Friday, February 10, 2012

The Free-For-All Mess In Authors, Books & Publishing

The other day I was perusing a forum and then a few blogs of some "Indie" publishers. I looked at their profiles, tried to guess their ages, and then looked at how many books they have published. Now either a great many of these people are simply whizzes at the keyboard and in their own minds, and have no need to edit a book or even go over what they wrote, or else they are up 22 hours a day just writing. I mean, come on. 10-15 books to your credit in 2-3 years?! Something is off here, and sadly enough this time it is not the agents nor the publishers nor the market. It is the authors themselves.

What many of us fail to take into account, especially authors, is that market is in flux and re-birth. The amount of "formats" out there for books, the way people will read books, the future of the actual book store, the need for more and more technology to be ingrained in an author's head so they can get a book or the need for the author to lay out more and more money to those that do it for a business is astounding. Don't think for a moment this is more expensive than going the "traditional" route. It is not. Couple the time, the seeking for an agent, the publisher, the ulcer, etc and etc well you do have the same investiture if not more into writing. Of course afterwards there is a marketing as well. A whole new can of worms.

But let us return for the moment to the authors. The world of POD and self-publishing opened up and with it a tiny trickle of words and ideas turned into a river and then an ocean of books. (Actually I believe technology historians will point straight back to the "invention" of the blog for this phenomena.) And what an ocean it is. A vast sea of words and ideas put out day after day in the form of books. And the question is just how much is worth reading? Just how much is worth putting into the brain?

As in all discussions of this type there are many answers. However I really find it hard to believe that a person can put out 10 books in 2 years unless they are writing from some type of format laid out next to them. And in that case there goes literature and originality.

However, let me be the mean guy on the block and beg authors to do the following:
  1. Edit what you wrote. 
  2. Spell Check it.
  3. Grammar check it.
  4. If you can in any way afford it give it to a professional, well-respected editor, and pay them. Not every word  you write is gold. Not every sentence is correct. Not every paragraph is set up correctly in tenses and sentence structure.
  5. READ IT for all that is holy. Read it and figure out if anyone else would want to read it. 
  6. Published it? Gave it away for free on KDP or on some other site? I dont want to bust your bubble, but giving away books does not mean you have hit any best-seller list or that people love your writing. It means simply that freebie hunters are in every part of society. Some may read your book. Some may even like it. But until you actually "sell" tens of thousands of copies, please resist the temptation of calling yourself "a best-selling author". Because you are not. You are a whiz at handing out free products. (Yes, I know you hate me now for this. Shrugs.)
If you are going to use your book to present your "originality" to the world, then don't you think it deserves a reading and re-reading and professional edit? I have seen much more discussion on what a book cover should look like, than on what your words should convey to the reader. That is sad, and a sign of the times as well.

I do not imply that editors at the traditional houses are all great either. Sometimes you fall into the hands of a great editor, and sometimes into the hands of someone who is in that position because his Uncle knows the boss. But a good editor is something every single one of your books needs.

And let us face it. Not everything you write should be published. Not everything is worth reading. So if a manuscript is not going anywhere, or it does not feel right, file it away or junk it. You may find a few out there who will read it, but you have to learn to be honest with yourselves as well. And that honestly is, I admit, very hard, very unrelenting, and very difficult on the ego.

Or you may not be cut out to be an "author". That too is something one has to consider. That too must be looked at from all possible angles. That too must be faced. The moment I see some author who has self-published 10-20 books especially fiction books during a period of 1-2 years, I have to admit I am very suspicious. Either you have been writing from the age of 5 until 60 and then published all your books at once, or you simply are throwing out first edits to the public. Shrugs. I guess it is all sales in the end or you have an incredible gift at the keyboard, and should be publishing with the Big 6.

I do rest assured that sooner or later the market will find the correct balance between formats, books, suppliers, publishers, agents and all the rest. It will look like nothing it was 3-4 years ago that is for sure. It will be interactive, prettier, more entertaining. Will it produce great literature? Will it produce decent if not great writing? Only time will tell, but I think the market too will somehow find a way to weed out the bad from the good. At least I hope it does.

Because I find it hard to believe that my children and grand-children will look at the million books on "vampires" that have been published and think, "Wow, Dad. Your generation really knew how to write!"


Elizabeth Lang said...

Some tough words but I heartily agree with this. Just because someone can put two words together, doesn't mean they should be published, even if they do find a good editor. I know it's not a popular thing to say but it should be said more often.

Ellen Ghyll said...

I enjoyed the article and took a look at your book.

'Finally admitting the reality that there was nothing else remained to be done...'

Um...perhaps you should take your own advice, Ted, and check your grammar. :)

Teddy said...


You are so right. The problem is when you do these interviews and blog posts we tend to do them fast without that check. But you are 100% correct. I have sometimes cringed when I re-read some of my own blog posts. Of course, though, I admit I am also "comma-challenged", and the word "that" is my worst enemy. So I accept the critique with no excuses. You are right. One must always try to do better even without a professional editor!

Ellen Ghyll said...

Lol:) All credit to you, Ted. (Just couldn't resist!)
Have to say, your book looks well worth a read and I will be buying myself a copy for my Kindle :) xxxxx

Teddy said...


Taking my bow with a red face, and thank you.
I do not know which book, but even if you hate it, let me know or let the world know. :)
Besides, you were 100% correct.

Arthur Levine said...

Worthwhile comments. Lot of truth written here.

Cat York said...

I wrote a post like this about doing picture book illustration work for "indie" writers for several years. After having projects take too long, cost too much, never go to print, I took a little break from freelance illustration and started setting priorities. My latest feeling on pairing with an indie writer to produce a book? Interview. Say no if I don't feel the writer is putting enough effort in/ taking enough feedback. Sure they can pay me to draw ... but I went to school to learn how, and I can survive a critique. I can't always say the same for the folks who want to pay me to illustrate their work.
Thanks for you honest post. I believe it's necessary for this self pub gen to slow down and publish slowly. Take time to learn and put out stuff you're proud of.

Hombretel said...

I started a website about nine months ago which was soley to advertise and market the books of self-published authors. I read and review as many books as I can and I've got to say that of the books I've read so far I've been very impressed. The stories have been original and interesting with none of the repetition you can get with some popular authors. Many of these books deserved to be in the mainstream. Yes there have been some spelling and grammar errors but you get those with established authors as well and you would have to be hyper critical to say they get in the way of the story or your enjoyment.