A Tail (ahem!) Tale of 5 Self-Published Books …

Recently I read 5 self-published eBooks—all good books in their own way—but 4 of these suffered from “problems” that in my estimation could have been easily rectified. As it was, these problems were enough to diminish my satisfaction in reading what should have been very good books. Without mentioning the authors’ names or their book titles (except for the perfect book!), let me explain what I mean. (I did finish reading every book I list here, but with varying degrees of satisfaction.)

The first book is one I had known about for some time and had even beta-read material in advance to help the author organize and substantively edit in preparation for publication. I read a free Kindle edition. While I thoroughly enjoyed what was written—both the subject matter and the stories told (this was non-fiction about a particular time and place in the author’s life)—I realized that the author had not taken to heart anything of what I’d previously mentioned in my beta-read comments, in particular, getting a professional edit (and presumably the author did not pay attention to what others may have mentioned). The copy editing was poor to non-existent in places. The material was poorly organized and there was a great deal of repetition. I was disappointed in what could have been a very good book. The saving grace was the subject matter, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The second book was the first foray into self-publishing for a long-time non-fiction author with a great many books traditionally, and successfully, published. I borrowed this eBook from the library, so it was an ePub version supplied through Overdrive. The book itself was perfect. Not one single editing problem that I could discern—not surprising, given the author’s background in having been an editor himself. The actual “problem” with this book was the poor formatting job done by whichever company prepared the eFiles for this author. (Their name was listed on the copyright page, but I have completely forgotten it now.) This may be difficult to explain if you have never read an eBook borrowed from a library. Usually, eBooks are divided into sections (generally chapters) and the number of pages in each section is shown (1 of 27) on the bottom right-hand corner, with the overall percentage of the book read tallied (1%) on the bottom left-hand corner. In the case of this eBook, every section had been formatted as though it were a separate book, so when I reached the end of a chapter the Overdrive reader told me I had finished reading the entire book and I was unable to “turn” the page to the next section. I had to keep going back to the Table of Contents each time I finished reading a section and click on the next chapter to open it. The Overdrive reader also didn’t automatically “bookmark” which section I had previously finished when I returned to reading again after shutting off the computer. So this caused a great deal of frustration to me, the reader, who was otherwise enjoying a perfectly fine book. And I felt sorry for the author who I know must have paid a pretty penny to have this book ePublished. I will tell the author of this problem, because I know him personally. I have no idea as to whether the same problem exists for the Kindle version.

The third book was a mystery/thriller I downloaded from Amazon for free. I had never heard of the author, but was attracted by the setting and story line, both of which were original to me. The author has since published three other novels in this series. This particular book I read was the first and originally published in 2011, presumably in eBook format only—the information is not given as to whether there is a print edition. The book began well-enough, but I quickly realized that a professional editor had never checked the MS before it was published. A few incorrect words had been used, but especially homonyms were used erroneously in many places (the word sounded as though it was correct when you read a sentence aloud). And these problems continued throughout, even increasing in the second half of the book. It was obvious to me that no one besides the author had read the manuscript before it was published. The sad part of all this is that the eBook was, as I mentioned, published in 2011—the author has had 5 years to correct all those mistakes!! As much as I wanted to read more stories about these particular characters set in this location, I’ll be steering clear of any more books by the author who obviously does not care about the quality of the work that’s put out there for readers to read.

(Really, it’s important to remember your readers, folks! Make your writing the very best it can be by producing quality work that doesn’t make your readers cringe. If you don’t care enough about us, why should you expect us to care about what you write?)

The fourth book I read was another free download from Amazon by an author I didn’t know previously. (There were horses on the cover. I was attracted to the book by those horses and that the book was a mystery in a western US setting.) It was a good book! I was pleasantly surprised, because it was actually listed as a religious book—a genre I likely would not have read, had it not been for those horses on the cover! And therein lies the problem with this book and why I’ve included it in this list: the genre selected actually limited the possible audience for the book. Yes, the characters were churchgoers and there was a tiny bit of praying, but the overall story itself, and the characters, were like a typical western written by Zane Grey or an episode of the old TV series, Bonanza. In fact, it was about as religious as either of those. No blaspheming but also no preaching or morals presented. Lot of horses, though! So I was more disappointed for the book than in it.

