This is going to be a touchy post. Not uncomfortable touchy-feely like your creepy neighbor, more touchy-feely like you’ll probably get mad. At me, at my thoughts about the indie-publishing industry, whatever.
Indie writers are famous (infamous?) for not liking being told what to do. They don’t like being told to write every day, they don’t like being told not to genre-hop, they don’t like being told write to market. No head-hopping, no weird 1st person to 3rd person shifts in the middle of a novel, no using their artistic license to do what they want.
And that’s really great–up to a point. Yes, write what you love. For sure. Use 100 POVs in a novella because you think they fit, do that crazy cover because you want to stand out. Do whatever the hell you want because it’s your book, you’re self-publishing it, and you don’t have to answer to anyone.
There’s disdain for the traditional publishing industry. I know there is because I’ve felt it myself. When I attended the Minnesota Writer’s conference I went to a workshop on how to self-publish your novel. That she ran her own self-publishing firm seemed a conflict of interest to me, but anyway, her firm hired out everything. She hired out the editing, the proofing, the formatting, the cover. They did it all for you for a hefty tune of $5,000-$10,000. I could hear dreams shattering around me like fragile champagne glasses thrown against a stone fireplace mantle. (Romantic, yes?) Having already published 1700 for free (I only paid for my ISBN number) I sat there shaking my head.
But between then and now I had a realization. She wasn’t trying to rip anyone off. On the contrary, what she was actually trying to get across was that when you self-publish, especially when you self-publish, you are in charge of the quality of your book. You are in charge of how good the story is, you are in charge of how eye-catching the cover is. You are in charge to make sure the inside of your book is not a hot mess. The speaker of that workshop discouraged a lot of people from ever trying to self-publish because they didn’t know where else to look for information. They didn’t realize that you could self-publish for free (or for cheaper than $5,000!).
It’s too bad because the only thing she was trying to press upon the attendees of her workshop was that a certain standard is expected when a reader opens a book.
Traditional publishing is under a lot of fire lately for not being flexible and not changing their ways to adapt to what the publishing industry is turning into. I agree that to keep up with the output of indie authors they are going to step up their game and do things differently. But while distribution and output may change, the point is, quality is something a reader can always expect from a traditionally published book. And whether you want to believe it or not, a reader is going to want that same quality from your book, too.
Oh, I know, you’ve found typos in books. I read a book recently and a whole speech tag was missing in a sentence. I don’t know how it slipped by an editor, but it did. There have always been typos. And there will be more as the publishing industry has to tighten their bootstraps and make budget cuts. But for every little mistake that slips by in a trad-pubbed book, there things a reader can expect to get from a book they bought from a big publisher:
- A story that makes sense in terms of plot, characters, and POV.
- A cover that looks nice that will hint at what the book is about.
- A blurb that also makes sense and makes a potential customer want to read the book.
- Formatting inside that doesn’t distract from the reading experience.
An author who is traditionally-published doesn’t have to worry about that stuff, and unless they go hybrid and self-publish as well as have their books trad-published, they won’t have to.
But you will. Not knowing isn’t a valid reason. If you want people to read your book, and read the next one you write, and the next, you have to take ownership of your work. It isn’t unheard of for indie-authors to revamp their first books as they publish more and learn more. I redid the cover for 1700, fixed typos, and fixed some formatting errors.
Anyway, the point I’m getting at with this post is that you are responsible for the quality of your book. Going rogue in the name of artistic license may feel good at the time, but how good is it going to feel if it ultimately means giving up sales and maybe even sullying your reputation as a writer?
The best way to know how to format your book is to look at one. Check one out at the library, or go to the bookstore and look through several in your genre. When I wrote my front matter for 1700, I took the book I was reading and copied it. You’ll notice in a trad-pubbed book the margins are justified, there are pages numbers, the book’s title and author name in the headers. There aren’t any spaces between paragraphs (this is a big pet peeve of mine).
There’s no doubt that the publishing industry is changing. But like anything that changes, you want things to get better, not worse.
Tell me what you think! Am I being too picky?
Other articles on self-publishing quality: