Lead On, Diogenes!

At last, someone has had the courage to say it: the so-called indie publishing revolution is built on books that usually haven’t been edited and are mostly, well, really bad. I’ve written about this before, as you know. Now British thriller author Stephen Leather—he’s sold more than two million books, according to Wikipedia, the first published by HarperCollins—is speaking out. Interestingly, he’s speaking in the form of a guest post on the blog of one of the more successful indie authors, J. A. Konrath.

Leather, bless him, comes right out and says what I’ve been saying:

There is one cold hard fact that I don’t seem to see anywhere on the blogs and forums devoted to ePublishing. You probably won’t like hearing it, especially if you are one of the new wave of ‘Indie’ writers. But I’m going to say it anyway. Here goes. The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful. There, I’ve said it.

Leather goes on to say, “I get emails all the time from ‘Indie’ writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers.”

That last statement makes me sad, but it doesn’t surprise me. This is a good article; you should read the whole thing. Leather mentions the Rule of Ten Thousand (cited often by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers), which is, simply, this: the way to master a skill (say, playing a piano, speaking French, or … novel writing) is to spend ten thousand hours practicing it. Leather says you need to expect to follow this rule; at two hours a day, that’s thirteen years, friends, before you’ve written a publishable novel.

And then, as I’ve told you before, you work with your substantive editor and really polish it up. :)

Konrath pops in at the end to add his two cents’ worth. He says writers are too close to their own material to know if it’s any good or not. “In the past,” he says, “the gatekeepers (agents, editors) vetted manuscripts and screened out the majority of the crap [Konrath uses a different word here that I’ve edited out for my audience—my apologies, Joe].” I agree with him. So does Leather.

But Konrath goes on to say, “Then I realized that the self-publishing revolution has gatekeepers in place. They’re called readers. Most readers don’t have the experience of industry pros, and may not be very helpful in their critiques. But they do vote with their dollars, and a wise author should pay attention to reviews that say similar things (I hated the hero, the writing is repetitive, this needs an editor, etc.).”

Hm. I don’t think it’s fair to ask the first readers to pay for the privilege of discovering a book is bad. And as Konrath notes, readers aren’t usually publishing pros. So in this model the book still isn’t getting the editing it needs. Leather says, “Just because you’ve written a book doesn’t mean it’s good enough to be published. … EPublishing has removed that learning curve. Now any book can be published, no matter how awful. And I think that’s bad for writers.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Tweet: “I don’t get email from indie authors asking how they can become better writers.”
Tweet: Lead on, Diogenes! Hard truth about indie publishing.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Posted in The Book Biz | Tagged as: , , , , , | Bookmark the permalink | Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

7 Comments

  1. Beth says:

    Amen, and amen.

  2. Tiffany says:

    I do love how you preach this, James. So true. So true…

  3. I agree that the vast majority of these books are bad. I believe Amanda Hocking even said that was one reason she went with a traditional publisher–she was tired of hearing how poorly her books were edited!

    But how does this apply to the traditionally published writers who are now e-publishing books? There’s a handful of Christian ones who are doing it. I know that even though they’ve been published, they still need to go through the editing rounds–and I don’t mean just being proofread. But that makes for an interesting scenario–and still creates demand for editors.

    I would assume that there are really good freelance editors out there. And I’ve always assumed you are one of them from the comments former clients have made, but I’m wondering now if you only work for houses rather than the individual client?

    • jamiechavez says:

      I’ve always believed that unpublished authors just have no idea what developmental editing is (or call it content editing, or substantive editing). They think editing = proofreading, as you note. So it’s an education process. Any author who’s been through the developmental process recognizes the value of it. (Hence the “love lines” on my website you reference — most from current, ongoing client relationships. And thank you!)

      Thus I think an author who has been traditionally published in the past will no doubt seek out an editor even if he has decided to self-pub. (Probably one he’s worked with in the past.)

      I mostly work with publishing houses, because I have contacts there. However, unlike some of my peers, I do also work with unsigned authors. Usually they come to me recommended from a trusted source (although not always). I live in hope that I’ll “discover” a wonderful new talent, you know? But I’ll be honest with you: it’s hard work. :)

  4. […] their authors and, ultimately, for readers, since we readers benefit from a well-edited book (and suffer from a poorly edited […]

  5. […] I buy the $1.99 books or even the $2.99 books. (I’ve written about this before, here, here, and here, so you know how I feel about it.) I admit to some ambivalence, since it’s an acceptable […]

