Thursday, May 12, 2011

Guest Post by Stephen Leather

I became aware of Stephen Leather after hearing about his huge Kindle success on Amazon.co.uk. Naturally, I asked him to guest post and share his perspective on self-pubbing.

Here's Leather:

I stand in awe of Joe and his success selling eBooks. And I’m no slouch myself – I’ve sold more than 250,000 eBooks on Kindle alone since Christmas, almost all of them in the UK. (I’m sure you remember the UK – we’re the guys whose nuts you pulled out of the fire sixty-six years ago, for which many thanks!)

Joe is at the vanguard of ePublishing, shouting from the rooftops that traditional publishing is dead and the self-publishing is the way to go. Long live the revolution!

Is he right? You know, deep down I think he probably is, but I’ve just signed a new three-book deal with my UK publisher for close to $500,000. Could I make more money doing it myself? Yes, probably. So why don’t I? Here’s the thing. I love books. Real books. I always have. And one of the biggest kicks I get is to walk into a bookstore and see a shelf-full of my books. I’ve got more than twenty ‘real’ books in print so often I get a shelf to myself. And I get an even bigger kick if my 12-year-old daughter is with me and she can see for herself the results of Dad locking himself away on the laptop for hours on end. I never get the same kick when I see someone reading a Kindle. It’s just not the same. So I’ll be sticking with real books, for a while longer at least!

But for most writers, a traditional publishing deal just isn’t possible. It used to be that a writer could send his work off to pretty much any publishing house and someone there would read it. I came up through the ‘slush pile’ and so did most of the writers of my generation. But one by one the publishers stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts and agents became the new gatekeepers.

Literary agents in the UK are actually quite nice people, but they are a totally different animal in the US and I do understand the frustrations writers face when trying to get an agent in America. I’ve been writing for almost a quarter of a century and in all that time I’ve only met one decent human being working as a literary agent in the States – the rest have been horrible, self-centered, arrogant shits. Pardon my French. They seem to take pleasure in denying writers access to publishers and I for one hope take pleasure in the fact that the new ePublishing route cuts them out of the loop. Good riddance, hopefully.

So I do understand why so many writers are embracing Joe’s philosophy and turning to self-publishing eBooks. But there is one cold hard fact that I don’t seem to see anywhere on the blogs and forums devoted to ePublishing. You probably won’t like hearing it, especially if you are one of the new wave of “Indie” writers. But I’m going to say it anyway. Here goes. The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful. There, I’ve said it.

By “bad” I don’t just been badly formatted or lacking originality. I mean badly written. Bad punctuation. Clichéd descriptions. Clunky dialogue. And here’s the thing. When I hear “Indie” writers talking about their books, all they seem to talk about is how they go about marketing their work. How they blog, how they work their Facebook contacts, how they post on the forums. I never hear them talking about how they want to improve their craft. For most of the ones I come across it’s all about the selling. I get emails all the time from “Indie” writers asking me what the secret is to selling a lot of eBooks. I don’t get any asking how they can become better writers.

Here’s another home truth that I always used to tell wannabe writers. A good book will be published, eventually, by a traditional publishing house. A bad book almost certainly won’t be. The fact that Amazon and Smashwords have no quality controls in place mean that home truth no longer applies. Any book can be published. The floodgates have opened. And I don’t think that’s a good thing.

I think of writing a book as being akin to running a marathon. Anyone who finishes a marathon deserves kudos. It’s a long haul. It’s hard work. But just because you’ve run a marathon doesn’t mean you should be running at the Olympics.

If you have written a book then you deserve a pat on the back. Well done you. But just because you’ve written a book doesn’t mean it’s good enough to be published. And just because you’ve been published doesn’t mean that people will buy it. It seems to me that the rush to embrace self-publishing means that the quality of the work has become secondary to the marketing of it.

Every “Indie” writer now has a blog, mostly pale imitations of Joe’s, they have a Facebook presence which they use to constantly push their work, (a quarter of my Facebook “friends” are writers who do nothing other than post about their books) and they spend hours on the various eBook forums. It’s all about the marketing. They ask for other writers to tag their books, they get friends and family to post favorable reviews (it’s amazing how many self-published eBooks start of with half a dozen five-star reviews on Amazon, mostly from readers who have only ever reviewed the one book) and they share Tweets with other writers. Every “Indie” writer is following the same formula. Sell, sell, sell. The quality of the work seems to have got lost in the process.

A very wise friend once told me about the Rule Of Ten Thousand. Basically he took the view that it takes ten thousand hours to acquire any skill. That’s about how long it takes to learn a foreign language, or play the piano proficiently, or play pool expertly, or become a good poker player. It applies to almost everything (except maybe free-fall parachuting).

My first book was published, by Harper Collins, but by the time I had written it I had been working as a journalist for more than ten years and so had been writing for at last 10,000 hours. To be honest, I didn’t hit my stride until my fourth book.

Let’s say you write for two hours a day. That means you hit the 10,000 hours after 5,000 days, which is what, thirteen years? And yes, that’s probably how long it has taken most writers to reach the stage where they get published. Writing for the most part is a craft. A skill that has to be learned. Very few writers published the traditional way see their first book in print. It’s often their fifth or sixth that is good enough to be published. Jack Higgins famously wasn’t published until after he’d written more than a dozen novels and he didn’t achieve any real success until his 36th – The Eagle Has Landed.

EPublishing has removed that learning curve. Now any book can be published, no matter how awful. And I think that’s bad for writers. The one or two times I have suggested that a writer spend some time improving their craft I’ve had abuse heaped on me so these days I don’t bother saying anything. Yes, “Indie” writers need to sell their work, yes marketing is important, maybe vital, but let’s not let the medium become the message. My advice to any writer who has finished their first book is to relax, take a deep breath, and start the next one. Send your first novel out to every agent there is, and see what happens. You will probably be ignored, you might get a one-line rejection, but the fact is that if the book is good then it will be picked up. Eventually. And if you can’t get an agent, maybe consider that the book isn’t very good and make the next one better. And make the one after that even better.

Once you’ve done your ten thousand hours you can consider yourself a real writer and at that point you can go back and examine your early work. You’ll probably realize how much it can be improved, or maybe that it’s simply not publishable. And if after you’ve done your ten thousand hours you still haven’t got an agent or a publishing deal, then maybe you should think about self-publishing.

Even as I write this I can feel Joe at my shoulder saying ‘What about the money?’ Yes, I know that as a self-published writer you get to keep a bigger chunk of the profits. Yes I know that it’s ridiculous that the traditional publishers keep up to 85 per cent of the money they make from selling eBooks. Yes, it is a fact that you can get an eBook up within hours but a real books takes up to a year from delivery to being on the shelves. But for me at least, being a writer is about producing quality work. Work that I can be proud of. And that takes time and effort. I’m a better writer now than when I started because I have been traditionally published for more than twenty years. I really believe that if the Kindle had been around twenty years ago and I had rushed into self-publishing I would probably have made a lot of money but wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good a writer as I am. And for me, it’s the writing that matters.