And the fifth of the self-published eBooks I read is an example of how good these books can be when the author does take care and produces a great book. While the book was originally written by this author a long time before eBooks ever became a Thing, he very wisely set aside the manuscript for more than a decade while he honed his craft and published a number of other novels first. When he hauled out this book again, he was able to work through and completely rewrite the story. Also, a number of friends, me included, offered to beta read, and … he listened to us! At least, I know he listened to some of my suggestions. Plus, he also paid for a professional edit of the manuscript. The result was near perfection! I read the finished eBook (Kindle version) and was delighted to see that the story now read very well, and I could count on one hand the number of copy editing mistakes and/or typos that remained in the text. The book? It’s Full Circle by Tim Baker! (I have already told him privately of my reading experience and congratulated him on creating a novel that was a pleasure to read. Great cover design, too, although no horses …)


So, after having read 5 very different eBooks by self-published authors, that’s my assessment. Some of you may think I’m being overly nit-picky in my reading, but I don’t believe I’m being any more critical than most average readers. The main difference is that I write to a blog so I can tell you whatever I think about various aspects of writing and publishing. And I’m an author myself. I think it’s up to every author to care about what they offer readers, and present them with the very best quality possible. As I mentioned above, if you care then your readers will care.

Since I first conceived of the idea for this blog post, I’ve also read a traditionally published print book written by an author who has a long career of successful books. You might think that a book like this, written by a name-author and published by one of the Big 5 publishing companies … and in a print format (so not quite that easy to correct), would have received a thorough editing/proofing session before publication. After all, editing and proofing are part of the publisher’s responsibilities (and expenses) and not up to the author to worry over, as is the case of self-published authors. Unfortunately, there were quite a number of errors in this book—missing words, missing punctuation, misspelling … I lost track. I know that the publisher is to blame for this shoddiness, but it still all reflects back on the author, doesn’t it? I know I wouldn’t be happy if a publisher thought so little of me that they didn’t do that last final check of the manuscript before printing. So it’s not just self-published authors who experience these problems incurred by publishing before their book is ready.

As carpenters like to say, Measure twice, cut once. It’s definitely worth taking that extra time of having another (professional) set of eyes go over your manuscript, or to consult with you on the structure, formatting, design or listing. Well worth it! Your readers will thank you by wanting to read more of what you write!

(And if you try to use the excuse that you can’t afford to pay what a professional edit will cost, well I say to you that you can’t afford to publish without one. If that’s the case, and the money is difficult (and I totally understand that it can be tough—it has been for me, too), then in that case you should wait to publish. Sorry to say, but this is the reality of the business. It’s just not worth it to put a half-baked loaf of bread out there and hope no one notices the still-doughy centre.)

Besides, you’ve got to love an editor—MY editor, as it happens!—who has an attitude like this!

Ed Quote for Susan 02 Framed

54 responses

  1. […] Source: A Tail (ahem!) Tale of 5 Self-Published Books … […]

  2. I recently finished reading a well-known author’s book published by one of the BIG boys and found two typos in the first two pages. THAT was painful to witness. 😦

  3. As someone who reviews books, I have written a blog post related to this topic (Books are products). A lot of authors really want to fight the idea of quality control in their products (and really hate having their work compared to a toaster). If an author is giving away their product for free that is one thing, but if he/she wants to charge money for it then he/she needs to do absolutely everything in his/her control to have the best product available. If it is terrible in anyway then it tarnishes the author’s brand image. I also really hate the ‘because it is art it should be immune to any kind of criticism’ argument. To me an attitude like that is a kick in the nuts to consumers.

    1. Thank you, Green Embers! An excellent observation from the POV of a reviewer. If authors are going to put their work out there, whether it’s free or they charge for it, then they will need to learn how to accept and put to good use ALL criticism they receive. Because there will always be someone who doesn’t like what they’ve written. It’s impossible to please every reader. I’m happy you have found my blog post!

  4. It is very difficult to find anybody who will comment on a book you have written. It seems people don’t want to say what they think or perhaps they think its bad manners, I just wish someone would make a positive comment on my books. Writing is something in you, I basically write all day with small breaks then check and re-check my work. THEN I let my wife read it and mark anything that I have missed, then I go over it again. Each writer has their own way of telling a story and it depends on whether the reader who picks the book up likes that style. WARNING MINE FIELD!!!!!

  5. Reblogged this on Word Flights and commented:
    I’m not a self published author (yet) but I know a lot of writers go this route and this is advice that works for submitting work as well as self-publishing. Never assume you know it all, and don’t be afraid to seek out the expertise you need to produce the best possible work.

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Minkee!

