I am often asked by writer friends what I think of self-published novels. My usual answer is an apologetic "not much." I'm afraid the vast majority of self-published books aren't worth the paper they're printed on--even if it's very cheap paper.
Generally speaking, self-published novels are books that have been (or would have been) rejected by royalty-paying publishers. To put it plainly, the books aren't good enough to offer to the reading public. Yes, it's possible that a given book simply didn't fit any established market niche, so the traditional publishers didn't want to take a chance on it. But let's not kid ourselves; because anyone can self-publish, the odds of finding a jewel in any truckload of self-published novels is infinitesimal. That's because even when a self-published book is well written, it has almost certainly not been edited, and even the best authors need good editors.
I'm well aware that a small percentage of self-published authors pay a couple of hundred bucks to have their novels "edited." But if those freelance editors have no stake in the finished product, what motivation do they have to do anything more than correct typos and amend an awkward sentence here and there? That's not editing, it's proofreading. Editing is looking at the whole novel with an unbiased eye and figuring out what will work and what won't for the average reader. A good editor won't balk at throwing out a scene or insisting that you add a new one. She'll push you to heighten your conflict, nag you to polish your characterization, and generally browbeat you until that little book is as good as it can possibly be.
If you sell a book to a publishing house, you'll get an editor who is fully invested in your novel. She has to be; the publisher is looking to make money on the project. And you'll almost certainly have an editorial team rather than just one person helping you refine your novel. No less than four editors have worked on my upcoming book: senior editor, assistant editor, freelance editor, and copyeditor--which is par for the course in the romance genre. That's a lot of polishing. I like to think I gave them a good story to begin with, but I can't deny that they're making it even better.
Should you self-publish your novel? As a fellow writer, I don't feel qualified to answer that question. You might have good reasons for self-publishing, and you might end up doing very well (although that's not the common experience, it is possible). But as a discerning reader, I'll say that for the reasons outlined above, I am wholly uninterested in self-published books. So if you're trying to decide whether to keep writing and submitting to traditional publishing houses or to go ahead and jump into self-publishing, you might want to consider that legions of readers think the way I do--that self-published books aren't, as a whole, books worth buying.
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