Indie Authors Miss Golden Opportunity

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a very controversial post that I titled Indie Authors Are Killing Great Writing.  For the record, I am an indie author with a number of well-received books.  I am also a supporter of indie authors.  Believe it or not, that’s why I wrote the post.

Independent Writers Have It Tough

Many people agreed with me.  In fact, one tweet read:  “At last! Someone finally says it!”  Another said: “Indie pub = more responsibility on writer”.  Again, I’m not trying to bash indie authors, I’m pointing out the fact that any author should hone his or her craft before publishing.  Most authors don’t write something worthy of being published on their first try or even their second or third.  It takes time to develop your writing skills before you truly know and understand how to write a compelling story.  It’s said that to master a craft takes at least 10,000 hours – I wonder how many indie authors have put that many hours into their craft (more on this below)…

My point is that as an indie author, you have a lot of hurdles to overcome.  There are millions of books being published each year.  It can be difficult to find readers for your books, and you don’t want to, nor can you afford to, alienate readers by publishing something bad.  If you don’t believe me, read this comment my other post received from someone who does reviews:

Renee, every time I see a novel full of errors, it drives me crazy. They are glaring and so obvious that it blows me away the author didn’t correct them. The vast majority of the time, it is indies who do this. For every ten indie books I read, at least seven will have this problem to some degree. Does it stop me from reading them? No, it doesn’t, but my expectations have been lowered because of it. You simply can’t expect as much.

As a book reviewer, I have gotten very frustrated with authors nagging my reviews or even commenting on them just because I pointed problems with their work. If they can’t handle criticism, then they shouldn’t release their writing to the public and ask people to pay for it. If I’m spending my hard-earned money (even if it’s only 99 cents), and using my limited time for reading, I expect the author to have produced a quality product for me to enjoy. Yet some of them get angry at me for saying even one thing is wrong with their book. This causes quite a bit of frustration, but I haven’t given up. Finding those Indie gems makes it all worth the trouble, even if some readers aren’t as patient as I am and will only read trad published books. Yet it shouldn’t be such a difficult process to find good books. You are absolutely right that standards seem to be considerably lower for what everyone thinks is good enough to be published since the advent of ebooks.

That’s just one comment.  Believe me, there are a lot of people who feel this way.  And along with alienating readers, why would you want to put out a story before you’d had some neutral feedback, quality editing and so on?  Don’t you want to put out something of quality?

But Mainstream Publishing Companies Publish Crap

What’s wrong with pointing out that there is a plethora of indie crap out there?  Some say this is not supporting indie authors.  I disagree.  Authors need to be self-critical.  They need to hear the bad – that’s how they improve.

Now, many pointed out that there is crap being published by mainstream publishing companies, and I responded there, and now here, that this isn’t the point.  Who cares if there is crap from mainstream presses?  But as I’ve thought about this more, I also think there is another response.

Remember Roxanne, with Steve Martin?  The bully in the bar picks a fight with Martin by calling Martin Big Nose.  What is Martin’s response?  “You have this in front of you, and all you can think of is Big Nose.”

Indie Authors Miss a Golden Opportunity

We have bad publishing by way of the mainstream publishers.  Our response shouldn’t be just to point that out.  We have a golden opportunity here!  We should be trying to rise above that standard, not meeting it.  Wouldn’t it be nice if people thought, “Wow, an indie author!  I love reading indie authors because they consistently publish works that are better by far than what I get from the mainstream publishers!”  But this isn’t the case.  In my opinion, you have tons of bad stuff out there – it far exceeds the occasional gem.  And that’s unfortunate because:

  • Those authors make it harder for the really good indie works to get noticed (a glut in the marketplace means that many more books for readers to search through to find the good ones)
  • It’s burns readers out – in my opinion, too many readers feel “burned” by a bad indie book and losing indie readers doesn’t need to happen at all (if you don’t believe me, research book reviewers and see how many of them won’t review self-published books)
  • Those authors only hurt their marketing/selling chances for future books

