This is a 6 part series called What I Hate About Self Publishing. Part One: The Overview. Part Two: Scams. Part Three: The Education Challenge. Part Four: Time. This is Part Five: Quality Assurance. Part Six: Lack of Marketing. The conclusion.
This is a tough post to write. In my experience, there are two kinds of writers: there’s the “nothing I ever do is good enough” writer, and the “everything I do is a stroke of genius” writer. I deal with both, although lately (maybe in keeping with our increasingly American Idol-ed society), it feels like there’s an upsurge in the “Stroke of Genius” category.
Here’s the thing: there are simply very, very few people who can churn out genius. The rest of us need to put our work through rounds of evaluation, feedback, development, and revision in order for the work to be great.
I think one of the challenges is that it DOES take a little bit of craziness to want to share a piece of your soul with the world. So every writer who has passed from “I just write for the sake of writing,” to “I want to be read,” is going to have a nugget of insanity somewhere in them.
This comes to the fore in Indie publishing. “I have the best idea in the world. All my friends are blown away by it.” I hear that sentence, not infrequently. The thing is, I bet your friends are blown away by it. They should be — even if it’s not yet as refined as it needs to be. Why? Because you wrote a flipping book! That’s amazing. You had the follow-through to complete a book.
But it breaks my heart when an author stops at that point. When there’s not intense editing, great design, good typesetting or eBook formatting, your audience will not grow. People who have a personal connection to you will give you the benefit of the doubt. But when you want to reach an audience beyond just people you know, you’re planning on your book reaching the point where everything about the book has to be awesome.
It HAS to be great. Say that to yourself twelve times. Write it on your white board. It HAS to be great.
That means you need great editors. Not your aunt Martha, the English teacher. Editors who work in the book industry have, as Liam Neeson said, a particular set of skills. You need those skills. They will find you, and they will… red ink you?
You need great cover design. Like, not okay, not mediocre, great. It has to reflect your genre, your content, and your audience. You need great typesetting, great eBook files, great printing. It just all has to be great. If it’s not, your audience will disengage.
And here’s the really hard part: It can be great and still fail to connect with the audience.
There’s not a perfect formula for any of this. If there were, legacy publishers would never have a down year. They would never publish a project that didn’t earn out. In reality, if you do your research, you’ll know that they publish many projects that don’t earn out. It happens to them, so surely it can happen to you.
So, quality assurance is no guarantee of success, but lack of it is a virtual guarantee of failure. No one ever wants to say it. I still occasionally struggle to point out the clearly apparent problems to an author. But we don’t serve one another by not telling the truth. There are aspects of this that are subjective: I love sci fi, you might not. But there are elements that are not the least bit subjective: obvious editing issues, a cover that screams sci-fi from its design on a historical fiction novel, or really bad typesetting.
What it comes down to, if you’re the publisher (and believe you me, if you’re footing the bill, you are the publisher), you have to push with all your might to ensure that the book is great. If you fail to surround yourself with a team that will help you get there, you have no one to blame but yourself. The bad-audition episodes of those reality television programs are supremely uncomfortable for me. I sit there wondering, does no one love them enough to tell them they aren’t that good?
Indie publishing could do with a good dose of honesty when it comes to defining work that is good enough, work that is great, and work that just won’t pass muster. Until that happens, we deserve the reputation we have among serious readers and traditional publishers. It’s getting better, but I don’t think we’re all the way there yet.