Okay, that’s my ten cents worth. Now here’s the sales pitch. I’ve just put my book Nightfall up on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004ZCIN0I

Nightfall is an interesting one. It’s a real book, published by Hodder and Stoughton in the UK. I don’t have a US deal so I have the US eBook rights and am free to sell it myself. That means that an eBook that costs about ten bucks in the UK can be sold in the US for the Amazon minimum – 99 cents.

The hero is Jack Nightingale, a former cop turned private eye who discovers that he was adopted at birth and that his real father was a Satanist and that Nightingale’s soul has been sold to a devil, a devil who will come to claim it on his thirty-third birthday, just three weeks away. Think Angel Heart crossed with The Dresden Files with a bit of Constantine thrown in and you won’t go far wrong

Oh, don’t give me any grief about the cover – my daughter designed it for me and I love it!

Joe sez: I've said it time and again: Don't Write Shit.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to know if you've written shit or not, because you're too close to the material.

In the past, the gatekeepers (agents, editors) vetted manuscripts and screened out the majority of the shit. Up until last year, I believed this was a necessary part of the process.

Then I realized that the self-publishing revolution has gatekeepers in place. They're called readers.

Most readers don't have the experience of industry pros, and may not be very helpful in their critiques. But they do vote with their dollars, and a wise author should pay attention to reviews that say similar things (I hated the hero, the writing is repetitive, this needs an editor, etc.).

Writers like me and Stephen have spent years honing our craft. Many indie writers self-pub their first novel, and it's doubtful they spent 10,000 hours on it. As unfair as the old gatekeeping system was, it did force writers to improve, and those who were accepted were battle-tested and reached a minimum quality standard. If the Kindle had been around when I wrote my first book back in 1988, I would have self-pubbed it, and it would have been a big mistake. That book simply wasn't good enough.

But that legacy system also rejected some good books I'd written--books that I've gone on to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on.

So my overall opinion of the legacy gatekeeping system is that it can blow me. Those traditional gatekeepers aren't almighty differentiators between good and bad. They're ordinary people, and they make a lot of mistakes.

We're better off without them. But that isn't an excuse to write shit.

I've said for years that all writers need to have goals. One of Leather's goals is to see his books in bookstores. He places more value on this than higher profits, and that's fine.

Personally, I've had my fill of seeing my books on the shelf (especially since I know 50% or more will likely be returned), and I feel that the majority of bookstores will be gone in a few years, so those who pursue this goal had better be quick about it.

Ultimately, it comes down to the same thing it always has: write good books.

Once you do that, you can decide which path to publication to pursue. The fact that we have a choice, for the first time ever, is a wonderful thing. Don't take it lightly.

278 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 278 of 278
David Gaughran said...

"A good book will be published, eventually, by a traditional publishing house."

Not if you write a historical novel and set it outside of Ancient Rome, the Tudors, the Civil War, or World War II.

Or if you write Horror.

Or short stories.

Or novellas.

Or want to write in different genres.

Or want to write more than one book a year.

Or... you get the idea.

Turismo & Paradigma said...

Congratulations

wannabuy said...

@David:""A good book will be published, eventually, by a traditional publishing house."

Not if you write a historical novel and set it outside of Ancient Rome, the Tudors, the Civil War, or World War II.
"

Ohhh... Do you have recommendations for historical novels? For I'm looking for ones outside those timeframes.

Neil

David Gaughran said...

@wannabuy If you give me a month or two I'll have a nice juicy one set in early 1800s South America for you!

David Gaughran said...

@wannabuy You could try "Die A Dry Death" by Greta van der Rol - I've only just started it but it's pretty good so far.

Not 100% sure if its self-pubbed or small press, prob the second.

Moses Siregar III said...

Mark, thanks for the suggestion on Truby's book. That's one I haven't read yet.

Basil Sands said...

@wannabuy

Check out Bernard Cornwell for good historicals outside of those periods, as well as some within.

His Saxon Chronicles are one of my all time favourites. As is his Arthurian series, Sharpe, and Stonehenge.

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

David Gaughran said...

"A good book will be published, eventually, by a traditional publishing house."

Not if you write a historical novel and set it outside of Ancient Rome, the Tudors, the Civil War, or World War II.


Wow, that's a ridiculous statement. How about Anne Perry's three series, set in early and late Victorian Britain and post WWI Britain? Or Jack Whyte's Camulod Chronicles set in post-Roman Britain for Arthurian legend written as straight historical novels. Or Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma Mysteries, set in Ireland in the 7th century. Or Ellis Peters' Cadfael Mysteries, set in Stephen's Britain. Or Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mystery series?

Or... Geez, I could name a hundred or more other excellent historical mystery series, none of which fit your criteria.

Rebecca Stroud said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca Stroud said...

@jtplayer - Regarding the comment "I've lost count of the number of Big-6-published novels in my genre that I couldn't bring myself to finish reading because of the muddled plots in mangled English and rampant typos."...I, like you, am a voracious reader and have been for decades. Lately, however, I have noticed a definite decline in editing. Somthing that didn't happen oh, say, even five years ago.

That said, regarding your comment "But one thing's for sure. Every single indie ebook I've purchased has at least several obvious errors in it. If not many more. It didn't stop me from enjoying many of those books, but it's annoying as hell to have to compensate for them."...my "offer" still stands. If you're willing to spend 99-cents, please go through Zellwood with a fine-toothed comb and see if you find any typos/grammatical errors, etc. Though its brevity should have no bearing, if it does to you, try my novel (Devil's Moon). As a "paper" reader, yet an indie author, I'd appreciate your thoughts...and post them here or anywhere because I stand by the quality of my work.

Rebecca Stroud
Zellwood: A Dog Story
Devil's Moon

David Gaughran said...

@Robert Bruce Thompson

I knew someone was going to call me on that. It was a glib throwaway.

In reality, of course it's possible, it's just harder.

Just like location.

While The Kite Runner has been a huge success, plenty of agents will prefer books set in certain locations. I was told by quite a few that "South America" was a tough sell.

Others have told me my time period "clashes" with the Naploenic Era, which was my favourite comment.

jtplayer said...

I think the whole "ebooks are rife with errors" argument is a non-starter. Really. If the story is good, and the writing is good, and the writer took obvious care in presenting his work, then I can overlook some typos or minor format errors.

The problem (if that's even the right term) I see is the wide open nature of indie epublishing. There simply is no mechanism in place to prevent sloppy work from crowding the market.

So what's the harm? you may ask.

