Friday, August 4, 2017

Self-published books a mixed bag, but don't count them out!

Books by self-published authors are a mixed bag, and members will have to sort out their thinking as to what kind of books they want to read, and how perfectly edited they are. You could find a diamond in the rough … or not. Writers at every level are self-producing books.
As e-publishing gains strength—and I think it has—editors and formatters are joining the mix, offering their services to individuals who really want what they write to be at its best. I welcome that from the bottom of my iddy biddy pinch-y editor's heart.
A caution: There's a big difference between an individual self-publishing, and books produced by small, independent publishers or groups that self-publish their members' work. "Indies" are usually professional, well executed and edited.
No, we're talking lone rangers here. And here's the rub: I generally find them under-edited and over-written. Too little fix-finding and too much detail, repetition, confusing points of view and wandering prose. Poorly laid out too, which gives off a stench of amateur publishing.
But if you find a book you believe your group might like, or even if you'd just love to have a local self-published author show up at your book club meeting and talk about what he or she is doing and how, consider these points:
* Is the story good? Does it keep your interest, feed you ideas, leave you feeling changed or enlightened? Is it unique, such as an account of something only that particular writer could tell? More importantly, is it something the group would enjoy discussing?
* Does the writer or the lead character have a strong, interesting voice?
* Is it a satisfying read? Can you get through it without distracting errors that make you wish for a red pencil? Does it flow? Does it stick to the main characters and not veer off in different directions?
* Is it supported by any organization or institution that adds legitimacy to the author's effort? Read the copyright page carefully. Is there an editor on board? Check the author's website, if there is one, to see what else the author has written.
* Google the book title to see if you can find reviews. There are customer reviews for many books at and It's a good idea to read these.
* Typos—a moniker for print errors—are annoying. Outright errors of fact or knowledge make me doubt an author. Regardless, I look for a quality story peeking from beneath the clouds of confusion. If it's there, I might finish the book.
There's a world of possibilities. After all, Mark Twain did it on his own, though he was an accomplished newspaper columnist. Consider—not everyone gets the editing treatment a star writer might receive. I've read quite a few independent authors, and some are pretty good. Moreover, most of them—after paying an editor and finding a publisher—struggle to get their book out there, so your club's interest would be a boost to them.
Dave Eggers, whose McSweeney's magazine/publishing house has created beautiful new ways to publish, chose self-publishing recently. After his awarded traditionally published books, "Zeitoun" and "A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius," he chose to self-publish "A Hologram for the King." Others are realizing there's more money to be made if they can get the public to buy their book without having to go through the traditional agent-editor-publisher grind. But Eggers is in a class of his own: award-winning, himself an editor/writer, he already has a readership audience.
It's a busy world, and few have the desire to read a book that's not ready for prime time and never will be. So do your homework, and hope to find a winning book.
Oprah's newest book choice:
Oprah Winfrey, maven of perhaps the nation's most famous book club, has picked a new one for summer: "Behold the Dreamers" by Imbolo Mbue.
Oprah's description: "It's got everything that's grabbing the headlines in America right now. It's about race and class, the economy, culture, immigration and the danger of the us-versus-them mentality." All of that wraps around a story of family love and the pursuit of happiness.
I like Oprah's instincts. She seeks out quality writing and themes, plus a good story. Even better, "Behold the Dreamers" is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Read in the Sun, in the Shade, in the library

Traveling about New England during the vacation season ...
While visiting friends, I wandered into Provincetown’s public library, seeking both a reprieve from the heat and an exploration. There is some wonderful artwork at the entrance and around the interior; overall, the library is bright and open. Having found a book I wanted to read, I went to the circulation desk, where I learned that I had to have a CLAMS card to take out books. Drat, I thought. What’s that? I thought C/W MARS was everywhere!
Not so. There are several systems.
A CLAMS (Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing) card is good anywhere on the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The Massachusetts Library System supports it, but the system does not interact with automated systems used throughout the rest of the state. This area’s C/W MARS (Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing) system is the largest, with 152 member libraries, but there are eight more collectives, connecting 417 public and academic libraries, ranging from Greater Boston, Merrimack and the South Shore to more. Belonging to C/W MARS does not provide access to other regions. That’s really only a problem outside your usual environs, as borrowing becomes a problem. Fortunately, libraries often have sale books you can buy.
Closer to home, however, I borrowed two Louise Penny mysteries at Harvard’s beautiful new library, enjoying the look-around as much as the book selection. Library users will find several study areas, quiet and dedicated to their needs, along with a good book selection and spots to sit and read. Better yet, since it’s in the C/W MARS network, I can return the books to my home library in Lancaster, and they’ll be routed back to Harvard. Under this regional system, a member can access 2.5 million books, along with millions of other items, including CDs and DVDs. Book club members are apt to know the system, as they obtain multiple copies of a book for meetings.
Nerd alert here: I love visiting libraries, whether or not I can take out books. One can always sit down to relax and read magazines, do computer research or, in a precious few (West Boylston’s Beaman Library just joined in), find a spot to enjoy coffee or a snack. If in Boston, don’t miss the Boston Public Library on Boylston Street (not a C/W MARS member, but you can get a library card there). Check its website for events and workshops.
I’ve passed several Read It & Reap contributor libraries, not always at the right time to stop in, but I enjoy several: Worcester’s large library offers a cafĂ©, book sales room, meeting spaces and loads of books. Gardner’s Heywood Memorial Library is modern and spacious, with a divided (and supervised) children’s library upstairs. Shirley’s small library offers a peaceful reading area and study tables. Leominster has a gorgeous older library, expanded in 2005-07; it’s full of reading areas, a dozen computer stations and, for teens, a room dedicated in memory of novelist Robert Cormier of Leominster. Lancaster’s Thayer Memorial Library, on the town’s green, offers comfortable leather chairs for kids to curl up in while reading, or for adults in the magazine area. During a recent book sale, kids were able to play mini-golf throughout the building.
Truly, libraries offer a serene spot — albeit sometimes very active in these days of progressive libraries — to get away from it all. They share that with many bookstores.
By the way, stop in to any library for the latest monthly copy of Book Page, a great roundup of what’s new on the book scene.