On Not Writing

So I am on the Côte d’Azur, lucky enough to be not too far past the start of my 3rd Annual Rent A Holiday Apartment in France Cheaply During The Low Season To Do Some Writing In thingy.

The first year I came, I had never been to this part of France before, so the majority of days got away from me while I, ahem, explored the place.

(Cafes! The beach! Cafes on the beach!)

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Why write a book when you can read one? (Answer: To condemn yourself to a life of disappointment, bitterness and regret.)

Then last year I happened upon a collector’s edition box-set of Battlestar Galactica on sale in my nearest FNAC, and I’d never seen it and my oldest friend had just been telling me about how much I had to watch it, and being a TV show I knew there’d be an English option on the DVD menu even though it was the French edition, and, well, I may not have finished my novel, but I did find out who all the Cylons were.

This year though, things were going to be different.  (I am finishing this bloody novel by November 16th OR ELSE*.)

And they were different, to begin with.

I arrived here last Tuesday, but because I opted for the cheapest flight in the universe (€30 from the south of Ireland to the south of France, can you believe it?), I had to travel to Dublin Airport on a bus that left Cork at 3:00am, so I missed a night’s sleep and then spent all Wednesday recovering from it.

But Thursday I was all business. I was all, ‘Let’s start this as we mean to go on,’ and, after stocking up on enough Nespresso capsules to kill a small horse, I banged out nearly 7,000 words in one session and, even more amazingly, I was pretty happy with them.

But on Friday I wrote half as much, and then on Saturday…

*innocent look*

Well, you see, the thing is, I’d never seen Downton Abbey. Not a single episode. Not a minute of it. I couldn’t even have picked Dan Stevens out of a line-up (although I would’ve taken the time to study him very carefully). And so sometime on Friday evening, feeling like I deserved a reward for all my hard work and that I didn’t deserve to be out of this particular pop culture phenom loop for a moment longer, I casually logged onto Hulu—which, thanks to some internet wizardry, thinks I’m in America—and navigated to the first episode.

You can guess what happened next: it got to be Monday.

It was Monday, and I’d spent all weekend with the Crawleys & Co. I’d watched everything available on Hulu, which was the first two seasons and the first Christmas special. This isn’t a sitcom: the shortest episode is 47 minutes.

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The Viewing History wall of shame. OF SHAME!

We’re now up to about two hours ago. Needless to say having become so adept at procrastinating, I immediately began my social media rounds (the TheJournal.ie, Sky News headlines, e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, repeat as required) and discovered that Nathan Bransford’s new book, How To Write A Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever, was out, so I downloaded it and started to read it.

And a few minutes ago, about three-quarters of the way through the book, I came upon this:

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Highlighting: Catherine’s own. Kick up the arse: courtesy of Catherine’s Kindle. 

If that’s not a kick up the arse from the Universe, I don’t know what is. So I’m getting off my arse before this binge-watching (long) weekend turns into a binge-watching week (or more), and I’m getting back to my novel.

(First thing in the morning. Because I’m sure I can find a stream of Downton Series 3 online somewhere, right?)

*The or-else-what is TBD. Something horrible and awful and very motivating, though.

Proofreading Explained

As promised, today we have another guest post from editor Robert Doran, whose ‘copy-editing explained’ post on Tuesday gave this blog a visitors spike. (As did his previous guest posts on the subject of all things editing —Structural Editing for Self-Publishers and Why Hire An Editor?). This morning, his focus is on proofreading…

“There exists a common misconception that if your manuscript isn’t in great condition, it needs a structural edit; if it is in reasonable condition, it needs a copy-edit; and if it’s in pretty good condition, a proofread is all that is required. Well, I have some bad news. The truth is rather different, and it goes something like this: every manuscript needs all three, because each of the three contributes something distinct and valuable to the project. OK, Ian McEwan or John Banville will get away with skipping the structural edit, but there are very few manuscripts that wouldn’t benefit from one.

