Dear Indie Author

Dear Indie Author,

Congratulations on your amazing accomplishment. You’ve written a book, which is an incredible achievement. I’m so proud of you!

Unfortunately, I was not able to review your book. I know how important reviews are, so I really hate that I can’t give you that glowing, five-star review you were looking for. I enjoy our interaction on Facebook and I think you’re a really nice person. Rather than embarrass you by leaving a two-star review, I decided to contact you in private instead. I hope we can still be friends.

When I downloaded your book during its Kindle Free weekend, I had every intention of reading it. I really did. Your cover is gorgeous and the blurb is very intriguing. I couldn’t wait to dive right in. I’m sorry, but the story didn’t grab me. There were so many errors, it became distracting. Whether was confused with weather. There, their, and they’re are used interchangeably. The lack of, or overuse of punctuation made the book almost unreadable. And when you switched tenses from past to present and back again, it was so confusing, I had to stop reading.

Maybe you asked your friends to read your book before you published and they gave you good feedback. Maybe you even had a friend edit for you. Maybe, to you, the book is perfect. But it isn’t.

Not all of us have perfect grammar. I understand that. But if you want to be a writer, this is a skill you MUST master. You can’t rely on editors. You can’t hope the readers won’t notice. Readers will notice. Most of them won’t bother to review. They won’t even bother to download your book, because when they use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, they’ll realize your book is nowhere near ready for publication.

If you want to be a writer, you need to read. A lot. You need to understand more than how to construct a sentence. You need to learn how to construct a novel. The best way to do that is to read. Read books in your chosen genre. Read classics. Read critically acclaimed books. Read indie books. Read everything you can get your hands on. Which books appeal to you? Which books left you cold? Why? Make notes and incorporate this into your own writing.

I know you’re hurting right now. You gave away thousands of free books and no one has left a review. Not even your friends. Trust me, you’ll get some reviews. Some of your friends will cave in to your desperate pleas on Facebook and they’ll give you a five-star review that says, “This was a really great story with lots of action and drama.” Strangers will review it, but they won’t be as nice. Their one-star reviews will mention the excessive grammatical errors and lack of plot. You’ll feel the truth somewhere deep in your heart, but you’ll tell yourself that some people are only jealous, and that a couple of one-star reviews won’t really matter.

Some authors won’t agree with my approach to reviews. Some will think I shouldn’t review at all because it’s a conflict of interest. Others will say I should leave an honest review no matter what. Still others will claim I’m not really your friend and say I should give you five stars in order to show support for the indie community. If you’re serious about your writing career, you won’t want hollow five-star reviews. You won’t want something you haven’t earned. As a writer with integrity, you value honesty and constructive criticism.

I hope you’ll keep writing. I hope you won’t promote this book for months or even years, wondering why your sales aren’t increasing. I hope you won’t become bitter and jealous of other writers who find success. I hope you’ll accept the fact that an author’s writing skills are always a work in progress. There is always room to grow and improve. As you continue to learn and continue to write, you will become a better writer. You will craft a novel that will deserve glowing five-star reviews. But only if you commit yourself to being the best writer you can be.

Respectfully,

An Indie Author, Reader, and Friend.

*****

7/11/14 Note: The above letter is NOT intended for all indies, nor is it intended to be sarcastic (though it’s obvious I missed the mark). I apologize to those I’ve offended. I should have taken some of my own advice and reviewed this post more carefully before posting it. As someone who claims to be a writer, I should be able to express myself clearly. I don’t think it’s fair for me to alter the letter since people have already commented and shared it, so the original will remain.

This is what I really wanted to say to new indie authors who are in a rush to publish: Take your time. Put your best work forward by seeking editors, critique partners, and beta readers. Trust your intuition, and if you feel there is something not quite right about your manuscript, give it another editing pass. The more you write, the better your writing will be. If marketing and promoting is leaving you feeling frustrated and bitter, you should get back to doing what you love–writing your next book. Not everyone will like your book (some reviewers can even be cruel), but if you truly believe in your dream, never give up. Any author who has written an entire book HAS accomplished something most people only dream of. It IS an amazing achievement and no one should take that away from you.

