Quality Books Take 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.