Quality Books Take Time
Back in the early ’80s there was an ad campaign for Paul Masson wine where Orson Welles famously uttered, “We will sell no wine before its time.”
The message was powerful; it conveyed, “We care so much about producing the highest quality wine that we refuse to rush the process. We won’t try to bring it out faster to increase profit. We won’t skimp on the craftsmanship that makes our wine so good. It takes time, and we will give our wine the time it needs.”
I couldn’t help thinking about that as I considered what I wanted to say today about the time and craftsmanship it takes to write a high quality book. I’m not talking about a book that everyone has to love. I’m talking about a book that has the basics: a solid story, well-developed characters, conflict that engages the reader, a satisfying resolution, well-crafted sentences and paragraphs, literate use of words, and a lack of typos and other egregious, noticeable errors. Even if it’s non-fiction, the basics apply except instead of characters, we need well-developed ideas.
With the proliferation of self-pub, online retailers are flooded with books that contain almost none of those basics. Books that scream “vanity” and “I just wanted to get rich quick.” Books that say, “I was too impatient, or too arrogant, or too ignorant, to either learn the very most basic writing techniques, or to get an editor’s eyes on this before it went public.”
I’ve said many times — I’m in favor of self-pub and e-pub and all the various ways writers now have to get their words out there.
But here’s the truth:
If you don’t pay attention to the quality control of your work, you’ll kill your writing career before it even starts.
Readers are not stupid. They may be downloading 99¢ e-books like crazy right now. But they’re already starting to figure out that something’s not right. Many of these books are poorly written and desperately need editing. (Even Amanda Hocking’s Trylle series, originally self-published, went through extensive editing at St. Martin’s before they re-released it.)
So why should you care? It seems many have the attitude of, “Why should I spend all that extra time and money on editing when people are going to buy it anyway?” Here’s why I think you should care:
If you self-publish a book that sucks, you may permanently lose potential readers. They pick up the book, it’s poorly crafted, they don’t like it — and they cross your name off their mental list of good authors. Down the road, perhaps you’ve become a better writer, perhaps you’ve finally decided to work with an editor, but unfortunately it’s too late for all those readers who are already convinced your books aren’t worth buying. Why risk that? Why not take the time to make sure your work is ready?
This idea of taking the time to properly craft a book applies to those in traditional publishing as well. Many of my clients become frustrated with me because I push them to make their proposals better and better; I may push them to write more chapters of their non-fiction books, I may push them to do a complete revision on a novel before submission. They’re anxious. They just want to get it out there. But I don’t work that way. I will sell no wine before its time.
I believe we need to keep holding books to a high standard. I want us all to keep insisting on quality reading material, not settling for whatever someone could slap together and impatiently upload to Kindle with barely a lick and a promise.
One of the main arguments writers use for self-publishing is the speed at which they can get their books up for sale. They’re proud of themselves for circumventing the laborious publishing system that — yes — takes forever. But many of them have nothing to be proud of. I’ve bought and read numerous self-pubbed books now, and in general the quality is noticeably inferior to what most traditional publishers are putting out. (And all of those self-pubbers who are doing it poorly are giving a very bad name to the handful who are doing it well.) Many are sacrificing craftsmanship for speed.
It’s a trade-off that diminishes us all.
I say, let’s commit to selling no books before their time. Are you with me?
Update: Since so many people are mentioning in the comments that it’s hard to know how to find an editor, I wanted to give you a couple of resources. The latest post by Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware is about how to vet an independent editor. Also, I have a list of freelance editors here on my site.
[…] I found Rachel Gardner’s post – Quality Books Take Time -interesting, because she makes the point that it’s important to get the book the best it can […]
[…] Quality Books Take Time. In this post, literary agent Rachelle Gardner writes about the time and craftsmanship it takes to write a high quality book. […]
Thank you! I feel like it’s taking forever to write my novel in progress but I refuse to zap it out there until I feel – and others agree – that it’s well-crafted. If it never gets there, well at least I haven’t sold out. Solid advice as always, Rachelle!
[…] same model does not apply to literary fiction (unless you’re able to produce a full-length, high-quality novel every month…in which case, I’d love to represent you) and yet, this distinction seems […]
Early in the rush to publish just anything for the Kindle, a major publisher did an OCR on a book, did not proof it and sent it out. I bought the book as a gift for someone, not realizing that it was totally trashed. Instead of the “normal” 3 errors per book, this travesty had 3 errors per Kindle page. This book was a mystery from a very well known author, whose paper books were nearly perfect, proof wise. I hope some responsible editor at the publishers got in deep hot water over that one. It was inexcusable, particularly in the era where publishers were trashing e-books right and left.
For those who have a Kindle, try having the Kindle read the story back to you. It is amazing what the ear can pick up that the eyes just gloss over. “I am going to loose my mind” will scream at you. Also, read it on the Kindle as some errors will pop up that you missed on the computer. May I suggest that you do a word search on some of your favorite typos. Mine is “he” in place of “the” because for some reason the “t” on my keyboard is slightly harder to push than it should be. I discovered this one by flagging it on the Kindle and then doing a word search to find FIVE more instances of this same error that I had missed on the computer. I had missed them all.
[…] you’re thinking of self-publishing, Rachelle Gardner’s post Quality Books Take Time is a must read. “If you don’t pay attention to the quality control of your work, […]
[…] And for Rachelle’s full, must read post, Quality Books Take Time, click here. […]
I can understand how easy it is to hit “publish” on a blog post. I can be very sloppy sometimes. I’m so desperate to get what I am saying out there that I send it out there too soon, and then spend the next half an hour editing and recrafting it, sometimes while people are already reading it. I do wish I would stop pressing “publish” so quickly 🙂
I don’t understand how this extends to e-books though. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Are people simply blinded by the bucks? Don’t they have enough self-respect that the money overshadows everything else? It’s so short-sighted, and if someone shows that lack of care, I will not read them again. Simple.
