By Susan Mary Malone
Publishing’s brave new world has dawned. Once upon a time, in the ancient days of yore, getting a book published was what amounted to a lifetime undertaking. Those days of course are over. With POD and now e-books, anyone can get a book published in what amounts to overnight.
Enter what also amounts to an incredible sea of god-awful books. Because while it’s true the elite club was almost impenetrable before, the converse of today is that now writers put words to paper and publish it.
I know—not everyone does that. As was once the norm, many writers still delve in deeply to learn the craft; to write and write and write some more; to join workshops and take classes and go to conferences and seek skilled editorial help (which in those once-upon-a-time days was provided by publishers). In essence, to hone their skills and become better and better writers before their manuscripts ever become published books. The flip side of that is to read and read and read as well. I am always amazed at the number of writers who tell me they don’t read. Boggles the mind!
But most of the writerly discussions and forums now talk about physical product and marketing. Which of course are both vital. But those are secondary and tertiary. Yes, when self-publishing, you have to have a nicely printed product, with a great cover, in order to start selling your book. And the marketing is absolutely everything in the end—whether you are self-published or traditionally so. You have to do your own marketing even if published by the big NY boys. So yes, yes, both these things are necessary.
Only here’s what’s happening with that ocean of books: Once you get past the shiny covers and into the text, folks quit reading. While most readers cannot tell you why a character is flat, they can tell you that the character is flat. And they stop reading. Most readers can’t say why the plot didn’t hold together, but they can say they couldn’t quite follow it. And while great prose isn’t something the average reader can dissect, she can tell you that the book was so enjoyable. Now, if this reader is your sister or best friend, she’s probably just going to say, “I loved it!” (Otherwise you need better friends and relatives:)
Here’s the kicker: Though you may sell a lot of copies of the first book, and therefore think it was good, those readers if not truly entertained won’t buy the second. And your career as an author has just tanked. Only the iceberg you hit was you.
In today’s market of billions of books, you have to stand out, above the crowd. And you do that with quality. As a novel editor, I find many of my writers self-publish, and do bang-up jobs getting the book to be perfect—working on novel development and editing a book—before spending all those dollars on covers and marketing. They’re building audiences and becoming more and more successful. One client came to me after she’d self-published and knew she wanted to go to the next level. She did. She got a six-figure deal from Kensington and is now a NY Times Bestselling author. Another did the same.
So yep, you have to spend the bucks on the backend. But unless you spend the time, effort, and dollars on the front end perfecting your craft and in book development, even in today’s new world of publishing, you might as well toss that money into the slot machine in Vegas.