Where will self-publishing get quality control?

Last week I posted on Terri Giuliano Long’s site The Art and Craft of Writing Creatively and in the comments got into discussions about where indie publishing is heading. One of the commenters was Daniel Marvello, who afterwards sent me this email …

You said, ‘2012 will be the year we organise ourselves with quality control’. I love that! And I’d love to know what was in the back of your mind when you wrote it. What do you see changing in 2012?

(As you see from Daniel’s picture, he’s fond of the crystal ball.)

What was in the back of my mind? No big plan, unfortunately. I can see this is what we need, but I haven’t a grand solution. But there’s no better place to talk about it than on my blog with you guys.

For those of you who’ve sat down late, 2011 was the year when many high-profile fiction writers with respected followings went indie, and gave good reasons for doing so. Before then, if you self-published fiction you risked nuking your credibility. But it’s also led to a rash of people uploading to Kindle or CreateSpace or Smashwords but not taking care about quality. Result? It’s raining slush and nonsense. Readers who’ve bought unreadable books are muttering ‘vanity press’ all over again.

Not good.

Where does quality control come from in traditional publishing? From skilled professionals. Authors don’t do it on their own. Here’s Daniel again:

Most authors ignore advice to get an editor now. What might change that? What will prompt authors to let another set of eyes look at their manuscripts before they click “save and publish”? Can something be done to make such resources more appealing or easy to acquire and use?

The way I see it, there are two issues to address with quality control:

  • production – putting out a book with no grammar howlers, formatting glitches, funny typesetting or misprunts
  • whether the content is good enough.

One problem is very much easier to solve than the other, but let’s eat this elephant one bite at a time.

Production quality

Why do indie books fall down on production quality? Several reasons.

1 – Indie authors may not know what’s done to a book in traditional publishing.  They might have heard about the artistic side of editing – the developmental work to strengthen the story and literary quality. But they frequently don’t know about all the other trades who wade in once the words are right – copy editing, proof reading, text design, cover design, ebook formatting. Take any debut author who blogs and at some stage they’ll pen a gobsmacked post about how much checking and polishing goes on.
What might change this? We tell people, as often as possible, how much work goes into a published book. You don’t always need separate experts, but these jobs all need to be done. They’re not an optional extra.

2 These services cost money. Personally if I was new to publishing and someone told me I needed to pay for all that my reaction would be ‘pull the other one’ – especially as publishing on Kindle and Smashwords is free. But even when you do decide you’re going to invest, how do you find a reputable pro? Authors have always been easy targets for scammers. Not only that, there are hordes of people setting themselves up as editors when they haven’t the experience.
What might change this? Writers need to find out where the professionals go. A good start might be author groups – for instance, at Authors Electric we’re setting up a list of people we’ve used and would happily use again.

3 Some people simply refuse to be told. If I go into the reasons we’ll be here all day, but there are a lot of those. (You, my friends, are not, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.)
What might change this? Confiscating their laptops, probably

Now that last remark may seem facetious and unnecessary, but it underlines a point. As indie authors we have to do everything we can to rise above the trigger-happy Kindlers, because they make it hard for the rest of us to be taken seriously.

Not just presentation

So we can lick production quality. That, as I said above, is the easy part. What about the content, the artistic merit? In traditional publishing, the lame books are rejected and the good ones go through a developmental stage. (Yes terrific books are rejected too, but the author is usually made well aware that they were good.) This brings me to another interesting question that Daniel raised.

If people won’t use editors, can we realistically replace them with critique groups and beta readers?

ie, is it possible to get all this input free?

Sorry, guys, I don’t think it is. In the real world that doesn’t come free. Agents and publishers do it as part of their job. Critical feedback of that type takes experience and judgement.

Critique groups and beta readers will give very valuable input, and should definitely be used as well. But they aren’t a substitute for professional critical help – they cannot give your book close, considered attention. I’m not advertising myself here, but when I critique a manuscript the work takes two concentrated weeks at least, with plenty of time taken to consider what the writer wants to do and how I’ll teach them what they need. (In fact, if you imagine your normal rate of pay for two weeks’ work, an editor’s fees start to look cheap. And it’s also why you can’t expect anyone to do it ‘on the side’.)

And another thing

There’s another issue we need to address with quality control. It’s letting good work rise on merit.

If you can have buyers’ markets and sellers’ markets, indie publishing is a marketers’ market. If you’re good at marketing, your book rises higher. But a lot of cool, exciting and original books aren’t getting the exposure they deserve.

Indies are starting to tackle this in author collectives – groups to curate the good authors. And proper, critical review sites where indie books are expected to be as good as anything traditionally published. Authors are already taking this into their own hands – Tahlia Newland with Awesome Indies, Authors Electric with Indie ebook Review, Multi-Story, Underground Book Reviews, The Kindle Book Review.

But each group or review site is only as good as its critical scruples.

Does this look familiar? It’s a system of gatekeepers. But hopefully, ones motivated by editorial integrity.

Here’s what we really need to do. Ultimately we need to reach readers way beyond our own little blogosphere of indie publishing. We need to win the respect of the major book reviewers, because right now we’re preaching to the choir, and this is not sustainable.

Thanks, Daniel, for kicking off a great discussion. Pic credits to Zeptonn & Troy J Morris (no relation). Guys, what do you reckon? Share in the comments!

It seems a natural moment to mention that my novel is up for the Summer Reads awards at Underground Book Reviews. The winner is decided on a vote, so if you’d like to tip the balance in my direction I’d be very grateful.

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  1. #1 by Fiona Maddock on May 7, 2012 - 11:02 am

    I’m so glad you started this discussion. Here’s where I think there is a specific problem for unpubbed indie authors. Let’s say you’ve had a professional crit done, and maybe you have a good, supportive group of ‘beta’ readers, and you take care to make use of their feedback, and you do the rewrite.

    Ready to publish? Go to the beta readers again, and maybe the authors’ collective, or support group, or whatever it is, or all of them. Incorporate that lot. Submit m/s for another professional crit. Ready to publish? This is the problem.

    An author actually needs a professional editor to work with them for the duration, let’s say an agreed number of hours (because editors need to be paid, so they can eat, like everyone else) over a period of weeks, rather than the one-off crit, which is invaluable, but doesn’t actually tell the author that the m/s is ready to come out.

    What’s more, even assuming the indie author has identified their genre correctly, he needs a pro. editor who can say ‘this m/s is ready for this marketplace.’ I have had crits done on my work, and my beta readers are superstars, but I need that editor, and I need him/her for more than a one-off crit, to do the equivalent work that an editor in a publishing house does. How do I find such a person? How do I find the independent editors who offer this kind of service, even if they do at all?

    If authors can find these kinds of services outside the trad. publishing houses, I daresay the general quality of self-pubbed books will improve.

    • #2 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 12:27 pm

      Very good point, Fiona. The ongoing relationship, like you get in a trad publishing house, is difficult to recreate in the indie world.

    • #3 by D. Robert Pease on May 7, 2012 - 8:50 pm

      Fiona, This to me is huge. And it seems that most indie authors don’t get (or don’t agree) with this concept. I worked with a fantastic editor (actually two editors) over the course of months on my manuscript. These editors were from the traditional publishing industry, and one had been in the business for longer than I’ve been alive (and I’m no spring chicken.) I spent a bunch of money on this. And most of my indie friends think I spent way too much, but for what I got, I honestly thought it was well worth it. I’ve heard editors from the big six speak at conferences and their description of the process is exactly what I went through. In depth plot work. In depth characterization work. Several rounds, back and forth until they believed it was “publish-ready.” To me this is what is lacking. BUT it isn’t cheap. Therefore, most of the time, indie authors will skip it. Heck, I might have to skip it for my next book. I just haven’t made enough on the last one to justify it again. And that kills me. But perhaps that is what SHOULD be the criteria. In any other business you spend some up front capital to get it off the ground, and then at some point you need to evaluate if it is profitable. If not, maybe it’s time to get out. Cutting corners on quality isn’t going to get the business in the black.

      I’m not sure I’m ready to quit, but I’m also not ready to put something out on the market that isn’t up to quality level I want. It is a quandary, but unless someone comes up with a better solution, then there will be a lot of poorly written books out there. I just hope mine isn’t one of them.

      • #4 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 9:31 pm

        D (or should I say Robert?) – all credit to you for investing in your book like that. You may not need quite so much input for your next book, because what you learn from the first one is such a big hurdle that you’ll carry over a lot of wisdom.
        Time is also a great editor – leave the book and come back to it and you’ll see a lot that you can improve for yourself. Then by the time you bring in outside expertise, you may not have to involve them for nearly so long.

  2. #5 by Edward G Gordon on May 7, 2012 - 11:06 am

    Absolutely on the money. I like the term gatekeepers because that is exactly what is needed.

    Still, I don’t think we are going to see this issue resolved any time soon, at least not in general. What I think is going to happen is that the “smarter” authors will take more time polishing their manuscripts before uploading and they will also increase the price of their offering – which will be a reflection of that quality. Readers looking for quality have no qualms about paying for a good read.

    I think we will always have to deal with the $0.99 and free authors devaluing the marketplace. However, I’m a firm believer in quality rising to the top.

    Just a note – the link to authors electric has been removed. Could you email it to me please. I’ll be needing an editor soon myself.

    • #6 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 12:36 pm

      Thanks, Edward. I’ve seen a lot of press recently about a backlash against 99c pricing, and I hope this means we’ll see more realistic attitudes to what readers will pay.
      And thanks for spotting the missing link – I’m befuddled by a cold and forgot to put it in. Then I went to the site to find it and they’ve taken the list down, which doesn’t help anyone and leaves me nowhere to direct people!

