Quality Control in Self Publishing

This article on why quality control is central to self publishing should be read by anyone who wants to write a book. This is because self-published books, whether ebooks, print-on-demand, or anything else, are treated like second-class citizens in the publishing world.

The traditional publishers get the free publicity—the reviews in widely circulated publications that have a policy against reviewing self-published books—while self-publishers get the option of advertising in those publications at astronomical prices. Self-published books are not eligible for a lot of awards—or, if you are permitted to enter them, the book is unlikely to get a fair shot at the prizes because how could a book by a self-published nobody possibly be better than a book with the confidence of Random House behind it? The laws of the publishing industry don’t allow for something that illogical. Yes, there is indeed a preconceived notion that self-published books are second-rate. If a book by a traditional publisher uses semicolons instead of quotation marks around all the characters’ dialog, the author is being innovative … perhaps even brilliant! If you as a self-publisher do it, you’re just being stupid.

Sarcasm aside, it is true that if your book is self-published, it will probably be judged more harshly than a traditionally published book. Even if book reviewers are willing to read it, a lot of them may consider the book bad until proven good. So you have to work harder to prove yourself. It seems unfair, but there is a logical reason for it:

Quality control.

Traditionally published books are always put through a quality control process. Self-published books sometimes are and sometimes aren’t.

It’s easy to understand why reviewers with too little time and too many books would choose to review a traditionally published book over one that is self-published. They know that with the product of a traditional publisher, maybe they won’t like the book, but at least it will always meet a certain standard of quality. But with self-published books, there are some gems and then there are some that don’t follow the most basic requirements of high school English. Thanks to the latter, all self-published books are considered hit or miss. But thanks to the gems, there are some reviewers—and customers—willing to give self-published books a chance.

quality control

Here’s how you can make the most of that chance.

First, remember that the more a book looks and reads like a traditionally published book, the more it will be treated like one. Just because it’s easier and cheaper than ever to self-publish a book (either as an ebook or a print-on-demand book), that doesn’t mean you should rush to self-publish. In my experience, it is not easier and cheaper than ever to sell a self-published book. It’s quite hard, even if your book gets lots of great reviews. People are reluctant to buy ebooks because that format is uncomfortable to read on-screen and a hassle to print out. As for print-on-demand books, they are often more expensive than comparable traditionally published books because of the higher unit cost of printing them. Combine those drawbacks with the barriers to marketing and distributing a self-published book, and you’re in for a large share of frustration. So my advice is to try submitting your manuscript to the traditional publishers first. If your book is picked up by a traditional publisher, congratulations! You’d better make it good. If your book isn’t picked up and you decide to self-publish, condolences. You’d better make it really good.

If the book isn’t what the traditional publishers are looking for but is still well-written and well-edited and could earn a readership, it’s a good bet for self-publishing. If it’s rejected by the traditional publishers because it needs work, self-publishing should not be viewed as a quick and easy way to make this book available. You need to fix up the book first. Put it through a review cycle with colleagues or editorial services; rewrite, revise, and edit; then put it through another review cycle to make sure it is indeed improved. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to make the book the best it can be. Then edit it again and proofread it. If proofreading isn’t your specialty, use an editorial service. You can’t afford to have a typo in your book. Occasionally a traditionally published book will have a typo, but when reviewers encounter it, they read on because they know the rest of the book won’t be full of typos. But a typo in a self-published book is usually the harbinger of many typos to come, and reviewers just don’t have the patience for that. So one typo could be last a reviewer reads of your book.

After polishing the content and going through the quality control process, use the same care with the book’s presentation. Especially if your book will be available in hard copy, get it professionally typeset. I formatted my two books myself using MS Word to save money, but in the future I’ll opt for professional typesetting because it makes the inside text look more professional and more like a traditionally published book. Don’t skimp on the cover either. The cover has a big impact on whether the book will be read. Here you actually have an advantage over authors with traditional publishers. From what I understand, the publishers have control over the cover art and cover design and the authors don’t have much say, if any. But you have complete control, and you can make the cover look just the way you want it, just the way it best reflects your vision of the book. If you need artwork, there are illustrators on the Web. I found an excellent artist for the cover of my most recent book, Sky Bounce, simply by doing a Google search.

When deciding how to print and distribute your book, it’s good to weigh the pros and cons of self-publishing on your own versus self-publishing through an ebook or print-on-demand "publisher" on the Web. These services, such as iUniverse, are much more affordable than doing a print run on your own, and they take care of a lot of the hassles involved. But you are still technically the publisher, and on top of the stigma of being a self-publisher, you will have the stigma associated with their brand name. If they accept anything as long as they’re paid for it, whether or not the books have been put through a quality control process, they obviously have produced some poor books, and this will cast suspicion on your book. So whenever financially possible, it’s preferable to avoid “publishers”/services that have no screening process.

No matter how you choose to print and distribute your book, if you want it to be taken seriously, you need to have a well-thought-out and well-written book that has been edited and proofread. Even if you do, some reviewers may love it and some may hate it. The more reviewers you send it out to, the more chances your book will get criticized no matter how carefully you produced it because the wider the readership, the wider the range of opinions about it. But don’t make it easy for them to criticize your book—or pitch it in the trash without finishing it—because it reads like a first or second draft instead of a final version or because it’s riddled with errors that could have been caught easily by a proofreader. Show them that the negative assumptions about self-publishers aren’t true about you. Make them think that the traditional publishers were crazy for overlooking your book.

About the author:

Deanna Miller is an editor and the author of two books, Sky Bounce and Time to Tell 'Em Off.

Quality Control - Write Books

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.
Enter Your E-mail Address
Enter Your First Name (optional)

Don't worry — your e-mail address is totally secure.
I promise to use it only to send you Write, Self Publish and Sell Your Ebook on the Web.

Most-Read Articles

How to Write An Ebook

All About Publishing

Gifts for Writers

Promoting Your Book