Nice manuscript you got there…
You may have noticed that we had a review kerfuffle here at SFRQ recently. One of our reviewers described a book published by Bottom Draw(er) Publications as being “self-published” (as a self-published author, that was an “ouch” moment for me) and I made two formal corrections in Issues 4 and 5. Curious, I read the book in question, then I went and downloaded two free books directly from Bottom Drawer. If the publisher is interested, they can check. The transaction occurred on 19 January 2015 and the customer name was “KS Augustin”.
Initially, I was after SFR (of course!). But there wasn’t any, besides two JA Kenney books. I finally ended up at “Free Reads”. I decided to take two…SUNRISE by Morgan Emerson and SLIVERS OF SILVER by JA Kenney. I’m not trying to single out the authors here. Kenney, in particular, does great work at the “Smart Girls Love Sci-Fi” blog. I wanted to check…no, not the authors, but the publisher. Please bear that in mind. I’m not critiquing the authors, I’m looking at the kind of editorial quality that Bottom Draw(er) Publications adheres to.
I’m sorry, but I wasn’t impressed. I realise that developmental editing is a thing of the past for many houses, including the Big 5 but, as a reader, I do expect to see editing that goes beyond a spell-check. When I read a scene that could’ve properly placed the characters within the setting, but didn’t, that’s sloppy editing. Not correcting word choice is also sloppy. Here are three examples:
Bottom Draw(er) (SUNRISE, p 5): “Even though Kyle was the spitting image of himself, he could still see some of his wife in him.”
Me with my Editor Hat on: Short of a thorough rewrite, I can forgive the pronoun mash but, sorry, you can’t be a “spitting image” and look (even a bit) like someone else.
Bottom Draw(er) (SUNRISE, p 6): “Miles couldn’t help but notice his son jumped anytime his phone made a noise and was a bit distracted the whole drive.”
What I would have done: “Miles couldn’t help but notice that his son jumped every time his phone made a noise, and how distracted he seemed during the entire drive.”
Bottom Draw(er) (SUNRISE, p 24): “Send her a text. Come here,” he demanded, stepping aside as she walked in.
What I would have done: “Send her a text then come in.” His request was more a demand. Katherine felt the heat from his body as she walked past him into the room.
But let’s continue. Interesting paragraph break choices. (I chose the PDF version to read in each case, as that’s the prettiest and, often, the most glitch-free.) Mixed metaphors. A few logical errors. Some choppy scene transitions. The punctuation was very good, as was the spelling. I could go on, but I think the point’s been made. While the easy stuff has been caught and dealt with (and the PDFs fromBottom Draw(er) were lovely and clean; I loved reading them), the larger stuff—the actual editorial nuts and bolts—has been neglected.
To be honest, it’s not just Bottom Draw(er) Publications. There have also been numerous complaints about how the quality of books from stalwart Ellora’s Cave has dropped precipitously over the past few years. I’m sure you could come up with further examples, as can I. So we’re dealing with a bigger problem than just one or two publishers.
Who is harmed when an “other”-published work is confused with one that’s “self”-published? Of course, self-published authors are the first target, but I would also add those authors who aren’t self-published, but who put their trust in publishers they shouldn’t. You know the books I mean. The formatting is horrible, the typos are legion, and the covers are either utterly unimaginative or make you want to stab your eyes with metal chopsticks! In such cases, it’s the author who suffers. Ms Author made a deliberate choice not to be labelled as a self-pubber. She put her time, work, reputation and future earnings in someone else’s hands, only for her story to be labelled as no better than self-pubbed dreck. She doesn’t deserve this.
If small presses wish to be known as “respected”, “reputable”, “rigorous” (and other words beginning with “r”), then they should start behaving like it. And that means using their funds (i.e. seed capital plus the money they make from their authors) to actually deliver on what they promise—a well-edited, quality book with a memorable cover that will make both the author, and her publisher, proud.
And to those authors wanting to submit to small presses? It’s not enough to email your latest story to anyone with a website who uses a plural pronoun. Buy a couple of their recent releases. Read them critically. Would you like to have your words misspelt? Your gaps in plot overlooked? If not, then remember that if that publishing house is willing to treat Author A in such a manner, what are they going to do with your book? Spending ten dollars now may save you a lot of heartache farther down the line.
Self-publishing is not for everyone. But authors who decide not to go down that route also have a responsibility to make sure that their hard work will be presented in as professional a manner as possible. If not, it will be labelled as self-published, and not in a good way. 😉
As we’re talking about publishers, I also want to mention Carina Press. Carina has done a lot of sterling work for the SFR genre. Several of my favourite authors call Carina home. So, again, bear in mind that anything I say is with the objective of improving SFR, first and foremost.
In early December 2014, Carina editor Stephanie Doig put out a call for LGBT romance: “The main characters must be LGBT and the story needs to end with them getting an awesome HEA.” Carina has always been open to LGBT romance, as is obvious from its July 2014 edition on what its editors are looking for, and on its general Submissions page: “Subgenres of romance we are seeking include, but are not limited to, historical, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, futuristic, gay/lesbian, contemporary, Western, paranormal, erotic romance and fantasy.”
I can argue that gay/lesbian isn’t the whole of the LGBT population, but I don’t wish to diminish Carina’s laudable intent in this way. However, is Carina really open to both gay and lesbian romance? I went to their site and did a quick-and-dirty check. First, I chose “Female/Female” in “Browse by Niche” under the “Books” tab. Five results. Five lesbian romances, the last of which was published in May 2013 (according to Carina’s own search function). Next, I went to “Male/Male”. Do you know how many I found? Ninety-two, with the most recent published in November 2014. Additionally, under “Coming Soon”, there are two M/M romances set for release in March, one in April, and one in May. F/F romances within that same time window? None.
In summary, all F/F to May 2015: five. All M/M to May 2015: ninety-six.
Assuming gays constitute, say, 5% of the general population, they make up 13+% of Carina’s inventory (from a total inventory of 720 books, following a general Carina search). Assuming lesbians constitute 5% of the general population, they make up 0.7% of Carina’s inventory. That’s quite an imbalance. The tragedy is, Carina is a great example of a digital-first press. If I went to other non-LGBT focused digital presses, the figures might even be worse.
What am I trying to say? If a publisher makes money from its authors and, at the same time, touts itself as being “professional”, while wanting to bathe in the publicity of “diversity”, then it had better start walking the talk. Because, from where I’m standing, I’m just not seeing it.
For authors, this is where it pays to be proactive. After all, people are going to be judging you by your book, more than they’re going to be judging the publisher. Choose a publisher who shares your vision for professionally packaged books (cover, formatting, editing). Be proactive. Ask questions. Get the answers in writing. Organise your workflow so you have every piece of correspondence and your own writing in its place. Don’t be so starry-eyed at getting offered a contract that you sell yourself cheap. As a niche and budding genre, SFR is going to be particularly susceptible to negative reader impressions, so don’t give them that opportunity! And, best of luck.