I wonder if sometimes it’s lack of self-control? People are so excited to get their stuff out there that they can’t wait another second. But still, it just doesn’t compute with me. I don’t know how people who do this don’t feel a niggling, constant sense of discomfort, a scratchy, unfinished feeling that would drive me nuts! 🙂
[…] On the agent side, which means it might be a little biased, but still had me thinking YES after reading it, Rachelle Gardner talks about how “Quality Books Take Time”. […]
[…] Wise words from agent Rachelle Gardner: quality books take time. […]
Two other places to find freelance editors are the Editorial Freelancers Association (the-efa.org) and The Christian PEN (thechristianpen.com). I belong to both of these groups, and believe me, a question we freelancers often ask each other is, “How do we find writers who need us?”
Matchmaking, whether writers to editors and agents, manuscripts to publishers, or books to readers, seems like the hardest part of this business.
I took the pledge. I would rather try to be patient and wait until I have a high quality product than rush to publish.
We shall sell no book before its time.
[…] the marketplace is now for publishers and writers. And it aligns with attitudes that folks like Rachelle Gardner and Porter Anderson have been […]
I’m often asked why I don’t self-pub. You’ve explained it perfectly. When my book is on the shelf, I want it to be the best possible product I could produce.
Great post, Rachelle. One thing I’ve noticed lately is the large number of formatting and hyphenation mistakes on traditionally published books that have been converted to the Kindle format. It’s not just self pubs that have problems. I was looking at one yesterday that had a glaring error on page one… Where are the editors??
[…] Rachelle Gardner has quality on her mind this week, too (or maybe she just needs a good drink, I know I do), in […]
It’s refreshing to see this topic addressed. There seems to be a new “get rich quick” mentality in the writing business among both ebook authors and professional (or trying-to-become-professional) bloggers. The tricky thing is, some of us suffer from the other side of the coin — editing our work to death in a never-ending bout of perfectionism. Some of us do need the message that if we want to succeed in this business, we do eventually need to release our words into the world.
I do still believe that eventually, quality writing does shine above the growing pile of hastily-cranked-out rambling. I’m glad to see someone taking a stand on this issue. Thanks!
YES! Thank you for calling all writers to a higher standard! I ache when I see so much self publishing. I fear that the craft of writing will become sloppy. Words deserve the honor of time and care. Its just not that easy to make writing beautiful and nourishing.
Chris Raschka took 10 years to create the 32-page picture book A Ball for Daisy, winner of this year’s Randolph Caldecott Medal.
How long does it take a book to be born?
I’m not sure if it was a local winery or not, but a take-off I saw on the Paul Masson commercial had the tag line: “We will sell no wine before you pay for it.”
I think there are too many who are rushing into self-publishing with that mentality.
Here Here! I agree. There’s a painstaking process of editing, beta-reading, line-editing, and fact checking that needs to go into the self-publishing process.
I couldn’t agree with you more. Most of the ebooks I’ve read are horrible. But I will tell you that with my first (and so far only) completed MS I spent 14 months between writing and revisions. I hired an editor for the first three chapters which were sent to a publisher that allows queries without an agent. I heard back that my MS doesn’t fit into their lines because one line is suspense/danger and the other is absolutely no suspense/danger. I had some suspense/danger although the love story was the heart of it. However, it was rejected by this publisher because it doesn’t fit into their little round hole. That is dissapointing. And yet I know that most agents won’t even look at a new author if they don’t have a platform, which I do not. What I have is a good MS I’ve worked and will continue to work on even though it may never seen the light of day with a “traditional” publisher. And for that reason alone I may wind up self-publishing. There is a point at which you stop and say, “This is the best I can do and if I keep re-writing I will lose the heart of the story. If it’s not good enough, so be it.” And by the way “good enough” is subjective.
Thanks for the editor info- I’m saving my penny’s!
My son is a winemaker in Eastern Washington and he would agree about wine and time. Some of the grapes he processed and bottled are now just on sale.
I self-published a novel, mainly to find out what the fuss was all about. After pitching it to agents for several years and even finaling in several contests, I decided this was the novel to test. The learning curve was huge. After beta readers, critique groups, revising and re-reading and finally an editor, I put it out. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I’m very pleased with the results. Book clubs and libraries have picked it up and I meet the most wonderful readers. I see more books than ebooks but that is picking up too. After going through several proofs and notes, I realized that just as important as writing a good story and having hands on it, what was inside the book was just as important. Great post, Rachael.
I’m in… albeit begrudgingly. I do like to create and share — sometimes prematurely. Great reminder, Rachelle.
Absolutely agree! If it’s published in any form it should be done with professionalism and an eye to making the experience pleasurable for readers.
Amen, amen and amen. I think this is especially true for the author who has not gone through the process of getting an agent and publishing house to buy into them–ever. I think we are inclined to like our work a little more than the average reader because we see all the action in our head. However, the reader needs the author to communicate that action, but until they know the craft well, and have others sifting through it with them, the author cannot be sure he or she is doing so.
I lucked out once buying a self-published novel and absolutely loved the entire series that went with it. I have been burned a few times since so am more leery now. I don’t just read books, I consume them, so I need an ever-ready supply. Still, I’d rather read a really good book over and over again, than trudge through another bad one. I have not only become picky about author, but also about publisher.
I have one caveat. If you are an established author, with an established audience, you are comfortable in the craft and in your genre, and you have very honest critique partners and editors, this could be a way to go. But without a lot of really good, informed, HONEST feedback, you don’t want to ruin your reputation on an inferior product.
Great post! Just got finished reading a self-pub book and was shocked to see how much work it needed. The plot was a good idea, but the story development was sorely lacking. As well, a good editor would have informed the author how close the ideas came to copying an existing popular YA fiction series. I think it hugely disappointing because poor self-pub books serve to further the idea that self-pub is unprofessional. I’m sure there are others out there that are much better, but it was enough to persuade me to want an agent.
Great post! I was just discussing this with a few writer friends and this really resonated with me as we discussed the exact same thing:
“With the proliferation of self-pub, online retailers are flooded with books that contain almost none of those basics. Books that scream “vanity” and “I just wanted to get rich quick.” Books that say, “I was too impatient, or too arrogant, or too ignorant, to either learn the very most basic writing techniques, or to get an editor’s eyes on this before it went public.”
I have tried some of the self-published books, because I want to support all authors, but the ones I did try, had so many errors, eg. in one story, there was a dog at the beginning as the family pet, in the middle of the book it was a cat, (same name) and then at the end it was a dog again.
