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.
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.