Copy-editing and proofreading, on the other hand, are both essential if you want your book to reach the minimum industry standard. I think that bears repeating – the minimum! In previous posts we’ve looked at structural editing and copy-editing; now we’re going to take a closer look at proofreading and its place in the publishing process.

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The clue is in the name, really: the original function of the proofreader was to read the typeset manuscript (proof) and check it against the copy-edited one. They made sure that the copy-editor had marked up the manuscript correctly and that the typesetter had interpreted those marks as intended. Essentially, they were the quality controllers, ensuring that the editor and the typesetter had done what they were supposed to and correcting any errors that remained.

Today, this quality-control function continues to be central to the role but the manuscript is generally read ‘blind’ (i.e. without reference to the copy-edit). Checking the typeset manuscript independently speeds up the process and also, in my opinion, takes greater advantage of the proofreader’s skills: less time checking one script against another means more time spent finding errors and inconsistencies.

In addition to correcting any typesetting errors and any errors that have slipped through at copy-edit stage, proofreaders are responsible for making sure that the layout and design, pagination, cross-referencing, images and captions, front and back matter (acknowledgements, imprint page, contents page, bibliography, index, etc.), headings and basically everything that goes into making a book are present, consistent and correct. That’s quite a long list, and it’s not even an exhaustive one. It’s also a list that clearly distinguishes the proofreader from the copy-editor, who is more concerned with the correctness and effectiveness of the author’s writing. Much of what the proofreader is responsible for checking didn’t even exist at the copy-editing stage, and it’s not uncommon for the copy-editor to never even see the typeset manuscript before publication.

You can see where I’m going with this: these are different jobs, so don’t expect your proofreader to copy-edit your book. Proofreading is not a lesser function, it’s a different one, carried out at the end of the publishing process.

Your manuscript should already be both complete and very clean by the time it reaches the proofreader (i.e. it should be edited). There are several reasons for this. First, it is expensive to make changes to a typeset manuscript (typesetters don’t work for free), so the proofreader is generally instructed to stick to correcting errors and to make only the changes that are absolutely necessary. This means that it is not the time to rename characters, to introduce a new plot element or to rewrite the introduction. All that should have been put to bed before the copy-editing stage.

Also, any substantial changes or rewriting need to be carefully checked, not just to make sure that they are correct but also to establish that they fit within the context of the paragraph, the chapter and the book. I have worked with authors who have made last-minute changes that introduced a glaring contradiction because they forgot to make a corresponding change in a later chapter. Essentially, such changes create the need for a new copy-edit, but because nobody is prepared to pay for that, things get missed.

The greater the number of errors that remain in your manuscript the more likely it is that some won’t be corrected. If you didn’t have your work copy-edited, and the proofreader is faced with, for example, page after page of incorrectly punctuated dialogue, that is likely to become their focus – to the detriment of other issues.

So it’s important to think of proofreading as a final check, not as an opportunity to make your manuscript better – that’s the purpose of editing. By hiring a proofreader you are accepting that you have moved beyond this point and are ready to publish. And it’s important that you proofread your own manuscript too. Although you are likely to have a degree of copy-blindness by the time it gets to this stage, you should never publish without having parsed the final version yourself. To that end (and to show that this slightly ranty post has a practical purpose!), here’s a list of things you should look out for:

Spelling

  • Be particularly aware of homonyms. ‘Your’ and ‘you’re’; ‘compliment’ and ‘complement’; ‘their’, ‘there’, and ‘they’re’, etc. These slip through easily.

Punctuation

  • Check that full stops, commas, colons, semicolons, etc., are used correctly.
  • Quotation marks and apostrophes are sometimes reversed. Check them carefully.
  • Check for double spaces, particularly after full stops.

