Okay, your mileage may vary on whether that’s the happiest place, but I decided to visit the Half Price Books’ warehouse sale over the weekend. I went late to the sale. I showed up on the last day with only about one and a half hours left. I was thinking there wouldn’t be much left. I was wrong. This was a sale from all of that bookstore’s locations across central Ohio and possibly more. The sale was on the Ohio State Fairgrounds, in one of the big show buildings. On one side was maybe eight rows, each row consisting of about ten long tables. Two of the rows were marked ‘Paperbacks’ and the other rows were  the hardbacks. Each row had thousands of books on it, with more underneath. As I worked my way around the building, I found the middle was entirely CDS and DVDs, and the other side was kids books and nonfiction. That’s about as organized as they got– there was no breakdown within fiction for scifi, horror, romance, etc. It was all mixed together.

I started out slow, really taking my time looking through paperbacks but not really finding much I had to have. When I looked up and realized that I literally couldn’t see what was on the other side of the building, I hurried. I actually wasn’t slowing down, I was just hoping something would catch my eye and I’d stop. For part of the time, I was almost running just so I could see everything. Again, it was the last day, so I would imagine things had been picked over pretty good the preceding days.

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I decided to take one last pass over the paperbacks with about a half hour left in the day. I spotted a box under the table marked “Horror” that I wanted to check out, but there was a gentleman right in front of it who was looking at books on top of the table, so I decided to wait until he moved. I also couldn’t help but hear his conversation with his girlfriend who was making her way down the other side of the table. And the more I heard, the more I realized that all of those writing workshops I attended, all of those publishing seminars, the panels at cons, they were all right. Your book has to be the best it can be, or people won’t give it a chance.

This couple made fun of stupid, poorly-created covers, trying to imitate terrible poses and laughed at generic artwork they saw. They read back covers to each other that sometimes didn’t make sense, or told absolutely nothing about the story, or talked only about the famous author who wrote the book, instead of the plot. There was a book that was intriguing enough for the woman to open, but once she read the very first sentence, she said “I’m out. When the first sentence sucks, I can’t imagine it getting better from there.” Look. I’m snarky and sarcastic and can make fun of a lot of stuff, and these people were MY kind of people, but they weren’t wrong. From the things I saw and heard them sharing, the laughs were justified. And these books were not just from indie or small publishers, but from the big name publishers,  current and past. No one was immune. And no genre seemed to be targeted, as I said, everything was mixed together in the stacks. I saw people at this sale with shopping carts full of books, and yet there were multiple copies of some titles that no one was touching at all.

So let me just pass this along to my friends who might be self-publishing, getting published by a small press, or even by a larger one. For the people who might not have made it to those seminars and workshops that pounded publishing truths into my head… There I was in a giant room full of books… cheap books… paperbacks were Fifty Cents… And the readers/buyers/consumers were STILL judging books by their covers. Literally.

Look, I know other factors go into a book purchase, but why start your book off with a disadvantage before readers can even get it in their hands?

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The best thing you can do as an author who wants to self-publish is to get whatever help you can in creating a cover, writing jacket copy, editing your book. It doesn’t always have to be a professional copy editor or cover artist (but it helps!) Get out of your own world before you publish your book, run it by a friend, find a critique group, something. Just get more eyes on it before you send your ebook to amazon, or your file to the printer. Some of the same things go for submitting to a publisher or agent – have someone look it over, hire an editor if you can. And when you get that publishing deal and the publisher sends you a galley? Read it. Look for error, or get an editor for that stage. If you’re ever given a chance to look something over before it goes to press, DO IT. If something’s not right, let the publisher know. Don’t be a writer who complains about every little thing from the color of your hero’s eye on the cover to the font used in the page numbers, but stay involved with your book as much as you can when it  comes to that stage. You’ve worked hard to get there!

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Books. Miles and miles of books. Is this heaven?