I’ve been reading a lot of self-published books lately for a freelance gig reviewing independently published books. I am not opposed to self-publishing. I think it’s terrific that technology is allowing more writers to get their work out there and have the opportunity to be read.
BUT… (you knew that was coming, right?)
A lot of readers are turned off of self-published books and refuse to even consider reading them, and I think that’s only going to get worse. There are many reasons for this that I could get into, but the major one that’s been bugging me, that I see time and again in the books I review, is sloppiness.
Sloppy grammar, sloppy spelling, sloppy storytelling, sloppy characterization. It’s as if the writer is in such a rush to publish that s/he forgets to slow down and take care with this thing s/he is making.
Traditional publishing does provide one important thing that self-publishing does not: time. It takes time to get through all those gates the publishers are keeping. It takes time to prepare a book for publication. During that time, the writing can be polished, edited, corrected, cleaned up. It results in a better product.
Readers can be notoriously picky about little things like grammar and punctuation. Sometimes I think we readers are more particular about these things than many writers. You have to remember that we read primarily for enjoyment. A book riddled with errors does not make for an enjoyable read. A sloppily written book will not be worth the time readers have to put in, much less their money.
If you are a writer who intends to self-publish, and you want to make it big a la Hugh Howey or Andy Weir, you have to be more perfect than everyone else. I can direct some criticisms at Howey’s and Weir’s books, but at least they were free of egregious grammatical and spelling errors, which meant I enjoyed the experience of reading them.
The best advice I can give to writers who want to self publish is to reread your work many times and mercilessly eradicate all the errors you find. Better yet, invest in a thorough copy edit by a professional who really knows their stuff.
Above all, don’t be sloppy. If this is something you really feel you want to do, as a profession or even as a calling, then take your time and make your writing the best it can be.
In future posts, I’m going to be offering specific advice about the most common errors I’m seeing in the self-published manuscripts I’m reading. There are many ways to follow me (see the sidebar) if you’d like to improve your writing.
Here’s just an excerpt from Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards, but you should really go read the whole thing–it’s short and completely inspiring:
“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.”
If you haven’t read any of Ursula K. Le Guin’s books, why not?
This week, I got the opportunity to attend an author reading at my local bookstore, Flyleaf Books. The book is a children’s picture book, The Cat’s Pajamas, written and illustrated by Daniel Wallace, who wrote Big Fish and is a local-to-me author.
What I did not know is that Wallace’s picture book is the first book to be published by a new crowd-funded publishing company, Inkshares. What they are doing is a new model for publishing that gives different kinds of writing the chance to be funded and published, and also allocates a greater share of royalties to writers. Because publications are funded by audience interest, Inkshares can take risks and bring books to market that might not otherwise see the light of day.
If The Cat’s Pajamas is any indication of their products, Inkshares is going to be a great source of high-quality books. Both my 6-year-old and I enjoyed the reading and loved the book (it was my son’s first author signing!).
And, oh yes: “itty-bitty kitty underpants!”
I’m thinking about joining Amazon Prime. I usually have to think about things for a long time before I do them, especially if any amount of money is involved. I got a Kindle for Christmas, and I think it would be nice to have access to their lending library. I also want to check out their movie streaming options. You get the first month free, so I don’t know why I’m thinking about this for so long. Maybe because I know that once you’re in, you can never go back.
People who join Amazon Prime say that they stop having to think about shopping. Whatever they want, they just go find it on Amazon and order it. That’s because shipping costs are no longer a factor, and you’ll get your stuff in two days. Without worrying about shipping, it doesn’t seem that big a deal to order something that only costs $5, especially if the alternative is an annoying trip to a big-box store or searching for just that one thing you need.
