More on Critiques of the Written Word


As authors who pour our hearts, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into our art form, we do not take well to criticism … of any type.  After all, no one likes to hear that someone does not like something that they not only put so much time, energy, and effort into, but basically put a part of themselves into as well.  And let’s face it, even constructive criticism is still negative no matter how nice you try to be about it.  So with this thought as my basis I decided to expand on criticism of the written word.

First off, I would have to say that the single most important thing to remember as a critic, and as a reader of a story, is that your dislike of a story for any reason aside from grammatical and spelling issues is your fault, not the author’s. And even the grammatical and spelling issues cannot be laid fully at the feet of the author as authors are, after all, only human, as are their editors and proofreaders, and no amount of spell checks and all the editors in the world will ever catch 100% of grammatical and spelling errors.  So, if you do not like a story, it is neither a reflection of the author’s ability to write nor their ability to be a good story teller. The dislike of the story rests solely on the reader.  Unless you come across 300 pages of text-speak,  a never-ending wall of text, or something that looks like it was typed by a five-year-old and no one even gave it so much as a courtesy proof-read, anything else (writing style, storyline, genre, etc) that you say about a story is your opinion and as such has absolutely no merit and should never be used as a basis for a critique.

With this thought in mind, allow me to expand.  When it comes to critiques, do not second-guess an author or assume that you know where a story is going. You are not the author; you do not know what drives the characters, the storyline, or the author’s reasoning behind events.  It is insulting and disrespectful to assume you know more about the storyline than the author.  As I have said so many times before, do not assume that you know how to write another person’s storyline better than the originator of that storyline.

Do not question an author’s writing style.  I have said this so many times on so many blogs and articles that it is getting redundant, yet I am still getting ‘critiques’ on my writing style.  An author’s style is their trademark; it is what sets them apart from all the tens of thousands of other authors on this planet.  If you are going to critique an author’s style, the heart of what makes an author unique, then stop. Don’t bother wasting your time because the last thing an author is going to do, is willing to do, or should ever be asked to do is change that part of them that makes them their own unique writer.  If you don’t ‘get’ an author’s style or do not like it, then either deal with it or don’t read it, but don’t criticize it.

Also, do not assume that you have the right as a reader to demand changes to an author’s storyline or their style. You can make suggestions, but since it is the author’s creation and their copyrights that we are being given privy to, it is ultimately their choice as to the style and storyline of the work at hand.  Again, just because you think it would have been better if the storyline had went in another direction does not give you the right to demand that an author change it, or even bring the suggestion up.  Again, this goes back to assuming that you know what an author is thinking or where they intend to go with a storyline.  For all you know, some insignificant character or point in a storyline could be picked up ten novels down the road.  So stop assuming and just go with it, or don’t read it, but don’t bring it up.

And perhaps the most important rule in providing critiques is to always, always keep in mind that there is an actual person behind these stories and novels.  The authors have created something special to them, put down a piece of themselves, and are allowing us the privilege to take part in something very close to their hearts.  To criticize their work, even when you are trying to help them, is to criticize the person behind the work.  Always think of how it would make you feel to hear your critique regarding something that you spent so much time on. Authors are not faceless entities or some pseudonym printed on the cover of a story; we are living, breathing human beings with real emotions. To trash an author’s work is to trash the author, and last time I checked, if this happened in the real world, chances are it would result in black eyes, broken noses, and a restraining order.

But You are not REALLY a Writer

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes a writer as someone who writes.  Whether that be stories, articles, blogs, novels, poetry, or the like, if you write then you are a writer.   In order to continue to call yourself a writer, however, you will have to keep on writing.  If you use to write but haven’t in a really long while, then you use to be a writer.  If you have never actually written down any part of that next bestseller that has been bouncing around in your head then sorry, you are not a writer.  In order to be a writer, you have to actually write.  That’s in the presence tense.  “Use to” doesn’t make you a writer any more.  “Going to” doesn’t make you one either.

Now you will notice that the definition did not say that in order to be a writer you had to actually do it full-time or get paid for it or for it to be your actual  job description or contribute to your income in any way.  Which brings me to another one of my pet peeves:  writers who seem to think that because we have not yet gotten a book deal, do not write full-time, or do not hold some type of “writing” job as our career that we are not really writers.  Sorry, that is just wrong.  And it’s also disturbing.  Someone who considers themselves a writer and is actually getting paid for it but does not know the definition of the word “writer” is an insult to writers everywhere.  Saying that someone isn’t a writer simply because he/she doesn’t get paid to write is like saying a woman is not female because she has not yet had children.

