Tag Archives: book quality

The Third Error of Self-Publishing: A Lackluster Title

In past posts, we’ve covered the importance of content and cover. The next element is the book title.A Poor Book Title: The Third Error of Self-Publishing

People browsing books (be it online or in a bookstore) generally look at the cover first. If the cover grabs their attention, then they’ll read the title. If the title reinforces the cover or further interests them, then they’ll consider the book itself.The title contains the most important words of your entire book. Click To Tweet

The other way people select a book is by scanning titles (be it by keyword or a list within a category). The title must capture their attention: making the book’s content clear, being provocative or intriguing, or demanding additional consideration. If the title does one of these things, then they’ll see if the cover reinforces the book title. If so, they’ll give the book more consideration.

However, a lackluster title will end their deliberation; they’ll move on to the next title. Don’t let a weak, confusing, or unmemorable book title get in the way of someone making a purchase.

You’ve worked hard on your book; work even harder on its name. After all, the book title contains the most important words of your entire book.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

The Second Error of Self-Publishing: A Lousy Cover

Last week, I said that the primary error of self-publishing is poor content. The second error, almost as critical, is a lousy book cover. People do, quite literally, judge a book by its cover—and even more so when buying online.The Second Error of Self-Publishing: A Lousy Book Cover

Don’t Make Your Own Book Cover

Unless you make a living designing book covers—or have at least garnered enthusiastic compliments designing covers for others—then you shouldn’t design your own. Just because you have graphic design software, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to use it—any more than having word processing software makes someone a writer. And don’t tap your family and friends, either—unless they have a portfolio of covers to show you.

While every successful designer, at one time, designed his or her first cover, don’t let it be your cover. Go with a seasoned professional. You can find them online.

Some people will design a cover on spec (which is a controversial subject, but it is an option nonetheless).Your book deserves the best possible cover. Click To Tweet

Hire a Book Cover Designer

Otherwise you can hire a cover designer. In picking the right designer from a slew of options, consider their past work. Do you like it? Would you buy that book based on the cover? Does their work fit your genre?

Discount cover designs start at about $100, but $300 to $400 is more typical, with some designers charge upwards of a couple thousand. While you don’t want to pay too much for a great cover, don’t take the cheapest option either. Your book deserves the best possible cover, so don’t be reluctant to pay for it. Your book sales depend on it.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

The Main Problem with Self-Publishing is Poor Content

I’ve read many self-published books and looked at even more. Too many of them scream “Self-published!” This distresses me. I love self-publishing and the many options it offers, but I loathe seeing it done poorly. This begins a series of posts on the Errors of Self-Publishing.The main problem of self-publishing is poor content

The primary error of self-publishing is poor content

This is the quickest way to doom a book to failure. Doing everything else right cannot overcome inferior material, be it bad writing, a weak concept, or a flawed storyline or structure.

Bad Writing: Everyone can write, but not many can write well, and only a few can write great. And it takes great writing to succeed. Too many (perhaps most) self-published writers publish too soon. They need to hone their craft and polish their work first.

Weak Concept: Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, a shoddy premise won’t hold readers’ attention. A memoir detailing everything the author eats for a year won’t fly. A novel about a lazy dog that sleeps too much won’t garner attention. An academic treatise on the 97 reasons why people need to dream won’t gain traction.

Flawed Storyline or Structure: I’ve seen all kinds of errors in books. In novels, storyline flaws include impossible actions, unrealistic plot twists, unexplained character shifts, and conflicts that never existed or resolve themselves. In non-fiction, structure flaws include failing to follow the book’s stated premise, presenting fiction as fact, not fact checking, logic errors, and inconsistent presentation.

Having great content is the first key to self-publishing success.

I encourage authors to consider self-publishing, while at the same time I beg them to do professionally. This starts with great content.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

What Are the Chief Weakness of Self-Published Books

As I read more and more self-published books, I’m dismayed over a reoccurring theme: many lack robust editing. That’s not to imply these works had no editing at all, most did. It’s just that they lacked full editing.Edit type 1 through 4: Do all four

The first reminder to every writer is we can’t truly edit our own work. True, we must self-edit, but we delude ourselves if we think we’ll catch every error. Traditional publishers subject books to multiple edits before publication. To do our work justice, self-published works deserve the same scrutiny.