Typesetting [for print books]

  • Check that the font is consistent throughout the text.
  • Check that the leading (space between lines) and kerning (space between characters) are consistent. Because the text is justified, the tracking (space between words) will vary, but it should be neither too loose nor too tight.
  • Ensure the paragraph after a section break is not indented.
  • Paragraph indents ought to be consistent throughout.
  • Mark any orphans and widows (a single line at the bottom of a page or part of a line at the top of a page).
  • Running heads need to be consistent and have the proper information, e.g., book title, chapter title or author name. It’s easy to make a mistake with these, so check them thoroughly.
  • Chapter openers should also be consistent. Does each chapter start in the same place on the page and contain the same elements in the same order?
  • Check that subhead spacing and alignment are uniform. Also, check that chapter numbers are in sequence and word ‘Chapter’ is used (or not) consistently.
  • Check that page numbers are present and in sequence. Odd-numbered pages should be on the right. Check that numbering is consecutive.
  • Blank pages should have nothing on them – including no folios or running heads.
  • Check page references. If you refer to something as being in Chapter 3 or on page 98, is that still correct in the final version?
  • Check that all necessary information on the imprint page is present and correct, including ISBNs.
  • Check that the page numbers on the Table of Contents correspond to the chapter openings. Check the vertical alignment of the page numbers.

Cover/Blurb

  • Check that the title, subtitle and author name are correct on the cover and the spine, if applicable. Check the direction of the text on the spine.
  • Check that there are no typos or inconsistencies in the blurb.
  • Check that the ISBN is correct, if applicable.

Authors have come to expect an awful lot from proofreaders, and proofreaders sometimes go far and beyond their remit. The rise of self-publishing has broadened the scope of the function, pushing the proofreader into areas traditionally occupied by the editor. I’m not sure this is a good thing. It’s worth remembering that proofreading developed as a specific editorial function for a reason, and that it should be carried out as an individual task because it’s an essential part of the publishing process that consolidates the work of the author and the editor.”

Robert Doran works as a freelance editor and is Editorial Director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services (www.kazoopublishing.com), a one-stop shop for indie authors who want to publish industry-standard books. He has nearly twenty years’ experience in bringing books to market and has worked as an editor, project manager, sales manager, and bookseller in Ireland and in the UK. He is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEdits or visit www.robert-edits.com .

Copy-editors: What They Really Do

Today we have a guest post from editor Robert Doran, whose previous guest posts on the subject of all things editing —Structural Editing for Self-Publishers and Why Hire An Editor? — were exceedingly popular. Today he’s explaining exactly what it is copy-editors do, and he’ll be back on Thursday to tell us all about proofreading. Welcome back to Catherine. Caffeinated, Robert! Take it away…

“People often think that if you can write you can edit – and vice versa. But writing and editing are very different skills, and competency in one doesn’t guarantee ability in the other. The creative impulse that often drives the author should be largely absent in the copy-editor, who is tasked with problem-solving and who essentially approaches the text as a puzzle. Happily, the editor’s eye for detail complements the author’s creativity, and when they are combined successfully you end up with something great.

Many self-publishers decide not to hire a copy-editor because of the cost involved and because they don’t fully understand what a copy-edit can do for their work. The thinking generally goes, I’m not paying someone to correct a few typos and to get rid of the passive voice. The truth is that you’re paying for a great deal more than that, and we’ll examine the specifics of where your money goes in a moment. First and foremost, what you get out of a copy-edit is a degree of confidence that your book is technically sound, that it does what you intended it to do, and that it comes up to the basic standards expected of published work.

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In broad terms, the copy-editor must ensure that the author’s words are true to the intended message. One of the reasons why it is so difficult to copy-edit your own work is that the message is already clear in your head. You know your intention before you review what you’ve written, and that makes it easy to make assumptions and difficult to affect the detachment necessary to edit. The reader, on the other hand, relies solely on your words, so they need to be the right words, organised in the correct manner, if you are to communicate your message effectively. Enter the copy-editor!

