Learning from Self-Publishing

Self-published novels are everywhere today, especially if you have an e-reader. My Kindle is full of middle grade and young adult novels I was able to acquire for less than $2. Even for the free books, I have to be interested in the plot and characters, and I always read the reviews. But I can’t stick with many of them beyond the first few chapters (and with some, I didn’t get past the first three pages).

Rather than get mad or bemoan the lack of quality out there, we can all learn something. The most important lesson is: editing, editing, editing. The need for editing cannot be overstated.

There are many books out there with a great premise. Some even have a great voice. But those two things are not enough. Unfortunately, I’m one of those people for whom grammatical errors and typos jump off the page. Each one interrupts the narrative flow. If that happens three or more times, I’m done, unless I’m really hooked by the plot.

Some of the mistakes I see can be caught by critique partners and beta-readers. Their usefulness also cannot be overstated. If the tense or POV isn’t working, my CPs tell me. If a phrase doesn’t sound like the character saying or thinking it, my CPs tell me. If I’m head-hopping accidentally, my CPs tell me. If I’m doing it on purpose in a MG (as in one of my recent free reads), my CPs point out that it might not be the best choice for that age. If my plot doesn’t make sense, there isn’t enough tension on the page, or I have too many unanswered questions, my CPs tell me.

I know the excitement of a finished draft. I’ve experienced the impatience to get my work out there. But we must be better than that. Read it at least one more time and get the opinion of some fresh eyes. Make sure you find the mistakes before paying readers do.

It may be even more important for self-published work than for traditionally published work. I will give the book I’ve heard buzz about and have borrowed in hard cover from the library the benefit of the doubt over a self-published book. I explain my impatience away by saying I just don’t have time to read anything I don’t like or is more likely to reinforce bad habits, but it’s more than that. It isn’t fair that self-published books are held to a higher standard, but it is the state of the industry at this moment in time.

As for traditionally published novels, I might make it to the end, but if I find the same kinds of problems that stop me reading a self-pubbed book, I won’t read anything else by the same author, no matter who published him or her. First impressions really are that important.

There are other lessons, but above covers why I stop reading. I went through four books last week in as many days before finding one I felt worthy to keep reading. Don’t let your book be one of those that gets “removed from device.”

What makes you stop reading?



Filed under Getting Published, writing

20 responses to “Learning from Self-Publishing

  1. I think you’re right, that with self-published, it is easier to blame the author for not having due diligence about it. I really think many many authors hurry and jump in without enough editing. In fact I think they ought to hire a pro or at least have a beta who has real editing experience. When I find mistakes in traditionally published books, I am more likely to blame the publisher and changes to the way it is all done. I think publishers used to have more rounds of editing than they do now.

  2. lauraelaro

    Great post. Must be something in the air today about Kindles® – I have a post about them on my blog as well. I will say this about the ease of self publishing (including blogs) – the grammar and spell check is NOT ENOUGH and sadly, does not recognize many words. As a grammatically challenged writer I find the safety checkpoint of an editor to be a welcome addition to anything I intend to “really” publish.

  3. You have very good points in your post here. I found myself nodding along. One thing you said that stood out most to me “As for traditionally published novels, I might make it to the end, but if I find the same kinds of problems that stop me reading a self-pubbed book, I won’t read anything else by the same author, no matter who published him or her. First impressions really are that important.”
    So true.

  4. Critique partners are worth their weight in gold. I’m currently on my 18th edit of one of my books (Yes, you read that right–I need a lot of chocolate) and my CP is still finding all sorts of fun things for me to fix.

    It takes a village to write a book, right?

  5. Catherine Johnson

    I have two small experiences with editors even if they were on very small projects, a play and a poem and I was blown away by the changes they suggested. I will never underestimate how important editing is again now I know what the finished product ought to look like. Great post, Vicki!

  6. I don’t think self-pulished novels should be held to a higher standard than traditionally published – but they should be held to the same. I am just as turned off my poorly edited or badly written books that are traditionally published – and they are out there. I read a YA novel recently that has received a lot of hype. I read it in a traditionally published format, but I found it so hard to get through that I wondered if it was one of those books that had been self-published and garnered so much attention that it was picked up by a major publisher. In either case, it needed a lot of work no matter how it was published. So yes – I agree – the importance of editing cannot be overlooked and everyone should give their ms that last extra read and get some beta readers for opinions to make sure things are working as you intended. Like you, I have trouble getting past a lot of typos and grammatical errors, even more trouble getting past inconsistent use of character names (as if the book was written with one name in mind and then switched, but not everywhere), giant plot holes, poor pacing etc – no different for traditional or self-published.