I apologize to anyone I’ve hurt or offended. It was never my intention to belittle the accomplishments of any indie. I appreciate all the comments, whether you agree with me or not. If I haven’t had time to respond to your comment, I’m sorry. I’m not ignoring you. I just timed this post really badly.

67 thoughts on “Dear Indie Author

  1. There are so many young people out there who have been awarded lavishly for the smallest effort that they can’t take an honest assessment.

    I feel for them.

    Writing is the one profession where just showing up isn’t enough. You have to hone the skills – and that takes hundreds of thousands of words, sentences, paragraphs and teachers.

    Like

    • I totally agree. I know there have been instances where authors have been bullied, but some authors consider a critical review bullying. No writer is ever perfect. There’s always room for growth. If you think you’ve reached perfection after that first draft of your first novel, you don’t have what it takes to be a writer.

      “Writing is the one profession where just showing up isn’t enough.” ~ That completely sums it up. Perfect!

      Like

  2. What a sensitive and honest letter, Tricia. It’s the kind of letter I wish I had the nerve to send—the situation arises often enough. More often than the typos though, it’s the sheer bad writing that makes me sigh and give up, and ‘bad’ is so difficult to explain. Prickly authors will just say ‘bad’ is subjective and the reviewer if being a bitch. I’m a coward and prefer to pass over the really ‘bad’ books in silence. Must add that I also stop reading books because, although they are perfectly good and well-written, they just don’t appeal to me.

    Like

      • I don’t know. It’s always a lot easier to see the faults in other people’s writing. Maybe it helps if you pay for an editorial service—makes you listen harder of you’ve shelled out cash for it. Anybody who doesn’t listen to advice is never going to be any good though.

        Like

  3. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise! and commented:
    As a Reader / Reviewer, I applaud contents of this letter.
    AUTHORS – Please, PLEASE, take note and spend some money on a reputable Editor.
    Don’t rely ONLY on yourself, family, friends and/or Beta Readers.
    READERS – do NOT criticise the author in your review comments – try and track down their websites / blogs and email addresses and contact them with your concerns / recommended corrections – NO INSULTS PLEASE!
    Don’t forget Authors are people with hopes and feelings just like you.
    😀

    Like

    • Thanks, Chris. You make some excellent points her. A critical review can be honest without being hateful. It’s never okay to insult an author. We have feelings, and though I’ve received a few harsh reviews of my own work, I’m not eager to do the same to someone else. You can give honest feedback without breaking someone’s heart.

      Like

  4. I agree with many of the comments. This is an excellent letter. Honest and forthright. As a first time indie-book author, it may somewhat apply to me. I don’t know. My novel was professionally edited but even at the 2nd proof stage we made over 900 edits. There still are a few typos, small errors which cause me to cringe every time I stumble across them. As I write my second novel, I trust I have incorporated, and will continue to incorporate, lessons learned along the way.

    Like

    • This definitely applies to me, which is why I wrote it. I’m speaking from experience. With my first book, I queried a first draft to agents. I believed the story was important, and that the rest would get cleaned up in edits. Needless to say, I had a rude awakening. I hope authors will learn from my mistakes and avoid some heartache. When we rush to publish, we’re often short-changing ourselves.

      Like

  5. Quite agree – sadly most self-publishing companies will print what you send them. Some writers expect that editing is part of the package. Not the case. Luckily although we publish my books my husband is an editor as well and is a stickler and I get tracts thrown back at me with plenty of notations. Glad I didn’t ask him to teach me to drive………

    Like

    • Editing can be a real problem. Some of the editors who prey on indie authors aren’t qualified and don’t do their books justice. It’s very important for authors to know what a well-edited book looks like so they don’t end up getting ripped off. You’re lucky to have a husband who is not only a good editor, but honest. Sometimes friends who edit are afraid to hurt our feelings, and the final product suffers because of it.

      My husband tried to teach me to drive a car with a manual transmission, but that’s a story for another blog. 🙂

      Like

  6. Reblogged this on Reece Evhans and commented:
    So true. And ouch. I’m reblogging this as I go through the proof copy of my novel. I’m finding many annoying little edits: quotation marks left off, typos, etc. I hope all of us indie authors will take this to heart and find the nerve to really polish our product before we let it loose on the wide world.