  3. #7 by Laura Pauling (@laurapauling) on May 7, 2012 - 11:10 am

    I’ve been surprised recently. I’ve found some terrific self pubbed novels. Some the formatting was spotless and I”m sure properly edited – and others not. But here’s what surprised me. The formatting and editing didn’t bother me. It was the story that counted. I didn’t care if there was some formatting issues. I didn’t care if there were typos here and there. Some of the stories I enjoyed the most had those issues. It just doesn’t matter to me. I just like finding a great story, for me, that draws me in.

    Maybe it’s me rebelling against the people railing against self pubbed authors and dropping stars in their reviews bases on typos. Or maybe having been through the process, I have empathy.

    • #8 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 11:55 am

      Hi Laura! You’re right that it’s the content that really matters, but bad presentation gets in the way. Good presentation, on the other hand, is invisible – just like good writing.
      But some reviewers take this to ridiculous extremes – but they always have. Not just for indie authors. A friend who’s published by OUP was stunned to see a 1-star review in which the reader complained about one phrase – in an entire book – that he didn’t like. It wasn’t even grammatically wrong, simply a matter of taste.
      I do think, though, that indies have to be careful not to give any ammo to mean-spirited reviewers.There’s too much at stake.

      • #9 by Laura Pauling (@laurapauling) on May 7, 2012 - 1:12 pm

        Some of the reviews do get a little silly they are so extreme! All that to say that I’m all for a writer have multiple beta readers and as much editing as they can afford! Definitely.

        • #10 by jonirodgers on May 7, 2012 - 6:49 pm

          Indies are being held to a higher standard. Fair or unfair, we must keep that in mind.

          Ironically, the worst quality ebook I have out was done by HarperCollins. A lot of big publishers took shortcuts when they hastily released backlist titles, using Word docs that came before the copy editor’s pass, which happened on hard copy up until just a few years ago. I’ve begged them to let me redo it, offered to pay the expenses — all to no avail. It kills me, because the properly finished book is something I was very proud of, but I can’t bring myself to promote that POS on Kindle/Nook.

          My discomfort with the idea of gatekeepers (beyond my basic conviction that art should be neither gated nor kept) is that the old school gatekeepers we revered did kind of a crappy job of it.

          • #11 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 8:11 pm

            Joni, you’re right that we are held to a higher standard. I know a Big-Six-published author whose entire ebook came out in bold. How absolutely gutting that HarperCollins made such a mess of your ebook – it’s the kind of horror story that makes me want to insist I have final say over everything. Having run editorial departments I’ve got a bit of a control freak complex…

            Did the gatekeepers do a bad job? They don’t always act with the best interests, because the number one person they answer to is not the reader. But if we had gatekeepers (or ‘curators’) who are building relationships with readers, then I think we’ll have a good system. As I said in an earlier comment, though, this is Utopia talk…

  4. #12 by Dom Camus on May 7, 2012 - 11:20 am

    Good post!

    Here’s an interesting (potential) parallel with the world of independent games publishing: There, every so often, some ranty person will write a huge long blog post about what a disgrace it is that so many excellent games are overlooked. This leads to huge long debates, often very impassioned, about “gatekeepers” and “cliques” and blah, blah, blah…

    …but if you actually challenge the original poster to name an excellent game that hasn’t been successful, suddenly all the wind is knocked out of their sails. They start equivocating about what counts as “excellent” and what counts as “success” and changing the subject and generally doing everything except responding with a list of games.

    Based on your comments, the world of books hasn’t reached that point yet. However, I see no reason why it couldn’t, which makes me very hopeful for the future. When good work succeeds mostly on merit, that’s good for writers and readers alike.

    • #13 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 12:03 pm

      Hi Dom! Ah, those ranty posts with no examples.

      The truth is, a good book will impress gatekeepers. And if they don’t have to stake their jobs on it or please advertisers, they’re able to be more honest. The test will be whether they can maintain editorial neutrality – because we all have friends, we all like (and need) to do favours from time to time. But now a book could be recommended by many gatekeepers – so a good one would have a lot of champions. In utopia…

    • #14 by Dan Holloway on May 7, 2012 - 9:21 pm

      Forgive me Roz – I’ll leave my reply in a moment, I just noticed the name – is that Dom with whom I spent many contemporaneous years at OU Bridge Club? Great to see you

      • #15 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 9:33 pm

        Dan, that would be awesome if you knew Dom. I think Dom might have been at Oxford – at any rate, he found my blog in tweets from a friend of mine who was at Oxford. Maybe you know him too – Tim? I don’t know if he played bridge…

        • #16 by Dan Holloway on May 7, 2012 - 9:43 pm

          Well, I certainly knew a Dom Camus for several years – absolutely top bloke

          • #17 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 10:27 pm

            There can’t be many of them, surely… Dom is one of my oldest readers. I mean, one of my longest serving (or should that be ‘suffering’?)

      • #18 by Dom Camus on May 8, 2012 - 6:55 am

        @Dan – Yes, I am indeed that Dom. Hi – good to “see” you!

        Small world, eh? Either that or all the cool kids hang out at Roz’s blog. :-)

        • #19 by Dan Holloway on May 8, 2012 - 8:31 pm

          Great to see you! Roz’s blog is definitely the place to hang out! I haven’t played bridge for a decade but I’m still in Oxford – seems to have an infinite grvitational field!

          • #20 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 8:43 pm

            Cup of tea, anyone?

          • #21 by Dom Camus on May 8, 2012 - 9:59 pm

            Hehe – you’re not the first person to say that! I somehow made it as far as London. As for Bridge, it’s only a few times a year for me now, mainly because we never seem to have an exact multiple of four players!

  5. #22 by Stacy Green on May 7, 2012 - 1:24 pm

    We’ve talked about the editing thing already, but I will say a very respected self-published author (who has an agent and is still seeking a trad deal) told me it’s very important to go with an editor who’s got experience in the publishing world and has worked with trad houses. That’s going to cost an author 1500+. It’s a big expense for a lot of people, but I think it’s one that’s necessary. I see a lot of self-published authors saying they can’t afford that (which I totally understand) so they find cheaper editors. That’s fine, but I think it’s a big mistake to pick another author who’s only published a book or two. Editing takes EXPERIENCE, period. And readers aren’t stupid. They’re going to be offended by easily corrected errors.

    That’s where a small press can come in, IMO. Some authors argue they’re giving up a ton of profits, but when you don’t have to invest in the editing and get quality edits and covers from a small press, you’re coming out even, and you might even make some money to put into your next book. I’ve seen too many self-published authors slamming spending money on editors put up excerpts that are riddled with basic grammatical errors. It affects the entire self-publishing movement – something that is vital in today’s changing publishing world.

    So I do think gatekeepers are necessary. I think the author collectives are a wonderful idea. But I also think a writer has to be willing to be honest with themselves about their product and remember that in a critical environment, their book represents all indie authors.

    • #23 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 5:45 pm

      hi Stacy! You make a great point here – the skilled team is one of the things you get free when you work with a publisher. What these people do is fiddly and it takes time – as well as judgement.

      And nice point about how one indie author represents us all – for better or for worse.

  6. #24 by Susan Schreyer on May 7, 2012 - 2:35 pm

    Excellent post, Roz. I think editing is key for indy publishing to gain solid respect. Unfortunately, an issue see/hear time and time again in the different author groups I belong to is the problem of finding good editors. Lists would be helpful, as would some sort of vetting for editors. It is difficult to find someone who can edit well without resorting to soul-crushing snark, stomping on the author’s voice, or inserting some sort of peculiar prejudice. Editing is a painful process for the author, even when dealing with a professional attitude and approach. It takes most of us a good while to trust our work to someone else’s hands. Outside of cost, that is a definite issue, and one that needs addressing as well. I believe we will eventually reach some sort of process that works on all fronts, but as you said, eat the elephant one bite at a time.

    • #25 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 5:53 pm

      thanks, Susan!
      Yes, good editors need to be sensitive to what the author is trying to do. It’s always a tricky process and you absolutely have to understand how to help the author bring out the best in their own way. I’ve seen truly awful examples of just what you’re describing – editors who muscle in and try to rewrite the book in their own style and voice, or apply a bunch of rules inflexibly with no idea why the writer might have ‘broken’ them, or launch off on what can only be described as an ego trip.

  7. #26 by moonbridgebooks on May 7, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    There is the ignorance factor, but for many self-published authors it’s cost that keeps them from hiring developmental editors. I think we’re doing good just to get them to hire a copyeditor. I see some apparent illiteracy in readers who may not know a typo when they see one, and don’t really notice if something isn’t that well-written. What I’m seeing a lot more of is readers like Laura (and me) who are literate but willing to lower their standards as long as the plot is good and we’re not stumbling over sentences. I’m also seeing some backlash in readers who post nasty reviews because they were fooled by all the 5-star author-friend reviews. Between lowering our standards a bit, truthful reviews coming out, and readers demanding to Search Inside before buying, I think eventually we’ll be able to tell which are the better self-pubbed books and love them for what they are. Perhaps we can already tell by looking at the book covers as I’m finding many self-pubbed authors who think their homemade covers are lovely. (I’m on the board of a publishers assoc, mostly helping indies, and we push professionalism.)

