I read an article in The Huffington Post yesterday that, at first, had me standing up and shouting, “Here! Here!”, then when I’d finished, I was filled with mixed emotions. I’m posting the link so you can read it before you read my thoughts on the matter.
Her main point—that you shouldn’t self-publish poor quality—is the part that had me standing up and cheering. I agree wholeheartedly. Having worked as an editor in a previous career, I am saddened when I read a book that is poor quality. I want to give a new author a chance, but when I notice so many glaring things wrong, I just can’t finish the book. I recently read a story by an author I met at a conference. We had discussed the story, so I was excited about the plot. Before I’d finished the first two pages, I found so many editing errors that I wanted to cry. I did mention them to this person hoping he/she will employ a professional editor for her next story. It’s one thing to have a good story, it’s quite another to have a great one. On that point, Ms. Devon-Wilke and I agree.
Here are a few pointers on story quality that popped into my mind.
- I know it’s expensive, but save your money and hire a professional editor – not your family member or your English teacher, but an editor that understands the literary industry and how a story should be crafted.
- Learn your craft – there are so many workshops, classes, and books available about writing that you’re doing yourself an injustice not to use them. Here are a few books I recommend:
Have patience – take the time it takes to craft not a good story, but a great story
- Let your manuscript rest. Set it aside for a few weeks, returning to it with fresh eyes.
- In the self-editing process, study your sentences and word choices. Is there a more powerful way to say what you want to say?
- Study your characters. Are they consistent with personality and behavior?
- Read the manuscript aloud.
- Does your dialogue flow or is it stiff and formal?
- Does your scene setting transport a reader into the thick of the action or leave them flat?
- When the story is done, the story is done. Don’t add fluff to meet a certain word count.
I could go on and on with the above topic, but I also want to make a few points about quantity. If you can do the above and put out 10 works a year, then do it. I exaggerate slightly, but you get my point. The author of the article mentioned people writing shorts for Kindle and publishing them for 99 cents. I believe she felt that those whom write to the market and churn out shorts to make money hurt the rest of us as authors. If the writing is poor, I agree. I’ve seen some of those Kindle marketing methods where they encourage a person to review what’s hot on Amazon and write about it. They recommend hiring a ghost writer if you can’t do that yourself. I don’t agree with this method, feeling those types of shorts have hurt self-publishing. As for the short story itself? There is very much a market for a good short story or a series of a short stories.
Times are a-changin’. The traditional publishing world has been forever altered by the invention of the e-reader. Busy commuters like the short stuff that they can read on their way to work, in line at the super market, or in the doctor’s office. Many a famous author got their start publishing short stories and still write them. As far as price? It’s what the market will bear. Traditional publishers have to charge a lot for a printed book because they have warehousing costs and returns from bookstores to think about. That’s why it is so much harder to get published with the Big 5. Most agents today won’t look at an author unless they have an established marketing platform to guarantee at least some reader base to buy the book when it comes out. How do you get that? You either write a book that knocks their socks off, or you self-publish great quality, build your audience and let them find you.
I think there is a place for both platforms in the mind of the reader. They will support Indie authors as long as the story is good and professionally produced. They have their Big 5 favorites that they will also follow with religious abandon. Many authors also choose to self-publish because they want to take control back of their artistic license. They want feedback into the cover design, they don’t want their story altered to fit the market, and they prefer to cut out the middleman. I applaud all methods. Do I hope for a Big 5 contract some day? Of course, I do. But I’m not going to hang on to a manuscript for 10 years waiting for that event to occur. I write because I want to please readers. If I can produce a quality self-published work and accomplish that, then I’m okay with that too.
One final point I’d like to make is this… Don’t allow self-editing to paralyze you as a writer. In her article, Ms. Devon-Wilke mentions how it has taken some authors years to produce their work, making sure it is the very best it can be before they attempt to put it on the market or find an agent. I also have met writers who say “it has to be perfect”. While I think putting the work aside and going back to it after a short period of time is necessary, I also believe laboring over a story for a long period of time won’t necessarily make it any better. You get sick of it which could hurt your story, and there is no need to waste your time with that self-editing intensity if you have a good professional editor.
Bottom line, I feel the author of the above article does make some critical points, but you if you produce quality work and study to improve your craft, it really doesn’t matter how many times a year you release a story. For me, I study my craft, write the stories that come to me, have them professionally edited, and let the reader decide.