Indie Book Blunders: A Reader’s Moment of Doubt

quotes by famous authors about bad booksI need convincing. I need convincing that it’s worth my while continuing to read books by independent authors.

Before you start shouting, ‘Defector, defector’, hear me out, please.

My Kindle has been one of my favourite purchases (I pretty much take my Kindle everywhere). It’s up there with my ice-cream maker (seriously, home-made ice cream is to die for, seriously), my MX5 (oh, I’m so in love with my car) and my latest bicycle (yes, I’m the female version of a MAMIL).

My first task upon receipt of my beloved Kindle was to download books onto it. Where to look? Amazon, of course, but via Facebook friends, I found some interesting book groups: groups frequented by independent authors, who, I discovered, were keen to give readers free copies of books in return for an honest review. Excellent! It wasn’t the free books that attracted me, I hasten to add (by this time I had, in fact, gone slightly beserk on Amazon, and my bill that first month of Kindle ownership was a bit…ahem…and caused raised eyebrows and dropped jaws on Mr S) but avenues leading to a source of potentially good books.

And so started my book-reviewing journey. Which has — for the most part — been an extremely enjoyable one. Yes, there have been some bumpy roads and some catastrophic wrong turns, but on the whole, it’s been a wonderful ride. I felt, and still very much feel, very privileged to be considered to review an author’s work.

BUT my journey’s road is getting uncomfortably rocky. So…what? Aren’t the books that great anymore? Oh, yes, they are. I’ll even go so far as to say that the quality of writing gets better and better. If I had to choose my favourite book this year, I’d be very hard pressed to select one. There are quite a few jostling for pole position.

What’s getting me down…again, alas again…is the quality of editing. It’s an unbalanced scale: while the quality of the writing and stories goes up, the standard of editing goes down. Of those many books competing to get my book-of-the-year award, there are, depressingly, very, very few that would get an award for editing excellence.  Or even get past first base.

And that’s Just. Not. Good. Enough. Sorry, but there it is.

It all starts so promisingly: the first page has me hooked, I’m already liking the main characters(s), the author’s style is punchy, readable, original, and then the lead balloon falls. Oh no. No, no, no. Spelling errors, bad punctuation, missing words. Aaargh! I now start each book, not with, ‘Ooooh, this looks good, can’t wait to get into this one’, but with, ‘*Sigh*, I hope the editing’s better in this one’. I don’t want to be saying this at the start of every book. I shouldn’t have to be saying this at the start of every book. And the thought now getting very comfortable in my mind is, ‘If this is yet another editing fiasco, that’s it, Indies No More’.

I’ve ‘virtually’ bumped into a number of readers lately, who have confessed they’ve taken a break from reading books by indies and taken a little holiday in trad-pubbed land. That’s not what the independent community wants. Indies want readers, followers, fans, and they want them to hang around.

I read an interesting little book, recently, called Slicing the Hype by Michal Stawicki. It’s a short ‘how-to’ book — how to spot the genuine indie-author book. Mainly applicable to non-fiction, there are pointers to fiction as well. The author’s aim is to help you identify which books are worth reading before you buy, download and ultimately end up throwing your Kindle at the wall in frustration. Aimed principally at the reader, I think some authors would find plenty of advice in this book: they may actually find out why their books aren’t selling or are getting poor reviews. Authors write because they love to write and love their books being read…and enjoyed. So they need readers; they desperately need readers. The more the merrier. It’s not enough to attract them with glossy covers. Stawicki maintains that the first ten percent of the book will reveal a lot about the quality of the book, especially that of editing. Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ facility provides the opportunity to examine those first few pages. If the author doesn’t make an impression in that initial ten percent, that’s it: curtains.

Yes, okay, okay, I’m being a little over-dramatic. Of course I shall continue to support the indie community. I’ve got an Everest-high mountain of books to review. And most importantly, I do really, really enjoy them.

Please, please, please, authors: edit, edit, edit. Or more specifically, find a good editor. Neighbour, brother, sister, darling husband or wife are not suitable candidates. Nor are you. You can’t edit your own books.

So…authors, reader, reviewers…perhaps it’s not conviction I need. I think I’ve managed to persuade myself that I’m just having a funny five minutes. But…a little buffer wouldn’t go amiss.

Am I alone here? Do you get, or have you become, equally frustrated?

