Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Don't worry about it, you poor little author


(The above works can be found here, except for Autumn Winds, which will be released in about a week.)

Later edit:  This post was featured on Passive Voice!

I recently had an encounter with an Indie group on Facebook that truly took me by surprise. They were so set in their ways that I had the feeling I was dealing with a traditional publishing group in disguise. The problem wasn't that they were even wrong for most writers, but that the moderator of the group (and her leap up and down followers) would not admit that someone might be capable of actually doing a good cover themselves or, worse, have spent time as an editor and was capable of editing their own work.

Now don't get me wrong. I think most of us do need help with editing especially. I have had such help and I'm very grateful for those who did the work. I've been told, even by occasional traditional publishers (small press) that I've worked with that my submitted work is extremely clean -- but there are small things that can still slip through and there are occasional blind spots we just don't see. I know this is true of every writers. And every editor, for that matter; I have found problems in edited transcripts too.

So I'm not arguing that this is helpful for most writers.

My problem?

It is the attitude of the group which verges on the traditional publishing pat on the head and 'Don't you worry about anything but the words, little writer. You aren't smart enough to handle art (or editing), too.'

I found this attitude to be more than annoying. I found it counterproductive and the antithesis of the entire Indie ideal. Being told that any author who dares edit their own work or create their own cover ruins the Indie market -- without EVER looking at the individual work done -- is so elitist that it actually took me a few days to believe they were serious. They are sprouting the same things we've heard from everyone who won't take the time to actually examine work before making a pronouncement. It's far easier to make a ad hominem statement and dismiss everything with a single wave of the hand, isn't it? After all, that's what others outside the Indie world do.

Let's look at the cover art side first. Many people do not want to do the art and have no interest in learning how. I can understand that part. It is a lot of work and if you don't have the interest to begin with, then you simply should not bother. Some people think they have the ability, but they need to study other covers and try again. I've been at that stage.

However, a lot of cover art these days is done with pre-made photos and simple templates. It takes practice to find the right picture and get the lettering right, but it is NOT something impossible for any poor little author to do. Branching out from there can be more difficult. I am most certainly still learning, but I'm willing to put the effort in to study other covers and expand my ability. It interests me.  The covers I have above are not bad covers.  I've seen far worse on some traditional works and Indie works hired out.

Telling me (and others who are far better at this than I am) that creating our own covers is ruining the Indie image and why readers don't take us seriously is just plain stupid. There are some truly bad covers out there. You know what? Those people aren't listening to you anyway. So why wouldn't you try to help the ones who are trying to do better, rather than patting them on the head and telling them they aren't creative in anything but writing and don't bother?

And editing? Yes, writers need to edit their work to the best of their ability before they consider publishing or going to another editor. The problem is that the worst of the offenders out there are people who wouldn't bother to edit at all anyway, so holding them up as the example of what every writer is like who doesn't hire an editor is just plain wrong. Instead of pointing to them as a norm (which these people are doing by saying they're running the Indie experience), we should be making certain people know they are the exception. Yes, they'll be held up by others as a sign of how horrible Indie Publishing is, but that's normal in any field. People always want to degrade something they don't believe in, and if you go along with it and say 'everyone has to do X not to be one of them' then you simply play into that mindset.

We should also be telling readers to check out the free samples of any author's work before they buy. If an author is obviously lazy, then don't buy or look at their work again. Don't whimper and moan about how bad other writers are and how they're ruining the Indie world when you keep pointing to them. Instead, take command and stand in front of them instead of behind. You and I have no control over those people and making them important is not helping. We need to move on and point out the really good work, rather than the bad. I think some people are so worried about what others are doing wrong that they've stopped seeing good in people who do not work the same way they do.

Indie authors are a diverse group. We are not all following one path and the way we have reached our current state has been through various trials and learning experiences. There is no one answer for any of us; not how we work, how we edit or where we choose to publish.

We are not on the same path as traditional publications. Stop trying to force us into the same mold or shame us into believing your way is the only way. If these people were truly and Indie group, they'd be finding ways to help even the people who do not work in the same ways they do.  They would welcome diversity and offer help that embraced


Carradee said...

Hear, hear.

Editing is one of the things I do as a freelancer. I've long had clients who pull me in to fix what others messed up.

I've actually seen some self-edited books that have fewer objective errors than bestselling books that have been released from major publishers. I've seen author-made covers as good or better than some of the "pro" ones.

I make a lot of my own covers, in part to force myself to learn what goes into a good cover. Some of them have sucked. (One series in particular needs a complete overhaul in the cover design.) Some of my covers are mediocre at best.

But some? Are good enough that I've had professional graphic designers go, "Ooo. Good composition." (Case in point.)

Making covers has helped me get better identify what I like and dislike in a cover, as well as get an idea of how much work goes into different types of covers—which gives me a better idea of what a fair price is, too. I also find the process relaxing.

