Tag Archives: book quality

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

self-published anthology of short stories

I once 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.

A Self-Published Anthology of Short Stories

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.

Just because you can self-publish a book doesn’t mean you should. Click To Tweet

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.

Don’t Bore Your Readers

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.

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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Researching Competitive Titles

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

Traditionally Published Books

To research competitive titles, I first looked at 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 indie-published books.Our finished product must look like a traditionally published book if we hope for folks to take it seriously. Click To Tweet

Indie-Published Print Books

Next, in my competitive titles research, I looked at some print books that were indie-published. 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 is a tool they used to publish the book. It is the author. If you put garbage into the tool, you get garbage out of it.

Indie-Published E-Books

Last, in my competitive titles research, I considered a pair of indie-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, the interior layout was so bad that I couldn’t force myself to read it. I didn’t include them in my “competitive works” section because I didn’t view them as competition, merely a distraction.

Takeaway

From all this I’m reminded, once again, that indie-publishing (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 indie-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.

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 Do Readers Care About?

What do book readers care about?When book readers consider our book, few will bother to look to see who published it. They won’t care if a major publisher, let alone any traditional publisher, produced it. When it comes to publishers, there is little brand loyalty, let alone much brand recognition. The imprint is of no consequence. How the printed book gets into their hands or the e-book gets into their reader doesn’t matter to them.

Here’s what does matter:

Book Readers Care about the Cover

What they will look at is the cover. They will, in fact, judge our book by its cover. First impressions matter a great deal.

Book Readers Care about the Title

The title is critical, too. Depending on how they discovered our book, whether they see the title first or the cover first, the other element will seal the deal—or not. If the cover is great but the title, lame, they will dismiss it. Similarly, if they see the title first, a great cover will move them towards a purchase, while a bad cover will move them to a different book.

Book Readers Care about the Formatting

Next, they will look at the insides, whether thumbing through the actual pages or clicking online. If the layout looks “normal,” they will proceed. If it looks odd—even though they won’t know why—a red flag pops up.

Book Readers Care about the Content

If our book passes these first three screens, they may actually read a section or two. Great writing beckons them; bad writing or editing—even average writing or editing—sends them packing.

Only when they get this far will they consider buying it.

What is your experience when buying a book? What do you care about? Click To Tweet

Readers don’t care if our book is traditionally published or self-published; they care if our book is professional looking, well written, and interesting.

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 Type of Book Will Yours Be?

My books are overflowing my shelvesA couple years ago, I wrote about “Six Types of Books in My Library.” In summary, this is how I view my books on my book shelves:

  1. Books Worth Keeping: I enjoyed them once, and I’ll read them again.
  2. Reference Materials: Books with information I want to keep.
  3. Books I Plan to Read: I really do intend to read them—someday.
  4. One Reading Was Enough: I enjoyed these books, but once was sufficient.
  5. Books I Started But Never Finished: Despite initial promise, I gave up on them.
  6. Books That Seemed Like a Good Idea: I’ll never get around to reading them.

Running out of space and wanting to downsize, I gave away all my books in the last three categories. Some of those books will be read, many will be thrown away, and the rest will be dismissed—again. At some point, my books in category 3 will likely go, too.

With self-publishing options so prevalent today, anyone can publish a book. The question is, what category will these books end up in? Too many will fall into category 5 and 6. Some may not even rate that high. That’s because too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work. Too many writers are impatient with the writing and publishing process, cutting short the honing of their work. Click To Tweet

While we can’t guarantee that the books we write will end up in the “worth keeping” category, we can increase the likelihood through:

  • Careful writing and rewriting
  • Listening to feedback from critique partners and beta-readers
  • Hiring a copy-editor
  • Paying for professional cover design and interior layout

May your next book be one that people actually read and then keep to read again.

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!

Seven Things to Look For in a Beta Reader

Have a beta reader give you feedback on your book

Selecting the Right Beta Reader is Key to Receiving Helpful Feedback

We’ve talked about the importance of having a beta reader to give feedback on our books. I hope you’re as sold on the idea as I am.