This is the BIGGEST point that I’m hoping to help some of you (who care to listen) to avoid.  I wrote on a previous post about an author who published something, got numerous reviews about how he needs to work on his writing, and in his author bio section he asked his readers to stick with him and that he was going to get the book edited and people could read it again.  It’s too late!  You’ve lost your readers.  I know, some of you are going to point out that some readers will check back.  Maybe, but the vast majority won’t.  And you, the author, have lost market share.  Maybe that doesn’t matter to you.  But if you do want sales, and you dream of quitting your day job, you can’t afford to alienate your readers.  That’s why I’m encouraging you to know that your book is great before you publish it.

How to Master Your Craft

As I pointed out above, it’s said that you need 10,000 hours to master something (Stephen King and JA Konrath talk about this, as do many other respected authors).  How many of you have mastered writing before you publish?  How many of you publish your first book?  I have news for  you – if you publish the first book you wrote, statistics would say it’s probably not very good.  I’m speaking from my own experience here, as well as from hearing from multiple published authors that I’ve visited with at conferences.  My first two books are written well, meaning I have a grasp of the English language and I don’t have tons of grammatical errors, but the stories don’t really work.  They don’t engage the reader.  They run off on rabbit trails that don’t advance the story.   They use passive voice.  They switch viewpoints when they shouldn’t.  And so on, and so on.

Have you mastered your craft?  Do you even know?  Are you scared of rejection?  Is your ego in the way of hearing positive criticism?  These are things to ask yourself.

What Makes Good Writing?

A reader of my other post asked for some feedback.  I gave it to this person, and he has agreed to let me share a few paragraphs of his writing.  I’ll be posting this soon and I hope you’ll join in the conversation, both to help this other author and myself – let’s face it, there are always learning opportunities.

Before You Bash Me

Yes, I agree that there are wonderful indie authors out there.  I would include myself on that list (based solely on reviews and sales).  Yes, if there was only mainstream publishing, readers would miss out on many great reads.  Yes, the ebook revolution is giving us indies a chance to get our works out there.  Those are not and never should be arguments for publishing a bad novel.

We have a golden opportunity to rise above the bad books out there.  Let’s make the BEST of it!

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29 Responses to Indie Authors Miss Golden Opportunity

  1. Thomas Kier says:

    You inspire me all over again. I did publish my first novel and my second, a novella. I’m working on a third now, but it seems harder to concentrate on it with all the “noise,” by which I mean searching for an effective method of marketing. It seemed so much easier when I was working under the assumption that I would just write and it would magically sell somehow. I do my own editing with a little help from my sister; we both graduated at the top of our high school classes. Is it enough? Probably not. I feel I am improving as I go, with the help of a critique group now.

    But you offer a challenge, one that struggling authors should be happy to aspire to. I have not been impressed by the recent selection from many mainstream publishers for a while now. I think I can do better, eventually; I think we all can. Keep raising the bar. Authors worth their salt will keep jumping higher.

    • Thanks. As I said, it’s not about bashing, it’s about trying to be better, and I’m glad you got that lol. And marketing, ugh – that is tough. If you keep at it, you will likely improve, and your work will rise above the rest. Good luck to you and I’m in your corner!

  2. Cat says:

    I agree with you 100%. I’m a writer from Germany (traditionally published over here but not well known), and I’m just now “expanding” into the American market. I take great pains to proof read all my material (even blog posts or comments) to the best of my ability. But for my novels, I hire a professional editor. It costs money up front but in the long run, it’ll pay off. With a novel, I can’t tell the reader, “I’m sorry I spelled that wrong. I’m only a gal from Europe. I didn’t know any better.” (And it would sound like whining if I did) I prefer to get my books out as best I can. There will still be some spelling or grammar mistakes in every story. Some tings get overlooked by even the best editors (which I can’t afford), but investing in professional help keeps those to a minimum.
    Great article. Really!

  3. Sometimes hard things have to written. Thanks for writing them, Renee, and writing them well. I started Nephilim last night , btw. It’s really good, but you definitely got me when you moved the action to Colorado.