Though the names vary and their definitions sometimes overlap or even contradict, I’ll share four types of edits, using generic labels.As an author, we need to double-check our facts, especially when we self-publish. Click To Tweet

Edit Type 1: Fact Checking

As an author, we need to double-check our facts, especially when we self-publish. It’s possible that someone else may catch our errors, but more likely they’ll just assume what we wrote is correct. One book had the protagonist make a 200 mile drive in 90 minutes. Oops. Another common mistake is relying on memory for historic information. Don’t do that; I always verify, even when I’m sure I’m right.

Edit Type 2: Macro Edit

Sometimes called developmental or substantive editing, whatever name this edit goes by, the intent is to look at the big picture of the book. Is the overall structure sound, the organization good, and the flow understandable? I’m currently reading a memoir and the author’s timeline jumps all over the place, often backwards and forwards, several times within each chapter, making the chronology overwhelming to follow. Other considerations are if the right style is used or if the voice matches the genre and supports the story or theme. A “macro edit” addresses all these concerns.

Edit Type 3: Intermediate Edit

The next level, often called copy editing, of edit takes a closer look at the flow and structure, from paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, and thought to thought. Does the writing make sense?

Edit Type 4: Micro Edit

The final edit, usually called proofreading, looks at grammar, punctuation, and the technical details. I read one book that had a quality “micro edit” but lacked any other editing—and the work suffered as a result.

Paying others to edit our work when we self-publish is expensive, but our readers deserve no less and our career demands it.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Three Possible Problems with Self-Published Books

Self-published Book Problems

Self-published books carry a stigma of poor quality: weak writing, shoddy editing, second-rate production, and a product that often screams “amateur.” Unfortunately, this perception stems from the growing evidence provided by many self-published works. Though not all self-published books are substandard, too many are.Self-Published Book Problems: 3 common mistakes to fix

Here are thee examples self-published book problems from some of my recent reads:

1. A Lack of Editing

This printed book had a nice cover and looked professional. It unveiled a pleasing storyline and contained no errors (at least that I noticed). What it needed, however, was a thorough copy-edit, as there were continuity issues, implausible events, and an impossible timeline.

Also, the author tied up every loose end to produce a fairytale conclusion for most every character. Despite much promise, the journey was unsatisfying.

2. The Rough Draft

This novella-length e-book had a decent title and acceptable cover. The story line was intriguing—and those were the good points. It had significant issues with flow and continuity, but worse yet, I felt I was reading a first draft.

To its credit, the book had a killer surprise ending I never saw coming and delighted me immensely. But, unless someone options this for a movie (which could happen), I see no value to this book—either commercial or literary.

3. Missing Substance

A third book had none of these shortcomings. Well written, it benefited from careful editing and proofreading. The author had an enjoyable voice and wonderful concept.

What this book needed, however, was more substance and the removal of some idealistic recommendations that surely no one would follow. Though the majority of the book had value, the impractical parts threatened to overshadow the rest. Your self-published book must avoid these three problems. Click To Tweet

This isn’t to imply all self-published books are bad. There are good self-published books out there, which don’t suffer from these self-published book problems. They contain no consequential flaws and are enjoyable or valuable to read.

Unfortunately, in my experience, good self-published books are not as common as they could and should be.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Just Because You Can Self-Publish a Book Doesn’t Mean You Should

As the price barrier to book publishing lowers, too many books show up with too little quality

Just Because You Can Self-Publish a Book Doesn’t Mean You ShouldI just read a self-published book by a “NY Times Best-Selling Author.” I’ll let him remain anonymous. It was a short story anthology of “the best” short stories in a certain genre. I expected much and received little.

Perhaps I focus too much on flash fiction (short stories under 1,000 words). Possibly I read too many YA (young adult) books to appreciate writing that is more “serious.” It could be I lack patience. Or maybe I don’t know how to truly appreciate short stories. But just possibly this collection is not all that good, certainly not “the best.”

Here are the good parts: the cover design was okay, the interior layout was professional, and I didn’t notice any editing shortfalls. Failure in these areas is emblematic of shoddy self-publishing. So at least he covered the basics.

I started every one of the short stories but only finished a few. The one that I actually thought was well written and even had a twist at the end, elicited a “so what?” response from me and a stifled yawn.

