Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Self-Publishing Can Prepare Your Book for Traditional Publishing

This is the follow-up post to (Most) Self-Published Authors are a Bunch of Whiners. If you haven't read that, you should, especially if you're a self-published author who opposes traditional publishing.

Let me make one thing clear: I hope self-publishing isn't the future of the literary world.

Let me amend that: I hope people who self-publish UTTER CRAP, yet are convinced it's the best book ever, are not the future of the literary world.*

*I do not have high hopes for this.

Congress needs to declare a war, because these days, there's a big one happening in every book store and online retailer (I'm looking at you, Amazon). It's the traditional vs. self-publishing war, and it's getting out of hand.

If you read (Most) Self-Published Authors are a Bunch of Whiners (which you need to if you haven't yet, cheater), then you'll understand why I have a bone to pick with a majority of self-published authors. Ironic, isn't it? I myself am a self-published author (case in point, Embassy, my New Adult Science-fiction novel).

The thing is, I might pull Embassy off Amazon any day, at a moment's notice. Why? Because there are professional agents reading the full manuscript as we speak. I didn't self-publish that book "just to get my name out there." Not entirely, that is. I did it to judge the market and acquire reviews, suggestions, and emails from fans -- which has happened spectacularly (Embassy is required reading in a Kansas high school).

You see, I put my beta readers through a lot. They did their jobs above and beyond my expectations. When I finished the eighth draft, I sent Embassy into the real world. This was my trial run: get it in front of people and accumulate feedback to keep improving the book until it started to grab the attention of agents.

From the time I hit "Publish" on Createspace, I gathered FOUR MONTHS of feedback and suggestions. Many reviews praised Embassy, while some went more in-depth and teetered on average ratings. Other people contacted me and gave personal feedback.

The point is: involve yourself with your readers. Be active somewhere and let people know you want reviews, suggestions for improvement, and critical feedback. DO NOT ATTACK ANYBODY WHO GIVES YOU A BAD REVIEW. Learn from them. Establish a professional relationship and listen to what they have to say.

For instance, one lady I spoke with, a complete stranger, told me she thought some of the characters felt superficial, and some of the relationships between characters didn't feel...realistic. (You can read her Amazon review HERE). She said she loved the world, loved the concept, but sometimes the characters just pushed her out of the story. We had a nice discussion, and she even pointed out she was surprised I didn't get angry with her critique, as some other authors had in the past.

I took her suggestions and began to apply them to the newest edition of Embassy. Around the same time, an agent expressed interest and requested the first 50 pages of the book. A month later, he came back and told me he loved the world, he loved the premise, but -- you guessed it -- he felt more detached from the main character than he wanted to be.

So in the span of a few weeks, I had multiple knowledgeable people tell me something was off with the characters. What did I do? I dove into revisions and focused on the characters, tweaking dialogue to make it more unique, adding some quirks, and reforming the relationships between some characters to make them more believable.

It took three months, but I cranked out the current draft, and Embassy is the best it's ever been. I gave free updated files to anyone who purchased the book on Kindle. A few of them reread it and told me they could literally feel the difference as they were reading.

Then I hit a new milestone -- an agent requested a partial manuscript (50 pages), and a few days later, requested the full manuscript. I'm still waiting to hear back, but without the feedback I've received from the general public, revising Embassy to the quality it is now would have been nearly impossible (I can't afford a professional editor).

If you read (Most) Self-Published Authors are a Bunch of Whiners, (you have read it by now, right?), then you'll know that that post is one huge rant about the crappy quality of today's self-published books. I swear, 99% of self-published books are GARBAGE because the author just wanted to put "Published Author" on their resume, or got angry with the same five agents for rejecting them over and over.

The key is how much time you're willing to spend editing. Edit, edit, edit. Get feedback. DON'T get angry with bad reviews (no one is immune to the pain of seeing a bad review, trust me, and a majority will just argue with the reviewer, as I mentioned in (Most) Self-Published Authors are a Bunch of Whiners).

The only way the quality of the self-publishing industry will improve is if the authors start treating it like the traditional industry. Selling books is a business, not a get-rick-quick gimmick. Don't believe those "success story webinars" you get in your email or find on the fifth page of Google.

To be successful, you need to write a quality book, free of errors and awkward formatting. That's 90% of the battle. The other 10% is marketing. If you give readers a crappy book with lots of errors, they'll give you crappy reviews pointing out all those errors. But if you give readers a book that stylistically looks good, readers are more likely to give genuine 4-and 5-star reviews.

So do the literary world a favor and CARE about the book you wrote. If you don't care, GET OUT. These days, we need quality writing, and if you respect the system, you might break out of self-publishing and land a contract with an agent.**

**That is, of course, if you want an agent.

Just don't forget to remove your book from Amazon when you do. There's something called "legal issues."

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