    • #27 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 6:12 pm

      Nice to meet you, Moonbridge! That’s an interesting take but I have to say I can’t share your tolerance for lowering standards. Being fussy and painstaking is how we become good at something. If we don’t raise our own game, who will? Isn’t it a point of pride as well as professionalism to be as good as possible?
      And where do the conventionally published authors come from anyway? They are writers who taught themselves, who struggled for years to perfect their art. We all come from the same place – a self-directed, vocational need to practise our artform as well as we can.
      To accept lower standards in self-published books isn’t what I had in mind at all. It shouldn’t be what we expect. There are self-published books that are every bit as good as those coming out of traditional publishing. (At this point you might be wondering if I’m deluded; actually I’ve worked in publishing for 20 years and been a ghostwriter and a developmental editor. If you already knew that, apologies.)
      You make an interesting point about the 4 and 5-star reviews. You’re absolutely right that there’s been a backlash. And that there’s an unfortunate tendency to game the system by getting cronies to write ecstatic reviews. But some of us have reviews that weren’t written by cronies but by genuinely satisfied readers. As you say, these are now being devalued because of underhand, dishonest tactics. Hence the need for professional indies to get credibility in other ways.
      And if readers don’t seach inside before buying, they’re idiots. Even before Search Inside or Kindle sampling, who would have bought a book without checking the writing style, opening etc first?

  8. #28 by DRMarvello on May 7, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    Wow, Roz! I’m thrilled that you took my questions to heart and produced such a thoughtful post. That was, of course, my hope all along. ;-)

    I’m starting to think the quality control issue is going to work itself out. The problems we’ve had up to now in the indie movement are mostly due to the immaturity of the market. Readers suddenly started encountering inexpensive books with widely varying levels of quality. As Laura put it, some readers are willing to put up with quite a bit in order to get a good story. But many others are not.

    The issue of quality has always been one that eventually gets resolved by the consumer. Consumers will drive the development of tools that help them find a good story with whatever level of quality they demand. Those tools are emerging now, but they aren’t trusted yet, they aren’t particularly convenient, and so they aren’t widely adopted.

    On a side note, while I see how it is tempting to call review sites and other arbiters of quality “gatekeepers,” I don’t see them that way. A gatekeeper is someone you can’t get around, whereas most consumer-oriented tools are optional, and at the moment, they have little effect on an author’s ability to publish.

    The interesting thing is what happens to the indie movement once good consumer tools are in place. In order to be successful, self-published authors will have to step up their game. Investing in editing (at all levels) and good design will no longer be optional. THAT is the real problem right now: quality is optional. Only a market that demands quality will change that.

    Self publishing is a business. Those who treat it like one have a better chance of success in the long term than those who do not. That means investing in your product. Even then, like businesses in all industries, a very high percentage will fail.

    • #29 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 6:24 pm

      Hi Daniel! What trouble you’ve caused… :)
      You’re right about the term ‘gatekeeper’ – perhaps ‘curator’ would be better. As you say, no one can be refused, but they can not be invited to a collection.

      Consumers will indeed find the way to choose. It will be interesting to see what form that takes.

  9. #30 by Kathleen Pooler (@KathyPooler) on May 7, 2012 - 6:20 pm

    Roz,

    This is such an important discussion and I am so happy you have taken the lead to bring the issue of “editorial integrity” in self-publishing to the front and center. There’s no such thing as a “free lunch” and there is a price to pay for producing a quality product in any publication route. I’ve heard so many people remark on the poor quality of self-published books,giving a negative connotation to the process of self-publishing. I know many self-published ( the majority) who have gone to great lengths to insure their book is in the best possible condition for readers. ( professional editing, book designer,etc) I totally support your idea that quality control is not optional and writers need to treat it like a business. Amen!

  10. #33 by London Crockett on May 7, 2012 - 7:53 pm

    One step might be for indie editors, cover designers, layout artists, etc., to form a professional league that provides a trademarked “professionally produced” mark that indie authors get for using pros. It wont deal with poor quality writing entirely, but would tell readers that the writer knows what need to happen and got pro help to achieve it.

    Then again, small presses could fill this role. They can work with more niche products than big publishers do and put their reputation on the line with every book.

    • #34 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 8:16 pm

      That’s an interesting suggestion. It’s easy enough to implement with clear-cut jobs such as proof reading. It’s not so easy with developmental editing, as much of the work is done by the author. The developmental editor points the way, but the author does the work. there’s been talk of whether developmental editors should be credited. That’s fine if the book has benefited from intensive input – and if the author has managed to produce a book that would be a good advert (in essence) for the editor. But if the author never managed to fix the book and the editor’s name is still on it…. that’s a tricky situation. Just thinking aloud here – it’s a good suggestion.

      • #35 by London Crockett on May 7, 2012 - 10:35 pm

        Good points, Roz. It would be prohibitively expensive for many writers to pay professionals for all the services publishing houses traditionally provide and then pay for a quality reviewer to make sure that the writer implemented the editor(s)’s suggestions And to what degree would compliance be required?

        But I think with some thought, a system that ensured the reader was at least getting a book that had the basics looked at could be created.

        Perhaps such a mark would require the first chapter be available for free so potential readers can see for themselves if the writer at least took the time to follow editing suggestions?

        • #36 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 12:47 pm

          The expense is a very important factor. All we can do to start with is establish what a professionally produced book looks like, then work out ways for writers to achieve that realistically – in ways that don’t lower standards.
          As for first chapters – they are already virtually free, thanks to Kindle samples and Look Inside…

  11. #37 by Catherine Czerkawska on May 7, 2012 - 8:13 pm

    Hi Roz – good and thought provoking post as usual. I don’t like the term gatekeepers, mostly because I keep wondering who ‘keeps’ the gatekeepers? We tend to have this idealised vision of traditional publishing being stuffed with experienced editors with lots of clout. The truth, these days – and I’m speaking from a position of long and rather bitter experience – is that the gates are far more likely to be slammed against you by a 21 year old Creative Industries graduate on an unpaid internship, who only knows that she doesn’t much like your book, for reasons which may have more to do with her own taste than any intrinsic problem with the novel. And that’s even with agented submissions. If it does get past that initial reader, even if a major editor ‘loves’ it, it is more than likely to fall at the ‘sales and marketing’ hurdle, because it doesn’t slot into any narrow genre. Also, I think this idea of the nurturing editor who sees the project through to its conclusion, and devotes masses of time to you and your novel is something of a myth. Perhaps it always was. Somewhere among my paperwork is a letter from an editor at one of the big publishing houses, apologising for publishing my novel in ‘quite the wrong way’. There were reasons for this, too complicated to go into here, but still – it did me and the novel no favours.
    As my last agent (in a major London agency) remarked to me – ‘publishers are looking for an oven ready product these days.’ That agency actually employed somebody to fulfil the functions of editor, but she didn’t have much time to devote to any single author.
    The older I get, the more I suspect that we have got hung up on this ‘editing’ thing. Editors used to have a fairly delicate touch. A good editor asks useful questions. In finding the answers, you make your work better. I agree that every writer can benefit from an external perspective on the work. Every writer can benefit from somebody who will ask difficult questions – when you know something is wrong, but just can’t put your finger on it. And every manuscript needs somebody literate to look for typos and infelicities. But I also think we have to take responsibility for our own work. If we’re not careful, I think that we may be in danger of exchanging one form of narrow prescription – traditional publishing – for another. I’m not advocating sloppiness or carelessness- far from it. But I think perhaps experienced writers have to stress how much writing and rewriting we actually do, how many manuscripts we file away in drawers because we ourselves know that they’re not good enough. And how many dozens of drafts we can get through. It’s all good – but it all takes time!

    • #38 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 8:30 pm

      Excellent points, Catherine. There are still some corners of publishing that have the nurturing editors, but as you say the majority of authors don’t get that attention.

      Ooh and the gatekeepers – yes, with the wrong person on the gates, it’s disaster. Likewise the wrong editor.

      You’re also right that the longer we are in this business, the more able we are to police ourselves. That’s not to say we never need a fresh perspective, but we know that we must go through many rewrites, trust our spider sense, put the book away so we see it with new eyes. Like you, I think we should never lose an opportunity to tell people how darn long it takes to get a book right, and what editing really means. Few people breaking into the indie world have this perspective, though – so they probably need to take firmer guidance from people who do.

  12. #39 by Jami Gold on May 7, 2012 - 8:21 pm

    Hi Roz, I agree with you that indie publishers should bring their “A” game. It’s not okay to put something less good out there and then make excuses for it (Well, I didn’t have the benefit of an editor). If I go the self-pub route with any of my stories, I would certainly be paying for professional editing. Writing is a business and that’s simply one of the costs of being in this business.

    That said, I want to see someplace that lists freelance editors and allows for feedback and reviews of their services. :) Honestly, a good agent can be a great source for this information, as they know the good editors from the publishers who have left to do their own thing.

    • #40 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 8:24 pm

      Hi Jami! Good tip to contact agents. Also publishers will have lists of freelances they use and trust – they’re worth trying too.

  13. #41 by actionkilmacanogue on May 7, 2012 - 8:54 pm

    Hi Roz, already follow you on Twitter, delighted you’ve hooked up with the amazing Joni at the League of Extraordinary Authors. Just joining in to say two things.
    1. Editors are mandatory. I’ve a BA Hons degree and have spent 6 years working as a publishing consultant and literary scout. I regularly structurally edit clients’ work (to bring it to publication, ‘oven ready’ is a perfect description of how scripts should arrive on an editor’s desk). BUT, when it came to my own Kindle book True Colours (contemp romance), I let Brenda O’Hanlon, co-chair of the Irish Editors, Copy writers and Proof Readers assoc loose on my script, and boy were there a lot of red marks! *cringe* Turns out I don’t know how to use capital letters or how to spell. Thank God she went over it. It’s in the top 20 in 3 categories at amazon.co.uk. I think I would curl up and die if any of the reviews drew attention to poor spelling etc.
    It’s important that writers understand what editors do – structural edit – on the shape, the drive of the story, characters, is there change, is there resolution for the core characters? Copy edit – checking facts, making sure the details is consistent and flawless, proof reader for grammar and typos, the last check. Publishing houses go through this 3 step process so self publishers need to do something similar. While you can combine a proof read and a copy edit, it’s still a VITAL step.
    The Inkwell Group consists of some of the top editors in Ireland who edit world class authors, we can help if you need an editor (and this isn’t an attempt at an ad, it’s a fact!)
    2. Sales will separate the grain from the chaff. If you do it right, your book will sell. If you don’t, it won’t. Potential purchasers can read a portion of your book. If it’s littered with mistakes they won’t buy. Simples as the lovely meercat chappie says.
    The key though, to all of this, is, as you so rightly say, is that 2012 is a turning point. It’s the year that many traditionally published bestselling authors took the indie option (Orna Ross and Arlene Hunt to name two), it’s the year that the Alliance of Independent Authors formed to give indie’s a voice. On a personal note, it’s the year I got one of my books, recipient of rave rejections from the big six via one of the world’s most successful literary agencies (Curtis Brown), into the bestseller list. It’s all to play for.

