Colin Dunbar

This is Why Self Published Books Get Such a Bad Rap



As part of my research, and on-going study of the self-publishing industry, I regularly buy books (both traditionally and self published books) on the self-publishing industry. Not too long ago I had the misfortune of receiving 3 self published books that made me want to hang my head in shame.

At first I didn’t want to share the titles of these books (I think I was embarrassed on behalf of the authors), but I realized I wouldn’t be doing you justice – you may have spent your money and actually bought these books. And secondly, it may help to raise the quality of self-published books.

Patti Thorn, a past speaker at the IBPS conference, and co-founder of BlueInk Review, offers this: “I have seen hundreds of self-published books and talked to countless authors. While some self publishers find huge success, many wind up on the sidelines, wondering how others have managed to score.” [1]

And Porter Anderson in a post at the Thought Catalog has this advice: “Certainly, we all wish every independent author well. Why would we do otherwise? But it is not a criticism to also ask every independent author to learn what’s required and work for professionalism, exacting standards, brain-blistering care, and genuine talent.” [2]

Without further ado, let’s look at these 3 books…

Book Number 1

Professional Self Publishing Made Easy: A Simple Guide to Professionally Publishing and Marketing Your Book.

SIDEBAR: Yes, there is a period at the end of the sub-title.

This is the “best” of the 3 books, and yet there is one BIG issue I have with this book: it is actually a catalog/guide of his company’s services. And he charges people for it!

Great advice from Patti Thorn: “You may think your book makes perfect sense. But you would – you wrote it. Get a professional opinion before paying thousands of dollars to print your book.” [1]

On the plus side, the book is well formatted, and if you fan through the pages, you will not know it’s a self-published book.

There are 53 pages of content, plus the Appendix of a few pages. When I look at the title, it does not reflect a book of such “thin” content.

Onto my #1 gripe: Chapter 3 actually lists details (with phone number) of all the packages the company offers. Selling your company’s catalog as a “guide to professionally publishing and marketing your book”. Really? Chapter 5: Getting Your Book Ready! What? This chapter is 1 1/2 pages long (it’s a 6″ x 9″ book), and at the end is an e-mail address and telephone number.

Chapter 6 offers a “detailed description” of “formatting guidelines” – keep in mind this is a 6″ x 9″ book – the chapter is 10 pages long… and yes, it ends with the instructions on how to send your book files to the company. Seriously?

Chapter 10 is again a list (and details) of their editing services.

Chapter 12: Developing a Marketing Strategy. Although not comprehensive (7 pages), there is some useful information here.

I would not be able to recommend this book, unless you wanted a catalog/brochure of a company’s services.

Onto book #2…

Book Number 2

Self Publishing Made Easy: Conceive Create Publish Market. A Step-by-Step Guide

What would you think if your saw that title?

I think it’s fair to say you’d be wrong.

First off, the sub-title is a “step-by-step guide” – in all my years in the technical writing field, this book is nowhere near a step-by-step guide (it’s only 50 pages of actual content; also a 6″ x 9″ book)!

Presenting the chapters as “steps” is not the way to do it.

The book is riddled with bad English and typos… “I myself fell into…” Dude, you can just say, “I fell into…”

“within their field of topic” maybe “or topic”?

Chapter 2 How to Use This Ebook – I have the paper copy?

He refers to the Table of Contents as “I have created an index at the start of the book…”

When I read this, I did a double-take: “It can also help to think of this as a test publication. As this is your first attempt, it’s probably not going to be the best thing you’ll ever write. Accept that and continue.” What? That’s such total BS! According to him, it’s no problem to release (self-publish) a piece of crap, and in so doing drop your name down the sewer.

And then in the next paragraph, he offers this sage advice: “Another option, if you’re really not confident about how your writing will go down with the public, is to use a pseudonym (to put it bluntly, a false name/pen name).” You think?