A copy-editor brings a fresh perspective to your work. They will see the words, the sentences and the paragraphs for what they are and will tally them with what you want them to mean. Of course they will correct typos and remove the passive voice in places. But they also understand that the passive voice isn’t always bad, that split infinitives are usually fine and that the odd cliché never hurt anyone. The intention is never to make your writing generic but to allow it to shine by selectively applying rules and consistently applying style.

So, let’s look in more detail at what your friendly copy-editor can do for you.

Consistency

This is the Holy Grail for copy-editors, and rightly so. In English you are often presented with two or more correct options, and you must choose one and stick to it religiously. For example, if you use ‘okay’ in Chapter 1, you shouldn’t use ‘OK’ in Chapter 6; ‘seventies’ shouldn’t suddenly become ‘70s’, and you can’t jump back and forth between ‘dramatise’ and ‘dramatize’. Copy-editors create a style sheet specific to your book, detailing the decisions that they make on spelling, punctuation, capitalisation, presentation of dates and numbers, etc. That style sheet can then be passed on to the typesetter and proofreader to ensure consistency and make everyone’s life easier. Yay!

Repetition

Repetition comes in many different forms, most of them evil! Political rhetoric can stand a little repetition, but if you’re reading this I’m guessing your aim is not to write political speeches. Sometimes an author will deliberately repeat something to emphasise a point, not realising that most often the effect is to undermine rather than to underline. Most repetition, however, is unintentional. It can occur pages or chapters apart or it can even be contained within the same phrase (‘each individual person’, ‘various different’). If you use ‘wonderful’ five times in five paragraphs it sounds lazy and unprofessional; if you use the same words to describe a room twice in two chapters it sounds lazy and patronising. A copy-editor should also pick up on hidden repetition, such as explaining the content of dialogue when the message is already clearly conveyed in your characters’ words.

Overuse

We all have words and phrases that we fall back on and use too frequently. Chief offenders are the meaningless little tags we add to sentences without even thinking, e.g., ‘basically’, ‘to be honest’, ‘let me begin by saying’, ‘at this point in time’. Buzzwords and jargon are also often overused. The effect can be to smother the meaning of your message and to leave your reader wondering if you know what point you’re trying to make.

Clarity

We don’t always write exactly what we mean, and we don’t always mean what we write. Sometimes this can be as simple as a misplaced comma (‘Let’s eat Grandma’ is an entirely different proposition from ‘Let’s eat, Grandma’) or an adverb gone slightly astray (‘The road needs to be resurfaced badly’ is not the same as ‘The road badly needs to be resurfaced’).

Grammar and usage

There’s no short cut to good grammar: you just have to learn it, remember it and then apply it to your writing. But not always! There is an element of judgement involved here. Making a valiant stand against misguided prescriptivism, Winston Churchill (apparently) said, ‘This is the sort of arrant pedantry up with which I shall not put!’ And he was right: sometimes your message is best served by a bent or broken rule. But be careful! You have to know the rules before you can break them with any confidence, and a copy-editor will be sensitive to just how far you should push it.

Spelling

Obviously your copy-editor will look for typos, but I’m also going to shoehorn homophones (words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently) into this category. ‘Complement’ and ‘compliment’; ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’; ‘principal’ and ‘principle’; and ‘bare’ and ‘bear’ are all embarrassingly easy to overlook. A good copy-editor will seek out and destroy these. They will also make sure that foreign words are italicised and accented correctly and that hyphenation is correct and consistent.

Punctuation

Apart from the never-ending comma debate, you would think that most punctuation is fairly straightforward. But time and time again it turns up as a huge issue, especially when it comes to dialogue. I can honestly say I’ve never come across a manuscript with dialogue that has been punctuated consistently. I’ll give this topic a blog post all of its own very soon [Catherine: ooh, goody!] because it’s not optional, and it’s not OK to get it wrong, even if you get it wrong consistently. Copy-editors know these rules inside out. They also know that you shouldn’t use more than a single exclamation mark at a time and that even one should be used sparingly. F. Scott Fitzgerald said they are the equivalent of laughing at your own joke, and I tend to agree. If you’re in the habit of pairing exclamation marks with question marks you will be politely but firmly told to quit. [Catherine: But I love them?!]