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

50 thoughts on “Indie Book Blunders: A Reader’s Moment of Doubt”

  1. Mmm… I’m not sure what to say. The Indie books I read [99.9999% of my reading] are all polished, well-crafted and well-edited. But. I’m not a reviewer per se. I get to ‘look inside’ and choose not to buy, so I’ve probably missed all the ones that are giving you heartburn. I do understand your frustration though. 🙁

  2. I have a nook with the kindle app. I’ve discovered several writers I really like from free offers and have then purchased many of their other books. I see many of the same editing problems, even with authors I like and purchase more of their books. It is frustrating, but doesn’t stop me from continuing in a series if I like the story enough. This is mostly scifi as that is my favorite recreational reading.

  3. This is a message that we need to put out again and again. It IS getting through but unless we keep pushing it I fear we’ll backslide. Keep telling us Cathy. And what you say goes for covers, too, IMHO.

  4. I completely understand what you’re saying. I’m reading a self-published book right now that’s gotten some great reviews – and I can see WHY it’s gotten great reviews, because it’s a fantastic story – that’s full of proofing and editing errors. I feel bad for the author because he’s clearly a storyteller, but I know eventually the errors are going to hurt his sales.

    On a slightly different note, I wonder if there’s been an increase in poor editing lately (as you noted) because the cost of hiring a freelance editor seems to have skyrocketed in the last couple of years. I know that’s no excuse, but I can’t help but wonder if there’s a correlation.

  5. In as much as I agree, somewhat, with Cathy, I want to say, please don’t give up on all of us. I too have purchased books I was a bit disappointed with, and some were, well…let’s say, in need of a spell check. I can overlook some of this, but it is when the author begins to slide downhill I find hard to swallow. I get bored easily. If an author spends too much time, either describing a situation, or their work consists of merely dialogue, it kind of…sort of…well, bores me. Give readers at least a balance. You don’t necessarily have to describe EVERY little detail, or use words which stop (some) readers to investigate just to be sure they are understanding what it is you are trying to convey. Balance out your characters, build your plot, tease your reader, give your readers insight, of what you, the writer, has encountered in your life, by leaving tidbits of information sprinkled along the way that you have gained along the way in your life’s travels. Life itself is fiction. No one truly knows what happened to get us here, and no one truly knows what happens once we leave.

    1. Don’t worry, Vicki. I am the eternal optimist. The half-full-glass kinda gal! The bottom line is that I’ve read way too many stellar books by indies, so I know, I really know the quality is out there. Trouble is the polish loses its shine sometimes.

  6. I may be rather thick, but how can the quality of a book be better if the editing is poorer? Are you one of these mathematical geniuses who uses quadratic equations to solve riddles like: If A+B=0 and A-B=0, what’s the value of Q?
    Your proposition is a nonsequitur – that’s the only bit of Latin I can remember – as editing is part of the whole process of writing and producing a book. If that hasn’t been done properly, the book is not finished and thus it is sub-standard. How, then, can the quality of the book be better?

    1. Yes, I hear ya. Hard to explain. But I’ve come across some very commendable plots and good character portrayal. I’ve come across some really good writing…good scene descriptions, etc. I’ve come across some excellent dialogue, where it’s been snappy and witty. The only thing wrong has been missing punctuation, perhaps the odd missing word and spelling errors. So, I’m trying to separate the two here and not trying to judge the book as a whole. And trying to be kind. That’s why I said correlation was between the writing and the editing.
      But you’re absolutely right. If you’re judging the BOOK and assessing the whole package, then no, it doesn’t come out too well.
      I can tolerate a good story/writing and below-par editing. The editing can be fixed easily.
      I’m less tolerant of writing that sucks and editing that sucks even more.

      1. I think there’s a fairly simple line between writing and some kinds of editing. The Trad publishers think so anyway. First, think about if the book was read aloud to you. No spelling mistakes, no punctuation problems. So that’s the line between good and bad proof-reading. Then there are the repeated words, convoluted sentences, etc, which to some degree get in the way of your enjoyment. Still, something that could easily be fixed by a good copy editor.
        It’s only when you get into the stuff that Vicki Lee Zell mentions above that you can’t tell whether it’s the editing or the writing, because the two blend, and it becomes a matter of opinion, genre, and all those other artistic things.

