As self-published writers, we appreciate the ability to do things our own way. We aren’t under anyone’s thumb. We don’t need to kowtow to “the man.” There aren’t gatekeepers blocking our access to published works of art.
Yes, you have the freedom to publish anything you want. And no, nobody wants to take that right away from you.
However, it is important to recognize the rights of readers. They have the freedom to buy any book they want. And as such, they expect a certain level of professionalism. They expect authors who treat publishing as a business transaction.
Who Is Chuck Wendig and Why Should I Care About His Opinions?
Among other things, Chuck Wendig is a screenwriter and game designer. But more importantly to you and me, he is an author. Chuck has penned both novels and non-fiction books. He has straddled both sides of the gatekeeper to produce traditional and self-published projects. And he is passionate about helping other writers.
In addition to churning out tons of books, Chuck also takes the time to manage a blog—a blog filled with applicable, helpful, insightful, controversial, and comprehensive articles.
Let’s take a few minutes to review his feelings about the quality of self-published books.
The Origin of Chuck’s Opinions
Mr. Wendig composed this blog post a few years ago: Slushy Glut Slog: Why the Self-Publishing Shit Volcano is a Problem. At first glance, it might seem like Chuck is bagging on the world of self-published authors. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Considering Chuck is himself a self-published author, he doesn’t condemn the process. He condemns the trash being passed off as literature.
While it might seem counterintuitive to try to rephrase his eloquent words, the following are some highlights of his post.
The Art of Discovery
For many readers, there is a very scientific process involved each time a book is purchased. The process is called discovery. The reader takes a look at all the options available and makes a selection based on a variety of factors.
For self-published authors, the discovery process is the biggest hindrance to success. Readers simply cannot find our works. Why can’t they?
Volume. Hundreds of thousands of self-published books enter the market every year. With that much competition, it's challenging to stand out in the crowd.
Furthermore, when readers embark on the discovery process, their decision is influenced by sources like:
- Online book distributors
- Magazine or TV ads
- Professional reviews
- Online forums
- Bestseller lists
- Award nominations
Authors who utilize traditional publishing have access to all these sources of discovery. Self-published authors have access to very, very few.
Why aren’t we admitted into the secret club of discovery? Because, in general, the work of self-published authors is…well…crap.
Yes, Low Quality Is Everywhere
First of all, it should be noted that not all self-published authors are producing low-quality content. The point is, the majority of written works are pretty shoddy and that has cast a shadow on everyone else.
Second, self-publication isn’t the only place bad writing is happening. Traditional publishers mess up on occasion too. What other explanation could there be for “authors” like Snooki, the Kardashians, and Larry the Cable Guy?
Third, there is a difference between publishing something that has mass appeal and something of quality. We aren’t talking about writing a book that is to the reader’s liking—quite the contrary. Self-publishing is all about writing what you want to write. Quality is referring to the basic rules of writing. Do you know how to compose a story? Do you correct typos, adhere to punctuation regulations, and use proper grammar? If so, you are well on your way to producing quality content.
Ways to Improve the Quality of Self-Published Books
Again, the point of these suggestions isn’t to strip away your freedom of self-expression. It is simply to make you a better writer—a writer readers will take seriously.
1. Improve Curb Appeal
There is a term in real estate called “curb appeal.” It refers to what people see when they look at your property from the outside—or the curb. However, I'm not talking about the cover of your book. Rather, think of it this way: When a homeowner attends to their curb appeal, property values in the entire neighborhood go up.
Everyone needs to commit to doing their very best. Let’s be real: we can all do better. And when we are all determined to contribute to the overall improvement of the industry, everyone will reap the rewards.
First, focus on improving the quality of your own writing. Then, you can tell your neighbors to mow their yards.
2. Cut the Spam
Focusing on the quality of your writing is only half the battle. You also need to be attentive to the quality of your marketing.
As self-published authors, our marketing techniques tend to run a little spammy. In some ways, we have to be overly self-promotional—no one else is going to market our works. However, there are ways to promote your book (and yourself) without being a spam-bot.
Again, after you tell your neighbors to mow their yards, tell them to pitch the spam, too. It’s all about improving the entire neighborhood, folks.
3. Shine a Spotlight on Your Editor
As the book publishing industry grows and develops, there will always be new outlets of discovery. There is a chance the unsung heroes of book publishing—the editors—will someday find themselves in a position of influence. Embrace that fact.
In the future, editors might build up a reputation for backing the highest quality of work. Ride on those coat-tails. Let their success be your success.
4. Consider Working as a Team
Connect with the best self-published authors in the industry. Work together to produce high quality content.
5. Know Who Is Doing it Right
Get to know the self-published authors who are consistently producing high quality books (like Chuck!). Follow their blogs. Consider their advice. Learn from them. Then, support them by buying their stuff!
Sure, it is important to scratch each other’s backs. Show a little love to the people who are struggling through the publishing swamp with you. But it is more than that. By focusing on quality, one person at a time, we can collectively raise the self-publishing world from the muck and mire that is sucking us down. New avenues of discovery will be opened. Readers will come to respect the industry—and authors—as professional and worthy of their time.
You have the freedom to write whatever you want. But remember: readers have the freedom to choose only the best.