I could tell the writer wanted to just get the book out, as she has written 7 books in a matter of a few months. I don’t even think Nora Roberts could churn out quality work that fast.
I’m not sure of the exact numbers but from what agents indicate on their sites, I assume that only the top 0.01% of books queried actually get picked up by an agent and published. I suspect that only 1% of all books are worth reading. The rest simply have not been crafted well enough to make them worth a readers time.
I believe my story, as it stands, is in the top 5%. I also believe that isn’t good enough. It has to be the 99th percentile before I can self pub.
An author who thinks it is good enough to publish a book at 90% is wrong. It may sell a few copies but there is no way it will compete with a commercially published book, one picked from a pool of ten thousand.
You MUST have quality copy editors AND development editors if you want to keep your readers. Too many authors just want someone to help them find typo’s. Not many unpublished authors I know think about an editor as someone who will point out thin character development or inconsistent character behavior or slow plot development. If you want to be a successful novelist, you better have people who understand all the aspects of writing and can help you make your book the best it can be.
I’m really glad now my first couple of books didn’t sell. They truly weren’t ready. Now that I have more practice and experience and study behind me, I *think* I can write books worthy of reading.
Cheap bad books are like a bad “all you can eat” buffet. Some authors I will never read again, no matter how much I hear they have improved.
Amen, sistah! Of course there are exceptions, but I’ve noticed that a lot of self-published non-fiction is just 60 pages of nothing. Not much content, all graphics. Write some real words that mean something, people!
An excellent and timely post! Thank you!
Rachelle, once again, I enjoyed your post. I think that quote can be applied in many things in our society these days, we want what we want…now, and when we rush it the quality is lessened.
Top quality takes time and you cannot rush that time.
I totally agree. For me and my art, I want a top notch book…every time. My goal is for each book to better than the one before it, not just the story but the whole book, every part of it.
I want to publish no book before it’s time.
Right on, Rachelle! I’ve read a couple self-published books that are full of typos and such, sometimes multiple ones on each page. I’m reading another right now that is not anywhere as bad but still has enough. Indeed it is time to take the time to perfect everything before publishing. That’s why I’m working so hard on making mine as perfect as possible in case I decide to self-publish.
God bless, Anne Marie 🙂
Thank you for this. There is a big distinction between writing for quick gain and writing because you love to create something wonderful. There ARE some authors out there who write complete garbage and make a lot of money, but trying to do that would kill my soul. I tend to disagree that selling crap ebooks early on could kill one’s career; honestly, most readers wouldn’t have heard of a bad ebook seller who later presents a properly edited, higher quality book.
But I think the writers who spend lots of time and energy making a work special and professional are not the same people who would even attempt to crank out careless slush for a few quick bucks. Personally, I’d rather enter data or sell knives door-to-door for a quick buck rather than produce low quality writing for sale.
As a writer, I would derive more satisfaction from having a smaller audience who is enthusiastically engaged and inspired by my work than sell half a million 99 cent ebooks that most readers can’t even get through–regardless of any fears about it harming my future career. Just, ick. It’s like selling spam!
I am so happy you posted this reminder that attention to quality is not optional. I have bookmarked this post to remind myself, especially when I feel discouraged or impatient about completing my memoir and sending it out into the world. I see others self-publishing in droves while I plod along working on my craft and am not able to answer the question-“so when is your book coming out?” I’ve learned to say “when it’s ready.” Anything as important as my story deserves the time and effort it will take to produce a quality product.Thank you so much for calling attention to this very important issue. DIY is fine as long as the standards for quality are upheld.
Yes, I am with you. I’ve already mentally crossed off several self-pub authors because of poor craftsmanship. There are too many wonderful books out there to bother with less than stellar writing.
It is better to leave the fruit on the tree until it is good enough.
However, when the time comes, it should be collected before decaying.
The books are not fruits. They can become diamonds to wait somewhere until their value becomes visible.
Thank you for sharing.
So very true. All things excellent require time and slow growth. I am grateful for those who still believe in quality and are patient enough to work for it.
I’m absolutely with you, Rachelle. Even for the short and flash stories I post on my blog (which I post with the caveat that they have not gone through beta readers and editors) I re-re-re-re-read, and edit, and let them sit for a day or two, and go back and read and edit, etc. If I’m going to put my reputation as a writer on the line, I want to be at my best when I do so. And that goes triple for the work I hope to sell. If it takes longer than my patience would prefer, so be it.
So true, Rachelle!
As a self-published author, I can’t tell you how great it is to see this post. I see some authors who consistently publish four to six books a year. Now I could be wrong (I know, shocking, but it happens), but I can’t imagine how someone can properly develop that many stories in that kind of time frame. Maybe some can, but I know I sure can’t. I’ll happily stick to publishing one to one and a half books per year, and having them go through multiple critique groups and editors before publication. Of course, no matter how much work you put into something, not everyone will love it, but I know I’m giving myself a better chance to succeed.
All that aside, I find the speed of self-publishing to be somewhat frustrating for other reasons too. Some readers (and this could be a small amount, but it’s enough that I notice it) are becoming accustomed to having all these books quickly. I know when you find a story you love, you want more and you want it now, but there is something to be said for anticipation. Publishing a four book Fantasy series in less than eighteen months is great for some, but for me, there is something magical in the wait. It gives the story time to settle and creates a foothold in my imagination. You loved it, of course you want more now, but if you give that desire time to grow, it becomes more than “just another book” you loved. It becomes a memory of a place you once travelled and people you once knew; one that isn’t so easily forgotten.
As always, you are spot on in your comments. I agree with every word you said. I would only add one other point. I believe in always producing the best work of which I am capable out of respect for my readers, and out of respect for myself. I write historical fiction and I spend a great deal of time doing research in order to get the facts correct. Even if there are only five people on the planet who would know whether I got it right or wrong, I know.
“Always do your best. What you plant now, you will harvest later.”
It is certainly worth taking the time to do right.
In self-pubbing my first (and thus far only) book, there are a lot of things I got backwards, like publishing a non-fiction book before I even started building a platform or learning social media.
However, I did read numerous books on how to put a book together, design the layout, etc.