  7. A very good point and so true. I cringe every time I run across grammar and punctuation issues. However, about 5 years ago I began to notice that most of the very publicized books from regular publishers were dreadful. This continues because the well known publishers no longer edit the books they put out. I suppose this is a money saving policy? I doubt this situation is going to change much since most self pub authors do not have the funds for a real professional editor. They will rely on a few educated friends to help out and that is “ify.” When I published Fettigrew Hall – The Biography of a House 5 years ago, self publishing had barely started. Print on demand was just beginning. My first printing had way too many mistakes. I thought I had caught them all and found that my second printing still had 8 more. Then, when in the studio for an audio recording, I caught another. It was only when hearing it that it was caught because I called a character Jean and two pages later, Jane. sigh. I think there are plenty of self pub writers who either don’t know the rules or don’t care. This disturbs me and I don’t want my book classified with those. I don’t think there is an answer to this.

    1. Sadly, I also have read appallingly edited books from the larger publishing houses…by high-ranking authors. Unfortunately, they know their popularity outweighs the need for superior editing.

  8. A good reminder for us to keep the bar high, Cathy. Editing has made me a more discerning reader (I really don’t want to keep editing in my head while I’m reading for pleasure!), so I read a few preview pages first. If one slips through and the errors are distracting me, I’ll stop. Maybe email the author. But all in all (from what I’ve seen), I think indie books are getting more professional, as the word spreads about professional editing and such.

    1. I hope so. The competition is hot…so many books vying for top places…a book has got to be as perfect as it can be.

      What I also find sad, is that authors have come back to me and said, with a sob and a sigh, oh but I did get it edited, it was a part of a package…..

  9. A resounding YES from me. I agree completely. I noticed that most of your examples are things that might be considered proofreading or the most nitpicking portion of the copyediting function. They’re the kind of things that (although complicated sometimes by UK/US usage and language differences) are either correct or not. I’m sure some readers aren’t as bothered as others by errors like these, but they’re a surefire way of a reader getting the impression that a book isn’t professionally polished.

    1. Good point, Al. I have, though, based my views after putting that aside. It’s those spelling errors in whatever English you’re using. Errors like ‘forth’ instead of ‘fourth’. Incorrect past participles. They ubiquitous ‘it’s’ and ‘its’. Once or twice, okay, the author is forgiven. No one is perfect. But page after page after page can’t possibly be attributed to a bad editor/proofreader/whatever. It just hasn’t been edited, surely.

      1. I agree, whatever flavor of English the author uses is fine as long as it is correct and consistent.

        From my observation, I think there are three factors that are common that allow errors to get through. One is editing has multiple pieces from the high level of a content editor to the lowest (some don’t even call it editing) of proofreading for typos and punctuation, and everything in between. Many authors hire an editor not realizing what that editor does and doesn’t do, then think they’re ready to go. There are also editors out there who are cheap, but maybe not worth what they charge. And last, all editors are human and make mistakes or miss things. If an author hired a copyeditor who said they’d look for grammar and spelling issues, odds are some are going to sneak through. I think multiple passes are needed. (Depending on the author, their team, and their process, this might be beta readers with solid grammatical skills doing the final passes or a proofreader or another copy editor doing a final pass.) I know one author who uses a content editor, two copy editors, and no less than 3 proofreading passes, plus a team of beta readers. She’s an exception, but she’s learned that if she wants her books to be polished, that’s what she needs to have the confidence that these things have been shaken out.

        My suspicion is that the traditional publishers who people say have garbage sneak through (something I have yet to see, but also read much less of in recent years) might have cut out a redundant editing pass they used before as a cost saving measure and it has allowed more errors to sneak through.

  10. Thanks for telling us this, Cathy. I hadn’t realized that the quality of editing had gone down so much. I hope that indies hear your message and take it to heart. I think when people first get into self-publishing, they may not want to outlay big bucks before they see how it works. While you can get important parts of the process, like beta readers, for free, you can’t get editing free. So, people may have really strong books that have been beta read and reworked for plot or pacing issues. But, they still don’t spend on the editing component. And that’s unfortunate, because editing does matter.

    If people are approaching indie books with dread, that’s not a good place for us to be.

  11. A book must be edited for content; for that, I rely on beta readers. A book should be proofread by a several pairs of “eagle eyes.” I have a few friends who fit that description! Authors need to master grammar, punctuation, and syntax and take responsibility for their writing. At that point, an author might wish to hire a qualified editor–one that edits based on accepted rules rather than personal preferences. Many authors have become increasingly frustrated with editors, and that’s an issue, too. Still, the point is: No book should be written alone, and every story we produce should be our best effort at the time. It’s a never-ending process…

    1. It so is. It’s a tough one. If you paint a picture, all you have to do is put it in a frame. Done. If embroider a picture, all you have to is frame it. If you write a book, however, you need a team, the member of which all need to be on the same page. It could be that some of the greener authors think that all there is to writing a book is just that: write it, release it. Sorted, on to the next.