    Like

    • That’s happened to me a few times, and it’s hard to tell someone their book isn’t for you. With a few close friends, I’ve told them about excessive typos, and I’ve had some friends do the same with my books. I appreciate honesty, but not everyone does.

      Like

  7. Wise words. I think it also helps if you are a bit dyslexic anyway and paranoid. The trouble is it takes time to build up a circle of editors and beta readers you trust. I had my first book edited 4 times before it passed muster. I expect there are still errors in it.

    Like

    • I don’t think you ever reach perfection with a manuscript. There are errors in books by the “big” publishers as well. It happens. I’ve come across a few authors who seem to be in a huge rush to publish, and in their haste, editing tends to suffer. Nothing is ever perfect, but I know some indies who come pretty close.

      Like

  8. Well said, Tricia. When I run into books like this, I just give up and stop reading–or, as you point out, see enough in the “Look Inside” feature that I don’t even bother to start. But someone needs to tell them. Thanks for taking that on!

    Like

    • There have been times I have contacted authors directly with negative feedback. I’ve had authors do the same for me, and even though negative feedback hurts, I appreciate the honesty. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.

      Like

  9. I believe in being honest. I am in my reviews, but I also focus on the good in people because I am a firm believer that positive enforcement works. I haven’t read a book yet that I couldn’t give an honest, yet positively focused review. Maybe I have been really lucky not to have picked up any trash.

    Like

    • I try to balance good with bad on the reviews I leave. I never leave less than a 3-star review on my blog because I want to promote indies, not tear them down. Every book has a nugget of good. Just writing a book is a huge accomplishment and I think every “broken” book is fixable. I totally understand why some authors want to rush in and publish their first draft right away. If they give it a little time and an edit or two, it’s very helpful.

      Like

  10. Dear Book Blogger,

    I love the fact that you have a book blog. It’s rad!

    I sympathise with the feeling that looking for a great work in a sea of new books can seem like looking for a needle in the haystack. But if you don’t believe it’s there, I am convinced that you will never be a happy reviewer.

    Some of us have broken voices. Some of us are not English.

    The world of publishing and literary reading and writing, right now, is in a state of uprootedness and turmoil, as the media of literature change and hybridize themselves. Analyzing brand new books for the first time is a big challenge, and a very honourable one to take on. I congratulate you on having done so.

    It’s no matter that you haven’t got a degree in literature or journalism, or industry experience — on your blog, you are the expert. You have foreclosed reviewing big and bestselling, defining books of our time, and have focused all attention on facebook to find new material. And writers are taking your word for it.

    Facebook is OK, but there’s a lot in between that and the TLS. I realise how tricky it is to navigate this multiverse. Literary criticism requires stamina, and requires a sharply defined idea of what you think literature is, or should be–for you, for me, for “us”. Unless you have this, you will continue to receive books that you don’t know what to do with; being a fact-checker and a spell-checker is a start, but a good critic goes further.

    I am sorry that my colleagues and I don’t always deliver flawlessly written material; it is unforgivable. Please, can you forgive our ugly, and remember why you do this in the first place — to spot raw talent.

    Yours,
    an indie writer.

    Like

    • Regardless of what Tricia’s professional qualifications might be, I thought her blog post was very well done. I don’t have the impression that she was addressing all Indie authors. Rather, she was speaking to the ones who don’t put the effort into ensuring that they are releasing a quality product. As Simon Marshall did say in the following blog “Most of what gets published is hopeless” and he obviously DOES have the qualifications to say that.

      In my opinion, Tricia’s blog attempts to remind potential Indie authors that claiming one’s work is “creative” is no excuse for sloppiness. Tricia is simply trying to encourage Indie authors to set a high standard for themselves. What is wrong with that? I applaud her for it. If someone doesn’t speak up, then Indie authors will always be considered second-rate and sadly – never taken seriously.