I had often thought that the majority of writers who thought this way were those who only wrote articles and other nonfiction.  My reasoning behind this is that a lot of writers who defend so whole-heartedly that writers who are not getting paid are not really writers come off sounding like jealous children who are angry that they do not possess the creativity to write something fictitious and must therefore stay in the nonfiction genre.  Recently I have come across a slew of mercenary writers who write fantasy fiction who seem to also have the warped perception that non-paid writers are not really writers.  So my observations lead me to think that, yes, they are all jealous of the creativity that others possess and are striking out at other writers for being better at the writing process than they are.  What I have discovered is that it is not just nonfiction writers who seem so jealous, but other fiction writers as well. 

Which brings me to my next point.  Why do writers get jealous of each other at all?  What I have come to understand is that it is not just writers who get jealous of others in their field.  Jealousy is just a natural human emotion.  It is only natural for humans to be envious of those whom they deem to be better at something than they are.  What I would like to see is more understanding and support of each other.  Writing is a very lonely and solitary activity.  No one understands a writer and their obstacles better than another writer.  We should be congratulating each other on our successes and encouraging each other to never give up, no matter what our ultimate dream or desire may be in our writing endeavors.   Instead, some writers will be little each other, call each other names, and try to convince each other that they either have no talent or that they are not really writers because it is not their evil day job. 

It makes me wonder if the reason why writers don’t want to confess to their profession is not because they are afraid of what others may think, but because they are afraid that the person they are talking to is a writer too.  Why would you want to confess to being a writer if the person you are talking to is also a writer and insists upon telling you all the reasons why you are not really a writer and all the reasons why they are really a writer.  We get enough people from the outside world staring down their noses at us.  We don’t need to snub each other as well.

The Moral Obligation of the Mentoring Writer

As a writer, I belong to several writing groups, forums, and websites.  One of which is called The Writer’s Cafe.  One thing that I find particularly valuable is the site’s option to allow writers to create “writing courses” and “writing lessons” that are viewable by other members.  Now this site has a fairly large number of impressionable, young budding writers.  Some of these young writers are gathering quite a following of other impressionable, young budding writers, which is to be expected.  What concerns me is that some of these writers are posting “writing courses” that are little more than personal opinions and bad advice.  This in itself is nothing to really be concerned with.  What does concern me is that there are young writers following these posters, posters who have very little real world knowledge or exposure to the writing world.  These same followers are taking the bad advice and opinions as gospel truth when it comes to writing.

With such concern on my mind, I wanted to explore the moral obligation of writers who are seen as mentors.  I have been writing for some twenty-eight years now, but I have had no formal training besides the courses forced upon me in college and high school.  I am by no means an expert on writing.  What I do have, however, is twenty-eight years of wisdom at my disposal that I can share with others.  I can share my thoughts, my personal experiences, tricks and tips that I have picked up, tricks that work for me, what doesn’t work for me, what I have learned from trial and error, etc.  They are, of course, only opinions and personal experiences.  That is not to say that what I have to share has no merit.  I could certainly sit down and write an entire book on writing.  My point is that what I have are opinions formulated over twenty-eight years of tried and true wisdom.  For those who wish to partake of it, it may or may not help you.

My major concern is that all those young budding writers are being given bad advice and opinions, and they are too young to even realize that what their ‘mentor’ is giving them is just that…an opinion based on a very limited writing experience.  For instance, one ‘writing course’ I came across written by a 16 year old has over 200 followers.  In one course she told her readers to accept all criticism.  While this may sound like good advice, for those of us with more writing experience, that advice makes it painfully obvious that the poster has never been exposed to hard-out, cut-to-the-bone critics whose sole purpose is to rip a piece of work to shreds.  A more experienced, wiser writers knows that all criticism is not created equal.  The simple advice of ‘accept all criticism’ leaves out a lot of good lessons to be learned, such as the difference between constructive and deconstructive criticism.  For this poster’s 200+ followers, it is a lesson that could have spared them a lot of heartache.  Unfortunately, it is a lesson they will not likely get from a 16 year old with limited writing experiences and exposure.

As a writer, I do not believe that there is necessarily a “right” and “wrong” way to write.  Every writer is different and unique.  What works for one will not work for another.  So I do not think it would be fair to tell someone ‘if you follow these rules, you will become a better writer.’  I don’t believe anyone can make that guarantee, no matter how good they are, how many years they have been writing, or how popular they are.  What I can say is that I have experience as a writer and wisdom to share.  I can give you my views, I can give you some ‘universal truths’ that I have discovered over my years as a writer, and I can try to guide you along and help you find your own unique writing voice.  To tell anyone anything different would be morally wrong.  There is nothing that I or anyone else can tell you that will definitely make you a better writer.  So take my advice for what it is:  advice.  And my advice is that, in the end, it is up to the individual writer to find out what works best for them.

A Good Story is in the Mind’s Eye of the Reader

It has always been my opinion that a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. Just as beauty is subject to the person who is doing the viewing, a good story, or movie, or art, or piece of music is subject to the person who is partaking of the piece of art. I have always believed in ‘live and let write.’

Needless to say that for every book written, piece of music composed, piece of art produced, or movie directed, there is going to be at least one person, and in some instances quite a few people, out there who hates the work. What’s more, these people insist upon sharing their criticism of said work with anybody and everybody who will listen to them. I use to wonder what made these people such experts on the created art form. Had they ever written a book, composed a piece of music, produced a piece of art, or directed a film? Chances are, no, they haven’t. So why criticize? For the most part, critics get paid to share their opinion. For those who go against the general public’s feelings on said work, the critic can get quite famous, or infamous, for having their apparent distaste published on some type of public medium. This, of course, translates in to more papers/magazines/air time sold. So for some, it literally pays to publicly bash a work of art.

Other ‘critics’ are those who do not get paid to share their personal thoughts regarding a piece of art. Some people do it because a piece of work hits them so strongly that they just have to share their feelings, whether they be positive or negative. Others will publicly bash a piece of art because they like the attention that it brings them, even if that attention is negative, much like their paid counterparts who bash a movie that the general public loves. And still others will attempt to openly humiliate the creator of the work of art simply because he/she is jealous of the creativity that the creator possesses.

I’ve made it clear that I have always thought that I was a pretty good writer.  Not great, mind you, but fairly decent.  I spend an absurd amount of time researching, making notes, creating characters, outlining events and deciding on what plot twists I want to integrate into a story. And then there were the endless months, and sometimes years, spent writing the story, proofreading it, editing it, re-reading and re-doing and sometimes throwing out whole chapters and story endings only to replace them with something I thought would be even more bizarre or fun or just plain silly. All in all, I pour my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into the work that I produce. I was praised by English instructors, won writing contests, received awards, been told by family and friends that I was a very talented author.

Loving the written word, I joined many role playing forums and games over the years as an outlet for my very active imagination. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of being around so many talented writers. What was more, those talented writers thought that I was a very talented writer as well.

With encouragement from a growing fan base, I decided to go more ‘mainstream’ and began posting a few of my stories out on the web. Now I know you can’t please all the people all the time, but I was completely unprepared for the outright rudeness of some people. It was quite the eye-opener. I was amazed at the number of people who had never written anything in their life who seemed to think that they were experts on what made a story good or bad. But, as I’ve said, a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. So to each his own.

Another thing that I was unprepared for, and something that still boggles my mind, is the whole popularity thing that goes on with some sites. Readers apparently don’t know that a good idea and good writing do not go hand in hand. I have seen readers fall all over themselves to praise a writer who sounds like they barely made it out of the first grade.  

I’ve always said that I do not think on an elementary level, therefore I do not write on an elementary level. Since I have a tendency to write above a lot of people’s heads, I assumed that I would get a lot of backlash on my use of compound and complex sentences. I also like to write without any regards to formal English composition rules, so my work often sounds more like someone is giving an oral recount of the story rather than it reading like a story that was written down for public consumption. It’s just my style, and I have gotten many, many compliments on how this style makes the reader feel like they are right in the thick of the story. Of course, with the good comes the bad, as in plenty of bad reviews on my lack of attention to the proper English writing rules. Well, rules be damned. I’m not turning this in for an assignment.

On the flipside of the elementary coin were the writers who would write with the same complexity that I so enjoy using in my own work. I have gotten complaint after complaint regarding my work being too hard to comprehend because of my complex writing style. It made me wonder if these other writers, who so many readers were fawning all over, had the same problem. The more complaints and insults that I received, the more I began to doubt my ability as a writer. Could I possibly be as bad as some people wanted me to believe? Writing was not, and is not, a hobby of mine. I have been cranking out literary works for over twenty-eight years, a fine feat for someone who has not yet hit her thirty-sixth birthday. Surely someone with that kind of experience could not be all that bad. So what did all those other writers possibly possess that brought in tens of thousands of readers to their work? What was I lacking?

