No More Grumpy Readers

Portrait of a cranky reader.

When Nancy, DM, and I decided to start Amelia Indie Authors, we had two goals in mind: to protect indies from over-priced industry predators and to help raise the quality of what indie authors are publishing. The reading I've done over the past few weeks was disheartening. And, with any luck, motivating. Hopefully, it will make me even more passionate about the success of other indie authors.

Like many other authors and publishers, we attend book festivals, often trading titles with others in attendance. For the most part, we no longer look at these festivals as a place to sell books. Sales are great but these events are more of an opportunity to connect with readers and other authors.  Frankly, it's a reader event for lots of authors; in addition to our trades we invariably spend way too much money on armloads of intriguing titles. It's a wonderful, hopeful feeling, optimistic feeling, right?

Ending Up with Diddly

In the last ten days, I've read several of the books from two festivals just past. Two fiction, three non-fiction. Two for the little people in my life and three for grown-ups. It was a nice cross-section but the quality made me unhappy. Very unhappy. Instead of writer's block, these five works may have given me reader's block -- an extremely painful condition for this writer. I sure hope it doesn't last long.

Right now I'm annoyed. Aggravated. Disappointed and sad. I'm not sure what is worse -- the feeling that I've wasted time and money on poor quality books or my current reluctance to pick up another book written by an indie author.

When it comes to the printed word, I am not a snob. I make my share of mistakes, left-out words, r@ndom symbols, and all sorts of other creative typos. Auto-correct is a frequent saboteur. 

In addition, I love indie authors and, obviously, am invested in their success. But buying a bunch of indie-authored books, riding a wave of anticipation, and ending up with diddly... that's the sort of thing that makes the rest of us look bad. It reflects poorly on the entire #writingcommunity and especially on other #indieauthors.

One of the novels was written entirely in the passive voice. I couldn't finish it. I moved on to two skinny non-fiction efforts despite the fact that both were half story and half filler. What do I mean by ''filler?' In both of these books the filler was comprised of review questions and blank pages on which to answer them. Neither was presented as a workbook.

The major first-page typo in my next selection was almost enough to make me put it down. I'm glad I didn't: while it's got some spots that could benefit from an experienced editor, it's a hella good story. And the last juvenile fiction is of a quality that could hold its own on any best seller list.

So, then, why am I so grumpy?

Because they were all good ideas. Some were great ideas. Their authors put in their own measure of blood, sweat, and tears to bring them into being.

A Box in the Author's Closet

Unfortunately, some of these titles are likely not going to do anything but sit in a box in the author's closet -- until he or she gets tired of the business and gives them all away.

That doesn't need to be. 

But how does a writer get the kind of feedback they need to write in a way that gives excellent voice to their wonderful ideas? And what's their responsibility to do so? Part of it is to keep the implied promise to readers: that the book they hold in their hands represents the writer's best work.

Writing a book -- any book -- takes guts. Authors face rejection each and every time they ask someone to give it a read. Eventually, their names are emblazoned on the front cover and, if the release is poor quality, readers may never give them another chance.

Feedback from Strangers

So what's a dedicated indie author to do?

The first line of defense can be as simple as a grammar program -- not just the spell check that comes with most basic writing software by something a bit more sophisticated like Grammarly or ProWritingAid.

Second? How about using some beta readers who are not family and friends? People who don't normally read your genre or are unfamiliar with your topic? If you ask, they’ll tell you where they're lost and confused — and that’s where an author needs to do more work. After all,  anyone who picks up your book ought to be able to understand it, right?

An author willing to accept some hard feedback from strangers and take the time to work through multiple drafts can produce something anyone can be proud of -- something of such high quality that it could hold its own with any reader. Afterall, isn't that the only "list" that really counts?

Andrea Patten