I respect her.
And I like her.
She's articulate, bright, creative, and thoughtful.
As a narrative genius, she's a really great math professor.
Her love is the legal thriller: she's so crazy about Scott Turow's work that she thought she could be the next Scott Turow (Hey, sorry Scott, if you get good enough, there's always going to be a next you, even if there's a current you). She knew all the right elements - the good guy with a shadow past, the sympathetic but somehow sinister victim. When she put them all together, they should have worked like a fine watch to create a readable narrative, but they didn't because it takes more than all the elements to make a story, just as it takes more than all the ingredients to make a cake. What she wrote wasn't even really a novel: it was an organized notebook.
A handful of publishers, big and small, weren't really interested, although several letters praised her voice.
So she published it herself, through one of the crop of straight-to-digital publishers, among them Amazon's Kindle Direct, and others that offer the services of an editor and package, as well as marketing advice and direction. Amazon has an obvious edge, but of the sixteen self-published direct-to-e authors I know, ten swear by other favorites.
Several other friends have self-published in "trade" (large form) paperback, some accepted by publishers with no up-front tariff who do the design, some editing, and lend a hand with a marketing plan. The author can earn up to 70% profit on every book sold by POD, or "print on demand."
"I'd much rather do this than get an advance I might not be able to earn. There's so much less pressure," says the next Scott Turow.
Because she is a beloved, charming, credible person (and because those suspenseful elements promised so much) five thousand people bought her first book. Her second followed quickly. "It works!" she said. "I have total editorial control. I know what I'm doing. No one is changing one word that I write."
That's the sad fact. No one is changing one word that she writes.
Authors say traditionally that when you want to administer self-abuse, you read your reviews on Amazon. Sometimes, the reader reviews will say that your latest book is a masterwork (this is usually your best friend). Some will say that your work compares favorably to (insert most dreaded author name here). One of the ways that readers show that they are forces to be reckoned with is to say that this book could have "used a good edit."
What those readers mean is that the book should have been shorter.
Often that book has had a good edit, or three or five.
Sometimes the edit adds pages. Most people don't know that. Sometimes, the edit forces the author to explain the obvious in more ways than anyone could believe.
Most often though, the editor has saved the author from wearing a great suit with a big blot of mustard on the lapel. A great editor has a price beyond rubies. That editor may not know what it's like to write, but sure knows how to read, and has extraordinary taste. Editors' futures and reputations ride on the success of their authors.
Would I have a book published over which I had complete editorial control? The very thought is like two hands grabbing my stomach and twisting. It's that horrifying.
A friend of mine at a university in the Midwest has accepted two students into the Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program she directs. Both had enormous potential and that indefinable something - talent? Ease within language? One young woman had seven self- published books to her credit; the other had five. Those books had cool titles and clever conceits and their covers showed a savvy sense of branding, in that they were different from each other, but colors, titles, designs and type-faces all worked to identify them as a certain kind of confection, from a certain company. They were smart books but they were not good books.
My friend has written two books and is finishing a third.
Her books were published in the traditional way. If your student has written seven, there's a certain skewed presumption - even if your books were critically acclaimed or made "the list."
The presumption is that the student knows best.
The presumption is scary.
There are more books than ever out there, most published the usual way. Even some that get extraordinary attention are dumb. I would venture to guess that even more self-published books are dumb because I think second eyes are essential.
What kind of gatekeeper can let this new enterprise flourish without making the bar so low you don't even notice it?
What difference does it make? I'm afraid that there's a drawn big boomerang: After buying a few, or even a slew, of self-indulgent, self-published books, readers are going to get fed up.But they're going to get fed up with everyone who writes books, except Scott Turow and Jodi Picoult