self-publishing…quality still matters

I recently attended a lecture about self-publishing. Quite a few were in attendance. I’d not realized how many wannabee writers are out there. Of course there were probably a handful of published authors in the mix. Already speaking when I arrived was self-published author Nathan Everett. He had quite a lot to offer about the design of the self-published book, so that it will closely replicate one that’s hot off the presses of an established publishing house. I liked that idea because I’ve seen a couple of self-published books that resembled pamphlets. I didn’t think they were worth the $8 or $10 asked. I love books, but they need to be worth their weight in cold, hard cash, especially in the current economy.

Cover of

Cover of Twilight (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Everett was a good speaker, so good in fact, that he convinced me to purchase his book Steven George & The Dragon. At a hefty price of $15, it sucked me in because of its well-designed jacket. Reading the first few paragraphs also convinced me that Everett’s self-publishing efforts were well worth the price. Or so I thought. The following day I settled into reading the 171 pages of fantasy. I’d not read this genre since childhood. Sorry. I’ve NOT gone ape over the Harry Potter or Twilight books, although I enjoyed the films. I’m inclined to read celebrity biographies, another kind of fantasy. But where I relished the aforementioned fantasy films and bios, Everett’s book was disappointing.

The upside of self-publishing is obvious. A writer can get his work out to readers without using middlemen. That, in turn, allows her to keep most of the earnings, a small percentage going to the company enlisted to do the selling. The downside may not be as blatant. Just because everyone can self-publish, doesn’t mean everyone can write well. I don’t think I’ll purchase another of Everett’s books to see if his writing gets better as he goes along. That’s too expensive a venture for my pocketbook. As it is, I’m not certain I can make it past the first chapter of his dragon book. See if you agree with me after you read the following sample from Steven George & The Dragon.

Once upon a time, there was a dragon-slayer named Steven George. He could not remember whether he had volunteered for the task or had been chosen. He did not know when he would be called upon to slay the dragon. He did not even really know what a dragon was–aside from the fact that it was fierce, and to be feared, and it breathed fire. He knew, however, from his earliest memories that he was the one who would one day slay the dragon. …

The dragon–Steven assumed–lived high on a mountain on the other side of a wide river. Steven had often seen plumes of smoke rise from its peak. Dragons breathe fire. There was smoke on the mountain. Therefore, the dragon must live there. If Steven could just figure out how to get across the wide and treacherous river, he could walk up the mountain, slay the dragon, and be home in time for dinner. But there was no way across the river. So Steven planned his strategy carefully. Exactly 10,230 steps downstream, an equally wide and treacherous river joined the one near his village, and became even wider, more treacherous, and impossible to cross. Steven determined to walk upstream until the river narrowed or became shallow enough to cross, and then he would come back downstream on the other side to the dragon’s mountain.

Steven was ready to shoulder his pack and step off his front stoop–the first step of his journey–when his sweetheart approached.

Phoenix Dragons

Image via Wikipedia

“Steven, dear, I’ve packed you a lunch,” she said. She handed him a small parcel wrapped in oiled skin and looked at him lovingly. “So now you are off to slay the dragon. My hero. All my life I will pine away on our doorstep, dreaming of my brave dragonslayer. People will nod their heads when they pass and say, ‘She loved Steven George the Dragonslayer.’ Poets will write of our love and how you rode off to meet the dragon to protect your village and your love. I am so proud of you.”  

 What was even more disconcerting was the counting of steps as the hero made his way in search of the dragon.

…looked sadly at his sweetheart and took step number one. Two, three, four, five, six. Steven always counted his steps. As long as he knew how many steps from home he was, he knew where he was. Steven had counted the steps to the river, the steps to the pastures, the steps to the field. Steven had counted the steps between his home and his mother’s home. He had counted the steps around the village long-house. Knowing the number of steps he had taken was a comfort to Steven. 14, 15, 16, 17.

Steven walked at the steady, measured pace of 80 steps per minute. …As he moved forward–35, 36, 37, 38… He walked on through the village–51, 52, 53, 54. …as he walked through the village–69, 70, 71. …and continued counting only his footsteps–91, 92, 93. …as he stepped boldly out of the village–103, 104, 105.

And that only took me to page 4 of the book. I may attempt another try at reading Everett’s writing, but probably not in the near future. I credit him with making a living at book designing, as a paid consultant, and book selling. I guess the beauty of being responsible for the total package means the writer can find his own niche among readers. And truthfully, I think that’s the hard part…for either self-published or traditionally published books.

Complete set of the seven books of the

Image via Wikipedia

 Mr.Everett did indicate that his book was intended for an audience of 13-year-olds. In my opinion that age group is more sophisticated and discerning than either Everett or I were at that age. Youngsters these days are masters of the internet, and totally captivated by J.K. Rowling‘s literary master-pieces. I don’t see them reading about Everett’s Steven George.

I had a similar experience with another self-published author a few years ago. My husband and I met the woman on one of his business trips. We had dinner with her and a traveling companion, a young niece. The woman was writing a piece about my husband’s company for AAA magazine. Early in the conversation she told us that she’d just published a book. I don’t think she mentioned that it was self-published. She explained that it was a children’s book, whose idea was spawned from her relationship with her own toddler.

Upon returning home, I went in search of the title at our local Barnes and Noble. A clerk helped us locate the book. Upon seeing it on the shelf I immediately knew it had been a self-publishing effort. Rather than a substantive book, it was a pamphlet. The jacket was mint green with a simple drawing on its cover of a child. Leafing through the pages, I felt no excitement, only monotony. The illustrations lent nothing to the story. Even $5 would have been too high a price for me to pay. I don’t recollect what the actual cost was. I returned the book to its shelf, and left with a disdain for self-published books.

Nathan Everett’s book demonstrates how far self-publishing has come in the design and appearance of the finished product. Purchasing his book was influenced more by my wanting it to serve as a model, when I decide to self-publish my own work. In that regard, I know I’ll reap the benefits of the $15 spent. I consider it a small investment. But the biggest gain already realized is knowing what’s written between the covers, had better justify going the whole 9 yards to self-publish.   

just because it can be done…doesn’t mean it should…and that’s the $64,000 question…with which i’m still wrestling…hugmamma.

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