Independent publishing — indie — is generally a great thing. When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a writer to part with their publisher/s there’s no need to let the world know the just causes, you can just leave and start writing indie.
Or you can start out indie, anyway, and not have to suffer the slings and arrows of incompetent office staff and indifferent sales staff.But this must be said: publishing independence, like the political kind, comes with obligations.
Yes, yes, we know. Decent cover, good copy editing, etc. We know all that. And those are easy to be aware of and comply with. But there’s more subtle things. Things that keep an addict like me from reading your book, even though I REALLY REALLY REALLY WANT TO.
Yes, I’ve finished a mystery series (since I’m writing sf/f right now, I’m mostly reading mystery.) and I’m desperately looking for another one to fall into. I love series, because I can spend a week reading the ten books without having to look for new stuff to read in the twenty minutes I’m cooking, or doing laundry or something. So I really want to find a new series of mysteries that I can read. I’m looking to approve, not to reject.
The total this morning is five rejections. Thank heavens for Kindle Unlimited Lending Library, or I’d be just downloading a ton of samples at this point.
Look, I’m not being unforgiving. I can be when reading Tudor England or another time I’m familiar with, but I started reading medieval mysteries because I know bloody nothing about medieval England.
And I forgave the series I was reading having the FOURTEENTH CENTURY gentleman disapprove of the crusade against the Cathars, because they’re good people so it doesn’t matter what they believe. (In the unlikely event a medieval man thought that he’d not admit it, not even to himself.) But the rest of the series was okay, so I forged on.
These other mysteries, though, were wearing their crazy on their sleeves.
… Like the one in which the medieval monk is looking to “broaden the mind” of his fellow monk by introducing him to a Jewish man. There’s so many things wrong with it, starting with “broadening the mind” that it doesn’t bear analyzing. I realized I was in the hands of a modern author who not only didn’t understand the medieval mind-set but didn’t want to. Rather he wanted to redeem the middle ages with his writing. I gave up there. (Not that Christians and Jews weren’t friends, mind, it’s just that a monk would at least feel forced to make ritual noises about converting his friend. It’s more that the idea of “broadening the mind” on religion is NOT a 12th century one, okay?)
This was followed by the medieval mystery with PAGES of dramatis personae and glossary in the beginning. Look, guys, glossaries and lists of characters are like maps. Some people love them, others run screaming into the night.
We who also write fantasy know this. But for the love of heaven, what type of mind thinks they need a glossary entry for faeder used obviously as “Father.” And who needs a list of every character, including the pot boy, 150 of them or so? Look at it this way, you might put it in because you’re insecure “what if they forget who so and so is”? But what you’re actually doing is declaring your incompetence: “I am not competent enough that you can take the character in his role without referring to a list.” Uh…. one demerit for Griffyndor, but I read on.
<bangs head gently against desk.
I skipped that and found myself reading a book that read like one of grandma’s gossip sessions. Now, I think this is because it’s not the first book in the series (I haven’t checked) because the new characters and the murder are easy enough. But then we get to what are obviously continuing characters, the detective and her crippled servant, and the guy who maybe has a crush on her, and who, once, was thought dead, but then was found in such and such a place in such and such circumstances.
There was no holding onto the story while being submerged in irrelevant information, and I gave up and tossed the book aside. I mean we got the FULL HISTORY and parentage of this woman’s crippled servant before we have any attachment to the woman yet.
I then tried a regency mystery. Which goes into three pages explaining that women suffered severe restrictions in behavior and ability to earn their living in the Regency and how the authors don’t approve of that.
Look, I’d even endure that kind of crap if they were giving the reason this was so (familial lines/interests, the absence of contraceptives, etc.) but they seemed to simultaneously think that everyone else was totally ignorant and that they needed to virtue signal that they didn’t approve of society women not being able to have jobs (newsflash chickies, society gentlemen ALSO couldn’t have jobs, and oh yeah, they could only make certain types of investments if they wanted to keep their position.)
After all this signaling about how their character is a strong and valiant woman, we see her apprehending a thief (no, really, these dodos don’t have her be an amateur pi, but a bow street runner, may the lord have mercy on their ditsy souls) and losing her occurrence book because her pet dog runs away with it. In other words it’s another “Strong, independent, UNBELIEVABLY STUPID woman.”
Then we went into another medieval mystery, which gave me 20 pages of dry as dust history of England in the 11th century, with vague waves at where the character was at the time.
Look, I’m not a hard judge. I’m a reader. I want a book/series I can fall into.
What can I tell you as a reader about not holding me off your book:
1-read in the subgenre you’re writing in. If you think your medieval mystery/science fiction mystery/fantasy mystery is utterly new you haven’t read enough. Read and see how people — particularly people whose books have been popular for more than a year or so, have solved the problems of telling THIS particular kind of tale.
2-remember for whom you’re writing. Yes, it’s absolutely possible that you find a reader who has never before read this subgenre. It’s also unlikely. Assume readers of an historic period know the period.
3- If they don’t introduce them to the period by immersion. They’ll figure fast enough that there are restrictions to the behavior of women when your main character’s mother reads the riot act for walking alone in the street. And honestly, I don’t think anyone will think you approve of it. Unless they’re crazy. your main audience probably isn’t lunatics.
4- If you’re using foreign/period words for flavor, let them trickle in and let the reader guess them from the context. i.e. trust your reader to have a brain. If I tell you “He got the soup into the malga, got a spoon and sat down to eat.” you will assume the malga is a container (mug, kind of. It’s used for coffee or tea s well as for soup, but it resembles a very large Chinese soup bowl.) You don’t need to know the exact shape, but if you do, I’ll later say something about his turning it in his hands, or wishing it had a handle.
5- Don’t overwhelm the reader with unneeded details. Give them what they need to follow the story, introduced as cleanly and dramatically as possible. You have the whole book to give them interesting details. But even then keep it to those at least marginally relevant to the story.
6- If your story is a sequel give me JUST what I need to follow THIS story. If I like it, I’ll find the previous books, never fear.
Above all, respect your reader and endeavor to hook him/her. You’re indie now. There’s no one between you and the person who reads you. Stop putting obstacles in their way. Go forth and be independent.