In a word, confidence. I was doing what everyone else was not doing. I was letting assholes bring me down and second-guess myself and my talent. I found that I was always having to defend my work. But so were the other writers. The only difference was that I was apologizing for my work.

Well, I refuse to apologize any more for producing the fruits of my imagination. They may not be the best in the world, and I certainly never claimed to be the best writer. But I am a good writer. A damn good writer. I have the tens of thousands of readers to back up this statement. What’s more important, perhaps the most important thing, is that I like the way I write. I like my ideas and my writing style and my overall pieces of literary work. At the end of the day, I feel that I have produced something worth reading. I don’t care if other people think I use too many adjectives or adverbs or complex sentences. I wrote it a certain way for a reason.

So the bottom line is, if you can’t appreciate the fruits of my labor, then I wholeheartedly say ‘Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on!’

As a writer, you have to be prepared to get all kinds of criticism:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Some of it you might can use, but most of it you will probably be able to toss out with the trash.  Whatever you do, don’t let the occasional asshole persuade you to think that you can’t write.  That’s not to say that there will never be room for improvement.  But knowing the difference between criticism that can help make your work better and words slung by someone who was obviously out to ruffle your feathers can go a long way in soothing your hurt feelings…and possibly even give you a good laugh.

I Will Make No Apologies

You know what really erks me as a writer?  People who think they can write my stories and ideas better than I can. I’m not saying that I’m perfect or that I’m the best writer that the literary world has ever read. In all honesty, most of the time I really suck. But I have been writing for the better part of twenty-eight years. I have written several novels and tons of short stories and even a few pieces of award-winning poetry. I may not be the best writer, but I’m pretty damn good. But perhaps the most important thing is that I like the way that I write. I know my writing style is kind of all over the place, but that’s me. It’s what sets my style apart from all the other cookie-cutter writers out there. If I spend all my time getting caught up in the English rules of writing, then I not only stop writing anything worth reading, but I also get so caught up in trying to make certain the rules are being followed that I cease to be myself when I create. It kills the whole creative process. I’m not saying that you can’t write anything worth a damn if you follow the rules of proper English. What I am saying is that for me, writing proper English and following proper English writing rules just simply does not work. It squashes all my creativity. What’s more, I really like the end product. So does a shit load of my fans. I’ve actually had tons of people (including editors and agents) tell me that I write like I am telling a story orally rather than it being written down. Surprisingly, my improptu and improper way of writing has made a lot of people tell me that they feel more involved in the story because of the informality of my writing style. For whatever reason, it works for me.

Unfortunately, there are those English majors, teachers, and those who are grammar nazis or just plain assholes about my writing style. They seem to think that unless it is written in perfect, proper English that it is poorly written. I do not like for my stories to read like they were being submitted for an English composition class. However it pops into my head is how I write it. Just like I have written this. Kinda sounds like I’ve been talking to you this whole time. And that’s the way I like for my stories to feel. It’s my way of saying, “SCREW YOU!” to all my English teachers. After all, you know what they say: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. My style works for me.  Therefore, it is not broken.  So I’m not about to fix it.

Pitfalls of Self-Publishing

As I have already written in a previous blog, self-publishing is a lot of work. Some people will opt to do all or most of the hard work themselves. Others will decide to opt for the ‘publishing’ and ‘marketing’ packages offered by POD services, self-publishing services, and vanity presses. As with anything, the most important thing that you can do before making a decision is to ‘do your homework.’ Self-publishing and picking the best POD company for yourself is no different. Below I outline a few things to take into consideration before making your final pick.

**Disclaimer** The following is just my opinion and information that I have gathered for myself over the years of researching POD services, self-publishing, and working with self-publishing companies. I currently use LuLu Press which is a self-publishing on-line company that I have used for many years. I am in NO WAY affiliated with or endorsing this company and strongly recommend that you do your own research to pick the company that is right for YOU. However, LuLu is the one that I use so I know a lot about it and have had much success from working with the company. I know that there ARE other self-publishing companies out there that are just as good as LuLu. I continue to stay with LuLu Press because I know how the website works and am quite happy with the way my work has turned out.

vanity presses – a printing company that makes its money by charging authors to bind their manuscripts into book form and then manufacture those books. They charge self-publishing authors fees to proofread/edit the work, to market the work, and often rope the author into purchasing numerous copies of their work that they then must sell in order to recoup the money spent on having the work published.

