Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Self-Published Books: The Perception of Quality

I'm proud to share a guest post from a great writer and good friend, Sue Quinn.  Sue is also an excellent critique partner, with a very keen eye for character development.  So without further ado, here's Self-Published Books: The Perception of Quality

by Susan Kaye Quinn, author of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)

The question of quality in self-published books is a sticky subject, just because self-publishers and traditionalists tend to line up along this issue, ready to duke it out (Note: I’m a fence straddler, firmly in both camps. I’m self-publishing my new paranormal/SF novel Open Minds, but still pursuing traditional publication with my middle grade stories).

Whose Perception?

The perception of the quality of self-published books (or traditionally published books) depends a LOT on whose perception you’re talking about. For a long time, self-published books were considered, by people in the publishing business, to be the last resort of desperate authors not sufficiently talented to get published through a real publisher. I’m not exactly sure when this viewpoint became prevalent. Sometime after Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain self-published their works and before John Locke sold a million self-published e-books on Amazon. Many writers who aspired to be real authors would never seriously consider self-publishing. There was a belief (still held by some) that an author needed the stamp of approval—the cachet—of being selected for publication by a large publishing house in order to separate them from the riff-raff of self-publishing. (There was also the issue of distribution—NY publishing houses had a lock on it.)

These were the perceptions of the industry insiders—writers, agents, and publishers. But there’s really only one perception that matters: readers.

And I’m fairly certain that most readers have no idea who publishes the books they read.

For sure, I couldn’t name two publishers before I started writing. Most readers just are interested in the story and to some extent the craft. With the advent of e-books and digital distribution, more readers are reading self-published books. Has their perception changed? I don’t think so: they still want quality books to read, and don’t really care who publishes it.

But the perception of industry insiders with regards to self-publishing has started to change, for two reasons: 1) money and 2) the authors choosing to self-publish.

When JK Rowling fires her agent and goes the self-publishing route with Pottermore, industry people sit up and take notice. When self-published authors start selling thousands of books a month, more people pay attention. When traditionally published authors start self-publishing their backlists, and make serious money doing so, industry insiders (writers, agents, and publishers alike) start to wonder how this is going to change things for them.

But What About Quality?

I believe that the quality of a book is a highly subjective thing.

I’m not talking about typo’s or grammatical errors. Those are quality measures that are easy (EASY!) to meet, and any self-published or traditionally published author would do well to make sure their books are thoroughly copyedited. An occasional typo is going to get through (this happens in traditionally published books too). That’s not a problem, but chronic lack of copyediting is.

What I really mean by Quality is whether a book can be considered good enough to rave about or recommend to your friends. This is an enormously subjective thing. Again, industry insiders (writers, agents, and publishers) have their own ideas about what kinds of books are high “quality” and should be published. But once again, readers have their own perception of quality, one that is measured by a single metric: book sales.

Example: Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Did you love this book? You’re in good company with 30 million copies sold. I hated it. Seriously, I could NOT get through the first book. Gave up after 100 pages, skipped to the end, and STILL couldn’t read it. I love the Lisbeth Salander character, but I just could not wade through the descriptive passages and maudlin tangents. Even Nathan Bransford thinks that this book would have a hard time getting published today.

But there was something in that book that people loved (even though I couldn’t find it). There are other examples: The Shack, Twilight. These books were phenomenons because of some aspect of the story, not because of the quality of their craft.

So do sales = quality, or at least the kind of quality that matters, i.e. quality to readers? Does the inverse hold true? Low sales = low quality?

Not necessarily.

Readers buy the books that they like. The pool of readers who like your particular brand of gritty spaghetti westerns in space may not be as large as the vast ocean of readers that like vampire romances. This doesn’t mean your book is low quality; it means that your book has a small readership. If however, your gritty spaghetti western is really an awfully written book, with no plot, cardboard characters, and a trite ending, then even that small readership is going to say meh and move on to the next book.

If you want more sales for your novel, options include: 1) writing a better book, 2) writing a book with broader appeal, or 3) doing a better job of matching your book with the audience that loves it. Quality is a part of #1, and is the part you have the most control over. Taking charge of all three is part of being an entrepreneurial author.

The Democratization of Publishing

I think we’re moving from a patronage model of publishing to an entrepreneurial model. Writers are empowered by the option of self-publishing to treat their writing as a small business, investing in their writing careers to get them off the ground. This means that more books will see print than ever before, and not just ones that previously were dashed off by writers impatient with the traditional publishing process. These are books that would have been trunked when they didn’t catch the golden ring of a big publishing contract.

This summer and fall, I’m seeing a huge number of very talented writers stepping off the traditional-publishing-hamster-wheel and taking a spin on the self-publishing roulette. As more and more of these writers get their books into the hands of readers—as more and more of them climb the Amazon bestseller charts—I think the perceptions of industry insiders with regards to the “quality” of self-publishing will seriously start to change.

Because readers will love these books, buy them, and recommend them to all their friends.

