Indie concerns

Sarah is still feeling under the weather thanks to a virus that has made the rounds of her family. She pushed her luck by quipping that she thought she’d managed to escape it. Of course, that meant she was next to fall ill. So she asked me to fill in for her today and to offer her apologies. She will be back Wednesday with her regular post and then next Sunday with a new chapter.

After telling Sarah I’d fill in for her, I started thinking about what to blog about. I asked Kate and Cedar for suggestions and they were oh-so-helpful. Among the suggestions offered were doing a post explaining how I am not Sarah or actually writing an over-the-top chapter for her and seeing how long it would take before someone figured out Sarah really hadn’t gone insane. There was also a suggestion to do a post about the literati who, in an interview with the New York Times, said he never read fantasy because there was no death in it. What? No death in fantasy! Someone certainly hasn’t told George R. R. Martin that – or just about any other modern fantasy (of any ilk) author I can think of.

I’ll admit, going after the literati kind of appealed to me but I wasn’t sold on it. So I went searching for something else. That’s when I came across this post, “An Open Letter to Indie Authors”, by J. M. Gregoire. I highly recommend every author – indie or not – read and think about what is in the letter because it contains some pretty darned good advice.

I also understand what made Gregoire write the letter. The frustration expressed in it is something many of us share. How often have we shaken our heads after seeing an author attack a reviewer – either on their review site or on Facebook or Amazon – because the review wasn’t absolutely glowing? How often have we at least previewed an e-book that looked promising from the description or because we’ve already read something by that author only to find that it needed a really good editor? And yes, in my mind, this also applies to traditionally published books all too often these days.

So, what advice did Gregoire give to indie authors and publishers? (Note that I am paraphrasing some of the points and then giving my own thoughts afterwards.)

1. Don’t publish your book if it isn’t ready for primetime.

In other words, quantity does not trump quality. Yes, the more titles you have out there, the better your sales will be. However, if you are continually putting out what basically amounts to first drafts without proper editing, copy editing and proofing, you will drive away readers. They may forgive one or two stinkers, but not a continuing line of them.

2. Do your research before hiring an editor.

To start, understand what an editor is and make sure the person you are hiring knows as well. An editor isn’t a beta reader or a proofreader. An editor is someone who knows story structure and genre conventions as well as the technical aspects of grammar, punctuation and spelling.

From Gregoire’s “letter:

Beta Readers – These are the folks that read the pre-editing rough draft, and tell you what they do/do not like, what they feel does/doesn’t flow well.  They are there to analyze the story itself, not edit anything.

Editor – An editor does just that.  Edits.  Looks for mistakes – grammar, spelling, punctuation, made up words that don’t exist in any language never mind English, etc.

Proofreader – The proofer reads the final product through to catch any mistakes or typos that may have been missed somewhere along the way.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve talked with other authors who have paid big bucks for an “editor” only to discover they got nothing more than a glorified proofreader or beta reader. So please, do your homework, ask for references and samples of their work and make sure you both understand what an editor does before you sign any contract with them.

3. Social media is our friend – up to a point. There are a lot of folks out there who will “friend” every author they can find on Facebook and then volunteer to beta read. Please read and take very careful note of what Gregoire says here. Too often these folks can be more headache, and heartache, than they are worth.

Note here, choose your beta readers carefully. While I almost always have one who doesn’t read the genre of the book just written, my main betas are familiar with the genre and its conventions. The reason I have the one non-genre reader is to make sure I haven’t fallen back into tropes that signal those familiar with the genre but that will leave those not as familiar out in the cold wondering why my characters are acting as they are. I’ve heard horror stories of authors getting notes back from their betas with suggestions that make you wonder 1) if they read the same book you wrote and 2) what they were on when they read it. These are often the same beta readers who want to continually “help” you as you are writing, offering advice and plot ideas that not only don’t work but would never work in anything you write.

4. Books are judged by their covers.

Yes, I know there are those who say e-books aren’t judged by their covers. Bull. I agree with Gregoire here. We still look at the cover image on the description page and judge how “professional” the book is by how the cover looks. So put some time and effort into your covers. If you aren’t an artist, find one who can help. However, don’t spend a great deal of money on your covers unless you are already getting a nice income stream from your writing or have a job to supplement your writing. Spending a grand or two for a cover is insane. Heck, even spending a couple of hundred can be. Find yourself a graphic artist who is good and who is willing to work a deal with you for cover art. Ask other writers for recommendations. Most of all, look at their portfolios and see what sort of art they do. Finally, have a set date for delivery. Any change to that date has to be agreed upon in writing. Otherwise, you may find yourself waiting weeks or months, your e-book done but without a cover.

