Us Versus Them

- by Dianne Drake

A couple weeks ago, a friend called and told me he’d just downloaded a “must read” book for 99 cents, and that I had to get it and read it immediately. He promised me I’d be amazed by what my penny-shy-of-a-dollar would buy me. So I bought it, and he was right. I was amazed.

In the first three pages I encountered seven misspellings, thirteen incorrect punctuation marks and a dozen instances of bad grammar. By page five, the lead character’s name had changed its spelling, and that’s when I quit reading, called my friend and told him he owed me a full dollar – 99 cents for what I’d spent on the book, and the extra penny for wasting my time.

Those books are out there, though. The bad ones, the ones that give good authors the literary black eye. Why? Because everybody wants to be a writer, whether or not they can actually write. If you study some sort of writing at the college level, you learn the academic way to approach it so, hopefully, you’ll be able to put together five pages where every second or third sentence doesn’t contain some kind of mistake.

Writing organizations with their various chapters and critique outlets may not produce better writers but, at the very least, they make their members aware of what’s good and what’s not. But what about the indie writer who doesn’t know that in standard format five exclamation points after a sentence is a no-no? Where does he or she learn?

Honestly, there’s probably no answer to that because right now there are hoards of readers willing to risk that 99 cents on the chance that a cheap read might also be a good read. Sometimes they get lucky, sometimes they don’t. I actually consider that my money was well-spent because it gave me something to think about. Try as I might, though, I can’t really come up with a good solution to the hack writer who will damage us all over time, if not in overt ways, in the subtle ways that, to a career writer, make a difference. It’s his right to write, his right to make mistakes all over the page. And maybe readers may buy him only once, but there are still plenty of people out there willing to gamble with that dollar. Unfortunately, another dollar in the pocket encourages another sub-standard book.

One of my best friends, Donnell Ann Bell, saw her first book published last November. Donnell is an extraordinary writer, and I’ve been watching her progression for several years as she consistently banged away on her computer keys, day after day, in order to write the very best book she could. It was a difficult process. She gave up her day job to write. Suffered through agent rejections, one after the other, where no one caught her vision. Took a few publisher hits as well. But her book was bought by a small publisher with a strong reputation and a good vision for its future in the industry, and even though the book has been out four months, it’s consistently moving up on the best-seller lists, selling better than some of the biggest names in the industry. Why is that happening? Because Donnell wrote the best book she could have written, and maybe that’s the solution to the hack writer who’s trying to compete against all of us. He or she isn’t writing a good book. Which means it’s up to us to write better than the hack.

It sounds simple enough, but it’s not because it’s easy to become complacent after writing a lot of books. That’s a fact of life. I’ve had 42 published now, and I’ll admit, complacency rears its ugly head from time to time, making me wonder if I’m doing everything I can to put my best book out there. Admit it. One book after another – it does get tough.

In NINC, we’re career writers. No matter what the industry does, no matter what kind of product loaded with egregious errors is tossed out there to compete with our books, we get up every day and write. But maybe it’s time to take an honest look at what we’re writing, because complacency will cost us dearly when the hack writers convince readers that five exclamation points are acceptable, that misspellings are OK so long as you get the gist of what they’re trying to say, and that it’s perfectly fine to change the spelling of the character’s name twice in five pages. Face it. That’s what we’re up against right now. Donnell won because she didn’t give up. She believed she could do it, and look at her soar. Same goes for us. We can still soar, but only if we shake the complacency and return to that level of commitment I watched in Donnell for so many years.

Remember your first book? It might not have been the best work you’ve ever produced but the struggle to take it from concept to published may have been the best effort you’ve ever put in. Going forward in the publishing world, that’s the kind of effort every book is going to take if we want to beat the inferior grade that’s flooding the market. So, complacency be damned while the hacks struggle with their spell-checkers.

Now, I really want my 99 cents back!!!!!

11 comments

  1. I shy away from the 99 cent reads for the exact reasons you mentioned. And I’ve been so disappointed by free reads that now I only download free reads from authors I know or on recommendations from friends (who really think the book is good and aren’t trying to get me to waste my money!)

    Great post, Dianne!

  2. Okay – if a book is free I wouldn’t be wasting my money…. you get my point, right?

  3. The allure of a 99cent book in today’s economy is strong. I’ve only bought one or two. The big question isn’t will be buy a 99cent book, but will be by the NEXT book by that 99cent author?

    I am embarrassed to say that there was a one day special on Donnell’s book and I downloaded it for free. I loved the book and hopefully paid her back by writing a glowing review for Amazon and Goodreads. I’ll definitely pay full price for her NEXT book.

  4. Forgive erros – should read:
    will we buy?

    hanging head in shame.

  5. You got off easy, Dianne. I’ve read some $2.99 books with those same kinds of errors. I find myself staying away from the indie writers, at any price. It’s too frustrating, in the way editors must feel as they wade through slush piles.

    I, too, read Donnell’s book and found it a page-turner. Thanks for sharing some of the steps on her journey. You’ve inspired me!

  6. I loved Donnell’s book.

    Like you, I’ve bought $.99 books. Rarely have I found one worth my dollar.

    I get frustrated at new writers who won’t take the time to learn the craft…who are so impatient to publish that they can’t wait to get an answer back from a reputable publisher…who see dollar signs in self-publishing and rush out there to throw up something. They are missing the point that authors making $$ at self-publishing are mostly seasoned writers who aren’t making the newbie mistakes and who know how to tell a story.

    Good topic

  7. That’s why you should ALWAYS download the free sample (usually the first 10% of the book). There are lots of excellent e-books out there, and sample is the best way know whether or not to order.

  8. Very inspiring post, Dianne. I’m always shocked at unrealistic people are when they decide to write their own book. They think it only takes a few weeks to write and publish it – then they’re raking in the cash.

    Um…no.

    It takes hard work, dedication and hard work to write a good book. Did I mention hard work? :-)

  9. Because publishers never publish books with typos, formatting errors or stupid plots. No, it’s only the unwashed masses of wretched indie writers who threaten to be “the hack writer(s) who will damage us all over time.”

    I know that’s not true. I pass over books like that on retail shelves every day. I realize the odds are higher among self-published titles, but the reaction is the same: reading something else. I fail to see the “damage” part of the equation.

  10. I remember my first completed manuscript. It was rejected because the story wasn’t strong enough, but at least the grammar and spelling wasn’t an issue. How easy it would be to put THAT book up on line but I’d be so embarrassed because it really wasn’t good enough to be published. And this is the problem – we are competing for the readers’ dollars against these books. Not sure what we can do though.

  11. You can’t damn an entire industry and its authors after sampling one book.

    Sure, lots of junk is out there in self-pub land, but there’s a lot of junk coming from the major publishers, too.

    It’s a rare big publisher genre book I read these days which wouldn’t be much improved by a major edit or the help of a book doctor.

    The editors from the big publishers don’t have the time to edit because they have to do so many other things, and their houses have cut staff to the bare bones but don’t cut the number of titles they put out.

    If I were a big publisher author, I’d pay a private editor to vet my story for errors and problems in the same way as the self-pubs should because the errors are blamed on the author, not the staff at the publisher.