by Melissa Foster and Amy Edelman for IndieReader.com
Several predictions have stated that 2012 will be “The Year of the Indie Author”. After all, 2011 saw some awfully big moments.
John Locke became the first indie to break the Kindle million-seller mark. Amanda Hocking, Queen of the indie vampire books, signed a ginormous contract with St. Martins Press. And The New York Times deigned to include indies on their best seller list, where every week at least one title - often more - are contained. By all indications, you’d expect that readers and traditional media alike would be wrapping their arms collectively around indie authors and their books into something akin to a big ‘ole hug.
And yet… not so much.
Big Reason #1: Bad Editing
The main complaint about the indie book category is the lack of editing. It’s true that this situation has changed a bit in the past few years, due in part to better and more diligent indie authors and—on the flip side—slack in the editing of traditionally published books.
An anonymous letter sent by a group of successful traditionally published authors on M.J. Rose’s blog, Buzz Balls and Hype, requested the following:
“PLEASE EDIT MY BOOK. Even if you know it will sell and get reviewed because of my name and my previous books, even though you recognize the many good qualities in the manuscript I have turned in, if you think it needs a serious revision, please, please, ask me to do it…Please do not let me go out in public this time with my slip showing and parsley on my tooth…And while we are on the subject, please employ a copy editor who understands the basic rules of grammar and has a working knowledge of the subject of the book sufficient to make useful and necessary changes in the manuscript instead of adding egregious errors while omitting to find crucial mistakes and typos. I love our nice expense account lunches, and I love you, but above all, I really, really want you to edit my book...”
It wouldn’t hurt for indie authors to demand the same. Why don’t they? For some it comes down simply to money. They “put their first book out there” to see how it does, with the assumption that they’ll take the profits from that book and use them to edit the second book. But that plan often fails because readers who find a book difficult to navigate because of poor editing and grammar are not likely to pick up the author’s second book, even if it is offered for under a buck.
A scarier issue is that some independent authors simply believe that their work does not need to be edited. Writers are often too close to their work to make the critical structural and grammatical changes that might make the story more succinct. Let us simply say here that every writer benefits from a good editor.
Big Reason #2: Quantity Over Quality
Number 5 in Chuck Wendig’s brilliant “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing” is Stop Hurrying. “The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle...But generation and creativity should not come at the cost of quality.”
Writing a book should not be a race to the finish line. While certain authors seem to toss off a title a month, copy and structure editing alone can take three to four weeks, receiving feedback from beta readers can take another three weeks, not to mention crafting the novel. The model of pumping several books out in a year might be fine for someone like James Patterson who has a slew of hot and cold running editors, but for many indies, it means skipping important steps such as editing and trying to go straight to the payoff. If independent authors want to write books that will be taken seriously, they need to present themselves with the same marked quality as the traditionally published books out there.
We queried readers on their thoughts about the necessity of editing in traditional and independently published books. The overwhelming response was that independently published books were in need of stronger editing. While several readers pointed out that traditionally published books were also lacking in the editing department, the majority felt they were not. Perhaps most importantly, the majority of readers polled said that they would pay a higher cost for a better edited book.
Not everyone feels that way. Gary Henry, known on Twitter as @LiteraryGary, and writer of Honest Indie Reviews, says, “I look at indie books the same way I look at amateur athletics. It's about fun. As long as they're free or 99 cents, all they need to cover for editing are the basic mechanics of spelling, grammar and punctuation. Indie writers who want to charge more--turn pro essentially--owe their readers a more highly edited story--one that's edited professionally for style, as well as mechanics.”
Terri Guiliano Long, bestselling author of In Leah’s Wake, thinks that "Basic quality should be a requirement for all published books. The work should be structurally sound, the writing clear, the book free of grammatical and typographical errors. For the indie movement to thrive, to end the stigma, we need to be sure that all published books meet these basic standards. Editors or editorial teams, charged with assessing quality based on objective criteria, perhaps equipped with a checklist, would assure that they do."
Big Reason #3 – The Lack of Gatekeepers
We totally get that being an indie gives authors the freedom to create a brilliant work, unsullied by the sales and marketing formula of the publishers of today. And we believe that self publishers are among the last of the underestimated, struggling artist's of the world. But no man (or writer) is an island. In the words of Eminem, “Why do I act like I'm all high and mighty, When inside, I'm dying, I am finally realizing I need help.”
In the old days, an author needed an agent to get to a publisher and a miracle to get to an agent. Reaching readers any other way was totally out of the question. But ebooks and print on demand technology have made it possible for self-published authors to slip right under the velvet rope and onto ereaders everywhere, gaining thousands of readers in the process.
The problem comes from the hardly edited and badly written indie books that taint the category, making it all the more difficult for the great authors to get recognized. A quality control gatekeeper might quell the flow of those poorly written books from getting to the Kindles.
Having a trusted place to find credible reviews would certainly help separate the good from the terrible. And while there are a growing number of outlets which will review indie titles, most traditional media still prefer to pretend, like gays in the military, that they don’t exist (while The New York Times does include indie books on their best seller list, they don’t include them in their book reviews).
Big Reason #4 – Crappy Covers
As with many things in life, first impressions are 90% of the game. In order for authors and their books to be taken seriously, they must present themselves in a professional fashion; strong cover art, succinct and exciting blurbs, and a professional author photo, are must have items. The decision to skip these important steps can hinder current and future sales. As Biba Pearce states on Jane Friedman's blog, "An ebook cover has an important job to do. Not only does it present your book to the world, but it also says a lot about you, the author. It can be a powerful selling and marketing tool, or it can damage your image as an author and lead to dismal sales."
So will 2012 will be “The Year of the Indie Author”? That depends. While it’s certainly true that indie authors yearn for respect, the plethora of unedited, badly written books with god-awful covers still taint the category. The truth is, while there are many incredible authors out there, in order for them to be taken seriously by readers and the traditional media, they have to first take their work seriously themselves.
Just as every writer deserves the chance to write and publish, every reader deserves to receive an edited - and polished - book.