Friday, 5 July 2013

Don't cut corners

Most people are quite happy to throw their spare cash wantonly on whatever whim they feel like, be it clothes, beers, cigarettes, eating out, entertainment ... yet for some reason, when it comes to self-publishing, suddenly people "can't afford" editing, proofreading, decent cover design, formatting ... can't afford to pay to advertise, can't afford to do pretty much anything, in other words.

From reading many writers forums you'd be forgiven for believing that all self-published writers are poverty-stricken, bridge dwellers who have to make daily decisions between which they need most, coffee or cigarettes.

Of course some might be one step away from the dole queue, but most aren't. Most have exactly the same amount of disposable income as anyone else, but when it comes to putting money into their books there seems to be an unnatural aversion to it.


Perhaps because it is possible to self-publish for free, many writers think that spending money on it is money wasted. Perhaps they don't feel their work is deserving of it. Or perhaps, like I did when I started out, they feel that they don't need to. They think they're good enough to carry it all by themselves.

A few days ago I got this review -

Not a bad story, shame about lack of a definitive ending to allow the sequals.

Does need a bit of proofing with a few words missing (but you can tell what is implied) and a few plurals missing their S.

Don't get me started on the comment - there's no more a cliffhanger in that book than there is in Star Wars, and I've never seen anyone complain about that. Nor that the review was posted by an indie author who managed to spell the world "sequel" wrong, but whatever. What's important is that if you cut corners in the beginning it will come back to haunt you.

I'm an English teacher by profession. I'm halfway through a MSc in Linguistics. I felt I could catch anything, felt I didn't need anyone to help me.


Tube Riders, the book in question, has since had a paid professional edit and I'm quite confident there are none of the errors the reviewer talks about. However, since I was stupid enough to go the Amazon KDP Select free promos route for a while (against my better judgement and something that, for novels at least, I now regret) there are some 8000 copies of Tube Riders out there in various states of repair.

Freebie hunters are notorious for not reading the books they horde, but at any point such a review could jump up and bite me. And while genuine readers rarely mention actually textual errors, indie author "reviewers", the bane of new writers everywhere, take an almost sadistic pride in pointing out the errors of their fellow writers.

It doesn't matter that Tube Riders is now in good shape. That review is up there and there's nothing I can do about it. I'm not about to start adding "newly corrected version" at the top of my book listings page because there's nothing that screams "amateur!" louder.

However, if I'd been wise enough not to trust myself in the first place and got a paid edit of Tube Riders done before I first published it, I wouldn't be in this position.

So, think about it before you put your masterpiece out into the world for public criticism. You don't have to pay a fortune - the edit for Tube Riders cost me about $200 - but getting a professional pair of eyes to look over it can make all the difference. I might never know how many readers have been turned off by reading such reviews about Tube Riders, but I do know is that it would have been easy to avoid getting those reviews in the first place.

Don't cut corners.

Chris Ward
July 5th 2013


  1. Good advice. It also applies to all kinds of pre-publishing steps. Before I went to publish my first book, I got an editor, I got professional cover art. What I didn't do, however, was ARC's (Advanced Review Copies). The editor I went with, did a beautiful job cleaning up my grammar, spelling, and punctuation. However, she didn't really go through my work, looking at the story itself. Since publication, I've gotten more than a handful of reviews and comments that the story is boring, repetitive, and overly detailed. I've since had a second editor look over the story itself, and they ended up with four pages worth of suggestions and tips for me to work on. My book is still up, but I opted out of KDP select at least until I can address those issues.

    I've also noticed a fair amount of apathy from self-published authors regarding pre-publication requirements. Attitudes seem to be ones of arrogance (I don't need an editor because I'm just. That. Good.) to almost scams (I can't/won't afford an editor because the readers will point mistakes out to me) and pure laziness (So what if it's full of spelling and grammar mistakes? The story is what counts).

    And people wonder why self-published works have a stigma of being low-quality to them.

    1. Shaun, you're spot on. Part of the reason for this blog to stop other writers suffering from the same mistakes as I did, and this is one I've made too. I think you might be confusing ARCs with beta readers though. Beta readers are the ones who tell you what doesn't work in a story. If you send a review copy to a blogger and label it as an ARC, apparently that means that it's pre-final proofreading and they'll ignore a few typos. That would have saved me a whole lot of hassle in my first year.

      I agree totally about the apathy of a lot of self-published authors. I think there is a distinction to be made though. A lot of people just want to say they've published something to their friends, or get a paperback with their name on the front. They're not really expecting to make a lot of sales and as a result don't want to drop a large sum of money on production costs. However, I think that for anyone wanting to make a career out of this you have to be prepared to drop a bit of cash. I emphasise a "bit" - it's really not necessary to drop thousands of dollars on editing, for example, while it's possible to get perfectly decent pre-made covers as cheap as $20. I see a lot of writers who claim their high costs almost as if it's a badge of honour, but if you're dropping thousands on editing that suggests to me that they're not a very good writer in the first place. The better a writer you are the less editing your book will need, but the bottom line is that SOME will need to be done. It's unavoidable. Of course, it's possible to get lucky with a story that's so good people will forgive a few sloppy, avoidable errors, but counting on luck for anything in business is not a wise move.

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