Serdar Yegulalp, like the last self-publishing author I checked out, runs his own imprint to publish his books: Genji Press. It's a pretty well-designed website, and the POD books he offers (available from Lulu or Amazon) look professionally designed, with real artwork.
I am wary, though, of the strong weaboo vibe. Is this yet another American otaku who thinks a few Japanese classes and a lifetime spent watching anime makes him qualified to write stories about Japan?
The book I decided to preview was Summerworld, described thusly:
The outside of the note-card envelope bore a postmark from one week ago, and the return address of a man who had been dead for three years.
In the blink of an eye, the world is made new ... How will you live?
It had to be a prank. A letter to Dr. Hirofumi, from a patient of his who’d died three years ago—now inviting him to come out to the country and spend some time there!
Then he followed the letter to its source, and realized all too late that he’d slid into a new world—one shaped by the fears and desires of all those who were lucky enough to survive the journey.
In that “changed place,” as those who live there call it, he discovered the new powers to be awakened within himself and others. He found friends and loved ones, both new and old—and he came to understand his new world far better than he had ever dreamed.
Okay, it's grammatically correct and readable. That's an improvement over The Pack. It doesn't tell me that much about the story inside: right now it sounds like an adult Narnia, which I'm guessing from the cover will be full of samurai and oni and tengu and probably (sigh) ninjas.
The first four chapters are available as a free preview.
I read the 38 page preview and it was... not bad. Not bad at all. In fact, the writing is professional quality, at least in terms of technical proficiency, and Yegulalp has a good grasp of all the basic principles of storytelling and novel writing. Nothing jumped out at me as horrible or even particularly bad. There were none of the usual unpublished and unpublishable writer's mistakes; I could easily imagine finding this book on a shelf in a bookstore.
You may sense a "but" coming, and here it is: but... the writing did not appeal to me, and the story did not grab me. This may be largely a matter of personal taste, and probably is, but I think I can see why Yegulalp might have trouble getting published by the mainstream press. His prose is... the word that comes to mind is self-indulgent. The first chapter is all about our protagonist, Dr. Hirofumi, meeting an ex for lunch, and all the things he observes and thinks about on the way to meeting her, while meeting her, and after meeting her.
Shizuka was already there, one shoe up on the base of a streetlamp as she tugged at its straps. She was tall and had a natural elegance to her, but she had a habit of doing things that didn’t seem to mesh with her elegance at all—like
putting one foot up like that and hobbling around on the other one in such a clumsy way. She didn’t seem to mind that she had been seen in such a state, either. She had had the same air of selflessness about her in just about every circumstance Gô could remember: coming out of the shower with no towel on, stepping into a car and almost clocking her head, dropping armloads of groceries all over the kitchen table.
Yegulalp is striving for a literary style, and in places he even hits the mark. The text is full of rambly little observations like that. On the one hand, all the little bits of detail paint a vivid, fleshed out description of every scene. On the other, I'm not sure how much characterization we need of a minor character whose purpose in the plot is mainly to let us know that Hirofumi is single, lonely, introspective, and a bit of a wanker.
Hirofumi goes looking for his "dead" patient, and does indeed end up stepping into a Japanese version of Narnia, where the first character he meets is Utsumaru, a fifteen-year-old girl running some sort of roadside hot springs resort all by herself. Naturally, all is not as it seems. Utsumaru comes on to Hirofumi, and it's not clear whether the author is going for shock or kink here, as it turns out Utsumaru is a shapechanger, and therefore every pervy loli-fan's wet dream, as she can become older, younger, or even male. Hirofumi reacts with shock and denial, so the story didn't immediately plunge into wanky Piers Anthony territory, but then a gang of goblin/demon bikers comes by and tries to gang-rape Utsumaru, and Hirofumi (a doctor with no martial arts training) grabs a samurai sword and tries to save her. Since he's got no martial arts training, he fails miserably, but then another gang of supernatural creatures shows up, and things just keep getting weirder. At this point we start to see some clues about how the "rules" in this place work, and it's potentially quite an interesting version of fairyland. I still dread the likely pairing of Hirofumi and Utsumaru in the end, though.
This is the most positive reaction I've had yet to a self-published book; I think Yegulalp has some real writing ability, and obviously he takes his endeavors seriously. That said, his writing is a bit pretentious, and I found Summerworld (and all his other books) reminded me too much of a bunch of cosplayers at an anime convention. If this book had been free, I probably would have actually continued reading, but it wasn't quite good enough to elevate it above the level of fan fiction and induce me to pay 12 bucks. There aren't many self-published authors who can get away with charging what you pay for a book from a traditional publisher. I do wonder why Yegulalp hasn't branched into ebooks, though, where I'd think with his obvious anime fandom connections, he'd be able to get more word of mouth and downloads.