Someone handed me a book today. It actually looked pretty promising, actually. It's a collection of anecdotes and stories, nothing so concise as a memoir, but none the less, slice of life. It looked, interesting, so I grabbed it off the Free to Good Home Bookcase (yeah, my department has a free to good home book case), and I started reading it.
Now, the cover looked good. It looked professional, even. But then I started reading it. In the three pages that I read, I could tell beyond a doubt that it was a vanity press. I couldn't tell what the author was trying to say, there were terrible typos, factual data missing, and I even came across a place where the author was going to fix something and never got back to it (it was a string of letters in alphabetical order, I use DEAD BEEF myself).
Suspicious that this book, recommended as a good book, was actually a vanity press, i looked up the publisher. I am a research scientist by trade, and yeah: Vanity press.
I recognized so quickly it was a self published book, that I didn't even go through the whiny "How did this get published moment." You know the moment, where you read a terrible book--or more accurately, a book that you think is terrible--and think to yourself "Well, this got published," then you whinge on about 'if this got published, then why can't my book get published?'
I know we should all avoid these moments in our lives, and I have to admit that plenty of people say exactly these sorts of things to me all the time. But I'm ruined. I can't even rise to the bait anymore.
I think someone wore out the part of me that thinks that way. I have a friend. We'll call her Jen* for the time being. Jen doesn't like Twilight (Disclaimer: I'm not Jen, and I read the whole book. I know for a fact that Jen did not even read a chapter. While I'm not head over heels in love with Twilight, I can see why some people really enjoyed the book, and that's great for them). In fact, Jen takes every moment of her life to bash Twilight, specifically saying that "If that can get published, then I'm a shoe in." I've heard it so often that I now do the dreaded smile-and-nod. It's not that I don't agree (although, actually I don't agree with the "If x is crap and it got published, then my sort-of-almost-okay novel should also be published" idea), it's that I no longer care.
I've been working so hard at getting my own stuff into good shape that I just don't have the time to waste being annoyed at other peoples good fortune. Because that's what it comes down to when we think things like "If that got published, and my stuff is way better, it should be published to." What we're really saying is, "Damn they got lucky to get their piece of crap published, and I'm very unlucky for not getting my stellar piece of divinity on toast published." And that's not the case.
The more I work on this process, the more I see that my crazy dream about carving offers out of stone wasn't that far fetched. It is hard work to put together something that anyone will consider, let alone offer to represent, and that's not even getting into the whole actually selling and publishing the book thing. It is Hard Work. Yes, there is some luck, but my friend really fails to see that even the worst book she's ever read was edited by the author, probably more than once, edited by an agent, edited by the editors at the publisher, and probably edited once more before actually passing the gate to being published. In short, lots and lots of work went into that book. Mountains more work goes into a book than goes into a first draft, and that's why first drafts are so obvious. So obvious that I can spot one, even when it's dressed up in book clothing.
It really did look professional, until I read any of it.