As far as self-editing goes, the successful self-editors I've met tend to be programmers, used to parsing their own code. And then freelance writers (of articles, etc.) are downright expected to be able to adequately edit their own work. (Hint: Editors at magazines and such tend to be acquiring editors, not line editors.)

So you want to tell me, as a writer of fiction and as an editor of others' work, I'm supposed to call it downright impossible to self-edit adequately? Even though several jobs require adequate self-editing? I call BS.

I say that as someone with a severe math disability that nobody noticed until college calculus, when I stopped using the coping mechanisms (because everyone insisted I couldn't have a disability, so why was I using them?). I promptly flunked out of calculus and had the teacher ask me outright, "Do you have some kind of math disability? Because I know of no other way to explain what you're doing here."

And yet, before I even knew I had a disability, I was often top (or near to the top) of my math classes. I could comprehend (and explain) the concepts just fine. I taught math to others. And I have severe dyscalulia.

If I'd been officially diagnosed, if anyone had noticed sooner… I would've been told outright that it was "impossible" for me to do any of those things that I actually accomplished.

mactheweb said...

I agree with the spirit of your post, and I would be upset by having the kind of arrogance you report. OTH, speaking as a graphic designer, I will say that your covers don't look quite professional. Specifically, I'd like to see more breathing room around the outside of the text. (white space)

Does that matter when self publishing? I honestly don't know. I do know that most readers won't see what a pro designer sees. If your books sell and if you are happy with the product, then go for it. I'm assuming that pro editors feel the same way about professionally edited books vs those that are less so. I'm going to include an established group of indies in the pro group, whether they have that level of knowledge or not. Groups on any kind tend to defend their norm.

This does bring up the question of what is good enough. I agree that almost any book will have at least a few errors that slip past the proof readers. I'm seeing more and more of that from the big publishing houses, at least for the non-star author's books. I've seen little outcry over that fact. So a certain level of errors is obviously good enough for the public. I've also read many indy published books that seem well edited. I'm far from professional in my error checking when it comes to such matters.

So is it arrogance or rigid thinking that causes some to specify that self-published books fail to meet some "standard"? I'm reminded of Malcom Galdwell's book, "Blink", in which he describes the visceral feeling that people who spend a lot of time perfecting their craft feel they see something that is not quite "right". I know that I have that response when seeing most non-pro graphic or web designs. However, the bottom line is the bottom line. If a cover or standard of proof reading is good enough to sell the work, what does some pro's opinion matter? Where do we move from the realm of making books that people buy and enjoy into the realm of perfection (or as close as we can come) for perfection's sake?

April Brown said...

I'm sure I saw the same comment stream in the same group.

They also offered a training event on "how" to do a certain marketing technique. However, they only covered the "why." When asked about several times on the "how" to do it, they replied they didn't have time to do that.

I'm learning cover design. No harder than web design.

I can edit other people's work better than my own. I can't afford an editor. Even the cheapest ask for more spending money than I have in many years combined.

Considering I was a yearbook editor 20+ years ago, I hope I do okay. Better than none anyway. And with memory loss, all writing looks new and from someone else even hours later.

We need to encourage people to work together, not against one another.

Carradee said...

to quote mactheweb
If a cover or standard of proof reading is good enough to sell the work, what does some pro's opinion matter?

That's actually a good point. When I let my readers vote on the cover they like best, it isn't unusual for them to pick one that doesn't fit the "pro" advice. For example, my other-world fantasy covers don't have people on them—they have hands. When I've spoken of changing it, I've gotten requests not to.

Christa said...

Nice post! I firmly believe if one has the skill set to do a specific component traditionally left to publishers, it's perfectly okay to do it. It may not always be the best use of the author's time (but I believe Bella Andre, for example, still does her own covers because she likes the process and she wants it "just so" for branding purposes). I have always done my own editing/proofing and my own covers. If one is competent for the task, it seriously increases your ROI! (My direct cost (excluding time) for each book averages less than 3/10th of 1% of royalties earned.) I may move to having a photographer and designer working together for exclusive covers that are far beyond my design skills & camera ability because I am fatigued from stock photo searches and think it is one of the elements needed for me to move to the next level up in sales. As for editing - well, I was a professional editor for more than a decade (albeit in specialized non-fiction) for basically a Fortune 100 audience. I may add a final proofreader because I know my manuscripts are not error free (they still won't be error free after someone else looks at them - I've seen plenty of errors in "professionally" published books). I seriously doubt I will ever bother with a developmental editor. I previously published with several traditional publishers and feel I have a good sense of what a developmental editor can (mostly cannot) do for me. So, yes, success using an entirely DIY model is possible!

Virginia Llorca said...

Being told I need this or that editor is assuming or hinting that the editor is smarter than I am which sticks in my craw. I have never had any of my work cited for an need for editing. I used to edit professionally. And, one beta reader wanted to completely change the voice of my protagonist so she sounded like she was from Yale or something.
Art is another story. But I did have one cover cited as "beautiful".