I wonder if it’s his real name on the book? :o)

Author, editor and founder of Awesome Indies Books, Tahlia Newland shares critical advice: “If you only want to see your book in print and have it available for your friends and family to read, and don’t mind that you won’t get your money back, then go ahead. Just don’t expect to make money or get rave reviews from discerning readers.

“But if you want to write a book that will garner good critical reviews, and you want to establish a career as an author, then the decision of whether or not your book is good enough to publish is one you need to consider very carefully.” [3]

I have no idea what type of ebook he’s talking about creating, but he actually offers incorrect advice. He advises his reader to use OpenOffice “for the purposes of creating an e-book” – Wrong if you want to create an ebook for Smashwords.

The bad English and typos I can actually ignore, but inaccurate and incorrect information is not on!

This is what Thorn has to say about not having your book edited: “If you ignore all the other resolutions, we beg you: don’t overlook this one. Bad mechanics immediately mark you as an amateur. This doesn’t mean that you can skate through by asking your friend who majored in English check over your manuscript, either. Hire a professional copy editor.” [1]

Chapter 15 is Creating Your Book Cover, and is a total of 267 words! Book cover design is an entire profession on its own. Really, dude?

I honestly feel sorry for anyone buying this book, with the belief that they’ll actually learn something of value.

To add insult to injury, on the Copyright page the following: “The Author has striven to be as accurate and complete as possible.”

Just because it’s easy to self-publish a book, doesn’t mean it should be done in haste and disregard for quality, as Thorn says: “As a self publisher, you need the fortitude of a linebacker to keep your energy up for the entire game. If you relax and let your standards slip at any one of these steps, you might as well consider yourself benched.” [1]

And so I come to the third, and last, of the self-published books.

Book Number 3

Self-Publishing and Book Marketing: A Research Guide

Of the 3 self-published books discussed here, I feel this book offers the best value. Why then, did I leave this one for last?

The biggest gripe I have about this book is the book format. With the type of content (data) in this book, it’s not practical to publish this as a paper (hard copy) book. At the rate things change on the Web, this should have been an ebook, and that way the author could have kept it up to date. And as such had a much stronger following.

There are a few formatting and language glitches. The author’s first language is not English.

The Foreword is actually the Introduction, and I’m not sure if it’s written by the author or someone else.

There is an enormous amount of data in this short book (56 pages). But it really should have been an ebook. For example, it’s stated that CreateSpace’s expanded distribution option costs $25 – at the time the book was published it was actually free, plus CreateSpace doesn’t exist anymore (which makes a paper book the wrong medium, or the book should have been updated to a 2nd edition.

Not a terrible self-published book, but the fact that it contains outdated information makes it a failure.

This advice from Thorn is so critical for any author…

“8. …Study the market before finishing my book. “Heart surgeons follow certain procedures that differ from liver specialists. Writers must learn their specialties, as well. Readers expect certain conventions when it comes to suspense, romance, mysteries and so on. Study the type of book you are writing. What do the covers generally look like? What expertise do the authors generally have? What sort of story does the audience expect? If you ignore this resolution, you risk confusing readers and your book’s chances for survival diminish considerably.” [1]

Take pride in your self-published book

Just because we can easily and quickly get a book self-published, and released to the world, doesn’t mean we should create rubbish. Our reader wants value. Take the extra care: have it edited (at the very least, proofread), get a professional cover design, and create a quality product. A self-published book you can be proud of.

I close with the words of Tahlia: “The problem is that not every book written is worthy of publication and, in general, the author is the least qualified person to make the decision as to its worthiness. Even for an experienced author, the temptation to publish just because you can is strong. How many self-published authors stop and consider whether their book is actually worth publishing or, better still, ask someone objective and well read that question? Even if they find someone objective, will that person really be willing to say, ‘Actually, I don’t think this one is good enough to publish.’ ” [3]





Have you had a bad experience with a self-published book? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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