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. 🙂
1. When I get the urge to clean, it’s usually when I should be writing. It’s okay to ignore that rare urge in favor of actually writing. There are small things I can do through the day to keep up or catch up. My favorite tip? Muffin eggs.
2. Even though I have a job that gives me a lot of downtime, I shouldn’t count on that to be my writing time. I still need to set aside time for myself with no distractions, including the incredibly adorable lap warmers that are my cats.
3. Just write. This is obvious, but the reminder is always good. Don’t listen to the nagging during writing time and just get things done.
4. Having a plan for what I’m working on helps. I generally know what will be happening when I sit down to write but it really helps to put into words what I want to get out of the scene. This can be done as I sit down or it can be done the day before.
5. It’s also okay that I don’t always have a plan. Sometimes my best ideas come when I’m just writing. There are times when I just need to see what the characters do in a situation.
6. It is okay to be bad. I have scenes that are just dialog, and no description. I introduce things awkwardly and bring up elements that weren’t mentioned earlier because I forgot. Instead of worrying, I just write a note to myself asking questions or pointing out important ideas or telling myself to put some clue in. I never make notes about how bad things are.
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!
In an effort to show more of the girl behind the computer (who happens to have a really tough time taking pictures of herself for posting and sharing online), instead I’m going to share something rather personal.
I’m afraid that in another raid on my parent’s house, I found this guy, and my first Teddy (broken beyond repair), and his friend (who really is sort of creepy, but also kinda cool as a gadget that connects to the main bear and comes alive to help tell stories). This one still works though. Mostly, anyway. I took his vest off to clean some spots from it and couldn’t leave him naked, so I put the first clean outfit I found– his PJs, haha. Aren’t they actually kinda cute?
I’ve been messing with this bear for a day or two, trying to get him to come out of his hibernation coma. (If you have some sort of electronic device that you love dearly, DON’T let it be stored in a shed for a year. In fact, leaving it with your mother who doesn’t understand why you kept the thing in the first place is probably a bad idea. It’s liable to be tossed. I’m lucky that she didn’t do that and only stuck him in a plastic bin in a shed that leaks and is guarded by humongous mutant spiders.)
Anyway, this brought back a lot of memories of what I was like as a kid. You know, I was pretty much exactly the same as I am now. Shocker, right? Parents out there already know this because they’ve seen it happen with their own kids, and I’ve watched this happen with my niece and nephew. The way you are as a little little kid is generally the way you’re going to be as an adult. Unless something horrible happens to knock you off the rails, and these things do happen to people.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with stories and books and music. Even though I’m the youngest of four, the age differences between me and my siblings made it so that I was practically an only child, and I used to spend a lot of time by myself creating stories. Before I could read, I was one of those kids making up stories based on the pictures. (I remember one afternoon forcing my dad to listen to the story I crafted based on The Runaway Bunny. I had no ending, and my poor dad had to find a way to politely excuse himself.)
Now as a kid, I remember being told to find what I was meant to do in the world. People used to say it all the time. Everyone has something they like to do, something they’re good at, and they should stick to that and find a way to make it work for them. This is how you get contestants on American Idol who honestly believe they can sing because they have a passion for it and they’ve always done it even when they were little.
Is passion enough though? I write stories because I absolutely love to, but that doesn’t mean I’m great at it. I work on my craft, and I’ll continue to work at it, but will I ever be as good as someone like Margaret Atwood or Neil Gaiman? Isn’t there a limit to what I am capable of?
I’ll be honest. I believe that there is a limit. I also believe that a person is capable of doing whatever they want to do if they really have their heart set on it. Like when I was a kid, I got so inspired by Disney’s The Little Mermaid, I decided I’d learn to draw. And I did in a way. I studied the lines, I copied pictures, I studied techniques, I experimented. But was I ever going to be as good as someone with natural talent and the same desire to work on their craft? Oh hell no. I learned that right away. I still like to draw, but it’s always going to be difficult for me.
I think I’ve found ways around this natural limitation though. We have a tendency to think that “growing” only moves in one direction. In order to get better, I thought that my doodles had to be more more realistic, more amazing, more like someone else’s work. Same with writing. Getting better has generally meant not just writing clearly, but crafting sentences that astound. Writing out the same old in some new fancy way that is halfway poetic.
But you can grow in other directions too. With doodling, I learned my limits and found my strengths. Instead of trying to surpass my limits, I decided to work on my strength– coloring. I still worked on basics like proportion, but I found that I could sometimes dazzle with simple colors that helped my style.
