Open Letter to Indie Authors

Open Letter to Indie Authors. click for original article. 

I read this and completely agreed with everything the author/blogger stated. So I thought I would re-post and follow her blog.

Tmonique Stephens

 

Dear Indie Author Community,

Something bad is happening in the Indie Author Community.  Several bad things, in fact, and if something isn’t said to you, you’re going to ruin your writing career before it ever gets started.  What is about to follow in this letter is not an ‘I know everything’ bomb.  This letter is to serve as what should be common sense for all of us.  All of this I have learned through experience as a jaded reader, a disappointed fangirl, a pissed off book blogger, a screwed over event planner, a disgusted indie author PR rep, and a fellow indie author who wants to see the community as a whole succeed.  This is an Open Letter meant to try to bring the Indie Author Community back to respectable place where we can all be taken seriously.

There are a good many indies out there I no longer have respect for.  Now, to understand the gravity of that statement, you must understand this:  I absolutely love indie authors.  I love the basic idea – you can tell your story without the media or some suit telling you what to write and when to write it.  The ‘we don’t need them’ mentality is one of the factors that kept me from even considering publishing years ago.  When the self-publishing boom hit, I thought it was a fantastic idea!  Take out the middle man and bring stories down to what it really should be – a relationship between the storyteller and their audience.

All of that being said, I have become all those things I have listed up above.  A jaded reader because the market is being flooded with books that are not ready to be published.  A disappointed fangirl because of all the authors that feel just because they’re published, they are somehow above everyone else…and treat them as such.  A pissed off book blogger because once upon a time, writing reviews was FUN and now if I don’t like a book, I can’t just SAY SO (even POLITELY, mind you) without running the chance of having the author flat-out attack me and drag my name and the name of my book blog through every mud puddle they can find.  A disgusted indie author PR rep because I keep watching indies spit in the face of the people who are the very reason they exist.  A screwed over event planner because there are so many authors out there booking themselves for events and then not following through on their commitments.  An indie author who is just sick of seeing her community drown itself.

As a person who is all of those things, I am offering up a few tidbits of advice here to maybe get us all back on track as a whole.  I am not saying I am perfect.  I am not saying I know everything.  What I am saying is pull your head out of your ass and tap into that common sense thing your parents kept trying to teach you about.

Now, if anything I say here pisses you off, then you’re guilty of it.  Point blank.  If you’re not doing it, there’s no reason to get defensive, right?  Take that as a red flag that you have veered off course and take this opportunity to right your path.  You are only doing yourself a disservice, and in the end, it’s your own writing career you’re ruining.

IF IT’S NOT READY, FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, DO NOT FUCKING PUBLISH IT!
I cannot stress this enough.  This is a REALLY simple one.  Stop cranking out work that is rushed.  Readers know when an author has rushed through a story.  If it takes you a year to write a book, then take a friggin year!  You’re not held to any deadlines but your own.  If you’re delusional enough to think anyone is going to give a shit if you publish in September instead of March, that’s your own problem.  You are an “indie” author.  Independent.  As in not contractually bound to a deadline in any way, shape, or form.  You answer to YOU and ONLY YOU.  So guess whose fault it is when you crank out a book that gets “picked on” because of grammatical errors or plot holes the size of Texas that all should have been caught in editing.  That’s right!  It’s all your publisher’s fault!!  Oh wait….  THAT’S YOU!  You can’t blame the editor.  This is your work, your baby, and should be read through before you hit publish.  Don’t assume it’s perfect because you gave someone money to make it perfect.  I even made this mistake so please understand me when I say this is from experience.  You’re only shooting yourself in the foot.  As a reader, there’s a lot of books out there now that I feel like I am wasting my time reading.  It makes me hesitate to take the chance on your book, spending MY hard-earned money to line YOUR pockets.

And that brings me to my next point…

PLEASE DO YOURSELF A FAVOR:  RESEARCH AND ASK AROUND BEFORE PAYING AN EDITOR
There are a good number of self-proclaimed editors on the internet.  Don’t get suckered into paying for shit work.  One of the biggest complaints I have heard lately is “my editor screwed me.”  Well, how did you find your editor?  Google?  There are enough super-successful indies out there that there is no reason why you can’t get a recommended editor.  Don’t accept references from an editor either.  Those references could just be friends of theirs.  Get a referral from an indie authors who has actually worked with them and you take away that chance that they’re full of crap.

Also, there’s a big difference between a beta, an editor, and a proof reader.  And those steps should be done IN THAT ORDER.

Beta Readers – These are the folks that read the pre-editing rough draft, and tell you what they do/do not like, what they feel does/doesn’t flow well.  They are there to analyze the story itself, not edit anything.

