For Crying Out Loud- Get It Right!

The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend.  ~Isaac Bashevis Singer

By: Stacey Purcell

Do you want to hear a semi depressing number? I read that less than 1% of the books that are published by the Big Six are by debut authors. Excuse me while I sit down for a second. That is a fairly harsh number, to say the least.

Fortunately for those of us still working on getting the first book out of the door, we have options. The publishing landscape is not as desolate as it seemed when I came across that tidbit of information. As you have undoubtedly heard by now, our industry is changing fast. What does that mean?

It means that we have options…if we don’t blow it.

E-publishing has brought us several more publishing houses that are looking for quality work. Companies like Carina, Wild Rose and Ellora’s Cave are offering representation to thousands of authors and paying a higher percentage to the writer. We also have the ability to skip agents and publishers altogether.

Here’s where we start to have some trouble.

The other day, I was chatting with Jenn about writing contests. She noted that there seems to be a drop in the number of entrants across the board. I’m sure the economy is partially to blame, but she also pointed out another factor that is driving the numbers down. As more writers self-pub, they are entering less contests. Whoa! Stop everything! It should be just the opposite..

One of the biggest draws in a writing contest is the final judge for each genre. If you’re a finalist, then your pages are read by agents and editors. Obviously, if you are doing your own work, then you don’t need them. So why enter? In my opinion, if you are publishing your own book, then you should be entered in multiple contests. It’s a terrific way to get your pages edited and help you polish those words. Can you edit your own work? Of course you can, I just wouldn’t advise it.

Listen up people, if you are going to publish DIY, then please don’t settle for editing it yourself. Enter contests, find critique partners, hire professional editors, and just get it right! We have this amazing opportunity to take control of our artistic future and the public is receptive. There are many success stories, but there are many failures as well. I’m afraid that if they are continually disappointed with mediocre, sloppy books, they will stop giving new authors a try.

Even at $2.99.

Even at $1.99.

Heck, even at .99.

When an author puts out a crappy piece of work full of typos, poor spelling and awkward sentences, they sink themselves. They also make it more difficult for me to grab that customer back to being willing to try an unknown writer. That makes me mad. Many of my friends have beat me in putting their stories up for sale first and I watched how hard they worked. Countless hours were spent writing and re-writing until it was their best possible product. They used the feedback from contests to hone their writing style and add more texture to the stories. It didn’t stop there. They had critique partners and beta readers marking up their manuscripts. It wasn’t always fun, but they knew it was necessary. Feedback is essential to any really good author.

This is a competitive industry. Be smart when you make decisions about your career. There are many things we can’t control in life, but the quality of our work isn’t one of them.

This one is just because I thought it was funny!

14 Responses to For Crying Out Loud- Get It Right!

  1. Excellent post. I fear the ease of publishing means there will be a glut of books thrown up by all those people who always knew they had a book in them. They won’t be edited and in many cases if they do get in to a critique group they won’t stay because they aren’t there to learn, they’re there to be praised. They want to be told the world is waiting breathlessly for their tome.

    Personally, I’ve never been much of a contest person. But I seek feedback at all stages, and currently have my first historical novel at a professional editor.

    The saving grace of epublishing is many authors will allow readers to sample the books. A badly edited book will reveal that in only a few pages, so I do think readers will still take a chance on an unknown author if the package is presented professionally and they know how to start a story to suck people in.


  2. William says:

    Stacey, you are, as usual, 110% correct. It’s a two-edged sword; critiquing and editing and critiquing and revising and critiquing and re-editing can freeze a writer. (Yes, I am speaking from experience.)

    The other side of the coin is how crucial it is to 1) tell the best story you can tell, 2) put out a professional product, and 3) win the reader over to come back for more.

    Like a lot of things, it’s decisions, decisions, decisions…:)


  3. Hi Pat- Good morning to you and thank for stopping by!

    I also learned that you can return e-books. Hmmmmm. I’m not sure how that works or what stops people from reading and then returning, but it is always an option buyers have at their disposal. Perhaps I’m being overly pessimistic when i say that people will be more reluctant to buy new authors after they have a few poor examples, but I don’t think so.
    I’ve already seen book reviewers refusing to even look at new self pubbed authors because they “wasted” their time with too much crap. (I’m loosely quoting there.)
    It is our responsibility to ourselves and to our community to put out a polished product.