Factual accuracy

Copy-editors are not researchers, but they will check dates, names, places, periods and the like so that fact and fiction tally. They will point out that your Victorian heroine couldn’t have taken antibiotics and that your hero was not in Zimbabwe in 1978 because the country was called Rhodesia at the time. If the Edwardian house your character lives in was built 200 years ago, it cannot in fact be an Edwardian house.

Libel

Most copy-editors have a basic understanding of libel law. They can’t guarantee that you won’t be sued, but they will flag anything that should be run past a lawyer. This is important not only for non-fiction authors, but also for writers of fiction, who often mention real people and events as well. If any of your characters are identifiable as real people, you need to be sure you’re not saying anything that will result in a costly court appearance.

Line-editing

Your copy-editor will rephrase ungrammatical or awkward sentences as a matter of course, but you will have to discuss with them exactly how much beyond this you want them to intervene. Some authors want minimal intervention so that their style is preserved, whereas others are happy to have a copy-editor make changes when it adds to the clarity, flow or readability of the text. The level of editing is always up to you as the author, but it’s worth remembering that Word’s Track Changes function allows you to reject a change with a single click, so an editor’s input is never anything more than a suggestion.

Copy-editing is more than correcting typos, and it’s also more than the sum of what I have detailed above. It will leave your prose clearer, more engaging and more readable, and to my mind it isn’t optional for any published work. Just to prove that I practise what I preach, I’ll share with you the fact that this very blog post was copy-edited by Liz Hudson of the www.littleredpen.com, because I know better than to think my writing can’t be improved!”

Robert Doran works as a freelance editor and is Editorial Director at Kazoo Independent Publishing Services (www.kazoopublishing.com), a one-stop shop for indie authors who want to publish industry-standard books. He has nearly twenty years’ experience in bringing books to market and has worked as an editor, project manager, sales manager, and bookseller in Ireland and in the UK. He is a big fan of the Oxford comma. Follow him on Twitter @RobertEdits or visit www.robert-edits.com .

A note from Catherine: please do not make the mistake of thinking that American English is the only English there is. Thanks.

The ABCs of Self-Publishing: A Guest Post by Mark Evans

Today we have a guest post from self-publisher Mark Evans, who has just released his first novel, Mrs God. Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Mark! 

“You remember the scene in Glengarry Glen Ross, don’t you? The one where Alec Baldwin gives a lecture on the art of selling real estate, by swearing a lot and insulting Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin and Ed Harris? It’s a great scene. Baldwin’s message can be boiled down to just three letters: ABC. Always. Be. Closing. Always be closing the deal, getting people to sign on the dotted line.

Well, Jack, Alan and Ed could have been authors and Alec could have been giving them advice on selling self-published books. The same principle applies – always be closing. It’s as easy as ABC. In fact, self-published authors should go even farther; they should be closing long before there’s something to sell. Let’s break it down.

Planting the seeds

Don’t wait until you’ve emerged blinking into the light to let people know that you’ve just finished your book. That’s too late. If you’re serious about devoting a large portion of your time – up to a year or two – to bashing out a manuscript, then tell people about it. You may be a mother, father, dancer, student, or just jobless dreamer, but once you tell others that you’ve started work on a book, you get a name tag that reads ‘writer’. If people care about you, then they’ll be curious about how the book is going – and tell others too. They are all potential readers. Always be closing.

Mighty algorithms

Okay, you’ve finished your book and by that I don’t mean you’ve gotten to the end and typed ‘the end’. I mean you’ve rewritten it and rewritten it and given it to beta readers and rewritten it some more. I mean you’ve rewritten it so much that you’re physically sick of rewriting it. Good, that means you’re finished. Now it’s time to choose where you’re going to place it. Here’s a clue: Amazon. Put it where the readers are. Let the terraflops of computing power at Amazon HQ help sell your book for you. Get formatting. Always be closing.

