“I try to leave out the parts that people skip.” ~Elmore Leonard
I am not claiming to be an expert in the field of self-publishing, and I do not want to come across harsh in my following post, but as a reader, I am struggling to finish reading many of the indie books I have picked up as of late. I, myself, am currently embarking on the self-publishing journey, so I understand it can be a long and hard road, but there are a few things I would like to share with fellow authors from the perspective of a writer, but more so from the POV of a reader, which I am far more experienced in.
Most authors, I would assume, are avid readers. When you were about to self-publish your novel, did you stop and wonder, would this be something I would read? Would I find this quality of work being published by Penguin, or on the shelves of B&N? You have to produce the same quality you demand of your peers, or at least try to. I know it is hard as a new writer with limited guidance (when lacking an agent or publisher), but we must be our own advocates.
I thought I would write a novel, edit it myself, design the cover, and then pop it on to Amazon. I figured, I have two masters degrees (which means I have had a lot of experience writing and receiving criticism), have edited thousands of papers for my high school students (when I taught) … why not save money and do it myself. But then I changed my mind and realized my editing abilities have their limits. Sure, there may be a lot less grammatical errors in my work (but there is so much more to editing than that). I decided I not only needed a copyeditor and proofreader (for the last stage), but a developmental editor, professional cover design created, formatting … basically I am attempting to reproduce what a professional publishing house would (but on a smaller budget).
Why am I willing to spend so much money when it may be hard to even recoup my costs? Well, because if I were to pick up my book in a bookstore (or online, which is what I do now), I would expect the same quality (or as close to it as a self-published author can get) of the well-known authors.
I have been desperate to find new indie authors to read. I truly want to support the fellow writers who are in the same boat as me. I actively seek them out. Like with all books, I download the sample, and I cross my fingers that I will fall in love with the book. But 9/10 times I find myself a little disappointed. The quality in either editing, formatting, cover design, etc… is lacking. It doesn’t matter how great the plot might be—it is often very hard for me to become engaged with the text. Here are the main reasons I don’t buy the book:
- Formatting- I don’t know if it a coding issue or what- but when paragraphs are indented in weird ways, or the lines are double-spaced, etc… it drives me nuts. I rarely buy the book when this happens. Now, I am sure this is just a formatting/conversion error, but is it possible for the author to delete the copy and reload it in the right format once they have seen the errors? That’s what I would do it I noticed it showed up wacky on Apple.
- Editing– this is an obvious reason—If there are a lot of typos it is hard to read. I can handle a few (all books have them), but not on every other page.
- Developmental editing- I can tell when an author has not had their work edited in-depth. What I mean by that is that they might have had a line-edit or proofread, but they did not have someone provide them feedback on the characters, story arc, POV, etc. This has to be the best money I ever spent. I learned more about writing a novel from this process than I ever thought possible.
- POV- Head-hopping– So many times I read a book, and I have to re-read lines to try and figure out whose head I am in. I will be the first to admit, I was a head hopper. I didn’t realize I was even doing it until my editor pointed it out to me. Yes, even some professional (millionaire) authors do it – and you can (if done really well), but I don’t recommend it. After I changed my entire novel to ensure each scene was from one perspective, the scenes felt so much cleaner and even edgier. It adds more tension to a scene when you don’t know inside the other characters minds. In real life you cannot read someone else’s mind, so don’t do it in a scene (not unless your character is a mind reader). I love knowing what other character think, which is why I don’t write using the first POV—just change scenes when you do it.
- Show, Don’t Tell- So, I really have to give credit to bubblecow.com for this + my developmental editor … (BubbleCow offers a free e-book on this topic and has other self-publishing advice—highly recommend them). Not to get into too much detail, but when I read a novel, and I spend page after page reading description and actions (author is basically explaining what is going on)—well, it is boring. Try and use more dialogue, etc… When I revised my book after this tip—I cut 10,000 words. I was tempted to add a new scene to make up for the loss, but then realized the scene would not be essential to the plot, so I didn’t add anything. Please visit BUBBLECOW on this topic– please, please, please. Their advice rocks. They can explain this topic far better than I can.
Okay, so I am not trying to put any authors down. In fact, I want to do the opposite—I want to help lift them to achieve the greatness I know they can! I want to be able to finish the sample read & immediately buy the book. I really want to support the indie community. We are in this together. I have often thought about writing book reviews, but I refuse to write anything other than a glowing recommendation. But I won’t lie either, so I basically only recommend books I like, and I just don’t mention the one’s I don’t.
If you ever want free (non-public) feedback on a chapter or two of your book, I would be more than happy to beta-read for you (and also offer some insight from the perspective of both a reader and a writer). I would love to help. If your book is already published and you are looking for a review—tell me your title, and I will download a sample (if I like it enough I will be a fan, purchase it, and leave a review). You are more than welcome to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy Writing & Don’t Give Up!