It seems that Amazon is on the track to dominate many major industries, including book publishing and selling, perhaps even all of retail. Like Google, they are positioning themselves to take over the world. When Amazon and Google become huge and there is literally nothing left, what will happen next? I see three possible futures:
a) Corporate war to end all wars (the apocalyptic scenario)
b) Hostile takeover (the depressing dystopia scenario)
c) Corporate merger (the blissful utopia scenario)
Anyway, I thought this piece on Amazon Prime was a fun read: The Cult of Amazon Prime.
Laura Miller has a great article called Spamazon at Salon.com, which explains how e-book spam is clogging the Kindle. I was toying with the idea of getting an e-book reader, maybe for Christmas, but this new development is enough to put me right off of it.
It seems that these e-book spam operators are repurchasing cheap content, or are stealing the content outright, and posting them on the Kindle store as 99-cent e-books. Even worse, the same content may be repackaged into several different e-books with slightly different titles or publisher names. Often, this content is the product of content farms like eHow.com, and therefore not even worth almost a buck to buy, but the low price may lead to impulse purchases.
All this spam should make it hard for readers to find legitimate books worthy of spending their money on, which makes self-publishing e-books a dicey proposition. It will probably disillusion many readers, like me, from even considering purchasing e-books. And of course, writers are getting ripped off again, as they find plagiarized versions of their content bobbing in the spam soup.
I have to wonder why people are so quick to fill everything up with garbage. Amazon doesn’t seem willing to clean up its own store. Until it does, though, I won’t be investing in a Kindle.
So, this article over on Salon.com, prompted some thoughts: Better yet, DONT write that novel. The rant is a response to the annual write-a-thon, National Novel Writing Month. NaNoWrMo, as it’s known around the Interwebs, encourages writers and would-be writers to bang out a first draft in a month in an effort to just get it written.
I do take issue with Laura Miller’s tone in the Salon article. Let me paraphrase: “Hey, amateur writer, anything you produce during NaNoWrMo is going to be dreck, so why even bother?” Here’s why. Every person should feel free and encouraged to express themselves creatively in whatever medium works best for them, whether that’s writing, art, music, crocheting, cooking, ice sculpture, I don’t care what. It’s good for the soul, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re awful or not. Creative expression is something we all need to do more of, and I think it’s patronizing that Laura Miller feels like she has to tell NaNoWrMo participants not to bother their little heads with trying to write a novel.
But she doesn’t want to see that dreck foisted on the world, and I have to agree with that. Still, that’s why we have literary agents and publishers, isn’t it? They’re supposed to be our editorial gatekeepers. That’s why it’s so damn hard to get published. There’s a lot of competition, most of it is awful, and only the best of the best probably eke their way through. The flip side of that is that if you’re a choosy reader, you have a good chance of finding a more-than-decent novel to read on each trip to the bookstore.
Miller also makes an impassioned case for nurturing readers. As a reader myself, I’m on board. But I think the fault lies not with the legions of amateur writers out there, but with the publishers, who I think have gotten sloppy in recent years. It’s not that they’re publishing bad books; on the contrary, I’ve been reading a lot of great new books. But even hardbound literary fiction seems to be riddled with typos and other careless mistakes, which really distract a careful reader from the pleasure of reading. I don’t consider this the writer’s fault, although a writer who can’t grasp the basics of grammar and spelling probably shouldn’t make it far as a professional. Instead, I suspect that publishers are skimping on that lowly, often freelance, most definitely underpaid necessity: the copyeditor. And any publisher who can’t be bothered to pay someone a few bucks an hour to copyedit their books shouldn’t be in the business, in my opinion.
I’m not even going to get into the whole issue of e-books and gouging readers while not even letting them truly own the digital books they publish. I’ll only purchase an e-reader when there are no paper books left to read. But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that any book I shell out my hard-earned money for be free of errors. These are professional editors, after all.
But amateur writers, please keep writing your hearts out. I wrote a novel once that’s completely unpublishable, but at least I wrote a novel. I get it. It’s about the feeling of accomplishing a goal, of creating something. It’s not about making Laura Miller read another bad book.