See more guest posts about Open Minds at the Virtual Launch Party!

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep. 

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her. 

Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy) by Susan Kaye Quinn is available for $2.99 in e-book (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords) and $9.99 in print (Amazon, Createspace). 

Susan Kaye Quinn is giving away an Open Books/Open Minds t-shirt, mug, and some fun wristbands to celebrate the Virtual Launch Party of Open Minds (Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy)! (Check out the prizes here.) 
Three ways to enter (you can have multiple entries):

1)    Leave a comment here or at the Virtual Launch Party post

2)    Tweet (with tag #keepingOPENMINDS)
                Example: When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous
                thing to keep. #keepingOPENMINDS @susankayequinn #SF #YA
                avail NOW http://bit.ly/psX1Hh

                Example: Celebrate the launch of OPEN MINDS by @susankayequinn 

                                                                                  #keepingOPENMINDS #SciFi #paranormal #YA avail NOW  
3)    Facebook (tag @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn)
Example: Celebrate the launch of paranormal/SF novel OPEN MINDS by @AuthorSusanKayeQuinn for a chance to win Open Books/Open Minds prizes!


Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Rick - Thanks so much for being a Party Host and letting me take over your blog for a day! (And for your sweet words at the top! :))

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks Rick, Thanks Susan.

Again Susan, another stunning essay. I write in a niche market, which means, right from the go, I knew my books had to stand out in order to get noticed. Especially as self-published. And readers know what they want, whether from a traditionalist or entrepenuer, they want quality. So in order to get readers, you have to have that something extra that sets you apart.

Much continued success with Open Minds.

Bane of Anubis said...

Great interview... it's big wide world out there (scary, too), and I am thoroughly impressed how you and Rick have jumped into the self-pub arena. Admittedly, there's not much (if any) stigma associated with it anymore, but the effort required to promote and create and distribute seems ginormous (well done!).

FTR: I read Girl w/ D Tattoo, but only b/c I was stuck in a car. It picked up after page 100, but was still convoluted as all heck... As for whether it would be published or not these days, I have a feeling Europeans probably have different standards from us.

Sherrie Petersen said...

So many really good writers are going the self-published route. I think that just means the quality will keep getting better. Thanks to blogging, it's now easier to find those quality books, too.

Kamille Elahi said...

This is a fantastic post I agree with completely. Many traditionally published books are awful (I'm talking about most of the books released within the last 5-10 years) with the exception of some wonderful books which are rather rare. But I have read some very good self-published books.

I walked into a bookshop today to find some books to read. I looked around and found that nothing was interesting. I was bored. There were all these flashy covers and I couldn't decide which books to pick up so I walked out empty-handed.

My theory is that the assumptions with self-publishing are made by corporations who want to make it look like their books are better than self-published books because they stand to lose money if people switch to self-published books from traditional. But this may just be far-fetched. I have no evidence to back it up.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Anne Thanks! It is interesting how your perspective changes, once you know that you're going to be in charge of marketing, as well as writing. :) But I think it helps to sharpen both!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Bane Thanks for your kind comments! And I think you're right about different stds in different markets. It's very interesting to me to have my book available to the French market just as it's opening up and people there are getting Kindles. I even have French friends who have posted reviews! But it will be interesting to see if the book itself appeals to a different culture. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Sherrie You're absolutely right, and I think this fall was a bit of a turning point. I'll be shocked if we don't see some major changes ahead in quality and perception of it. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

@Kamille I'm not sure that publishers want to make self-publishers look bad as much as they want to hold tight to their control of the market. Part of that was assigning themselves the role of "gatekeeper of quality" - implying that anything outside of that was lacking. And it was easy to enforce that perception when they controlled distribution. But having that kind of monopoly over what is released also leads to lack of diversity (I believe) in titles/ideas that get published. With self-publishing I think things have gotten a lot more egalitarian. I'm glad you're finding self-pubbed books you like!! That's what every author wants - readers to find books they enjoy! :)

Rick Daley said...

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting!

And thanks again Sue for such a great post. You made many good points!

Rachel Morgan said...

A fascinating post. You're right: it really doesn't matter what industry professionals think when all we should care about is what READERS think!

Laurie Carlson said...