    2. I think you’ve nailed it, Linda, at least in part, with this: “Authors need to master grammar, punctuation, and syntax and take responsibility for their writing.” Authors need to know the rules in the first instance, and they need to take at least *some* care as they write. They can’t just do a brain dump and expect their editor to fix everything for them.

  12. Timely post, Cathy! Editing is SO important, and more so for indies. It’s a fact that indies are held to higher standards by readers and if we fall short, it’s, “Oh. Well. What did you expect? It’s self-published.” I don’t know about y’all, but I’m playing the long game and view writing as a CAREER. I want to be considered a professional and that isn’t going to happen unless I take myself and my writing seriously.

    Yes, editing costs money, and yes, it takes work to become a better writer, but what business/career doesn’t take an investment of time and/or money? And, more importantly, I HATE to disappoint readers. Many, if not most, of the readers I’ve heard from thank me for caring enough to have my work edited. In the end, it’s all about the READERS. Make your work easy for them to enjoy. I promise, it’s worth it 🙂

  13. The ultimate reward has got to be readers coming back for more. Putting aside the financial benefits, it just makes the literary world a nice place to hang out in! Reading is a hobby, a leisure pastime: if it’s an effort, it ceases to be those things and it’s simple to move on to something else that isn’t going to cause such grief. By the same token, writing becomes a money-making hobby. It can’t be much fun writing books no one buys.

  14. Anyone who hangs out here at IU, I think, is well aware of this issue and strives to put out excellent work with excellent editing. It’s interesting that some of the beta-reads I do for our growing circle have zero punctuation, spelling and grammar issues–pure joy! However, what I’ve noticed lately are the trad-pubbed series. My husband’s gotten hooked on several western series where a new book comes out about every two months, and the editing is atrocious. I’ve read several in an action series where I find serious problems, as well, and the only thing I can attribute it to is publishing too fast. As noted above, the editing process for trad-pub has gotten very truncated and sloppy. Speed seems to be the operative word, not quality and certainly not polish. Makes me very glad that I don’t give a damn how long I take between books; don’t care if it’s a year, even two, because I won’t publish until I feel confident it’s as good as I can make it. All I can say, Cathy, is hang in there. You provide an invaluable service, both with your reviewing and your posting here. We need you!

    1. Melissa, I’d like to believe that about the people who hang out at IU, but just think about all the posts we’ve done on book covers and making certain that the title is legible in thumbnail. THEN go look at an installment of Thrifty Thursday or Print Book Party and tell me how many of those you can read in thumbnail. And a good number of those are from people who should know better. I totally understand where Cathy is coming from. It’s frustrating and annoying and is one of the reasons why we’ve put free features on hold here at IU. We were spending more time slogging through the vetting process and advising authors on how to make their books better – for free – and ending up with very few books to feature. I don’t know if a lot of authors just think this stuff doesn’t apply to them, or what. All I can do is shake my head.

  15. Another facet of the Ultimate Reward, KS, is when someone contacts you by e-mail out of the blue and sends you a copy of the five star review she’s just posted on Amazon about one of your books. That happened to me just half an hour ago, and I couldn’t be more delighted. Not only knowing that someone has enjoyed my work, but they they have taken the time and trouble to review it AND to tell me directly. Now that’s the sort of feedback and reward every author must love. 🙂
    The Cheshire Cat has serious competition today in the grinning stakes! 🙂

  16. Good points. And I would add that depending on eagle-eyed friends just may not be good enough, as I discovered to my chagrin with the last one. I think this is especially true if your nitpicky friends are trying to read it as readers AND edit at the same time — people just plain get caught up in a fast-moving story, and as good readers they skim the middle of words and phrases without even realizing it.

  17. You’re never going to force indies to do anything they don’t want to, and you have a lot of trouble shaming them into it either. That’s the good part of being an indie, and the disadvantage, because people don’t know what they don’t know.
    However, I think there should be a lot of talk out there about taking pride in your craftsman (craftsperson?) ship and professionalism. Being a professional indie writer is a select occupation, and you pay a lot of dues to get there. We need to toot our own horn and gently urge the beginners to work to attain a high skill level for their own sense of self-worth.
    That’s the word from the “touchy-feelie” brigade. 🙂

  18. Thanks for this post! I’m always encouraged by any think piece that reiterates the importance of professional editing.

