Thud. Thud. Thud.
You hear that?
That’s me banging my head against the wall.
Because I’m frustrated. Self-publishing is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. It makes it easy for anyone to write their book and share it with the world. So why am I frustrated?
It makes it too easy for anyone to write their book and share it with the world.
I consider myself a “seasoned” self-published author. I published my first book in March of 2011, and followed that one in quick succession of books two and three in my series. I feel like I started out when the mainstream public realized it could be done, but before the worldwide success of Fifty Shades of Grey.
By the time I published Lost and Found, I had been refining it for over a year and a half. I had about 15 “betas” who read it, helped me edit it, suggested changes, and questioned plot holes. I officially spent more time editing and refining the book than I spent writing the initial draft.
And still, when I published, there were some mistakes. The truth is, authors will find mistakes in a printed draft that they didn’t see on the screen, and they’ll see mistakes on a Kindle that they didn’t see in a printed draft. If an author takes some time away from their fictional world, they’ll allow their characters to flesh out things a little more– to tighten up the story or enhance it.
In the beginning, I published exclusively on Smashwords, so there wasn’t some “worldwide release.” Other Indie authors downloaded my book, and my friends downloaded it (because they were directed there). I continued to make changes even after it was published, but the awesome thing was, I had very few readers… and the text had been vetted pretty well. The main changes I made were tiny modifications that enhanced the other two books. I never made edits because people said there were typos or mistakes. Rarely have I gotten such a comment, and I now have hundreds of reviews.
Since Fifty Shades of Grey exploded into our world, it brought attention to non-traditional publishing methods, and really made it more accessible to the masses. Plus, E.L. James seemed to be an overnight sensation. Now everyone is an author, writing the story that speaks to them and publishing it for the masses.
E.L. James was NOT an overnight sensation. She honed her craft for a few years in the Twilight community. While the final product could have used some additional editing, it was pretty cleaned up by the time Master of the Universe became Fifty Shades of Grey. She didn’t write the book in a month and publish it the next. I know. I followed her in the fandom, and I kept a close eye on the publication of FSoG. As a struggling first-time author, I was smart to.
E.L. James had an advantage that many people don’t: she had thousands of fans going into publication. Tens of thousands, even, and they are a loyal and vocal following that helped get word out, and played a big part in propelling her books to such great heights.
Over the past few years, I have seen SO MANY authors jump in before they’re ready – and more importantly, before their book is ready. Too often, I see first-time Indie authors apologizing for formatting or grammatical errors or misspelled words. They’ll defend reviews left by honest readers who point out mistakes. They edit. They re-publish. They still get feedback. They edit again, and re-publish again. They’re earnest and want to please, so they ask for forgiveness and offer free books.
Hundreds (if not thousands) of books are self-published every day. Smart marketing will push some to the top, even if they’re not the best books ever written– but they need be unique and they need to be readable. Smart marketing will not save a book that is still not ready for release. Very quickly, people outside an author’s immediate circle of friends will begin to review books, and if they aren’t properly edited or formatted, reviewers will let the author know with one gold star (and not the good kind) and words ranging from constructive to downright snarky and mean.
A tiny percent of self-published authors will strike the chord that E.L. James did. She knew what the market wanted, and she was the first to get her book out there to a mainstream audience. A few similar books have had varying success after her, too, and that’s awesome, but the percentage is miniscule. I know the lure is there to write and publish as fast as you can so you can cash in on the success, but I urge first-time authors to follow one rule:
Polish before you publish.
No joke. People will crucify the author of a poorly-written book with no plot, and if you’re an Indie author, readers will come down on the author with even more venom. And this, my friends, is what gives self-publishing a bad name.
I love that I’m a self-published author, but there is one reason that I’d like to be traditionally published, and that’s so I wouldn’t carry this stigma with me that self-published books aren’t as good as traditionally published ones. Some are better. Some are worse. But self-published authors have a lot more to prove.
These days, there are many readers and bloggers who like the price tags of self-published books, and they’ve started to see actual quality in them. That’s great! I want that! But every time someone publishes a book that’s not quite ready, markets the hell out of it, and gets it into the hands of influential people, the stigma continues because they will point out the mistakes. These trigger-happy authors make the rest of us (and eventually themselves) work twice as hard to overcome these preconceived notions.
I’m proud of my books. I’ve received many more comments that they’re “well-written” than comments about mistakes (sure, there have been a couple, but I think you’ll find that with almost any book). Two problems plague my books:
- They don’t fit neatly into any one genre.
- I can’t market.
That being said, I’ve had minimal success recently, but that didn’t come for more than a year and a half after publishing. There were a few months this year that I made more money on book sales than I did at my real job, but sales fluctuate – a lot. I am still working at my day job, and have been juggling my passion and the job that pays the bills since day one. I hope I don’t have to do this much longer. Logic would have me keeping my day job. My heart tells me to leave it. It’s a tough choice.
I’m probably the norm. No, actually, I’m probably better than the norm, but a successful month for me in the first year was selling a book a day. If I made $100 in a month, that was incredible. Obviously, an author can’t live on that.
I just want to put things into perspective for new authors, and I encourage them to take their time and make sure their characters shine and that their book presents the story in the best light possible. Give them a fair chance right from the start. Don’t make it harder on yourself. Coming out of the gate strong is a great way to get noticed. Flubbing on your first attempt isn’t, and it’s hard to regain trust of readers and bloggers once you’ve already ‘wasted’ their time on a book rushed to publication.
And with that, I say GOOD LUCK to all the aspiring authors out there. I personally know many of you who are ready for the big time, and I am ready for you to join me in my mission to prove that quality does exist in self-published books.