Although I did not have the resources to hire a professional editor, I enlisted the help of numerous friends in reviewing and editing, including several PhD’s and two who regularly edit as part of their professional responsibilities.
It required multiple rewrites plus lots of tweaks, on really a rather short book.
It was done on a shoestring budget, but, when completed, I felt satisfied it is a very good book.
Oh, and did I mention the learning experience? Fun stuff!
Whether we publish ourselves or go through traditional methods, this post is pertinent. I’ve seen books come from the the Big Six that have glaring errors, as well as those that were self-pubbed. As writers, we should be humble enough to take correction, teachable enough to learn to not make those same errors again, and proud enough to not want anything getting through with mistakes.
I fully agree with the suggestion to read your manuscript out loud. It’s amazing what that will catch. Better yet, read it to someone else. The ears pick up things the eyes skim over.
Both Rachelle and Jim make a very good point: we can’t do it alone. The more eyes on our project the better it will be.
I agree that we in the self-publishing community need to write and publish only good books, made the best they can be through editorial attention.
I totally agree, Rachelle! I’m committed to critique groups and revising my ms over and over, as well as taking writing courses, and reading GOOD literature! Thanks for your post!
So true! All of it. And anyone who thinks self-publishers have ‘learned’ to take their time hasn’t been reading all the blogs and comments from SPs saying how the key is production – having a whole slew of books going out, one after another, as though it’s an assembly line. And that’s exactly how these books read. People need to quit looking at the time it takes as a negative, and realize that anyone can slap together a piece and shove it out the door. And yes, readers are going to figure that out.
This is so true. With these self published books, my experience as a reader is that they desperately needed an editor. It makes it really hard to read. Thank you for the editor information. My book job today is to check that out. I think my book would elevate to “publish now” if I had an editor.
Thank you. I want to convey to you how badly I needed to read your words today.
Last night I rolled around in bed wondering if I would ever finish my manuscript. The editing and polishing process is coming out much slower than the first draft poured out. For a first time (and perhaps wanna-be) novelist, the entire process has been a bit mind altering.
I appreciate the constant encouragement I get from your blog.
I love what you said here. I tend to be an impatient person, and writing a book has taken much longer than I thought it would. I’m on my third rewrite of a book and hope to get it right soon. But then there will still be the polish, polish, polish stage once the content is fixed. It definitely takes a lot of time, but if an author is willing to put in the work, then the book is better in the end.
My self-pubbed novel came into this world in March. I sat with our local news journalist for an interview shortly after the book came out. Earlier in the week, she’d interviewed an author of a self-pubbed memoir that had spelling errors on the cover. Dawn had no desire to associate her name in any way with the book.
On the other hand, she spent three hours interviewing me, discussing my novel,and asking questions raised by the subject (heaven, hell, dreams, etc.). When the article came out, she gave me almost a full page of coverage. I was both surprised and grateful.
Two particular things made a huge difference between the memoir and my novel. I had peers who critiqued my chapters and made me work harder and get better.
I had an experienced editor (my gifted wife) who truly wouldn’t let the book leave the house until “it’s time.”
[…] highly recommend all writers read this blog by Rachelle Gardner. She’s an agent with Books and Such Literary Agency and her blog is a great source for […]
Rachelle, I’m probably saying something someone already said, but here’s the thing: This is an awesome post! Wow. Really. I hope you can republish it somewhere big (not that your blog isn’t big!) and get the most readers possible to see it. It is so well said and such an important topic. My poor mother got a kindle for Christmas–and I think of her as I write this. I wonder if there will ever come a time when readers demand a label of some kind that tells them this is not a self-published, unedited book. We in the industry know how to check who the publisher is and can usually spot a self-pub, but the general reader cant. And as you said–they’re not all bad. But so many are that you’d wish there was a way to distinguish more readily. Anyway, you took the words right out of my mouth only I couldn’t have said them nearly so well. You Rock! Heather
Everything you wrote is true-and graciously said.
My first response to your blog from my new call sign :-)You are completely right. It is tempting. I know, for example, that my story is suddenly reaching a critical mass where I’d love to share it. But thankfully I also know that it isn’t good enough yet and needs not only my own patient crafting, but ultimately a good agent to guide it forward. I think patience may be the crucial quality needed to prevent anyone careering headlong into publishing a book which is less than their best; no matter how desperate they are to share:-)
Rachelle, your post is so apropos for today’s many outlets for publishing. I agree with you, and I don’t want to put anything “out there” before its time. I know before any book is ready, it will require much time and sacrifice on my part. Rushing to get my name out there before “its time” will be detrimental on so many fronts.
Like Jennifer said above, though I am not against self-pubbing, I don’t think it’s for me.
Thank you for holding a high standard. It can only make writers and product better.
I bought two 99-cent e-books in the past month that were AWFUL. I was really excited about both of them and SO disappointed after I read them. Glad I only paid $1.98, but wishing I could have it (and the time I wasted reading them) back.
Marla: “I bought two 99-cent e-books in the past month that were AWFUL. I was really excited about both of them and SO disappointed after I read them. Glad I only paid $1.98, but wishing I could have it (and the time I wasted reading them) back.”
If you buy a Kindle book, article, booklet or whatever, then start reading it and it is AWFUL, then you should have called customer support and asked for a refund. That sends a very powerful message to the author. He gets his statement that says one sold, one refunded, net ZERO. Of course the author has no way of knowing whether the purchaser just wanted a free book and is a fast reader, but on the other hand if lots of people ask for refunds, then he/she can hardly avoid he evidence that there is something sorely lacking in the document. Also, write a review. Negative books need negative reviews. Positive books need positive reviews. Middling books can just lay there in obscurity.
“If you self-publish a book that sucks, you may permanently lose potential readers.” That is so true. I can think of two authors who have lost my confidence with their first book, even though they are probably much better at crafting a story now then they were when I read them. I still don’t want to waste my time in case they haven’t changed.
A while back the ACFW loop talked about the number of books an author could write and still produce a quality product. A substantial group bragged about their productive genius.
As I read many of these authors, I wish they’ve slowed down. The plots are the same, conflicts non-existent, the language awful. If I read one more line about a single tear falling down the face or having a smile on her face or a sigh being heaved, I will have a seizure and never be able to read again. 🙂
You are so right. I’ve crossed these authors off the list. Added to that, I’ve crossed off all books with the corny cover of the winsome woman looking into the distance.
