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back to article 1-in-10 e-tomes 'are self-published'... most are 'rubbish' says book ed

Self-published ebooks now account for 12 per cent of the entire digital book market, according to new research, and also have up to a fifth of the genre fiction market. A full 20 per cent of crime, romance, sci-fi, fantasy and humour ebooks sold are self-published, although authors who go it alone in graphic novels, food and …

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Meh

And?

Vanity publishing has been around forever. You pay your money you take your chance be that a twiglight vampire porn rip off or war and peace.

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Coat

Dan Brown

His worst sentences.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/6194031/The-Lost-Symbol-and-The-Da-Vinci-Code-author-Dan-Browns-20-worst-sentences.html

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Re: Dan Brown

Oh, horror. By posting that link you have reminded me just how awful The Da Vinci Code was - that being the one and only book of his that I have ever read, or ever will. (And I only persevered to the end out of sheer "I've started, so I'll finish" stubbornness. I wish I hadn't.)

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how many

are repackaged Wikipedia content being flogged on amazon under vaguely Germanic names?

though in fairness to Wikipedia, I have also seen content repackaged and flogged as an iPhone app.

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Wots a "1-in-10 etome"? You mean 1 in 10 not 1-in-10.

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Devil

IRS registration required...

...is what puts me off most self-publishing sites. Any advice on avoiding the need for this and still being able to publish - self or otherwise - would be welcome!

No IRS icon, but close enough...

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Re: IRS registration required...

The problem is that Kindle Direct is a US-based company. It's the huge potential market. Smashwords is slightly better, Google Play may be better still. Unless Amazon have changed the rules this financial year, you need that US tax number just to sign up with them.

Tobias Buckell has reported on some figures that Smashwords put out. And you're right about the likely sales.

http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2013/05/27/survivorship-bias-why-90-of-the-advice-about-writing-is-bullshit-right-now/

You can also find Charles Stross telling us how much of a difference the publisher makes to the quality of his work. The Editor (and the copy-editor who looks at the text differently again) are the expensive parts of the process and the actual printing is pretty cheap. Good writing costs money, and some authors who think they are worth enough to the publisher that they can ignore the editors have succumbed to the rabid brain-weasels.

It's bad, for all sorts of reasons, that Amazon sometimes looks like the only game in town.

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This post has been deleted by its author

You find a lot of them on Amazon's ebook site. Fifty pages of self-insertionist, half pornographic, coverpage ripped from an MMO and shoved through a photoshop filter dross which must be waded through to find the odd nugget of gold.

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Deeply Corrupt

What kind of character judgments is this guy making about self-publishers? Note the self bit; does one have to be corrupt to self publish or does the act of self publishing make one corrupt?

I would have thought corruption would be more evident within an industry whose big players just paid hundreds of millions of dollars because of price fixing and collusion to manipulate the market...

That being said my publisher does a good job and I don't believe I would have sold many copies without them on board. They are useful.

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In fairness

Whilst some of them are utter tripe - they generally get outed by the amazon reviews system sooner or later, and the prices compared to mainstream publishers make it worth a punt every now and again.

For example the Spinward Fringe series is pretty reasonable and are self published.

Also dont forget that the man quoted works for a big publisher who has a vested interest in rubbishing self-publishing as the best of it makes their "service" look shite.

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Re: In fairness

I've found some of the self-published stuff to be pretty good - and the ability to get a sample before you buy can weed out the total rubbish.

I can personally recommend "Thirty Eight" a story of love, lust and nuclear-powered steam trains which should appeal to many a reg reader.

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Sturgeon's Revelation

"Ninety percent of everything is crap."

Really, it should not come as any surprise to anyone that the vast majority of self-published works are terrible, because the vast majority of big-name-published works are terrible. That's just how it works.

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Headmaster

It strikes me that the need with ebooks

and indeed, probably in other media, is not authors but editors.