Fees, Fees, and More Fees:

Even if the economy was not in the shape that it is in, money would still play a huge role in the decision making of picking a self-publishing service. People choose self-publishing for many reasons: complete artistic freedom of their work, the satisfaction that comes from having done the whole project on their own, a work that is of a genre that mainstream publishing companies are not interested in…the list is as varied as the authors themselves. For those who do begin to consider self-publishing as an option, usually one of the very first questions they have is “How much is this going to cost me?”

1. Sure, we’ll publish that for you…for a price: Some companies will allow you create your book from beginning to end without charging you a single cent. (I personally use for all of my needs because there is absolutely NO cost to me if I choose to do all the work myself. Like most companies, however, LuLu does offer publishing, editing, and marketing packages that can be purchased.) Others will charge you to upload your book even if you do not purchase anything else from them. Almost all POD and publishing services will allow you to purchase marketing, publishing, and editing packages from them. These packages can run into several thousands of dollars.

2. Make changes? No problem, but it’s going to cost you: You have to keep in mind that self-publishing is a business just like anything else. One of the ways that vanity presses make money is by charging the author to change their book once it has been edited.

3. Would you like fries with that? Something that I cannot stand is when I am being force fed something that I really do not want and do not need. Unfortunately, some publishing companies are going to force you into purchasing services that you neither want nor need. These could be those companies who will not publish you until you have paid them to proofread or edit your manuscript. Having your work edited is always a good idea, but vanity presses make their money from the authors’ pocketbooks, not the actual selling of the books, so their editors and proofreaders are not usually the best in the world and are sometimes outrageously overpriced.

If you do decide on an editor, be sure to do your research and pick one that has lots of experience and comes highly recommended by other authors who have tried their services. Be careful though. Editors and proofreaders are suppose to be nothing more than spell checks with fingers. If you have one that rips your manuscript apart to the point where your writing style has disappeared, then you may want to consider finding another editor. One of the many problems with today’s editors is that many were aspiring authors who could not get published and end up “living out” their dreams through the authors that they edit by imposing their own writing styles and preferences into the manuscript. If you are concerned about your work no longer resembling the original submitted, make your concerns known up front. Ask other authors how much their manuscript changed after the editing process. If it is at all possible, ask for sample edited pages that shows the original work and the edited version so that you can compare the two. Finally, if your gut tells you that something just isn’t feeling right, move on.

4. How many copies would you like? One of the worst things you can do is invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in purchasing copies of your book. Your money is best spent trying to market yourself. This is why most authors choose POD services, or Print-on-Demand presses. Some companies (such as LuLu) do not require you to purchase advance copies of your book. They print them out as each copy is ordered by the readers. By doing this, the company takes their cut for producing the work out of each copy rather than forcing the author to pony-up money in the beginning and being saddled with a garage full of books that they can’t sell. Another good thing about printing out each copy as it is ordered rather than mass production is that if you decide to change something in the book you won’t have all that money wasted on copies of books that you will have to replace with the new edition.

5. Distribution Packages: everyone knows that marketing your new book is a huge chunk of work. Many people will not know where to begin and will put their faith, and their money, in the hands of a vanity press who will promise to market their book to the “appropriate channels.” What they fail to tell the authors is that just because they make the book available to distributors doesn’t mean those distributors will actually want to purchase and sell the book. The retailers are looking to make a buck just like the vanity presses and will only purchase titles that they see a demand for. So if the distributors aren’t purchasing your book, then the distribution package is essentially worthless.

Marketing yourself may seem like a daunting task. But with the internet, the avenues of free advertising and marketing tools are endless. Create your own free website with samples of your work. Join writing forums and showcase excerpts of your book. Create your own Twitter account and rack up on followers. Create your own blog if you had rather not create a whole website. The ideas for marketing for free or on a budget are endless. All you need is a little creativity and the time to put together your own empire.

6. Promotion, Promotion, Promotion! For a price: as with #5, vanity presses may pressure you (or even require you) into purchasing promotional packages that will not really do you any good. An example of this service would be to display your book at the annual Book Expo America. This expedition exhibits millions of books every year, so having a single copy of your work amongst them is about as likely to get your work noticed as a needle in haystack. Another promotional service that is offered is sending out press releases to national newspapers announcing the release of your book. While this may sound like a good idea, you need to look at it from a reader’s point of view.

