Four Ways to Overcome It
With the rise of indie authors, self-publishing is gaining credibility. Not too long ago, authors who went it alone were accused of vanity publishing, of subjecting the reading public to work rejected for good reason. But is there still a stigma attached to independent authors?
I think so. At conferences I’ve met traditionally published authors who sneer at the independents. Maybe they are prejudiced, but in my opinion, the perception that indie authors turn out work that is second class is not always undeserved.
Why do I think this? Because I’ve read quite a few self-published books. With the advent of all the online publishing platforms, it’s too easy for someone to think their book is ready and just upload their files. We as indie authors need to take on the quality control function the traditional publishing houses have performed and make sure that what we publish great books.
Learn the Craft
In my book Read Me Before You Write, I make the point that just because I can pound a nail in straight, doesn’t mean you will want to live in any house I build. So any of us who paid attention during high school English may be able to construct grammatically correct sentences, but that doesn’t mean we can write books people will actually enjoy reading.
Take the time to learn to write well. Read extensively, study some books on writing, take a class or seminar, and practice what you learn.
Some years ago I read a wonderful book called The Twentieth Wife. The woman who wrote the novel based it on a true story she had loved since childhood. Afraid she wouldn’t be able to do the story justice, she wrote a different novel first, to make sure she knew how to write a great book. Only then did she attempt the novel she really wanted to write. That’s the kind of commitment to quality we should have.
Construct a Great Story
If our story is dull, no amount of exquisite writing will keep readers turning the page. If our heroes are unlikable or one-dimensional, not many readers will care about their fate.
Not too long ago I read a novel published by an independent author. Halfway through the book, two of the main characters suddenly started behaving completely out of character. The events in the novel, the interactions of the people involved did not justify or explain such a change. In fact, one woman, who up to that time had been noted for her almost coldly practical nature, began giggling like a shy schoolgirl. Every three pages. Not believable in the least. In fact, it was downright annoying.
Feedback and More Feedback
I’m sure the woman who wrote the book I mentioned above thought her plot worked and her characters were believable. Maybe she had many people read her manuscript and they all loved it. But maybe not. If you can find critics who appreciate your genre and can give honest and specific feedback about your work, while encouraging you to keep on, you’ve found some people to treasure forever. Be willing to at least consider what they have to say.
Yes, we all need a professional editor.
In another self-published work I read recently, I came across a sentence like: “I assure you Marjorie that he did not call.” The author clearly did not use an editor: she probably thought her punctuation was correct. In case you missed it, the sentence should read “I assure you, Marjorie, that he did not call.”
After I noticed the missing commas, then I started observing there were few commas anywhere. I began to wonder if the author was boycotting commas, or the comma on her keyboard was missing. I became more concerned if a comma would ever appear correctly than what happened to the characters. That simple repeated punctuation error will keep me from ever reading that author’s work again.
Proper punctuation isn’t the only reason we need editors. We all have grammar blind spots. Mine is that vs. which. The way it feels right to me is backwards; I never get it right. A good editor knows the rules and makes sure they are followed.
And after multiple rewrites it’s hard to know if you have been consistent throughout. If at some point during the writing process, you changed a character’s name, the name change needs to be made everywhere. Editors can help here as well.
We can all be successful, but it’s an uphill battle to get readers to trust us enough to pay for our work. Turning out well-written compelling stories that are properly edited is key to overcome the bad reputation self-publishing is fighting to overcome.