5. Don’t be an a-hole.

In other words, think before speaking – or hitting the “enter” button. If you don’t like a review, pull up your big boy pants and move on. Not everyone is going to love your book. Ranting and raving at the reviewer isn’t going to do you any good. It will lose you readers because that rant will make reviewers hesitant to review your next work and readers will simply move on to the next author. The drama might be entertaining for a few minutes but it isn’t something that will bring them back to your books later.

6. Don’t overextend yourself.

That’s pretty self-explanatory. Don’t overextend when it comes to time. Most of us can’t write book after book after book without a break. There comes a time when we not only hit the wall but it falls on us. We need time for a real life. The cat needs petting, the dog needs walking and the family would really like to have a conversation with you that doesn’t revolve around how long it is taking Character A to accomplish something.

It also applies to finances. How many of us know authors who financially strap themselves to go to every con, attend every writers’ workshop, etc., all in an attempt to “promote” their work? Cons help with networking but, on the whole, don’t have the same impact (in my opinion) they used to when it comes to winning over new readers. All you have to do is look at cons to see that they have the same basic concom every year and the same authors/publishers get the choice panels. If you aren’t one of the chosen ones, you are paying to rent a table and hoping someone buys enough of your books to pay for the table. Forget about recovering the other hundreds or thousands of dollars it costs to go to the con.

Am I saying not to do cons? No. But I am saying to be smart about which ones you go to and how much money you spend.

That same caveat about being aware of how much money you are spending applies to publishing your e-books/print books as well. Yes, you will have loss leaders. We all do. But if you are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars just to get your e-book into the market, consider how long it will take you to recover that cost and how many copies you will have to sell.

In other words, all the above advice, as well as everything Gregoire had to say, comes down to this: writing is our business and we have to treat it that way. Just because we can do it anytime and pretty much anywhere doesn’t make it any less so. Yes, we can do it in our PJs and we are our own bosses. But we still have to take pride in what we do and we have to put out the best product we can. So don’t rush it. Don’t skip steps – especially editing. Do invest the time into getting a good cover. Finally, follow Jim Baen’s rule and “don’t be a butthead”.

(Cross-posted to Nocturnal Lives.)

32 comments

  1. Beta readers? Oooh, Luxury! I imagine having good ones can be very useful. As I may have mentioned, I’ve been posting shorts and chapters to DeviantArt, and the feedback has been minimal, even though I do appear to have fans. Not so much as a spelling error comes back across the wire though.

    I just spent way too much time working through the process to polish that story I’ve been annoyingly mentioning so much here, and finding typos that never surfaced in the previous three months (having your Kindle read it out loud can be surprising), and don’t get me started on the whole formatting thing…. Just when I thought I had the whole start page thing figured out, all the conflicting programs threw me for a loop. But it appears to be working now.

    (By the way, thanks for the help with the cover way back in September. I hope it passes the “Professional enough” standard above.)

    They say that in 12 hours (how accurate is that?) it will be up on Amazon.

    My god, I finally went Indie. What have I done?!

      1. I kept reloading the page, and just now the store links appeared. I swear, I felt like I was going to pass out for a second there. I’m not about to get out of my chair any time soon.
        But here it is!

        Now is probably the perfect time for everyone to tell me what I did wrong. 🙂

      2. Actually, I’ve sort of got a mish mash of all they types, Alpha and Beta readers, editors and proofers. If you’re curious, check my webpage. I’m posting three excerpts a week and they jump in and tell me both what they like and what they think is a problem. Then we’ve also got a google doc that they mark up for grammar, typos, continuity problems, logical errors and things that make them want to scream at my characters to stop being so stupid. Between the two, I’m feeling pretty well edited.
        http://pamuphoff.livejournal.com

    1. Do you have a request for feedback of that sort on the post? I am very leery of irritating authors (even the ones I know here) with things like spelling or grammatical errors. You might want to put out a request for some people to specifically BE beta readers, and perhaps others to do proofreading for the smaller errors, because your fans may not think it’s their place to do that.

      1. Well, that *is* how I found my highly-treasured proofreader. He’s a fan with an amazing eye for detail (that’s the polite way of saying he polishes the hyphen in anal-retentive) He even found errant SPACES and pointed them out. He gets whatever he wants, he just can’t leave me (as I cling to his ankle…) Now he and my editor have …disagreements about comma usage, but I just pick one way and stick with it. If they want to fight they can–and I will sell tickets 😉 (my editor is small, but feisty.)

        1. The Oxford Comma can save your life! And changing to Courier, especially in a large size can really help spot punctuation and spacing issues. Something very hard for me as a classically-trained typist (Two spaces after sentences is now frowned upon. Fortunately Open Office has a setting to ignore the second space you type).