    • #42 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 9:39 pm

      Welcome, Inkwell Group – is that Vanessa? I’m very excited about the League too!
      And thanks for providing a helpful pointer for people looking for editorial services. As I said in an earlier comment, I was hoping to be able to bring you the Authors Electric list but it turns out I was a bit premature and we’re still compiling it.
      I was another rave rejected (and agented) author -which is why I’m so grateful for the way the tide turned last year. As you say, it’s all to play for.

  14. #43 by Author Kristen Lamb on May 7, 2012 - 8:57 pm

    The problem is that the people who are making such a mess are delusional and won’t accept help. I worked as an editor for years and these are the folks who insist on writing in italics, all caps, or using exclamation points every sentence, because they believe these props makes “the story more dramatic.” They are the ones convinced NY is only publishing crap and that their book is a special unique snowflake and that learning narrative structure or POV would “harm their art.”

    Unfortunately some of the worst writers are also the most zealous marketers.

    True indies who are professional aren’t the ones making Amazon into a giant slush pile. I think as more indies gain a reputation for excellence, readers will just do what they always do…stick to the writers they love. Only now, with social media, we can follow the writers we love and whose books they recommend. The crap will float to the top for skimming and new gatekeepers will emerge. Just takes time.

    Excellent post!

    • #44 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 9:41 pm

      Hi Kristen! You’ve got it in a nutshell – all those reasons I decided I didn’t have space for in the post. I was hoping someone else would outline them in the comments. Here’s to time proving us right!

  15. #45 by Dan Holloway on May 7, 2012 - 9:41 pm

    Such an interesting question. If I may just raise the opposing point (though I 90% agree). Self-publishing certainly is for people who want to show they can produce a book every bit as good as those produced by the mainstream, but i’s also the place for writers who want to explore things the mainstream isn’t interested in, who want to ask questions and test forms. I will stick my hand up and make my perennial pleas for more bad books – books that result from a total freedom to ask any question the writer wants and provide any answer simply to see what happens – because it’s only if we have the freedom to disregard any “standards” whatsoever that we can create an environment in which experimentation and interesting failure will flourish and lead to fabulous, fascinating new work. From the standpoint of art and the reader, it has to be said that there is enough good fiction, even really good fiction to keep us occupied through a lifetime – what matters is creating a culture in which great art can emerge and find a voice and a readership – and requiring of writers going the self-publishing route to explore their creativity that they follow the rules that produced the status quo can only serve to stifle that – and any amount of “tosh” smothering “good writing” surely has to be a price worth paying?

    Like I say, that’s a devil’s advocate thing – I think it’s right but I also think you’re spot on – it has to be thrown into the mix though so we don’t forget that readers and art are at least as important as writers

    • #46 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 7, 2012 - 9:56 pm

      Dan, at the risk of being devilish back ( :) ) why does experimentation have to be done badly or cack-handedly? Can it not be done with skill and assurance? Before Picasso could have a blue period he had to have mastered his craft.

      • #47 by Dan Holloway on May 7, 2012 - 10:30 pm

        It doesn’t at all :) I think I’d say back that what I’d like to see is an outouring of creativity not that was good or bad but that was totally oblivious to the rules, not because it chose to reject them but because it was too busy doing its own thing – much more punkish than Picasso. It’s not the way I do things – I’m a learn the rules, all the rules, first kind of author and if I’d tried that I’d be one of those awful cases where someone thought they were being original but were just being crap – my point is that from culture’s point of view it’s better to have that than what actually happened, which is that I write good, possibly one day very good, books – culture doesn’t need any more good books (though, of course, writers do – but if we want to reach beyond writers we need to stop thinking what’s good for writers). I’m never quite sure about Picasso – for every Picasso there’s an Eliot or an Easton Ellis, whose earliest work might not be the best but is the most important. Or a Pistols, who became uninteresting the moment they started trying to sound good.

    • #48 by DRMarvello on May 7, 2012 - 10:10 pm

      I think I understand what you are getting at, Dan. I’ve run into authors who write a good story but produce a poor manuscript from an editing standpoint. And yet they have raving fans. Sometimes they sell a LOT of books. Had these authors been prevented from publishing, all those happy readers would have lost out.

      I don’t think there is a good answer to this situation. In other industries, products range from cheap junk to expensive precision engineering. With the barriers to entry gone, we can expect the same in book publishing. We just have to remember that there will always be customers who prefer to buy the cheap junk (or are at least willing to do so,) and others who will insist on nothing but the best.

      Caveat emptor!

      • #49 by Dan Holloway on May 7, 2012 - 10:44 pm

        and it’s also true that “the best” might be qualitatively different – and full of “errors”. I think my worry is that self-publishers are adopting a set of benchmark standards that are there to produce very good writing – like I said above, from a writer’s point of view, I’d say do everything Roz says, but we’re talking about how to move beyond the witer’s point of view to appeal to readers and my worry is that we’re so obsessed by putting ourselves back in the box that we’ll lose the one thing self-publishing has as its usp – it gives readers what they can’t find in the mainstream, and more than that it has the possibility to win for literature those left behind and ignored by the mainstream – and that will never happen by moving back to the old rules – if we really want readers to care about self-publishing we need a Sensation/Freeze/Punk moment, we need something so out there it offends every mainstream sensibility so that people go “that’s not literature” and are up in arms about its amateurishness (vis Tracey Emin) but other people are genuinely excited. I guess I’m asking for us to try and get out of the author to author box by not thinking back inside the box – but that highlights our dilemma – our interest as writers is to play safe, to be like the mainstream, accept its rules – but our interest as readers is the opposite, and it was the opposite that probably made us self-publish, before we started thinking we don’t want to play maverick we want to make some money – th moment we’ve reached is a moment to choose – our own sales and careers, or what’s right for readers, for literature, for the love of words. If it were a simple equation I know I’d happily never sell another book to get one person so excited about words they turned their life around and spread the joy of reading, and I’m sure that’s true of every one of us here – my point is we’re closer to that equation than I think people realise – the mainstream does a good job of winning over those people who’ll be won over by that kind of thing – which makes it our duty to encourage the thriving and promotion of something different.

        um, that sounds rather rambly and rhetorical, but it’s just to get people thinking :)

      • #50 by DRMarvello on May 8, 2012 - 12:05 am

        I’m with you in that I’m one of those authors who wants his books to compare favorably against a traditionally-published book in terms of quality. I don’t believe that can be done without a serious (and ongoing) education in exactly what makes for a high-quality story and published book. That very education puts me squarely in “the box” that you talk about.

        On the other hand, having *creative control* lets me stick my fingers out of the box and wiggle them at my readers. That’s what I love about the self-publishing movement; authors can write the stories they want to write. We’ve created a “long tail” in book publishing that could not exist before.

        The marketing departments and their blockbuster mentality were the traditional gatekeepers who really placed a stranglehold on the book market. They sucked the creativity right out of the industry.

        From now on, as long as authors write the stories we want to write, and not just what we think will sell, we’ll never truly put ourselves back into that box.

        I think that may have been the long way of saying that I agree with Roz about experimentation needing to be done well. :-/

        • #51 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 12:54 pm

          That’s all I’m asking, folks. Experiment by all means. Put things together that shouldn’t go. Ignore genre boundaries and write what’s in your heart. Ask questions, break taboos. Challenge ideas of what literature should be. But do it well or it will look like self-indulgent crap. Rules and conventions aren’t meant to fetter – in fact, the opposite. They help you do what you want.

    • #52 by SusanKayeQuinn (@susankayequinn) on May 7, 2012 - 10:45 pm

      Dan – I love your comment! Lowering the barriers to publishing, the democratization of publishing as it were, is exactly what allows that kind of freedom of expression. Of not caring whether you’re on the bestseller list, only caring to share your art. There’s some serious freedom in that (I’m not sure I’m brave enough to be that free – not yet :)).

  16. #53 by SusanKayeQuinn (@susankayequinn) on May 7, 2012 - 10:41 pm

    I agree with Kristen and actionkilmacanoque that the true thing that will separate (indeed, is already separating) the good from bad indies is exactly the right person – the reader. Good indies will climb to the bestseller lists and shine there. Marketing will only get you briefly on the bestseller list – only word of mouth can sustain sales. So, in one sense, all this worry about coming up with “new” gatekeepers to ensure “quality control” is missing the point. This is a merit system (no I don’t believe that marketing alone can do it) where the final arbiter is the reader and their wallet. In another sense, authors are right to worry about how they can produce the best quality product, because that IS the most important thing in the new world order of indie publishing. I believe things like author groups can help, as well as availing yourself of professional services (although I also believe that critique partners can be as valuable or more so than paid professional editors – it all depends on the quality of the individual as an editor).

    I blogged about indie as the new dime novel - that old proving ground where writers wrote, published, wrote some more, got better, published some more. True on the job training, something I think indie publishing will prove to be, for those who stick with it.

