The poor quality of many self-published books comes up with some regularity. The most discussion has been started by Chuck Wendig who makes a point that self-publishing isn’t “amateur hour.” You should always put your best foot forward when you’re making a thing you’re going to charge money for.
Interestingly, a lot of people are either attacking him (I’ve read comments calling him a bad writer) or outright dismissing him (because he’s such a “bad writer”). People do seem to get defensive when self-publishing is called out for poor quality works. And it isn’t because they’re arguing that self-publishing books aren’t bad, more like they’re arguing for being “bad” because readers will suss out what’s bad and what is good which will then, hopefully, teach an author what doesn’t work and what does. Their next book will be better, and the book after that will be better.
Some thoughts I always have:
The people often talked about are not reading these discussions. There are plenty of people who write crap or have written crap and just throw it up online because why the hell not? Some people hope to make a little money. Some think they are honestly good and won’t hear talk that they aren’t. The people who don’t give a shit exist. But see, they don’t give a shit, so do you think they’re going to care about the call to stop publishing crap? (No. The answer is no.)
The beauty of self-publishing is that it’s open and anyone can do it. This is also the ugly side. I always say that our greatest strength are often our greatest weaknesses. The same goes for self-publishing. I can post whatever I want for whatever reasons I want. But so can the previously mentioned non-shit giving author.
Readers are not “gatekeepers.” They are customers. And customers make decisions. They can download samples of stories that sound interesting, and they can read it before purchasing. If they are not aware of this, then I don’t know what to think because the preview button is right next to the purchase button. Amazon also gives you seven days to get your money back, so if you pick up a book with a good preview that falls apart after you’ve read it, you can get money back. (At least you could last year. I feel like I’ve been gone forever. You can still do that, right?)
There are shitty publishing house books too. Sometimes a shit book is a shit book. It happens. I don’t think I’ve ever really read a crappy book– because, you know, previews– but I’ve read some books where I got to the end and I just said, “What the crap?”
These discussion are going to continue of course. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m going to keep on not caring what my neighbor is doing (unless they’re my friend and they’ve asked for my opinion). I don’t really believe it matters. Readers will find what they like, they’ll call out what they don’t like. If they swear off self-published books because of one book they read that was really terrible, well then, they are probably not your audience. There are plenty of other readers to go around, just like there are now plenty of writers.
I suck at marketing: I’d like to tell anyone happening across this blog who might be curious about how terrible or not terrible I am that I’ve placed Ruin free on Smashwords. Okay, not exactly free. It’s set to, pay what you want which means you can get it without paying anything or you can use it as a chance to tip an author. 🙂
That’s it. I needed to say it out loud. Though I do get a thrill when someone buys my book (c’mon, I’m still a human writer), I didn’t really publish it for the money. Any money I have made on it goes back into the book to cover the costs of artwork. That’s pretty much it. I’m not about to make a living selling books. I’ve always known that. Still, I often beat myself up because I don’t write fast enough. Instead of encouraging me to write, it only makes me want to give up. Except that it’s impossible to stop writing. So it’s a circle that will continue, leaving me feeling like crap.
This is a new level of doubt, brought on by our modern age. There are so many books and stories out there right now that I think we all fear getting lost. If you don’t put out so many books a year, then you’re supposedly screwed.
Maybe I am. So maybe I’m fooling myself here, but I think that if people read your story and really enjoy it, they will always find a way to stay in touch. This is also the way I approach my friends. Instead of being surrounded by a lot of people I have to constantly keep in contact with, I surround myself with a few choice friends that I can call up any time, no matter how much time has passed, and have it be as if we never left off. (This might be part of why I don’t get very far on Twitter.)
My last book was published in 2011. I’d intended to have another book by summer. Ha! I look back on my hopeful self and sort of laugh. (It might still be too soon. Maybe I can fully laugh next year. Hopefully I have another book out by then.)
So here’s what it comes down to: Do I want to race a story out because I’m afraid of being forgotten? Or do I want to write a story that will strike a cord and ensure that I’m remembered? Even if only for that one story. How long will it take for that second option? I don’t know yet. I’ll tell you when I finish something good.