Writing is similar. I’m never going to be as insightful and poetic as Gaiman. But I can work on writing different types of stories, the stories that aren’t told. Instead of following a hero around, I might tell the story of his squire or the story of his wife and how she suffers at home while he’s away.
Rather than trying to scale the wall I’ve decided to stand in front of (writing), I’m going to look for a way around. The wall is pretty long, so I have a lot of walking to do.
Yesterday, a good friend of mine made a post about her decision to self-publish. It’s beautiful, a funny and honest look at one writer’s thought processes.
As I read it, I thought, “YES.” (In caps like that too.) I’m sitting here with my cat in my arms and cackling silently to myself because I don’t want to disturb the cat, so I probably do look a lot like a villain, making plots and twisting writer’s thoughts.
Here’s the thing, my master plan. This has been my dream for the longest time. It’s even why I went to school to become a teacher before I realized that being a teacher wasn’t really for me.
What I most want is for writers to see their own worth.
Writing is not an exclusive club. If you write, you’re a writer. It is honestly that simple. It gets more complicated when we talk about good or bad writing, but that’s not what this post is about.
This post is just about you, my writing friends. Your voice is unique. There is no one else who can tell a story like you can. In fact, inside you there are probably stories that will only occur to you and no one else. If you don’t write it, no one else will.
Artists everywhere are prone to angst. We all know this. We remind ourselves of this as we work on projects, when we feel down, like we’re not quite good enough. But among the arts, I believe the writer is the most troubled.
Everyone speaks in words and everyone tells stories. Because of that, writing stories is looked down on as one of the most pedestrian of trades. This seems to create an inherent need for us to prove ourselves to the world at large. I think this is where the rules and the comparisons come in. Writers absolutely feel a need to be able to point to something that proves their worth or they think they’re just some kid pretending.
It’s understandable, but I think, over time, we’ve taken it too far. Now people are starting to believe they’re not real writers unless they’re published or they make money from it. Strange terms like “aspiring” make their way into conversations because writers no longer want to confess they’re writers because they fear the scoffing.
Well, stop it. If you are a writer, you will know you’re a writer. If you’re a writer, you’ll want to write even when you’re told you shouldn’t. You’ll write, even when you feel horrible about your writing. You’ll write because you want to be better, because there’s a story inside you begging to be told. You’ll know you’re a writer because you’ll feel it.
You can deny it all you want, but there’s no escape. If this sounds like a curse, I don’t mean it to, but it probably is. You’ll write one story, and you’ll love it. But shortly there after you’ll think, “I can do better.” And you will. Because you’re a writer, it’s what you do, and when you’re doing what you’re meant to, you can’t help yourself. Whatever path you take, take solace in the fact that you’ve found something that means so much to you it makes your heart race and it makes you flinch. This is one awesome and terrifying ride, but I’d rather be doing this than just about anything else.
Did I put enough action in the story? Could I have put more action and more romance in it?
These are things I ask myself when I’m away from my book. For a while, I was almost scared to look at the story again, fearful that I would see issues with it that my beta readers/editor missed somehow. (Or maybe hadn’t wanted to tell me?)
So I almost avoided looking at the book, but that only lasted so long. With the way all my stories interlink, I HAVE to go back and I have to look at events and re-read how they unfold, who does what, when things happen.
Then I got the print proof in the mail. I had to sit down and read it from cover to cover to look for typos, formatting issues, and anything else I decided that I didn’t want in print.
Let’s put it this way: A second proof was ordered. I hear that’s not uncommon. I mean, after you correct some errors, you want to see the second proof to make sure you didn’t make more errors correcting the first, right?
But even though I had to fix things and order a second proof, you know, I liked reading through the story again. I sat down and read it at work, making corrections and notes with a hot pink sharpie pen I found in my desk. Saturday or Sunday morning, I spent time in bed, finishing the book, reading over that last epilogue again, fearful that I’d messed things up. That epilogue was a risky move on my part. Something I’d thought about for a while, but had not given to my beta readers. (Oooh, confession.)
Once I got to the end, I came away satisfied. It’s strange to ask for money for my stories– no my book. It’s something I’ve put a lot of work into, something that is now also a real, physically solid thing, and I’d like to ask people to support me in my creative endeavors.
In the end, I decided that this book is exactly what I needed it to be. It’s exactly what it should be. No regrets.