  6. Jamie, interesting post, and I agree with you, Leather and my fellow Irish citizen Catherine Ryan Howard about the dangers of the being deluged in eCrap. But a question: Where are these credentialed developmental editors for hire? You know how lonely writing is, and I would happily pay for a professional editor to read my manuscript and point out what needs work. But how do I find such a person who can show the credential of saying “You know X? I edited that” because that is surely the only real credential a writer can go by in a world of freelances. Or am I wrong? At least when you commission a cover, you can see previous work.
    I wrote a novel, “The Ministry of Love”, as a distraction. When I finished it, I bounced it around agents, got the “thanks, but no thanks”, and that was that. Then Kindle came along, and now, (copy)edited, eFormatted, and with a professional cover, it’s up and selling very modestly. I’m never going to retire on it, but I enjoyed writing it, and I enjoy the feedback I get from people who read it, and that’s the problem with people being hard on self publishing. Self publishing has liberated a whole generation of people who still want to write, even if they aren’t writing about teenaged vampires looking moodily at each other. Don’t forget that the economics of publishing today seems to make it even less likely that new authors will get a chance, so why wouldn’t they go it alone? What do they have to lose? Konrath is right, the reader will eventually decide. For example, I recently purchased a self published paperback. It was well designed, professionaly edited, had no typos, and yet I stopped reading 50 pages in, because the author had taken a reasonable political thriller and shoehorned in his obsession with coincidences and the card game Bridge. He would stop the narrative to allow a character to dream, and thus allow the author to recount an extraordinary coincidence that had happened to him. The stories were interesting in their own right, and maybe worthy of their own novel, but appearing in this was like Spiderman appearing in the middle of The Road. It was surreal, and something I suspect an editor would have told him to drop. I probably won’t read another book by him, but that’s my call, and there are plenty of traditionally published authors whose books I haven’t enjoyed either. Try and read a novel by Jose Saramago!
    Having said that, I think it is inevitable that Amazon will eventually deploy some sort of quality threshold to prevent themselves being overwhelmed. Then the fun will begin. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up in the European Court of Justice or the US Supreme Court as an anti-monopoly issue.

    • Jamie says:

      Hi Jason —
      I’m stealing “eCrap” — love it! Regarding your question about developmental editors, well, I am one such animal. :) If you click on “Go to Jamie Chavez” above, you’ll go right to my website and from there can check out my portfolio. (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t added titles since Sept 2010 because I’ve been too stinkin’ busy but I have sworn to do it before Sept 16, which is my one-year anniversary for launching the site. We’ll see.)
      I admit it’s a bit of a crapshoot finding a good dev editor, as there is no reputable organization to which we all might belong. I tell people all the time to check out the acknowledgments in a book you admire and seek out that editor. Sometimes that will be an in-house editor, but many times it will be a freelancer like me.
      You might also want to check out my most recent blog post (Methinks the Lady…), because I’m not unremittingly against self-publishing. :) What I will never back down on is the importance of dev editing, the singularity of it (that is, the fact that developmental editing ≠ copyediting, a concept you’ve clearly grasped but which Joe Konrath seems not to have). And it appears that Amazon is already taking steps, first by yanking “private label rights” books from the Kindle store (all those spam books) and also by launching the “Kindle Indie Bookstore” which appears to be the first step in separating self-published books from electronic offerings from traditional publishers.
      Thanks for commenting! So happy to see Irish friends here! :)

  7. […] you know, this is a subject I’ve been quite vocal about. :) You can read here, here, and here, if you don’t know where I […]

  8. […] fundamentally authors and musicians have a lot in common. And while I have groused—a lot—about the glut of subpar “books” out there now that anyone can “publish” (yes, I am using scare quotes, and I mean them!), my friends in […]

  9. […] He believes the book should be worthy of readers before it’s put on the shelf (or the e-shelf). I agree with him, and have written about this topic more than once. Readers should not be expected to help you find […]

5 Trackbacks

  1. By Another Brick in the Wall on 11 August, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    […] their authors and, ultimately, for readers, since we readers benefit from a well-edited book (and suffer from a poorly edited […]

  2. By Welcome to the Dark Side on 13 August, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    […] I buy the $1.99 books or even the $2.99 books. (I’ve written about this before, here, here, and here, so you know how I feel about it.) I admit to some ambivalence, since it’s an acceptable […]

  3. By Short Saturday: Publishing Shorthand on 22 October, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    […] you know, this is a subject I’ve been quite vocal about. :) You can read here, here, and here, if you don’t know where I […]

  4. By Publishing Karaoke on 8 March, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    […] fundamentally authors and musicians have a lot in common. And while I have groused—a lot—about the glut of subpar “books” out there now that anyone can “publish” (yes, I am using scare quotes, and I mean them!), my friends in […]

  5. By It’s Always Something* on 6 March, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    […] He believes the book should be worthy of readers before it’s put on the shelf (or the e-shelf). I agree with him, and have written about this topic more than once. Readers should not be expected to help you find […]