  4. William, you are right when you say it is a double edged sword. Putting out a high quality product is HARD work- I watched what you went through to get your books out there for sale. I, for one, am thanking Will Graham because he put out great books that are properly formatted with good writing!! Street Heat and Monsters are both awesome.


  5. Nina Cordoba says:

    First, I agree with you about contests. Having people who didn’t have to face me give me their honest (usually helpful) critiques made a huge difference in my writing. I improved quickly this way and, later, contest judges were the people who convinced me I was ready to get my work out there.

    And, yes, multiple critique partners and/or editors are extremely important because I’ve never met a writer who can see her own typos as easily as others can see them. I’m good with grammar, but I need someone to point out the fact that I changed a minor character’s name in the middle of the book or tell me what my new “favorite” word is. (I seem to acquire at least one in each manuscript, then use it like an addict.)

    On the other hand, I’m not so worried about what other people are putting up for sale. The ratings and reviews offer an opportunity for these sites to police themselves, just as eBay does quite well. Reading excerpts can give you a clear idea of whether or not the book is written by a professional author before you buy.

    So, it’s important to become a professional before you publish. However, it is also important that you don’t let perfectionism paralyze you. After all, the last several traditionally published books I read contained several glaring typos and word omissions. The difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing at that point is that the author can fix the mistakes and replace the self-published book, but would have no control over how a publishing house would handle the problem.


  6. Nancy says:

    Excellent post, Stacey. Every now and then I’ll download a self-pubbed novel that starts out GREAT but loses me in a very short time due to any one of a number of problems. Makes me wonder if it’s been through the contest “polish.” The problem I see with contests–and lately I’ve entered a few and I’m always grateful for the good or uber tough feedback–is that most contests ask for the first 10, 20, 25 or 30 pages. Those pages get polished and repolished til they shine like glass. Which is wonderful–unless they get the life polished out of them. The next pages (and the next and the next) need that super-polish too. I’m fortunate to have critique partners who are just as tough as any wicked and anonymous contest judges I’ve ever had.

    Too bad there can’t be contests for “the second 25 pages” or “the last 30 pages,” etc. I guess they’d be extremely hard to judge–and they’d required that dreaded synopsis.

    BTW I love the quote at the beginning of your post.


  7. GirlDrinkDrunk says:

    This is one of those times where you wonder if things somehow won’t come full circle.

    The glut of poorly edited and even non-edited books make it very difficult (for me personally) to take continual UNRECOMMENDED ‘risk’ in a self-pub. Eventually a couple of smart out-of-work editors will band together and charge to review these books/edit them–guaranteeing some level of quality for their audience as well as work out some deal with the author.


  8. Robin Yaklin says:

    Polishing up an essay for just this purpose, ma’am. How many more of these push-ups do you want?


  9. jbrayweber says:

    Great post, Stacey. You know how strongly I feel about contests. Despite the overwhelming need to win (tee hee), it is imperative to get that critical eye from peers you don’t know. Of course some of their criticism is pure crap, but that a whole ‘nother blog post.

    We all just need to be smart, and be patient.



  10. Nina Cordoba- I love you!!!!! Can I be a stalker fan???? Folks, if you haven’t read her books, then you must treat yourself! The title of her second book always makes me smile. (Don’t Make Me Make You Brownies!) She is a true professional and I want to be her when I grow up to be a published author!
    Oh yeah, and you make good points about the article as well. Shoppers do have the ability to write reviews warding off other readers and they can return books.


  11. Hi Nancy- I have tried to come up with a way to do an effective contest that would help authors with the “sagging” middle. We have a ton that help you up to the first 50 pages, but then we’ve got squat. Hopefully, you’ve learned a few things about yourself and your writing in those first 50, but it sure would be nice to work beyond that point. I think critique partners could pick up afterwards. Of course, we can always hire stupendous editors like Lorin Oberrweger!


  12. There are several small groups of editors that you can hire, among other professionals, to polish your manuscript. Usually they are a part of a business that will help you publish your book. They can take care of as little or as much of the cover art, editing, formatting, and marketing that you want them to help with. It just depends on your pocketbook and how deep it goes down.


  13. Robin- Get down there and give me another 20!!!!…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….oh never mind, let’s just go get a margarita!!


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