Give people what they want

Not all people are the same. Some like The Beatles, others prefer the Stones. Some swear by ebooks, others cannot stand the medium and will only read words printed on paper. Consider going the extra mile and formatting a version of your book for print-on-demand sites, such as Createspace and Lulu. Those without an e-reader will be happy that there’s a paperback version of your book, but they won’t be too enamoured by the cost of getting it into their hands. Always be closing. Offer this cohort something extra. I wrote a four-page Q&A for the end of my book, Mrs God. Because of this ‘special edition’ I could possibly entice those who downloaded it to their e-readers to purchase the paperback version too. ABC.

FRONT COVER

Take cover

Do you really believe that people don’t judge books by their covers? Me neither. That’s why you need to get a professional to design yours. Unless you’re a whizz on Photoshop, that is. You’re book cover should be striking and must also work at different sizes, from poster right down to gravatar. It should work like a branding, encouraging people to click on it or stop and look at it. ABC.

The art of the blurb

Short blurbs are harder to write than long ones. Spend some time on reducing the word count by making every word count. The blurb is to capture browsers and the curious. These people are like butterflies, flitting from one title to the next on websites, spending mere seconds upon each book. Your blurb should be brief and compelling – offering sweet nectar. Follow this format: x must do y in order to get z, but n stands in the way. X is your hero, n is your nemesis. Most fiction is sold this way, from novels to blockbuster movies. ABC.

Social media’s trinity

Before you’ve finished your book, you should have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and a blogging site. Post, tweet and blog as much as you can. You will gain followers/readers and you will also showcase your writing skills. Remember six degrees of separation, the idea that any two people in the world can be linked in just six moves? Well, social media removes perhaps two of those moves. Get active online and you’ll get closer to millions of possible readers. ABC.

Tackling tax

If you live outside the United States, you’re going to have a medium-sized panic attack when Amazon (and any other site) asks you to fill out its online tax form. Catherine’s blog helped me out in this regard, with an easy to follow guide on getting an EIN number. I rang the IRS from Ireland and within 10 minutes had my number, thus preventing the IRS from taking a 30% chunk of my royalties. It’s a small obstacle to clamber over if you want to sell your work in the biggest ebook market in the world. ABC.

The price is right

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by hooking possible buyers only to make them baulk at the price of your book. Unless you’ve written a 3,000-page epic, keep the price below $9.99. Unless you’ve written a 12-page picture book for kiddies, keep the price north of $1.99. Not too high to break the bank, not too low to undersell your hard work. Determine a Goldilocks price. I found $4.99 was just right; a 350-page novel for (about) the price of a drink in a bar. ABC.

Launch day

Shrinking violets will find it difficult to do the hard sell, the cold calling. Well, as Alec Baldwin would say: “Get out there, you got the prospects coming in, you think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don’t walk on the lot unless he wants to buy.” There’s a whole lot of people walking on the social media lot – you gotta get out there, grab a few by the elbow and lead them to your book. Sell them your work. Make it easy for them to buy it. Keep at it. Always be closing.

Always. Be. Closing.”

Mark Evans picMark Evans has worked as a journalist with the Irish Examiner national newspaper for more than ten years. His first non-fiction book, Inquizition, was published in 2007. He has written award-winning plays and his news features have been published in Ireland, the US, South Africa and Australia. He lives in Co Cork, Ireland, with his wife and two children. Mrs God is his first novel.

Find out more on: mrsgodbook.com and shaelum.wordpress.com. You can find Mrs. God on Amazon.com here

Do You Read Self-Published Books Differently?

