The self-published slush pile is the worst fear of any indie author. It’s the condition where your work languishes in the great limbo of internet obscurity, never rises above 2 reviews on Amazon, generates only a handful of sales on Smashwords, and doesn’t reach the target audience that it calls for.
I don’t want to write too much content for self-published authors for my little review blog, because I want to write content for other readers like me, not self-published authors. I’ve decided to write this little guide anyway in the hope that it will help someone out there. This is a guide written from a reader’s perspective.
(1) Remember that there is a whole world of literature out there, and readers will not settle for anything less.
As an SF genre fan, I’m a 3 minute bike ride away from my local library’s beautiful collection of Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula K. Le Guin. I also have a massive amount of free Edgar Rice Burroughs sitting in my e-reader, waiting to be read. What makes your work interesting or worthwhile enough for me to read over everything else that is available at my fingertips?
Think about this. I listen to indie musicians not because they’re indie, but because they’re good and they just happen to be indie. I don’t listen to Antic Clay because they’re not on Virgin Records, I listen to them because they play fantastic death blues. I don’t care about business models, I care about the product.
(2) Make your product perfect.
Readers expect perfection, regardless of whether it’s free, $0.99, or $9.99. $0.99 is not an excuse for poor quality. $0.99 is a marketing opportunity to win over new readers. If all the readers saw was a couple of typos and awkward dialogue, it was a waste of everybody’s time and those readers will not give you a second chance.
When I watch a movie, I don’t want to see the mic and camera hanging all over the place. Similarly, I don’t want to see typos or bad SF concepts. You can be the new Birdemic or Eye of Argon if that’s what you’re going for, but if not, then make it perfect.
(3) Perfect products need editors.
Just because you don’t have a traditional publisher now doesn’t mean you can also do away with the editor. Get an editor. Editing doesn’t just mean typos and grammar. Editing also means getting rid of scenes that slow a book down, or fixing awkward dialogue. Readers are unforgiving. I can’t find out if the rest of the book is good if the first three pages clearly did not go through some kind of quality check. Like with all forms of fiction, quality is judged on the basis of a good story and a mastery of the craft. If the work doesn’t have either, it’s not worth anybody’s time no matter what the price.
(4) Perfect products are not the stuff you had hanging around and decided to see if you could sell it.
As a reader, I judge the quality of literature on the same scale as any literature I’ve been exposed to. If I see something and think, “This reeks of my old FictionPress lurking days”, do you think I’d want to read it? Do you think I’d want to review it? Smashwords is not the place where you go to learn how to write. You learn to write with your writing circle, your writing forum, and yes, FictionPress. You test the waters by sending short stories to SF magazines. If you feel like you’ve created something that’s perfect and will have an audience, then you publish it. Do not publish anything expecting that readers are forgiving and will correct your work. Self-publishing is not your writing forum, and you will not get feedback or reviews if your work is not polished.
(4) Create packaging that is worthy of your perfect product.
If you have a great story, or a great book, why damage it by dressing it up in rags? Write well-thought out blurbs that will interest your target audience. If I see a blurb that’s missing punctuation or is a complete rambling mess, I’m not going to touch the sample. If you don’t think your book is worth the time of hiring a half-decent graphic designer, why should I read it if you seem to value it so little? It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be well-thought out and seems like some care was placed into it. Heck, a cover with a black sans-serif title against a white background is better than some of the covers that I’ve seen out there. Please, I just want to read some SF. Don’t make my eyes bleed.
(5) Find the right avenues to get to your target audience.
I can’t talk much about marketing a self-published book, and there’s a lot of great blogs out there about that subject, but find relevant blogs and websites that would be interested in your work. Read and follow the review policies. Sometimes the work will passed over just because of the reviewer’s personal reading preferences, but hey, that’s just readers for you, not everyone can enjoy reading everything. Sometimes the work is good but will get passed over because other work seemed more interesting to the reader. That’s also just readers for you. What is in your control is just writing the best book you can and crafting the best product possible, then leave everything else to the readers.
When you have the confidence that your product is perfect and you want to send some review copies to interested SF reviewers, then send it to folks on this list: Indie SF Reviewers. Before then, craft your work to perfection.
Frida Fantastic–your neighborhood indie SF reviewer
Mystery author Lauren Carr is the owner of Acorn Book Services. Come here to ready Lauren's advice for authors about book writing and publishing. If you have any questions, don't be shy. Most likely, other authors have the same questions but are also too shy to ask. So feel free to shoot Lauren an e-mail and she'll answer your question either off line, or here in a blog post. If she doesn't know the answer, she'll find out.
Seven years ago, when I received my proof copy of A Small Case of Murder, I squealed with delight. I looked at it’s shiny cover. The artwork was fabulous. It looked even better live and in person. Plus, it was my book that I had written.
