Self Publishers Clean Up Your Pages! Publish Books That Are as Well Produced as Books from the Majors!

Sandy Nathan, award winning author of NumenonSandy Nathan, before reading badly produced self pubbed book.

I’ve been reading self-published books lately, reviewing books for friends and on-line acquaintances. It’s moved me to write this MANIFESTO!

I ABSOLUTELY SUPPORT THE SELF-PUBLISHING, INDIE PRESS MOVEMENT. New technology, the drive to self expression,  and the difficulty of breaking into the traditional publishing industry have created the modern publishing scene. With print on demand digital presses, anyone can get published with a modest expenditure.

That’s the way I think things should be.  I want everyone’s creative urges to be expressed. Write those babies! Pump them words!

HOWEVER, after buying and reading several hundred dollars worth of self-published books, I’m on the warpath.

Self expression is one thing––but the minute someone slaps a cover on their ill-conceived mess and offers it for sale,  CONSUMERS’ RIGHTS and SELLERS’ RESPONSIBILITIES kick in.

IF I PAY $18.95 (OR $12.95, OR A LOUSY PENNY) FOR A BOOK, I EXPECT IT TO BE:

  • Proofread. Yes, get a professional to proofread your work before submitting it to your POD publisher. Not your dad, not your auntie Sue. Hire a real proofreader, and have it proofed again if you make a lot of changes after the first proofing.
  • Designed by a professional, or at least look like it was designed by a professional.
  •  Well-written in terms of construction and composition. The book should reflect the guidelines set forth in the Chicago Manual of Style. This means the way the pages are ordered, which side of the page stuff goes on, what the copyright page looks like, and thousands of other details should be correct, in addition to proper grammar and composition. Here’s the on-line version of the Chicago Manual.  You can buy it used on Amazon.
  • Well written in every other way: Study the craft of writing. Get in a writing group, get an editor, or go back to school and learn to write. Suck up your gut and take the feedback of those who know something about  writing. It takes years to write a polished manuscript and much more work to properly prepare it for publication. It is not enough that one of your professors said you might have a knack for creative writing and that you finished a book-length thing. Don’t put it through CreateSpace and offer it for sale, thinking you’ve written a book.
  • “Omit unnecessary words.” Improve your writing with those three simple words. The quote is from the Chicago Manual and Stephen King says it again in On Writing, one of my favorite writing guides.
  • If you do publish your masterpiece without doing any of the above, confine its distribution to your friends and family.
  • And if you do put the thing up for sale, don’t get your friends to give it ***** Five Star Reviews so that I end up buying it.
  • If you ask money for your work, make it worth what you ask.

If you don’t want to plow through the Chicago Manual, take any book by one of the major publishers and use it as a model for your book. (I’m using a softcover book in my example below. Hardback books are constructed a little differently.) Note basic facts about how a book is put together:

  • THE COVER: You should be able to read the title and the author’s name. Also the subtitle. If you want to sell the book in a bookstore, you should be able to read them at least 4′ away, some people say 6′ away.
  • THE SPINE: Should have the book’s title, author’s name, and imprint of your publisher. Don’t have a publisher? Create your own small press: Name it after your dog.
  • Open the cover. The half title page––that’s a page with ONLY the title of the book on it––is the first page you see. Either that or a page or more of testimonials and reviews. These begin recto, on the right side of the opened page (click to read about it on Wikipedia). You can have a few pages of testimonials, a map, info about the book that would have appeared on the hardbound flaps, things like that in the front matter–-but there’s always a HALF TITLE PAGE with the TITLE ONLY. It’s recto, on the right hand page, facing you as you look at the book.
  • The back of the half title page can have other works by the same author. It is verso (see Wikipedia again)  on the left hand page.
  • Then the TITLE PAGE appears. THE TITLE PAGE IS ALWAYS RECTO, right hand facing, looking at you when you open the book. Usually, designers lift the cover design onto the title page, copying fonts and motifs. The title page includes the title, subtitle, author, and the publisher’s name.
  • The COPYRIGHT PAGE IS ON THE BACK OF THE TITLE PAGE. It has the copyright information on it, the LCCN, ISBN, Library of Congress cataloging information or PCIP data blocks, SAN numbers, disclaimers, and other stuff. If you’re offering your book for sale, you should know what all this means.
  • Check the Chicago Manual or any book by the majors for the exact order of the front matter: the acknowledgments, dedication, prologue, TOC.  All of which are recto; they on the right hand side of the book, looking at you when you open it.
  • Keep looking through any book by the majors–look at the order of the front matter (the stuff before the main text) and the rear or back matter. Your book should be like Random House put it out even if you submit it to your POD publisher in Word.
  • If you follow these guidelines, the quality of your books should improve. If enough people follow these guidelines, the quality of self-published books  should improve overall. Literary agents and the rest of the publishing world won’t be so condescending about the poor quality of self-published books.

OK. I bought a real stinker. It was either write this post, explode, or send the book back to its author line-edited.  I am returning the book to Amazon.

All the best,

Sandy Nathan
Sandy Nathan, winner of seventeen national awards,
after reading poorly produced self-pubbed book. Made my hair turn gray.

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link for more information. All links below go to Kindle editions.)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

Two sequels to The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy are in production with an early 2012 release date planned. If you liked  The Angel you’ll love Lady Grace and Sam & Emily.

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