Well, none really. It's not like any of this is all that important in the grand scheme of things. I mean, life goes on right? And as consumers we can ignore the marginal stuff.

But one truth remains for this reader. I can walk into any bookstore and pull just about any title off the shelf, and be reasonably assured of the quality of that "product". The same cannot be said for the virtual bookshelf at Amazon's Kindle store.

wannabuy said...

@David: I'm looking forward to your novel!

@Basil: I've already bought out Cronwell. ;)

@Robert: Thanks for the recommendations.

Neil

Colin said...

I agree with much of what Mr. Leather says here, but the truth is there's plenty of crappy writing in print, too. As Joe says, the readers will buy what they like even if it's poorly written. Pulp romance and crime and horror were around long before ebooks. Leather comes across a little territorial, but that's the nature of change. Like old film cinematographers complaining about hd video on DSLR cameras.

"That, Mr. Anderson, is the sound of inevitability." -- Agent Smith

Terrance Foxxe said...

We should never misunderstand the points being made here, over and over.

Indie Authorship is just as much a business as mainstream publishing. We need to treat it as such, thinking product and customer, reaching the latter with marketing.

We all have the freedom to tell our stories our way, but we should always strive for perfection, giving our readers only the best of us as storytellers. Great stories well told. Readers are everything to Indie Authors. Product, then customer.

Having done our best, we should have the confidence to say to the world, here I am, come read me. I promise you only the best novels I can produce. I put my 150% effort in for 99.8% perfection, so you as a reader can enjoy my worlds; my words.

And never having a novel see print by any of the big six . . . means nothing. Some people get lucky, some don’t. Some people have to make their own luck. There is crappy writing on both side of the fence, but does it have to come from you as an Indie Author? Your words ARE you, and readers know this distinction.

I’m a storyteller first, a writer second, a businessman third. I discovered I suck when it comes to social networking. I can’t afford to let others do the production, so learned how to do it myself. I need to reach readers, and not having a built-in fan base, it’s going to be hard. Real hard, and then harder still. The truth hurts.

I’m up for it.

Alan Hutcheson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen Hanson said...

The winner of the Boston Marathon doesn't give a rat's patoot how long it took the last straggler.

Writing is an individual sport.

Alan Hutcheson said...

Stephen makes some valid points here, but the bit about his half million dollar contract (by the way, thanks for sharing that bit of info, I imagine it was difficult) tells us all we need to know about his POV. Twain, who claims he is simply quoting a young slave he knew in his youth, put it quite well, as he usually does.

"You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."

*previous post deleted due to typo. typical of an indie writer, but still...

Jane George said...

Dear Stephen,
I'm not giving you crap for your cover and kudos for your daughter's interests in design. However, as a second degree Alexandrian priestess, I hope you at least researched the symbolism and history behind the pentacle (and its inverted use by Anton LaVey) before using it in the context of your story.

Rick Murcer said...

Stephen...I couldn't disagree with you more...on just about everything. Should folks like John Locke and Amanda Hocking have waited for the year-long process of getting one book into print that that would put them on the road to the path you promote, alone 7-10 years for their other work?
Does Joe need the Big 6 to validate his work? On one hand you call every US agent "shits",on the other hand, you say we should send them our work...Great! Just what I'd like to do, send my hard work to the gatekeeping shits. :)
I agree with the other folks out here, let the people decide what's good, and what isn't. Oh by the well, I can't tell you how many "real" books I've read that have editing errors, poor research, and bad plotting.
Rick Murcer

Rebecca Stroud said...

@Terrance Foxxe: I had to laugh (believe me, not at you by any means) simply because I am a fellow "suckee" at social networking. Actually, I probably have you beat in that category...

And neither can I afford to pay for the production so, like you, I taught myself. Granted, I may not have the most fabulous covers coming down the pike but, hell, I was never one to judge a book by its cover anyway. Yet, again, I stand by my professionalism in what I am producing. Now whether it's someone's cup of tea or not boils down to finding the drinker.

And @jtplayer: Don't bother with that fine-toothed comb. I did find a grammatical error in Zellwood...but, on second thought - if you find it - I imagine you'll let me know...:-))

LitCritic said...

I have to agree that Stephen Leather is nothing but another blowhard. I find it funny how all of his high-minded talk about craft and the 10k hour rule doesn't appear to apply to his own ebooks. His novella, "the basement" has quite a few typos in it if memory serves, and the grammar and syntax were often very awkward. He didn't even bother to use American spellings in a narrative that uses American characters and an American setting.

If he's so devoted to craft, then why didn't he hire a professional editor to handle his ebooks like John Locke and Joe obviously did? With his $500,000 advance, surely he could have done so very easily. I don't even understand why you had this moron on your blog Joe, his entire post was a slap in the face to indie writers the world over.

When you combine that to his rather gleeful boast that he's moving to Thailand (and anyone who's read Houellebecq knows what means, ew!!) to escape paying his fair share in taxes, what we have here ladies and gentlemen is just another douche-bag looking to cash in rather than a craftsman devoted to the aesthetic qualities of his work as he claims to be in this guest post. Disgusting, and disappointing.

Karen Woodward said...

Thanks for the comments Joe. :)

wannabuy said...

@Alan:""You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."
thanks for the Twain quote.

Upton Sinclair's most famous quote:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

I suspect that is half the argument against ebooks.

Neil

Kiara said...

@Litcritic,

I cant speak to Stephen's books, but I think you are being overly harsh toward his comments. Why do I say that? Because it is a well established rule, that there is more bad out there than good. Most people that want to sing, cant. Most people that want to be musicians, either are not that good, or are good compared to someone who cant play, but will not be selling out stadiums. Take anything that's creative; acting, singing, art, and yes writing, the many will suck and the few will be good. It just so happens that ebooks allow anyone to sell, and if they can market well, or get into a good niche, think Hocking and Meyers, they will do well. I don't think stating the obvious makes him a douche.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Being a journalist helped Mr. Leather write good dialogue and be a novelist.

Hahaha! Well, I admit that as a former journalist I wrote a fair amount of fiction, otherwise, that's just downright funny.

One does not transfer to the other. Sorry, Mr. Leather. You're just plain wrong.

Stephen Leather said...

I dunno, there do seem to be an awful lot of writers who are former journalists. Though to be fair, I did meet a lot of journalists who struggled to write anything but crap!

Stephen Leather said...

Hey Litcric. Generally I hold to the view the view to ignore people like you (where eagles fly you always hear the sound of crows is what my Estonian friend tell me) but 1) I pay tax in the UK and I probably pay a lot more tax than you do and 2) I live in Thailand because my wife and daughter are here. I understand your bitterness but don't blame me for your lack of success! And really there's no need to be so offensive to someone you don't know. Your snide remarks do you no favours.... or favors if you prefer :-)

Stephen Leather said...

