At least, that is a lingering thought held by so many readers. Personally, I think it’s a holdover from the days of vanity publishing – when rejected authors poured their own money into printing their books, then tried to sell them any way possible.
Today, “self-publishing” and “independent-publishing” are mostly the same thing. The group contains both authors who struggled to control the production of their own product as well as those believe that once their great masterpiece hits the shelves they’ll be drowning in riches.
First, let me assure you that almost no author gets rich on a single book. Even the ones with breakout debuts published by the big traditional publishing houses didn’t! They signed deals for series. (Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight, Harry Potter? All were a series of books.) Being a successful author relies on two main things. You can produce enough books to satisfy your fan base and those books are good quality.
Which leads me to the point of this blog. People think self-published books suck because WE, the people making them, let them suck. I’m not talking about that other guy’s books. I’m talking about yours. You, the person reading this who thinks he or she can publish his or her own book. The vast majority of us are going to say some version of “not bad for doing it on my own” at some point in the process. And THAT is where we go wrong!
It’s YOUR fault
As a reader, I don’t care if you did it on your own. I can only see that it’s a good book or a piece of poop. Either there is a lovely cover or a hideous one. You have a talent for putting words together, or you were too cheap to pay an editor.
And right there, is the rub. In no other small business can you get started with so LITTLE investment. I don’t care if putting out your books is just a hobby. I don’t care if you’re broke. If you don’t think the book is worth investing in, then why the hell should I pay you for it? I don’t OWE you. I don’t have to read your book. You must SELL it to me. You should prove to me that this is a story I need to survive. If you can’t do that? Then your book isn’t ready.
It doesn’t have to be perfect – but when it’s not, a good indie author is going to fix that problem. She’s going to buy a new cover, write a better blurb, or send it to another editor, then update the novel to be the best it can be. If you toss your book out to the wolves and it doesn’t sell, then it’s not the market. It’s not the subject. It’s you, the author, who has produced something that isn’t good enough. Maybe you don’t know why, but you can still make some attempt to change it. You can try out a new cover, a new blurb (the description of the book on most sites), or you can correct the writing inside. Those are the top three reasons a book doesn’t sell. Usually, it’s the first two.
You will not get rich writing crap
As an independent author, we have to do it all ourselves. If you didn’t want that responsibility, then you shouldn’t have published on your own. There are a zillion small presses and publishing coops that will help you – for a share of the money. But guess what? If you’re doing it on your own, you wouldn’t keep that money anyway! You’d be paying an editor, cover designer, formatter, and other professionals to do… exactly what that publishing house is taking from your royalties. It’s a wash. If you thought all that extra moolah was just going to line your pockets? You were wrong. People will not flock to the interwebs to buy your cheaply made piece of poop.
Now, if you’re one of those people who thinks, “I just want to share this with the world,” then stop. Just stop. Do you really want to share your typos, repetitive words, and improper paragraph structure with complete strangers who won’t be able to see the story for the grammar mistakes? Do you REALLY want people to grab your free ebook and think, “wow, this author is clueless.” Is your goal to have people laugh about you behind your back? No? Then why aren’t you willing to put some EFFORT into your own masterpiece?
And no, being ignorant is not an excuse. I hear this all too often. “I don’t know how to format in Word.” “No one told me book covers are that size.” “How was I supposed to know that’s annoying in an ebook?”
You see, no one told me, either. I took responsibility and decided I want to be a master of my craft. I didn’t want to be spoonfed. I’m not some entitled prick who thinks that someone else should do it for me. I have no doubts in my mind that when I pay for something, I want to get MY money’s worth, so assume that my readers feel the same. I do not – EVER – think I am entitled to using some excuse to explain away my failure. I just buckle down and learn how to do it better.
This is a business – and most will fail
We authors are selling a product. We conceptualize it, design it, craft it, market it, and so much more. It’s no different from making widgets. This is exactly what our high school teachers tried to explain in that economics class. The whole magic of book marketing depends on Supply and Demand.
Most small businesses crash and burn in the first year. Some hang on for a second – then follow suit. It’s rare for a small business to succeed the first time out. Why? People think that it’s going to be easy. It’s not. If you want to become profitable with your books, then you’re going to have to work at it. If you “love” your novel/story as much as you claim, then why wouldn’t you WANT to? So many people spent years crafting this piece of art. To just toss it in the gutter like trash doesn’t make sense. Then to get pissed off when someone believes your OWN assessment of it?
If you want your book to be seen as a masterpiece, then you must present it as one. You must show it off in its best light. You must do everything for that book – or accept that you are not an independent author. You’re just some schlep who wrote some words on a page, did half the job, then wanted all the credit. Basically, you’re like all the other “self-published” authors out there giving the public a bad impression. Your business WILL fail.
But it doesn’t have to be like that
The only way independent books will get accepted by the public is if the authors dare to prove them wrong. If we produce books that are as good, if not better than the Big 5 publishers. We have to take responsibility.
Sure, we’ll never be able to stop the crap from showing up on the lists. We don’t have to. Just look at Shake Weights. What a joke, right? But no one honestly thinks that ALL small businesses are that silly. We assume it’s an outlier because most small businesses offer something good. Even in an industry where the majority fail, we naturally believe that a small business is worthwhile until proven wrong.
As more independent and self-published authors put effort into their books, things are changing. Just look at your own kindle list. How many of those books are traditionally published? How many are small or independent presses? How many are self-published? More than you thought, I bet. You, as a reader, never stopped to check (in most cases) because the book was presented professionally. It didn’t look like a piece of crap, so you assumed it wasn’t.
And reviews help. We – especially authors – need to start reviewing books honestly. Stop worrying about hurting someone’s feelings and start giving them tools to become better. If you’ve ever given a five star rating to a book with a typo (raises my hand) then you’re a part of the problem. Five stars should mean perfection. Personally, I have a simple breakdown that I use:
- Five star – this book is perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing.
- Four star – this book is worth reading, but has a few acceptable/understandable mistakes
- Three star – Something about this is good (story or writing) but the other aspect needs work.
- Two star – I see a glimmer of hope. There’s a kernel that made me willing to keep reading, but it was not at all ready to be published.
- One star – Every aspect of this book had a problem. From cover design through plot and characterization, including grammar and punctuation, the author needs to learn a lot before they try again. The best option for this book is to take it down and start over. Consider a full re-write.
Is that harsh? Yep. But it also helps. Oh sure, the author will rant, rage, possibly bawl his eyes out, but in the end, critique is the only way to get better. We’re all blind to our own flaws. That’s why we need the help of others.
I also think that if someone is so easily thwarted that they would “just give up and never write again” (something that is said all too often on message boards) then they aren’t really an author.
You see, instead of gatekeepers, rules, and elitist clubs, the best way to make sure that indie and self-published books don’t suck? Police ourselves. Rate ourselves honestly. Take care of our OWN work first, and produce the best books we can. We are a community of brilliant minds and magnificent dreamers. The stigma against what we do is already fading. If we work just a little bit harder, we’ll prove that artists don’t need to sign a contract with a pre-fab corporation to be, well, artists.