Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Write by Wednesday-- Self Publishing and Quality

I feel the need to make this disclaimer, and to make it very, very, very prominently: I do not consider myself anywhere near the model for the type of quality I call for below! But it is what I aspire for in the future.

My friend, fellow writer, and former Gopher Elly Zupko and I seem to be in sync on our blog topics.
Look here to see her blog on what she sees as irony that many book bloggers will not review self-published books. I agree with many of her points, but the comments brought this full circle to a conversation I started here a few weeks ago on the pricing models of self-published books. Several book bloggers (some of whom took issue with Elly's points) responded and talked about an aversion to self published books because of quality.

Quality. And by quality, I do not mean the overall strength of your fiction. I am talking the very basic-- formatting, grammar, and spelling.

Amazon, Smashwords, and a plethora of other sites have made it incredibly easy for us writers to put our work out there for sale. And the state of the fiction industry is making it harder and harder for people with manuscripts to find publishers. Work that would have been picked up quickly 10 years ago now sits and sits and sits with no interest because so many publishers are being undercut and out supplied by low-cost, self-published fiction (well, and for about 20,000 other reasons).

What these services/sites have not done is eliminate the need for thorough and thoughtful editing.

Publishers used to provide a very stringent quality standard on much of the world's published fiction. They bought work, cleaned it up, made it presentable, and published it.  With so many of us left with few options other than self-publishing, it seems that for some, this clean up step has been forgotten.

It cannot be forgotten. In my pricing models blog, I talk about setting consumer perception that self-published work is only worth 99 cents. I didn't really take a stand there, but I am now. If you
  1. Spend a year or two writing a book
  2. Have a bunch of honest fellow writers or bloggers review and vet it
  3. Months editing it (or shell out money to have a professional editor do so)
  4. Format the heck out of it over and over until it is perfect 
  5. Develop a kick a*s cover
  6. Self-publish it
  7. Every second of your free time marketing it
that is worth more than 99 cents.

Problem is, there are too many (and again, not all, but many) writers out there are going from step 1 to 5.

We've all seen really good examples of self-published fiction (actually, Elly's book is one), and really, really bad examples. The problem is that, as a consumer, the bad sticks with me way longer. When I am looking at a self-published title, I am thinking "OK, its got 14 reviews, but what if they are all from the writer's family and I am buying a mess that I won't be able to understand half of because it is so riddled with errors." Am I going to spend $4 of my hard-earned money on that? Heck no... its too much of a gamble. I am going to shell out a maximum of 99 cents. That way, if I get a writer who didn't think steps 2 through 4 were necessary, I am only out a buck and can move on to the next thing.

We need to take the gamble out of buying self-publishing fiction before any of us writers considering it (or who have done it) can find success here. But steps 2, 3, and 4 are CRUCIAL. This is the best advice I can give anyone thinking of self-publishing.

Get honest opinions on your work (i.e. my boyfriend loves everything I do, so I ask his roommate to read things because I know he will tell me they suck if they do). Have writers or avid readers that aren't related to you read your stuff and give you opinions. Every single piece of my work has been made better by the candid feedback of others. And thought sometimes, rejections from agents and publishers are not a reflection of your work, sometimes they are. Take the feedback with a big grain of salt, but take it, and use it as free advice to improve your work.

I am a HORRIBLE editor of my own work. Seriously, I can read the same passage 400 times and not see 2,000 typos. And dude, homonyms (just had to look that up to make sure it was the right word) kill me. It took me a long time to swallow my pride and realize this, but on my most recent novel (yet to be published), I paid someone to edit. It was expensive, and not something I can do frequently, but many of us could trade this service! I can edit other people's work like there is no tomorrow, and would absolutely do so in exchange for a thorough review of my own.

And please, please, please people, when you are publishing an eBook (or any book), formatting is key. It kills me to be reading an amazing story with no paragraph breaks, or with words that are ridiculously big or small. Preview, preview, and then preview again.

If we want to raise the perceived value of what we do, we have to raise our standards! Some great writers have been very blunt with me about the  issues in my work. At first, every single one of them pissed me off and hurt my feelings. A few even made me cry. But each and every one of them contributed to my decision to hire an editor, which made my book better.

So there is my tirade. Am I totally off base here? Any thoughts?


  1. Very well said, Shauna! I find myself reading a lot of self-published crap, alongside amazing writers like you and Elly, and the disparity and unpredictability can be infuriating!

    And if you need a cheap editor next time, I kick a** at catching typos, inconsistencies and formatting errors! Not to mention that I'm a grammar Nazi extraordinaire! ;)

  2. I can edit everyone else's work, but huge gaping plot holes in my own get past my internal editor.

    The problem is that everyone has to raise their standards, and that means new authors who've never written anything before as well as "seasoned" authors who think they know it all and don't need to edit. And those publishing companies that don't provide an editor? Run the other way!

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