@Kiara Thanks. I can't believe that she called me a 'douchebag' on an open forum just because I expressed my opinion. Classy, huh?

Stephen Knight said...

That was in especially poor form.

Kiara said...

@stephen and J.R. There's a saying that all actors want to be rock stars, and all rock stars want to be actors. I can't prove it, but I firmly believe that most reporters, news reporters at least, all want to be novelists, but reporting pays better. Which ain't saying much.

Indy Armada said...

Having your printed hardcover sitting on the shelf at the bookstore is the dream of every writer. The smell of an old paperback when I was growing up was a magical thing.

But, eBooks are where it's at! Seeing my shiny new cover on an iPad is a magical thing as well. :)

The best thing is that now writers have options. This is a fantastic time to be a writer! Celebrate it!

Archangel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Archangel said...

@ litcritic you wrote "he's moving to Thailand (and anyone who's read Houellebecq knows what [sic] means, ew!!) "

I'm a little confused about what you have stated with such apparent certainty regarding Stephen's 'real' reason for moving to Thailand. I am familiar with Houellebecq's press. And your meaning about Steven related to Houellebecq and Thailand that is so 'ew" for you, is what exactly? Please spell it out for us so we can all know what you're saying.

drcpe

T. Mosely said...

A very interesting post. Personally, I haven't yet read any of Stephen's eBooks so I am not in a position to judge @ litcritic's comments about the quality of his work.

However, one thing I did notice while trawling through some of the reviews was that Stephen appears to write sarcastic comments in retaliation to his one starred critiques. A couple of the threads on Amazon UK would indicate that Stephen was removed from the site on account of this. Sorry Stephen, I might be wrong, but aren't people entitled to their opinion?

My eBooks have had both positive and negative reviews, and I wouldn't dream of attacking those who wrote the bad ones. After paying their hard earned cash for my book, they are entitled to their opinion, just as a cinema goer or music lover is. I can't imagine J.K Rowling or Steven Spielberg acting in such a childish, unprofessional manner. Accept the feedback - it helps you to grow as a writer.

Yes sometimes the bad reviews are unfair, but like I said, those people paid their money for your book, that's another sale, you have the last laugh, so they're entitled to their opinion. It just makes an author look sad and desperate if you try to silence them.

On a more positive note, well done for all you've achieved. I can understand why you felt the need to address the naysayers, but learn to rise above it. As Joe has said before, the more successful you get, the more one-starred reviews you'll get. But you know, that's fine, 'cos even the most successful writers have tons of polarized reviews. Check out Stephanie Meyer's Twilight on Amazon to see what I'm talking about.

Peace and God Bless, Tani :)

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that she called me a 'douchebag' on an open forum just because I expressed my opinion. Classy, huh?

Well . . . to be fair, you called US lit agents "arrogant shits". As you say, everyone has opinions to express.

Werner said...

The vast majority of self-published eBooks are bad. Worse than bad. Awful…By “bad” I don’t just mean badly formatted or lacking originality. I mean badly written. Bad punctuation. Clichéd descriptions. Clunky dialogue.

Stephen, I’d have to agree for the most part. However, I thoroughly enjoy finding new writers and stories I might never have found if it wasn’t for the self-publishing paradigm the new e-readers have created.

Currently, the only real gatekeepers are the readers who invest their money and time in an indie ebook – and only if they do us the civic courtesy of providing a review of what they’ve read.

What quality controls would accomplished authors like you, Joe, Blake and Bob Mayer would have in place for indie ebooks - to show they are well crafted and professionally edited?

Something that would cull out the “awful” stuff and serve to reveal the hidden gems of quality crafted stories.

David Gaughran said...

Sorry to derail the back-and-forth but I have important information here for anyone who reads or sells books outside the US. Indie writers are particularly affected, but it's hurting trade writers too.

After much digging, I think I have got to the bottom of the $2 Whispernet surcharge that Amazon is applying in countries such as Spain, France, Finland, Hungary and Poland.

There's 160 million people in those 5 countries, and they love books in English.

Unfortnately for them, a $0.99 e-book costs them $3.44.

Amazon claim this is down to local taxes. I have figured out that taxes make up only 45 cent of that.

They also claim it's down to differing carrier rates. But these guys pay it even if they DON'T own a kindle.

It's all BS and they are just gouging customers and hurting our sales.

More detail here:

http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/are-amazon-ripping-off-international-customers/

Dave

jtplayer said...

"Well . . . to be fair, you called US lit agents "arrogant shits". As you say, everyone has opinions to express."

Shit dude, that's nothing compared to some of the stuff that's been said here about agents and the Big 6. Joe himself and many regular posters here have routinely bashed the hell out of those folks.

Joe Konrath said...

Disgusting, and disappointing.

On this forum, we attack the argument, not the person. Don't make that mistake again.

Kiara said...

@t.Mosely you mention what I was alluding too because I did not want to seem like a jealous nit-wit regarding Meyer. She has done very well to put it lightly. But a friend of mine that is a published author, read the 1st two books in her series, and was like, you can tell its her first books. She took 200 pages to get a major plot point that should have taken 50 or 75 pages, according to my friend. Stephen King has been very negative toward her writing. BUT, she's in a decent niche and so it has carried her. I think Stephen's point is, ok, now what. Are you gonna get better or just write, and spend your time marketing. I think you have to do both.

Roger Floyd said...

Complements to Stephen Leather for saying what needed to be said about self-publishing. I've written my first novel which took 13 years to write and I spent over 20,000 hours on it. Right now it's in the hands of a professional editor, and I'm anxious to hear what he has to say. I probably will self-publish, not because I don't like the traditional way, but because of my age the traditional publishers are probably unlikely to be receptive. But throughout the writing process, I've been concerned mostly with the quality of the writing, and I've taken courses, gone to meetings, worked with critique groups, etc., to make my novel as good as possible. I've put in my time and I think I've got a good product. But let's hear what the editor says. It's costing me an arm and a leg and a Mercedes to pay the editor, and I suspect too many people aren't willing to take that step, but it's worth it to get the job done. It's an investment. Like Flip Wilson said, you can't expect to hit the jackpot if you don't put a few nickels in the machine. I like to write and I'll be dammed if going to do anything other than the absolute best I can. PS, see my blog for my take on a part of the writing process.

Stephen Leather said...

@ Anonymous - Yes, fair point, I was offensive about agents and with hindsight that was a mistake. So you're right, I can't really complain when someone is offensive to me on the same forum! I stand corrected.

