I Buy Your Book, You Owe Me A Good Read
It’s so easy to download an inexpensive ebook that I’ve become much more willing to try self-published titles than when I had to pay $14, $15, or even upwards of $20 for the print version. Digital technology has broadened the possibilities for people to express themselves and for us, as readers, to find more books to enjoy. The downside, however, is that this new marketplace has created a troublesome reality for all book lovers: Almost anybody who wants to publish a book can. And frankly, too many of these books aren’t ready for public consumption.
I sat down one Saturday with my Kindle and my coffee, envisioning a lovely relaxing morning read. But here’s how it went: I started and stopped four books in about an hour. With a couple, I only read a few pages, but the other two I gave more of a chance. I knew the author of one and I’d read something good about the other in a blog roundup.
And yet, with all four of these books, the authors had not polished their skills, nor had they sufficiently polished their manuscripts. I’m not just talking about misplaced punctuation or bad spelling, either. I’m talking about basic plot holes; two-dimensional, clichéd characters and situations; unnatural and awkward dialogue; and unbelievable, contrived scenarios that didn’t arise naturally out of the events of the story.
When I complained about this to my fiancé he laughed and said I was too critical, that maybe I’m more attentive to certain things than a regular reader would be because I’m a professional editor. There’s truth to that. However, just because my eye is trained to spot problems, it doesn’t make those problems less real. Any practiced and close reader will pick up on many of the same things. And average readers certainly will recognize that the story fails to engage or maintain their interest, even if they can’t articulate why.
For example, one of the four books I attempted that Saturday was a romance where the hero and heroine referred to each other as “delicious” at least eight times within the first twenty pages of the book. Not only is this a clear sign that the book wasn’t properly copyedited, it also tells me a few things about the author: First, she was lazy or else impatient, because there’s a level of close, attentive editing needed here that she obviously didn’t perform; second, she isn’t very practiced or well-read herself, because she’s relying on a limited vocabulary; finally, her self-editing or revision skills are clearly underdeveloped.
Now to be fair, everybody has certain words or phrases that we use without even realizing it. But that’s where revisions come in. You really only have two choices when self-publishing: You invest the time and energy to learn how to write and edit yourself really, really well, or you invest the money to hire a professional instructor and/or freelance editor to help guide you in improving your skills and manuscript. The more cheap Kindle ebooks I read, the more I see authors failing on both points.
Yes, absolutely, there are lackluster books published by the “big six” and medium-sized publishers as well. And yes, there are indie books that meet or surpass the quality of what established houses put out. But until self-publishing authors take their craft as seriously and start to have standards as high as their most educated and experienced readers (including industry pros like myself), independent publishing will continue to labor under its unfortunate stigma. As a whole the industry will suffer, including those authors whose work deserves more credit.
Time is so precious in this world. You’re darn right if you think I’m a snob about what I spend my time on, and I’m not apologizing for that. Neither should you. So stop giving good ratings for mediocre books just because you’re a “nice person,” and don’t waste your time reading past the first chapter if it’s immediately obvious that the author isn’t respecting his or her craft. By extension, such authors also aren’t respecting you.
As a reader, you should have high expectations for a book whether you spent $.99, $12.99, or $25.99. You have a right to expect that the unspoken agreement between you and the author will be honored and upheld, and that agreement is: I bought your book, you give me a good read. You’ve upheld your end of the bargain by putting down your hard-earned money and by dedicating—nay, sacrificing—your precious time and money to support this person’s work. In return, you have a right to expect that what you’re going to read is worth that sacrifice.
Ally E. Machate is the principal editor, writer, and publishing consultant at Ambitious Enterprises and has worked with small and large book publishers, including Simon & Schuster, where she acquired and edited books. Ally loves using her insider knowledge of the publishing industry and more than fourteen years of experience to help others reach their publishing goals. She offers tips, advice, and news at www.allymachate.com.
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