Editor – An editor does just that.  Edits.  Looks for mistakes – grammar, spelling, punctuation, made up words that don’t exist in any language never mind English, etc.

Proofreader – The proofer reads the final product through to catch any mistakes or typos that may have been missed somewhere along the way.

The problem with a lot of “editors” out there is they tend to get confused on what their role is.  They may be a beta or a proofer instead.  FYI – betas are volunteers and proofers can go either way.  Editors cost money, anywhere between $200 and $3000 depending on their skill/qualifications and the length of the book.

Once you find a team that you work well with, CLING TO THEM FOR DEAR LIFE AND NEVER LET THEM GO.  The editor/writer dynamic is very personal.  You need to find someone that knows you and the way you want your book to sound.  If the two of you have different ideas about what the tone of your writing should be, your work relationship simply won’t work.  You will never be happy, the editor will never be happy.  Finding one that understands your style and doesn’t fuck with it, but still does their job is not always going to happen on the first try.  Don’t get discouraged.  Treat it like dating.  You may have to kiss a few frogs to find the perfect fit.  … … … That sounded dirtier than I intended but I am leaving it!

BEWARE THE TROLLERS
These are folks that collect authors on their Facebook friends list like fucking baseball cards.  They say whatever will get them in good with everyone, even talking shit to one author about another.  They claim to beta read for EVERYONE.  Ask the authors they claim to beta for to verify whether or not it’s true.  With one person in particular, I asked three authors that she named as being a beta for.  All three said basically the same words:  She’s not a beta of mine!!  She’s a fucking stalker!!  The trollers wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that they ARE “friends” with EVERYONE.  Big name authors, big name book bloggers, small time authors, EVERYONE.  One bad word to their endless network of industry professionals they have “collected” and you’re black-balled.  What’s worse is the bad word they spread usually isn’t true.  They just say it because they think it will make them look good in the eyes of the people that don’t already know they’re full of shit.  That, in turn, earns you a bad reputation you don’t deserve.

The point to this one – dont get mixed up with them.  It will bring you nothing but drama drama drama!

EVERYONE JUDGES A BOOK BY ITS COVER
Everyone.  Anyone who says they don’t is LYING to you.  When was the last time you looked at a book with a really bad cover and immediately bought it because you couldn’t wait to dig in???  That’s right – NEVER.  Humans are visual creatures, people.  We need to be dazzled.  We need to be stimulated to be interested.  We like the sparkly things!  Putting a bad cover on a good book will absolutely ruin its chances of ever being successful.   Books don’t have the luxury of winning you over with their personality first.  It’s all about looks.  In the world of books, buttaface’s never get laid (a little Howard Stern reference there).  I am the WORST culprit of buying the sparkly things.  I have a library FILLED with books I bought merely because the cover caught my eye.  Not a fucking clue what most of them are about, but they sure are pretty.

If you think you have mad Photoshop skills, start an anonymous Facebook focus group.  Ask the random readers for their honest opinion of the covers you make.  Do not disclose that you are the author or the cover designer.  Keep those little bits of knowledge on the hush hush and watch the reactions.  Unless you’ve had professional training or LOTS of practice, there’s a damn good chance the covers you’re creating are not nearly as good as you think they are.  You may be blinded by loving your own art.  You may love it but that doesn’t mean anyone else does.  If you don’t care about book sales or anyone actually reading your book, then run with it my dear, artistic butterfly!  BUT if you’re looking to make writing your career, you’re never going to make the big bucks peddling a book with a shitty cover.  I know it’s a big, fat bucket of ice water for some but there’s a lot to be said for leaving the work to the professionals.

My books are a prime example.  I had made all my own covers.  Although I loved them and they were good concept art, they were not good enough to publish and I had to accept that.  I found an EXCELLENT graphic artist with 13 years of experience and a HUGE portfolio.  I told her exactly what I wanted, showed her my initial covers, and she gave me exactly what I wanted and needed.  It was still my design, but with a beautiful, fresh, polished look that had OBVIOUSLY been created by a professional.  I love her work.  She listens to my needs and design ideas, brings them life before my eyes, and doesn’t make me pay an arm and a leg to do it.  Her prices are VERY reasonable.  I would use the word ‘cheap’, but that makes her sound like her work sucks.  She’s VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY inexpensive given the quality of the work she cranks out.

The lesson here – no amount of time and money spent on swag and cutesy little promotional images will make up for a genuinely bad cover.  Spend the money on a good cover and buy the swag and such later.  It will be the best decision you will ever make.

NOW COMES THE REALLY SHITTY PART….

