10/6/11

Is Your Book Really Ready for the Public Eye? (or Your Turn to Tell Me I'm Up in the Night)

I read a lot of books.

And by "a lot," I mean I easily read 100-150 complete books a year (first page to last), and probably twice that in sample chapters, which I then do not finish because I can tell in the first few pages that the book is not my thing.

I have a Kindle, which makes reading so easy. I can carry an entire LIBRARY of books with me wherever I go.

When I got my first Kindle, back when it was newly released and one of the coolest gadgets on the market, eBooks were somewhat limited. It was a frequent experience to go to Amazon looking for a title, only to find it wasn't available for Kindle yet. This was especially true with LDS fiction.

Now, though, eBooks abound and I can often find the digital book available before the print version. eBooks have also become the low-risk way to enter the market for small publishers, indies, and self-publishers.

YAY!

Well, not always.

What I'm finding (based on a lifetime of reading and years in the publishing industry), is that the easier it is and the less expensive it becomes to produce a book and bring it to market—and let me tell you, compared to the "old days," print-on-demand and eBook production is E.A.S.Y.—the lower the overall quality of that production.

See, if it's going to cost someone $10,000 to produce a title, they are going to make sure it's as close to perfect as they can get it! A manuscript will go through multiple readers before its accepted for publication to make sure it's a viable story and that a reading market exists. It will be read carefully by professionals who edit books on a daily basis, and who are up on what's selling and what's not. It will be edited for content and for grammar, multiple times. Professional artists, graphic designers, and typesetters will be hired to create an appealing cover and interior design, to encourage a browsing reader to pick it up and give it a consideration. And then, before going to press, it will be proofed again. Once it goes to press, those files will be coded for digital readers—usually hand-coded by professionals who know how to customize the code for individual e-readers. The end result is a beautiful product that enhances reader enjoyment.

But, when things get cheap and easy, and a book can be brought to market for $100 or less using print-on-demand and one-size-fits-all eBook coding, an attitude of casualness sometimes creeps into the production process. I'm seeing this attitude most in smaller indie presses and self-publishers. People who have no idea of design try to create their own covers. They "typeset" their books using Microsoft Word, trusting that the grammar and spellcheck will catch their mistakes. (Impossible!) Others hire their aunt who teaches English in high school. (Entirely different skill set.) And they use Smashwords to create their eBooks.

While some authors also have a great eye for design, and Word and Smashwords can be used successfully if you really know what you're doing, and some aunts who teach high school grammar actually have professional editing skills—99%* of the books created this way are never going to reach their full potential. They will end up in people's "books to finish reading someday" pile. And the second book by this same author or small press is going to get a pass.

Yes, yes. I know all your friends are buying your eBook and telling you honestly that they absolutely love it. But think for a minute... Do they really love your book or do they love you? And do their feelings for you color their perception of the book? (If they're human, it will.) Do they have the skill set to accurately assess your writing? Are they mediocre readers who are satisfied with a less-than story? Can they produce something with impeccable grammar and tight writing themselves?

Unless you are getting lots of sales and rave reviews from people who have no idea who you are—they've never met you, don't follow your blog, aren't your friend on Facebook, have never tweeted you, aren't participating in a contest about you or your book, and do not have any other vested interest in your success—then you cannot fully trust the feedback you're getting.

Authors. I'm not saying don't self-publish and I'm not saying don't go with a small indie press. Just please, please, please have your manuscript professionally edited before you offer it up to the public. My heart just breaks with the number of authors I've seen lately who have gone this route and had AWESOME ideas, that just weren't ready to be released to the general public.

And the end result for me? I'm actually purchasing fewer books. Where I used to buy a book with an interesting backliner, feeling that even though I may not love it, it will be a decent read and I can trust I'll get a quality, professional product, now I hesitate. Now, I download the sample chapters on my Kindle and if they don't grab me, that's it.

Readers, are any of you feeling the same way or am I just entirely too picky in my reading habits?

(Feel free to comment anonymously if you like, just be polite)


*Okay, I admit this statistic was pulled out of the air and completely based on personal experience rather than scientific data.

9 comments:

Anna Buttimore said...

I couldn't agree more. I have been quite vocal about why I am opposed to self-publishing (it dilutes the market with dross; it's not fair on the buying public who can't tell it's a low-standard work,) but I am currently reading a very good self-published work. And yet even this mentions the heroine eating "Belgium waffles." Even the best writers need editors.

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

I agree with you about this problem. On the other hand, I know some unpublished authors who are huge perfectionists and revise for years without submitting their work for publication. They also need to recognize the importance of an editor.