The next step is finding beta readers—not just any one but the right ones. If we pick a beta reader who isn’t a good match, they could do more harm than good, both for our book and for our career. If we pick a beta reader who isn’t a good match, they could do more harm than good, both for our book and for our career. Click To Tweet

The ideal beta reader should:

1. Be a Regular Reader

If they aren’t a regular reader, how can they provide usable feedback? While they don’t need to be voracious, they do need to read. Ask them how many books they’ve read in the past six months. Their answer will be enlightening.

2. Speak the Truth (in Love)

Beta readers who don’t want to hurt our feelings will tell us our book is perfect; they offer no value. Beta readers must commit to giving honest feedback but in a constructive way.

3. Respect Our Writing Voice

If a beta reader wants to change our writing voice, they will only generate irritation for us and frustration for them and us. They must resist the urge to reword what we write.

4. Know the Genre

Do they read and like our genre? If the answer is “no,” then they aren’t the right beta reader for our project.

5. Like Our Premise

Beta readers need to have a positive predisposition for our topic or story at the onset. If a non-fiction book has a thesis they disagree with or a fiction book with a storyline that irritates them, they will likely struggle through the entire project.

6. Be Committed

Will the beta reader finish the project? How long will they take? Too many people agree to being a beta reader but never follow through. See item seven.

7. Have Beta Reader Experience

Everyone at one time has no experience, so our book may be his or her first one. However, the more experience they have, the better the chance the results will be good.

For more info, check out the post about setting expectations with beta readers.

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!

Why Our Books Need Beta Readers

beta readersThe more people who provide feedback on our books the better. Of course, to be of benefit, this needs to happen before publication, when there is time to make changes. Although review by various types of editors (each pass focusing on different elements) is essential, basic feedback is first needed to work out the kinks, spot embarrassing errors, and correct deficiencies before handing it over to professionals. The more work we do before editors do theirs, the more they can do to improve it.Beta readers can give us critical feedback to make our book better before we move to the next step Click To Tweet

Once we do all we can ourselves, beta readers can give us critical feedback to make our book better before we move to the next step.

Beta readers can catch:

  • Typos: We all make them, but we don’t always catch them.
  • Spelling errors: Of course we always spell check our work; however, what about when we use the wrong word but spell it correctly?
  • Repetition: We write over time and can easily repeat an idea. When we move sections around, sometimes they end up in the book twice.
  • Logic blunders: Another set of eyes can take a fresh look at our logic.
  • Continuity oversights: To make sense, things need to occur in a certain sequence; sometimes we’re too close to notice when our words are out of order.
  • Bad writing habits: Every writer has a least one bad habit or less-than-ideal tendency, but it usually takes someone else to point them out.

While one beta reader won’t spot all these items, they will help us hone our work. Then we can tap a second person for another pass.

Beta readers help us become better writers and produce better work.

Next week: What to look for in a beta reader.

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!

Can You Self-Publish Your Book For Free?

self publishing costsIf we publish our book with a traditional publisher, there are no out-of-pocket expenses. The publisher even pays us an advance. Although it might not be much, at least we receive some money at the beginning of the publishing process. Not so with self publishing. Self publishing costs money,

Self Publishing Costs Money

This is not the case when we self-publish. When we act as our own publisher, there is no advance and there are expenses, which can add up quickly. We don’t earn any money until we can sell copies of our book. And that can take a while.

Is there a middle ground, a way to self-publish without incurring a bunch of upfront costs? The short answer is, “Yes!” However, the wise response is, “No!”

Self-publishing without spending any money would require a huge investment of time, and the results would not be good. Regardless of how talented we are and how diverse our skillset, one person cannot cover everything required to produce a quality book. The finished product would look like an amateur did it. And it’s hard to sell a book that fails to meet the expectations of today’s buyers.Self-publishing without spending any money would require a huge investment of time, and the results would not be good. Click To Tweet

Here are a few of the self publishing costs we’ll encounter when we self-publish:

Cover Costs

People do judge a book by its cover. A professional impression is critical because there is only a split second to catch someone’s attention. Don’t try this yourself.

Editing Costs

Few writers can edit their own work and do it well. And your friend who majored in English is seldom the answer—nor is your mom, high school writing teacher, or second cousin who reads a lot.