  6. As an avid reader and a proofreader, I cringe when I read books filled with typos and errors. I could, of course, keep track and notify the author of each particular error, however that diminishes my enjoyment of reading. So I don’t. But it is certainly reflected in the star rating no matter how great the story may be. I applaud every self published author who is willing to only put out quality, error-free manuscripts. If you publish with many typos, I will never read another book you may write. And if it’s a series, that is especially bad for you (and me, if I enjoyed the storyline).

    1. Absolutely agree, Pamela! Thanks for your comment!

    2. I’m not sure I could commit to never reading an author’s work again because of errors. That list would include: Bernard Cornwell, Tom Clancy, Gaiman, Tolkien, Twain, even Shakespeare, among many others. I rarely see a “perfect” book. So, I admire your commitment. I may have to set a bar. Maybe I’ll have to forgive 10 errors, maybe 15. Of course, that might too indulgent.

      1. I’m not saying it had to be perfect because that would eliminate nearly every author. What I’m saying is when there are errors throughout the book, enough that I am distracted by them.

      2. I agree with you, Pamela. Life is too short to waste reading books by authors who haven’t cared enough to correct mistakes or produced as close-to-perfect as they can make that book in the first place.

      3. No, no, Pamela. I admire you for your standards and I understand that distraction. I was only mulling over my own experience and certainly know the consequences of pulling the trigger on a error-rife book. As “islandeditions” stated, we must all at least try for the “as-close-to-perfect” work as can be managed. I keep trying…

      4. And I commend you for that, Steven!

      5. Thank you, Islandeditions

  7. Yes, yes, and yes. I’ll admit that there were errors in the books I’ve self-published. Even though I read the manuscripts numerous times and had at least three or four or five read them before I published them. Friendly readers found the mistakes in the published version and let me know. And as soon as I could, I went into CreateSpace and KDP and corrected them. I owe that to my readers and to authors everywhere. This is the single biggest criticism, and the most legitimate one as well, of self-published authors.

    And the thing that amazes me is the arrogance of many of these authors when you say something to them. Over the past two or three years, I’ve read manuscripts for at least 20 books that were going to be self-published. I do it out of the kindness of my heart and because I want people to put their best product out there. As with the experience you’ve described above with the first book, it’s amazing to me how many of those authors didn’t bother fixing their manuscripts based on my input. I’m not talking about changing the story, or the characters, or the plot. I’m talking about basic typos, and clear inconsistencies, and things like that. I never, ever do anything more than that when I “edit” somebody’s manuscript. I’m not interested in telling a writer to change the nature and scope of their story.

    There is one author in particular who absolutely drives me crazy. He has written a series of four books that are really incredible. I read the first one and found it filled with typos. I wrote a rave review on Amazon for him and sent him a private email telling him I had seen a lot of typos in the book and I offered to read the manuscript for the second book before he published it and give him feedback. He sent it to me, I read it, sent it back highlighting all of the typos I saw. He published it filled with the typos. At one point he posted something on his blog about how he didn’t have the time or interest in fixing these things and suggested that the people who have issues with typos and flaws like that in his books are the ones with problems.

    I’m just stunned by this attitude. People who don’t care about the quality of their product, the complete package that is a book, shouldn’t be allowed to publish. I’m not thrilled with a lot of things Amazon does, but my understanding is that they are now doing something about poorly edited self-published books. My response to that — Go AMAZON!!!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, kingmidget! Every book, no matter how careful we are, will have a few mistakes. These should be accepted as just the way it goes and, as we both state, those few mistakes can always be corrected easily enough. But I can’t believe the attitude of an author who will not correct the mistakes. Especially when there are so many and someone has made the time and effort to help him correct them. That’s just very poor form.

      I agree with you on Amazon and the attempt they are making to raise the bar on self-published eBooks.

  8. Woebegone but Hopeful

    Reblogged this on heroicallybadwriter and commented:
    Now never mind my stuff! Pay attention to this if you want to have your work read and appreciated.

    1. Thank you for reblogging!

  9. Woebegone but Hopeful

    In all seriousness, this is an invaluable post for those striving to see their imagination and story telling appreciated.
    This is being re-blogged onto mine as a guide on how a writer should approach this vital aspect; my you see has an on-going theme of How Not To Do It (and I have 3 volumes of a Fantasy saga to prove that!)

  10. Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:
    Words of warning to indie writers! (And I reblog this not just because I’m an editor myself …) Sloppy product diminishes all indies.

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Kevin!

