IS SAYING ANYTHING THE HEIGHT OF ARROGANCE?
On this blog – and in comments – and on Facebook…, I am constrained by the available options for text and emphasis and images.
I live quite happily between the limits imposed by the constraints, find my own way of doing what I need to do (most of the time) so I can write the way I prefer.
And, as a member of various online groups, come into contact with other authors.
On occasion, we will exchange or list our book titles with/for each other, and I will see what choices someone slowly becoming a friend has made in self-publishing, from cover to content to interior book design.
And then the hard part comes: if I see potential that is not realized fully because of relatively small, benign problems, I am, mother-hen-like, pulled strongly toward saying something, making a small suggestion that would improve, IMNVHO (in my not very humble opinion) their work.
Their PUBLISHED work.
Who am I to make recommendations?
Someone who has read an enormous number of books – and has self-published exactly ONE so far.
Someone who went into excruciating detail in preparing Pride’s Children PURGATORY to look as good as the best traditionally published work (limited by Amazon and their paperback POD (publish on demand) capabilities), and, of course, my own learned-in-time skills, and spent months getting the ‘look and feel’ of the paperback, and the look of the ebook, to my own standards.
Someone who took a lot of advice from people who would give it.
And who rejected gobs more from people I didn’t end up respecting for their opinions.
Traditional publishing is not mine to condemn
Because, although every one of my opinions had been informed by what I’ve had to deal with in READING those books, I have no control over their choices, nor do I crave any.
Things such as tiny text on the page, double-spaced, surrounded by huge amounts of white space, and with a gutter so narrow you have to break the spine to read the words that edge it.
Or as pale gray text.
Or as fonts (leave that one alone).
Or… (insert here the things you hate the most about traditionally-published books that seemed deliberately designed to make it hard to read).
But self-publishing has an image problem
We are accused – and all SPAs are tarred with the same brush – of being, well, crap.
We are assumed to not be able to find a traditional publisher who will takes us on, regardless of the small to non-existent advances, predatory contracts, miserly royalties, accounting mysteries, and complete lack of control that we are pretty sure we’d have to live with if we tried.
And, unfortunately, I have to agree with a lot of the complaints (again, regardless of the fact that much traditionally-published material is of poor quality itself).
So what should I DO?
The question crops up almost every time I read an SPA’s work (and buy, usually because I’d like to find out how the story ended, and the price is usually quite reasonable (<$10) if you buy an ebook, compared to the ridiculous prices for traditional ebooks): do I say anything?
To the author, directly, in an individual and gently-worded email which he or she can peruse – or not – in PRIVACY.
Should I couch it in ‘best practices’ language?
Should I include a copy of something with some of their particular awkwardnesses minimized (including, but not limited to, a piece of their own work)?
Should I point to an example that I consider ‘correct’ and make a comparison?
Because what I DO do, is to never buy a book from them again.
And never (okay, once so far) recommend their book.
IOW, leave them in their happy ignorance of my elevated standards and practices, happy in their own devices, which probably include… what?
Intelligent authors make unintended or misguided choices
There are basically three explanations:
- they don’t know
- they know and don’t care
- they know – but have no clue how to fix the problems
And may or may not appreciate a busy-body telling them.
But lack of quality affects many things down the chute from just writing the damn thing: read-through, recommendations, reviews, and ultimately the ability to write fiction profitably.
I have kept my mouth shut – so far
Figuring nobody appointed me standard-bearer.
Figuring that as long as I monitor my own work, I’m doing the most that I should.
Except that that niggling perception among many readers that self-published work is crap affects ME. And I have to work very hard to distance myself from the crowd when trying to persuade a reviewer to read MY stuff.
So I’m throwing this out there to see what my readers think:
- Should I try to improve the breed? Or
- Should I try to make sure the readers I want think of me as a good outlier?
And should I ever use my own pretty work as an example when interfering in other writer’s God-given right to make their own choices?
It’s such a tough balance to know when to give feedback and when to let it go, especially for an author. One of my author friends has mentioned being cautious to not review because of blowback from a disgruntled writer.
