The rules say that a "self-published" book equals...well, crap. These are the books that, for whatever reason, couldn't make it past the "gatekeepers" of publishing (agents, editors, etc.). Sure, there are books that began as self-published works and went on to be best-sellers (The Celestine Prophecy, for example, or Eragon), but the conventional wisdom is that if you have to pay to publish it yourself, it must be...well, crap.
Before you jump to the defense of the downtrodden self-published author, peruse the catalogs of iUniverse and XLibris. You'll find that in this case, the maxim is mostly true. Gatekeepers weed out the books that come with recommendations like, "My mother thinks it's great," "My children used to love it when I'd tell them stories," or the dreaded, "Everyone tells me my life would make a great book." Without these gatekeepers, readers would be buried under egregiously bad grammar, Wagnerian spelling errors, derivative characters and recycled plots.
They say that in order to disprove the statement, "All crows are black," you need only produce one white crow. And I believe I have found that white crow of self-publishing: a genuinely good, well-written, powerful and original self-published novel.
Half Empty by Tim Hall tells the story of Dennis, a New York slacker who, thirty days into new sobriety, tries to sort through his past and find direction; his choices are represented by the two women in his life.
Well-traveled territory, to be sure, but author Hall doesn't make this a trite or even predicatable story. Dennis is a rich character, well-defined and contradictory, whose emotions (whether noble or base) are clear and understandable. He lives in a particular, detailed environment and has the troubled minutiae of life common to us all. The two women are certainly not virgin/whore caricatures, but individuals with unique strengths and believable flaws. More importantly, Hall doesn't take any of the easy narrative turns: we never learn exactly why Dennis sobered up, nor is his sobriety under constant, melodramatic threat. In other words, this is a well-written, gripping contemporary novel that could easily be from a major publishing house, certainly the equal of something like Bright Lights, Big City (a dated reference, I know, but hopefully a clear one).
So why isn't it from a major publisher?
I've asked Tim Hall that question, and a few more. Watch for that interview coming soon.