Let’s say you opened a national newspaper to see a small 1″ X 1″ announcement that John Thornton just released a new book. Your first reaction is going to be, “Who’s John Thornton?” If you are not a big name author, then no one is going to want to purchase a book based on a small announcement in a national newspaper. However, many local newspapers would happily accept a press release from a LOCAL author who is announcing the release of their book. And if you happen to live in a smaller town, they just love supporting their local talent.

Another great marketing tool is to request that your local library or bookstore allow you time to make a public speech about your new work. And if you have insisted upon purchasing copies of your book, now would be a great time to try to sell them. Even better, what person could resist a FREE autographed copy of a book from a local author? When it comes to promoting yourself and your work, creativity is the key to success.

7. I just spent thousands of dollars to get my book into print…, where are all those books I just bought? As with any contract, you must READ THE FINE PRINT. Often lost in the sea of promotional materials that the vanity press offers is the little known fact that you can spend tens of thousands of dollars on their services and not have a single copy of your book to show for it. If you decide to purchase any type of package from a self-publishing company, make sure you know how many, if any, books you will actually have at the end of the process.

8. Yippee! I just spent my entire life savings on getting my novel published. I even have ten thousands books to show for it! Except that when you open up the book it falls apart….or the cover is as thin as the paper the book is printed on….or the ink on the pages smudge every time I touch them….or the cover art is so distorted that I honestly can’t tell WHAT is on the cover…..

We’ve all heard the saying that you get what you pay for. In the publishing world, that is not always the truth. The last thing you want is to offer your readers a very low-quality printed book. Whether you choose a free-to-publish company like LuLu or opt to spend money on a vanity press, the very first thing you will want to do is purchase a book that the company has printed. After all, even if you are only being charged $0.005 cents/page, those pages aren’t worth ink if they are so thin that they tear when you try to turn the page. What’s even worse is paying $0.50/page for the same shoddy work.

9. Production Price vs Cover Price vs Percentage Sales….wait, I’m confused!? I prefer to work with POD companies that take their cut of the profits out of each book that I sell. But keep in mind that just because the production price appears to be lower doesn’t mean that the difference between the production price and the cover price belongs to you. In reality, some other systems charge a hefty percentage of any increase in book price above the production cost. While some companies will charge a flat percentage rate of the amount of markup, others will have an inflating percentage rate that means the more you go above production cost, the bigger the cut for the vanity press. You will want to make sure you find out exactly how much profit you will make off of each book before deciding on which company to use. You also need to compare production prices. The last thing you want is to have a severely over-priced book that no one is willing to buy because you had to ramp up the final purchase price in order to make any type of profit.

10. LOSS OF RIGHTS: perhaps one of the most important things to remember to find out is if you are signing away your copyrights to the vanity press! So BEWARE and once again, read the fine print. The same goes for signing up with writing forums. I have come across a few who will allow you to post your work on their sites but by doing so you are giving up your rights to the work and giving them the right to repost your work on the internet or even in print. Bottom line, you do not EVER want to give up your copyrights to your work. When you give up your copyrights, you are giving up any right to reprint, repost, republish, and sell the work to others.

In summary, the technology available today will allow you to get the word out about your new novel. How much money you decide to spend is entirely up to you. There ARE ways to get your name known, for free, if you are willing to put forth the time and effort required. Remember that marketing yourself takes place BEFORE you actually get ready to sell your book. By networking on the internet and giving samples of your work to people, you will get them hooked on your style. Given enough time and energy, it is possible to build up a substantial reader base long before you ever release your book.  If you do decide to self-publish, do your homework.  Ask questions, contact other authors who have used the company, and order at least one copy of your own work as well as at least one copy of another author’s work so you will get an idea of the quality of the printing.  Above all, follow your instincts.

Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing

First off, let me make it clear that when I say “self-publishing” I do NOT mean using a “vanity” publisher. When you use a “vanity” publisher, it basically means that you pay a company that looks like a traditional publisher to edit/proofread your work and bind it into book form. The price for this service is usually several thousand dollars and can run into the tens of thousands depending on what type of ‘package’ you purchase. These companies and their ‘service’ are basically a rip off. The proofreading/editing is shoddy at best. If you do not like the end result, chances are you are going to be stuck with several hundred to several thousand copies of a book that you cannot give away. And even if you buy some type of ‘promotion’ package (where they supposedly advertise your work to the masses), chances of you selling a single copy of your book based on THEIR work is little to none. I would NEVER suggest that anyone go the route of the vanity press.