While I can pick a book up, and know within minutes that it is unutterable dross (to my taste, at least) the problem is that there are too many authors and not enough time. I acquire - over forty years - a taste for the authors I like, but how do I find new authors? I'm unconvinced by the Amazon 'others who bought that bought this' approach as it *seems* to be nothing more than 'we've got a lot of these in stock and they're the same general category'.

But one can, with time, trust an editor with the same taste as you; hence a long subscription to Analog: I trust Stan Schmidt's taste. Not yet sure about the new guy now Stan's retired... but you see where I'm going. An editor tells you a lot more than a review or a 'people liked' flag; apart from anything else, if he starts throwing out stuff I don't like, he doesn't get a lot of chances before he's dropped.

Hmm. Perhaps an opportunity. Though I'm trying hard to see a way in which it could be automated...

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Re: It strikes me that the need with ebooks

It's just a shame that you can't trust an editor, even one of Sam Schmidt's standing, to arrange proofing of the digital editions of their offerings. Analog in particular believe in a push the button digital conversion that buggers up formatting, as do most other magazine offerings. Not that normal book to ebooks conversions are much better.

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Re: It strikes me that the need with ebooks

Re: not authors but editors.

Quite true. Editing makes an enormous difference if the editor is a good one. I have always thought that the talent of an artist is in their eyes, not their hands. An editor with a good eye brings a lot to the table.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It strikes me that the need with ebooks

What I want out of Amazon is not "people who bought this also bought these" but an option for "people who DIDN'T buy this bought these".

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Re: It strikes me that the need with ebooks

@Tel Starr

Aye, well, I've never seen a digital Analog that I didn't scan and build myself, since they don't release on epub. For complicated reasons they seem to be paying slightly more than the cover price to deliver my paper subscription copy...

Apropos digital proofreading: it's a bit of a bastard to do, and the better the scan is, the harder proofing becomes. Though you'd think that there must be *some* stage at which the typeset text appears in a metadata format, which *ought* to be easy to make into a house style CSS. (thinks - I should add that to my proofing program...)

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Wait, and the fifty shades of who gives a crap was the height of publishing nirvana? How about all those Da Vinci Code rip offs? Ever read 11:11? You'll wish you hadn't. This isn't to mention many books on how to align your kitchen sink to restore karmic balance. I'm not any good at Japanese but even I know you don't pronounce the 'u' in "desu", though that dummies guide book seems to think you do...

Self publishing makes it easy to inflict crap on the world, but the amount of crap in e-books is no big difference to the amount of crap in printed books, when you get down to it.

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Go

So why do they sell?

Ultimately the market is what sells - and if self-published ebooks are actually taking 12% of the market share then a fair proportion of buyers don't seem to agree they are universally rubbish. There are some damn good self-published ebooks out there that would never get a look-in with traditional publishers. Don't forget that a publisher's primary definition of a "good" book is "one that will definitlely make me money" rather than a genuine evaluation of a work or writer's merit for their own sake

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Anonymous Coward

Can someone explain?

Are these percentages of items sold, or percentages of revenue from sales? If the former, then are items with a zero price included in the statistics?

Also, what is the definition of "self-published"? Do they actually mean "not published by a company we've heard of"? Because otherwise I don't see how they can easily find out whether the publisher and the author are in effect the same person, quite apart from the problem of identifying the author(s) in cases where public domain material has been repackaged ...

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Because everything churned out by a big-name publisher has to be the absolute height of literary perfection. Sorry, I don't buy that argument at all.

And especially in a non-fiction environment, self-publishing is probably quite good for a lot of authors. Who's going to want to buy some huge, in-depth technical description of some obscure subject, who the hell would publish it, who would stock it, and who would buy it at the prices they would end up charging for such niche material? Or you could just self-publish it and get £10 a copy, or whatever, direct from your target audience.