It’s been one year since I published my first book. I have definitely formed some opinions about my experience that won’t necessarily be transferable to anyone else’s possible experiences. But here they are, my thoughts on self-publishing.
1. It’s slow going. Sales have never been astounding, but they’re going. I earn about $20 per month without doing much of anything. It does taper off after a while. The past two months, I’ve had no sales on Amazon and that was the strongest seller. Which brings me to the next thought:
2. It’s a good idea to have books waiting to be published, especially if you’re writing a series. A lot of people suggest using the momentum from one book to push out another and to keep doing that. It’s good advice when you’re writing a series and you want to make some money at it. The idea is that with all the books out there, it’s easy to be forgotten if it takes too long from one book to the next. I’ll admit that I’m not sure about that, yet, as I haven’t put out a proper second book.
3. I’m glad that I did not wait to publish. Yes, this is personal. I lost my big sister, the one who always tried to think of ways I could make what I loved doing viable. “Write children’s books,” she’d say while I shrugged. When I finally published, and she saw my book, she asked for a copy and showed it off at her work telling them it was what I’d always wanted to do. I would not have traded in that experience for anything even though my book is out there on its lonesome. It’s making friends and meeting people. People who’ve enjoyed the book keep in touch by liking the Facebook page or submitting their email to the newsletter which I’ll send out only when there is a new release.
4. I’m not so sure about “social networking.” I still like Twitter, but I really only connect with a few people. So many writers use it to push their books (not just talking self-published either!), that it becomes meaningless. I like to see people on Twitter who are chatting, not necessarily about their puppies, but about games, writing, thoughts, opinions. I don’t mind when those people retweet something or share the occasional book link. I will also say that I think Twitter benefits some people more than others. Some people can be engaging with few words. They send out clever and funny tweets that brighten days, they manage to be all over the place in the small amount of time they’re on. I’m not like that. It takes a while to get to know me, and I need longer than 140 characters, so I’ve noticed that the people I best connect with are ones who have blogs I comment on.
Overall, I’m pleased with my decision to self-publish. This is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, though I’ll admit I’ve got more than I bargained for with the picking out cover artists and designing my own books. But even that isn’t super difficult if you don’t want it to be. I went this route because I can do things on my own time in my own way. Just having the book out there means I’ve completed my mission successfully. Onto the next one!
This morning I saw this video by Meghan Tonjes where she “reads” Fifty Shades of Grey. I use the quotes because it’s really just her commenting and sometimes reading quotes out loud. (Since I am never going to read the book unless I get it for free, it was a bit amusing to me.)
That book is ridiculously huge right now. There are plenty of people who love it and plenty who hate it. That’s the ticket right there. People have strong opinions about it. It’s that sort of book. It’s like those people in real life that draw people to them because they’re crazy meanwhile they push people away for the same reason. Can you fault a person or (a book )for living life that way?
As authors, bad reviews cut us to the quick. Yeah, babies, yada yada. But really, when there is a review that’s bad, it questions our abilities as writers. That’s what really hurts. I don’t mind someone making a comment about my story and saying it’s boring or flat. My real issue is that I then feel awful because I couldn’t make that story come alive for that reader.
I know that you’re not always going to be able to make a story that appeals to everyone. It’s not realistic with everyone’s differing tastes. These sorts of books that clearly appeal to someone (and they really do even if that someone is not me) get a lot of attention because people feel so strongly about it. What’s ironic is that they then appeal to the people who like them the least because they want to see what the fuss is about! So it’s a win-win for the author.
How many times have I read comments from people who hated the books but still read all three? It’s the same way with Twilight. People will read all the books and complain heartily about the sex scene that comes in like the last book and I always wonder, why do you keep on reading if you really hate it so much? I’m not really going to guess, though maybe it’s like when you happen across a traffic accident in real life and you want to see what happens even though you feel really badly about standing there gawking like everyone else, especially when someone responsible comes along and asks you to clear the way.
So I guess this is an interesting lesson on why bad reviews aren’t necessarily world ending. If you get a bad review, like one or two stars, and you get five star reviews (generally in equal portion) feel good because you make people feel things, even if it might be crazy anger and insane love. I won’t say that makes a book a good one, but it’s good to keep people reading.
