A friend of mine, Marcus Dewan Williams, owns a highly successful independent bookstore. He posted this on Facebook:
Too many self-published authors are putting out LOW QUALITY books. POOR cover designs. POOR typesetting. POOR grammar and etc. smh
From the beginning Marcus has supported those who couldn’t get a publishing deal and went the self-pub route. In other words, he put his business on the line for others. Now he’s complaining about the non-retail-ready quality of product being offered to him by people who don’t care about supporting his business.
I’m an editor and book designer. I get calls all the time about editing and layout. I look at the project, prepare a quote, and name a price. I don’t hear back as often as projects warrant.
There are several reasons for not getting the gig. The first is price. I am not free or cheap. What I do is not a hobby nor are writers a 501 (c)3 so that I can donate time to them. This is how I feed myself and in other ways stay a productive member of society instead of a drain on the public dole.
The second is: They don’t want to hurt their previous editor and designer’s feelings who are usually their friend or, Lord help us all, their mother or spouse. These people always have degrees in English, or a creative writing certificate, and know how to insert clipart and change fonts in Microsoft Publisher.
Listen, I understand. It’s not easy telling Mama she did a bad job, and friends willing to put up with you are hard to come by. You definitely don’t want to tick off these people. And if you ever want to have hope of getting laid again, you will never tell your spouse that what they did didn’t fix it.
That people still call me even after Mama, Friend, and Honey has touched the project, tells me that these writers know their books need help. So, the better part of valor for any writer who is serious about the business is to never ask Mother, Friend, or Honey in the first place.
But the biggest reason is the ego of the person who is simply excited to be able to humbly wave a book around and say, “Why, yes, I’m a published author. Are you?”
Yes, that old ego will ruin a good thing every time. First of all, if the project has no hope, I simply quote myself out of reach, get called greedy, and allow them to hang up on me self-righteously. In those cases, I’ve not wasted a lot of my precious time.
If the book looks like it has some merit, others could benefit from or otherwise enjoy it, and the author has indicated their willingness to get their book retail-ready, now I take my time in prepping a real quotation.
I’m used to being called Meanie Bitch when I point out how much work it will take to repair the book’s spelling, punctuation, and/or physical format. Do not get me started on the internal harmony of the story or the fact that the main character’s name has changed three times and their previous editor didn’t catch that upon the first spellcheck pass in Word.
It’s war out there on those shelves. I cannot afford to stroke an ego at the expense of having my name on a badly edited or designed book. In fact, I’ve told more than a few people, “Look, if you want me to do a half-assed job, I’ll do it, but don’t ever publicly thank me because I will get blamed for all the mistakes you were too cheap to repair. I will deny, deny, deny I was ever part of the project.”
I am not the typical run-of-the-mill editor or designer one finds these days. A book is a package. All parts of it function to bring something to the whole.
But most people write their book like Johnny Cash sang about getting a car in his famous song “One Piece at a Time” that goes like this:
And it wouldn’t cost me a dime
You’ll know it’s me when I come through your town
I’m gonna ride around in style
I’m gonna drive everybody wild
‘Cause I’ll have the only one there is around
But for those who do listen, well…you will have a thing of beauty you and your heirs can be proud of, y’all.