Sunday, August 7, 2011

Authors, clean up your act.

I've got a bit of news for authors of all stripes: "Indie" publishing is not a free pass.

The new technologies make it possible for writers to bypass the gate-keeping functions of literary agents, acquiring editors, copy/line editors and proofreaders. Writers/authors can now offer their products directly to the customer in digital form. Say what you will about the traditional publishing model, the fact is there was some measure of quality control. The absence of these standards in the new model is proving disastrous to, if not the viability, then the integrity of self-published or "indie" e-books.

"I have to admit that part of the problem is the poor quality of so many ebook offerings ... of every 10 ebooks I acquire, I am certain that 8 or 9 will be trashcanned within the first 30 pages of reading."

...I’m complaining about authors who don’t see the value in hiring a professional editor, authors who think they can both write a compelling story and either self-edit it or hire the next door neighbor to give it the editorial once over...

Writers are jumping at the opportunity to do it all themselves: write, edit, design covers, market and sell. They are happy to do away with publishers and other middlemen, reduce costs and take a bigger piece of the royalty pie. My contention is that while many authors attempt to do it all, they seldom can do it well. Nowhere is this as apparent as in the egregious lack of editing in many, some say the overwhelming majority, of these books. The ones I've read, with few exceptions, are so rife with errors that I wondered what on earth the author was thinking. Even authors who have been previously published by traditional houses and who decide to go the "indie" route are guilty of putting substandard, hastily slapped together, unedited and un-proofread books up for sale.
  • Authors, when you do this, you disrespect the readers.
  • When you disrespect the readers you lose them.
  • Lost readers means lost sales.
  • When you sell substandard books you undercut the very platform that makes your "indie" venture possible.
  • Discerning readers will fall back on the names and houses they know they can depend on for at least some degree of quality control.
  • E-books like yours will continue to be underpriced because no one wants to spend more than a few cents on a product that has a 10-1 chance of being unreadable.
  • Reviewers will continue to discriminate against self-published e-books, and with good reason.
I'm giving some unsolicited advice to authors swarming to offer their e-wares to the public: Clean up your act. Have a competent reader proofread your book (at the very least) or have it professionally edited. Readers forgive a handful of errors in books, even in traditionally published print versions. A handful of errors on every page is unacceptable.


G said...

So very true.

Even though my first two self-pubbeds were something in the end I shouldn't have really done, at least I made 100% sure that the editing was done correctly and the grammar was tight before sending it off to the publisher.

Charles Gramlich said...

It's certainly difficult to wear that many different hats when you try to do it yourself. I tried it with Killing Trail and I hope it came out well. I can't really judge it myself. I've read some pretty badly edited ebooks but I've seen some pretty badly edited books from known publishers as well. Zebra books, back in the day, often had horrific editing errors. Maybe that's why they went under. Or part of the reason. The upshot is, it almost never hurts to get a fresh set of eyes onto a story.

KeVin K. said...

Exactly right.
The problem with editing your own work is you know what you meant to say -- and what you meant to say is what you see when you read. Of course I always edit before I submit, but the editor always finds things I missed or unclear scenes that need fixing and the copy editor always finds things we both missed.
I'd chance a short story without an editor, but any independently published novels are going to pass through the hands of a professional editor before they see the light of day.

Lynn Emery said...

I agree with the point about indie authors needing to make sure they put out quality products. I've been buying indie books since I got my IPhone, and I haven't had that experience at all. The books were not full of errors. Reading another one now. My rule is this- if I visit the author's website/blog and see lots of errors and sloppy writing, I don't buy the books. Hands down - a sign of what to expect. Never fails that sloppy in one area means sloppy in another. So far my screening method hasn't failed me.

Liane Spicer said...

G, that's exactly what I mean. The very least writers should do is ensure that the basics are covered: grammar, spelling, sentence construction, punctuation, elimination of typos. Frankly, after I've been knocked out of a story by several such errors before I've even finished the first chapter, I don't want to continue.

Maybe other readers have a higher threshold, and maybe my background as an English teacher and editor makes me hypercritical. But I did some research on this problem before I wrote the article and I'm not alone in my impression - not by a long shot.

The bottom line: Even the best of authors need at least a second pair of competent eyes to screen their manuscripts. Two pairs are even better. There's a very good reason books go through so many checkpoints at the traditional houses, and it's not because publishers love paying all these additional employees.

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, it doesn't hurt and it just might save the author from embarrassing herself. Authors are probably the very worst judges of their own writing - hence the need for proper editing.

I agree that some traditional houses are dropping the ball as far as editing is concerned because I'm seeing more and more errors in their books - but nothing close to what I've seen in some indie e-books.

Liane Spicer said...

KeVin, that will be money well spent. I'm meticulous about sending out clean manuscripts and I usually catch everything by the second or third (or fourth or fifth) re-read. Yet I would never dream of sending out - or publishing myself - any manuscript that hadn't been vetted by another competent person, and I keep stressing competent. One of my critique partners is great at pointing out plot inconsistencies and problems with voice, but he's not a grammarian.

Despite the care I take, I'm sometimes taken aback (even into the third re-read) by the things my eyes skip over because my brain knows what it meant to say.

Liane Spicer said...

Lynn, I wish my experience with indie e-books had been the same. Interesting screening method; I have actually avoided some books (print and e-) because of these very issues you mention.

Chris Stovell said...

As a writer, I value an objective view of my work from an editor. As a reader, I believe that I'm best qualified to decided whether or not a book appeals to me. For me, the ebook free sample gives me the best picture of whether or not I want to read more of that writer's work. I don't feel the need for a gatekeeper to tell me what I should be reading!

Liane Spicer said...

Chris, I've bought e-books without looking at any sample/preview because I wanted to support an author or the plot summary hooked me or for other reasons. And I've been burned. I plan to be a lot more careful in the future and make full use of those previews, or wait for reviews. The money involved is usually negligible; the time and aggravation wasted on poor choices is another matter.

I don't have a problem if it's a question of my not liking the story or the author's style; I don't expect to love everything I read. I have a huge problem with books that are littered with basic formatting, grammar and spelling errors, in the same way that I'd have majors issues if I purchased an article of clothing that turned out to have crooked seams, hanging threads, missing buttons, holes and stains. Minimum standards is what I'm talking about here.

As for the gatekeepers I mentioned (acquiring editors, line/copy editors, proofreaders): I don't think they exist to tell people what they should read, but are a part of the publishing process that ensures some measure of quality control, something that's glaringly absent from many 'indie' e-books.

Liane Spicer said...

*major issues*

Lynn Emery said...

Another thing I've found, though hasn't happened to me in a major way - formatting can be tricky. I've heard authors doing the e-pub change of a manuspcript, and something happens causing formatting errors, etc. They're horrified to hear from readers that the proofed manuscript they formatted came out on the other end looking like they didn't take time to for basics.

Lynn Emery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynn Emery said...

Sorry, made a mistake and hit the post button twice. That was me that took out the post.

Liane Spicer said...

Lynn, I've heard about that problem. What I'd like to know is whether authors can duplicate the galley stage of the traditional process by reading the finished e-book (a preview version, maybe?) and then going back in to make final corrections.

I'm sure that as with all the technology, the platform is being refined constantly so if that option isn't available now it should be soon.

Chris Stovell said...

It's certainly an interesting debate, Liane. I've enjoyed reading all the comments here. Interesting times!

Liane Spicer said...

Chris, yes it is. Thank you for joining in!

Interesting times indeed. Exciting too. And scary.