February 13, 2012

From lizards to lit: a year of self-publishing observations!

Patti Thorn, BlueInk Managing Partner

It’s been just over a year since BlueInk launched. Since then, we’ve vetted hundreds of self-published books — everything from literary novels to thrillers to children’s picture books to heartfelt memoirs. We reviewed a 600-page novel set in the South. We reviewed a fingernail-slim story about one man’s thoughts on an airplane. We reviewed a math textbook, a daily devotional, a collection of blogs by a Huffington Post columnist, a book of cartoons, a book on how to make sausage…

Let’s just say that we’ve seen it all — which puts us in a unique position to offer insights into the self-publishing world.

We thought you might be interested in some of our observations, as we look over the past 12 months:

— Last year, we received nearly an equal number of fiction and nonfiction titles. Our biggest category overall was memoir — no surprise, as many authors are retired and looking to voice their life experiences. The biggest topic?  War experiences during WWII and Vietnam, followed by the stories of those who suffered tragedies, such as the loss of a child or struggles with illness. And of course, many simply aimed to relate the events of their lives to provide a record for friends and family.

— We also received a large number of religious-themed books, predominantly Christian and Islamic. Authors exhorted readers to recognize the blessings of faith and to better understand the Bible or the Qu’ran. And they related how faith has worked in their own lives.

— In fiction, the biggest category by far was science fiction, fantasy and horror. Why are authors so drawn to these genres? We have no idea, but rarely a day goes by that a book in this category doesn’t arrive in our post office box. The next biggest category? General fiction, followed by thrillers, mysteries and suspense.

— The majority of books we received were each being produced in three formats: hardcover, paperback and ebook.

— When it comes to the outcome of the reviews, as might be expected with unvetted work (and, come to think of it, vetted work, too), more reviews were mixed than glowing. Last year about 10% of authors preferred that we not share their reviews with others.  On the flip side, 90% of all reviews — positive, negative and everything in between — were posted to the website.

— We received a number of  surprising titles, but by far the most unusual was a book as thick as a brick —  all about the neck anatomy of lizards! (We challenge anyone to find a more niche title!)

— We were thrilled to hear that our first BlueInk Best Book (awarded to books that have earned Starred Reviews that we feel are especially worthy of widespread attention) was picked up by the prestigious West Coast publisher McSweeney’s. The publisher included the slim novella (titled Carlos the Impossible,  by first-time author Jeffrey Belle) in an anthology that includes the work of such respected established authors as Elmore Leonard, Julie Hecht and Jess Walter! We were proud  to be among the first to recognize the quality of this title.

— We also learned that self-publishing has an Achilles heel. Consider:

— Most common criticism of books we received: Lack of copy-editing

— Most common complaint from BlueInk reviewers to BlueInk staff: Lack of copy-editing in the books they are reading.

— Most unwanted email from BlueInk reviewers to BlueInk staff: Another groaning email about the lack of copy-editing in the books they are reading.

— Our best advice to authors: Get your book professionally copy-edited! And that includes the front and back covers!

We look forward to seeing what arrives in our mail in 2012 … lizards, lit and everything in between!

Patti Thorn is co-founder of BlueInk Review, a fee-based service offering serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. She served for 12 years as book review editor of the Rocky Mountain News, which closed in 2009.

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