    2. Kevin, working in a bookstore, I find that our customers–a self-selected group, granted–are wary of self-published books because they’ve read one or two that were “sloppy”. I completely agree with you that substandard work by one indie can influence the reputation of all self-published authors. As Susan points out, traditionally published books can also be rife with errors; however, most readers have had many good experiences reading traditionally published books to offset one bad one. Because there are still many readers who have yet to read a self-published book, however, it’s important that their first experience be a good one.

      1. So true, Connie. We have to think of ourselves as ambassadors, of a sort.

  11. I’ve read some very polished books lately. One is by a self-published author – Joleene Naylor. Her work is flawless. I’ve also tried to read some books that aren’t so polished. A high number of errors definitely detract from my enjoyment of the story. Great post, Susan!

    1. Thanks, Tricia! Maybe I should write a second post and list all the suggestions, like yours, of books that ARE very polished. What say you? Interested in participating in that?

  12. As a gardener and writer, I can never emphasis enough that the sticking to the basics and setting a good ground work for putting together a great display of your talent and passion is a crucial part of the job. It is the work that your fans do not see (gardening or writing) that makes the real difference. Thanks for pointing it out so well in this review of self-published books.

    1. Thanks, Minkee!! I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you are very correct!

  13. Yes, it’s frightening; the mis-use of homonyms especially upsets me, as do the horrendous errors in print books by big publishing houses. It makes you wonder whether editors are up to the job. Which since my own editor used the spelling reigning, for reining in one’s impulses, the other day in an email, makes me wonder, as she prides herself on her grammar exactitude.
    Of course, I do find faults in my ebooks after they’re published, despite all our efforts. But correcting ebooks is a cinch, and when you do that you can add links and updates to the back matter, too 😉
    Thanks for your list – always good to remind myself of things to treble check.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, emima!

  14. Good advice Susan. I’m not sure who told me this befor I first published. It may have been you or Dylan. But it’s proved money well spent.

    1. Thank for reading and commenting, TanGental!

  15. Excellent post. Sadly, there are a staggering number of self published books out there that shouldn’t be, and often for the simple reasons you mention (though sometimes just because they’re lousy books). It doesn’t take that much extra effort to fine-tune things. And, yes, do get an editor. I’ve held back on my second book purely based on what my editor said about it. Once I’d got over the initial sting of criticism, I realised he was right and am in the process of re-writing it completely. It’s hard work, but I don’t want anyone reading something of mine that’s second rate.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Graeme! It is true that we have to learn how to be edited and accept criticism. We need to trust that our author only has our best interests, and that of the manuscript, at heart whenever they critique, and that their criticism is never malicious. In the end, it’s well worth listening to their advice, because then we know we’re producing a book that is the best it can be!

  16. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    Read this if you’re a serious writer and want your work to spread through the globe…great post, Island Editions, expresses clearly how writers today have to wear a multitude of hats or else – its a tough market indeed, and we really have to be as good as we can be! Thanks Chris Graham for leading me to this….

    1. Thanks, Mira, for reading and reblogging!

  17. Great and honest post!
    I think that authors need to take themselves seriously if they expect readers to take them seriously. If I buy a flawed product from a store, say a shirt with a zipper that doesn’t work, I’m going to return that shirt and demand my money back. Sadly, once I buy a book I can’t get my money back, and so I expect that book to be edited and formatted and written with care and respect for the readers. I won’t finish a badly-written book. Life is too short to muddle through someone else’s mistakes. Oh, I don’t mind a few typos or awkward sentences. But after that, I’m done. If an author doesn’t care enough to produce a quality product, I can’t care enough to read it.
    P.S. Now I’m curious about “Full Circle.”

    1. So true, Cinthia! Thanks for reading and commenting! Glad it struck a chord.

  18. I’m really annoyed by homonym mixups. If there’re enough small errors, I’ll end up not finishing the book. The book is your product – your reputation. At least get the mechanics right. Errors distract from the plot, characters and all your other efforts.
    Good information in this post for anyone writing and creating ebooks.
    (And it is a lovely cover there. Even without horses)

  19. I comment as a self-pub that has made every mistake in “the book”, your post, and of everyone ever commenting on self-publishing authors. I have wrestled long and hard, before and after publication, with my damned book. Since my first burning review on grammar and formatting, I’ve had two free edits done by raving grammar nazis and two paid edits costing a total of just short of $3k. Now granted, it’s reams better than the first, there still exist 10 or 12 blatant mistakes and about 20 that are being debated by several grammar “experts.” Debated. My two paid/professional formatters managed to insert no less than 4 extra letters and 2 symbols, not one of which appeared in the document they received. They also can’t decide on the difference between the words marshal and martial, replacing at will the correct one they got originally. I’ve got 2 folks editing/proofing my upcoming effort. None of them agree on where commas go. One will take out some of mine and the next will put some of them back. Neither match each other. What matters the Oxford comma anyway?