    Great post and topic!

    • #54 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 12:59 pm

      Hi Susan! You may well be right. Indie publishing is in its infancy; most of the emphasis is on dizzy chart positions and mega-sales, but the slow-burn consistent sellers have yet to emerge.

  17. #55 by Wayne Borean (@wayneborean) on May 8, 2012 - 12:06 am

    You’re right, and you’re wrong.

    Good writers edit themselves. They always have, and they always will. Poor writers need to hire editors. They haven’t any choice.

    An editor can make a poor writer look good. An editor can hurt a good writer, by changing the writer’s vision to the editor’s vision.

    Ebook layout, cover art, and everything else the writer can, and will learn how to do if they care about their art. Some of course won’t be able to pick up on all the details. It’s like everything else. No one is great at everything. Nor should they be. But a good writer will learn the basics well enough.

    Wayne

    • #56 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 1:03 pm

      Interesting and provocative points, Wayne. Good writers do indeed learn by editing and reworking, and striving to improve. And that requires an eye for detail – perhaps that sensitivity can transfer to book production as well (after all, I do both quite happily). Editors – yes, good and bad can make a huge difference. But no matter how diligently you edit a novel, there comes a time when you simply can’t see any more to change – and that’s when you do need help.

  18. #57 by Catherine Czerkawska on May 8, 2012 - 7:06 am

    My business head may be with the majority of comments on here – but my literary heart is quite definitely with Dan. I found myself punching the air and saying ‘yay!’ when I was reading his comments and that’s rare in someone as old and cynical as I’ve become! Look back over the comments and see just how many of them are to do with the nuts and bolts, the rules and regulations – and how few are about the joy of experimentation, of thinking outside the box, of being allowed to play about and try and fail, but at least having the satisfaction of exploration without somebody breathing down your neck all the time and saying ‘no – you’re not allowed to do it like that. Do it like this!’ And it strikes me that oven ready chickens are all very well in their place, but not when I want to do a little culinary experimentation!

    • #58 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 1:06 pm

      Absolutely, Catherine – I get told off for doing things the conventional folks say can’t be done. Or rather, I get told I’ve made them work but I’m still not allowed to do them anyway.
      Really, this was a post of two halves – the technical nitty gritty and the artistic side. Two completely different subjects, trying to coexist in one post!

      • #59 by Dan Holloway on May 8, 2012 - 8:45 pm

        Fabulous to see this conversation still going and lots of wildly differing but very productive opinions being thrown around with respect – the very best side of the indie community at work! Catherine – you’re making me hungry now!
        Roz, I think the only thing we really disagree on is whether the two things are separate subjects in all cases – I’m not convinced they are – but that’s something for a blog post I think I’ll write very soon – thank you for getting the juices going. And to show this is a bone I’ve been chewing for a while, this is what I wrote in 2009 about literature and “the new” http://yearzerowriters.wordpress.com/2009/10/25/the-schlock-of-the-new/

  19. #60 by callyphillips on May 8, 2012 - 8:31 am

    It’s a big world out there folks and there’s room for all of us. And that’s the answer. The problem remains how does one find ‘the kind of thing one wants’ amidst the morass of STUFF out there. It’s easier if you’re someone who wants mainstream as it’s well promoted. It’s a problem at the moment if you want QUALITY (whatever your definition of that is) indie work because we are swamped in ‘anything goes’ right now and the marketeers are taking over the bookstore.. and what each of us perhaps should focus on is how we promote ‘our own wee corner’ of the world. Like Dan I want to read things which are out the box, challenge me and may not be given the quality kite mark by some, but no one wants to read something they think is ill conceived and ill executed. However, whatever the objective criteria on this may be, it’s still a matter of taste in practical terms for most. But most of all I want ways to FIND things for myself NOT to be conned into thinking that all that’s out there is what’s well marketed. So for me the issue is how to FIND things I want to read. And how to reach people who might want to read what I write. I don’t want to waste my time marketing to people who don’t like what I write (what’s the point – they’ll only respond by saying that they don’t like it!) All in all though, it’s an exciting (and fast moving) time and we need to look outwards not corral ourselves against the ‘injuns’ by putting our wagons in a circle. Debates on editors and quality and the like ARE important but we can lose focus and go round in circles if we don’t look beyond that. Like the Hippocratic oath, all writers should be striving to write THE BEST they can (but there will always be those doing it for the money, the fame, looking for the easy way) Let’s find ways to EXPLORE our own little niches and be co-operative and collaborative in telling others when we find things we DO like.

    • #61 by DRMarvello on May 8, 2012 - 1:06 pm

      I agree with you about finding the books you want to read. The buzzword is “discoverability,” and it is a subject that has publishers at all levels pulling their hair out as they try to stand out in the “morass of stuff.”

      I’m trying an experiment right now to address the discoverability problem in a very small way. I’ve set up a Web site called the Magic Appreciation Tour that focuses on magical fantasy books only. I’ve banded together with 25 other authors (so far) who have registered 36 books. Every book has to include magic in some form. The theory behind this experiment is that the site will attract readers who are fans of magical fantasy.

      The listings are done in such a way that each book gets a generous thumbnail and a blurb. Links to buy or learn more about the book and author are next to the blurb. The listing clearly shows the length of the book (novel, novelette, etc), the fantasy subgenre (romance, young adult, etc) and the price. I basically created a site that shows all the information *I* want to see when browsing for books.

      The books are not curated in any way. I’ve read many of them, and I can say that some are excellent and some need more work. But I’m not willing to place myself in the role of Mr. Quality Control. Potential readers have plenty of opportunity to determine for themselves whether or not the book is up to their own standards.

      Of course, the site has its own discoverability problem. It will take a while to get the word out about it, and I’ll probably need a lot more book listings before it becomes a compelling visit. In the meantime, the site also facilitates social networking between the authors with a quarterly blog tour and “post exchange.” [At least we are having fun.]

      The inspiration behind the site is basic marketing theory: narrow your target market. Will a vertical market approach like this help readers and authors with discoverability? I hope so. Time will tell.

      • #62 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 1:09 pm

        Daniel, that’s smart -and probably a much more sensible marketing idea than The Undercover Soundtrack!

      • #63 by DRMarvello on May 8, 2012 - 1:35 pm

        The Undercover Soundtrack has one very powerful marketing force behind it: It’s cool.

        You can’t buy cool, and it’s hard to fake cool. One can only hope to achieve cool.

    • #64 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 1:12 pm

      Absolutely, Cally – we don’t all like the same things but we need to find the way to reach the readers who chime with our tastes. Agree about the Hippocratic Oath! First do no harm…

  20. #65 by callyphillips on May 8, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    Yes, and DRM Marvello… the Indieebookreview http://indieebookreview.wordpress.com is run on something similar lines, insofar as we’re trying to DISCOVER things which otherwise might not see the light of day. And folks I’ve just had another brainwave on this… If you are a writer and over 50 go to facebook and join Fab50writers.

    • #66 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 8:49 pm

      (Quickly scrolls up… yes, phew, I did put the Indie E-book Review link in…)
      Cally, you don’t nearly look old enough to qualify for the Fab50s

  21. #67 by jkmahal on May 8, 2012 - 2:08 pm

    Hmm. I feel like there’s a perspective that hasn’t come up in the discussion. And that is that I feel the role of editing for traditional publishers has changed over the years from one in which authors are mentored for years to one in which many editors are trying to get things to market that fit a certain mold or demographic (especially in the area of genre writers).

    I say this because I know personally of at least two traditionally published authors who have had to really compromise their writing in order to fit what their acquiring editors wanted after having sold their books. I read the original manuscripts and these midlist authors had some of the spark literally edited out of them by editors at Big Six houses.

    Having read many mediocre (and some, frankly, bad) traditionally published books, as well as some great self-published ones, I’m not so sure that the best way to create quality is to follow what traditional publishing is currently doing (although I am sure that there are fabulous editors out there who really do improve their writers’ work). Much of what was once done by editors (nurturing a relationship through editing story) is now being done by agents.

    I do think we all (us writers) need a critical eye put on our books by someone who understands story and can be objective. But I also think that story editing is highly subjective, and there are a number of editors (traditional and not) who edit story to their tastes, which may or may not fit with a writer’s style.

    Copy editing is a completely different matter. All lovers of language need someone to make sure the p’s and q’s are in the right places :)

    • #68 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 8, 2012 - 8:57 pm

      Ooh, some great points here. I absolutely agree that the role of editors has changed. And that much is done to push a book into the wrong hole. In fact I’ve blogged quite often about how I was in serious discussions with a Big Six editor – and many smaller imprints of major publishers – about making my novel fit the market better. I couldn’t do it.
      When I say we should try to match the standards of traditionally published books, I don’t necessarily mean the genre conventions – and especially not the content that’s driven by marketing considerations. I match my standards to the books that made the greatest artistic impression on me – books I’m told wouldn’t stand a whisker’s chance of a contract now. I stubbornly stick to the idea that if they were good enough to wow me, they are what I should try to write. (Not sure if I reach those heights of course, but it does no harm to try.)
      Story editing is indeed highly objective – I agree. I’ve said in earlier comments how I’ve seen authors given unsuitable direction, and that editors need a sense of humility and sensitivity. It’s not their book, they are helping a writer become themselves. I turn away clients if I feel I’m not a good match for them because I don’t want to stomp on their art.
      Great to meet you and thanks for commenting!

      • #69 by jkmahal on May 9, 2012 - 3:52 am

        You’re welcome! I hope it didn’t come across as if I was saying books don’t need any type of story editing. A good editor can make the difference between a mediocre book and a great one.