It looked great. So I picked up the phone, called the publisher and told him to let it rip. Let’s release that baby on the world.
Days later, I receive a frantic phone call from my mother. She had received her copy of A Small Case of Murder and quickly sat down to read her daughter the writer’s book. To her horror, she found it riddled with typos!
No one had told me that the purpose of a proof is to read it to check for errors. I had invested in an editor! I had edited it and proofed it inside and out. How could there be typos?
By the time I had received that proof of A Small Case of Murder, I didn’t want to read it. I had read it so many times that I thought my eyes would bleed if I had to read it one more time. But my responsibility as the author was to read that proof, or have someone else read it because this was the last chance to correct mistakes before it is released to the public—and reviewers. (That’s another blog post.)
I didn’t know that then. I do now.
I had graduated from college with the Bachelors in English, literature, and journalism. I took tons of classes on writing suspense, the great American novel, point of view, description, etc. I had worked for ten years as an editor and layout artist for the federal government. But when it came to what to do after writing my first mystery, I didn't have a clue.
Who do I call? A literary agent or a publisher? Do you need a literary agent? Where do you find a literary agent?
Seven years ago, without the benefit of Internet for social networking with other authors and people in the business, I never came in contact with anyone who could instruct me about this mysterious world centered in New York and these faceless gatekeepers and gods who had the power to either make my dreams of being a published author come true or have them wither away like those dreams of so many others.
I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do with a proof except to say, “This sure is a pretty book.”
Most of the mistakes that I have made are based on misconceptions that I had about how publishing works and the motivations of those involved. There’s way more to publishing than can be addressed in one blog post, and I hope to not make it too simplistic, but here it is in a nutshell:
Publishing is a Business.
When you’re writing your book, you are a writer. You are an artist.
After your book is written, and you seek to have it published, then you become an author.
At this point, whether you are seeking to be commercially published or independently publishing, you are a business person. In other words, when you talk about writing and publishing, you are talking about apples and oranges.
When it comes to publishing, think about it and treat it as a business. This will help to alleviate a lot of artistic frustration when you’re able to wrap your head around this.
Whether it be commercial publishers or self-publishing businesses, the mission is about producing a product (books) to sell to the public. If the product doesn’t sell, the company (the publisher if the book is published traditionally; the author if it is self-published) doesn’t make money, or even worse, loses it.
Publishers don’t care about art and publishing great literature. They are very different from the way they were back in the days of Hemingway and Steinbeck.
Traditional publishers only care about selling books and making money and right now they are losing it hand over fist for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list of those reasons, poor executive decisions and advances in technology that have upset their apple carts.
Therefore, publishers will only invest in what they consider guaranteed money-makers. That’s why when you walk into Barnes and Noble you see whole aisles devoted to vampire love stories and another aisle filled with memoirs from politicians, and another devoted to has-been child stars who tripped over a literary agent waiting at the prison gate with a seven-figure contract from Random House to write their story. (The ghost writer that will actually write that book was stuffed in the trunk of the limo and will be eating a tuna fish sandwich for dinner while the child star will be sipping champagne.) You will also find books by authors with a proven track record of making big money for their publisher, which is only one percent of the overall author population.
Proven authors, celebrities, and big named politicians have no trouble getting contracts because, financially, publishers can’t take the risk of investing in an unknown quantity.
Whether you, as an author want to fight this battle to get in with a traditional publisher, or go the independent route of self-publishing, you do need to accept that in many aspects, no matter how much it turns your stomach, this part of the publishers’ thinking is right.
Publishing is a business. It is the selling of books to the public. If a traditional publisher doesn’t invest his money in publishing your book in order to put it out there to the public, then the only other option for you as an author is the self-publishing route. In this case, you will be investing your money in it. Unless you’re Bill Gates with money to burn and too much time on your hands, your book needs to be a product that the public will buy.
That means you, dear author, need to make your book salable. By that, I'm not saying your book needs to be the subject matter of the month.
I'm talking about quality. You, dear author, need to do everything in your power and talent to make your book the best it can be in in order to stand up against the thousands upon thousands of books being published every year.
Don't get scared. This is possible.
Even without a big publisher backing you, it is possible to produce a book capable of standing up against the big guys' books. It takes a lot of hard work and diligence, but it can be done when care is given to editing and proofing, and design.
It was after I had this Ah-hah moment, after having been around the block and making a few mistakes (like releasing A Small Case of Murder without reading the proof because no one told me that I was supposed to read it!) that I established Acorn Book Services. (I have since revised and re-released A Small Case of Murder, along with A Reunion to Die For.)
With four (going on five) books under my belt, I want to pass on what I have learned along the way, which is the purpose of this blog.
So, now I open this site up to you. What questions do you have about writing or publishing? Remember they are two different things, whichever you want to talk about. Apples or oranges. I'm ready to take them both on.
Send your questions to me and let's get to work.