Friday, June 8, 2012

Naivete and Self-publishing

   Even if the lawyer had passed the examination of the state bar of which he or she were a resident and were therefore accredited to represent a client in a legal proceeding, you would be leery of having this person represent you.

In similar fashion, were it necessary for you to part company with some of the equipment you were issued at birth, say an appendix or a tonsil or wisdom tooth, you’d feel more comfortable if the attending physician had some measure of experience in her resume.

You have had perfectly good results dealing with opticians rather than ophthalmologists, chiropractors as opposed to medical doctors.  Although you have taken classes from numerous men and women with an academic ranking of Ph.D., you’ve been in many cases better served by those with a master’s degree.

To move yourself in the cross hairs, your own “terminal” degree is the Bachelor of Arts.  There have been one or two students along the way who were less than thrilled with you (as you have yourself been less than thrilled with some of them) but you have not done them the slightest damage and indeed, many of them have been granted higher degrees than you and have gone on to teach, to publish, to teach and publish, and to make significant waves in their chosen fields.

Thus caught in the cross hairs, you begin your significant reason for being contemptuous of self-publishing, which is its apparent disregard for editorial support and your more idiosyncratic reason, which is that most self-published works have the appearance of being self-published, starting with the cover design, the use of color on the cover design, the failure to observe traditional formatting in the front matter, the lack of typographical design and text formatting, then extending to the editorial issues you began with.

In recent years, you’ve seen some extraordinary things related to self-published books including one in which you discovered the work was to be self-published only after the fact of agreeing to provide a blurb.  Your name was mentioned three times within the book, misspelled in a different way each time.  Further investigation revealed at least one your for you’re.

You’ve also had experiences with books edited by English teachers, meaning American teachers who have or still do teach English grammar.  You’ve seen books more or less bullied into grammatical conformity, but not in any significant way edited.

From time to time, the pages of The New York Review of Books are financially enhanced by double-page spreads of self-published books which display not only amateurish covers but titles that seem to have come out of a crazed mah-jongg game, as cuddly and winsome as a new litter of puppies.  But they are not going to fool many people.  Or perhaps they will fool persons who don’t know books into believing they are books.

An editor is an individual who has worked at one or more tiers of activity in a venture whose purpose is to publish books for bookstores, libraries, book clubs, and mail order distribution points.  They have been engaged in the evaluation process as it relates to considering new titles, managing the backlist titles, which is to say books published earlier than the front list or current crop of titles, and promotion of published and about-to-be-published titles.  They have worked with authors to remove stumbling books that somehow prevent the text from being the best possible articulation of story if the work is fiction or information if the work is nonfiction.  They have, in a real sense, nudged and prodded the manuscript through acquisition, production, promotion, and sales, its ultimate fate in the market place inexorably bound to the editor’s career.

You began searching through three of the major so-called social networks, Face Book, Twitter, and Linked in, assessing from the enormous numbers of independent editing and publishing specialists, book doctors, and book shepherds for some percentage figure you would reckon to have had actual editing experience as you view “actual editing experience.”  Not many.  And yet.  You believe ninety-eight percent of these would be conscientious, by no means scam artists or poseurs, rather the equivalent of a chiropractor performing root canal therapy on the patient who is too dazed by pain or discomfort or the desire to be published to investigate farther into the process.

You will not forget the time you presented a list of titles to a sales force.  The meeting was held in the Drake Hotel, Park Avenue and 56th Street, Manhattan.  The first title was one you’d edited.  Midway through the presentation, a sales rep, whose income depended on this and other similar titles, interrupted you.  “How,” he challenged, “can I sell that fucker?”

  Every time since, when you gave a presentation, you began with a direct description of the title, fiction or nonfiction, the number of copies in the first printing as an indication of the publisher’s belief in the title, what the book would do for the reader and how it would do so, along with reasons why this was a good time for it and why this author was an appropriate author to have written it.  This presentation was only a small part of the various synergies to have found residence in a particular book.  This participation is only one of the many things an editor does in collaboration with the author to make a particular book a professional book and a successful one at that as opposed to a remaindered book, which was professional but not all that successful, and a self-published book, which is the synergistic conflation of naiveté and lack of patience.

There are some works that not only can be self-published, they well ought to be, but their chances on this planet are so much more enhanced when they get the editorial support they deserve.

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