    I have to say, I’m right there with you. I’m an editor who works almost exclusively for indies, so of course I want to support indies, and I want to keep up with trends in indie publishing for selfish professional reasons anyway. So when I browse for pleasure-reading books, I look at indie titles first.

    And there are certainly indie authors whose published works are indistinguishable from a well-edited trad-pubbed book, but I can’t count how many times I’ve thought, “Ooh, this book looks interesting,” only to ‘X’ out of there after a page or two of the Look Inside.

    I don’t have the answers, but I’ll close with this: on a lark just now, I opened one of my most recent BookGorilla deals newsletters, which most readers probably know is one of the curated bargain books newsletters, like BookBub. I opened every single indie title and went to the Look Inside. Out of just over 20 titles, one had no errors in the first few pages. One. The others *all* had errors–one had one error, and the others all had multiple errors. The most common were hyphenation problems, general problems with open/closed compounds (e.g., everyday instead of every day, summer time instead of summertime), missing/incorrect commas, and wrong punctuation around dialogue. A few had incorrect usage (if I recall, one was “preclude” where “precede” seemed to have been meant), shifting tense, totally missing punctuation, or misplaced modifiers. Many mentioned their editor or editing company by name, and indeed I wouldn’t say most of them looked “unedited”–I’m sure they started out less polished before an editor got to them, yet they still had obvious issues. (No actual typos, though, so there’s that.) None of the trad-pubbed titles I checked from the same newsletter had any such problems.

    1. Eliza, you are echoing my thoughts exactly. I find so many authors don’t know that ‘must’ is the present tense and really get in quite a pickle with woulds/would haves, coulds/could haves. Or maybe it’s their editors not picking these up, along with…as you mention…unhyphenated compounds, the inability to distinguish between infer and imply and not just misplaced modifiers, but misplaced adverbs too. I’m not a hard taskmaster…a list two A4 pages long is my benchmark. That’s about 100 errors. I think that’s quite lenient for a book. Anything after that, and I’m not a happy bunny.

  19. I found your discourse completely fascinating, Eliza Dee, and yet didn’t understand ninety percent of its terminology. That’s why I love my editors! 🙂

  20. I write fiction, as well as edit for a handful of other writers from time to time. I have both a bachelor’s and master’s in English, not to mention the even more valuable background of growing up in the fifties and sixties when a person got a good grasp of the English language by the time she left high school. I often have writers tell me they’ve already paid a “professional” editor to edit their books, yet I still find a boatload of errors.

    Now no editor catches everything. The human eye sees what it expects to see, so something will always slip by. But when a lot slips by…well, that’s just wrong.

    Even worse, some writers tell me the so-called editor actually caused many of the errors. For example, a writer whose book I recently edited overused semi-colons and used them incorrectly. When I pointed this out, she told me nearly all were put there by her former editor. I believe her, because not so coincidentally, the semi-colon use matched what Word’s pitiful grammar check advised, and Word’s grammar check doesn’t have a clue as to the correct way to use semi-colons. That leads me to think that a lot of these editors depend on Word’s grammar check to do their job. And that’s a very bad idea.

    1. A very, very bad idea indeed. I’ve just read a book that I was assured was edited, but I would bet my bottom dollar the editor simply used grammar check. Word is not an editor.

  21. All I can say is I love my editor and she’s worth every penny I pay her. Do my books sell? Well, things have been a bit slow lately, but I am hoping that with a few new titles coming up that I might gain some interest again. It’s a crapshoot for any indie author, and I’m hoping that my work will shine just a bit brighter with all the effort I put into producing a good product.

    1. And that’s all a reader wants…at the end of day, when you purchase a product, you want what you paid for, not a substandard one. There’s no doubt that if the reader can see the author has taken care to produce the best possible product, s/he will go back for more.

  22. I’ve read just a handful of self-published books and made editorial suggestions to a few of them. Lack of editing jumps off the page all the time. Not just typos, but scrappy writing, underwritten characters, overwritten paragraphs, flabby dialogue. The books I’ve (self-)published have been edited anything up to six or more times, sometimes completely re-written. BUT I also have a pro-editor friend (ex Random House), so you’re right to urge getting an independent, ideally professional view. Even on your own, it should be possible to spot words/paragraphs/pages/chapters that don’t belong, that don’t move the story/characters forward. Edit edit edit!

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