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I read a novel that was published by a major UK publishing house over the summer, and in the middle of it, I came across a you’re that should’ve been a your. I blinked, but that was about it. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d come across a typo or a small mistake in a traditionally published book, but I can’t remember the titles of any of the other books I found them in, and I wouldn’t have thought any more about this one except for having to come up with a topic for today’s post. As an experiment, I read through the book’s not-so-positive reviews on Amazon.co.uk, but found no mention of this typo. Everyone else had apparently forgotten about it as well.

But there’s no Typo Forgiveness for self-published books, as I’m sure you already know if you’re a self-published author. And there shouldn’t be. What’s interesting though is that the same rule doesn’t seem to apply to all. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that readers read self-published books differently*.

There currently is a very detailed review of one of my books on Amazon that while kind and positive overall, remarks on grammar, specifically that I used ‘… and I‘ when I should’ve used ‘... and me.‘ (Among other things, some of which are genuine mistakes. I have yet to self-publish a perfect book, despite the involvement of editors and proofreaders. If that surprises you, I can only assume you’ve never tried to get 100,000 words you’ve been up to your elbows in for months or years absolutely perfect. And just think: what state would it be in without the involvement of professional polishers? Editing is NOT an option.) The reviewer assumes that this is a mistake that wasn’t caught by me or by my editor.

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But I write my non-fiction like I speak: I want the reader to hear the words in their head in the same way they would if I were there telling them the story of what happened, sat beside them.

So ‘and I’ is not a mistake. It’s a choice.

I can’t convince the reader of that though. The one time I stuck my neck out and tried to—putting a note at the start of my short-lived novel about how despite it being set in the US, I was Irish, and therefore British English was used throughout—I was accused of being rude and defensive. What do you say to a reviewer who says that if a character is in New York they should be saying color in dialogue, not colour, regardless of where the author’s from?

I’ve read a lot of book reviews for both traditionally published and self-published books, and I think there’s generally a big difference between the two (when the readers know the book is self-published). The traditionally published reviews are always reviews, but the self-published ones tend to get more critiques—as if the book had been submitted to the reader in exchange for a manuscript assessment.

The bias isn’t limited to suggested grammar corrections, of which the one above is just a drop in the ocean (and a very nice one—they get much worse than that!). I think self-published books also bear the brunt of what I call The Book I Wanted To Read Syndrome far more than their traditionally published counterparts. The Book I Wanted To Read is when the reviewer tells us about the gap between the actual book and the book they wanted it to be, rather than what they thought of the book itself. Perfectly legitimate if the book implied it was going to be about cupcakes but instead was about banana bread, of course. I mean more like, again, doing a structural edit of the book rather than reviewing it on its own terms.

But here’s the thing: I’m as guilty here as anyone. I admit that I don’t think I can read a self-published book the same way I can read a traditionally-published one.

It’s kind of like watching Strictly Come Dancing (the UK—and original!—version of Dancing With the Stars). At the beginning of the results show, the professional dancers come out and do a routine. I watch this happily, knowing I’ll be entertained and that the dancers know what they’re doing. If one of them does something that looks a bit funny, don’t I immediately assume it was meant to be that way? But when the celebrity partners dance, it’s different. We don’t have the same ‘safe’ feeling that everything is in hand. I watch their faces for clues as to how well it’s going. If there’s a tricky step, I hold my breath for them. Don’t you?

Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, when I read self-published work my brain is set in a different mode. I can’t help it. But then that’s why I don’t review self-published books. I couldn’t be fair.

What do you think? Do you read self-published books differently?

If the answer is yes, why do you think that is? What goes through your mind when you come upon what you view as a mistake in a self-published book? If you’re a self-published author, how do you feel when you read such a thing in one of your reviews? Is there anything we can do to convince readers we’ve made choices, not errors? Take the poll and then add your thoughts in the comments below…

Speaking of editing, I have a couple of guest posts coming up from Robert Doran, whose previous contributions were exceedingly popular. So stay tuned!

Until then, caffeinated wishes

Love, The Drama Queen

*If they know they’re self-published.