Although I’ve mentioned before that self-publishing is an intriguing option for many of today’s writers (see “Are editors still necessary“), it has its downsides for both the author and the reader. As a self-publisher, the author has to engage in much more work; s/he is in charge of every part of the publishing process: editorial, production, design, marketing, sales, and shipping. Although wearing these many hats all at once is not unmanageable, it can allow for things to be forgotten or missed, resulting in a product of poor quality. Urban Tigers: Tales of a Cat Vet by local Halifax writer Kathy Chisholm is a good example of a self-publisher’s lack of knowledge or care regarding certain standards of the book publishing industry.
On first impression, I was delighted by my new complementary copy of Urban Tigers. As a cat-lover, I couldn’t resist seeing the adorable Patrick O’Neil, esq., resident cat of the Atlantic Cat Hospital in Halifax, on the cover. Once I began reading, however, I became less delighted. Although Chisholm’s love of cats and feline health shines through with each tale/tail, her depictions of Haligonian cat owners leave something to be desired. In addition, the book severely lacks any character development and there is no overarching story line — the last page of the final chapter could just as easily be the last page of the first. Although I applaud Chisholm for her first attempt at writing a novel (after all, even the best writers will tell you that writing isn’t easy), she needs to work on characterization and narrative form.
In addition to my disappointment with Chisholm’s lack of characterization and structure, at one point in my reading I was also very bothered by a feeble attempt at a joke regarding gender and sexual orientation; I had to put down the book in disgust. With the help of her veterinarian husband, Chisholm is knowledgeable regarding the science behind veterinary medicine, but her knowledge of human gender identity issues is certainly lacking.
Nevertheless, where I truly lost respect for Chisholm’s novel is when I discovered the plagiarism of five lines from a song called “Desiderata” (thank you Google) by Irish singer/songwriter Daniel O’Donnell. The lines appear at the end of Chapter 15 in Urban Tigers. Although I had never heard the song before, the sentences immediately jumped out at me because 1) they didn’t follow the flow of Chisholm’s writing style, and 2) they are in quotation marks, but none of Chisholm’s characters are speaking. Although these sentences are in quotation marks, there is no reference to their origin, nor is there any mention on the copyright page or elsewhere in the book to suggest that O’Donnell gave Chisholm permission to use those lines in her novel; thus, they are plagiarized. Although this was quite probably an honest mistake made by a new writer who doesn’t know better, it brings the integrity of the author and the veracity of the entire novel in question. Chisholm employed both a copy editor and a proofreader, and yet neither of them caught this rather important mistake, or — if they did — Chisholm ignored it and published O’Donnell’s words without his permission anyway.
Although I have nothing against self-publishing, Urban Tigers is certainly a good example of how book quality can suffer without the rigorous editorial process manuscripts are put through when being published in-house. However, Chisholm could have avoided the aforementioned problems with her novel if she had taken more care to learn about the standards of book publishing and employed a qualified substantive editor as well as more than one copy editor. A substantive editor would have challenged Chisholm to further develop her characters and create a cohesive narrative form while more than one skilled copy editor would have made sure to check facts and references rather than focus on only spelling and grammar. Chisholm’s premise behind Urban Tigers is good and some of the feline medical problems/procedures she depicts are interesting (especially if you have cats), but with a little more care and a little more knowledge, Urban Tigers: Tales of a Cat Vet could have been a much better, much more professional novel.