    • Thank you for the comment. Some people may not believe me, but I’m only try to help less experienced authors :) And I’m glad you’re enjoying Nephilim – I hope once you finish you love it!

  4. Renee, this is excellent. There are so many terrific books out there that traditional publishers won’t pick up, for one reason or another. I love the idea of self-publishing in order to raise the bar set by traditional publishing.

    • It’s true, there are gems out there…but bad stuff too. My hope is the inexperienced writer will step back, take a breath, and learn the craft before jumping in to publish. Getting quality feedback on their works will only help them in the long run. But the temptation to publish many times overrides this, which is unfortunate because of the things I pointed out in the blog (it hurts their marketing chances). Thanks for the comment.

  5. Raven Marlow says:

    I saw you shared but overcame my biggest fault. How did you get over your habit of passive writing? Especially since I’m writing in past tense, I think I use it a lot. I’m posting my first writing attempt on my blog, but thinking about this, I think I may use it as an experiment, a way to get suggestions on how to improve my writing. I’m late starting this game, and I know my first attempt, while the story may be a great concept, is going to fail in delivery because I simply don’t have the skill set yet. I’ve taken lots of classes over the past few months and read a ton and listened to podcasts, but the goal is to write, and this is what I’m writing. I would love the feedback simply because I know there will be issues, and I don’t want to fall into the trap of indie publishing something that falls short. How did you do it?

    • Thanks for your comment. In my opinion, you are ahead of many because you are reading and exploring on how to improve. For me, early on I got feedback from others (I had some friends but also hired an editor to read a couple of chapters) and that helped a lot. I think the passive voice is something that you don’t realize you are doing at first, so you have to be hyper-vigilant about it. The more I write (almost 20 years now), it’s easier, but I still miss things that my editors find. Don’t be afraid to get that feedback, especially if you can find another experienced writer or group who can help you catch your mistakes. I’d be happy to look at a short sample if you want.

      • Raven Marlow says:

        Wow! That would be great! I’d really appreciate that. I gave the prologue and first four chapters posted on my blog in first draft form, no editing, just a quick spell check. Would you like the address here (I don’t want to shamelessly plug myself) or is there somewhere else to send it?

        Please bear in mind this is a first attempt, so I expect there to be problems.

        20 years? Maybe I really am too old to start this. I’d be in my senior years after writing that long!

  6. Dani Harper says:

    Well said! I especially like your suggestion that Indie writers should aim to exceed the trad publishing standards, not just meet them.

  7. Good post. My co-author and I did not publish our first novel yet. We published several short story collections and our second novel instead. We have now gone back to that first novel and are editing it for publication. We like to believe we’ve gotten better at writing since doing that first manuscript. You make many good points. I do wish indie authors would take more time proofing their work, but I have read some amazing books, ones that were very well-written and painstakingly edited. Just as a side note, sometimes I love the passive voice. It can be droll.

    • I’d be willing to bet you’ve improved. It’s amazing what stepping back can do. Good luck to you! And as for passive voice, there is an exception to every rule lol. Thanks for the comment!

  8. Tonia Brown says:

    Thank you so much for saying what needed to be said. I’ve just finished penning my 8th novel, but I’ve only sought publication for four of them along my career, with three of these among the most recently written. (Were the others unpublishable? Let’s just say they needed work. Lots and lots of work!) I also think that one of the main problems with the Indie Author scene is the ‘kudos’ habit we’ve acquired. No one wants to point out that their friend’s novel not only contains glaring grammatical errors, but the story is just plain bad. I always ask folks when they send me stuff to read if they want kudos or the truth, because I can give them a big thumbs up without even reading it. The truth, however, is a different matter, and a hard thing to admit.

