Hard truths about the industry #amwriting

I love reading,  and always review the books I enjoyed. For every book I feel good about recommending, I may have to read six that are just plain awful. I’m not only talking Indies here—large publishing houses publish many novels every year that are a waste of paper and digital space. These travesties should never have made it past the gateway editor, much less the eye of an experienced agent.

This goes beyond my not caring for the style or voice of the piece. I’m talking lack of proofreading, garbled sentences, lack of knowledge of how to use words like ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, and misspelled words. This happens in traditionally published work as well as Indie, which should be embarrassing to the Big 5, but apparently isn’t.

Some books are so badly edited it seems like the author is the only person who has ever seen the manuscript. One glance at the first pages of the “look inside” option at Amazon and the other large online booksellers can show how abysmal a book is going to be, so use that tool and don’t buy a book that you haven’t had a look at first.

Other novels are moderately edited but not by a professional or someone who understands the craft of writing. This is a flaw that can drive away all but the most determined readers, people who would ignore most typos and slight inconsistencies for a good tale.

My own first novel was published by a small press. It was a good example of bad editing: the unbiased eye of an experienced, educated editor could have made a great novel out of a promising tale. Instead, I paid for work that wasn’t done (having to pay your publisher for editing is a red flag, btw) and the book was published without my seeing the changes my publisher made. That experience was painful, but it was an education I have taken to heart.

Sadly, rushing to publish isn’t limited to Indies. It happens all the time with traditionally published books, especially when the first novel in a series has had good success. These publishers set impossible deadlines and race to launch what they hope will be a follow-up best seller, but because they were rushed, these books sometimes fail to live up to the hype.

I see this as evidence that editing and proofreading by the large houses for many successful traditionally published authors are sometimes overlooked in the rush to cash in on commercial success. And while this means that they publish crap too, Indie authors face a double-standard: the stink of bad editing and proofing washes off the traditional houses, but clings to the Indie industry as a whole.

This brings me to my point: The big 5 traditional publishers pretend everything they publish is sheer magic, while loudly pointing out the faults inherent in self-publishing. And, while it makes me laugh that they decry us as worthless but leap to publish us the minute we show any sign of real success, there are hard truths here we indies who are committed to the craft of writing must face.

Consider your readers—they deserve the best you can give them. For this reason, I refuse to attempt to churn out more than one or two books a year. Some authors can write three decent novels a year, but it takes me four years to take a novel from concept to publication, so I have three manuscripts in various stages at all times. I understand that romance novels are a different kind of animal, but I write for readers with different expectations.

Some general advice for authors who are first starting out:

  1. Learn the mechanics of how to write in your native language. Grammar and punctuation are essential, no matter what genre you are writing.
  2. Join a writing group and meet other authors, either in your local area or on-line. This will help you with steps 3 and 4. Enter writing contests and participate in the boards and threads. Ignore the trolls; they pop-up everywhere (usually with badly written ego-stroking crap to their publishing credit.)
  3. Develop a thick hide, and find an unbiased eye among your trusted acquaintances to read your work as you are writing it so you can make changes more effectively at an early stage. This way you won’t be overwhelmed at the prospect of rewriting an entire manuscript from scratch.
  4. Lose your ego. Your ego gets in the way of your writing.  Are you writing for yourself or for others to read and enjoy your work?
  5. Find a good, professional editor. There are hidden aspects to every great book, and they are all centered around knowledge of the craft. An external eye is essential to the production of a good book. Check their references, and when you do engage their services, do not take their observations personally—editorial comments are intended only to make a manuscript readable. This editor must be someone you can work closely with, who makes suggestions and allows you to make the changes in your masterpiece yourself. They must understand it is your work and you have the right to disagree with any suggested changes. If you have this symbiotic relationship, you will turn out a good final product.
  6. Don’t give up your day job. Even authors receiving hefty advances have to struggle to make ends meet. (Read Thu-Huong Ha’s article, A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life.)

It’s far more affordable now for a dedicated reader to buy enough books to keep themselves happy, but making your way  through the many offerings in our eBookstores is a perilous journey. You can’t always trust the quality by reading the publisher’s label. You just have to realize that whether a novel is traditionally published or Indie, some books are frogs, and some are princes.

To write well, you must read widely, no matter what your favorite genre is. You may have to read a few books you wish you hadn’t on your way to finding the book that sweeps you away. In the process of reading for the purpose of writing book reviews, I have discovered many wonderful books by talented authors in all genres, and on both the indie and traditional sides of the industry. Finding those gems makes wading through the lemons worthwhile.

Sources and Attributions:

A New Book Shows the Financial Cost of Leading a Creative Life,  by Thu-Huong Ha, Jan 11, 2017, Flipboard

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons


Filed under writing

31 responses to “Hard truths about the industry #amwriting

  1. Great advise. I learned the hard way and I will never do it again. I echo your advice – Get a good editor you trust and can comfortably work.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great food for thought, as always, Connie. My mind is gnawing on #4 (while it tries kickstarting with java cup #2) — are you saying there’s more ego involved in writing for others or for self? I agree, ego is (or can be) a problem, no matter the endeavor, but I’m not sure if the audience one is writing for plays into that . . . say more! Please!

    Liked by 2 people

    • In some cases, writers don’t benefit from editors remarks because their ego is too tied up in their work. And unfortunately, I have come across authors with an exalted view of their place in the universe–they are hard to deal with because of that snobbish attitude. But being able to understand and learn from an editor’s advice is really critical, and wallowing in hurt feelings can get in the way of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Stephen Swartz

    I seldom read a novel which leaves me feeling “meh”. I vet my reading so I read only what is good, meaning good to my sensibilities and preferences. I try to make allowances for a good story less-than-well written (style, etc.) and for a well-written (“crafted”) story which nevertheless left me feeling “meh”.
    One example: despite his many fans, Murakami’s 1Q84 seemed so flawed in every way we were told not to write in my MFA workshops. I finally had to stop before I was even a third into it.
    Recently, I read a novel set in the same location as the book I was writing, so I thought it would be helpful. (I borrowed only two descriptive details, after all was read.) The story was “ok” but the writing was mostly bland/journalistic, the protagonist too goody-good to be real (to me), but it did have flashes of good writing style in some interlude-like chapters that revealed inner-thought and backstory. The author, I learned, is someone inside the publishing world, so…maybe that factored in to the book being published. Hmm.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for a very “realistic” view of editing. My first book is coming out soon, and it was tough. Thanks again, and take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on Plaisted Publishing and commented:
    There are some good points here. A must read with accurate information.

    Liked by 2 people

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  7. Spent s whopping $1200 for editing once and thinking all was good, released my trilogy. Readers notified me of grammar/spelling errors and such. Was so angry. A friend of mine in the science industry went through it for free and found all of them for me to fix. Yet, trad pubs get away with it? Like you, I feel my readers deserve better. Thanks for writing this.


    • As an Indie, my eyes are the final eyes on my manuscript before it gets uploaded to Amazon or D2D. That is why I have a third set of eyes on my final product, proofreaders looking for things I may have overlooked when making corrections my editor requested, and errors I might have inadvertently added at the last minute – and I do miss things. I take comfort in knowing that I have done my very best to put out a clean product, and nothing aggravates me more than finding formatting problems or other overlooked errors.


  8. Reblogged this on Nesie's Place and commented:
    Good commentary and great advice! 😉👍


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