The theme for this issue of All Authors Magazine is to do with things coming into bloom and awareness in causes one feels passionate about, which proves ideal for me, as I am passionate about indies and writing—more specifically, the two together.
Few things upset me more than when I read statements to the effect of: ‘I’ve been ranting a lot here and elsewhere about the sorry state of ebooks from indie authors, relating to the (apparent) lack of editorial skills (paid or otherwise) applied to those ebooks.’
As indie writers, we already have lots going against us without compounding the issue ourselves by putting out sub-standard books. In May 2016, a headline article came out claiming that ‘Indie Authors are responsible for the US ebook Decline.’
Being so passionate about indie and writing, I have to ask, what can we—as indies—do about such a negative indie image? The problem is, when we publish our bad writing, we don’t just give ourselves a bad name but the whole of our indie family. Complaints and disparaging remarks affect all indies.
Happily, we indie authors are not powerless. We can affect change in the reviews we leave, and the way we word such reviews, in the comments we make on our blogs or other people’s blogs—which becomes part and parcel of our marketing, whether intended or not. Also, and most importantly, we can take the utmost care about the kind of work we put out there.
Recently, an American writer and reader published a blog post about the differences between American and English writing (i.e., between the US and the UK). For a long time, she graded down books written in UK English because she saw the differences as mistakes. Now, at last, she has realised that those differences are valid and don’t necessarily reflect poor work. Sadly, we can’t do an awful lot about those kinds of misconceptions, except to perhaps add an author’s note to the front of our books to explain the quirks of being a certain nationality author. However, on principle, I disagree with having to apologise for writing to my nation’s standards and rules. This gives just one of the many consequences of a globalised ebook market.
All of that said, we can do a lot about actual errors. If we don’t have the skills or knowhow to do the editing and proofreading ourselves, then we must (absolutely) ask someone who does to take a look—whether paid or otherwise. As with criminal law, ignorance is no excuse.
Also, if we read a badly written indie book, then we must make sure that we don’t leave a good review for it: this reflects badly on both the reviewer and the indie market as a whole. Above all, we have to remain honest. However, the way we word that review also needs treating with care and attention. For sure, we don’t want to disparage indies, but rather, keep our complaints specific to that book.
In the same way, when we read a well-written indie book, it’s important to make sure we leave a positive review. As humans, we remember the bad far more readily than the good, unfortunately, and it takes a lot more positives to outweigh even one negative. That’s just the way we’re made.
So, while we want to remain honest, we need to take care that we don’t inadvertently disparage indie. Part of this, in addition to reviewing, can be complaining about the slush pile of free promo books or review abuse … true or not, it all gives a negative indie image that proves nigh on impossible to undo.
Instead, we could strive to paint a positive picture for indies whenever we discuss self-publishing. Perhaps we could find clever book covers to praise, or comment on how the big publishing houses no longer have the market monopoly, or applaud an excellently written novel. In short, we can bring positive attention to indies, including publicising indie successes.
If a self-publishing friend asks you to take a look at their work, try and give them honest feedback, to the best of your ability. You do nobody any favours by pretending it’s something it’s not. The same goes for your work. Always strive to learn and improve—as should any writer, not just indie.
As well as grammar, spelling, and punctuation, formatting holds massive importance to the overall impression of a finished work. Again, if we don’t know how to format a book properly for ebook and print, we need to get someone with that knowledge to help us. A badly formatted book speaks volumes and says all the wrong things.
With a million or more indie writers out there, we have power in numbers. Let’s make sure we say the right things. In this instance, one person can and does make a difference. It only takes one. For good or ill.
Why do I love indie so much? Why do you?
From my perspective, indie offers an alternative to the same-old, same-old of traditional publishing. Often, trad pubs don’t want to publish stuff too different to what’s already proven successful. This means that a lot of promising fiction gets rejected just because it’s brave enough to break the mould, and it has nothing to do with bad writing. We indies don’t have to follow a business model.
As an indie author and publisher, I get to choose the timing of my book release. I get to choose the book cover. I get to choose the title. And, I have the option of what price to set and when and how I run any promotions. I don’t agree with perma-free, as this undervalues all books, not just indies. And if we don’t pay for a thing, we don’t value a thing. And, don’t get me wrong: that’s my opinion and not one with which all writers agree.
That’s another thing: we don’t have to agree to be kind to one another. And we’re not in competition. Another thing I love about indies is the family; the way we support and encourage one another. Until I published my first book, I never knew that such a wonderful online community existed, and I am so grateful to have it.
The baseline is that as writers, we have a responsibility to put our best work out there. Not all of us are editors or proofreaders, and so we will need to ensure that we ask someone else more skilled to cover that for us. It is unacceptable just to go ahead and publish your book regardless. The same for formatting. None of this has anything to do with being indie or going the traditional route. However, us indies have a much harder job to do because we have to constantly prove our worth and value within the publishing arena and book market.
Okay, so I’ve harped on about indie enough already. How about my passion for writing? For creating. How about yours? What is it that you love about writing? Why do you do it?
For me, I’ve written ever since I got old enough to pick up a crayon. I spent my childhood making up stories at every chance. And these days, as has happened the last few months, when I get too busy to write it hurts. I feel it. It’s like a big hole somewhere in my middle. Words, for me, are like breathing. So, it’s time for me to employ some strategies to get creating again.
What things help you whenever you get blocked or just too tired? Sometimes, getting outdoors and doing something completely different to sitting at the computer trying to find something to say helps. At other times it might be writing something unrelated to the project causing us problems. When you feel really stuck, perhaps you can find inspiration from a picture (and make up a story about it) or take the first line or two from a favourite book and use this as a springboard to make up your own stuff.
Most important is that we don’t judge ourselves. Ever. This just makes the situation and our feelings that much worse. For me, writing is supposed to feel enjoyable. So, if I have to force myself, then something—clearly—has gone wrong.
Often, when we get blocked, it comes down to a lack of confidence or a fear about some aspect of our project. That’s when it’s most useful just to sit and write, even if gibberish comes out. The point is that we write just for the sake of writing, and it doesn’t matter whether it will ever get published. This all helps to release our flow of creativity and allow our words to blossom on the page.
I always recommend that we avoid editing of any kind on the first draft. Just write. Let your creative mind have free and full reign. The technical editing mind can have its day in the sun later. For now, it is blooming words that we’re after, not how perfect the flower is.
To my mind, awareness of our passion, and all the issues that come along with that, helps us to keep that flame alive. Each day, I try and do at least one thing to keep it going—for both myself and my fellow authors. And, from a totally selfish standpoint, supporting others makes us feel good about ourselves. And when we feel good, we have more confidence, which in turn helps our creativity.
While words are just words, and—as the saying goes—cannot hurt us like sticks and stones, they do have relevance and importance in our lives. We can employ them for good or ill. We can use them to encourage weeds or allow flowers to bloom.
Where flowers bloom, so does hope.