      Like

      • I think there might be some misunderstandings here. I thought Indie authors are the ones represented by small presses and micro-presses. these small presses do an excellent job at editing, and they pick their writers wisely. their books are neatly presented, quirky and often better than the whatnot that waterstones is droning out to us all year long
        self-published authors are probably in many ways also “indie”, but with self-publishing, chaos is only very slowly starting to be replaced by order. in the beginning it was anarchic and it was driven by a few big egos with more or less to show for themselves. but you can safely ignore those dicks on facebook.

        Personally, I am a self-published writer. One word: Kickstarter. I collected 50 pre-orders and nearly a thousand pounds, and this allowed me to hire a freelance editor, proof reader, cover designer etc.

        Like

        • I think self pubbed authors also identify as “indie.” I guess it depends on the author, but I’ve seen “indie” and “self-pubbed” used interchangeably. I identify as indie, but I’ve published both with a small press and on my own. Personally, I’ve seen some good small presses and some very, very bad ones. These days, authors have got to be very careful if they decide to choose a small press. Not all are reputable. I’ve learned that the hard way and so have many of my friends.

          Yes, self-publishing used to be a last resort, and now many authors are choosing self-publishing over traditional. You have the freedom to choose your editor, your cover artist, and retain total control over the finished product. I know it’s not for everyone, but I’m definitely an advocate for self-publishing. I’d like to see everyone give it a try at least once. It’s very empowering.

          Like

    • Hi, Polly. I haven’t had any trouble finding excellent books in the proverbial haystack. If you visit my book blog, you’ll find hundreds of talented indie authors. You’ve made some excellent points in your rebuttal to my letter. You’re right – I don’t have a degree in literature and I am NOT an expert. This is why I do not leave negative reviews on my blog.

      I’m sorry I didn’t take my own advice and edit my letter before I published it. I didn’t mean to be sarcastic. I apologize for having offended you. I wish you the best with your book, and if you would like to be featured on Authors to Watch in the future, I’d love to have you.

      Have a great weekend!

      Like

      • Thank you!

        I navigate a strange triangle between self-confidence and self-doubt about my work, taking risks in presenting my work (and myself), and, thirdly, handling the assumptions people make about indie authors, which are like dark, thick woods you have to get through before you can even have someone say “ok, i’ll take a look”.
        Often I wonder: do I really have to want to impress these guys that stand there with their arms crossed saying “your book probably sucks, now, prove me wrong before I read it, or else” — it doesn’t exactly foster mutual appreciation, I guess.

        🙂

        Like

  11. The only comment that makes any sense at all here is Polly’s. I think most of you are way out of your depth. I have been involved in the alt-indie lit scene for many years now and have NEVER heard of a one of you. chill out. bad grammar is bad grammar but…
    Really, I think the problem here is sour grapes.
    Joyce didn’t use perfect syntax or stay perfectly within one tense, hell the sumabitch made up whole words, phrases.
    go be creative people and do it however you want to do and never listen to fools and their writing ‘advice’ or pleas.

    Like

    • Who has sour grapes? I hope you’re not referring to Polly. I thought her response made some very good points. She’s passionate about writing and I respect that.

      I think your advice is probably the best I’ve read today– “Go be creative…”

      Thanks for the comment, Jesse. Many of the best authors of all time broke all the so-called rules.

      Like

  12. Coming from a professional editor’s (and publisher’s) viewpoint, I can see both sides here – I’ve seen books listed on Amazon which, quite frankly, should never have been written. Conversely, I have edited books by indie writers which have been nothing short of brilliant. This is what happens when you democratise technology and allow universal access to it: Amazon, Lulu.com, Smashwords, and CreateSpace all sell potential customers a dream, to become a published author. Most of what gets published is hopeless, whilst there are the genuine few who have real talent which needs a little helping hand in order to polish and refine it, and to lift it above the tumultuous morass.

    These commercial platforms don’t really help at all. Many essential steps between publishing are missed out, like critical editing and proofreading. Plus, the world of instant gratification technology has bred a mob of people who believe in entitlement, like new writers who can’t take criticism of any kind, even when meant constructively. On the other hand, there are also those indie writers who DO care, and spend a lot of time taking on board helpful hints and critical analyses of their work in order to get better. I’ve met all shades of customers in this business, and I try my best to encourage everyone if they’re willing to listen and learn.

