Raising the “Quality Bar” of Your Writing
Are you perpetuating the belief that still exists in many publishing circles that self-published books are filled with substandard writing by producing mediocre quality in your own writing? Or are you helping to raise the “Quality Bar” of self-published works by ensuring that your writing presentation is of the very best calibre you can produce?
With the comparative ease and speed of self-publishing available to everyone today, it’s tempting to dash off a book in just a few weeks or months and then see your work up for sale on Amazon and other online retailers in a matter of days.
The great thing about self-publishing is that I’ve been able to read a lot of books that are high-quality, beautifully written works from a huge number of authors that now have the chance to have their stories read. I’ve also read many more that are riddled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors and poor word usage. I realize that producing a book with no errors is highly improbable no matter how it’s published; but that should at least be a goal that the author strives for. A few errors in an entire book might be overlooked— more than that is inexcusable.
One of the most important facts to remember is that self-publishing companies and Vanity presses do not edit your work. They expect that what you send them has already been thoroughly edited, polished and is ready to publish. It is the author’s responsibility to ensure that the work they submit is proofed, edited, polished— and yes, ready to publish as submitted.
When I’m reading, the more mistakes I see the more frustrated I get and the more distracting the errors become. At some point I’m going to throw the book down in disgust, or delete it from my e-reader, and curse the writer for their sloppiness. By that time I’ve lost interest in the story anyway. Even a free or 99-cent book will not make up for poor or non-existent editing. At that point, the author has lost me as a reader of this or any of their future books. I’m certainly not going to be writing a favorable review, and won’t be recommending that author’s books to any of my friends or blog followers either.
A simple run-through of spell-check is essential, but it will not tell you if you’ve used the correct form of “breathe” or “breath”. It won’t tell you that you should have used “bare” instead of “bear”. Nor will it tell you that you should have used the possessive form, or that you shouldn’t have used it; or that you used “your” when it should have been “you’re”. A good writer knows the differences, and a good editor corrects these errors when they’ve been missed on the first edit. Both the writer and the editor need to be absolutely meticulous when proofing and editing— and in editing, once is never enough.
I realize editors cost money; and a good editor is worth every penny the author invests in them. Unfortunately, many authors can’t afford to pay an editor even when they understand how important it is to have their work edited. I get that. So take the time to find one that doesn’t cost very much and try to work out a deal both author and editor can work with. Get another pair of eyes on that manuscript; fresh eyes that can pick out all the things missed in the initial proofing. The editor should not be the author’s mother or friends, who will most likely assure the author that “oh, sweetheart, it’s absolutely perfect just the way it is”. If you know someone with an excellent command of English who will give you honest feedback, ask them if they would be willing to proof and edit for spelling, grammar and punctuation only. Or contact your local college to see if they can recommend an English Major student who will take on a proofing/light editing job for work experience. Join a reputable online critique or writing group and enlist their help.
Equally as important— for heaven’s sake, learn how to improve your own spelling, grammar and punctuation skills! There are any number of courses and other resources available to writers, many of them free or low-cost; make use of them. Learn basic grammar and punctuation rules, improve your spelling, and read other authors’ books. Read lots of books, of all genres. Read articles, short stories, essays and poetry. The more you read, the more variety in reading material you experience, the better equipped you will be to write.
The lure of getting that book published and out there for people to read as quickly as possible is incredibly strong, especially when we’re bombarded every time we turn around with media articles urging us to “publish your book today!” We’re a society driven by instant gratification, easy access and two-minute attention spans. That’s no excuse for sloppiness and poor quality. You spent countless hours dreaming about and writing your book; don’t rush the process and short-change quality in your quest for bright lights and instant fame. Take the time to proof and edit properly; let your work ‘rest’ for a few weeks and then read it again with fresh eyes and from a reader’s perspective. Have it proofed by someone else while you take time away from it. Begin working on a new writing project so you’re being productive while you wait. The extra time you spend proofing, editing and polishing your writing will be worthwhile in the long run.
You might say this is only my opinion and that it doesn’t matter; that there are plenty of readers out there who will love your books and will forgive the errors. You may be right. Or, there may be many more of us out there than you realize— readers who are also writers and editors, who are just as discerning of the quality of the writing on the inside of the book as they are that great looking cover. Are you willing to take a chance on disappointing your readers with a book that wasn’t the best quality you were able to publish because you rushed the process? Are you prepared to stand by your writing reputation with pride by raising the “Quality Bar” on your own writing?
- Slicing and Dicing (or what writers grudgingly call “Book Editing”) (heatherfromthegrove.wordpress.com)
- Yes! We Need Beta Readers by Kate Gallison (bookbrowsing.wordpress.com)
- Objectifying Yourself, by Char Chaffin (smpauthors.wordpress.com)