  7. I think with the ease of self publishing comes the desire to give in to ‘it’s good enough’ rather than take the time to make a book great. So many writers submit before they are ready in traditional publishing–slush piles are full of manuscripts that aren’t ready yet. With SP, a writer doesn’t have to worry about a filter…and this isn’t always a good thing.

    On the other hand, I know a ton of books by writers that absolutely deserved to be published but didn’t make it. Now these books can be read by readers like they deserve to be. I think this is great. 🙂

    So yes, edit, edit, edit. 🙂 It really is worth it to put in the time and effort. 🙂

  8. LLLLLOOOOVE this post! Yes. Patience. Yes. Professionalism.

    Why did I stop reading a book this year?
    1. I was being told a story not shown it. Got annoying.
    2. I wasn’t surprised. Not once. I could have written it, I knew exactly what was going to happen before I turned the page. boring.
    3. I rolled my eyes. No idea why. Something was just wrong. I didn’t buy it. If I roll my eyes— I shut the book. It’s won’t get better after that.

  9. What an honest post. I agree with all your points. There has been a deluge of self published books from my blogging and Facebook buddies in the last several months. I wish so many of them had waited. There are big flaws they can’t see and they’re blaming the Big 6. But I read one self published this year–Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn–which was worthy. She paid for proper editing and she’d already published through a small press. That books holds up next to any books published the traditional way.

  10. This is SO interesting. So, you would stop reading a book by the big 6 before you give up on a self-pub book. I SO get that. I mean, you think self-pub authors are in the midst of growing and learning their craft, where we expect big 6 authors to be at the height of their career.
    I’ve been seeing a TON on self-pubbing, which is a topic of great interest to me right now. So, how does one find a great quality editor, without spending every dime in their account?

    • Kendall Grey

      Take out a loan. I’m half-joking, but if you believe enough in your story, you’ll find a way to make it happen. And if the story is really that good, you’ll have no problem making your money back. If you have doubts, then the story probably isn’t good enough. Deep down, you know!

  11. I couldn’t agree more with you, Vicki. It’s impossible to catch our own typos and snickerty little mistakes, because we don’t see them. Sometimes, when I’ve read something I’ve written a couple of weeks before, I’ve been astonished at the typos I’ve found. It makes for uncomfortable reading. Critique partners are essential. I’m lucky to have found a good one who sees all – and lets me know about it. Story and characters are important, yes, but so is quality.

  12. I agree whole-heartedly! Publishing too soon before writers have gained enough maturity (or hired a good copy editor) is sure death – first impressions in the book world are everything.

    The sad thing is, I just bought an MG book that looked like it had everything going for it – buzz, big 6 publisher, great premise, professional writing and editing, and it fell so flat I wanted my money back. It was probably just a subjective thing but I just felt like I needed to share my disappointment with someone (thanks for volunteering, ha ha)

  13. Great points! Those that are serious should definitely pay for an editor.

  14. I agree that poor editing really bogs down a story and I’ll stop reading it because of that.

    Nice post!

  15. Kendall Grey

    This. This. THIS! Perfect article! I’ve been saying the same things for a year. If you can’t afford a *professional* editor, you have no business publishing a book. End of discussion.

  16. Tag! Wanna play? You’re it.

  17. Bad grammar always makes me stop, without fail.
    But I love learning from all the self-publishers out there. Someday I might go down that route…

  18. You are so right that some people succumb to that “I’m finished” rush and call something finished before it reaches its full potential. The temptation is strong. Personally, I have to do 5-6 edit/revisions myself before I ever let other eyes on my work.

  19. “Make sure you find the mistakes before paying readers do.” I love that line. There are two self-pubbed authors that I will read, and both of them have several beta readers, critique partners, and they still hire an editor to review their books as well. Yes, the greatness of a book is in the details. I hope more authors will be willing to speak out on this subject. Thanks for the post, Vicki.

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