    There’s no substitute for sheer hard graft, however. It’s too easy to write a book, then upload it to Amazon the next day and just sit back and wait for the pennies to start rolling in. Unfortunately, this is very rarely a path to success. There are untold thousands of other hopefuls thinking exactly the same thing, until we’re awash in a sea of ugly mediocrity. This naturally makes it harder for those with talent to be noticed.

    The eBook and indie writer paradigms are here to stay with us, whether we like it or not. But if you have a problem with someone’s writing, lack of grammar, spelling or punctuation, contact them privately. Certainly leave any harsh criticism out of a review – like someone said above, these people have dreams too. Instead, encourage them as much as possible. Even offer to help them out.

    Forget those ‘How to Write’ books – most of the ones I have seen (with the exception of Stephen King’s “On Writing”) appear to have been written by unknowns, freely giving advice to the novice when they themselves are practically new to the arena. The only recourse to improve your writing is to WRITE and, more importantly, to READ. Read favourite authors and study how they construct novels/novellas/short stories. Find the rhythms behind each story, the nuances, and the ‘melody’. See how their ‘voice’ comes through, giving it authenticity. Remember too that many of the most successful writers have been honing their craft for years – and that’s why they’re where they are.

    In a virtual world where everyone’s a critic, it is far too easy to sit in front of a computer monitor and release invective on someone you don’t know, possibly shattering dreams and hopes. Plus, I am reminded of the maxim “Those who can, do: those who can’t, teach”: to those who can I say all power to you.

    Like

    • Thank you SO much for your feedback. It’s good to hear from someone who has professional experience in the industry. I’d say 90% of the indie authors I’ve met are brilliant writers. The other 10% need some help. When I began writing, I didn’t know critique groups existed. I didn’t have a Facebook. Didn’t network at all. I queried a horrific first draft to agents, and after a string of rejections, I finally got on the internet and began doing some research. There was so much I needed to learn, not just about craft, but about the industry. New writers need to find people they can trust who will give good, honest feedback.

      And yes, I agree with you. “On Writing” is an excellent read, even if you’re not an author. Reading in general is essential “research” if you want to make writing your career.

      Again, thank you so much for your comment.

      Like

  13. Simon – this was an excellent post – very well said! You have captured the essence of many of the problems in this industry. And you have given excellent advice that potential authors would be wise to heed.

    Like

  14. To even make a decent place for ourselves in this market, we have to write and read until we just can’t any more. Honing a craft is not something that happens overnight, nor is it a few classes at the Rec center for a year. It is a lifetime of tears, frustration, and sleepless nights. As K.A. Jordan just said in an earlier comment. “Writing is the one professions where just showing up isn’t enough.”

    Setting the standard of bad grammar being excused because the individual doesn’t know English as a first language or because it just exists are the absolutely worst standards we could be setting for our field. If English isn’t your native tongue and you want to write a book in English, then please take the time with someone who is either a native speaker or has a little bit more grasp on the language before you just go publishing all willy nilly. For instance, if I were to attempt to publish a novel written in French, I sure as hell would find a native French speaker to help make sure that my sentence structure, tenses, and everything makes sense.

    If you don’t think you’re required to have a good understanding of grammar because “nobody else does” then you are sadly mistaken. Hiring an editor, or finding a friend who is an outstanding editor and hammering all the crap out of your book before you publish is the best thing you can do. Delivering first draft material wrapped in a pretty cover and calling it a finished product is an insult to the readers.

    The stigma on self publishing is that we’re all hacks who can’t cut it in the “real” publishing market, because of our lack of grammar, poor formatting, or what have you. We are supposed to try to prove those people wrong. Excusing some people’s inability to be patient and perfect their work is not the best thing for the community. Sorry, but it’s just not.

    And honestly insulting those of us who liked the post by saying you’ve never heard of us, is an irrelevant thing to say. Everyone that has posted is entitled to their opinion, good or bad, and attacking us on our own blogs, or calling us nobodies shouldn’t be the first way to respond.