I know from working with indies that the editor can only do so much and ultimately, the final decisions are made by the AU as to whether they’ll accept each change. But really, there’s no excuse for poor formatting and lack of basic self-editing when there are so many resources out there to make it easy.
As a blog-only writer (and other short nonfic pieces), I always appreciate when someone mentiones a typo or an error when they see it. I have two writer friends read through my stuff prior to publishing any of it, and their feedback is invaluable to me—one reads more for content and SEO friendliness, and the other reads for content and attitude and the way it will be received by the intended audience.
I’m sure the big and little things bug you quite a bit, especially since your own work gets such care and attention to detail. I’d say, having read your published book, that you have every reason and right to give feedback.
Maybe I have the right – kind of you to say – but wisdom is something above that.
You’re right that learning to do everything SPECIFICALLY to avoid the things that bugged me both in ebooks and print books has made me hyper aware of details. That’s the good part.
The bad part is not remembering how long it took (about six months!) from finishing the writing to being able to publish with cover and interior formatting the way I wanted. My brain is so limited – which makes me cross when presumably healthier authors have less respect for how hard some things are to read.
All this without knowing anything about them except the product – but that’s exactly where I want to put myself: I do not want any standards (except speed) to be lowered for me. It’s a different kind of pigheadedness.
I may have gotten most of the impulse out of me with this post! Instead of having to actually do anything and deal with the consequences, we’ve had a nice discussion which has blunted the irritation. TAMED the irritation.
But I cannot remain unaffected by it.
Thinking of you frequently.
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I generally don’t give negative feedback, but I did make an exception recently because the book in question could have been so very good.
The author contacted me after I left the review and was not happy.
To be honest, my first thought was ‘damn, the one time I give a 3 star review I’m hounded for it’. But then I thought, no, my intentions were good, so I wrote back and told him why I had left that ranking and that review. He wrote back one last time and thanked me.
I know I will be forever that ‘awful woman’ to that author, but I am convinced he is a good enough writer to benefit from what I wrote.
Not sure I’ll ever write a three star review again, but if I were to stumble across a book with good potential, I hope I’d have the courage to make it better. I hope.
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I don’t review – not often, anyway – it makes me uncomfortable to judge other writers, and I can’t possibly say what I really think and risk being ‘that author.’
For me, this would be private communication ONLY – unless they insisted they were okay with what I really thought being put out in public. And even then I wouldn’t – but THEY could take a private missive and make it public, with or without alteration, and I probably wouldn’t hear about it.
It’s not worth it for most – but, like you, I occasionally see, if not potential, then something standing in the way of a book being considered seriously.
And even then I wonder about the author – because there is so very much out there about how to do the formatting, etc. Did they make zero effort? Is it from the beginning days of self-publishing and they’ve never revisited it? Or are they really that clueless? These questions do worry me: it’s not that hard to do a reasonable job.
Don’t know if I’ve clarified or muddied the water.
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I know from personal experience that being an Indie, especially an Indie on a very fixed income, putting a book together can be really hard unless you’re a baby nerd like me. For many Indies, their technical expertise starts and ends with Word. That kind of limits how far they can go when it comes to formatting etc, especially for ebooks. Covers are another minefield. And of course, there are multitudes of ‘hybrid publishers’ eager to exploit their lack of expertise, not to mention knowledge of the industry.
For all those reasons I tend to give Indies the benefit of the doubt.
I read Indie books almost exclusively and can honestly say that the quality has gone up in the last ten years.
Maybe my word-processing background is showing here, but I’ve been doing that since the 1960s, so some things are just so obvious.
If you use Word, is has so many options – it is not hard to set up a couple of styles, and then play with how it looks. If you have the concept.
Even if you use a typewrite, you still have to be able to upload. Which is more technical than some can handle.
Glad you can say that about quality.
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My background is fairly technical, but I started with Word as well. That’s why I put the entire paperback how-to on my blog – to try and help those still struggling with the technical side of things.