When I say “self-publish” I mean using a POD or Print-on-Demand company. (POD means that the book is not printed out until someone orders a copy of it. By doing this, it keeps the author from having to spend thousands of dollars on copies of a book that they then have to turn around and attempt to sell) It is a lot more work on the author’s part, but you won’t be out thousands of dollars on a project that you do not whole-heartedly love.

With the technology of today, getting published has become relatively easy for anyone who wishes to get their written word out to the masses. But is it really such a ‘quick fix?’ Here is just a small take on my personal trials and tribulations about the ins and outs of do-it-yourself publishing.

I chose to self-publish my last novel for several reasons (i.e. the novel Temptation which is a collection of 8 short erotic stories). First, the genre I write. There is a huge market for erotica but unfortunately the traditional publishers do not like getting their hands dirty with it. In today’s world just about everyone has a website. Before I decided to go the self-publishing route I looked up a few dozen traditional publishers to see what type of genre they would accept. Not surprisingly, none of them would touch the erotic fantasy genre. So I started looking into other options, namely self-publishing. The second reason why I chose to self-publish is because traditional publishers do not take unsolicited manuscripts. That is to say, you can’t just send in a query letter and part of your manuscript and expect them to do anything besides toss them in the trash. They all want literary agents to represent the author. This means that there is just one more person who gets a cut of the profits. And of course agents, as well as publishers, will not even look at it until it goes to a professional editor. I personally think that editors should be nothing more than a spell check with fingers. Unfortunately, they want to rip it apart and impose their own styles into the manuscript so it soon ceases to be the author’s work. I do my own editing since I have been doing freelance editing jobs for more than twenty years now. Once I’ve finished finding every error I can on my own, I send out copies to family and friends and ask them to mark any typos they come across. I guess you can say I cheat when it comes to editing.

You might be wondering what all is involved in self-publishing. What, exactly, does an author have to do in order to self-publish.

Everything. And I do mean everything. Most POD publishers (Print-on-Demand) will editor your work for you, for a fee. But it can cost several thousand dollars, and that’s money I just don’t have. My editing process is pretty much on-going. I am never really satisfied with what I come up with. The last novel I wrote I spent eight hours a day seven days a week for over two months editing it on my computer. Once I could no longer find any errors I ordered a printed copy and edited the hard copy. Once I made those changes I ordered copies for my family and friends and had them go through it. Then I had to change those mistakes, and that in itself is a job and a half.

The POD company that I use does not accept MS Word documents. When I upload the word document, the company changes it to a read-only PDF document. Unfortunately, the way the PDF document prints out is not the same as it does when it’s in Word format. So I spent countless hours adding in pages and spaces and reformatting the entire manuscript trying to get the PDF document to print out the way I want it to. Before you can even upload your completed files you have to decide what size the book will be, what type of paper you want it printed on, what type of binding, if it’s hard cover or paperback or if you want it in black and white or full color. I also design my own cover for my books. The little synopsis that appears on the back is written by me. I have my own storefront through Lulu  but again, I have to design the whole thing and keep it up and running.

Keep in mind that anyone can slap any dribble on paper and have it self-published. But that doesn’t mean that people will find it. Once you get the book designed and printed and perfect, then you have to get the word out. All advertising, book signings, getting interviews….it all falls on the author to handle all of this. Unless, of course, you are willing to pay the POD company to handle all of this for you. Most self-published authors are living paycheck t o paycheck so most of us have to resort to advertising that is little to no cost. And trust me, free advertising doesn’t exactly get your name out there. As a self-published author you will soon find yourself in a sea of self-published authors. Trying to make a name for yourself can be even harder than if you go the traditional publishing route.

So, is it a “quick-fix?”

No, I just think it’s an option. Those of us who choose to go this route have our reasons. Yes, many of us choose to self-publish because we cannot get published with a traditional company. Others want to retain complete control over their work, others do it just because they want to. If you think that self-publishing is something that you can do real quick to get your work out there, then I am afraid that you are going to be very unpleasantly surprised. Going the self-publishing route takes months and months of hard work after you’ve written the manuscript. The more work that you choose to do yourself then the longer it will take and the more work there will be for you to do. You have to not only be creative in your writing, but also have to come up with some pretty creative ways to get your name out there and promote yourself. Is it worth it? Oh yes, to hold a copy of your book in your hand is always worth the time and effort put in to it. I don’t think self-publishing is for everyone, especially if you do not have the time and energy it takes to devote to marketing yourself. But for many, it has definitely helped to get them that much closer to becoming a household name.