@ T Mosley - Yes, I did go through a phase several months ago of reacting to bad reviews. The reviews in question were generally nasty one-star reviews that more often than not were personal attacks. I took the view then that if the review was a personal attack (often from readers who had been posting on the UK Kindle forums) then I should point that out. Or also point out that it was the only review that reviewer had ever posted. I took the view then that if a reviewer had the right to savage my book then I had a right to savage their review. I realized some time ago that it's actually pointless and that bad reviews are best ignored. Buyers are sensible enough to realize when a bad review is more than just a critique of the book and it always looks bad when a writer responds to criticism. Just one of those many lessons I have learned over the past six months :-)

Anonymous said...

On a regular basis we see endless comments by writers who hate agents and publishers; writers who hate anyone more successful than them; writers who hate most other writers without discrimination, and writers who hate anyone who doesn't have the same views as them.

Why so much anger and hate? Is is jealousy? Envy? Insecurity? The sad thing is that it's not necessary. You don't like where you are? Get to work and up your game. Belittling someone else doesn't make you bigger.

Basil Sands said...

Yeah....knock off all the whining and slandering folks. Those who do it sound like a bunch of spoiled, poopy-nappy toddlers.

Success is in your own hands and yours alone. If you fail in the long run no one else can ultimately be blamed. There are always going to be losers who rather than run their own race to win they prefer to toss road blocks at those they're jealous of.

Go around the road blocks, and keep running. The numb skulls will be littering the sides of the track as the rest of us cross the finish line and get the prize.

As my old Drill Instructor used to scream at the recruits "Don't give me excuses! Get it done!"

Writing, more than any other profession, is a one man/woman show. The results are totally up to you, regardless of what anyone else says or does.

Do it!

Selena Kitt said...

I can't believe that she called me a 'douchebag' on an open forum.

Most people who stoop to that level hide behind the "anonymous" label.

Why so much anger and hate? Is is jealousy? Envy?

I think so. Our whole culture is set up to promote envy at every turn, why should writers be exempt? But what I've found is that most successful indie writers aren't douchebags. They're really nice, honest, hardworking people who love writing and telling stories. I've also found that working WITH other writers is much more productive than competing with them.

fantasydreamer12 said...

Excellent article! Its totally true, if you want to be successful you have to have a good book. That's why it's good to have people read your book before publishing. And they need to be able to tell you what they think without candy coating their opinion.

T. Mosely said...

Thanks for your kind response, Stephen. Yes, I can completely understand you wanting to respond to the one star Amazon reviews. It's one of the hardest parts of being a writer, isn't it? We have to develop such a thick skin to survive in this industry because anything creative is subjective. And believe me, I too have had my fair share of negative reviews that I often suspected weren't genuine. Many times I have felt tempted to respond, to justify why I made certain plot choices etc. But then I thought, 'What the hell?' Be it good or bad, the fact that your book is being talked about is what counts. The more reviews a writer has, the more sales increase, so at the end of the day, it's the author having the last laugh. And sometimes controversy can be a good thing. I used to get really down when I read negative reviews, but then I just focused on all the nice, positive stuff people had said and used that to spur me on. At the end of the day, you can't please everyone. I mean, I adore John Lennon but my sister can't stand his music, so there you go. :)

Sheri Leigh said...

And believe me, I too have had my fair share of negative reviews that I often suspected weren't genuine. Many times I have felt tempted to respond, to justify why I made certain plot choices etc.

Yep. I've got a book free on Amazon and some folks don't like the ending. Some do. So the reviews are very very mixed. I tried to categorize it the best I could, but because it crosses genres (romance, horror, mystery) some people aren't happy. You can't please all the people all the time!

josephinewade said...

@Stephen Leather
You've made the point twice now that it seems to bother you when someone leaves a review who has never left a review before. What does that mean?

I don't know if this is a cultural thing or not, but here I always expect people to do as they please and I rarely think about their experience at it -- at least when it comes to informal forums like reviews on Amazon.

I was just curious.

Josie

J.T. Dunsmere said...

There is absolutely no downside to publishing your first, poorly written, badly edited, totally implausible novel. If it really sucks no one will buy it but maybe some readers will stumble over the title and think it's written by John Locke under a pseudonym. You'll be on your way to stardom. Seriously, in this new world the only gatekeeper is the author, as there is a whole range of audiences available.

Stephen Leather said...

@Josie - I do try not to let bad reviews worry me any more. I take great comfort from John Locke's observation that if you get a bad review it's probably because the reviewer was outside your target market. But it is fair to say that a lot of reviews are posted maliciously. Or by readers who are being unfair. For instance one reviewer gave one of my books a one star rating because she didn't like the fact that the book was in the first person. Another gave me a one star review because he didn't like something I had posted on a forum (Amazon removed both reviews as they contravened their guidelines).

Here's the thing. When I am reviewed in a newspaper or magazine by a 'professional' reviewer the review is almost always favourable. Yes I get criticism, writers need that or how else can they improve, but professional reviewers never accuse me of writing rubbish, or drivel as one Amazon reviewer recently posted. I've been writing professionally for more than 25 years so I know my writing is fine! Yes it can be improved, and hopefully it will, but I don't write drivel.

On Amazon some reviewers just seem to use the review system to attack writers for personal reasons, probably jealousy. One nasty piece of work has so far posted five one-star reviews of my books - I mean, if he dislikes my writing so much why does he keep reading my books? I'm not sure how one is supposed to react to that sort of attack.

I do notice that when a reviewer has reviewed a number of books I tend to get a favourable review, but the vast majority of one-star reviews come from people who have only ever reviewed one book, ie mine. That suggests to me that the account was opened just to shoot down my book. In the past I used to point that out in a comment but these days I don't bother. I take a deep breath and repeat the mantra my Estonian friend gave me - "Wherever eagles fly you hear the sound of crows" :-)

D.C.Gallin said...

I agree with S.E.Gordon. Just because Stephen jumped the hoops doesn't make him a better writer.I don't know his books but I imagine him to be driven and that can produce quality.
I happened to inherit 3000 recently published books
(UK) and they were of such (in my humble opinion) mediocre quality, as always hailed as masterpieces by the press of course, that I decided to self publish.
Here in the UK the literary world is a very closed circle. If an agent or editor asks to see your manuscript and doesn't like it, they won't even bother to tell you so. The author, the hand that feeds them, is treated like a beggar. This is the real reason why they are going to disappear. Authors will simply not send their work in anymore. It's just a matter of time.
I decided to print 5000 copies of my first novel in Thailand and started selling them on the beaches of Koh Phangan and then in London in the streets. The reviews I'm getting from total strangers on the 'Woman in the Sky' Facebook page are mind blowing and everybody is demanding a sequel...So far I've sold 2000 in person and another 1500 on line. Now I will bring it out as an E book, after the quality control, so to speak. I love this turnaround in the arts. Having worked 5 years on the manuscript it's so cool to know I can reach my readers. I'm filled with optimism.
Let's publish...It's great we don't have to ask for permission anymore. Just be as professional as possible, pay an editor, proofreader, cover designer and let the readers choose. So trust yourself and go for it! Long live the revolution! DC Gallin
dcgallin.blogspot.

