I think when it comes to publishing in general, it's helpful to look at it through the eyes of a different, but similar, industry.
Last week, I compared building an ebook to building a house. Just as some basic carpentry knowledge is required to build a home worth living in, basic computer knowledge is required to build a book worth selling.
Today, I want to compare books to bikes. Let's say two bikes are sitting side-by-side at Walmart and are exactly the same price. As a kid, which one do you think would have caught your eye? Which one would you have begged Mom and Dad for?
One is bright red and shiny with crisp new streamers coming out of the handlebars. The paint is smooth and the seat is cushioned.
The second bike is red, but the paint is clumpy like someone did it by hand and didn't wait for the first coat to dry before putting on the second coat. Instead of fastening the seat to the bike with screws or bolts, duct tape just barely keeps it on. There are no streamers and the wheels are worn and look like something someone found in a dump. In fact, the whole bike looks like it's been patched together with parts you might find around the neighborhood on garbage day.
But let's say you decide to test drive the bikes before you decide. The shiny bike, as expected, rides beautifully. The second bike, though you had your doubts, rides just as smoothly as the first one. The seat you thought would surely have been loose, is actually held on quite tightly with the duct tape. The lumpy paint may be ugly, but that has no poor effects on how well the bike works. And though the bike is made of used parts, all those parts are put together very well.
So based on all this information, and remembering both bikes cost the same amount, what would you choose?
I don't know about you, but I'd choose the shiny bike. If I could get a prettier bike for the same amount (or even a little more) as the ugly one, despite the fact it doesn't work any better, I'd still go for it.
Now let's add another factor into this. Let's say this ugly bike isn't the first you'd heard about being sold at Walmart. Let's say you'd heard it on good authority that other ugly bikes have been sold and they didn't ride smoothly at all. In fact, the vast majority of them have shown problems on the first day of purchase. Stories of peddles falling off and brakes failing have reached your ears.
Best to play it safe with the shiny bike because you KNOW that one won't cause you any trouble.
But that poor, ugly bike you were considering wasn't anything like those other ones. It wouldn't have caused you problems at all. In fact, though it was ugly and patched together, it was built with love and skill with only the best used parts the builder could find.
Okay, Emily, now what's the point, right?
The point is self-publishing has a bad reputation because a lot of writers haven't put as much effort into their product as they could or should have. In the real world, you won't find an ugly, patchwork bike at Walmart or at any other store because companies (whether large corporations or small one-man affairs) don't put out cheap products. Unfortunately, though, some writers haven't proceeded with the same care and attention to detail. Self-publishers have a pretty bad past working against them. And just because that one ugly bike was still vastly superior to all the others that came before it, it was judged just as inferior to the shiny bike because of the bad reputation.
But, Emily, we KNOW this! Of course you do. It's no secret now that a self-publisher should put the best product forward he/she can. And that means extensive edits, rewrites, and the use of some pretty spectacular betas. But the bike builder didn't err in building a bike that rode smoothly. And there are plenty of self-publishers that are now putting out quality stories. The problem the bike builder had was in taking used parts to build the bike, and not painting it correctly. By doing that, no buyer would be able to distinguish it from the poorly built bikes that had been sold previously.
So after that very looooong analogy, you now see where I'm going with this: the cover.
Too many self-publishers put so much of their time and effort into producing a quality story (and yay for that!), but they create a cover in a day with pictures found around the internet. Not only can this be illegal (most pictures are owned by someone who has sole rights to them), but it can create a patchwork looking cover if your only knowledge of cover art rests with pasting some pictures together using photobucket.com.
Let me show you the cover I created for ELEMENTAL a couple years ago when I first started writing the book (the book was called Aurumenas at the time):
Now take a look at the one I have now (sidebar to the right). The one that was designed by someone who actually knows what she's doing, and done with original pictures, too.
There's a stark difference.
Being able to write a story does not necessarily qualify you to be a graphic designer. Finding a professional isn't that hard, either. I found Victoria simply by blogging and seeing all her gorgeous illustrations she posted with every blog post. And you can find numerous illustrators at any SCBWI conference you go to. And let me tell you, they are EAGER to give you all their contact information. I have dozens of cards just from the Winter Conference in January.
When self-publishing, you should be prepared to hand off some responsibilities to people who possess more skill. Just because you're publishing your book yourself, that doesn't mean you should go it entirely alone.
Stop on by next week for Part 3 of Self-Publishing--Keeping it Professional.