    • Thanks for your comments. I’ve taken a few hits lol, but I hope people understand I want to help indie authors, not hurt them. And you are so right, any author needs to be able to hear the criticism, but the ‘kudos’ habit you mention is definitely there. I felt bad the other day because I read something by a fellow indie that I didn’t think was very good – I give her great credit though, she was very gracious. I just hope she’ll listen to the points I made and decide what has merit and what might not, instead of just dismissing the criticism all together, which I think many indie unfortunately do. Good luck to you!

  9. There are a number of great writing forums that exist out on the web that can provide really helpful peer critiques in multiple ways. I spent years on them, writing hundreds of short stories, before trying out longer work. I know quite a few other indie authors who have gone that path as well. 10,000 hours seems like a VERY reasonable number!

  10. Ruth Barrett says:

    Thanks- that is a great post (as always!). I am frustrated to think that other indies haven’t been as careful when putting their work out before the public eye. It took me years to write my first book, then I went through many rewrites and beta readers AND I worked with a professional editor. When I went indie, I didn’t think that meant cutting corners on ensuring my novel was in the best possible shape: it’s my name on the cover, so whether it was going to be published by one of the big houses, a small indie publishers or (in the end) myself, I wanted it to be good so that the readers didn’t have to wade through heaps of sloppiness to get to the story. I’m getting great feedback so far, but it’s hard to market indie work– especially when readers have been burned by reading too many books that weren’t ready to hit the shelves. The lesson here is to always put out your very best: after all, it’s *your* baby.

    • Great points, and congrats on the great reviews. I think what we’re seeing is the newbie who thinks “I’ve written something great” and they have stars in their eyes (I know, I was there once) but then they don’t get the quality feedback (they’re relying on family/friends or no one) that they need to critically assess their work – then it’s published and it’s not very good. You have to get the unattached eye or eyes to give your work a critical going-over. Thanks for the comment!

  11. Gerald says:

    This is a great blog post. Thank you for saying some of the things Indie authors don’t want to hear.
    When I first entered the self-publishing arena, I searched around for short stories I’ve written which were good enough to put into a collection. I’ve written hundreds of short and very short works, and I was shocked when I read some of them, going back 7 or 8 years. They were really poor, and yet I sent them off to magazines to try and get them published. I didn’t know what a good story was.
    I hope I do now, and I have two novel-length works nearing completion. And yes, I am taking great pains to proof read and copy edit them, and also send them out to alpha readers for feedback. We have to do things like this. We can’t expect to sell someone a shoddy piece of work, and then counter with “But it’s only 99c”. As soon as a consumer pays for something, they expect perfection.
    Great post.

    • Thanks for your comments, they are aptly put. And I hear you, I read my first couple of books and think “ugh”, just not very good. But if you take the time to keep writing, you should get better, especially if you study your craft. Good luck to you.

  12. A B Potts says:

    I, too, am an Indie Author and I agree with what you say. I’ve gone the extra mile and hired a proofreader and beta-readers to ensure my product is as polished as something produced by one of the big publishing houses, but only time will tell if I have succeeded–that’s assuming I can get the marketing right, of course (she laughs weakly, with a tone of slight hysteria in her voice).

  13. As an indie writer myself, I completely agree. The indie market is so oversaturated with books that aren’t compelling, that it makes the ones that are good so much harder to find. Thank you for writing this. It’s good to know I’m not the only one thinking these thoughts!

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Thanks. Not everyone agrees with me, but that’s what makes this all so fun and interesting. Best of luck to you.

  14. Lisa M Lilly says:

    One advantage of the “old” system, which was the only one when I finished my first 5 novels (none of which have I published), was learning from rejection. The first 2 got nothing but form letters. The 3rd started getting a few personal letters with notes on what the editor/agent didn’t like. The 4th and 5th got more detailed comments, sometimes conflicting, always in depth, sometimes with invites to send my next manuscript or to rewrite and resubmit. This progression told me I was learning! Some author out there may have written an awesome novel right out of the box, but I suspect even those who claim that happened actually have 2 or 3 in a trunk somewhere that they finished first and discarded.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Oh, what you say is sooo true. It’s unfortunate that this piece is lost in this new age of publishing.
      Thanks for your comment.

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