Stephen Leather said...

@SE Gordon and DC Gallin - How does being with a traditional publisher help a writer develop? For a start you are part of a team that is on call for advice and support for every stage of the book - from developing a treatment, writing, editing and marketing. Most writers do have input into the cover, SE Gordon, i certainly do! But the biggest help is the payment of advances where a writer gets a big chunk of cash up front which gives him/her the freedom to concentrate on writing and not have to worry about how the bills are to be paid! That's something that isn't discussed much, but most established writers were helped by the fact that they were given a big advance at the start of the careers. That meant that they could write full time and develop their craft without being tied to a job. I was a journalist on the London Times when I wrote my breakout book and the fact that I got a £100,000 advance in the UK and $350,000 from Pocket Books in the US meant I could give up the day job and write full-time. That's the reason I don't begrudge my publisher their share of the profits - they backed me when I started out, it's only fair that they reap the rewards now!

@DC Gallin - I'm surprised you're not aware of Private Dancer in Thailand - I self-publish there and sell 6,000 copies a year, plus another 4,000 or so out of Singapore! Also Bangkok Bob and the Missing Mormon, which I also self-publish there as a real book. You'll see them both at any Asia Books or Bookazine store.....

Eloheim and Veronica said...

I reserve the right to publish anything I want at whatever skill level I have achieved.

That is the beauty of this ebook revolution; I get to publish anything I want.

ANYTHING!

And, so do you.
That's cool.
It really is.

It is amazing that people can express themselves in this new way. Really, it's amazing!

If someone "throws something up" online, GOOD FOR THEM. They're following their dream or at least their ambition.

If their effort is not perfect in your eyes, it doesn't take away from your effort. You are not diminished by someone doing something similar at a different skill level.

You might make an argument about the crowded marketplace and low quality turning people off from indie books.

To me, that's like saying, "I'm going to stop going to the library because there are too many books to sort through and some of them aren't any good."

There have ALWAYS been more books than any one person could ever hope to read. The marketplace has always been crowded.

I've come across plenty of published books that I find so dull I don't even manage the first 100 pages.

But, somebody liked the book or it would have never made it to the shelf.

Maybe it was you that liked it! How cool! We disagree about a book. Thank God for that or we would all be the same which would be boring.

There are lots of books, some people will like, some people won't like, and some will be a dream come true for the author regardless.

For me it comes down to this:

Do your best. Encourage others. Spread the word about books you like. Keep writing. Learn. Grow.


Veronica
The Choice for Consciousness: Tools for Conscious Living, Vol. 1

The Homo Spiritus Sessions, Vol. 1, Vol. 2

josephinewade said...

@Stephen L.
Thanks for the advice I'll keep that in mind when I'm on the other side of the reviews.

Josie

D.C.Gallin said...

Hi Stephen,
A first advance of 100 000 is not the average. Of course that helps to kickstart a career in writing. But you started as journalist, which probably gave you the connections so badly needed to get that kind of first advance and gain entry into the traditional world of publishing. Most authors recently published seemed to have had a connection with the media.

The unknown, unconnected author receives an average advance of 3000 pounds, which means no one will ever hear about the book, because the publisher simply didn't invest enough in the first place to advertise it.

So for the first time 'unconnected' author it is probably better to self publish provided she or he
pays someone for objective feedback, copyediting etc...

I probably haven't heard about your self published work because I don't normally read thrillers although if we met and you said hey, read my book I would! I'm also not really into bestsellers to be honest. Of course it is fantastic when a writer can reach so many people and commercial fiction has its place, but I like to read books that change the way I perceive the world. Books like that don't necessarily sell in huge numbers or it takes a long time for them to become known. This could all change now!

The great thing about art is that it is so subjective and the old system was just too unfair. Who knows how many great works of art were lost in the 'slushpiles' of the industry. A word that really sums up the industry's attitude towards the hand that fed them.
Who knows how many creative hearts were broken, how many illusions shattered that way. Writing is such a lonely profession and one has to give up so much living to write for long periods of time. So now, with a bit of luck and persistence, we can all succeed! It is a much more natural selection.

I'm sure you are a great writer in your genre and you sound like someone who passionately loves his work! Isn't that so lucky, to be passionate about ones work and to be able to make a living too?
For the first time I have been able to support my family of six through art alone, thanks to self-publishing, social media and a bunch of fantastic and supportive readers.
I love it!
Warmest wishes DC Gallin

Stephen Leather said...

@DC Gallin. Nope, I didn't use any personal connections to get my large advances. I had already had three books published by Collins (now Harper Collins) after being picked off the slush pile. Then I got an agent on the back of my fourth book, The Chinaman, and that's the one that got the big advances. Yes lots of journalists do well as writers and get large advances but that's because they hit their 10,000 hours while working! There are plenty of new writers getting large advances still in the UK - Google Matt Hilton or check out his Joe Hunter series on Amazon. He was a cop when he did his deal. Things might well be different in the US.

I admire your faith in natural selection - I'm not so optimistic. I can't help but wonder how many Woody Allens and Martin Scorseses are going to come out of YouTube. Or how many great artists are going to be produced by Pop Idol.

Stuart said...

Taking it to heart what Stephen Leather said. I have a blog, fiveaweekfiction.blogspot.com, that contains my fiction writing and nothing else. If anyone wants to critique it, please be my guest. I welcome constructive imput.

D.C.Gallin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S.E. Gordon said...

Mr. Leather:

Why in the world would you disparage self-published books, here of all places, where the majority of readership is indie (including Mr. Konrath), and then turn around and promote your book? Do you really think we would purchase it after hearing that most of what we produce is crap, and in a sense, not 'real' books?

Just a thought.

S.E. Gordon
http://segordon.blogspot.com

Stephen Leather said...

@SE Gordon So if I say your work is wonderful, you'll buy my book? Sorry, I don't work like that. I'm not saying ALL Indie books are awful. There are some fabulous Indie books out there. What I said was that the vast majority are bad. That's the truth, or at least the truth as I see it. Joe's books are great. I'm a big fan of John Locke's. I've just read a book called Abattoir by MK Carver that I think is great. But for every good Indie book I see, there are at least fifty bad ones. I would hope that an Indie writer would read my post and perhaps give some thought to improving their craft rather than thinking "I'm not going to buy Leather's books because I don't like what he said." :-)

Moses Siregar III said...

"But for every good Indie book I see, there are at least fifty bad ones."

98% of all indie books are bad? Really?

Peter Andreas said...

I couldn't agree more. As one YouTuber made a video about, the Amanda Hocking story was perhaps one of the (sadly) worst things that could ever have happened to e-publishing because now the market will be saturated with sub-par products.