I want quality–a unique twist to the plot, the language and the characters.
I wish my students would “submit no paper before its time” (and I’m not talking about the due date!) The give me flour, oil, and eggs and tell me to enjoy the freshly-baked brownies…
Many self-publishers/custom-publishers/indie-publishers/whatever-the-PC-term-publishers run special promotions driven by urgency. One almost feels as though obtaining the writer’s money is more important than producing a high-quality work.
You use images (flour, eggs, and oil) so well to make your point.
The analogy came to me one day while I was struggling to figure out how to tell a student why their paper was “bad” enough to warrant the score I’d given it.
I realized it wasn’t so much “bad” as it wasn’t ready. It was a great start. But I’d asked for a finished 1st draft ready to be “tasted.”
When they give me their writing at such an early stage–flour, oil, eggs–I have no way of knowing what they’re making. Brownies? Banana bread? Crepes?
The danger is that I’ll intrude, introduce my favorite flavoring, and destroy the entire batch.
I’m still fleshing this out, but I can tell you that on the first day of school next year, the students are going to see flour, oil, and eggs!
Also, I have a list of editors here on my blog:
This post would have been a lot more effective without once again pitting self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.
The more important point that gets rather lost in that tiresome debate, to me, is whether or not writers have lost the ability to really be in tune with themselves to know when their book is the best it can be rather than “just good enough”, because they are caught up in the hurry, hurry, hurry hype of this day and age.
Even before e-books became the craze, it seems like in the last decade pressure has been building and authors expected to produce more work each year.
This is a fairly easy task for some writers, but nearly impossible for others.
We live in a society that doesn’t want to wait for the writer who has to cook his story on the back burner for 10 years or so before writing it. And revising it. And revising it.
That’s not the fault of any particular form of publishing. That’s the author giving in to temptation. That’s why a lot of books read as mediocre or just enough.
An author has to be true to the timeline he or she truly needs to craft a great book–and sometimes that timeline is way out of sync with the demands of the industry.
BK, did you really feel Rachelle was pitting self-publishing against traditional publishing? I didn’t. Having self-published, I am usually sensitive.
The latest post on Writer Beware is about how to vet an independent editor:
With you all the way. Selling a book before it’s ready is a disaster. True, it may be only 99 cents, but if a reader feels that 99 cents was wasted, bye bye reader.
I am with you completely on this one. What I struggle with, however, is that the editing is so subjective. I can have a book “perfectly” edited, in my opinion, and the first time someone else critiques it they come up with all sorts of things to change. I think I could work on a book forever and never get finished editing. At some point in time I have to call it done – until an agent or editor picks it up and applies their opinion to it. Just how long is long enough?
Well said Cindy. Reminds me of a saying by a writer: “You never finish writing a book; you abandon it.”
I’m with you! My manuscript is in it’s 3rd year of life now, and I’m still revising it because I know it’s still not time for it just yet. I’d love to have my book e-published and downloadable on kindle and whatnot, and self-publishing isn’t a bad option, but no matter what, I still care about the quality of my book and my long-term success which is dependent on the first impression I make on the readers. Thanks for sharing this post with us today!
Well said, Rachelle. Great post – thought-provoking, indeed. I, like most other authors, really want my work out there. Yet I am willing to work and edit and work and wait until my books are ready. Yes, I have a good plot that will take me through three books, maybe four. I have no desire to rush through this process as I want this to be the best set of books I can produce. While I have utilized beta readers in the past and I trust them in certain areas, I know a fresh pair of eyes will do my books good instead of harm. While I’m not against self-pubbing, I don’t think it’s for me.
Thanks for tackling this topic. I agree with you. I want to do it right or not do it.
Sometimes it’s discouraging to see friends self-pub their book(s) while I continue to polish my stories. Reading this encourages me to stay focused and stay on track.
Thanks so much!
Well said, Jackie!
I share your views on self-publishing. Even though it is a more respectable medium than in the distant past, there are still problems. I’m reminded of neighborhoods without the rules of an association to monitor the quality of homes that are built. If only there were some way of vetting self-published manuscripts so that the reading public would have some idea as to the quality of the product; e.g., perhaps a seal of approval given to those books that have been professionally edited. I’ve found it difficult to convince an author that his/her material isn’t perfect and needs serious editing. A good editor is a writer’s best friend.
Spoken as a tortoise writer in a world of hares, I’m with you 100%! And while I’m not sure which road to publication suits me best, one thing I do know – several experienced eyes will examine (i.e. – rip apart with love) the WIP before query or self-pub.
On that point – Rachelle, have you posted on the topic of reputable editors? Not at the “I have an agent/publisher and now begin edit chaos” stage, but more the “I want my MS put though professional paces before query/self-pub” stage. I know your site lists editor recommendations, but are there telltale warning signs for so-called professionals offering editing help? After the Beta and critique partners, I consult P&E – but in the midst of the self-pub explosion, it appears there are more “experts” than ever before. Other than common sense and lots of research – do you have any suggestions?
Thanks for the great post Rachelle! I agree it takes time, time, time, something most authors don’t want to hear, hear, hear. My first two books that haven’t seen the light of day are AWFUL by my today standards. When I finally did find my agent and an interested publisher it was because I’d invested serious time in my writing career.
You see Rachelle, this topic is why you are at the top of your game. Aim high, then take a breath and go up into the low oxygen/high achievement stratosphere. Nobody deserves applause for showing up. The accolades come from out-doing the competition and making the summit. I could self publish, but in my personal opinion, that’s like hopping a helicopter and jumping down onto the mountaintop. Like Melinda said, “I want this to be done right”.
Thank you, one again, for kicking the cranial matter into gear so early in the morning. And for standing up for paper and ink!
Rachelle, I agree with you on nearly everything. As much as I try to be a steady cheerleader for my fellow Indies, the fact is that many of them don’t make my divot test (so named because back before they were on my smart phone, I used to hurl bad novels against the opposite wall, causing a divot). Yes, there are rotten heaps of pulp that come from traditional publishing too, but not nearly as frequently as from the Indies.