Video games. In my mind, many video games are very much the same as books. I don’t just have to read to learn about a story and story structure– I’ve said this before, I’m sure. I have spent the last couple of months playing video games and become immersed in a grand amount of lore crafted for a series of video games that’s just amazing.
I’m talking Elder Scrolls. It took a bit for me to get into it. I’ve had a bias against first person games for a long time, and Elder Scrolls definitely has action elements. I’ve always said that I play Final Fantasy for the story, but for the past few years (since FFX) I haven’t wanted to play Final Fantasy at all. There were several reasons for it. 1. Each game was really a stand alone game with a new story which meant they couldn’t really get that in-depth. They created just the surface of a world and a story, more of a fairy tale really. After a while, that gets boring. 2. They started making sequels to sequels. Each game is a sequel already, and then they would make a part 2 which looked to just be the same game but with more story? I don’t know, but it certainly seemed money grubbing. Of course I haven’t laid my hands on any of those because I’m bored to death of Final Fantasy.
Elder Scrolls is a different. How different? You can read books in game. I started to get into reading and collecting books while out on my adventures. I became fascinated with the books on the Dwarven culture which disappeared way in the past, before the first game is even set. There are books to be found by scholars who’ve studied the ruins and put forth their own theories as to the culture. There are also books that collect dwarven folklore which is not meant to be trusted as a source. The more scolarly sources will tell you so. It feels quite real!
I came to find out that these books actually go back as far as the second installment of the series which was released around ’96. The Elder Scrolls actually builds their entire series up on the lore. You can read about Queen Barenziah in books in Skyrim and then play Daggerfall or Morrowind and actually meet her. It’s immersive, and not just through game play. It really shows the power of story to connect the different parts of this series and really bring it to life. People always have stories. They also always have opinions. They share what they think and over time, sources of information can become corrupted. Sometimes sources of information start out corrupt. I find that the Elder Scrolls series understands that, and it adds a serious level of realism to their entire world.
Yesterday, my boyfriend, who was reading through the new version of that story I keep whining about, said to me: “I’m on the dirty part. Even in a short story you managed to work in a dirty part.”
To be fair, it’s not all that short. It’s over 20,000 words and nearly 60 pages printed! That’s enough for a dirty part, right?
Still, I did go a little red in the face and tried to explain how I anticipated hearing something about the dirty bit. I’m pretty sure I just ended up blaming my writing partner in crime. (Sorry, Laura. You know how it goes. Blame the one not present and all that.)
The sex scene is an interesting beast. It sort of gets a lot of baggage piled up on it. Most writers say they have trouble with the sex scene. In fact, when I mention anything about including sex in any of my stories, I sometimes seem to face this unconscious attitude that a sex scene suddenly turns a book into erotica or something. I can’t really explain it, but I’ve hit on it more than once and the person speaking never seemed aware of the assumption, so maybe it was just me reading into things. But there does seem to be some sort of bias against the sex scene in regular fiction that is not romance or erotica.
Sex scenes are fun for me to write. I’ll confess, sometimes, as one of my exercises, I’ll write a sex scene between two characters who may or may not be involved. Some surprising things about a character can come to light from these experimental romps. Either about their character (Do they lead in bed or are they led? Are they pushy? How far do they push?) or about the situation.
I do have a couple of tips when it comes to the sex scene.
1. Assume the reader has basic knowledge about sex. I never write about organs or how they fit together. I don’t talk about positions. The focus is instead on the physical details of the scene as the characters are feeling it. I consider these anchor details that will help elicit a memory or a fantasy from the reader.
2. It’s not really about the sex. Okay, so maybe it is, but I find that boring. I prefer to get a deeper glimpse into the character. (Wow, no pun intended there, but feel free to snicker away at that!) Sex is a moment where the character may let down their guard or even pull their guard up more. How they behave in bed can speak volumes.
I’m not a pro, but I do enjoy an interesting sex scene. (Again with the snickering.) It’s sort of a strange topic and a little embarrassing. The next story I’m working on might also have a sex scene. Oh man, I don’t want to hear what my boyfriend will say when he reads that one.