Charlie Moore said...

I believe both traditional and self publishing have there place. Both produce titles worth reading and both produce titles not worth reading. We all know one title may be the best read ever to one person and the same title may also totally disappoint a different reader. Pleasure and satisfaction is subjective here. I am not advocating the writer not use sources available to improve the body of his/her work. That can definitely help. It does not necessarily guarantee all readers will like your story.
For better or worse, self publishing has done one thing. It has opened the door for writers to get published in much larger numbers. There will be offerings of poor quality, but people always have the choice to read or not read. Whether we like it or not, self publishing is here to stay. I like it.

Joe Vasicek said...

I think your assessment is pretty accurate. The best comparison I've heard is that this is like the early days of the internet, when everyone was throwing up websites entirely coded by hand, with flashing colors, random gifs, and those annoying media players that pop up every time you open a page. But just as things got better as the internet grew and matured, I think that indie and self published ebooks are going to get better too, as would-be writers either drop out or shape up. After all, many of the top programmers and designers today were throwing up crap websites back in the 90s.

Thoughtful Reader said...

When even "professionally" published books sometimes disappoint me, I pretty much have no hope for self-published books. It's a capitalistic way of looking at things, but really only the best are even going to have a chance to make it big by being published by a large publishing house.

On the other hand, I totally believe in self-publishing if that's what you want to do. For some people sharing with their friends and family is all they want, and they get a lot of fulfillment out of it. But, like you, I probably won't buy their book.

Gina said...

While I know self-publishing is a great idea for some people who want to publish something for their own personal reasons, I have to agree that if the goal is to sell a lot of books and have a lot of people enjoy your work, self-publishing (or indie publishing, for that matter) is probably not a good idea.

I see so many quotes and lines pulled from "books" and posted on Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads/Blogs in an attempt to draw in readers and I just think, "Really? That's the BEST line from your PERFECT book? Yikes."

Are there some genuinely talented writers self- and indie-publishing? YES! Are they reaching their full potential? No, as you already said. Are they probably limiting themselves professionally? I have to say yes, because for every Paolini out there, five, ten, fifteen thousand nobodies exist who never cross over from self-published to mainstream publishing.

Joe Vasicek said...

The thing is, the game is changing to the point where many established authors and even bestsellers are turning to self-publishing. If you look at the numbers, it's just a better business decision. So what do you do when everyone from the nobodies to the J.K. Rowlings are publishing their own work?

One thing is for sure; in five years, the book world is going to look radically different from the way it currently is. Personally, though, I think that's a good thing, and I'm excited to see what new and innovative things will happen.

Roseanne's Spot said...

One of the best posts I've read recently on the subject was on Scott Savage's blog http://jscottsavage.blogspot.com/
I agree care needs to be made in self-publishing a quality product, but I haven't yet found a traditionally-published book that is error free. Perhaps we are looking too much at the holes and not the donuts. If you watch the daily Amazon lists, Melanie Marks has been very successful in selling her self-published ebooks (number 500 or less for her short stories and under 5,000 for THE DATING DEAL). Mine are keeping up with traditionally-published LDS authors. I would recommend downloading samples before buying anything. The sample process should weed out any books you really don't want to buy. Also, most ebooks (Kindle or Nook) are available for lending (booklending.com). I happily lend out my books to anyone who would like to read them.

Anonymous said...

I bought my first kindle several years ago. And I went crazy with purchasing books. Living far away from any Deseret Books or Seagull Books - this was my chance to read. I'm a prude. I don't like to read foul language, explicit sex nor graphic violence. I've returned or thrown away books that I recognized the skill of the author but took me to places I did not want to be. Now I had the chance to read books that didn't offend! In the past, whenever I was in Utah, I went to Seagull Books and bought a few, I was very careful with my choices; one, because of budget, and two, because I could only carry so much.

My budget is now shot because books are available instantaneously. On the other hand, I get to carry all the books I want. I learned that there was a lot in LDS fiction that I did not like. Some writing styles drive me a bit crazy. I had to learn to pay attention to reviews; the bad reviews more so than the good reviews.

The same holds true with the self-published books. If you pay attention to the reviews, you learn of problems with editing and story development. People tend to be honest. I only wish more readers took advantage of the opportunity to post reviews.

i agree with a previous comment that as time goes on, things will get better. More aelf-published authors will find affordable communities of copy-editors, experts in formatting and graphic artists.

Unfortunately, it may become even harder to find that diamond amongst the stones. Let's face it, without the publicity offered by publishing houses - we have no idea what books are out there.

Which brings me to Roseanne's books. I wanted to check them out but have no idea of what they are.