        It’s just that, as with all creative fields, finding a talented editor is harder than it seems to the average person. And like with a number of things that involve creativity, many businesses have sprung up to codify certain ways of storytelling and genre conventions. When rules are made, there are always those who feel you have to strictly follow them.

        It’s a good discussion you have going here :)

  22. #70 by mrdisvan on May 8, 2012 - 2:24 pm

    I think there’s been some confusion here in the comments between “rules” and good art. Nobody I think is saying that writers shouldn’t experiment – I recently read Pale Fire, there’s an experiment for you. But there’s a world of difference between doing your own thing and just being sloppy. I hope we will see that self-publishing throws up some interesting novels that traditional publishers might not see a slot for (your own Memories of a Future Life, for example) but those good works will be devalued and lost if they’re submerged in a tide of bad craft and poor editing. Anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a writer should aim to meet professional standards.

  23. #72 by Dan Holloway on May 8, 2012 - 9:00 pm

    This is the piece I wrote, btw, actually called “We Need More Bad Books”

    http://workshyfop.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/we-need-more-bad-books.html

    I surprisd myself reading it again that I’d actually made a fairly sane point:

    “I remember reading a piece about induction during my time as an undergraduate studying Philosophy and Theology. Inductive reasoning is using the past to predict the future – the more times you’ve been to KFC and they’re out of wipes in the past, the more likely that if you go in the future they’ll be out of wipes then. That kind of thing. One of the problems with induction was archaeology. Specifically the kind that went digging up bones looking for the Missing Link. The problem was that induction told you the more bones you dug up that weren’t the missing link, the less likely any future bones were to be the missing link. But any MissingLinkologist worth their trowel would tell you that – so long as the wrong bones were the right kind of wrong bones then the opposite is true – the more you found of them the *more* likely you were to find the right right bones eventually. As it were.”
    In other words, great, new, fresh art is most likely to emerge from a culture where people do it wrong than where they do it right – and because we never know in advance what the right way of doing it wrong is, we have to champion all ways of doing it wrong.

    I think Cally makes a great point of committing oneself to one’s niche – for many of us as both readers and writers that may involve some serious soul searching

  24. #73 by Jonathan Moore on May 9, 2012 - 12:32 pm

    Hi Roz,

    I’ve come to this debate rather late, so only read through the first half of the comments (apologies if my points have already been made).

    My initial thought was that there was a gap in the market for established publishers to “sponsor” self-publishers, which would endorse the quality of the work. From the comments I’ve read it seems this could also be done by recognised groups – which really makes the issue one of “how do readers know whose endorsement to trust?” This might be a question of time, as it did with film reviewing websites.

    The group could then issue a kite mark that writers could put on their book as a proof of quality control. The main risks with this is that it is open to corruption or forgery.

    The second thought I had was that, if writers want readers to take a punt on them without the implied endorsement of a recognised publisher and associated unbiased reviews, then there should be a format for letting people read the first chapter or 20-30 pages free. After 25 pages I normally have a fair idea of whether I want to keep reading – the hook should be established by then.

    I don’t know what the limit is on Amazon’s Take A Look Inside feature, or if it would need to sit outside of that, but if it became common practice then I think it would work.

    Cheers for now,
    Jonathan

    • #74 by mrdisvan on May 9, 2012 - 12:36 pm

      Smashwords allow up to 25% of the book to be readable for free, I think. I’m not sure how much of a sample you can get on Kindle, but it’s enough to judge whether the book is worth reading. The trouble is, with several million self-published novels hitting the market every year, who has time even to look at the first few chapters? We need a reliable gatekeeper-like steer as to which books are worth a closer look.

    • #75 by DRMarvello on May 9, 2012 - 3:58 pm

      I pray we never have a “gatekeeper-like steer.” If the industry starts recognizing any group or organization as being the official arbiter of quality, retailers may very well start filtering their offerings to only books that have jumped through whatever hoops are necessary to acquire the “seal of approval.” That process (whatever it may be) is absolutely guaranteed to become political, expensive, and corrupted. The NYT bestseller lists are a good example of how that can happen, and those lists are supposed to be based on something as objective as sales figures!

      If gatekeepers are put back into place, we will have lost one of the most valuable achievements of the self-publishing movement: the removal of barriers to creative expression.

      The truth is that readers already have plenty of tools to help them identify good books. In spite of the flood of poor quality books on the market, most readers never encounter them. Readers rely on “top 100″ lists and the recommendation lists to find new books. They read reviews and rely on ratings. The drek never rises into visibility in the first place.

      I’ve bought a lot of ebooks, and not once have I “accidentally” run into a stinker. Only when I troll the free lists or look at “recently released” lists does that happen, and I expect it in those circumstances.

      • #76 by Catherine Czerkawska on May 9, 2012 - 4:49 pm

        I entirely agree! Over 28 million songs, apps, videos on iTunes – maybe more now – that was last time I looked it up – and we still manage to find what we want (or I know I do) Same with blogs. This is no longer a world of gatekeepers and we had better get used to it. We have to get used to abundance as opposed to scarcity thinking. I’ve been reading a couple of books by a US academic called Clay Shirky – Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus. They explain it all much better than I can – and in a very entertaining and clear way.

        • #77 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 11, 2012 - 11:58 am

          Interesting mini-thread here. The kitemark idea – or something that does an equivalent job – seems to be a hot topic at the moment among author groups. Should they or shoudn’t they? Are everyone’s criteria for awarding them the same? Could they be cronyised? Should you charge for them,or does that exclude the people who either can’t afford it, or who think that’s corrupt, or who have other very reasonable objections?I think there’s nothing wrong with groups making collections of books they feel are worthwhile. As with all the equivalents in the established world of publishing, readers will learn whose taste they trust. But if any of these edifices could become a barrier to entry,that would be a different matter.

          It constantly amuses me, though, how few people seem to know about the Kindle/Smashwords sample features or Look Inside. You never have to buy any book unseen.

  25. #78 by raynfall on May 9, 2012 - 6:05 pm

    Actually, I think indie authors can get it for free – initially, anyway. That’s the business model I’m trying to put together right now.

    Long story short, my idea is to contract with authors, provide the services up front, and take half the profits until the production cost of the book is covered. Very much like a publisher, but I don’t take any rights and the book always remains under the author’s control.

    I take submissions, because I have to pick the books I think will sell. Otherwise I lose money, of course. I’m just getting off the ground right now so I’m still working with one or two authors. Not much to see yet.

    I got the concept for this precisely because I figured out a lot of indies wouldn’t have the cash up front, and I thought there should be a better way than betting on the outside chance that one of the majors would take an interest. Ebook publishing has brought the production cost right down for a book, so it’s possible for a small outfit to take more chances on good books.

    We’ll see whether it works out, but I’m hopeful so far.

    • #79 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 9, 2012 - 7:10 pm

      Welcome from the Twitterverse! I’d be very interested to see how this works out as it could potentially be very useful. In effect it sounds as though you are running on a similar model to the micropresses – who pay a token advance but operate effectively on a profits split. They also can’t afford to take more than a handful of the authors who submit, simply because of the time involved. But you’ve obviously done the thinking, so best of luck to you!

    • #80 by DRMarvello on May 9, 2012 - 7:57 pm

      I’m also interested in seeing how this business model works out. You aren’t alone. I’ve run into others who are offering the same kind of deal (including my wife).

      Many authors don’t have the money to outsource professional production work, nor do they have an interest in learning it for themselves. The model you are talking about solves both issues to a degree, except that *you* become the new gatekeeper.

      I suspect a lot of small businesses that follow a similar model will appear (and disappear) over the next couple of years as people who are good (hopefully) with book production start offering it to those who aren’t for a percentage of sales rather than an up-front fee. How successful they are will depend upon how good a job they do of selecting books that will sell.

      Speaking of sales, that’s kind of the weak link in this whole thing. Presumably, the author is still responsible for doing all the marketing, right? So that has to factor into your decision making process when considering their novel. If they can’t sell it, neither of you make money.

      • #81 by raynfall on May 9, 2012 - 10:54 pm

        Well, this is sort of like a micropress, but I don’t take any rights. It’s a management agreement only, at the behest of the author. They effectively pay for any services I provide out of future profits instead of up front.

        I don’t think of myself as a gatekeeper, to be honest. I have an a la carte price list too, and my rates are very reasonable if you’re buying just one or two services that you need. But if I’m going to back an author’s work, I need to believe in it, and I need to know that their aims are the same as mine. That’s just plain good business sense.

        As for the marketing – well, they won’t be doing it alone, not with me. A huge chunk of what I’m working on right now is a marketing handbook specifically for authors, which I’ll give them for free if they join me. They’ll get as much support as I can give, including training on how to market and sell online. This is by far the most important thing I can do, to be honest, because whether it succeeds or not depends entirely on the sales.

        Something along the lines of ‘give an author a marketing campaign, and they’ll sell one book, but teach them how to build their own, and they’ll sell all their books’. :P

        Anyway, it’s very much a work in progress. I have a few authors who have volunteered to be my guinea pigs. I think we’re doing well so far – getting a good response, I think, considering I’ve only been running for about a month. More feedback is always welcome, especially on the subject of what authors want to know about or what services they need.

        • #82 by Folded Story on May 16, 2012 - 6:09 am

          @raynfall: It’s great to hear about a model that’s similar to what I’ve established (as an editor) with author CK Collins. We have a profit-sharing arrangement that involves reasonable upfront payment and a percentage of profits. It sounds like both of our approaches establish something closer to a partnership than a for-hire arrangement. I like the idea of trying out a la carte services as well and seeing what interests authors. I’d love to know if you’ve found that some services seem especially well suited for simpler, for-hire arrangements.

          Collins has speculated that editorial agencies will emerge to fill the gaps that Roz and so many of the commenters have mentioned.

