Don’t judge a book by its publisher

posted in: On writing | 2

I’m an independent author, a writer who has decided to publish my own books instead of scrabbling to get a contract with a publishing company. I’ve published with small companies before and I’ve decided it’s not for me. I prefer to be in charge of my own destiny.

There are pros and cons to going down the independent road. The obvious pro is that whatever money I earn is my own. I don’t need to settle for a five or ten percent royalty from the publisher. But the other side of the equation is that I must do for myself, and pay for, all those tasks that publishers are meant to do in exchange for receiving a great story. That is, professional editing, cover design, distribution, and marketing.

It has always been possible for authors to publish their own books but it became simple when Amazon introduced Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) in 2007 to coincide with the release of the Kindle ebook reader. Before that, authors would write a book and submit it to agents or direct to publishers in the hope of winning a contract which would then lead to publication. It was and still is a long, slow, frustrating experience but back in the Olden Days, that was how it was done.

I’ve been doing a lot of re-reading of old favourites lately, leaving my latest writing project to one side while I come to terms with a few real life events in my world. In particular, I have been re-reading Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, starting from the first book, Dragonflight, published by Corgi in 1970. I loved the series when it first came out, gobbling up the books as soon as they appeared in the stores

Ms McCaffrey undoubtedly went through the submission process to have her books published by a big company. When it comes down to it, publishing companies are there to make money. If an author’s books don’t sell sufficiently well, the author is released. McCaffrey’s books did sell – and sell and sell and sell. They still sell, both in paper and as ebooks, which cost an eye-watering AU$14.99.

Which makes me wonder about the lack of quality put into the publisher’s part of the bargain.

Publishers are supposed to provide professional editing. Maybe my criticism comes from being an author myself. I notice stuff your average reader wouldn’t, or would simply ignore. Certainly, nothing I’ll mention detracts from the story, which is, after all, what it’s really all about.

Bear in mind I’m binge-reading, finishing one book and starting on the next, so the characters and situations are fresh in my memory as I move on to the next book.

Let’s consider a few examples I’ve encountered.

  • In Dragonflight we first come across a minor character who later in the series becomes a major character. His name is Lytol and he used to be a dragonrider until his dragon was killed in a training accident. We are told in this book that the dragon was green, the smallest of the five dragon variations (green, blue, brown, bronze, and the golden queens). Yet in every subsequent book Lytol’s dragon, Larth (he’s named in the second book) was brown.
  • The word for ‘year’ in this series is ‘turn’. But the word ‘year’ is misused instead of ‘turn’ in some places.
  • Weyrleader T’ton in Dragonflight (book 1) becomes T’ron in Dragonquest (book 2). And T’ton is misused several times in later books. He’s an important villain in the series.
  • The artificial intelligence in All the Weyrs of Pern is addressed as Aivas but too many times (5) the name is misspelled as Avias.

Granted, these errors are easily changed in today’s word processors, which weren’t available for the very early books but All the Weyrs of Pern was published in 1991. Regardless of the technology, the copy editors at Corgi should have picked up all these mistakes. They did not, which means they did a pretty crummy job on these manuscripts – a task for which Anne McCaffrey effectively paid.

One of the biggest criticisms of self-published books is the number of typos and poor use of grammar. In many cases, that’s valid. Peter showed me a passage in a book which read something like “he drug the body into the forest”. Another book’s title was “The Earl’s“. (Really, that was it.) Some authors make their own, very amateurish, covers. But many of us take pride in ensuring that typos are kept to a minimum, we have our books edited by a professional, and we pay for professional covers.

I don’t think there has been a book published that has absolutely no typos, but I, for one, try. And the examples I’ve given from the bestselling Pern series show that going through a major publisher doesn’t guarantee quality.

Last century, I used to go to bookstores to find books to read. I’d go to the science fiction and fantasy section and look through the offerings until something caught my eye – the cover, probably. Then I’d read the blurb and if I was still interested, I’d open the book and read a few pages. You can still do all of that on Amazon, as well as reading some of the reviews (many of which can be taken with a large pinch of salt).

So, don’t judge a book by its publisher. There are a lot of excellent self-published books out there.

A gentle reminder…

Two of my books are available for free. Give them a go. You might even enjoy them.

The Iron Admiral: Conspiracy
Black Tiger.

2 Responses

  1. Pauline Baird Jones

    I got an ebook copy of the first dragon rider books and the formatting was a huge mess. I struggled to read it and understand it because it was so bad. It felt like the publisher had contempt for readers who liked ebooks. Very good post! And your books are lovely. 🙂

    • Greta

      At least I haven’t encountered any formatting issues. But I absolutely agree with you that the big publishers don’t seem to care.

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