I can’t turn anywhere these days without someone claiming that self published books are all horrid. Writers forums, communities, large news sites, blogs – everyone has an opinion and most of it isn’t good.
It’s as if it’s become accepted that if you self publish, you aren’t good enough for a traditional publisher. Not a real writer.
(By the way – I use the term ‘self’ published lightly since not many of us do everything ourselves, often we hire people to do covers, editing, formatting and so on. Indie publishing is a much better term (and the one I personally prefer), but I’ll continue using self during this article since that’s what most media are using).
It’s not just media and angry bloggers that sneer at self pubbers though, even self published authors view other self published authors with derision, and feel it’s their duty to point out their crimes to the world.
- “She can’t write, look at where she put a comma”,
- “My god – did you see that she wrote an action tag where it wasn’t needed”,
- “Too formulaic”,
- “The cover looks like my dog did it”,
- “I’m going to do it the right way and ask for fifty thousand dollars on a Kickstarter project so I can pay someone an exorbitant fee and feel better about myself”,
- “I had a New York Editor tell me I have talent so I’m better than you”.
Being a writer is hard enough, but when your fellow authors can’t support you, you better have a good outside support system to get you through that kind of criticism otherwise you’ll give up (writers can take a bad review to the extreme which may or may not include vodka, donkey’s and loaded water pistols. Not that I would know. *cough*).
Look, I’m not naive enough to believe that every book that is uploaded to Amazon is good. Any monkey can spend a bit of time at the keyboard and crank out words if they put enough hours into it. Just like anyone can put up a website with dubious ‘articles’ and slap some Adsense on it. Not that I would know that either *cough cough* (pops some cough lozenges).
But just as the bad websites fade into obscurity, so do the bad books.
Readers are not stupid. They can decide what they like and do not like.
(And remember what one person likes another doesn’t.)
Readers decide what is good and what they will pay money for (and if they don’t – they get a refund and avoid that author in the future).
My only job is to make sure I write something good and entertaining (fiction) or good and informative (non fiction), and get it in front of readers who’ll like it. Which isn’t always as simple as it sounds…
How to write GOOD self published books (that won’t make someone stab their eyes out).
Writers get better two ways – by reading (a lot) and by writing (a lot).
But there are ways to fast-track your skills so the (a lot) part doesn’t take as long, which I’m about to talk about.
Many authors today are too busy obsessing over the ‘marketing’ side of publishing, that I feel they sometimes forget to work on the ‘craft’ side.
Improving the craft side, and learning to write better stories, will make you far more ‘marketable’ than spending your time ‘marketing’.
The first way is to study.
Study bestselling novels and see what they are doing – How do they write cliffhangers? How do they develop characters?
Or you could take craft workshops and read craft books. I’m currently on my third workshop for the year, and let’s not get started on the amount of craft books I’m amassing.
You remember the old ‘rule’ that you needed 10,000 hours to learn something? Well turns out – that is only for those wanting to be an expert. Who has the time to be an expert?
In reality it only takes about 20 hours of focused practice to get good at something.
That’s a little under a month of focused practice, and you can become a better writer than you are now, and write better books. Yay.
What do you mean by focused practice?
If you break down a task – let’s say writing a novel – you’ll see that it’s made up of a million different writer ‘tricks’.
- good hook openings to draw the reader in.
- well-developed characters.
- realistic and interesting dialogue.
- exciting cliffhangers.
- genre specific ‘must do’s’ e.g. romance needs a hot guy and a strong female lead (generally).
- rising and falling tension.
- sensory detail.
- plotting that’s fresh (but also fits certain rules such as three act structure ).
- satisfying closings, and so on.
You can choose one and practice that. For 20 hours (or thereabouts).
Let’s say you want to write good hook openings to your stories, and you want to spend the next month “practicing” to get better at it.
You already know that a good opening must have a character in a setting with a problem (from the seven point plot outline).
- Start by reading a few books in your genre that you thought did a good job at drawing you in. Notice what the author did. Was it first person, third?, how much sensory detail was in it? Fast paced, slow-paced? Where did they start the story – in action, in emotion?
- Read a few more books in another genre (to compare). How did they do their openings? If they used different tricks, could you translate that into your genre (could you put an emotional hook from a romance into a science fiction book? Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won’t – you won’t know until you experiment.
- Practice writing your own openings. Write three different openings using some of the techniques you liked, and see which one is better. Write it again and see if you can make it even better. What worked, and what didn’t?
self indie published writers who are getting it right, and who do write great books, ARE the ones that work on their craft. They are constantly striving to make sure the next book is better than the previous.
And I’ve read some great one’s.
Each new book is a step towards writing THE ONE. We’ll never get there of course – none of us ever think our own writing is good enough (writers also suffer from both crushing self-doubt and illusions that we are most brilliant – very often at the same exact moment).
It’s not just indie authors, all authors continually work on getting better. Find an author you love and read their earliest books and you’ll see how much they’ve grown. You get better by writing more.
Stop the myth. Stop the stereotype. Stop the absolute blanket statements.
We are all working to put out the best work we can, no matter what sort of author we are. And really, that’s all we can do.