I still use Word for some things, like the PDFs needed for fixed formatting of the how-to books, but not for fiction. I’d go insane! lol
I rely on recommendations from people I trust for most of my reading. The Amazon reviews are almost always horribly disappointing. I mean, how can over a thousand readers write glowing reviews of….-cough-…some of the drivel out there?
I’m firmly in the ‘yes, tell them’ camp, with a caveat – I’ll always ask if they’d like feedback first. (other than the usual, ‘I enjoyed your story’, which we all like to hear 🙂 )
If they say no, then I’ll go on my merry way, and if they say yes, then we are agreeing to have a conversation.
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I would definitely ask first, and even try to find out what kind of feedback they accept – no point in casting pearls…
And I would be prepared for someone to write back AFTER that feedback and say ‘Thanks, but no thanks – I like it my way.’
It’s just that sometimes that instinct is hard to ignore.
If feedback is accepted, maybe use the Socratic method a bit to see why they made some of their choices in the first place? I just strongly object to things that look like they came from a typewriter.
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My answer to the question you posed in your title would be “yes,” based on the theory that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” While self-publishing is no longer automatically dismissed as a last resort for failed writers, we still need to help one another to improve its viability and make our products as good as they can be.
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Thanks for weighing in – I was starting to feel a bit alone on that mountaintop!
In all this, besides selfish, my intentions are good – just meddlesome.
And I wasn’t even talking about content! Just presentation.
I think each storytellers style and content will suit some readers – people like him or her – even if many books aren’t for me. And everyone has to learn – there are no novel prodigies.
But helping each other to ‘make our products as good as they can be’ is what I was aiming at with this particular thought-experiment.
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I think there’s an interesting meta- element here: The way the decisions rest with indie authors (i.e. in terms of their artistic as well as publishing choices), the decision regarding whether to “improve the breed” or not is all yours (and any individual’s). There are no one-fits-all solutions.
Personally, I’m a fan of impersonal advice. I give people advice through my blog (if not for any other reason, because I have to pretend there’s some use for my PhD), and when they take the initiative to ask, but I very rarely give people unsolicited advice. There are two reasons for this: i) it’s ultimately their book, their rules (see first paragraph); ii) I find it exhausting—the majority of writers don’t want to get better; they want to be comforted. And that’s fine, but I’m not interested in it.
Overall, I’m at a stage (in literary matters as well as life in general) where I simply don’t care. I’m very happy to help people the way I described, but I definitely don’t feel it’s my mission to change the world. I’m just trying to put one foot in front of another here! 😀
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I wasn’t planning to change the whole world – though my blog might have some influence on a small number of people – but basically some of the writers I interact with, and whose books, when I check them out for other reasons, are physically hard to read because of the choices their authors have made SOMEHOW.
For an easy example, we’re now used to a sans serif font for blog posts – WordPress determines that for free blogs like mine. And no indentations for paragraphs, but a blank line between paragraphs instead. In a book I just bought, the whole book is in a sans serif font – and I can’t read it that way.
Another book had the following combination: very large indentations to each paragraph, a blank line between paragraphs, and dumb quotes (the opposite of smart ones – even WordPress doesn’t make me use dumb quotation marks) – and the combination was truly hard to read.
If I had made those choices, I would have appreciated someone pointing it out – and suggesting a better visual layout. And I might have, at the beginning, but I made a point of learning about interior design – and now I care. And I can’t read those books.
Probably all a lost cause, and I haven’t seen a lot of people jumping in with ‘please tell them because I would like to be told,’ so I won’t.
But it was on my mind – so the world got another of my peculiar blog posts.
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I think Amazon has a process where readers may point out errors/problems for maybe every title published on their site.
Although my first published novel was edited by a host of people (well, four or five that were all English teacehrs) and I paid a freelance professional editor to edit the book, as time slipped by, readers started reporting a few typos to Amazon.
Then Amazon sent me a notice so I could fix them.
The snafus were small, but and I put off fixing them. But every few months Amazon reminded me they were there and a few weeks ago, I made those six corrections and uploaded the 641-page quarter-of-a-million word novel again.
Now I’m waiting to find out if while I was making those six corrections I messed up something else.
The question is: are you glad someone told you?