I’ve been reading a lot of self-pubbed work here lately. I want to support indie writers. Heck, I buy local produce and even spent the extra money for locally sourced steaks this weekend (which means we’re eating sandwiches for the rest of the week, but let’s just say they were worth the money). I’m going to be in the market for a new car here soon and I’m desperately trying to find one that’s truly made in America – parts and all. I believe in giving back to my own community and I have no problem putting my money where my mouth is. You – readers and writers – are my community. So I want to support the writer that’s going it alone. I envy your gutso and want to help you make the big time. To be honest, I’m a tad jealous of you as well. Your work is out there, while I’m still slugging it away through revisions and submissions and requests and rejections. I jump every time my email notification goes off. Yes, it’s sad but true, I check my email no less than a hundred times a day – maybe more.
So please believe me when I say I want to love your new indie book when I pick it up or download it. I desperately want to, because if you can do it then maybe I can too. Maybe I can start checking my email for purchases of my book instead of agent responses. If you can publish your own work, and do it well, then it gives me hope. I want to love your work.
Yet with the exception of one book, which I’ll be reviewing here later in the week, I’ve found that so much of what I’ve read was in serious need of an enormous red pen. I trudged through long sections of exposition that did nothing to further the story and added absolutely no tension. Conflict, of any kind, couldn’t be found for pages and pages on end. Horrendous typos that a simple spell-check in any word processing program should have caught were more than a little distracting. And it did a disservice not only to the author’s reputation, but to their story as well. And that, gentle reader, is a grievous offense in my book (no pun intended).
You see, I’m all about the story. It’s not about me, my ego, or my bank account. It’s all about the story. So it frustrates me beyond words to see all these great premises being destroyed by their own creators. I’ve read seven works by seven different independently published authors in the past two weeks and, with the exception of one, I would’ve rejected every single one of them if I were an agent. And not a helpful rejection either – a flat out automatic form rejection.
Why? Because they weren’t ready. The premise might have been good but the story itself simply wasn’t ready. In most cases the writing was very amateur, with characters walking down halls, shuffling across streets, and basically being moved through the story like pawns on a chessboard (without a tenth of the motivation of chess pieces). Dialogue was painful and felt forced, too immature, or too grown-up for the character. And the telling instead of showing – egads. I wanted to stab my eyes out with my own red pen!
Think of it this way – we all have that person in our family that’s a horrible story teller yet they insist on telling stories at every family gathering (often the same story multiple times in the same hour). They recant every insufferable detail – details that have no bearing on the story – and revel in their own anecdotes throughout. It’s usually an older relative that no one dares insult, so everyone perseveres. It’s downright painful. If you don’t like hearing stories like that – don’t write stories like that. And if you do, for the love of the written word do not publish them. Wait. I know it’s hard. I’ve checked my email twice while writing this post. I know. I get it. I really, really do.
If you hear nothing but glowing praise for your book, the wrong people are reading it. No work is perfect and unable to be improved. When you give your manuscript to a beta reader, ask them to find three things they liked and three things they didn’t. That’s the minimum your beta readers should be able to offer. If they can’t, they’re not qualified to offer you feedback. Period. Find the right people to help you make your book the best it can be. Seek out people who love stories enough to tread on your ego and help you take your story to the next level. Walk away from it long enough to come back to it with fresh eyes. Flesh out your characters, your world, and give me a reason to love your work.
So please, take the time to read your work aloud – or have someone else read it aloud. Take a self-editing course from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about (like Angela James, see previous post below). Read books on world building, character development, story arc, plots, and editing by people who know what they heck they’re talking about (like Donald Maass, Stephen King, Deborah Halverson, Cheryl Klein, and Ray Rhamey – see my other posts). There are so many people in this industry who have taken the time to dispense their wisdom and insight. It’s almost sinful not to take full advantage.
Please, do your story justice. I want to love it. The world wants to love your story. No matter what path you choose to publication, take the time to do your story justice.