          Back when I worked for Claris (Apple) on Clarisworks I wrote a “Wizard” that would clean up text, insert or delete blank lines, smarten or unsmarten quotes, change spaces, wrap or unwrap paragraphs. Alas, it never made it into the product, but it was great for cleaning up files downloaded off Usenet.

  2. On covers, as a reader, I’d rather see a “simple” cover (title and author) than a cover that advertises the “wrong type of book”. IE I don’t like covers that “scream” Action/Adventure while the action in the book is sexual action. [Sad Smile]

      1. Grrr, I chose Fiction>SF>General and Fiction>erotica (kinda unsure about that choice, but there is a sex scene) and all that seems to show up in the book description is the Erotica tag.

        The book went live, and I posted a link upthread, but for some reason the comment is moderated. I wanted you guys to be the first to know, but I haz been frustrated by technology it appears.

          1. I’ll have to change that, once I can edit it again. I had to fix one keyword, and then my friend pointed me at the page of required keywords needed to appear in certain categories.

            And of course, I cant fix that until the previous edit goes live.

            While I’m waiting, I’m open to suggestions from anyone who read it when I had it up on DA. (The link I handed out for the PDF before is now dead.).

          2. Yeah, fixed that, waiting for the changes to take (Seems to take at least 4-5 hours). Did some searching and it seems that it won’t show up in SF General if it’s in Erotica, even though it was set in two categories, so now it’s just in General (I hope).

            But damned if I haven’t already sold four copies in the first 8 hours.

            Searching also exposed me to the despicable practice of setting bogus publication dates to force your way to the beginning of search rankings sorted by date.

          3. Funny thing, it sold 4 copies in the first 8 hours as Erotica. After I fixed it, nada. It really does appear though that on Amazon, if you put it in Erotica, other categories don’t matter, it won’t appear. I’m gonna ask them about that.

    1. We were talking about misleading covers in my local writers group. One of the members mentioned picking up (a long time ago) a traditional gothic, with traditional girl in a traditional white dress fleeing a traditional sinister manor. Only to be introduced to one of the best spy writers of the twentieth century–Helen MacInnes

  3. Okay one disagreement with the original. What he describes is STILL just a copy editor. A good editor (worth his weight in gold) does other stuff. He checks your science/history. He checks your continuity for stuff betas missed. He tells you if you have an unlikely emotional reaction and says what would make it believable.
    And by the pronoun you may guess I have one. You can’t have him. MINE. If I ever get very rich (winning a multi hundred million dollar lottery, say) I’ll pay him to quit his day job and become a kept editor. (He won’t. He likes his day job. BUT that is how rare a good editor is.)

    1. The editor on my first sale suggested only minor changes, not even a dozen. She suggested moving paragraph breaks and changing some word choices. And those changes made the first person narrator in MY story sound more like the voice in MY head than what I had written,

      THAT is a great editor!

        1. Oh yes. Mine looked up some saints’ days to make sure I had things correct for a name. And then tried to talk me out of shooting the dog. *shrug* We compromised on the dog.

  4. I was on the verge of sending the link above to a friend who is an aspiring author, but after thinking over my experiences with his prior attempts, I realized it would be a pointless effort, because he simply does not listen.

  5. I would have thought that an Editor (with a capital ‘E’) does what beta readers do, except with authority related to story structure. I understand that Editors in the modern era of publishing don’t tend to do that, but that it was one of the things that had been dumped. Of course the Editor must be competent at copy editing skills – grammar and related mechanics – but he or she is a professional at story structure, or ought to be.

    And yes, traditionally published books aren’t getting this service either. I was just reading one last night (I honestly don’t know why I kept trying to get through it) that was a real stinker. I would hope that this lady has beta readers, but it blows my mind that an Editor bought this book. I bought it because the author is a reliable, fun, category romance read. But it must be that she’s got no one at all willing to tell her that her baby needs a diaper change. In my mind at least, this is where an Editor needed to step in and point out structural flaws, pacing issues, and character development issues.

    The *language* is perfect. The sentences and readability of the *words* don’t need any improvement.

    1. One of the big issues, Synova, is that you can have betas and EDITORS who actually edit and things still slip. If it weren’t for ONE of my ten betas — who is Francis Turner? — Noah’s Boy would have a car that mysteriously clones itself in the middle.

    1. I was going to blame you for sending Amanda that idea, Charlie …. after emphatically denying that it was me.

  6. I’m willing to beta-read a couple of novels (or shorts) if anyone wants to let me try to see if we’re a good fit. I’ve got two more weeks before spring semester starts. I don’t have a very good ear for softening the blow, so to speak, so I’m a little bit afraid of offending authors who I’d like not to offend. Anyhow, if anyone is needing a fresh eye to read through and I didn’t scare you off, julie at pascal dot org will work.

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