Monday, December 23, 2013

Editor's Notes #2: The Reader Doesn't Care

I've been stalking the Goodreads forums lately, and having a wonderful time of it. Granted, I'm sure there are other great writers' sites out there, but I've found the discussions on GR to be stimulating, sometimes very uncomfortable, and always informative.

One of my favorite threads lately has been going 'round and 'round about self-published authors (SPAs), their problems, and how to get readers to buy their books. I could write a year's worth of blog posts based on any one of those threads, but the SPA thread has me captivated.

This week's topic deals with the not-ready-for-prime-time books out there that are damaging the reputation of those SPAs whose work is as good as—or better than, in some cases—that published by the Big Five. Specifically, we'll talk about excuses given for poor work.

The writers I like to call "premature publishers" (because "author" doesn't really fit their abilities) are the ones who are typically in a rush to get their books published because they want the world to see the results of their hard work. There's no time to wait. That book has to get out there because the world needs them!

The problem lies in the fact that the reader expects a published book to be finished. Completed. Done. As close to "perfect" as possible.

"Finished" to the premature publishers means "I'm done writing." Period.

Having an idea and getting it written on paper (real or virtual) is a wonderful start, but it is exactly that: a start. As S.K. Anthony stated in our second Coffee Chat, after the first draft is written, that's when the real work begins. Revisions, tweaks, overhauls—whatever name you call them, it boils down to the same thing: making your work the best it can be.

One of the things I find frustrating is when an author becomes defensive after receiving a bad review. If someone gives a one-star review based on something dumb, like "I've always hated that color of yellow on a book cover," or "I can't believe someone kicked a kitten in this book!" then yes, the author has every right to be indignant about that review. However, many new authors seem unable to deal with bad reviews that mention editing, immature writing habits or style, plot holes, or pretty much anything that doesn't include the words "OMG I loved it!"

Some of the authors I've conversed with on GR are quick to tell others they learned a lot more from the negative reviews than the positive ones, though they would always prefer good reviews over bad. But it seems those who learn from criticism (even when it's not constructively phrased) are in the minority. Many premature publishers are full of excuses—overflowing with them, really—as to why their book has uncorrected issues.

Guess what? The reader doesn't care what kind of problems you had. Whether your book was offered as a freebie or purchased for whatever amount, the reader has every right to expect it to be complete and polished. Someone (known only as Tura) on the SPA thread on Goodreads put it perfectly:
I think a good thing to remember is the reader does not care. Yes, just writing a book is an achievement, but it doesn't mean everyone has to praise you. So forget the excuses people use when they complain reviews are harsh:
*"It's my first attempt." The reader does not care.
*"I had a really hard time while writing, for one reason or another." The reader does not care.
*"I wrote from my own experience." Well, so did many others. The reader does not care.
*"My family and friends all loved it." The reader . . . And so on. 
The unknown reader has a million books to choose from, and will go to whatever pleases her/him. You can't really argue anyone into liking your book; you can only show it to them. 
I don't expect every book I pick up to be an instant classic. Nor do I expect every book to have the same level of writing skill. What I do expect is readability and cohesiveness, not excuses.

I've heard many writers talk about the expenses of publishing. Writing costs nothing as long as you have a pencil and paper. Publishing has its costs, though. Content editing. Cover design. Proofreading. Printing. This is all part of the package from the moment the first word hits the page. 

Think of it in terms of purchasing a home. You have the money to buy a house. Do you have the money to live in it? You'll need basic tools, money for utilities, furniture, and groceries. You may need a lawnmower. You need money for taxes. You need more than just the price of a building.

To simplify further, let's say you have the money for the down payment, but no way of paying closing costs. What do you do? You continue to save, cutting expenses for months or even years in order to set the money aside. You don't tell the Realtor he should still give you the house because you've always wanted one, or because you're having another child and need the extra room, or because you've been saving and saving and you just can't wait any longer. 

The Realtor doesn't care about any of those things. If you can't pay, he will find another buyer.

The reader can be thought of in the same way. If you can't produce an adequate product, he'll find another author. I've heard writers talk about eating Ramen noodles, red beans & rice, and peanut butter sandwiches for months so they could save, dollar by dollar, for editing and a decent-quality cover. If you're self-publishing, there's no rush to get your book out there other than your own urgency to get people to read it. You're following no deadline but your own. 

Count the cost. The full cost, from soup to nuts. Save for it and pay for it before hitting that "publish" button. The reader doesn't care what you couldn't do. He only cares about what you did. Why give something other than your best?


  1. If you can't handle criticism then you are in the wrong field. No one likes to be told something they did is bad, but the thing is to learn to use what is useful and discard what is useless, to you. Paraphrasing Bruce Lee there. As an author you will always have someone dislike your work, it comes with it and many criticisms can help you grow as an artist. It is as important a part of this as any other.

    1. Nicely stated. Having a thick skin has to be part of the deal for anyone whose work is in the public eye, and having the discernment to know when to shrug and when to listen is the other part.

  2. The reader simply does NOT care...very true! I like the term "premature publisher" they are the ones who give all the hard working SPA a bad reputation. Yes, we all understand you have a dream but why wouldn't you work to make that dream reach the absolute highest point its capable of?

    And you are right, Lynda, if they're serious about this business they have to develop a thick skin. Learn from the good AND bad reviews and don't fret, it doesn't help their case any, not in public anyway. By all means go to your buddies, but don't attack the reviewer. Especially if you didn't go through all the steps necessary to make your novel something you can be completely proud of.

    By the way, OMG I loved this post! :P

    1. OMG...yep, that's what I was waiting for! lol A true connoisseur of blog posts.

      Seriously, I'm all for using the buddies as a first line of action (they're free), but too many people mistake an honest friend for a qualified professional. There's no substitute for critique partners, editors, and artists, and getting angry at a reviewer will never win you any fans.

      Most readers simply don't want to spend their hard-earned money on something that's not worth it.

  3. I think the important word that Sarah uses is "business". Too many writers want to do the creative bit and forget that it's a business - we're selling a product like any other.
    I liked your term "premature publisher", too!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Simon! Yes, the business end of things might not be the most fun part of it, but it's still essential.


I love comments, and will always answer them, partly because I like having the last word and partly because I just like getting to know the people who read my blog. (Note: if the post is more than a couple weeks old, your comment will automatically go into the "needs approval" folder, but I will still publish it and reply!)