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. 🙂
At some point, I became afraid of failing. Is this due to age? I don’t remember being so worried when I was younger. I didn’t like getting low grades on tests and essays, but I’d look at it as a chance to learn. I’d read over every correction and figure out where I went wrong.
Where did that person go? I feel like I’ve been avoiding writing at all because I’m afraid of it being crap. I already know that not everything is going to be a gem. That doesn’t stop me from seizing up and becoming super exhausted at the prospect of starting completely over with a new story.
I needed to do something to shake things up. And so I accepted a challenge to write and publish a story within 8 hours issued by J.A. Konrath. I found out about it on Monday, and
the “deadline” technically was Thursday. I didn’t really start until Tuesday.
But I did it. I am terrified.
My current process for writing things for release: More than a few drafts, polished as much as I think I can on my own because I don’t want to waste the time of my readers. I hand it off to a close friend for content editing. I take it back, make more changes, hand it off to another friend for content and grammar. Get it back, make more changes. Give it to another friend who is an avid reader, and a really great copy editor. Get it back, make a bunch of fixes. And then finally, I hand off a printed copy to my boyfriend and have him go over it in the picky way he does. Get it back, make more corrections. (there are always more to be made!) By the first time I’ve sent a story out, I’m sick of it.
The challenge was to write a short in 8 hours, including doing the cover on your own, the blurb on your own, and the editing on your own. I spent about six hours on the story, one hour on the cover (pitiful), half an hour on the blurb (I did get a second opinion on that blurb over lunch). And then some extra time to print it out and self-edit. I am sure I was over the 8 hour mark, but only if I count all the time I spent staring off into space while sitting in front of my computer. And I’m not.
I present my short, The Hungry:
Twenty years ago, the world ended and no one will discuss it.
Rebecca, a denizen of one of the protected cities, volunteers to join the courier service in order to see out what is beyond her city’s fence with her own eyes. Is she prepared for what she will find?
Aside from one passage where I was concerned about if the action would be clear, I didn’t share any of it with my friends. I just wrote it and put it out there. I’m surprised at my own audacity. I shouldn’t think that I can do this– write something fast and put it for sale.
But I did.
The story came in at about 8,000 words. It’s marked for .99 and is only available on the Kindle. Saturday and Sunday it can be downloaded for free. Come see how badly I have screwed things up!
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!
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.
No, new author, what do you think? Do you only want to sell to Kindles? Do you realize that Kindles don’t read epub? That it’s a proprietary format? That those books can only and forever be on Kindles and Kindle products and programs?
An author can choose to go that route if they want, but I would hope that they have reasons for doing so other than, “Someone once told me…” or “People say…”
I’ll come out and say it, no, you probably won’t make much money from Smashwords. Yes, you do have to wait forever for their extra distributors to pay. And yes, Smashwords only pays you like once every six months. So why would I suggest going with Smashwords?
Freedom. I only buy indie books from Smashwords. You can download in any format (usually, unless the author has severely limited the formats the book will appear in). Generally I go for the epubs. Why? They’re DRM free, and that’s awesome. That means I can put it on any device. Why, I used to read books on my DS back in the day before I got a proper ereader. Plus, say I do decide to get a Kindle. I can download the book in the .mobi format needed for the Kindle.
I’ll admit that if a book isn’t on Smashwords, I skip it. There are a lot of good books put out by small publishers and self-publishers. I don’t need to work that hard to find a good book to spend my money on. Granted, I’m only one sale is a sea of sales, so that might not concern an author. There are plenty of authors who do great on Amazon.
So that’s freedom for me as a reader, but what about as an author? One of my favorite aspects of Smashwords is that the site allows for me to experiment. I can generate coupons, I can post things for free, and I can even use the “reader decides the price” option, which I will probably test out for the next story or something. I was tempted to try it out for this story, and may even do that later on.
Coupons are awesome because they cost me no money. It’s an easy way for me to mark a book down while still showing it’s value. And who doesn’t love a sale? (Well, except for in-store sales because those usually involve waiting in line.)
In the next year, I’m going to try pushing Smashwords a little more when I go out to sell the book. I’m planning on getting tables at the local anime conventions, and one of the things I’m hoping to do is have a QR code that points to the Smashwords site while handing out coupons. I really haven’t used Smashwords much because I haven’t really been marketing. These are just my thoughts on why I love the site.
Anyone else have thoughts? Hate Smashwords? Like Smashwords? Have a horrible experience with the site?