Keep in mind, though, that many Indies have no idea how to judge the difference in editing services, so if they can spring for editing at all they go for the cheapest. I went with a far more expensive freelancer and really got what I paid for, but often my fellow Indies either don’t see the need or can’t afford it.
Add to that the fact that now small publishers have sprung up that also don’t “get” it. My publisher when I first started was one of these; his “editor” found one error in my novel. “It was professionally edited,” I said. “You don’t need to do that,” he answered, “that’s my job.” The next work I didn’t have edited before I sent it to him, and again his “editor” found but a couple of errors. Shoddy, shoddy service, that.
That said, there are groups out there who are trying to raise the bar. I’m in a group, Alexandria Publishing Group, that expects and demands high standards. There are others out there as well.
Where I disagree with you, though, is the implicit correlation you make between time spent and good writing. Quality writing takes a good plot structure, good character creation, and good dialog construction, among other things, but there’s absolutely no requirement for “took a long time writing/editing.”
I’ve learned some self-publish their novels because they want to put out a story they wanted to tell. Editing wasn’t the highest on their list of priorities.
I have a novel I intend to self-publish in response to the the blog opera I did during the recent A to Z blogging challenge. However, skimping on the important things isn’t on my agenda. Getting to self-publish helps me to better control the timeline for release but I will still need to have my novel/novella hacked to pieces and put back together again – if needed – before I put it out. I want a quality product for those who intend to purchase my story. Whether I sell it at 99 cents, $1.99 or $2.99, money will be spent. And I want the reader to feel they got more than their money’s worth. And yes, that will take a little bit of time.
@Angela, the only way you’ll make it as a “writer” is if you sign a “contract” with me. You will be a hot author and your “book” will be on fire. It’s the only way it ever will be. I’m the only one that can help you…for a small fee.
My writing peeps at my critique group last night were having this very discussion. You explained it so well. I am going to forward this blog. Thanks for sharing.
Working hard to put your best work out there is the bottom line.
Absolutely! There is plenty of substandard stuff out there. Many people are just trying to turn out book after book without adhering to industry standards.
I think it should inspire those of us who are legitimately out here working toward producing great fiction to work even harder and be more committed to excellence. “Getting it out there” can be tempting before I have adequately edited if I have told people I will be releasing a book this summer, before the end of the year, etc. It’s good to have goals and deadlines, but they should not trump quality.
Once again, some will misunderstand what you have written.
The bottom line is we all need to continually study the craft. And that means learn what it is that makes story.
We all need to have a team of trusted editors.
Your blog continues to be most valuable. Thank you.
I’m sharing this on my facebook page. This is what I keep telling everyone who asks me why I don’t just save time and self-publish. I want to jump through the hoops. I want this to be done right. I don’t want to cut corners. I want to produce a quality product that literary experts have confirmed is high quality. Patience is required and years of hard work. I want to invest myself in this. Great post, Rachelle!
I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said here. To me, there is still a higher level of respect and validation in being able to actually hold one’s own book. Give me the hoops, tight corners and years of work to get things done right.
This needed to be said. Thank you.
“All of those self-pubbers who are doing it poorly are giving a very bad name to the handful who are doing it well.”
And that is very sad, because the opportunities now are so vast.
Thank you for this post. I very much encourages me. I have been realizing more and more how essential patience is as a writer.
I am 100 percent with you, Rachelle. I’m one of those new Kindle owners, and I’ve downloaded some amazingly bad books. As a writer, I always try to “publish” my best work, even if it’s just an email to a friend (or a comment on a blog:) ). I know some editors and writers who send me emails with no caps, no punctuation and no sentence structure. It appalls me every time. Emails may be faceless, but they are the records we leave behind. Thanks for sending out the call for quality work. It’s the only way this whole revolution in publishing can compete and grow. Otherwise, it will just sputter to a pitiful death when the battery on the Kindle goes kaput.
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I enjoyed this, Rachelle. It’s true for me when it comes to fiction, and funnily enough, I invoked good ol’ Orson back in 2008 when I was slashing (or so I thought) my first novel, which is back on the shelf.
Now I’m on a new project and have spent a year with an agent trying to rework it. It’s been a very tough journey because it really does mean starting over, and though I won an award (James Jones) for an early draft, I’m coming around to see why what I had won’t sell to the YA market. I’m finding ways not to compromise the integrity of my art while meeting needs of the market. I know this would not have happened without an agent and it wouldn’t have happened on a self-publishing journey.
Regarding my other books, education books, I think self-pub may be the way to go. I have to agree with many things Jim Thomsen says in his posts about assembling your own team and working at your own speed. If you get the right folks and also, if you have a proven formula that works for the market, you’re set. But if you’re still finding your formula as I’m doing with fiction, then you truly do need an agent.
That’s my two cents at this stage of the process. Though “two cents” is “so 2000 and a late” as Jim or Fergie might say. 😉
I couldn’t agree more. I have read several ebooks now, and so many of them are terribly written and barely edited. It seems so many in their haste to produce and publish forget the necessity of editing, and the benefits it has for your manuscript. Thanks for this! I’m with you!
I agree with Orson. Was he the one that Mork (Robin Williams) used to call at the end of each Mork & Mindy?
Adequate Time To Gestate is why my magnificent oeuvre has taken ten years and is still Not Quite Ready.
And the perils of bad spelling were the cause of a book suicide in Britain. Yes really. It seems a proof reader was very sloppy and the book was released to hows of derision and she was so depressed that shot herself with a gnu.
First impressions are definitely lasting impressions. There are two major crime/suspense authors whose work I will not read because of extremely bad first impressions. In both cases, it wasn’t typo-fest or poor grammar, but shoddy characterization and enough wtf??? continuity moments for me to wonder how these books made it into print. I guess major publishers are not always above rushing to print, either.
I just finished reading aloud to myself my 80,000 word ms. before I emailed it to my editor for her final final review. It took about 25 hours because as I read it out loud, I did find dialog and sentence construction that even on the printed page did not appear awkward. After I receive my editor’s comments from her review, then I think I’m ready to send out my query and pages. I attended ThrillerFest/CraftFest/AgentFest in NYC last July and pitched my ms. to 11 agents. Ten wanted anywhere from 10 to 100 pages, but it took until now for me to feel I had done everything I could to present those pages in their best light. It does take time.
