Indie concerns

(Today I’m mirroring a post I did for Mad Genius Club this morning. I’ll be back tomorrow with a new post.)

Sarah is still feeling under the weather thanks to a virus that has made the rounds of her family. She pushed her luck by quipping that she thought she’d managed to escape it. Of course, that meant she was next to fall ill. So she asked me to fill in for her today and to offer her apologies. She will be back Wednesday with her regular post and then next Sunday with a new chapter.

After telling Sarah I’d fill in for her, I started thinking about what to blog about. I asked Kate and Cedar for suggestions and they were oh-so-helpful. Among the suggestions offered were doing a post explaining how I am not Sarah or actually writing an over-the-top chapter for her and seeing how long it would take before someone figured out Sarah really hadn’t gone insane. There was also a suggestion to do a post about the literati who, in an interview with the New York Times, said he never read fantasy because there was no death in it. What? No death in fantasy! Someone certainly hasn’t told George R. R. Martin that – or just about any other modern fantasy (of any ilk) author I can think of.

I’ll admit, going after the literati kind of appealed to me but I wasn’t sold on it. So I went searching for something else. That’s when I came across this post,“An Open Letter to Indie Authors”, by J. M. Gregoire. I highly recommend every author – indie or not – read and think about what is in the letter because it contains some pretty darned good advice.

I also understand what made Gregoire write the letter. The frustration expressed in it is something many of us share. How often have we shaken our heads after seeing an author attack a reviewer – either on their review site or on Facebook or Amazon – because the review wasn’t absolutely glowing? How often have we at least previewed an e-book that looked promising from the description or because we’ve already read something by that author only to find that it needed a really good editor? And yes, in my mind, this also applies to traditionally published books all too often these days.

So, what advice did Gregoire give to indie authors and publishers? (Note that I am paraphrasing some of the points and then giving my own thoughts afterwards.)

1. Don’t publish your book if it isn’t ready for primetime.

In other words, quantity does not trump quality. Yes, the more titles you have out there, the better your sales will be. However, if you are continually putting out what basically amounts to first drafts without proper editing, copy editing and proofing, you will drive away readers. They may forgive one or two stinkers, but not a continuing line of them.

2. Do your research before hiring an editor.

To start, understand what an editor is and make sure the person you are hiring knows as well. An editor isn’t a beta reader or a proofreader. An editor is someone who knows story structure and genre conventions as well as the technical aspects of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

From Gregoire’s “letter:

Beta Readers – These are the folks that read the pre-editing rough draft, and tell you what they do/do not like, what they feel does/doesn’t flow well.  They are there to analyze the story itself, not edit anything.

Editor – An editor does just that.  Edits.  Looks for mistakes – grammar, spelling, punctuation, made up words that don’t exist in any language never mind English, etc.

Proofreader – The proofer reads the final product through to catch any mistakes or typos that may have been missed somewhere along the way.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked with other authors who have paid big bucks for an “editor” only to discover they got nothing more than a glorified proofreader or beta reader. So please, do your homework, ask for references and samples of their work and make sure you both understand what an editor does before you sign any contract with them.

3. Social media is our friend – up to a point. There are a lot of folks out there who will “friend” every author they can find on Facebook and then volunteer to beta read. Please read and take very careful note of what Gregoire says here. Too often these folks can be more headache, and heartache, than they are worth.

Note here, choose your beta readers carefully. While I almost always have one who doesn’t read the genre of the book just written, my main betas are familiar with the genre and its conventions. The reason I have the one non-genre reader is to make sure I haven’t fallen back into tropes that signal those familiar with the genre but that will leave those not as familiar out in the cold wondering why my characters are acting as they are. I’ve heard horror stories of authors getting notes back from their betas with suggestions that make you wonder 1) if they read the same book you wrote and 2) what they were on when they read it. These are often the same beta readers who want to continually “help” you as you are writing, offering advice and plot ideas that not only don’t work but would never work in anything you write.

4. Books are judged by their covers.

Yes, I know there are those who say e-books aren’t judged by their covers. Bull. I agree with Gregoire here. We still look at the cover image on the description page and judge how “professional” the book is by how the cover looks. So put some time and effort into your covers. If you aren’t an artist, find one who can help. However, don’t spend a great deal of money on your covers unless you are already getting a nice income stream from your writing or have a job to supplement your writing. Spending a grand or two for a cover is insane. Heck, even spending a couple of hundred can be. Find yourself a graphic artist who is good and who is willing to work a deal with you for cover art. Ask other writers for recommendations. Most of all, look at their portfolios and see what sort of art they do. Finally, have a set date for delivery. Any change to that date has to be agreed upon in writing. Otherwise, you may find yourself waiting weeks or months, your e-book done but without a cover.

5. Don’t be an a-hole.

In other words, think before speaking – or hitting the “enter” button. If you don’t like a review, pull up your big boy pants and move on. Not everyone is going to love your book. Ranting and raving at the reviewer isn’t going to do you any good. It will lose you readers because that rant will make reviewers hesitant to review your next work and readers will simply move on to the next author. The drama might be entertaining for a few minutes but it isn’t something that will bring them back to your books later.

6. Don’t overextend yourself.

That’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t overextend when it comes to time. Most of us can’t write book after book after book without a break. There comes a time when we not only hit the wall but it falls on us. We need time for a real life. The cat needs petting, the dog needs walking and the family would really like to have a conversation with you that doesn’t revolve around how long it is taking Character A to accomplish something.

It also applies to finances. How many of us know authors who financially strap themselves to go to every con, attend every writers’ workshop, etc., all in an attempt to “promote” their work? Cons help with networking but, on the whole, don’t have the same impact (in my opinion) they used to when it comes to winning over new readers. All you have to do is look at cons to see that they have the same basic concom every year and the same authors/publishers get the choice panels. If you aren’t one of the chosen ones, you are paying to rent a table and hoping someone buys enough of your books to pay for the table. Forget about recovering the other hundreds or thousands of dollars it costs to go to the con.

Am I saying not to do cons? No. But I am saying to be smart about which ones you go to and how much money you spend.

That same caveat about being aware of how much money you are spending applies to publishing your e-books/print books as well. Yes, you will have loss leaders. We all do. But if you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars just to get your e-book into the market, consider how long it will take you to recover that cost and how many copies you will have to sell.

In other words, all the above advice, as well as everything Gregoire had to say, comes down to this: writing is our business and we have to treat it that way. Just because we can do it anytime and pretty much anywhere doesn’t make it any less so. Yes, we can do it in our PJs and we are our own bosses. But we still have to take pride in what we do and we have to put out the best product we can. So don’t rush it. Don’t skip steps – especially editing. Do invest the time into getting a good cover. Finally, follow Jim Baen’s rule and “don’t be a butthead”.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.