A few weeks ago I was extremely amused by an amazon review on an indie author's e-book, in which the reviewer stated that they knew the book only cost them 99 cents, but they were so disillusioned by the quality of the writing that they wanted their money back. It's only 99 cents, I thought to myself as I flicked to another review. A week later I found myself remembering this as I settled onto the couch to enjoy an e-book I had just downloaded from amazon for free. The first paragraph was disturbingly bad. Surely not, I thought, as I flicked rapidly through the pages, desperate to get a feel for the work. It was so bad that the next day I amused my workmates with its awfulness by reading segments aloud, and even though I hadn't even paid 99 cents for it I found myself resenting the storage space it was taking up on my kindle.
It got me thinking – it was one thing to give the middle finger to the publishing companies and take the self-publishing route, but shouldn't we at least be attempting to make our work as good as a book from a publishing company? Isn't that what we are saying when we self-publish; that we know our work is good enough and we can't be bothered going through the merry-go-round of rejection letters, while we hope that some publisher has enough budget left in their coffers for a book in our genre? What's going to happen to this sudden boom, where self-publishers are finally accepted as something other than egotistical maniacs, if the general public becomes disillusioned with the quality of our work?
And so I'm sending out a plea to all self-publishing authors – let's raise the bar. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that my work is any better than any other self-published author. I'm also not stating that it is error free. But I did spend 2 years editing, went through 20 nauseating drafts, employed a manuscript assessor and an editor as well as torturing many of my friends by making them edit my novel; one of them I even made do it twice, and then callously forgot to put her name in the acknowledgement's page. (I'm sorry Tracy.) And at the end of all of that I had transformed a truly terrible first draft into something resembling a publishable work.
I mean just because we aren't going through a publishing company doesn't mean we can't follow the process as if we were. All the professionals they employ to help make a book into a presentable package are for hire as contractors. Manuscript assessors, editors, copy-editors, type-setters, cover designers – they're all there just waiting for us to use them.
And while I'm on my ramble I have a bone to pick with friends and family of self-publishing authors. Please don't lie to us. Don't tell us our work is wonderful when you grimaced the whole way through it. And please don't write us glowing 5 star reviews when we really deserve a 2. Seriously – it's just setting us up to look like fools. It's very hard when you are immersed in a project to look objectively at what you are creating. I mean this thing is our baby – we often don't want to see its flaws. We rely on the people around us, and the people we hire, to help us find those flaws and iron all the wrinkles out of our work. So when you feel it's more important to flatter our ego than hurt us, you are doing us an injustice. If we fool the public into buying our novels with bogus reviews written by close friends then eventually the backlash of the public anger will come back to affect us all.
We are all assuming that the popularity of the indie-author will continue to soar as it did with the indie-musicians so many years ago: when all of a sudden it was cooler to be an indie than not. But if that is to happen we need to make sure that the quality of our work is impeccable, that our words flow across the page drawing the reader ever further into our world and that we have taken every possible chance to make our story shine. So come on, as a group we can do it; let's push ourselves to creating ever better work, let's climb the torturous mountain of self-editing, let's swim the sea of gnarly punctuation, and for God's sake – whatever else we do – let's raise the bar.