QUIT BEING AN ASSHOLE!
Oh my GAWD!  This bit of advice comes with a few different bullet points.  From a PR/Marketing perspective, all of the bullet points make you a PR NIGHTMARE.  Especially number two and number three!

First Bullet Point – You are a company, your books are your product, your readers are your customers.  The breakdown is as simple as that.  In any other retail environment, an employee would be FIRED ON THE SPOT for acting like an asshole to a customer.  So why, in the name of ALL THAT IS UNHOLY, are you doing it to your readers????  Basic Marketing 101 teaches you ‘do not piss off thy customer’.  They will stop buying from you.  In what has become an endless sea of authors, you are not special.  Acting like a jackass and insulting your readers by being a nasty puke online is going to accomplish nothing but make your readers leave you in the dust and move on to the next author.  The nicer author.  The author that treats their readers with the respect they deserve as HUMAN BEINGS.  Not to mention the fact that those PEOPLE are also what fatten your bank account every time you get a royalty payment.  So, why the hell are you biting the hand that feeds you???  It’s not all that hard to just be nice.  If you’re not a nice person, THEN GET OFF OF SOCIAL MEDIA before you become a permanent fixture in your local blog’s next Authors Behaving Badly spotlight.

Second Bullet Point – This goes right along with the first.  If you’re a dick, don’t go to live book signings.  The relationship between a reader and a writer is a special one.  Don’t fuck it up for the rest of us who actually LIKE meeting readers.  If you don’t even like the idea of doing it, then why the hell are you bothering???  Coming to live author events and acting like the people coming to your table, buying your book, and asking you to sign it are somehow INCONVENIENCING YOU is a straight-up DICK move.  Get over yourself and plaster on a fucking smile.  Again, they’re lining your pockets.  They gain nothing more than what is supposed to be a great memory by traveling to go meet your disgruntled ass.  Either don’t go at all or fake it for the camera while you’re there.

Third Bullet Point – This one is sort of a combo of the first and second.  YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL.  The faster you realize that, the better.  What I am seeing at some of these author events lately is there are a good number of DIVAS in the market place.  You’re not better than everyone else.  You weren’t hand-picked by a Big Six (I still can’t say Big Five, it’s just wrong) publisher because your work was so inspiring that the world would be incomplete without your words floating in the ether.  You’re self-published.  Just like the rest of us.  YOU wrote a book that YOU published.  Be grateful for any success you have and DON’T ACT LIKE A DICK.  There’s nothing worse than seeing a bunch of indie authors snubbing their noses at others.  It doesn’t bother me because I don’t really give a fuck what others think about me.  I am there for the readers, not to impress other authors, but I am an exception.  Some authors that are out there are very new.  They are still learning.  They are insecure.  It takes a lot of guts and courage for them to get up the sack to publish their book and having an established author look at them like they are somehow less than human doesn’t help anyone.  However, having an established author walk over, introduce themselves, and ask about their book GOES A LONG WAY.  It provides encouragement on a level you will probably never understand because you’re too busy thinking you’re somehow better than everyone else.  Cut the shit.

Fourth Bullet Point – Look at indie publishing this way – you’re not competition.  Every author out there has a completely unique story to tell (unless you plagiarize and in that case, fuck you).  There’s absolutely no good reason to view your fellow authors as the enemy.  We are all part of one big community that already has a world of shit against us.  Why add to the difficulty of it all?  There are preconceived notions out there that indie authors are not as good as traditionally published authors.  We published it ourselves so it must be shit.  We don’t have a marketing team working 40 hours a week to get our name out there.  We have to pay to have our books edited instead of being assigned an editor.  We have to pay for our own book covers.  We have to pay to have them formatted.  We give SO MUCH of ourselves (and our bank accounts) to make our dream of being a writer a reality.  Why not use that which we have in common as something to bond over?  If we treat each other with love and respect, not just as fellow humans, but as fellow indies, comrades even, and understand that we ALL work our asses off to make it, it would totally make a difference!  You may not believe in this, but I do – you get back what energy you put out into the universe.  If you shit on people, you’re going to get shit on.  If you reach out a helping hand when you can, you’ll be on the receiving end of a helping hand one day when you need it.  Stop being nasty to each other.  Gawd, it’s like the movie Mean Girls all up in this bitch.

NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LIKE YOUR BOOK – DOWN A SHOT, ACCEPT IT, MOVE THE FUCK ON
This is straight from experience.  Do not lash out at a book blogger if they didn’t like your book.  It’s not going to shine a good light on you in the end.  Bad news travels fast and when you become the bad news, people will stop dealing with you all together.  Readers will lose respect for you.  You will be cast out.  I know bad reviews kind of suck.  Who am I kidding?  They TOTALLY SUCK.  Been there, stood out on the symbolic window ledge for a few minutes, then came back inside, drank some tequila, and moved on with my life.  They’re horrible, I know.  If you can’t keep yourself from reading the bad along with the good, don’t read reviews at all.  Plenty of authors have adopted that rule and it seems to work very well for them.

A bad review does not warrant emailing the reviewer and insulting their intelligence because they didn’t like your book.  Telling the reviewer they must be stupid because they didn’t “get” your book is over the line.  Going off on a book blogger because they posted a review of your book on release day but didn’t like it is also not acceptable (side note: using the jab “I didn’t give you an ARC” when you put it on NetGalley or Edelweiss for bloggers to get as an eARC is also a little fucking dumb).  You would never do that to the NYT, USA Today, or any other paper that would review your book, why would you do it to a book blogger??  Especially since book bloggers are responsible for a MAJOR percentage of your FREE publicity.  Just sayin’.  If book bloggers all said FUCK IT and turned their backs on us indies, we would collectively be SCREWED.  Keep that in mind the next time you’re about to hit send on your latest electronic temper tantrum.  The way to handle it professionally?  That’s easy.  LET IT GO.  That’s it.  Just let it go.  Having your friends and fans attack the blogger???  ALSO NOT THE ANSWER.  JUST LET IT GO.

Now, I am not saying all of this pertaining to tear down pieces.  A tear down piece is a blog post masquerading as a review that viciously attacks the author personally (not to be confused with the reviewer saying they don’t like the author’s writing style – that’s still about the book).  In the event of a tear down piece, I suggest you email the blogger privately, state your grievance (it should be a review of the book, not of the author as a person) politely and don’t swear, and request that it be pulled down.  That is the way to handle it professionally.  If the blogger refuses, shrug and move on with your life.  I know it is hard to do, but doing anything public as retaliation is just going to make you look like the blogger was right.  Treat your writing career like any other career – with professionalism.  Any mudslinging you do makes you no better than them.

AND LAST BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST…….

DON’T OVER-EXTEND YOURSELF!
Know your spending limit!  Seriously!  When it comes to conventions and author events, assume a cost of $1,000 (minimum) for each convention or author event (event fee, hotel, airfare, grub).  Chances are you will be able to do it a LOT cheaper, but this will tell you whether or not you can actually AFFORD to go to all twenty-five of the events you signed up for!  Can you really afford to drop twenty-five large on book signings in one year???  I didn’t think so.  When you commit to an event and then drop out, you have NO IDEA how badly you’re screwing your event organizer!!!  AND YOURSELF!!  First, the event organizer – they’ve spent months doing promotion for the event with your name plastered all over it.  Scheduling is done around you.  Artwork cost to include your name.  New artwork cost to REMOVE IT.   Here’s how you screw yourself – Your readers have bought tickets, airfare, and hotels just to come meet you at an event.  Feel like a piece of shit yet?  Good.

This is all said with one slight caveat.  I am not heartless.  I do understand that shit can come up.  There are unforeseen circumstances that just can’t be avoided.  However, when you have a REPEATED HISTORY of it, word gets around and folks will stop booking you for events.

That being said, having someone bail on me because money is much tighter than they anticipated – totally understandable – only to find out they are busy on Facebook trying to get themselves an invite to a different event that takes place just a few weeks after the one they committed to a YEAR AGO – totally fucking unforgiveable.  As an event organizer, I will never book that author again.  That’s how it works.  That author proved to me that I cannot count on them to follow through with their commitments, therefore I cannot count on them for future events.  Luckily, I have a wait list a mile long and was able to fill the vacant spot in a matter of minutes.

This is the type of thing that your readers will also not forgive.  Especially if you’re the only author they care about meeting.  Like I said before, the relationship between a reader and a writer is a special one.  It’s also VERY FRAGILE.  If you disappoint your readers, they WILL turn their backs on you and you can kiss your mediocre fame goodbye.

I hope the indie author community as a whole takes my words to heart.  If we continue to move in the direction we are headed right now, we are going to implode.  These bad habits are ruining things for the folks who try their asses off.  Even today, the number of book blogs that refuse to deal with indies increases every day due to one or more of these reasons.  As I said earlier, if they turn their backs on us, we are all screwed.  If indie authors hold their heads up and conduct themselves with dignity and PROVE they are professionals, maybe that number will come back down and we can go back to working together.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  I wish you all a wonderful 2014 filled with love, friendship, and the greatest success imaginable!

J.M. Gregoire

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