          • #83 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 16, 2012 - 7:28 am

            Interesting that you’re making it work, although I think your model is slightly different from Raynfall’s, who is taking nothing up front. And editorial agencies – sensible suggestion. They already exist – I used to do a lot of freelancing for one of them. But they have to be paid up front and usually can’t make the profits-share model work as their sole means of support. But maybe that’s the next step?

          • #84 by raynfall on May 16, 2012 - 8:42 am

            I’ve envisioned it as a partnership, yeah. I initially didn’t have an a la carte list, but there was enough interest from authors that I decided to add it, and it really does depend on an author’s needs. So far I’ve done cover designs and blurbs, mostly. I just happen to have the right mix of skills to cover everything, but graphic design is very popular.

            I really do think this is the future of publishing. We’ve seen the same things happen with every other entertainment medium as it moves towards digital distribution, so it’s absolute folly to think that books will somehow remain predominantly analogue. While the majors are still stuck in an outdated business model, it’s simply logical that new business models develop to get around them – hence, the idea of Raynfall, and the concept of management and support in exchange for profits.

            Basically, I want authors to have options. I’ve seen enough indie books spiked for want of a good cover or proper editing. We all read the stories of what the majors do. I’ve met and talked to authors who’ve been ripped off by unscrupulous businesses, sometimes to the tune of thousands of dollars. I just keep thinking ‘there’s got to be a better way to do this.’ For better or worse, this is my way, although I still don’t know if it’s viable yet on the management side. It certainly is on the for-hire side, especially at my rates.

          • #85 by Folded Story on May 17, 2012 - 6:09 am

            Roz is right about our models — they’re slightly different, and I could imagine editors being willing to offer both. The appeal of @raynfall’s offer, of course, is that it’s free for authors until they start seeing profits. It’s more risk for the editor but could be an especially strong position for editors who are accumulating a client base.

            Either way, the arrangement gives the editor a more significant stake in the entire project, and I think this is a healthy way to establish author-writer partnerships. As a reader, I want authors to get quality editing — it’s the single most important investment they can make. And as a developmental editor, I want to work with authors who recognize the importance of this investment — but that doesn’t mean they have to fork over the full costs before the book is published.

        • #86 by DRMarvello on May 17, 2012 - 12:41 pm

          I think it is wonderful that models are evolving to replace the no-up-front-cost option that traditional publishing gave us. It is incredibly generous for skilled book production people to offer their services on spec to authors.

          However, I doubt this business model will survive much beyond a hobby level for the simple reason that a very small percentage of books are successful, and small businesses can’t absorb the cost of the books that fail.

          Traditional publishers have experts at every level of production and marketing, and they STILL get it wrong. However, they get enough revenue from the blockbusters to make up for the majority of books that go nowhere.

          In the business models proposed here, you have a single, relatively inexperienced publisher selecting titles to invest in, and you have a single, inexperienced author marketing the books. The odds are good that you will starve before finding that one title that makes up for all the others. Either that, or your business will operate on a more-or-less hobby level indefinitely, which reduces your chances for success even further.

          I’m not trying to talk you out of the idea. For one thing, I could be completely wrong. You could find that every book “earns out” its production costs and can therefore be considered a success. For another thing, I honestly believe new models need to evolve, and I’m happy to see people starting that evolution.

          • #87 by raynfall on May 17, 2012 - 1:31 pm

            I absolutely disagree, and here’s why.

            A legacy publisher has a much higher ongoing cost and a much higher production cost for each book. Anything that involves producing a run of paper books is going to be financially risky because of the up front cost of manufacturing and storage, and because of the practice of stores returning unsold books. They have to have immediate hits to offset all of that.

            Ebooks have no marginal production or storage cost. Once the actual creative work is put up for sale, the manufacturing is free and there are no returns to deal with. The book can sit there and earn money slowly for years, if it needs to, as my model has no fixed term contract. I have run the numbers on this, and I’ve found that, on average, a book only needs to sell 1000 copies for it to earn out if it sells at $2.99 on Amazon, for example. I wouldn’t have considered doing this unless I knew it could scale up from there.

            I don’t need bestsellers the way that a legacy publisher does. I can afford to take chances on books that may only find a niche audience because I’m investing a fraction of what they do in each title for the same potential payoff. I will happily admit that I am inexperienced in the publishing industry, but frankly, it’s not really relevant because I’m not playing in that particular pool. I’m not competing for real world shelf space or attention and I wouldn’t know where to start, to be honest – I’m sticking to what I know inside and out, which is online marketing.

            I actually just wrote an article on how infinite shelf space has rendered the legacy publishing business model obsolete, believe it or not. I think you’ll find that the new business models that develop will look very different from the old ones, and they’ll probably be counterintuitive up to a point. Brave new world and all that…

        • #88 by DRMarvello on May 17, 2012 - 3:48 pm

          You make some great arguments. I applaud your enthusiasm and wish success for both you and your authors. Viewing the break even point as “only” 1000 books shows brilliant optimism and is an excellent starting attitude for your venture. And I mean that seriously, not sarcastically.

          • #89 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 18, 2012 - 12:40 pm

            A break-point of 1000 books is an interesting figure. You’re right that your lean operation means you don’t need the margins a publisher does. But… you are competing for attention. Books don’t sell without getting attention, finding new readers all the time.
            I know micropress publishers who haven’t managed more than a handful of sales on a book – I’m not talking about profits, which vary with overheads. I’m talking about sales numbers. These companies have been set up by people who know about editorial matters but not about marketing or promotion.

            You’re absolutely right that we need new models and to adjust to what customers (in this case writers) can afford – if we can. But promotion is crucial to sales, period. Without it a book sells nothing, regardless of how good or bad it is. In your case, someone – either you or the authors – needs to be smart and savvy about promotion.

            • #90 by raynfall on May 18, 2012 - 7:30 pm

              Of course. I did say marketing is the most important thing I can do. So much depends on it that I’m writing a book on it specifically for authors.

              I’m a former marketing manager. I cut my teeth on print but I prefer online systems. I learned how to sell and how to structure a business from a very smart and successful boss, way back when. Done a huge amount of freelance work for affiliate marketers – nice people, I learned SEO from them. I also did a lot of research on things like viral content, looked at case studies, and just analyzed why some things worked and some failed.

              I’m confident at this stage that I can be authoritative on online marketing. The business wouldn’t work otherwise, not even if the authors themselves were savvy, so I do tend to boggle at bit at presses who don’t devote at least 75% of their time to promotions.

              The offline stuff I can do, as the principles are the same, but it’s not my thing.

  26. #91 by annerallen on May 10, 2012 - 10:21 pm

    Great discussion here. I’m late to the party, but I had to say that part of the problem is we’ve got an explosion of amateur “editors” taking on amateur first novels and publishing is becoming “amateur night in Dixie” (to use a favorite phrase of novelist Richard Yates.) The first novelist now thinks she has a “professionally edited” book and publishes it with dismal results. The old system was creaky and had become dysfunctional in many ways, but it gave us a lot of time to develop our craft. Now we have a population who have taken one tennis lesson who think they’re all entitled to play Wimbledon..

    • #92 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 11, 2012 - 11:48 am

      Hello Anne! No latecomer ever turned away, especially if they quote Richard Yates – wonderful writer :)
      And you’ve put your finger on it. The epidemic of greenhorn writers is matched by an epidemic of experts who are not. The result? Well-meaning DIY disasters!

  27. #93 by Catherine Czerkawska on May 11, 2012 - 12:55 pm

    Oddly enough, last week I scheduled my regular monthly Authors Electric blog post, which is all about editors and editing. It’s called ‘New Writers Beware.’ It’s scheduled for the 18th, so I won’t repeat it here. But it does have something to say about the epidemic of ‘experts.’ I have a feeling, that – as far as the writing is concerned – we may be agonising over something that doesn’t matter much at all. You’re never going to stop people making those early mistakes. And really, they’re not playing Wimbledon so much as booking space on the local court. It’s just that now they make the mistakes we all made but they do it in public. But even if they do, the reality is that it’ll probably only be friends and relatives who read them, and they won’t mind, just as those same friends and relatives got a certain amount of pleasure from the (expensively) self published memoirs of years ago. To be sure, there are more of them. Lots more of them. But then that’s the nature of the unlimited shelf space of the online world. And, quite probably, the price we all have to pay for the opportunity to publish. Amazon has to make its money somewhere and those tiny sums add up to something very large indeed, if the money raised from the iTunes ‘long tail’ is anything to go by. The real writers, the ones who are passionate about writing, will continue reading and writing, continue interacting in the real world as well as the virtual, learn from the experience, and – somewhere down the line – delete those early disasters and substitute something better. And because hardly anyone will have read or bothered to review the incompetent stuff, it won’t matter much at all. The happy dabblers will have a handful of sales, get it out of their system, get bored and move on – and who is to say they have harmed anyone, especially when you can not only sample, but can return a generally very cheap download if you don’t like it. I don’t think we need kitemarks for writers, but I do think kitemarks for editors might be quite a good thing.

    • #94 by DRMarvello on May 11, 2012 - 1:20 pm

      Thanks, Catherine. You eloquently summarized the thoughts I had this morning after reading annerallen’s comments. “Making their mistakes in public” indeed. I say, let ‘em take their shot.

      • #95 by annerallen on May 12, 2012 - 7:17 pm

        My problem is that there can be a large amount of money involved and these new writers are getting scammed and sometimes emotionally hurt by bad reviews. Someone who might have become a wonderful writer may give up after an expensive disaster–somebody who just needed more classes and practice.

        As a writers’ advocate, that is a problem for me. Obviously, if you don’t empathize with new writers, it’s not a problem for you. Nobody is forced to read a bad book. There are previews, for one thing, and with Kindle Select, readers can usually get the books free..