Too often the stories failed to hook me at the beginning – and I always gave them a full page to do so. (I give books the first chapter to grab my attention.) And the few with promising openings that had me turn a couple of pages, failed to establish any reason why I should care about the protagonist. When you don’t wonder what happens to the lead character, there is no reason to turn the page. Ho-hum.Just because you can self-publish a book doesn’t mean you should. Click To Tweet

The book’s introduction was copied from one of the author’s other books. (I tried to read that one, too, but ended up too bored to even skim it.) He may have tweaked a few words, but if so, it wasn’t enough to notice or give it a fresh feel.

He also provided a short preview about the writing of each story, highlighting what he liked about it and the strengths he appreciated. This may have been helpful as a learning experience, had not the stories been too painful for me to read.

I selected this book to learn about short stories. What I learned was don’t bore readers or waste their time. And if you self-publish, it had better be good.

Although a worthy concept, I doubt a traditional publisher would have touched this book. This is likely why the author self-published it. He shouldn’t have bothered.

What is your experience reading a self-published book? If you have self-published, what did you learn from the process? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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6 Reader Responses to Books

I read a lot of books, but I start more then I complete. Some books just aren’t worth finishing. With so many books waiting for my attention, it makes no sense to waste time reading a book I’ve lost interest in.

Here are six reactions I have when I read a book:

  1. Give Up: Nothing grabs me. The opening lacks a hook, the first page ends with no reason to turn it, or I grow bored before the first chapter finishes. I stop reading and reject the book.
  2. Never Return: The book starts out okay, but I never pick it back up. Another book seems more interesting so I start it, and I stick with it. Then I go on to another book. This doesn’t mean the first book isn’t good; it just means other books are better.
  3. Force to Finish: For some books I push through. Maybe it started okay and then languished, but I plod on anyway. For other books I hold on, hoping for a payoff at the end. Regardless of the reason, I’m invariably glad when I finish it, not for its content or conclusion, but so that I can go on to something better.
  4. Pleasant Diversion: These books are those I enjoy reading and look forward to. They are worthy of my time and the end brings satisfaction. I’m glad to have read it and plan to read the author’s next book.
  5. Page Turner: These books are so good that I keep reading even when I need to turn off the light and go to sleep. Just one more page becomes just one more chapter. It’s hard to put down, and I can’t wait to return.
  6. Takes Priority: Sometimes a book is so good that I’d rather read it rather than do anything else. The book gets in the way of eating, working, and writing. Ignore others; skip TV; forget the movie. I must read this book. Nothing else matters.

Make sure you write the best possible book; your readers deserve it. Click To TweetI’ve read books in all six of these categories. For those that fit in the first three, sometimes it’s my fault; I just don’t click with the book.

In other cases it’s the writer’s fault. They didn’t write a good book, they published it too soon, or they didn’t take steps to make it as good as they could.

Don’t be that writer.

Do you give up on books or push through regardless. How does a writer know when a book is ready? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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How Not to Write a Nonfiction Book

How Not to Write a Nonfiction BookA friend, who is also a prolific reader, once shocked me. Talking about nonfiction books, he said: “I only read the first chapter. Then I page through the rest and stop to read anything that’s interesting.”

My incredulous look encouraged him to explain. “Most nonfiction books pack their entire message into the first chapter. The rest of the book just rehashes it.” While some books warrant a more thorough investigation, he claimed most didn’t.

I’ve tested his theory. He’s right. Most nonfiction books present all of the essential information in the first chapter. Yes, the subsequent chapters do expound on the first chapter’s truths, but they do little to add substance to the main concept. In too many nonfiction books, I learn 90 percent of the main material in 10 percent of the time by just reading the first chapter.Most nonfiction books cover everything in chapter 1. The rest of the book just rehashes it. Click To Tweet

I see three reasons why this happens:

1) The author doesn’t have enough content for a book. Some ideas, really great ideas, are simply not big enough to fill a book. Maybe it’s perfect for an article or even a blog post, but not a book. Yet authors may try to stretch an article into a book.

2) The author has a word count goal. Publishers (or agents) want a certain length book. They require X number of words to fill Y number of pages. That’s what best fits their production process or what marketing feels the buying public expects. After all, if we spend $15 on a book, we expect it to have some heft. As a result, authors stretch their words to hit a target. But that doesn’t make for a good book.

3) The author doesn’t know how to write nonfiction. There are all kinds of instruction on how to write fiction, but the amount of information on writing nonfiction is nonexistent in comparison. Maybe the assumption is that nonfiction is easy to write and requires no training. In fiction, we learn how to grab readers’ attention, keep them turning pages, and skillfully guide them to a satisfying conclusion. We would never reveal the ending in chapter 1 and then explain how it all happened. Yet that is precisely what too many authors do in nonfiction.

