Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let's remove the Stigma attached to Indie Authors.

Almost every day, I see an article online about the need for editing in self-published works.  Not quite as often, but still frequently, I see counterarguments about the declining quality of professionally edited, traditionally published works.  I agree with both of these positions.  The solution that is most often offered is that Indie authors need to hire editors.  That doesn't address the problem of declining quality among the editorial ranks.  Good editors, like good writers, are hard to find.  Encouraging a poor writer to hire a questionable editor may not remove the stigma.

So, what's the solution?  It's multifaceted, but it's not complicated. As a first step, I think Indie authors need to cultivate critical readers and listen to their feedback.  When you find such gems, don't give them the book until you are certain it's ready to publish.  Ask for comments on the story structure, the ease of reading, and the pacing.  Try to get the reader to zero in on specific examples to illustrate any criticism, but don't expect that they will point to the precise problem.  These folks are hard to find, but they're there.  If you're depending on a relative,  be sure to explain that the purpose of their feedback is to keep you from embarrassing yourself in public, not to make you feel good right now.  Although my wife is fond of me and likes to say nice things to me, she won't let me go out on the town with my shirt on inside out.  I've tried it.  There are some others who help me, as well, and when some or all of them tell me that there's something wrong, I know there's something wrong.  They may all point at different things, but that doesn't matter.  It's my job to find the specific problems and fix them.    

As a second step, if grammar and punctuation get in the way of the story, the writer (or editor, in some cases) needs to go back to school or find a different outlet for creative urges.  An editor should be correcting oversights and mistakes, not picking through the fruits of ignorance.  There is a difference between an editor and a ghost writer.  Let's not confuse the two.

The third step, and the one that all of us who are serious about removing the stigma attached to Indie authors should embrace, is to give honest, direct feedback, as opposed to "I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine" reviews.  That's best done with some degree of privacy, as opposed to posting a critique for the world to see.  If you read a lot of Indie books, as I do, you've encountered some that have egregious errors in the first few pages.  Take a minute to write to the author and suggest that, while the story might be interesting, it's obscured by the poor grammar and punctuation.  Don't give it 3, 4, or 5 stars and hope for the same in return.  That's where the stigma comes from.

Is there a place for paid editors, cover designers, and blurb writers in this world?  Certainly, there is.  The good ones earn their money, as do good writers, and their work stands out for the same reasons.  Let's all focus on the quality of our collective product, and the stigma will go away. 


Richard Sutton said...

Glad to make your acquaintance. The issue with disappearing editors has a great deal to do with traditional publishing's dwindling margins. Editing is expensive, for anyone who undertakes it, and a writer is almost never the right choice for their own work. With the cost of production in print rising through the ceiling, what's a poor, self-respecting publishing conglomerate to do but lay people off? Editors even in very successful companies are finding their jobs no longer as secure as they once were. Many are turning to writing themselves. In my own experience, writers are not usually the best editors, but they can be very detail oriented when it comes to punctuation and sentence rule infractions within other writers work. So they can make great copy editors. However, if your work needs a developmental edit, from someone who knows the market, get ready to lay out the big bucks, or... look to decoupage or acrylic portraiture as a creative outlet.

Charles Dougherty said...

Likewise, Richard, and thanks for the comment. Your insights are interesting; it's easy for a writer or a reader to forget that publishing is a business, I think. Self-publishing can be a business as well, but it doesn't have to be. The barriers to entry into the self-publishing arena are low, and not every self-published author is focused on how to make content intrinsically valuable, as opposed to just putting it out there and driving hard to sell it.

Ozma said...

I LUV this!!!

Found you thru twitter.
This blog, your insights and pursuits are authentic and inspiring!

Thank you~

Charles Dougherty said...

Thanks for visiting Ozma, and for taking the time to leave a comment. I'm glad you like the blog. I see that you write Southwestern Gothic Romance. That's a new genre to me; I'll have to take a look at your work. Stop by often, and thanks again for joining and posting.

Terry Tyler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terry Tyler said...

Some excellent points. I cannot afford to pay an editor and I would not know how to look for one that was good; I have to rely on my own instinct and intelligence, and also that of my husband and my sister, both of whom are tyrants when it comes to grammar, punctuation, etc. As far as the actual stories themselves are concerned, I send reasonable drafts of the first few chapters to a few friends upon whom I can rely to give me honest feedback. The novel I have just completed is one for which I particularly need this; the concept is rather weird, to say the least, and I knew it would be difficult to pull off. For 2 out of my 4 readers, it didn't work, so I had to re think it and make it do so; for instance, what I thought were clever red herrings had just served to confuse 2 of the readers and make the whole thing fail to work.

I hate all that 'you scratch my back' stuff. Before I put my stuff on Amazon, someone suggested the site Authonomy to me. What a waste of time that is! It's just writers asking each other to give their books high ratings, and telling each other how wonderful they are in the hope that the compliment will be returned! Every time I logged on I had someone asking me to read their first chapters and 'back' them. There was one girl on there who I genuninely tried to help, as I would with anyone who wanted my opinion; I was not too damning, but she really needed to go back to school. However, all the other people on there were telling her it was great, fantastic, all the rest of it. She emailed me her final draft and asked me what I thought and when I said I didn't think it was ready to be sent to an agent yet, she got quite shirty! It's difficult, though, to tell someone that their book (that they've sweated over, etc etc) just isn't very good....

....and you're right; even if it's so hard at the time to hear that a plot development or storyline just isn't working, I need to know this. Without my test readers telling me that my latest novel was WAY too confusing, I wouldn't have known, and would have put a substandard book out there. I'm particularly bothered about this one being good as it's my 3rd one; you know, that '3rd album syndrome' thing - it's GOT to be as good as if not better than the last two or it will look as if I have peaked too early!

Oh dear, I've done that 'comment as long as the blog' thing, so I'll shut up now...!

Charles Dougherty said...

Thanks, Terry.

You're lucky to have folks that you trust as first readers. I know I'd be lost without mine. I had a similar experience with one of my books, in that I had so many plot twists, I lost one of the readers, so I had to rewrite it.

It's disappointing to hear negative feedback, but without it, we would never improve.

And don't worry about the length of your comment. Your points deserve to be put forth.

Thanks again!

Terry Tyler said...

And thank you.... writing this and reading your original post again prompted me to look again at the new novel, which is waiting on the Kindle to be proof read. I've decided that it needs another re-write; now that I've faced up to it I am looking forward to getting cracking in the morning as I do love a good edit!

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