I don't buy the "self-publishing is worthless" line. It's just a different way to do things. Probably not the best way if you want to be top of the bestseller lists, but if it makes you a few quid, surely that's been a "success", no? And people who want to pay for tripe are the people destroying literature, not the people writing it. If they weren't being paid, they'd still write it. It's only because people WANT to read it that it becomes a problem to do with watering-down the literary content (but, then, who really wants to read "The Only Way Is Essex : Official Autobiographies" or whatever?).

It's like saying "open source is bad". Sorry, it's just a different way of doing things that you happen to disagree with. I think Red Hat or similar would be happy to show you their balance sheet and rub it in your face. Personally, I've spent the last week trying to find a copy of a decent astrophotography book. The definitive reference appears to be a HTML CD-ROM made by AstroPix that you have to order from America. If that guy self-published it on Kindle or similar, I'd have bought it by now. I doubt you could really get a big-name publisher interested in it, though.

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No it doesn't have to be the height of perfection, but the publisher is taking a risk on the author and therefore they act as a kind of quality filter, weeding out the dross and ensuring what remains is of relatively good quality. They also hire editors to fix typos, work with the author to fix clumsy or nonsensical paragraphs and generally improve the overall quality.

There may be books that should be self published. e.g. a lecturer on some esoteric course may figure out they make more money by self publishing than bothering with a publisher, a conference organiser might self publish some programme guide, a local historian might self publish a book with old photos of their town. But I expect that those are the exceptions to the rule.

And that is especially so for e-books where the barrier of entry is basically the ability to upload a .doc or .pdf to a website and push a few buttons. Any basket case can do that and not surprisingly many of them do.

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> everything churned out by a big-name publisher has to be the absolute height of literary perfection

When you get 1,000 manuscripts a year coming in to the building and you are able to publish (say) 5 - and maybe 1 by a first time author, you look for ways to filter the load.

It doesn't matter how arbitrary the filter is, but you've got to operate some sort of process to get the amount of paper you deal with down to a sensible level and then focus your attention on the remainder.

Hence the dismissal of poor grammar, spelling, sentence construction, style, content and subject matter. It may not be the best system, but like when you have to deal with CVs, it's objective and is better than throwing them all in to the air and selecting the one that sticks to the ceiling, on the premise that the applicant is lucky - and luck is better than skills.

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Wait a minute. The managing director of a publishing company says people who have chosen to self-publish, and therefore not go through his company, are unutterable rubbish?

I don't know about you, but I'm convinced.

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Not surprising

E-publishing removes many of the barriers that vanity publishers used to face - printing costs, editing, finding a seller and so on.

Now any lunatic can hit print and produce a book from their schizophrenic ramblings about Jesus, or the Illuminati conspiracy beaming thoughts into their head. Or more mundanely, the 1000s of wannabe authors churning out bad fan fiction, scifi, romance and thrillers. Or the scamsters printing out random websites like blogs.

So it's no surprise that perusing ebooks would be like wading through a sea of shit hoping to find a pearl. It would not surprise me at all if Amazon / Lulu et al make more money selling vanity services to these self publishers than they do from the actual sale of books. And that's probably where the real value of these services lies.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not surprising

> Now any lunatic can hit print and produce a book from their schizophrenic ramblings about Jesus, or the Illuminati conspiracy beaming thoughts into their head.

Ah. Dan Brown.

> wannabe authors churning out bad fan fiction,

Ah. E. L. James.

As Mr. Sturgeon once said; 90% of everything is crud. Perusing random shelves in the public library is often just as bad as looking through ebooks...

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Re: Not surprising

Now multiply your cited examples by 1000 and you have self publishing. You could find the most awful dross in published form (e.g. some publishing outfit which specialises in spiritural healing) and it wouldn't still hold a candle to what happens when every barrier is effectively torn down.

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Re: Not surprising

But what is the criteria for "dross"?

Are you talking about subject matter that you find offensive or just plain bland, or stuff the presentation of which is poor?

You might say that a large proportion of pornography is utter dross, but a lot of people get off on it.

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Re: Not surprising

"But what is the criteria for "dross"?"

