8 January 2014

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2 January 2014

"Editing Your Book: It's a Basic Requirement, Not a Selling Point"

Browsing through my Twitter feed this morning, I came across this pure gem:

 I've written about the importance of editing before, including at Emlyn Chand's excellent Novel Publicity, but still too many writers are ignoring it.

The problem, as far as I can tell, is that editing costs money, is voluntary, thus writers want to skip it. There's a shared trait in many creative people - we don't like criticism. After dedicating months or years to a project who wants to pay someone to tear it apart? This, in my eyes, remains one of the biggest issues with self-published books; that anyone can upload their writing to Amazon with zero editing, fact-checking or accountability to quality means that for the first time in publishing there is no guarantee of a basic standard. When you buy Random House's latest book you can be sure that it's properly formatted, has been edited and proofed multiple times and non-fiction books will be fact checked. Conversely, when you buy a book on Amazon's platform, it could literally be the work of a toddler whose proud parents uploaded it to the Web in the hope that their child becomes the Mozart of the literary world.

Like many, I try to downplay this with the suggestion that the cream rises to the top, and these wannabe writers will quickly be found out. I'm sure that's true to an extent, and while I could discuss both sides of that argument all day long I'll mention just one point here: it doesn't matter too much. The people who don't yet own Kindles use that as a big reason why they don't want one, or why people who do own them won't buy cheap or free books from the store. Given that many new authors - even those who have put the time and money into making it as good as possible - will launch with a free or cheap price, the upshot of this is the platform is being affected by those who release garbage.

(And never underestimate how much garbage is submitted to publishers - but now, rather than the public being mercifully spared these offerings, they can be self-published with no warning to their inadequacy.)

Thankfully, plenty of authors fully appreciate how important editors are and put their book through the process. Unfortunately, plenty of authors think they're good enough at catching the errors, and friends will catch what they miss. I'll put it bluntly: this isn't true. It undermines what editors actually do - which far exceeds catching typos.

Self-publishing's popularity today, combined with bloggers and free marketing opportunities makes it possible for indie authors to gain a wide and loyal following, thus creating a lucrative career. There's every chance of that happening now if the work is put in. But it requires dedication and effort, and if you want to write and sell more than one book, each and every one needs to be professional standard.

I frequently tell my clients that they're not just selling books, they're selling their name. We all have our favourite authors and we will buy their books because their name is on the cover - if you have any hope of readers doing the same with your books, they need to be bulletproof in their quality. Your name and reputation is literally at stake here; what no author wants is for the word of mouth reviews to be "Yeah, the story was ok, but it was so full of errors and badly written that I couldn't finish it."

Good editing means readers don't even think about it, they can just read the book. A bad book is one that keeps the reader distracted with dodgy formatting and endless errors.

Yes, editors cost money. As they should, they're selling a professional service. It's an investment, that an editor will make the book good so you have a fighting chance of establishing a good reputation and selling your writing. You wouldn't build a house and not hire an electrician or plumber, so why write a book and not hire an editor?

17 December 2013

Christmas Trees for Literary Fans

Whether you're a reader or a writer, you're happy and grateful that books exist. Most of us have never thought about having anything other than a Christmas tree (real or fake) in the festive season, but some have.

Following my earlier post of the book Christmas tree, Linda Lee directed me to the ones she's found online, which you can see below.

Have you found any others, and what are your favourites?

9 December 2013

Amazon Matchbook - Finally!

I don't own a Kindle. I'm not alone in that, but there's a certain peculiarity for me, as I'm a huge fan of technology and also of reading, so Amazon's marketers would expect me to be first in line.

But I never have been.

Not that I don't understand the appeal or the benefit - in 2011 I spent 6 months in America with my then-girlfriend (then fiance, then wife), and our shared appreciation of books meant we spent a fair amount of time in Barnes & Noble. Buying books. I purchased a few hardbacks and some paperbacks, all of which were quickly enjoyed. Then came the day of packing to board the plane and suddenly those hardbacks didn't seem like such a wise investment - they took up considerable space, but also, worse, valuable weight. Adopting the "We never leave a man behind" military approach I got each book home safely, tucked away into their appropriate places in the bookcase.

Shortly after, I bought my wife a Kindle, as she decided she wanted one. I saw the benefit - especially after that flight - but I wasn't ready to part with real books. I'm still not. Given the choice, I will buy a CD over a digital song purely for the fact that I enjoy the aesthetics and the effort that went into the liner notes and images. Music and books still represent art to me, total products, and increasingly the digital world seemed to be devaluing them to me, reducing the total products to commodities.

Romantic ideals aside, I wasn't ready for a Kindle for other reasons - I like scanning my bookshelf and having a title jump out at me, I enjoy flicking through a book, I like the smell and texture. I like books. The digital copies don't accommodate those facets, and I haven't been ready to sacrifice them for portability and convenience.

I could buy real ones and digital ones

I could, but I wouldn't (I am, however, more open to that now). What I never understood is why there wasn't the same solution for books there is for music and film - buy the physical thing and get the option to have the digital files too. Amazon couldn't do it because of the rights, and it seems publishers were too stubborn and felt it would undermine their business model - which has been eroding beneath them anyway. I'm a strong believer that if a consumer buys a product, they should be able to consume it in the way they desire, and not need to buy it multiple times. I was ecstatic when I bought a DVD one day and found a sticker explaining I could watch it on my electronic devices too, just like we've been enjoying with CDs for years

Welcome Amazon Matchbook

Finally, the publishing world has caught up. I read this wonderful news last week, and if you haven't yet heard of it, the gist of it is this: Matchbook will let you get digital copies of books you already own for up to $3 (and as little as nothing). It's not quite as good as the way it works with music and films, but it's a leap in the right direction. There's now a solution for people like me - buy the physical book, and enjoy the digital version for convenience (or, if you're very particular, read the digital one and keep the physical one in pristine condition. Maybe one day books will be so rare they'll be hugely expensive collectibles).

The bad news is that this is only in America for now, and most books aren't on it. But given that Amazon is behind it, it shouldn't be long before both of those things change. As soon as it hits the UK, my publishing company will be placing our books to Matchbook, so our customers can enjoy the books in both formats without having to pay out for both.

This new development is great for the consumer, and also great for the industry. With any luck it will end the arguments of whether or not 'real' books will die to digital books, and we can get down to what really matters: enjoying the output of the hard-working authors in whatever format we choose. It could also prove to be a big boost to the publishing industry - an indication that it will stop seeing digital books as the enemy and embrace them as a way to sell more copies, reach a wider audience, and increase its bottom line.

As I see it, writers, readers and publishers have a shared interest of appreciating literature, and Matchbook makes it easier for all three to come closer together.