Criticism: To Listen or Not to Listen

As a writer, at some point in time, you are going to come across criticism.  You will have those who mean well and will give an honest opinion, and then you will have those people who are just plain idiots, who are angry at the time, or who seriously enjoy the instant gratification and anonymity of slinging shit at the walls to see what sticks.  You actually will get some good advice, some of which you may or may not want to take.  The question you have to ask yourself is if the advice given will make any difference, if it applies to your particular writing, and if you really give a damn enough to take the advice.

A personal pet peeve of mine is for someone to tell me how to write my own ideas.  But guess what?  Sometimes they are right.  So how do you know if their advice is for you?  Try taking their advice and rewrite the suggested areas.  Is it any better to YOU?  If not, then toss it.  Nobody said you had to take their advice.  If you specialize in a specific genre or idea and feel that the advice really doesn’t apply, then don’t fret about it.  I have had a lot of “advice” from people who try to impose their own thoughts and opinions on what should and should not go on in my little world of the vampire.  What they fail to comprehend is that I spent YEARS creating the world that my latest novel takes place in.  I wrote down all the rules and regulations that governed what my different types of characters could and could not do long before I created a single character to live in that world.  I may not be an expert on the vampire, but I certainly could argue the point that I am an expert when it comes to my own storyline and the world in which that storyline lives.  But I try not to just toss aside a suggestion.  Any suggestion that I can actually use at a later date is always a good thing.   Most of the time, however, the suggestions given to me really do not apply to my particular genres.  When that happens, I simply ignore it.

Sometimes I get suggestions that fall under the whole, “I don’t really give a crap” category.  But what if the criticism is so vocal, or shared by so many people, that they might be on to something?  If I know in advance what others will think when they read my work, then I can incorporate that into my storyline.  For example, I had several people make remarks about how absolutely absurd the names of my characters were in The Red Fang.  I did not just haphazardly pick names at random when I named the majority of my characters.  There actually was a whole vampire culture aspect as to how my vampires came by their names.  This idea was hinted at, but never talked about in detail, and I did not even intend to have any hint of the ideas behind their names come into the storyline until the second novel.  But since I now knew that people thought their names were so stupid and that they didn’t understand the great cultural background of how my vampires got their names, I had to decide if including this information would benefit the storyline enough to warrant including it, or if I just wanted to let people think whatever they wanted.  In the end, I included an entire chapter that involved the three main characters sitting around poking fun at the ridiculous vampire names along with the cultural history regarding those names.  In the end, when people who read the story think that the names are incredibly moronic, when they come to the chapter that explains the cultural significance of their names, the readers are the ones who end up with egg on their face rather than me.

In my particular writing style, I have a tendency to write like I am giving a verbal recount of a story.  I use incomplete sentences, run on sentences, have dangling participles and modifiers all over the place.  It is very laid back and low key.  My writing style does not resemble a polished, professionally edited book at ALL.  And that ‘s the way I want it.  I have had hundreds of readers tell me they enjoyed my writing style and that it really made them feel like they were in the story.  Bottom line, it works for me.  I don’t sound like all the cookie cutter books out there and I don’t want it to.  So when I get comments bashing my writing style as being ‘unprofessional’ or that point out all the English rules that I am breaking, I file those suggestions under the “I don’t really give a damn” category. 

The worst thing a writer can do is try to embrace a writing style that is not naturally their own.  If all writers sounded the same, how very boring the books would be to read.  I know that I am breaking English rules.  I did it on purpose.  The real question is, does pointing this out actually help me?  If the grammatical errors hinders the storyline and takes away from the action, then yes, it helps.  But if the story reads, sounds, and feels just the way I want it, then no, pointing out that I have disposable adverbs and unnecessary modifiers does not help me.  One has to keep in mind that not everyone will “get” what you are trying to say, will understand your point of view, or will even be smart enough to follow along with your storyline. 

If all else fails and the criticism/suggestions is really bothering you, then take a step back.  Count to ten.  Reread your work.  If there is something that YOU genuinely think needs to be changed or addressed, then by all means, change it.  But if you feel that your work is just fine the way it is, then take all those “suggestions” with a grain of salt.  After all, you can’t please all the people all the time.