    Tricia is an outstanding author who is just trying to shine a light on a problem in the community. It’s not directed at any one individual person, and no one should take it that way. She slaves over her work until it’s perfected, and I know this from first hand experience because I’ve tried to talk to her while she works. Her attention to detail is outstanding, so before you go off trying to call her a “simple blogger” who doesn’t understand what it’s like, you should probably try looking her up on Amazon.

    I think this went off in a weird direction, but I had to say what I needed to say. This was not meant to be sarcastic, it wasn’t meant to be an honest open letter to our community and, frankly, I agree with her. Excusing poor writing isn’t doing the author or the reader any favors. If you want to be taken seriously, you know what you need to do. Plain and simple.

    Like

    • Hi, Maegan. Thanks for defending me! I did come across as a jerk, so I’m glad you’re still on my side.

      What I said about authors begging for reviews is mean, but somewhat true. There are authors who are ready to give up on writing altogether because their book is being thrashed by reviewers. None of their friends want to tell them their book is riddled with errors, so the poor author doesn’t find out until someone on Amazon rips their book apart. While some readers honestly don’t care about grammar and punctuation, others do. With one of my close friends, I had to be the one to tell her that her book had hundreds of typos. It wasn’t her fault because her publisher was supposed to have edited it, but she was appreciative that I gave her a heads up before she sent the book to reviewers. I’ve had friends do the same for me. Negative feedback sucks, but if you look at it from the standpoint that it will help you be a better writer, it’s easier to take.

      Authors who want to sell books have to conform to some standards. Maybe it’s not fair, but that’s how it is. Not all reviewers are indie authors. Not all reviewers will take it easy on you. Some reviewers are going to be mean. The cleaner your book is from an editing standpoint, the better chance you’ll have of getting good reviews. At least that’s the theory.

      Like

      • I couldn’t agree more. Honestly, I didn’t find anything about it to be mean. It was a fact. As you know, I’m a little more blunt in my reviews than some, and that can be taken offensively, but Being a Published Author 101 is learning to try to not take bad reviews personally. Granted, some reviewers are out to be mean and nasty (which we’ve seen) but the majority are just everyday people who have something to say about what they’ve read.

        I know you’re doing the right thing by apologizing, but I don’t feel you should have to. You stated facts that everyone has wanted to say but not had the guts to. I see the offense being taken by the fact that the post was written as a letter, but even so…

        You shined a light on an EPIDEMIC in our community and I applaud you for it. No one is perfect. Every author will have things to learn until the day they either retire or die. It will never be a perfect craft. (I mean, I’ve read traditionally published books with tons of errors.) That doesn’t mean that people should throw every attempt at editing out the window. As you and I have witnessed in the past, if the wrong person finds these poorly edited works, they’ll have no problem bullying and trolling that author into a craze.

        Now, that being said, I don’t think anyone here is implying that those authors with editing problems should quit writing. That should NEVER be the case. Everyone should reach for the stars and make every effort to see their dreams through. It isn’t even limited to writing. If you have a dream, you should work hard, polish your skills, and make every attempt to see it through. No one should ever give up on anything they set their minds to.

        Like

  15. Tricia, thanks so much for FOLLOWING my blog…I took a look at what you’ve written here and thought, wow, this woman, like me, speaks her truth honestly – though you also say this is not intended for every writer. No one enjoys tough love when it is delivered straight to the gut but it is often the most loving way to get a message across. I should know because I do it too and suffer for it as well! Personally, while I flinch when someone hits me hard but true, I respect them — especially if there is no ulterior motive — and you certainly don’t have one. Your concern seems to be to guide the fledgling writer…bravo!

    Like

  16. I agree that bad editing pulls the reader from the story and that many self-published and indie publisher books are low in quality. I have created an indie publishing company that has a model that I think will overcome this problem. We have a submission system in which the author submits their work (for a fee), and then they either get accepted for publication with 70% royalties, or they get comments on how to improve the manuscript. They can then make revisions and resubmit the manuscript for another round of comments or acceptance. this can be done up to three times for one submission fee. Our promise to the author of no form rejections is one we can keep with this model. In this way we hope to improve the quality of the work and make the final product great. http://www.cawingcrowpress.com

    Like

Join the conversation...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s