Regardless of how good you are with words, writing is ultimately a business.

That said, I wanted to scream at one of my friends recently. She put up a short story on Amazon Kindle. First of all, there was no cover. Second of all, it didn't appear to have editing, and it NEEDED IT. BAD.

Worse yet, it was only eight pages long and priced at $2.99 (but in her defense, she said that for some reason it wouldn't allow her to put in 99 cents for the price listing.

I spent a few hours going over it yesterday and sent it back to her in the hope that she'll get a cover up for it and at least consider my edited version, because I could barely read through what she sent me without cringing.

The idea was absolutely fantastic. The language, not so much.

I understand the importance of putting up quality work, which is why I spend literally hours on everything I do. This is only for my first actual novel. I did write one before that as well as numerous short stories and poetry and other essays throughout the years.

I have to admit that I didn't understand yet what commitment to the craft truly means until embarking on this journey. And if I have to delay the release for more edits, so be it.

Lately, I'm always catching one thing here or there that's off or cringe-worthy.

Anyway, I'd say it's an accurate statement that for every eBook published, fifty more bad ones rise up. After reading a post on Caleb Warnock's blog, I also have to agree with his theory of publishing this year:

THE ONLY WAY FOR AN INDIE AUTHOR TO STAND OUT WILL BE THROUGH NARRATIVE VOICE.

And it's already happening. I only wish I'd heard of all this long before Amanda Hocking.

Everybody scramble now and hold tight to your genitals!! Terrible writers will soon end up kicking you in the balls.

S.E. Gordon said...

Mr. Leather:

I hear you, I really do. I appreciate that you took the time to give readers a different perspective on publishing. I do not disagree with the assertion that there's a lot of garbage out there.

But you're not doing yourself any favors here.

If your theory is true (1 in 50 self-pubbed works are worthy of being published), and most people who come here are indie authors, then you've probably pissed off 80-90% of them, not a good idea if you're trying to promote your work.

My initial reaction when I got to the end of your post was, "Why in the world would I buy his book?" But I suspect that was not your intention, and I believe you truly want others to give traditional publishing a shot because there are still some genuine environments out there that help nurture a fledgling writer.

Fair enough.

Since then, I've visited Amazon, and checked out your work. Nice covers, looks intriguing--I'll check it out later.

You mention that indie authors should be more interested in improving as writers than the money. While this point has some merit, what you fail to recognize is that most of us would give our right arm to be a full time author, but it's just not feasible. The overwhelming majority of us hold down a full time job while forging ahead part time. This means waking up at 4:00 AM every morning to squeeze in a couple hours of writing time. Arguably, some are not as far along as others, and are taking a big risk by putting their work out there because they feel strongly about what they have written, but haven't developed their technique.

Also remember that there are people attached to these works, and they would not bothered telling their stories if they did not feel passionate about them. Just last night an author in my writers' group was upset because a comment was made on Amazon that her e-book contained tons of errors. She actually received an e-mail from Amazon directly (since when were they involved in quality control?) stating there were typographical errors, but did not point out where they were. The writer asked for our help because she couldn't see the errors.

So I purchased a copy, because that's what we do--help fellow writers. I read the first few pages, and discovered lots of little things: inconsistent use of commas, minor punctuation (that I missed the first time), etc. But grammar was not the biggest offender here. Adverbs needed to be pruned, and overall the language needed to tightened. A few of the descriptions were vague or cliche. When she realized that some of the comments may have been justified, she was distraught. She had put her heart into the book and full trust in her editor, and didn't realize there was still a lot of work to be done.

For some this would be a mortal wound, but admirably she has scraped herself off the ground, and committed herself to cleaning up all the errors, in order to provide the best work she is capable of. You cannot ask for a better opportunity to grow as a writer.

Keep in mind this was not one who intentionally tried to embarrass themselves; they're human beings, too. All she ever wanted was to entertain people with her writing, to find that one soul who would felt as passionately about her story as she did. Was it wrong to provide a less than ideal manuscript for .99? Not at all. She took a risk, put herself out there, and gave it her all. She should be commended. In the end, some were willing to look past the errors because they got hooked on the story. Sure it probably won't win any awards, or become a bestseller, but I do not sense that was the motivating factor.

(continued in next post…)

S.E. Gordon said...

People might also want to put authors like Amanda Hocking (who reads this blog) into the same category, to which I say, the more power to her. Writers like Amanda are connecting with readers, and pouring out their hearts. They're young, and will improve over time. Who are we to say that they don't deserve to take chances, and reap the rewards if they succeed?

To improve as writers, I would offer the following generic advice:

1. Write every day (practice, practice, practice!)
2. Strengthen verbs and nouns
3. Use adverbs and adjectives sparingly
4. Remove everything that does not help convey the meaning/imagery in the sentence
5. Revisit books on grammar
6. Reread your favorite authors, and emulate the things they are doing right
7. Avoid cliches
8. Activate your verbs
9. Surround yourself with writers who are better than you
10. Believe that you can become a better writer, and pursue this at every opportunity
11. Sacrifice TV time for writing time
12. Disconnect yourself from the Internet while writing

This is just off the top of my head; it's not meant to be a comprehensive list. Of course, knowing and doing are two very different things. One must be willing to incorporate these things into their processes in order to succeed.

I realize that this is getting long-winded, so let me wrap this up:

Like you, my mom is a writer, and went the traditional route, publishing 6 historical novels under the pen names Anita Gordon and Kathleen Kirkwood. Back in the early '90s, she won the Golden Heart Award for her first novel, The Valiant Heart, and was immediately picked up by Berkeley/Jove. She is a talented writer, but unlike you, did not meet with success. Her first editor wound up getting caught for embezzlement and fraud (luckily my mother got all the money owed her), and subsequent editors made incredibly bad decisions that impacted the quality of the book (by this I mean forcing her to add intimate sex scenes where she did not feel they were appropriate in order to sell more books, undercutting the themes of the book, offering bad suggestions for the direction of the plot, etc).

Ultimately she was dropped, and left the establishment awestruck at how incompetent they were. I remember one of her books, a historical romance set during the Civil War, was not approved because "Civil War era pieces aren't selling right now." Never mind that she had an original and compelling idea. When Spirits Touch was never written because my mother did not have the craft, it was because Berkley got in the way.

(continued in next post...)

S.E. Gordon said...

The reality is that most new authors can only expect to make ~$5,000 for their first novel (this is especially true for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror), and it will take years to find an agent, let alone see the work published. Meanwhile these new authors will be working a full time job, and hoping one day for their "big break."