Interior Layout Costs

Have you ever opened a book and sensed something was wrong? You’re not sure what it is, but you know the book is different—and in an odd way. This is because of a poor interior design, and those books are hard to read.

Photography Costs

Taking a quality self-portrait is improbable, and selfies are out of the question for a book cover or publicity shot. Just because you own a fancy, high-resolution camera doesn’t make you a photographer.

ISDN Costs

For any book to sell, it requires an ISBN. If you plan to only peddle books from the trunk of your car, you can skip this expense. Otherwise you need to purchase an ISBN.

There are additional self publishing costs, but these are the more critical ones. Though you might be the exception who has the experience and ability to do one of these tasks with excellence, no one can master them all—especially if you want your book to sell.

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 Nine Errors of Self-Publishing

For the past two months, I’ve blogged about the nine self-publishing errors. My list isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a great starting point.The Nine Errors of Self-Publishing

Nine Self-Publishing Errors

  1. Poor Content
  2. A Lousy Cover
  3. A Lackluster Title
  4. Poor Editing
  5. Poor File Conversion
  6. Font Abuse: Getting Carried Away With Fonts
  7. Having a Homemade Look
  8. Failure to Follow Conventions
  9. Publishing Too Soon

When you self-publish your next book, be sure to avoid these nine errors. Click To Tweet When you self-publish your next book, be sure to review these items. I know I will.

What would you add to the list?

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 Eighth Error of Self-Publishing: Failure to Follow Conventions

There are certain standards established publishers follow. Though these conventions may seem arbitrary, a failure to follow them could make your book stand out in a bad way.

The Eighth Error of Self-Publishing: Failure to Follow ConventionsFor example:

  • On the cover, the author’s name stands alone without the word “By.”
  • Subtitles aren’t preceded by a colon but placed on a separate line from the title.
  • Chapters start on the right side, not the left.
  • The first paragraph of a chapter is not indented; the rest are.
  • Lines aren’t right justified.
  • Serif fonts are used; san serif fonts are not.
  • The page number, chapter title, and title appear on specific locations on each page.
  • It’s Acknowledgments not Acknowledgements.
  • The author writes the Preface.
  • The author does not write the Foreword (not Forward); someone else does.
  • It’s Prologue not Prolog.

Aside from issues of spelling for the last two items, I don’t know why or how these things became expected—or who decided on them in the first place. While I’ve seen all these conventions broken on occasion by established publishers, be aware that the less we adhere to these expectations, the more likely a book will just not “feel” right to a reader or potential buyer.

Personally, I’d like to break them all. But I won’t because I want my book to have the best chance of success. If I need to follow some arbitrary rules, I gladly will.

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 Seventh Error of Self-Publishing: Having a Homemade Look

To address the seventh of eight self-publishing errors, let’s take a step back. Let’s look at the bigger picture, that is, the book as a whole. Don’t self-published a book that looks homemade.

A book that looks homemade: The 7th Error of Self-PublishingIn years past, this may have included photocopied pages, a simplistic cover, spiral binding (or three-hole punched for a binder), 8 1/2 by 11 size, crooked pages, missing pages, or out of order pages. Some books suffered from all these production problems.

With advances in technology, these issues are in the past. However, we must still guard against producing a book that looks homemade. All of the prior six errors can point to a homemade look, but four in particular lead the way: a poor cover, lackluster editing, inadequate file conversion, and getting carried away with fonts. Other issues include simplistic graphics, low-resolution photos, and pixilated or distorted artwork.

We must still guard against producing a book that looks homemade. Click To Tweet

Individually, each of these errors is bad enough. But when combined, the evidence quickly builds that the book is homemade: a second-rate effort and not worthy of serious attention.

Consider deliberating over a book and the cover looks second rate. Then open it to find a typo on page one, be assaulted with different font types and sizes, and see a random paragraph start in midsentence. In all likelihood, we’ll dismiss the book—as well as the author—and proceed to another title.

Only if we want to support the author or have a deep interest in the topic will we condescend to buy a book that looks homemade.

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!