John Locke became the first indie to break the Kindle million-seller mark. Amanda Hocking, Queen of the indie vampire books, signed a ginormous contract with St. Martins Press. And The New York Times deigned to include indies on their best seller list, where every week at least one title – often more – are contained. By all indications, you’d expect that readers and traditional media alike would be wrapping their arms collectively around indie authors and their books into something akin to a big ‘ole hug.
And yet… not so much.
Big Reason #1: Bad Editing
The main complaint about the indie book category is the lack of editing. It’s true that this situation has changed a bit in the past few years, due in part to better and more diligent indie authors and—on the flip side—slack in the editing of traditionally published books.
An anonymous letter sent by a group of successful traditionally published authors on M.J. Rose’s blog, Buzz Balls and Hype, requested the following: “PLEASE EDIT MY BOOK. Even if you know it will sell and get reviewed because of my name and my previous books, even though you recognize the many good qualities in the manuscript I have turned in, if you think it needs a serious revision, please, please, ask me to do it…Please do not let me go out in public this time with my slip showing and parsley on my tooth…And while we are on the subject, please employ a copy editor who understands the basic rules of grammar and has a working knowledge of the subject of the book sufficient to make useful and necessary changes in the manuscript instead of adding egregious errors while omitting to find crucial mistakes and typos. I love our nice expense account lunches, and I love you, but above all, I really, really want you to edit my book…”
It wouldn’t hurt for indie authors to demand the same. Why don’t they? For some it comes down simply to money. They “put their first book out there” to see how it does, with the assumption that they’ll take the profits from that book and use them to edit the second book. But that plan often fails because readers who find a book difficult to navigate because of poor editing and grammar are not likely to pick up the author’s second book, even if it is offered for under a buck.
A scarier issue is that some independent authors simply believe that their work does not need to be edited. Writers are often too close to their work to make the critical structural and grammatical changes that might make the story more succinct. Let us simply say here that every writer benefits from a good editor.
Big Reason #2: Quantity Over Quality
Number 5 in Chuck Wendig’s brilliant “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing” is Stop Hurrying. “The rise of self-publishing has seen a comparative surge forward in quantity. As if we’re all rushing forward to squat out as huge a litter of squalling word-babies as our fragile penmonkey uteruses (uteri?) can handle…But generation and creativity should not come at the cost of quality.”
Writing a book should not be a race to the finish line. While certain authors seem to toss off a title a month, copy and structure editing alone can take three to four weeks, receiving feedback from beta readers can take another three weeks, not to mention crafting the novel. The model of pumping several books out in a year might be fine for someone like James Patterson who has a slew of hot and cold running editors, but for many indies, it means skipping important steps such as editing and trying to go straight to the payoff. If independent authors want to write books that will be taken seriously, they need to present themselves with the same marked quality as the traditionally published books out there.
We queried readers on their thoughts about the necessity of editing in traditional and independently published books. The overwhelming response was that independently published books were in need of stronger editing. While several readers pointed out that traditionally published books were also lacking in the editing department, the majority felt they were not. Perhaps most importantly, the majority of readers polled said that they would pay a higher cost for a better edited book.
Not everyone feels that way. Gary Henry, known on Twitter as @LiteraryGary, and writer of Honest Indie Reviews, says, “I look at indie books the same way I look at amateur athletics. It’s about fun. As long as they’re free or 99 cents, all they need to cover for editing are the basic mechanics of spelling, grammar and punctuation. Indie writers who want to charge more–turn pro essentially–owe their readers a more highly edited story–one that’s edited professionally for style, as well as mechanics.”
Terri Guiliano Long, bestselling author of In Leah’s Wake, thinks that “Basic quality should be a requirement for all published books. The work should be structurally sound, the writing clear, the book free of grammatical and typographical errors. For the indie movement to thrive, to end the stigma, we need to be sure that all published books meet these basic standards. Editors or editorial teams, charged with assessing quality based on objective criteria, perhaps equipped with a checklist, would assure that they do.”