Excellent, excellent post. I couldn’t agree with you more. My debut novel, BABY GRAND, which will be self-published as an eBook this month, is a MUCH BETTER BOOK for having gone through numerous rounds of revisions and copy-editing. My agent was INVALUABLE in getting this book to be the best it can be. Self-published or traditionally published, quality books take time and care.
I disagree with the “most of them” premise.
As I said, most self-publishing authors have wised up — they’ve learned from all those hack/vanity jobs. And it’s not just a few. I’ve had over sixty clients since I started my business a few years ago, and I get fresh inquiries every week by people willing to pay market rate for developmental editing, copy-editing AND proofreading.
They go through the same quality-control torture test as Big Six books do. I often help my clients trim down the size of their manuscripts, too, though often they’ve gotten that help before they’ve even come to me through their beta readers, critique partners and professional story editors.
What Rachelle is positing here is the world of self-publishing in the first months of Kindle, circa 2008. I see significantly less junk in the KIndle Store than I used to. These authors have learned that reaching readers and selling in volume starts with a good book. I’m pretty well plugged into those circles and they all reinforce the same thing among everyone they know — GET CRITIQUED. GET EDITED. GET PROOFREAD. GET PROFESSIONAL DESIGN AND LAYOUT.
It shows in today’s Kindle Store. There is typo-filled junk, too, but so there is on the shelves of the local Barnes & Noble. Traditional publishing has cut a lot of those quality corners, so people who come from world are really throwing stones from glass houses when they rail against poorly edited self-published books.
I do have to add: it’s not just self-pubs who are rushing books to publication. One well-known Christian author currently releases four books a year through a major Christian publisher. The poor Amazon ratings on her latest suggest that maybe the formula is no longer working.
Very well said. It’s so tempting to rush that first book, with eagerness to get out there and start building an audience, and even make money. But it is imperative to preserve the trusting relationship between author and reader. We are ll readers, so we should respect our readers by doing the best that we can. Great post.
This post hits home. I was one of those in-a-hurry novelists. I finished my first draft in less than 5 months, fooled around with beta readers ranging from cousins to best friends to crit partners and was scheduled for a critique and pitch at a recent conference. Thankfully,a professional novelist friend steered me to a free lance editor. Humbled, I realize I haven’t yet written the best book I’m capable of. Whereas earlier I had become a bit bored with my book, now I’m enthusiastically embracing the challenge.
I think a lot of self-published writers don’t even bother with smart beta-readers (people who can look at a novel and go, uh, this scene didn’t work, and your spelling sucks), much less an editor. And they certainly don’t waste time thinking about quality. Like you said, people will buy it anyway — bad reason. Not all self-publishers are like this, but I have come across some seriously sloppy indie novels. Some, I’ve been pleased to look back later and see much improvement, but this isn’t the majority. This makes me sad.
However, I don’t really think a writer should let a novel “steep” for too long. AKA year upon year just collecting dust. That doesn’t improve the quality of the work, either, if the writer forgets the plot completely. Does it?
Such a balance, isn’t there, between rushing a novel out there prematurely or letting it steep too long?
A perfectionist may well let a manuscript tarry past its optimum release in the name of getting it all right.
Was this written in 2009? A lot of these hoary old tropes about self-publishing have long since gone by the wayside. Most serious authors, the ones who want to make long careers and self-sustaining livings, have long ago embraced the notion that it takes a village — writer, developmental editor, copy editor, proofreader, cover designer, e-book formatter, publicist, etc. — to do their books right.
I should know. I make my living as a copy editor for self-publishing authors. It’s a good living, too; I have dozens of clients, am booked for a few months in advance at any given time, and have gotten close to my fellow villagers. I work with authors eager to be broken down and put back together again before they release their books. They crave constructive criticism.
One example: My best client is an author I met about ten months ago. Since then, we’ve worked on five books together, and just scheduled a sixth. She typically takes two months to write a book, then schedules about two months for the process of making each into a polished, professional product. She schedules us with precision synchronicity, we all do our jobs within the window we’ve got, we all get paid well, and her books look great. And the sales reflect her word-of-mouth reputation — she’s on track to make more than $500,000 this year just on her Amazon sales. She’s been approached by several agents and publishers, and turned them all down (save one to handle foreign, film and audiobook rights). Why improve on what’s working just fine?
First off, a traditional publisher would slow down her rate of publication, whether or not she used pen names for each of her three series. They’d dither over cover design, over marketing (to the extent that they’d do any), and force her arbitrarily into a catalog season. They’d do nothing but harm her earning potential while do nothing demonstrably better for her books. (A lot of the people she hires were laid off from publishing houses.)
And she’s not the only one. I’ve had over sixty clients, and at least half of them go through every step in the quality-control process. Nowadays, you just don’t need that from a traditional publisher any more. The only thing such a place can do for a smart author is widespread paper distribution. And that matters less and less with each passing year.
I really think you’re confusing “the time it takes to write a good book” with “the time a publisher takes to get it to market.”
Have you read a self-pub lately? Many of them are completely unedited; others have spent hundreds of dollars (or claim to have done so) to no discernable effect. Some get their books professionally proofread, but a proofreader charges by the word, so has no incentive to tell the author that at 191,000 words, their debut novel is at least 80,000 words too long.
The job you do (which I would like to get into) is necessary. But too many authors bypass the editing process because “it’s too expensive”. I think Rachelle is trying to say that it is never too expensive to make a good impression. You only get one chance.
Jim, the “tropes” are arising once again because the number of people self-pubbing today is significantly larger than what was happening 2-3 years ago, and it’s getting increasingly difficult for readers to find the good stuff amid all the junk. I DO know there are large numbers of people doing very good self-pub work (I will soon be one of them). But the number of people doing it badly still seems to be MUCH larger.
I can’t wait to read whatever you’re writing.
It is, Rachelle, it is. Trust me. I’m going to rename my smart phone app from “Kindle Emulator” to “Downloader of Crap.”
Yes, let us not confuse: “the time it takes to write a good book” with “the time a publisher takes to get it to market.”
