Guys, I’m having a moment, and it’s not pretty.
So I found myself wandering through the digital racks of Amazon this morning, perusing the freebies in the hopes that I might find a fun new author (like I really need ANOTHER book to read) or discover interesting new concepts not yet apparent to this world. Unfortunately, the farther I wandered, the more disheartening and, quite frankly, disgusting, it became.
People are giving away their blood, sweat, tears, and time for chump change. Books are releasing and within a month have hundreds upon hundreds of glowing reviews – none of which come from verified purchases, mind you. From my research, the majority of the verified purchases appear to give these “masterpieces” one star and generally tell prospective readers the equivalent of don’t freaking bother.
All the goodies are hanging out there, cheap and/or free, in the hopes someone might stumble by and happen to snatch that particular piece of low-hanging fruit.
Now we all know I’m not the world’s best or most prolific author. At this point in my game, if I’m completely honest with myself and y’all, I’m still struggling to attain mid-list mediocrity. My own fault, yes, but that’s another rant for another day.
I bust my butt to produce quality work and I take pride in the finished product. I’m not out there schlock-hocking, writing to a formula or a trend for the sake of making a buck. I don’t just slather words on a page and slap a pair of half-naked people on it to throw up on Amazon for free just to get attention. I’m doing my best to do this the right way.
[Pause: I’m not saying self-publishing isn’t the right way because (1) I’ve done that too, and (2) there is no right way to go about publishing… what I’m saying is I make sure my work meets a certain standard in editing, artwork, and overall production, which is what readers deserve.]
The problem I have is this:
I just find myself dumbfounded time and again at the low quality and lack of concern people have for literature. Everyone and her best friend seems to be thinking these days, “Oh, I need to make a quick buck. I’ll just go write a book and be a bestseller!” And you know what, kids? Goshdarnit, it just don’t work that way.
I hate to break it to you, but not everyone in the world is cut out to be an author. You might have the best, most original idea ever conceived, but I have a pretty strict policy around here – if you don’t have at least a basic grasp of grammar, punctuation, and dialogue, you are not a writer. And you’re dragging down the quality of something I love, so step off.
Writing truly is a dying art. And that cold, sad fact makes me want to sit down and cry fat, ugly tears. This rise in I-can-do-it-myself-ness has made a complete mockery of what we as professional authors do.
Guys, we can’t let this stand. We have to take back our craft, to rise above the masses of people scrabbling for the petty change at the bottom of the basket. It’s going to take some work, but we can do it if we stick together and demand that change.
Screw that… we’re not going to demand change and wait for it to happen. We’re going to make the change.
Well, yes…but how?
I’m so very glad you asked! It appears the problems with our market boil down to five simple rules, and we’re so busy keeping up with the Joneses that we’ve lost track of what’s important.
1. DON’T GIVE AWAY THE GOODS.
My mother is a voracious reader. So am I. So are the people by whom I’m surrounded. Yes, we do troll the bargain bins from time to time, but that isn’t where we spend the majority of our lives.
We, as respectable authors, need to step out of the cheap-trap. If our work is truly worth its salt, then we need to recognize and respect it by not giving it away. Promotions are one thing – go ahead and have a freebie week to gain interest. Give a short story away as a teaser. But don’t fork over a three-novel set for $.99 because you think it’s going to get you somewhere. By giving away your best work, your readers will come to expect it of you. Now that’s not to say a short story can’t live at that $.99 mark for it’s entire life. But you don’t want to take that kind of horrible cut on a novel. You’ll never get anywhere like that.
Price your books accordingly. Let the tramps have their pennies. Eventually the readers will tire of wasting good money on subpar writing and start looking back toward the more reasonably-priced works, where you’ll be hanging out in the henhouse with us.
2. DON’T FALL INTO THE NICHE TRAP.
Let’s face it…by the time we recognize a trend, we’re already behind it. Unless you’re writing ten of everything out there right now in the hopes the market will circle back around to your favorite type of critter, you’re never going to be that guy who writes that book and becomes the next Stephenie Meyer. Writing to the market may make a few people marginally successful for a month or two, but it’s never going to sustain a career for anyone. Rather than doing what’s already been done, we should be focusing our strength and energy on creating the next thing. We should be writing the books which will define the new trends, not follow in the footsteps of someone else. Sure, werepenguins are the hot thing right now, but that doesn’t mean the wereskunk will follow.
Be original. Write your own story, and let the trendy schlockfest continue without your participation. Make yourself that new and different thing everyone wants to read.
3. HIRE SOME OUTSIDE HELP.
You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.
I repeat: You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.
Should I say it again? Because I will. And here’s why you need those things:
Because if you’re fighting the good fight, you want to put your best foot forward. A reader is not going to want to pay fair market value for an unreadable turd, which is why a professional product is the bet thing we can ask for at the end. Yes, sometimes it’s a pretty hefty outlay of cash on the front end, particularly for good editing, but it’s worth it in the end [this is where the credit publishers never get comes into play…they pay all of this for you so you don’t have to]. A professional product will go the distance and will likely suffer less returns than an unpolished hunk of words.
I learned to format out of necessity. I had a background in digital artwork so I was ahead of the curve with covers. I got lucky in that one of my good friends has a Master’s degree in English and will cut me a break. I also offer these services to other authors for reasonable rates because I want others to succeed. I can’t fix your technical ability, but I can make your book pretty.
Your readers deserve quality, so give it to them.
4. DO NOT PURCHASE REVIEWS. EVER.
The Perfect Review DOES NOT EXIST.
You might think you’re doing yourself a favor and putting yourself ahead of the game, but YOU AREN’T. Trust me on this… if you’re going to shell out huge chunks of cash for something, see Step 3. A review from a verified purchase is going to go much farther than some nobody giving you the digital equivalent of a tongue bath. Because the dirty little secret is this: 300 good reviews from a questionable origin will not hold a candle to that one verified critical review. Readers who consider reviews are going to read those low ratings first because those are the ones which tell the truth.
Now that’s not to say you can’t offer your book to reviewers for an honest review. I’ve done that. Yeah, it’s bitten me in the butt a time or two, but you know what? I’d rather have an honest opinion than a “OMGILOVEITSOOOOOOOMUCH” review any day. You know why? Because honest reviews keep me honest, and show me my mistakes so I can learn from them.
Expend your resources elsewhere, kids. You owe it to yourself to be honest.
5. WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ.
I believe this, above all others, is the most important rule. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re writing, how can anyone else enjoy reading it? Writing on autopilot reads on autopilot. Believe me, I’ve read enough poorly-executed, trend-trailing garbage to know the difference between a story with heart and a story for cash. I love reading as much as I love writing, and I often find myself disappointed by what I’m reading because it doesn’t share the love I feel for the craft. Emotion plays heavily into writing. I want to feel what the characters feel and see what they do. I don’t want to go through the motions of being in love because this chick is supposed to fall for this half-vampire werepanther. If she’s going to be in love with something so sensational, I want to suspend my disbelief and be in love with her. Likewise, if a psycho clown is on a killing spree in my bedroom, damn it I want to feel like I’m next.
We’re readers, not statistics. We aren’t dollar signs. And if we aren’t willing to pick up what we’ve written and read it, then we’re writing the wrong thing. As I said, it’s time to take it back, to do what we love for the sake of the craft. This…this is how we’re going to do it. We have to rise above, to band together and stay strong.
Yes, the market sucks at the moment. But with persistence and forcing quality back into our products, we can turn that around. Who’s with me?