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Monday, April 21, 2014

Independent Publishing?

    When we've been writing for long years with lots of hard work put in, we want to get published, like, yesterday!  Never mind waiting months for a publisher to get back to us, most especially if  the response is: "Good work, but no thanks."  Ack!  Where's the sledge hammer to hack the computer to pieces?
    Because of such rejections, some of us might venture into independent/self-publishing. I have mixed feeling about that. Having already self-published a self-help book, I know the pros and cons of my own experience. However, today there are easier avenues than becoming your own one-man (woman) publisher like I did.
    Now, we have that giant of book sellers, Amazon, offering a dream-come-true opportunity for many authors...Amazon's Independent Publishing services, where you can publish to Kindle, to print, to audio, or all three.
    I haven't personally looked into the costs or the details, but I see a number of authors out there selling their independently pubbed books on and via Facebook and their blogs. I am happy for those authors who are finally able to see their work in print and having others read it. However...yes, here it comes...with such publishing comes a few issues that most traditional publishing routes will not tolerate. Lets start with...Errors. 
    Sure, nearly every novel I have read had at least one spelling error, maybe a missing word or an extra preposition. Mostly Kindle versions. Depending on the error, I try to attribute them to the probability of formatting or some such techno issue. But, I don't really know for certain if that's the case. (No pun intended.)  But in the print versions, more than 'two' errors or so, would not likely be tolerated by, ONE: The agent representing the author...and, TWO: The editors working to put the book into print for their publisher. Let's face it, errors make a publisher look bad. A reader might say: "How could such a big publishing house have allowed so many errors to slip through?"  Usually...they don't.
   So, what's the big deal about a few errors if the story is really good?  Well, apparently, many readers don't like them. A good number of reader reviews state that they will not purchase books again from a specific author due to those errors.  This means that even if that author were to later on go the traditional route, she or he has already diminished their sales if using the same author name as for the error laden work.
   For example, a one star review on, can prevent an author from attaining a four or five star overall review. Many readers make purchases based on book reviews.
   In the urgency of wanting to be published, some authors might fall into the careless mode, especially a first-timer. I have done that with my self-pubbed book. Fortunately, the information in the book is more valuable to those in need of such info, than my errors of  too-long paragraphs and unnecessary repetition. The five star Amazon overall review status attests to that. Had it been a novel, I doubt those flaws would have been so readily overlooked. And had I gone the traditional route, an editor would not have allowed those long paragraphs to get passed her or his desk.
     Now, lets look at the strength of the story.  Is it just a good story to the author for personal or sentimental reasons? Is the plot feasible?  Is it for a particular audience, such as teens or females, yet bearing a title and description deflecting from that fact?  Unlike an agent or editor, independent publishing doesn't have that same guidance to help us get rid of those flies in the ointment. But again, the reader reviews will clearly point them out. That is not the platform where we want such overlooked issues to be highlighted. 
     Bearing this in mind, it seems that an important benefit for those going the self-pubbed route, is to join a writing critique group so that others can help spot errors and weak story lines. It's also a means of learning about various writing rules, such as POV (character point of view) and head hopping, (jumping from one character to the other in the same scene) as well as grammatical errors, such as dangling phrases and too many tag lines, and even repetition issues...the same word used too much or restating the obvious. When we get attached to a story we tend to run on and on at times. A critique partner will point out such tendencies.
   We can't rely on our spell checker too much, either.  For instance, if we have a typo for 'too' being 'to' or even 'toe,' the spell checker will not pick that up because none of the words are misspelled.  And so, our sentence of, "I want to come along toe," will go through the spell checker without any red underline. This is one of many instances where the critique group comes in.
     Having our work checked by other writers is not only a good idea for authors going the independent publishing route, but also for those going the traditional route. Even more so, when it comes to our proposals and queries.
     If we want our work to be taken seriously at the onset, it has to read that way. After all, we are looking for a job; a writing job with an agent to represent us and a publisher to publish us. We want them to work with us to get our book out there in readership land.  It's collaborative teamwork.
    While errors can't be avoided - we are human, after all - they can be fixed before reaching readers. With the help of a writing critique group, writing courses, and our own resolve to avoid carelessness and to double check our work, we'll come up with a clean professional end result. Yes, it requires a tough spirit to take even the good and helpful criticisms, and a swallow of pride to learn that sometimes we can be grammatical dummies and come up with a really bad story. But it's all part of the process of fine tuning our writing abilities into something beautiful. Much like the old adage of the potter molding and forming a lump of clay into a perfect useful vessel.
       For those who are reading this who have gone the independent route, this is not in any way a bashing of such a choice. Just an observation of some of the particular independently published books I've read that had noticeable errors, repetition issues, and weak story plots. Not necessarily all in the one book.
     Of course, this isn't the case for the majority of independently pubbed books I've read, but even the few that warranted my attention to those negative issues, have gotten similar attention for the very same reasons by other readers, resulting in some bad reviews. I consider that a lesson for myself, and something worth blogging about.
     Some advocate that we writers NOT read our one-star reviews (for obvious reasons.) But maybe those reviews can act as another sort of critique group, all serving to strengthen our craft.