Or, as J.A. Konrath has so generously illustrated, they can put their future in the own hands, write several novels in the span it would take to publish one traditionally, and if they are successful, get picked up by an agent or continue going it alone (big choice). With more and more self-pubbed novels getting picked up by the Big Six, I'm not just blowing smoke here.

Let me take this one step further: at best, today's publishers are parasites.

Without the authors, they have nothing. Nada. Zilch.

They want to get authors on the cheap, and pay nothing so they can make their millions, and go about it business-as-usual like they have for decades. But now the playing field is even, and they are in big trouble, because the people are empowered (i.e., they do not need them anymore--thank you, Mr. Konrath!).

For what they have done to my mother, there is no way I would ever touch traditional publishing. And if I want my books in bookstores, I'll put them there myself (John Grisham did this, among others). By being in control of my own career, I'm certain I can do it better. Quality writing is paramount to me; don't make assumptions about indie authors just because they carry a certain label.

In truth, I am happy for your success, but you should also admit that you are not the norm.


S.E. Gordon
http://segordon.blogspot.com

Basil Sands said...

# Bad Indie Books

98% of all indie books are bad? Really?

That sounds about right to me. If that upsets some of the people here that's too bad. They need to get over it and fix the problem rather than feel they've been insulted.

So far of the indies I have read it was easy to see why the vast majority were unable to get picked up by an agent. Most of them sucked. Either there was no editing, the story telling was confusing, it was too long, too wordy, or the writing sounded childish.

I have to admit that the first one I put out was just as bad.

Here's a difference though, when I realized that the book needed editing I pulled it offline, hired a professional editor, fixed the whole thing, then put it back online. I learned from the mistakes and changed to make things right. Thats the advantage of ebooks and POD, you can fix the problems on the fly.

For some reason, a lot of indie authors just leave their crap there in its original crappy format and don't try to fix it. Or maybe they just don't realize its crap because all their friends tell them its great.

If we are afraid of pissing people off by telling them their writing sucks and needs work, then we are simply encouraging people to fail. Even the best authors out there write crap sometimes, the difference is that most of them don't try to publish crap until they've made an effort to fix it.

If we are to succeed as indie writers we really need to focus on writing expertly, and be willing to admit mistakes and quickly fix them, you know "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome".

Do that and your books can be in the 2% that don't suck.

S.E. Gordon said...

Personally, I would be embarrassed to publish some of the indie novels I've read recently, but I do commend the authors for realizing their dreams. As you said, that's the beauty of e-publishing. Catch an error? Go back and fix it. That's your responsibility as an indie author.

BTW, it was the Big Six that published Dragon Tears, arguably Dean Koontz's worst novel ever (and I'm a fan). It didn't matter that I could not find typos or grammatical errors; that book sucked! I haven't seen an updated version, for to do so would require a complete overhaul (sorry Mr. Koontz).

S.E. Gordon
http://segordon.blogspot.com

Chris said...

This is an interesting discussion, but makes one faulty assumption:

Being published does NOT equal quality.

Publishers are in the business of finding what sells. Why else are there 5 million Twilight clones out right now? Are you saying that they're all expertly written? Or maybe the 15 million Harry Potter clones that have come out since the success of that first book are all amazing, Shakespearean works of art. (Never mind that the first book wasn't particularly well-written, and Rowling used adverbs like she bought them in bulk.)

Even Joe wrote NINE books before Whiskey Sour got picked up. Are you saying his previous nine all sucked? Funny -- many of them have been best-sellers on Kindle.

Instead, he ended up having to write a marketable book (worrying about silly things like what would sell and how to sell it) before he got picked up.

I don't disagree that a lot of crap will get put out onto the ebook store, but really, why does it bother you? Does it bother because you worked hard on your passion, and now everyone can do it without going through what you went through?

Do I wish they had some quality control for ebooks? Sure, why not. Maybe they could have some sort of certification you could submit to (for a moderate fee) that would allow your book to be edited, and stamped with some sort of "Quality" stamp or something.

But I, for one, don't want the gatekeepers. For every five bad books they keep out, they keep out a good one. And your assumption that they let the good ones through is erroneous, at best. They let through the marketable ones, plain and simple.

Moses Siregar III said...

I agree that most indie novels aren't "good," however we want to define that, but to say that 2% are good is absurd, IMO. Maybe only 2% are great, but I'd say at least 10% are "good." And I'm as picky a reader as you'll find. I read a lot of indie books, too.

Stephen Leather said...

@SE Gordon - I do think that we are mainly on the same page! I think we both appreciate good writing and are aware of how hard it is to produce quality work. But I would disagree with you about taking care not to upset Indie writers. They are not my market, and I think that is part of the problem, ie some writers spend too much time talking to and selling to other writers. I really don't care what any Indie writer thinks about my opinions on publishing. I am entitled to my opinions. I do care that readers like, and buy, my books. I have sold more then three million paperbacks and 250,000 eBooks and I think only a very very very small percentage of those readers were Indie writers. I want readers to like me, not writers!


@ Chris No, it doesn't bother me. I totally agree with one of the previous posters in that writing is like running a marathon - it doesn't matter what anyone else is doing, it's all about one's own performance. The more good thriller writers there are the more the market will expand and that can only be good for me. A good writer is hard pushed to do two books a year, a reader can devour a book in a few days. So no, I don't see other writers as competition. Re Joe not getting published until his ninth - no, that doesn't mean that his early work was bad. I'm not saying that. I'm half way through Draculas and the writing is as good as anything I've read in years. I have to say I would struggle to write to Joe's standard. I have read a lot of very good Indie books. But in my opinion they are the minority. I didn't do the blog to attract attention, Joe wanted me to do a guest spot and I thought my take on quality might provoke some interest. Which it did. I had no other motivation other than to entertain :-)

Steven D. Jackson said...

I started out reading this post thinking "I want to be you" and getting all inspired, and then got to "But just because you’ve run a marathon doesn’t mean you should be running at the Olympics", and now I'm back to feeling rubbish again! Still, brilliant post; I'll bear that in mind!

Anonymous said...

You know that ten thousand hours thing applies to book cover design as well, right?

Anonymous said...

Okay, yes, quality control is an important issue.

But I love that he spent pages talking about the importance of writing as a craft and then named his protagonist "Jack Nightingale".

Christ...

Norm Cowie said...

Your 10,000 hours has some merit, but there are plenty of authors whose stuff seemed to get more crappy once they passed six or ten books. I wonder why that is.

Norm

http://www.normcowie.com

Michael Matewauk said...

I loooove your cover. Was it a flat fee or are you giving your daughter royalties? Either way, I'm hesitant to read the book in case it's not as good as the cover.

john said...

"I’m sure you remember the UK – we’re the guys whose nuts you pulled out of the fire sixty-six years ago, for which many thanks!"
Stephen - as a fellow Brit I think youre being a bit of a kiss arse there.

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