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. 🙂
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.
I have not done much in the way of promotion.
This is something I continually run against when I’m out and about reading blogs. Others say how much hard work goes into self-publishing. They say the writing is not the hard part, the promotion is the hard part. You need to work hard to get your name out there and get your book visible over the crowd.
Well, having lurked on the Kindle Direct Publishing forums and being on twitter where I can see some authors in action, I am beginning to think that over-promotion is another sign of an absolute rookie.
Don’t get me wrong, some advertisement is normal and reasonable. Contests, blog hops, offering free ebook files, and signing up for reviews– this is all a normal part of the process. I’m talking about those writers who do nothing but flog their one book everywhere, then can’t understand why it hasn’t sold.
As of right now, I’m selling very weakly, but still somewhat steadily, and I haven’t done much of anything to say, “buy my book!” So far, all I’ve done is put a sample on Indie Snippets, posted a little something on Indie Books Blog, and done a couple of #novelines on twitter. I’ve sent out two emails to reviewers, but that takes a while if they decide to do it at all.
All of my promotion is saved for the weekend or off hours. They’re things I can do while I’m watching TV or when I have downtime at work. It isn’t something I’m working incredibly hard at, and you know what? The book really is selling itself. Actually, the readers are the ones selling it.
Now reviews on the book page do not always sell a book. Readers don’t trust those, and I don’t blame them because so many authors swap reviews. On the forums, I’ve seen people complain about bad reviews and ask others to vote them down. That has gotten me curious, so I’ve done the “look inside” on Amazon and read a portion of this supposedly awesome story that wasn’t worthy of a one star only to find that this story with tons of four and five star reviews has some very clear issues. (At this point, I just back away, having learned all sorts of valuable lessons about my fellow “indies” and how some of them roll.)
But I will say that when I get reviews from people I don’t know, my sales spike. So far, I’ve gotten got two reviews from people I am sure I don’t know that were positive. I then had a few extra sales. I imagine that on my own, the book does one or two sales a week. But last week, when I got a review, I sold about four. That is probably the effect of the reviewer telling someone, “You have to buy this!”
So what’s my point here?
Books are not like movies. Publishers have sort of twisted the business model until we’re using the same one that is used for summer blockbuster movies. If you don’t sell a lot right out of the gate, you’re doomed to failure and your book will disappear. This is something I think that authors have adopted, and so the over-promotion is an attempt to not fail.
The best promotion is just being yourself and doing your thing. There are a lot of ways to passively advertise yourself and your book without actually doing so– like putting links in bio pages and in forum signatures. Don’t bother hanging around writing forums. Do you like video games, painting, taking pictures of abandoned buildings? It helps if your extra hobby is something that’s inspired your writing, but it is not required. People will check on links if they’re engaged by the person.
And as always, trust the reader. I dread the day I get a bad review. While I know I’ll probably be red in the face and needing a lot of chocolate, I am going to read it. This doesn’t mean that I have to accept the review. I can choose to use my own judgment and ignore it just like when I get back suggested edits.