        • #96 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 14, 2012 - 10:52 pm

          New writers are indeed getting scammed, Anne. And you’ve made another very interesting point here – the bad reviews could be disastrous for confidence.

      • #97 by CK Collins on May 24, 2012 - 5:12 am

        Hi there. I’ve been ruminating on these exact questions for a long time, and it’s great to come across such a vibrant discussion.

        As an author, I agree with many of the points above, but I see a problem with the “no harm” philosophy advocated (quite well) by Catherine and DRMarvello. Here’s my concern: If the independent-publishing landscape becomes filled with weeds (sloppy books), it will become harder for flowers (professionally prepared books) to thrive. It stands to reason that if an industry becomes known for shoddy work, people will develop a negative impression of that industry and avoid its wares.

        We aren’t going to prevent slapped-together books from being self-published (and I wouldn’t want to), but we should recognize their cumulative impact. The more common they are, the more they hurt — through guilt by association — the reputation and prospects of books that are more serious and professionally prepared.

        My hope is that we’ll see the evolution of better methods for helping readers (and reviewers and booksellers) select for quality. Everyone would gain, and authors would be better rewarded for investing in high standards of production.

        • #98 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 24, 2012 - 5:41 pm

          Hi! I know – we need reviewers to curate collections of good indie books, and preferably alongside the traditionally published.

    • #99 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 14, 2012 - 10:52 pm

      Catherine, that’s an eminently sensible suggestion. I look forward to reading your post!

  28. #100 by neyska on May 11, 2012 - 5:01 pm

    Bravo! Quality control is the biggest issue right now and one of the primary reason I won’t self-publish. I think there is too much slush out there and I don’t feel that I am qualified, on my own, to determine when my work is good enough. I think the writer’s customer, the all important reader, is getting the shaft in this environment and I am hoping a good solution with arise. I also have an issue with the current review system, but I rant about that on my blog so I won’t go into it here.

    Thanks for the great post.

    • #101 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 14, 2012 - 10:44 pm

      Thanks, Neyska. The situation certainly isn’t perfect but if we respect the reader we can’t go wrong!

  29. #102 by David C. Cassidy on May 12, 2012 - 6:18 pm

    One of the problems I see is that people have become used to poor editing, bad grammar, and the like. When we find a spelling mistake on our Kindle book, for example, we just move on. It’s not like we say, “Well, that’s that. I can’t turn the page because they spelled ‘they’, ‘the’.” Having said that, if a book is *filled* with mistakes, I don’t finish it–I delete it. It’s no different than walking out of a bad movie halfway through. I wish I could get my money back, sure, but that’s the rules of the entertainment game. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

    Sadly, a lot of people accept bad movies, bad web sites, bad TV. They accept mediocrity. I don’t think it will get better any time soon. Certainly most indies can’t (or won’t) afford an editor (as some already mentioned), so it’s something we will have to live with. Unless editors are willing to work for peanuts, it’s hard to justify the cost.

    Ultimately, if a book is still a great read, who won’t overlook a few errors? Who doesn’t own a lot of books from the pre-digital days that have errors? It’s not as if this is something new. It’s just a bigger issue now than it was, but really, if an author keeps putting out shoddy work, it’s not likely they’ll be much of a success for long.

    • #103 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on May 14, 2012 - 10:48 pm

      Interesting point, David, that plenty of conventionally published books have errors. But back then, no one had any reason to suspect they hadn’t been properly produced. Now, though, people like Amanda Hocking have hit the headlines with books they uploaded all by themselves and that means the reading public are much more sensitive to production quality.
      That’s not to say conventionally published books are perfect – especially ebooks. In fact, publishers have made big mistakes slinging their textfiles straight onto epub and Kindle, and not understanding that they need to do a little work on them. I know of several authors who were appalled to learn their ebook versions were all in bold, or otherwise unreadable.

  30. #104 by BB on May 13, 2012 - 9:16 pm

    And yet you see a lot of junk, and mediocrity, in professionally edited work too. I have to wonder how much of what is print-published ever got published. I was laughing the other day about something I saw in a best-selling author’s book: “He inwardly raised his brows.” Wow, I wonder how he did that. A few pages later, he: “inwardly shook his head.” He’s one amazing man!

    How any professional editor could have missed these lines baffles me.

  31. #107 by Broke Writer :-) on July 10, 2012 - 5:13 am

    Hi Ms. Morris, can you elaborate on what a broke person like me can do to pay for editor services that doesn’t involve getting a (gasp!) job?

    I want to write, not go to work 9-5. I am only 16 and don’t want to have to go to college, which will kill the creativity in me by making me write term papers and do awful homework! Any advice/ideas?

    • #108 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on July 10, 2012 - 7:14 am

      Hi! 16, wow – I well remember being disgusted with most of the job options on offer, compared with the infinitely preferable occupation of learning to do something worthwhile and heartfelt. Sad to say, most fully-grown writers (including me) have to have jobs anyway – and fit our writing in around that. Some writers have full-time employment, some part time or freelance, but few of us can spend the entire day writing.
      But it doesn’t kill our creativity – in fact the enforced time away from the desk is good thinking time, which any novel needs in spades. An awful lot of us have alternate, artistic identities – I worked on a magazine where besides me (the serious writer) there were two semi-professional musicians and a fine artist. You do, though, have to protect your writing time because jobs – and coursework – can be very demanding. But we manage somehow.
      So I’m going to be a killjoy and say you probably do have to both get a qualification and a job – because you have to earn money somehow. And it’s better if you find a way that will complement your creativity. What might that be? You might work in the arts, but don’t discount the less obviously artistic. Many nurses or doctors have priceless insight into the human condition – the raw material from which art is made.
      But most of all, creativity comes from within you. It’s a chafing against rules, it’s a questioning mind, it’s a way of life. You can feed it any way you want – by reading, by setting aside time to be with the book you’re working on, by writing (of course), by studying other writers whose work you find irresistible. Add all that to your life experiences and you’re well away.
      Good luck!

    • #109 by neyska on July 10, 2012 - 3:37 pm

      I’d like to add a tiny bit to this. Creativity is a small fraction of what it takes to be a successful author. If this is how you want to make your living, then get out there and live life. Get a job. Learn a skill (or many). The more you learn and experience, the better your writing will be. Understanding life and the people around you helps you relate better to your readers and that is critical to being successful.

      Your creativity is yours. It is your first ingredient to writing. Now you need to go out and get more ingredients. Think of everything you do and everything you learn as a step along the path to being a better writer, not an obstacle to your creativity.

      • #110 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on July 10, 2012 - 3:46 pm

        Love this answer, Neyska. What you create arises from your life and your experience, as much as from the time you sit thinking and writing.

    • #111 by Jami Gold on July 10, 2012 - 4:16 pm

      I’ll second (third?) what Roz and Neyska said. Our time is never “wasted.” We can’t see how our life’s experiences will combine to create new ideas in our head.

      If you want to really feel like your studies are adding to your writing and not taking away, think about the kind of stories you want to write. Someone who wants to write murder mysteries would find any kind of career in law enforcement invaluable–not just cops, but even those who work behind the scenes, filing paperwork or evidence, would see and hear things to round out their stories. I know of nurses who take that knowledge to write murders that look like suicides, and they know of the ways someone could try to get away with it.

      Think of counselors or working in a counseling center and how many stories they’re exposed to. I could go on and on. Figure out where your passions lie in your stories, and maybe you’ll discover a passion for something that won’t be *just* a paying-the-bills gig.

      Plus, people with those experiences are highly sought after by *other* writers. Imagine being able to make extra money by teaching workshops to writers about those things you’ve learned in your day job. Life will power your writing, not take away from it.

      • #112 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on July 10, 2012 - 5:15 pm

        Excellent point about the workshops, Jami. There are shoals of books for writers by weapons experts, martial artists, forensic scientists, zoo keepers…. well maybe that’s one that’s waiting to be written….

    • #113 by mrdisvan on July 10, 2012 - 4:29 pm

      Your comment struck a chord with me, having often had to trade off what I would have liked to write with the need for earning a living. It usually is one or the other. And I don’t agree that you have to go off and become a bricklayer or whatever in order to hone your creativity. Most cello players do better by concentrating on the music.

      So, what can you do? Well, you may be cash-poor but you can share your back end with the editor. Not every editor will want to work that way, and you’ll regret giving them 5% of revenue if you end up with a runaway best-seller, but beggars can’t be choosers, and it is a valid way to get started.

      Also, you could pick a college course that will stimulate rather than stifle you. English Literature will expose you to some great works, even if the tutors do generally have a stuffily rigid view of them. Or Music, or Physics, or Philosophy – lots of subjects are actually rather good for the creative imagination.

      • #114 by Anne R. Allen on July 10, 2012 - 4:51 pm

        In response to broke writer–I think you’ve been getting a lot of misinformation. A college education certainly doesn’t stifle creativity. Creative writing classes can do that if they’re badly taught, but studying history and art and literature and science can only open up your mind. It’s a rare author indeed who can be successful without basic cultural literacy.

        Also–writing books is probably the toughest way in the world to make a living. Maybe one percent of us don’t have a day job or another source of income. And it takes 10 years at least to build a proficiency and the inventory it takes to start a career.

        An editor can’t teach you how to write–no matter how much you pay. Grammar and word use are an author’s tools. You wouldn’t try to earn a living as a carpenter if you didn’t know how to pound a nail–and you wouldn’t hire somebody else to do it for you.

        Learn your trade. Get the tools and skills you need. Enjoy the process. But unless you are Paris Hilton, you’re going to have to work–both at a day job and doing those “awful” homework assignments.

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