. You write a book and then pay to get it published and then who besides your mother and favorite brother-in-law and a couple of friends or business buddies are going to buy it? Strangers? Well, that means advertising? Advertising is very expensive. Networking? Time-consuming --- more than you can imagine. Distribute it yourself? Wait until you go to the four or five independent bookstores remaining in your area and ask if they will carry it and hear what they have to say about the collapse of the book business and the paperwork involved in carrying your one prize title among the 5,000 unsold titles they've already got in stock.

Reviews on Amazon? Who's listening, who cares? You and 60,000 others? As DeFilippo reveals,

    The largest of the so called "self-publishing companies" report that the average author sells fifty books.

That's a five. With a little 0 after it. That's your baby. Down the chute.

§   §   §

For those of us in the review biz, we can smell a self-published book a mile away. The cover is often tacky, the credits are all wrong, the colors are dumb, the title is misleading, the stock stinks, the copy on the back cover is poorly conceived and ill-expressed.

And once we open it up, we find the leading all wrong, the spacing choked, the margins dwarfish, and each page with its tiny type appears to be a sea of black. And there are ... bang! ... a couple of typos on the very first page.

And, of course, the essence, hardly mentioned in Publish Like the Pros and most other self-publishing books: substance; or lack of it.

Even a technical book, a how-to-do it, must, in its own way, please the reader. When a book is boring, when the writer uses too many words, too many words cobbled together in a clunky fashion, when the whole cries out for an editor, begs for a good designer, calls for a good proofreader, needs a good artist to deliver the goods --- so it is that, as we are going through it, we find that it has no There There. The critic, and ultimately, the world of readers, must have a good and sharp writer in hand to deliver the goods, with a nice looking stage for all those words.

Self-publishers of the world, unite! Gather your change --- not your chains but your spare change --- and wire it off to Chicago. Frozen Orange Juice futures. Feeder Cattle. Pork Bellies. Sydney Greasy Wool. Anything but another book.

§   §   §

Michele DeFilippo here offers us seventy-five pages on what you need to succeed on your own as a self-publisher. DeFilippo has published a book about publishing a book, which is like painting a picture about painting a picture or creating a sculpture about creating a sculpture or making a movie about making a movie (see "8-1/2.") It's all mirrors.

And unfortunately this book suffers from a couple of the very foibles we are warned against. One of which is what we old pros in the book review biz see as horn-tooting. When a new title appears on the reviewer's doorstep it has to have something to excite our interest, but should never resort to overkill: especially in the "Look at Me" Department. This applies to novels and cookbooks and history books and manuals, and even, strangely enough, autobiography. The author must have a presence, but it must be a ghostly presence, hovering way out there, mysteriously, at the edge.

DeFilippo evidently runs something called "1106design" in Phoenix. The phrase "1106design" appears seven times in various forms on the front and back cover of the book, and another fifteen times within. Which might lead one to believe that DeFilippo is trying to sell us something.

§   §   §

DeFilippo rightly warns us that if we are going to go to the trouble of publishing a book, it has to be a quality job. Quality implies that if you are going to fix something (a word, a thought, an idea) in type, you should do it with care. Thus, the "Six Steps" listed in the book, all of which are manifest: cover design, editing, typesetting, corrections, final review, digital file prep. And proofreading,

Proofreading? Oh yes. This under DeFilipo's "Step 5. Corrections and Final Review:"

    Once proofreading is complete, and the errors identified by the proofreader (and approved by the author) are fixed, it's time to read the book from start to finish one final time.

And then this:

    Even though you just can't stand to read it one more timeyou must.

I didn't make up that "timeyou." It's right there on page 12.

And then:

    The proofreading and correction process never really ends but at some point you just have to go to press.

There is ambivalence here, and we fans of Strunk & White abhor ambivalence. Are we talking "proofreading" and "correction process?" Or is it "the proofreading process" and "the correction process?" A simple declarative sentence (especially one lecturing us about the proper making of a book) must avoid confusion.

I'm afraid my old English teacher Miss McEver would have a field day with this one. "Subject and verb must agree," she would write, in the margin, in her impeccable script. We would argue our case with her, about how it could be maybe this or maybe that, for I cared and she cared, and I wanted to be right and she knew she was right. But finally she would snap, "Don't fudge!" And she wasn't talking hot chocolate.

--- Christian Wakefield, MA
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