Dross as in badly written, badly edited, badly typeset, incoherent, illiterate, hackneyed, derivative, unfocussed and uninteresting. Even to people who might be interested in the subject matter if the quality were higher. Also throw in all the robo generated screeds, reprinted blogs, news headlines, wiki pages etc. Dross.

Nothing to do with porn or offensiveness which are another matter entirely. Most self publishing outfits have very low editorial standards but even they usually have rules to cover stuff which may be offensive - race hate, rape fantasies, bomb making manuals etc.

I also acknowledge that there are self published books where the quality is high, or the author is aiming for a target which falls outside the conventional publishing envelope. But the signal to noise ratio for self publishing, particularly e-books is quite obviously far worse over conventional publishing.

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"That is what passes for affirmation in what I think is the deeply corrupt world of self-publishing"

And what would one call the shelves full of ghost-written pap by people who's only achievements have been a spray-tan and fake boobs?

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"That is what passes for affirmation in what I think is the deeply corrupt world of self-publishing"

For decades (centuries, probably) authors have puffed each others books, for the cover blurbs. That's what passes for affirmation in the deeply corrupt world of publishing.

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The lottery effect

Even with "normal" publishing, getting success is a hit and miss affair - but mostly miss. In fact almost completely miss. You have to get your words in front of someone influential (and by influential, these days that means a big twitter following). They have to have enough of an attention span to read at least the first few lines and then for it to remain somewhere in their consciousness for long enough that they can string a few txt-spk phrases and your title together for their followers to eagerly devour. After that, the world is your lobster - even with a small percentage of their gullible and impressionable followers remembering the title for as long as it takes them to call up Amazon and order it, before they forget and move on to the next instant fad.

All e-pubishing does is remove one delay-centre and a level of filtration from the process. Instead of having to get 90+++ rejections before someone puts you on their year long wait-list for publication, you can go instantly to Lulu and spew your words out to the waiting world immediately. And then wait ... and wait ... and wait (repeat until you croak) for a single lone individual to stumble upon your masterpiece, read the precis and move on.

It's still simply a numbers game - but with e-publishing, the numbers are just larger. Instead of 1 chance in 10,000 of "making it" (i.e. seelling more copies than you have relatives), the odds against are now in the millions - but you can probably knock out a dozen or more pieces of work in a month. Like with the lottery, one of them might just come up.

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Can anyone explain ...

... the difference between "unutterable rubbish" and "utter rubbish"?

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Re: Can anyone explain ...

unable?

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Re: Can anyone explain ...

Yes, I expect any reasonably-literate English reader can. "Utter" in "utter rubbish" is clearly being used in its most common sense, indicating that all parts of the entity in question are rubbish; there is nothing there which is not rubbish. In "unutterable rubbish", the adjective is being applied in a well-established figurative sense to mean "so extreme it cannot or should not be spoken of".

HTH. HAND.

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Shock news! Editor doesn't like it when people don't hire editors!

I will however concede his point that unedited writing tends to be less polished, but then almost everything on the internet is unedited . "Unedited" is not the same as "completely devoid of value" unless you're a fanatical grammar and or spelling nazi - which most of us aren't. And some of us are willing to give an aspiring authot the time of day even if they haven't received the blessing of a publishing house.

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Spoken like someone who doesn't understand the difference between copy editing and acquisitions, development, consistency, and style editing.

With writing of any significant length, even the best authors need editors. Many good authors are, if necessary, capable of serving as their own editors - but that's a tremendous amount of work if done properly. It's more work, in fact, than editing someone else's writing, because the author already has an understanding of the work, will overlook many issues of clarity and consistency because of that familiarity, will miss errors by reading what was intended rather than what is actually on the page, and so on. There are techniques to compensate (for example, proofing by reading the text in reverse), but it's a long, hard slog, and few have the dedication or the ruthlessness for it.

