It may surprise you to learn (though it shouldn’t) that I’m an avid reader. Just like my writing, I tend to binge read. Three to six books in a few days is not uncommon, and then I might go a month without reading any.
But I do read, and I’m usually very picky. I’m one of those people who doesn’t read further if the first chapter (or ten pages) doesn’t grab me. Awkward phrasing makes me cringe. Inconsistent flow will make me close the book (whether I’m at the first chapter or the second last), if it’s stopped me more than once.
Characters who don’t make sense are another turn off for me. You know the ones. The strong, amazingly independent woman/man who can’t get point a through her/his thick skull even when someone beats her/him over the head with it? Yeah, those ones.
Story arcs that drag on when they should have finished on a high note. “Here, I’ve written a sixth book to ride the coattails of the other five, because there’s still money in it even though the story well is dry.” I won’t read past the first of those, and the author usually loses me forever.
I also read my crit partner’s work, and while I’m just as picky, I soldier on and read theirs, because it’s not yet a done deal, I can still help them improve what they’ve written – polish it, make it the best it can be.
But once it’s in print – I’m either sold, or not.
I’ve come to the realization that I hold traditionally published books and self published books to different standards. Oh, well this book was pretty decent considering it’s a self published book. In a way my brain treats them like my crit group, like maybe I could help them make it better.
When it comes to people published by one of the big publishers, or those published by any of the smaller ones, I have a far higher standard for them. I expect their writing to win me over too, just like it did those agents. I have high expectations that the edits are solid (although a few typos are acceptable) and that people have gone over it with a fine tooth comb and made the book the best it can be.
I damn well expect it to be marginally unique and not filled with clichÃ©s and analogies. The characters need to feel real and rounded, and I need to want to read more.
Yesterday I realized that I don’t hold self publishers to the same standard. Why? Because they don’t have the resources? Bull Shit. You can pay a good and reputable editor to point out your flaws. You can invest in good cover art and not some mongy mock up you did yourself. You can edit the shit out of your own book and make sure it’s better than what you would have sent an agent.
In my head, the self published books I would give four stars, are about equal to 2-2.5 stars for a published book. And this is not okay.
The book you put out as a self publisher, should be as close to polished editing wise as those who go the traditional route.
So why the long partial rant?
Because the vast majority (read like 90-95%) of self-published books, don’t hold themselves to this standard. I’ve been interested in blurbs, I’ve read those first free chapters, and I’ve cringed a lot.
If I get past the first chapter and buy the book, I usually regret it, but the voice in the back of my mind always says: Oh, it’s self-published, this is why it’s not up to scratch.
But in revising my own novel, I’ve realized – The author is as exact and picky, as pedantic and insistent as they WANT to be. Just because you have a story, just because it’s finished and you’ve given it a couple of passes, does not mean you should self publish straight away.
It’s not enough to revise and edit frantically. It’s not enough to curse at those mean agents and publishers who’ve rejected your work because they don’t understand or didn’t realize it would be the next big thing. It’s not enough to want a story out now, because you think it should be. Because, let’s face it, sometimes we’re not the most objective when it comes to our own work.
Put the story away. Let it sit. Go over it again. Find more beta readers, people who’ll be brutally honest.
No amount of amazing story is going to overcome glaring errors, or things you’ve missed because you’re trying to churn it out too fast. As a reader, I WANT the e-publishing craze to continue, I want cheaper access to great stories and I want those stories to rival those that are picked up by agents and publishers.
Self-publish by all means, give the readers access to great stories. But make sure they’re better than you ever dreamed they could be.