Don't Push The Button! - Lecture #5
Today I'll share some of the potential dangers of indie publishing. The biggest one is pushing that "publish" button too soon. You and your book are going to be competing with hundreds of thousands of other authors and books. You want to optimize your chances to succeed. I talked about what it takes to get an indie book out there, but I haven't addressed the book itself.
Yes, I've said you need a quality product—good story, good cover, good blurb, etc. But how do you judge that quality? First—have you been submitting to agents and editors? Entering contests? The feedback you get from all of these can let you know where your book might stand. While it's true that it's all subjective, consistent and similar feedback should be looked at in depth.
Is your genre too narrow for traditional publishing? Are you writing a family memoir, or writing about a subject interesting only to a narrow audience? The history of fly-tying by one-eyed fishermen in 1837 in Smalltown, USA probably won't be picked up by a major publishing house. Going indie lets you market to your audience.
Are you getting nothing but form rejections from agents and editors? If so, your book probably isn't ready. It may hurt, but they do know quality writing and those form letters go out if your writing isn't up to professional standards. Just because your family thinks it's great doesn't mean it is. And, sadly, this is why too many indie published books get on the shelves. The author refuses to look beyond his own judgment, or his circle of friends who aren't willing to hurt his feelings. In a move of "I'll show them," he pushes the publish button.
If you're getting rejection letters that say, "The writing is strong, but I don't think we can market this" then you might consider going indie. The publisher may have filled all its slots for your kind of book. Or the agent might already have too many clients writing your genre. Or, the book might straddle genres and the publishers aren't sure where it would fit. When I was shopping Deadly Secrets around, I got responses like, "I can't tell if this is a police procedural or a cozy. Rewrite it and we'll consider it." That's an indication that it might be ready. Another one is, "I don't want this one, but please send something else." That's a clue that your writing is good, but the book doesn't suit their current needs.
So, you've reached the stage where you have what you're sure is a good product that doesn't match what agents or publishers are looking for at the moment. You decide to go indie. Before you do, stop and think. What would that agent and or publisher do after you signed that 'traditional' contract? They'd have EDITED your book. And that doesn't mean they're going to send it to their mother-in-law for her keen eye for typos, or that they're going to run it through spell check. That's NOT editing. (Yes, I'm getting liberal with the caps, but this is such a common and inexcusable mistake if you want to be taken seriously as an author that I can't stress it enough.) A PROOFREADER IS NOT AN EDITOR.
An editor will check for story continuity. For pacing. For characterization. For effective dialogue. For transitions.
I had skirted a scene I didn't really feel comfortable writing in When Danger Calls. It was an action combat scene, and my background doesn't contain much experience or expertise in that arena. I'd written something like, "A lifetime later, which Dalton swore was only seven minutes according to his watch, the smoke cleared and the explosions stopped." My editor said, "Put those seven minutes on the page." True, this was for a traditionally published book, but those are the sorts of things you want your editor to find. If you're going indie, you have the right to refuse, but editors should be open to give and take.
I read an indie book where the author swore there couldn't possibly be any errors because his wife edited it. I could tell after two pages that his wife was a proofreader, not an editor.
I have three words of advice. Hire. An. Editor. I do for all my original titles. Is it expensive. Yes, and if you're just starting, you don't have that cushion of royalties to offset the expense right away. But it's your name on that book cover, and do you want it associated with a slipshod product? I don't.
If you absolutely can't afford an editor, find a cutthroat critique group or brutally honest beta readers who know more than spelling and grammar. But as soon as you can afford one, I highly recommend going pro. I love my editor—she was the editor for the first 2 Blackthorne Books I wrote with Five Star, and after she quit and went freelance, I jumped on the chance to be one of her clients. I trusted her, and she knew my voice.
And that brings me to another caveat. Now that indie publishing is so popular, there are a lot of less-than-stellar editors out there. (Same goes for formatters and cover artists.) Ask to see books that the editor has worked with. Most will do a sample edit for free or a nominal fee. That way you can see if they're doing more than catching typos or fixing punctuation. Yes, you need that, but you have to know whether they're looking at the STORY and all its components.