Editing is inevitably part of non-ephemeral writing. In fact it's the larger part of it, as composition research has demonstrated again and again.

And yes, sometimes it's worth reading a piece that isn't particularly well-edited. I recently finished Karl Sabbagh's Kindle Single Shooting Star, about Frank Ramsey - quite interesting, despite some typos, a rather idiosyncratic take on the comma, and arguably room for some tightening and rearrangement. But life is short and there are a vast number of books available, so there's good reason to mostly stick with well-edited work.

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Vanity publishing

Most self-published stuff is abominable rubbish. But then most commercially published stuff is abominable rubbish. If you (or the gent who made the disparaging quote) take the trouble of sifting through the crap, there might - just might - be some gems out there.

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This post has been deleted by its author

I know a published author...

Who after a series of successful crime novels (around 8 or 9 moderately successful), went to her publishers asking about ebook deals, for her new novel, since she has half a clue about the internet (or at least her son does).

The answer amounted to: Yes it will be published as an ebook, but you wont see much more than about 0.5% of any income from that.

So... she self published, freelance editors are out there and it was a sound investment.

The author openly admits she does not know if it will sell without the marketing force of a publisher, but she has almost nothing to loose.

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Re: I know a published author...

My deal won't allow me to use a different publisher for an ebook version. My royalties from an ebook would be significantly reduced (from $1.17 to about .37 cents) vs a print copy so I chose not to do an electronic version. I didn't like how I made less from a product that cost less for them to make and distribute. The book isn't a good candidate for an electronic format anyway.

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My heart bleeds for them

>"I was very shocked to learn you can buy Facebook friends and likes on social media.

I also suppose he'll be shocked that publishers pre-order their own books to get them to the top of the best-sellers list before the book has even been released. How does that work? The same day the book is out it's a best seller with all the publicity material already printed and everything.

If most self published books are crud then what's he worried about. He can continue pimping his own crud and fix that nice top spot in WHSmiths hoping someone will fall for it.

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Happy

Re: My heart bleeds for them

The best seller list thing is based on preorders from both wholesalers and retailers, not units purchased by the end user. The publisher copies boil down to a statistical anamoly for promo and review copies.

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Successful Self-Publishing

The author of this story needed to interview a few more people--including the people who successfully write the "rubbish."

I will wave my hand as being a "rubbish" author. For ten years, I had two agents try to sell my sweet (meaning not sexy) historical Western romance to traditional publishers. I have a stack of rejections, not because of the writing, but because the story didn't fit the market.

I self-published the first two books in the series in April 2011, and they took off. I added a third one seven months later. Eleven months and two weeks after publication, I hit the USA Today bestseller list, and it had nothing to do with Twitter or Facebook, which I barely used at the time. I did no promotion of the books except for posting a blog from time to time. I sold almost 100,000 of my self-published books in the first year. In 2012, I had a six figure income from my books, and I have author friends whose "rubbish" makes them seven figures a year.

But successful self-published authors use EDITORS! I have a developmental editor and two copy editors.

Amazon allows readers to look inside the book and read the first chapter or so. That can help weed out any badly written books or stories that aren't to your taste.

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Reading slush

Reading slush (unsolicited manuscripts of novels) is generally a terrible experience. There's an article from Teresa Nielsen Hayden (an editor at Tor) that lists the reasons things get rejected:

Herewith, the rough breakdown of manuscript characteristics, from most to least obvious rejections:

1. Author is functionally illiterate.

2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.

3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.

4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.

5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.

6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.

7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.

(At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

8. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.

9. Nobody but the author is ever going to care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.

10. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.

(You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

11. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.

12. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.

13. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.

14. Buy this book.

If there was an filter on self-publishing that kicked out everything from 1-8, then I'd be happy to take chance on hitting a few 9s and 10s to get to the 11s and 13s that the editors are rejecting.

