Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Fly in the Ointment--er, Soup

The subject of self-publishing rises forth from time to time like the lone piece of meat in a truck-stop bowl of stew. You have one acquaintance who has enhanced a teaching career by its use, yet another has made a tidy sum with a unique project, and a good many other self-published authors are after you for the same reason they would be after anyone with a weekly review column.


Thus the subject of reviewing enters the landscape, perhaps even upstaging the self-published book. Consider this: you are considering self-publishing some of your reviews, the ones you think of as Golden Oldies since they are titles published some time back, often as far as before you were born. Your rubric for the venture goes beyond Golden Oldies into that no-person's land of Guilt Literature, the books you feel guilty about not having read and the books from the past that are taken by many to be classics and which you either do not like for significant reasons or don't get for significant other reasons.

With few exceptions, you can spot a self-published book from a great distance. Something about the cover art gets to you immediately, affecting you like the sight of an overcoat-wearing older man standing outside a grammar or junior high school. You know. Odd. Even sleazy. The art on the cover, whether photograph, drawing, etching, acrylic, oil, tempera, or whatever is usually found on investigation to have been provided by a relative. The type face is just plain wrong and the subtitle is overlong. Things get worse inside: the text is inexpertly rendered into an inappropriate type face, one that reminds you of a newsletter from an animal rights organization; the layout usually is too open or too cramped. Illustrations, if any, give the impression of having been set in place with library paste. To say that the text wants editing is to understate. The content editing is often too lenient, leaving cliches, solecisms, archaic usage, and numerous lines of dialog such as "Oh," she said, or perhaps even, "I see." and "Okay." The copyediting is the pistol held to the side of the head. Consistency of usage is non-existent, punctuation is a particular jungle, and as if exclamation marks were not enough to let the reader know the characters and/or the writer meant business, entire words and sentences rendered in all-capitals emerge like soup stains on an accountant's necktie.

You first became aware of self-publication at about the time you evolved into your first editor in chief position, feeling the intense pride of a well-made book, wanting those who bought your books to have the best content and physical product possible, wanting your authors to have the proper showcase for their work. Accordingly, your budget for designer and copyeditor fees was so tilted that you had, at times to delay publication of one or more titles because there would have not been enough to pay the essentials such as paper, printing, and binding.

At the time of your early awareness, self-publishing was infra dig, a prima facie admission that no respectable publisher would take on the work. Times have changed on many levels. Some small publishers have emerged, fueled by special interests, their finished product blurring the line between the self-published work of the dedicated amateur and the conventional publisher. Sometimes it is difficult to tell and, alas and alack, you even supplied a blurb for one such title which, the author assured you, was subjected to editorial eye. It later turned out that the editorial eye was someone who taught high school grammar and had an abiding love of books.

Waiter, what's this fly doing in my soup?

Hmm. Looks like it's doing the backstroke, sir.

This has all come about because of, you guessed it, the arrival of a self-published book, eager for some recognition beyond the author's immediate circle of friends, all of whom, you have been told, think highly of it.


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