    I am at a total loss as to how to deliver to you and others a satisfactory reading experience. But I do follow your advice as closely as I can and to do my best. Be encouraged that I am glad you write it.

    Please don’t “grade” the grammar shortcomings of this note. Neither of us are satisfied with this reading experience

    1. Editors should only correct mistakes, not introduce new mistakes! Having said that, if you asked 10 editors to edit the same piece you would likely end up with 10 different edits.Although there should never be debates about grammar or spelling, because these are standard. Any editing association will have that information that will put a stop to the debating. That’ why we only hire and pay for “professional” editors who belong to these associations, because they have been trained. (And the best editors will know the difference in editing the various forms of English, especially with respect to spelling and word usage.) It may seem expensive to hire a professional, but in the end you get what you par for …

    1. Thanks for reblogging, Chris!

  20. I love that ‘measure twice cut once’. I’m going to be using that expression!

    1. Ha! You’re most welcome to anything here, Mary!. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  21. I was disappointed to find continuity errors and typos in the latest Louis de Bernieres (hardback edition) … time was these would have been completely unacceptable. It seems an increasing feature even of high quality publishing. Did people type – and think – more carefully in the age of Tippex or, worse, having to take a whole page out of the typewriter and start again?

    1. Oh, that’s sad to hear. I like Louis (met him when he was promoting in Calgary) and have always enjoyed his books. I think this may be a result of the speed at which we now believe everything should happen. People forget, in the race to get books published, that they need to take time and really make sure everything is correct before they push that button. How many people actually edit emails before they send them? Without using auto-correct?

  22. Never mind carpenters, it’s also a tailoring thing (family history of tailors). And applies to paperhanging too. The amount of time I have spent measuring and working out layout for papering is huge.

    I often think I am too picky. I recently read a book for review with about 70 (plus) errors. The administrator queried it. They couldn’t see any problem. Just, groan. They were small, but lots of them. Editing novels is not easy. There are a lot of words to check, and each read through makes it harder.

    Regarding beta reads, there seems to be a growth in paid-for ones (or at least I’ve had more interest). It’s not ideal, but a professional beta read is an option for people who find an edit too expensive. I don’t know. It seems so silly to spend so much time and produce a sub-standard product. But I could easily have written this post!

    1. Thanks, roughseas! I wish more readers were as picky as you are. I think you may be one of the best readers I’ve ever “met” (online) and you remind me of a Canadian author I know whose opinion I’ve always valued. We need more readers like you with high standards to keep us pushing ourselves towards perfection. I can’t wait for you to read my second novel (not until after this edit, though), but I’m also a little worried. That’s a good thing though. 🙂 Every writer should have a reader in mind who they write to please, and you may be mine. I know you won’t hold back the punches, but will always offer constructive criticism.

      1. Thank you Susan, that’s very kind of you to say. I think though, much of my reading ‘pickiness’ (at all levels, typos, writing style, story, pace, characters etc) can be attributed to my formative years in journalism where we learned to write, proofread, edit, crop images, do layout/graphic design, the whole package. It’s big picture and detail at the same time, which isn’t an easy combo, and that’s broadly how I tend to read (and edit) books.

        You have some interesting comments on here. Like you I tend not to name poor indie books, although I think trad ones are fair game, so I’d be happy to compile an extremely short list of decent error-free indie ones. Email me if you want to discuss.

        Regarding editing, I sympathise with Steven Malone. I’d disagree with your comment about no debates on grammar/spelling (allowing for different countries). Language is always changing, and the Internet has exacerbated the pace. English style, for example, is not as prescriptive as Chicago, although it does define the usage of commas, semis, and colons quite specifically. (And when not to use commas, ie comma splicing.) But, and I think this is a big but, to me an editor needs to preserve the author’s personal style (assuming it’s any good) rather than changing their work to a grammatically perfect English essay. So I think we need to find a balance. And, as you say, we should always be constructive in our comments about the actual writing, and explain why we think something could be changed and improved. Sunday morning editorial lecture over 😀

  23. I am flattered and humbled!

    1. As you should be! 😉

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