Thursday, September 16, 2010

Criticizing competitors

Last year, when I published my first book about publishing, I announced that I would no longer review books about publishing. It did not seem fair to use this blog to "pick on" the competition, and it did not seem to make good business sense to praise the competition.

I soon reversed that policy.

I lke to recommend good things--food, cars, cameras, restaurants, stores, electronics, tools, movies, books, almost anything. For several years I wrote a daily blog filled with recommendations (and occasional condemnations and warnings).

I'm not afraid of competition. Self-publishing is a growth industry, and I'm in favor of almost anything that will help it to grow. I've praised other books about self-publishing (on this blog, in my books and in Amazon reviews). If I praise a book written by Steve, and it gets bought by Laurie, and she wants to learn more, maybe she'll buy one of my books. I like to encourage good writers who have worthwhile things to say. I buy two or three books each week, and some are certainly worth recommending.

In the other direction, I'd be doing a disservice to my audience if I did not point out bad books, or significant failings in otherwise good books. Perhaps my own experience gives me an insight that "civilian" readers might not have--so all books are fair game for me.

I expect my own books to to be criticized, and I certainly am not reluctant to praise--or criticize--books that I've paid for.

Joel Friedlander provides lots of useful advice for self-publishers and also reviews books aimed at them. Joel is a professional book designer and has a policy to not condemn self-published books because of design problems, but instead concentrates on content.

Unlike Joel, I am not a professional designer, or a professional artist. I design my own books (not the covers) and my own websites, but have had no advanced professional training.

I went to art school on Saturdays when I was in third grade, and always got A's in art in junior high school. I had a "print shop" course in eighth grade. In college, I took a course in "advertising art production" at a nearby community college so I could sit near a girl I wanted to have sex with. (Mission accomplished, BTW.) I've worked for ad agencies (but as a copywriter, not an art director). I've even designed T-shirts.
  • The point of this little biography is to establish the fact that I am an amateur book designer. I'm a pretty good amateur, but still an amateur. My skills, knowledge and achievements could be matched by just about anyone. Therefore, I think it's absolutely appropriate for me to criticize books designed by other amateurs (and certainly books designed by the highly-paid professionals).
I've seen many silly mistakes that could have been easily avoided--if the self-published author was willing to pay for professional help in editing and design.

I just finished reading a bad book (I'll probably publish the review next week). It didn't name its editor and I asked the author, "Did you self-edit?" Her response: "Of course. I have edited many others' books myself."
  • No one should be the only editor of her own book. Even writers who work as editors for others should hire editors.
Modern software has made it possible for anyone who can use a keyboard and a mouse to become a "published author" and to design her own books. But the tools don't compensate for the lack of talent, time, patience, experience, knowledge and observational skills.

Many disasters could have been avoided by asking for help before approving a proof for publishing. Not asking for help is inexcusable egomania.
  • If you can't afford to hire a professional editor, you can't afford to publish a book.
Unfortunately, some of the worst self-pubbed books try to give advice to other self-publishers. The worst is HERE.

I'll be reviewing other bad books and good ones soon.

Here's a good one.

And another.

And.

Publishing has long been a sedate and genteel "gentleman's business."  The business is going through major changes now, and is anything but sedate. It may not be genteel for me to criticize competitors, but I will be fair and honest--as a gentleman should be.

My standard in evaluating books will be that, since I am an amateur with no specific training in bookmaking, I will expect books produced by either other amateurs or by professionals to be as good as my books. The knowledge that I have is available to everyone. Before I self-pubbed my first book I bought and read more than 20 books about publishing.
  • Not everyone has writing talent and artistic ability, but there is no excuse for anyone being unprepared and ignorant of the mechanics of preparing a book for publication.

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