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 goodreads.com and amazon.com. 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.