Craftsmanship and the Self-Published Novel

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Self-published books, either in eBook or POD formats, are here to stay.

It's probably the only thing I know about them for sure.

At the top, I should tell you that eBooks and POD have been very good to me. They allowed me to get three previously out-of-print novels back into circulation. And I made enough off of them to afford sending my daughter to study in Morocco for four months and then sending my wife to fetch her home - after a two-week jaunt in Paris, of course. (I, on the other hand, went to Albany, but that's another story.)

I'm not interested in arguing the pros and cons of self-publishing, however - well, I am. Just not right now.

What I want to discuss today is craftsmanship.

I haven't seen a lot of it in self-published books.

I have never bought into the assertion that writers self-publish because their work isn't good enough for the publishing houses, because they're hacks, because they're too lazy or too full of themselves to go through the process like "real" writers

I know self-published writers who care as much about their craft as I do; who work hard to give their readers a satisfying experience. I've given some of them quotes for their covers.

But the majority - yes, I said majority - seem to be indifferent to the quality of their work. And this lack of professionalism is dragging the others down.

How bad is it?

Last year, the PWA gave out its first Shamus Award for Best Indie P. I. Novel.

This year we nearly axed it.

The purpose of the award is to recognize those self-published authors who couldn't get published in New York or who simply decided not to play that game, anymore. The books that were submitted reflected that, half coming from first-time writers and the rest from veterans.

Unfortunately, almost to a book, the self-published entries were barely edited - if at all - and filled with typos, misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and editorial errors. This is unacceptable. Not just by the PWA, but by anyone who cares about books.

Some writers are simply more talented that others - I get that. (Believe me, I get that.) But there is no excuse for poor editing. You cannot allow chapter three to follow chapter five. You cannot repeat pages. You cannot leave scenes unfinished. You cannot.

Maybe you suck at editing your own stuff - I get that, too. That's what professional editors are for. I know people you can hire for $2 a page.

As Robert J. Randisi said, "People have to be made aware that if the books are well written but badly edited, it's the same as being badly written."

This isn't about eBooks versus legacy publishers versus online monopolies versus bookstores versus electronic readers versus paper. It's about what we owe to our readers and what we owe to our profession.

Apparently, the majority of self-published writers - yes, I said majority again - don't see it that way. It's easy for them to upload a manuscript these days and that's what they do - what's easy. (Remember when you had to go to a "vanity press" to self-publish a book?)

Personally, I don't know what to do about it - except to continue awarding a Shamus to those Indie P.I. Novels that deserve it and ignore the rest.

e-mail David Housewright

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