You're absolutely RIGHT about what Publishers are thinking and saying about Indie authors! THEY consider themselves the BEST, in THEIR minds!! I'm a Book Blogger who writes book reviews on my Blog. I think the current state of self-publishing is starting to out-weigh that of the BIG Publishers! They SHOULD be SCARED and I think they are! They have a LOT of competition now! The little guy NOW has A HUGE CHANCE at BIG success!
I think it is the Book Bloggers who do reviews who play a HUGE part of self-publisher's success! I have done a HUGE number of reviews for Indie Authors! I've met some WONDERFULLY GIFTED WRITERS THIS WAY! My Blog has many MORE self-published books than from actual Publisher's books! I would stand to put some self published books AGAINST ANY books from Publishers! I am SO glad this IS happening! Self published authors are NOT lower on the totem pole versus Authors who have BIG Publishers! Quite the opposite from my experience! Amazon has done a LOT for self publishers! KOODLES to the Indie Authors!
There ARE books that DON'T make it, and they DO die quickly, and it ALL takes place in the reviews of the books!
The BEST thing a self published author can do, in 'my' opinion is to get Book Bloggers to do reviews! Find their target Reviewers that like the genre book they have written, and have THEM review! Once an author gets RAVE reviews on their books, they are WAY ABOVE any other author!
I am SO glad to see the Indie Authors SOARING! I have NEVER thought of the authors whose works have been denied by the BIG publishers as being less than. I have always considered the publishers to be looking for the current 'fad' at the time, which I HONESTLY think plays a HUGE ROLE in whether or not they accept the 'little guy'. MANY times they are WRONG! I know MANY Indie Authors who have made it HUGE! One in particular, Melissa Foster, won ALL kinds of awards on her book, Megan's Way. She continues to climb with her new release now!
I NEVER give Indie authors self doubt or think ANY less of them, EVER! I support Indie's MORE than authors from publishers!
I'll say it again, it all boils down to the BOOK REVIEWS! They are SO important! They make or break ANY book! This INCLUDES Publisher's books as well!
I think ALL authors dedicate the same quality in every aspect to their writing. It is the Publishers now who should be scared because of this! It IS the Indie's who have the upper hand now! They HAVE the opportunity to go and GET their works published WITHOUT the Publishers now and GET their works out there! My statement is this: A LOT of publishers are really kicking themselves in their rear's because of what they have declined! Those declined books are out there NOW and SOARING TO #1 POSITIONS! HA!
I will also say that my fellow Book Bloggers would agree with me. So MANY of our giveaways on our blogs are Indie Authors! They are out-shining Publisher's books left and right!
I have one more comment to make IF this one goes through! It's long!
Laurie Carlson
laurieisreading at gmail dot com

Laurie Carlson said...

Hi again!
The second comment I wanted to make is this: I was sent 19 books from a HUGE Publisher, in August and September. I am JUST getting to them NOW! I had such a HUGE backlog of books from Indie Authors FIRST! I put the Indie's FIRST! I get requests ALL the time for reviews, which I LOVE! I wouldn't have a Blog if I didn't like to read a book and write a review on it!
When I send my review to the Publishers, I tell them when they sent me their book, I HAD to read what I had FIRST, THEN I was able to read their book or books. I make SURE to tell them I have a LOT of Independent Authors who have asked me to review their books, and I'm going in order. That may NOT be the exact truth! Whatever interests me the MOST is what I read, and in what order! Now I will admit 9 times out of 10, it IS the Indie Authors who have MUCH BETTER books than the Publishers!
I said in my previous comment that the Publisher's go with the 'fads or trends' of the times. I don't think Indie Authors do that. They write what they have, and publish them! If the Publishers are more open to that, the Indie authors WOULD have been swept up by the Publishers!
I am just SO happy to say that it's about TIME the Indie Authors have this chance at self publishing! MANY are CHOOSING THIS METHOD OVER ANY OTHER 'because they can'! That is the MOST IMPORTANT thing! Because they CAN! KOODLES TO THEM!
I am now seeing Indie Authors are starting to band together, as well, and start up companies to help promote each others books, as well. This is WONDERFUL!
My advice to Indie Authors is to get your books reviewed, do Author Interviews,(heck, the popular authors represented by Publishers would NEVER do an Author Interview for Book Bloggers! Although I can't say that across the board because there are some authors who DO have publishers who HAVE done interviews for me, but for the most part, they DON'T!) Continue to even do Author Posts, and more! Book Bloggers are doing Twitter Parties, Facebook Parties, and MORE! It's really awesome HOW FAR they have come!
I agree the invention of the ereaders have helped this along! Companies like Amazon who help authors publish their works on their own help as well!
It IS important to have exceptional editing and to have the books formatted correctly when selling them. People expect a 'perfect' book in that regard, and I agree. Books that you purchase had better be as good as or better than the Publishers' books. It's at that point when people may start to doubt the self published authors.
There was one book that a MAJOR editing and formatting company for an Indie author I know had her reviews PLUMMET because this company really screwed up her book when it was submitted to Amazon. That generated BAD reviews. This ONE part of the process is the MOST IMPORTANT!
Other than that, I will say again, Indie Authors are some of the BEST of the BEST Authors out there for the pubic today!
I support Indie Authors COMPLETELY, GLADLY, AND LOVE THEM DEARLY! They have some of the BEST books I have EVER read!
Thank YOU, Indie Authors, FOR PUBLISHING YOUR TALENTED WORKS! Without ALL of you, where would we ALL be today without you? The amount of creativity provides us with the BEST BOOKS AVAILABLE TODAY!
Laurie Carlson
laurieisreading at gmail dot com