Loved that last sentence. Other than that, I most respectfully disagree with the tone of inference that Rachelle was harking back to 2009. Are you still fighting cardboard cutouts from 2009?
Jim, your post has helped to put things in perspective. Self-pubbed books will keep improving, quality-wise until we reach an equilibrium whereby it doesn’t matter anymore who printed your book.
I’m really glad to have read this post. It means a lot to me – that you feel and operate this way. This novel writing thing is a new for me, but I want to do it well. I’ve committed to do it right. I follow your blog because someday, when I’m ready, when IT is ready, I want to submit my work to you.
But I agree with you and I’ll wait until it is. To…Submit No Novel Before its Time.
You may find it interesting that the working title for my novel is “A Sacrifice of Time”
Opened this blog right after my editor suggested we take a month to study Dwight Swain’s “Creating Characters” to make my novel shine. After I took a deep breath, I realized he is right. And so is Rachelle.
Rah-Rah-Rachelle! Give me a B. Give me an U. Give me a K. Give me and E! What’s it spell? Self-pub!
OK, unedited self-pub.
There’s one thing you said that is only partially correct. The reason many people don’t have their self-pubs edited is not because it will sell anyway, but because they believe it WILL NOT sell, so they figure- why waste the money? It’s vanity in the vainest sense, because it begins and ends in defeat.
Your comment made me laugh out loud; thank you.
I disagree with your disagreement, though. I think most self-pubbed authors don’t get editing because of the expense. I mean, yes, there’s probably an element of self-defeatism in all of us, but the fact is that GOOD editing costs thousands. It’s a huge investment for someone who’s probably starting with very little.
Notice I said “good.” Yes, there are plenty of line editors out there, and even some line editors claiming to be something else, who will pick out grammatical errors in a novel for a few hundred dollars. But an editor who will sit down and have a discussion with you about what works and what doesn’t, which characters are “done” enough and which aren’t, is worth her weight in gold, as I learned from my experiences with my own editor.
True, Stephen, editors cost money. If I believe my book will make ten thousands if I invest thousands, then I’ll make the investment. However, few believe the investment is worth it, at least after the first time. Usually, it’s thousands to edit a book that makes 50 bucks in Amazon royalties.
P.S. I do think I could self-pub well if I changed my name to John H. Grisham. Just kidding, bro! 🙂
The fifty bucks may be the reality, but do you really think that’s what the first-time authors are expecting? I don’t. I think, because I was there myself not too long ago, that most are viewing it as a “gosh, I wish I could afford to do this instead of make my mortgage and car payment this month.”
And yeah, I know you’re joking, but today’s a rather down day. The name thing doesn’t work that way, trust me. I’m convinced, based on what I see other Indies doing, and also based on where my books do and don’t come up in searches, that the name doesn’t help one bit except in the joke fodder arena.
I’m proud as hell of my name–it was my daddy’s name, too, after all–but with this author thing going on I’ve been considering changing it away from Stephen King. Maybe something original like Kickme Now?
Whoa, sorry man. Yeah I can see where that would get annoying fast. I have the middle name Harvey, so I spent years dreading the “rabbit” comments. To be named Johnny J. Depp wouldn’t be much fun, I suppose, because every comment gets followed up by, well you’re not the real one. Yeah, I see your point.
Would S.H. King work or S.Henry King? I keep wanting to change mine to P.J. Cassel because it flows better. P.Harvey? Meh! 🙂
@Stephen H. King,
Agreed. I’m wrestling with myself right now about editing. My ebook series will be 99 cents each, of which I’ll earn 35 cents in royalties before taxes. I’m trying to keep the cost to consumers low because I don’t know if they’ll pay more for self published material. But with that said, I will not spend thousands of my out of my own pocket on editing. The problem with book consumers is that they want full-price quality for pennies.
I also notice that readers seem to biitch and moan in general more than any other group of consumers. Especially in regards to price and quality. Frankly, I’m sick of them. This just doesn’t pay enough to offset this headache-not traditionally and not via self publishing. I don’t have anything published myself and I honestly don’t feel like catering to these people for pennies. Writing books is just not worth the time.
I agree wholeheartedly, Rachelle! As an editor, nothing frustrates me more than reading an already published piece that is poorly constructed with numerous grammatical mistakes. It turns me off to the article/book and the writer/author. I would never think of submitting something I knew was of poor quality.
Here’s to “no books before their time”!
*Raises glass to toast the post*
Well said, well said. Thank you, Rachelle.
Amen! Totally with you, Rachelle. The growing quantitiy of substandard self-pubbed work out there is giving almost all of it a bad name.
Absolutely! “Self-published” and “garbage” shouldn’t be synonymous. It’s so difficult to get noticed as a self-published author as it is – fighting against all those people who flood the market with low-grade nonsense makes it nearly impossible.
And this comment is why I just bought your book.
Absolutley agree. It was a big step for me to hire an editor–reading this confirms it is the right decision
Oh my God, I am SOOOO with you! Hallelujah!
I’m with you! I agree wholeheartedly and second what Gabrielle said.
Woohoo! I feel like cheering! I love your rally cry. I’m with ya sistah! 🙂
“Beware the lollipop of mediocrity. Lick it once and you’ll suck forever.” —Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys
Great quote. That’ll stick with me for a while.
What a good quote!
Some traditionally published authors have lost readers they can never regain, too. There are a few authors I won’t read because either 1) they were published too early (IMO) and their first few books were painful to get through, or 2) their first book was great but the second and third were disappointing.
I’ll usually plow through three books if I really want to support an author (or a publisher taking a chance on a genre I love). But after that I’m ruined for that author. I can’t force myself to read them even if my friends insist that they’ve gotten so much better.
I’m with you on this one! I agree, with the sheer volume of books available on the market, those that are of superior quality and craftsmanship will stand out and be noticed. Even if going the traditional route will take me longer, I am willing to wait. I’d rather produce an excellent book over time, than a mediocre book quickly.
I am with you, Rachelle. I remember my first editor for a book that was not self published. It was put out by a small on-line press but my editor was one who made me work to get that book so much better. The same was true with the next ones. I learned so much from each one of these editors. And I am still learning. ;o) Good writing takes time. Good writers must mature and learn.