The more I think about this, the more I realize what a huge problem this is. Maybe I should write a book about it. No, on second thought, I only have enough for a blog post.

Do you find this true when you read nonfiction? What resources can you recommend about writing nonfiction? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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What I Learned By Researching Competitive Titles

A common part in many book proposals is a “competitive works” section. I recently researched this for one of my book proposals. What I saw enlightened me.

What I Learned By Researching Competitive TitlesFirst were three books from traditional publishers. They gave me pause. I had to think a bit to determine how my book was different and how it would stand out. This challenged me, but it was a good exercise. Each book was impressive: an attractive cover, nice title, a great concept or theme where the content flowed nicely, and professional editing and formatting. However, I didn’t think about any of these qualities at first. I expected these characteristics. Since they met my expectations, I gave these traits no thought – until I looked at some self-published books.

Next, I looked at some books that were self-published using CreateSpace. At first glance, the covers were of similar quality and the titles were almost as good. The content, however, was not the same. The concept of these books was lacking and their execution, disappointing. Also, the writing wasn’t nearly as good. One didn’t even appear to have been edited, with sloppy formatting and missing words – and that from reading less than one page. The fault in all this is not CreateSpace. CreateSpace is a tool. If you put garbage into the tool, you get garbage out of it.

Last, I considered a pair of self-published e-books; they offered no print options. These suffered even more. Their covers weren’t as good and their concept was questionable. As far as the writing, I didn’t look at enough to tell: the interior layout was so bad that I couldn’t force myself to read it. I almost didn’t even include them in my “competitive works” section because I didn’t view them as competition, merely a distraction.

From all this I’m reminded, once again, that self-publishing is an attractive option and an affordable solution when traditional publishers take a pass on our books. While this could be for reasons outside of our control, it might also be that our content is ill conceived or our book still needs work. Sometimes this is hard to determine, especially after we’ve poured ourselves into writing it.

Regardless, if we choose to self-publish, we need to keep in mind that our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously.

What is your experience in reading self-published books? Have you ever self-published a book? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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7 Reasons Why Books Are Rejected

Having our book rejected stings. Here are seven common reasons why this happens.

1) The Writing Isn’t Ready: Everyone is a new writer at some point. It takes time for our writing to mature, our voice to emerge, and our style to become consistent. Some say this takes 10,000 hours or requires 1,000,000 words before we hit our writing stride. Yes, there are exceptions, but there is truth to these guidelines. Aside from still honing our craft, sometimes our work just isn’t as good as it could be. I suspect every writer encounters this at some point.

2) The Content Needs Improvement: Sometimes the idea or concept (for nonfiction) or the plot or story arc (for fiction) needs more work. It must be expanded, enhanced, or otherwise improved. Sometimes we try to stretch a great article or short story into a book, but there’s just not enough there for it to work.

3) The Work Was Pitched to the Wrong Place: When we pitch our work or idea to an agent or publisher, we need to make sure they are interested in the type of book we have written. A romance publisher will not consider a thriller; a publisher of practical how-to guides will not consider an academic treatise. Agents also specialize in certain genres or types of books. Pitching to the wrong place will insure a quick rejection.

4) The Pitch Fell Short: There are various means to entice an agent or publisher. It may be an elevator pitch, a one-sheet, a query letter, a proposal, or maybe all four. Each one is an opportunity to garner further consideration or a chance to be rejected. Make each pitch be the best it can be. In most instances, we will never get a second chance.

5) The Agent Doesn’t Think He or She Can Sell It: Even when everything aligns, if an agent doesn’t think he or she can sell our book, the agent will not take on the project. Remember, agents only make money when they sell our book to a publisher.

6) The Publisher Already Has a Book Like It: A publisher will not take on a book that is too similar to one they have recently published or an older one that continues to sell.

7) The Author Doesn’t Have a Big Enough Platform: Publishers expect authors to help promote and sell their books. This requires they have a platform or network of sufficient size to do this. A small or nonexistent platform means the author will not be able to move books.

I’ve suffered rejection for six of these seven reasons. Understanding why this might have happened helps us to do better next time and move towards acceptance.

Which one do you struggle with?

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!