I have read many, many wonderful books by “indie” authors. I am an indie author. Several of our Roses are indie authors. The ranks of indie authors are filled with brilliant writers who have produced compelling and entertaining stories with fascinating characters that make me want to read more and more.
However – you knew a “however” was coming, right? – there are still too many poorly written books being released via self-publishing. I’m not saying this as a reader. I’m saying it from several years’ experience as a local book columnist/review coordinator for the news organization where I work. We ran monthly lists of new releases, “reviews” (although not critical reviews, more like book reports), author profiles and a weekly calendar of local book signings. As you might imagine, I received books and pitches daily, and the majority were from authors who had self-published their stories.
Some of them were very well done, great stories, and I was happy to share with our readers. But too many were just bad – amateurish formatting and cover design, little or no evidence of proofreading or sometimes even the most basic skills in writing.
I often worried about this latter group of authors. They were the ones who hadn’t done the hard work it takes to learn the craft of writing. Neither did they educate themselves on the business side of the craft and were easy pickins for companies happy to take their money, sometimes lots of it, to help them see their books in print.
I’ll give you a perfect example that happened just the other day. (While I no longer write the column, I still get calls and emails from authors and publicists.)
Caller: Hello, uh, I wrote a book and need some help.
Me (feeling a prickling of unease at the back of my neck): What kind of help?
Caller: Well, it’s almost ready to be published and they said it needs to be proofread.
Me (red brain-flags waving): Are you self-publishing?
Caller: Yeah. I know I gotta pay, but can you proofread for me, or tell me someone who can?
Me: What’s the genre?
Caller: It’s called a manuscript.
Me (heart sinking...rapidly): Right, but is it fiction, like a story? Non-fiction, like a how-to book? Or maybe a memoir?
Caller: Yeah. That’s it. A memoir.
It turns out he contracted with one of those notorious companies (once known as vanity presses) that rake in dollars from naive authors. They offered to proofread for him, but the cost would be $2,000 (yikes!!) for his 388-page manuscript. He’s disabled, living solely on disability, and can’t scrape that kind of money together. Worse, when I asked him what the $2,000 covered, his response was, “Uh...that’s a good question.” All he knew was that it was an add-on buried somewhere in the contract. He’d already given them a lot of money and now they were asking for another couple grand before his book would see life.
For a nanosecond I considered whether I could help him out, but I was worried the manuscript would be a mess (I'd seen how some of these companies "edit"), and I knew I wouldn’t be able to muster the energy it would take to do a good job.
Instead I gave him the names of a couple local writing groups and a nearby writing center with a great reputation. I hope he followed through, but I’m worried that somehow he’ll find $2,000 and get ripped off even worse. It’s bothering me.
So this is a plea for new authors who are thinking of self-publishing:
- Do your homework before you hand over money to anyone, whether an editor, cover designer, book formatter...any author services.
- Join a local writing group and/or an online group like the Alliance of Independent Authors where you can network with others and learn from their experiences. Here’s a list of writing organizations by state. Here's a list of national groups. I’m sure neither list is exhaustive, but it’s a start.
- Take writing classes and hone your skills. Check your local community college for opportunities. Listen to constructive criticism.
- Please, hire a real book editor. Your best friend/cousin/brother-in-law who’s really good in English might be cheap, but book editing is a specific skill. Being “good in English” doesn’t make someone a good book editor.
Leah writes stories of mystery and romance, good and evil and the power of love. Learn more at LeahStJames.com, or visit her on Facebook.