I do have one book up that I know needs a content edit, but I will get to that on my own time. Meanwhile, no one has mentioned it.

Hugh Howey and his cry for a union gets my back up. It is exactly like, "Here we go again."

Dianna Dann Narciso said...

I so agree! I'm so tired of hearing that I'm crazy, egotistical, or lazy because I edit my own work--that I'm unable to look at it objectively enough to spot problems.

I work hard to produce my best work. And I am proud that it's all me.

I see editing (both copy and content) as part of my job. And I love my job.

Thank you. I'm glad I'm not alone in this.

mactheweb said...

When it comes to self-published books there seems to be a sliding scale as relates to good grammar and punctuation. Amanda Hocking sold millions of 99 cent books, none of which would have passed any reasonably competent copy editor. I read SF/Fantasy and thrillers and cannot trust Amazon reviews when it comes to quality for anything below, say, $3.99. It appears that low price offsets many sins of poor proof reading. Don't get me started on content quality. OTH, I'm willing to take a flier on a Boob Bub special at $.99 that I might not otherwise look at. I've discovered several authors that way like Russell Blake and Sean Chercover whose books I will now buy at their regular retail price.

So what's good enough? If you want to treat writing/self-publishing as a business, it's probably the amount of attention to detail that brings the highest rate of return with the least time. If you have some deeply hidden hopes of winning an award or landing a big publishing contract, then a lot more care is necessary. There are to people who tell us to publish often, then start on the next book. I'm not sure that anybody really knows right now.

When it comes to cover design there's a big difference between a design being popular and it working as a sales tool. Sometimes ugly is even best. The main thing is to get the cover to jump out enough that the book gets browsed. Certainly, this is learnable and within the abilities of most people. And, as with hiring an editor to go over your words, it can be useful to hire a book designer to at least critique our own designs. One thing that pros will pay attention to that won't be consciously noticed by most people is the little details that have a subliminal impact, below the level of consciousness, but that still affect people. My comment about Lazette's covers was not meant to disrespect her work. She's a long way along the road to competence. I simply wanted to point out one of those small details that might help.

The covers shown on this page remind me strongly of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. Since many of those have hit number one on the Times bestseller lists that's terrific. And, if you will look at what Penguin's designers did with the cover text, you'll see that it's exactly what I suggested.

Zette said...

Thank you for all the comments! I'm looking at what Mactheweb said about breathing space, and I assume this is mostly about my name? That's an easy fix -- and it is help like this that is the great part about being an Indie Author. We can help each other and learn.

That doesn't mean everyone has to do the work. Some people simply don't want to do cover art. As for copy editing? Have a work or two copy edited by someone else if you feel you are not doing well. Then learn from what they change. Every piece you learn will make you a better writer, whether you have your works edited by others in the future or not.

Oh, and now there's a new note on the covers. I'll have to go take a look at the Dresden File books (a set of my favorites -- I have them paperback, hardbound and ebook!)

Thank you, everyone!

Hannah Steenbock said...

Wow, I remember that discussion. And I remember how hard-handed they came down on *having to get an editor*. I remember reading your points and thinking that yes, with that background, you should be able to edit your books.

I edit my own work. I get beta readers to help, but I've self-published three books without an editor - and got only 5-star reviews. Not one of them mentioned typos or other problems with the stories.

Thing is, it's our responsibility as self-publishers - and it's our business. If we decide to take the risk of going without an editor, it's our choice. Sales and reviews will show whether it works or not.

I delegate covers, graphics and formatting. That works for me, and I love the covers they created for me. Love the ebooks. I can afford either an editor or good graphics. So far, this works for me.

Zette said...

Thank you for the comment, Hannah. I was glad to see that not everyone in the group felt the same way as the moderator. Since my posts disappeared (and probably with good cause because I was annoyed by then), I decided to drop out of the group. Just not a good fit.

My point has always been your point; do what you can yourself if you want to and you have the ability. There can't be any set rule in these cases.

JoMarie DeGioia said...

Here, here indeed! Thank you for your post! I've published 16 books under my pseudonym and 4 under my own name, with either small or primarily electronic publishers. I've been through the edit process repeatedly and know that my work is pretty darn clean. I was also a copy-editor for my town's newspaper and did freelance editing for other writers. When I self-published my first Contemporary last year I didn't even think of hiring an editor. A couple of beta readers picked up on things in my blind spot--repeated words here and there, mostly. I'm working on self-pubbing more titles, and will use beta readers like I did with the first. But now some very successful (both with traditional and self-pubbed books) seem to insist you have to hire an editor. I was starting to think that I would never be able to pub myself without doing this, and was starting to second-guess my abilities. Your post really helped me put things in perspective. I don't have deep pockets to dip into to hire an editor. I did hire a cover artist, because that's just not in my wheelhouse. I'll do that with the next titles, too.
But I will self-edit. I will use beta readers to catch anything I might miss. And I will own my talents beyond writing down the words. Thank you again!