The problem that self-publishing should solve is the 13s (good novel; not commercial in the current market) can get published and find their market; mostly that will be only 5,000 readers, which isn't enough to be profitable for a publisher, but is still plenty for a self-publisher. Sometimes, the editor will be wrong and it will really sell (e.g. Dr Debra above).

The problem is that if you're picking through self-published stuff more or less at random, then you hit lots of 1-7s, or if you have a "wisdom of crowds" filtering system, then those often get gamed by spammers.

Add to that the problem that good novel-length writing needs real editing ("you've forgotten what happened to this character" "I've tried to lay out the events on a calendar/map and they don't work" - "this character had an unexplained personality transplant between book one and their reappearance in book four") as well as proof-reading and copy-editing, which, yes, self-published novelists can buy in, either by the hour or for a percentage, but most don't.

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Re: Reading slush

Ah, yes, I've read that TNH post before. (I remember when the Haydens were regulars on rec.arts.books.s-f. Maybe they still are; I haven't read that newsgroup in, I dunno, 20 years?)

On a similar note, my wife just finished teaching an undergrad course on acquisition and development editing where the students had to pick through a self-pub ebook slush pile (of assorted genres) to find something they wanted to develop. I'm sure those students would concur; actually getting to the work of developing was probably a huge relief.

(My wife used to be EIC of an academic journal, in a quite specific subject area with a relatively small body of practitioners. Even in that situation, where the vehicle does most of the preliminary screening - you can reject out of hand anything that's not in its area - there's an amazing amount of slush to wade through.)

If there was an filter on self-publishing that kicked out everything from 1-8, then I'd be happy to take chance on hitting a few 9s and 10s to get to the 11s and 13s that the editors are rejecting.... The problem is that if you're picking through self-published stuff more or less at random, then you hit lots of 1-7s, or if you have a "wisdom of crowds" filtering system, then those often get gamed by spammers.

Agreed. Curating can help a bit - someone with a lot of free time takes up reading a lot of the self-published stuff in a particular genre and keeps a list of the good 'uns - but again it's volunteer work, and we'd need an awful lot of volunteers to make much of a dent in the self-published slushpile.

I probably spend about 20% of my Kindle reading time on substantive reviews of books that look interesting, trying to decide which ones to add to my "maybe buy someday if I think I'll have time to read it" list.

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Pint

90% of books are rubbish

The thing is , such a high proprtion of published books are rubbish - they are just edited, proof-read rubbish.

And yes, the large bulk of self-published books are terrible. But the big evil here is Amazon. Ever since they allowed books to be free, the vanity/bizzare/nutjob authors have deluged the free Kindle market with dire rubbish, totally dominating the market. Thank you SO much, Amazon.

At least you can look inside before buying, so you dont have too much excuse for not realising its rubbish.

And the fact is, that many of the better self-pubbed books have effectively been edited - they have been run through writers focus groups and similar. Granted, not as well as a GOOD professional editor would, but by no means badly.

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Re: 90% of books are rubbish

Quite. One thing that I have known a number of SF authors to do (that's my main area of interest so while I assume other authors do the same, I can't comment) is to request 'beta readers' - people who will read their almost-ready-to-publish manuscripts and see if anything stands out as an issue. That might be plot, might be character stupidity, might be a name that can't spell itself, might just be typos. They're not expected to be editors, but the less the publishing company editor has to do, the better.

(If you look in the right books, I have a couple of credits for that task.)

One point is that often the first paragraph/page/chapter might be a reasonable read: at that point; the neophyte author was still thinking in English and had some idea of what has plot might be and who his characters were. It's six chapters later when the author has discovered just how hard work is involved in writing that things tend to decay after a promising beginning... Mary Gentle (AKA 'Death of Trees') famously makes a point of reading page 93 before buying a new book.

But that's *published* works; self-published can have all those faults and more. And often does. Which is why I repeat my earlier call for editors to select *for* me. Not the production editors; he shouldn't be involved in the production of the book nor in correcting it's errors. I want someone who reads a lot and discards most of it, and whose taste matches mine!

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