December 16, 2011

back to basics

Earlier this week, I had a bit of a rant. In an effort to support my fellow Indie authors, I started searching for self-published books to read. I thought I was doing pretty good. Realizing that not everyone has graphic design experience like I do or the money to hire someone who does, I ignored covers. I selected books based solely on the blurbs they offered, and then the sample.

But what I found while searching was disheartening. Here is my rant, edited for language, because I got a bit heated about it.

i just realized: there's a good reason self-published books have such a bad reputation.

dear authors,

if you plan on self-publishing, please have the courtesy to hire an editor, or run spell check at the very least, and please take a rudimentary college English writing course. you make the rest of us look bad when you don't.

yours truly,

brooke johnson

I came across book blurbs riddled with typos. In one, the spelling of the main character’s name changed halfway through, and in another two, the author used colons or ellipses instead of periods. And in yet another, the author failed to capitalize anything (now I understand that I don’t always capitalize things on social media, but that’s social media, not a book blurb).

I had several responses to my rant. Someone accused me of trashing my fellow Indie, which obviously meant I was trashing myself. And then they went on a rant against the Big 6 publishers and had nothing more to add to the conversation. I wasn’t trashing Indie writers, and another commenter pointed that out. I’m going to quote him word for word here:

I don’t think +Brooke Johnson is trashing a fellow Indie… This is about general practice. As Indies and Self-publishers we should be hyper-dedicated to putting out a great product. It is unfortunate that one or two poor books reflect on the entire indie community, but it is a reality and it does.
He’s right. Because we don’t have an agent and editor to rely on, we have to be extra attentive to our work. When we put out a book that obviously wasn’t edited, we hurt ourselves and the rest of the Indie publishers.

Another commenter brought up the point that the author may not realize how bad their book actually is. I’m pretty sure we’ve all written terrible books, especially those from early in our career. And thankfully, I didn’t have the option to self-publish in those early years. It would have destroyed any faith I had in myself, because I wrote crap. And it was stuff I thought was great at the time.

With the ease of self-publishing, anyone can put a book up for sale, and if they charge only $0.99 for it, they’re like to have buyers. And that may seem like success until the reviews come in, the one- or two-star reviews that rip into the author and their book. I know that if I had published my first book, I would have quit writing altogether after the general public got a hold of it. And I’m afraid that’s going to happen to a lot of new writers. They don’t know any better. However, ignorance is no excuse. Not in this industry.

So, in response to this ignorance—or perhaps, laziness, which I can’t help—I’m going to do something helpful. Rather than rant and complain about the poor quality of most self-published books, I’m going to start a blog series about writing basics. I’ll be taking all of you back to freshman composition for a time, and then to the complexities of creative writing. I’ll be teaching you everything that I learned in college, from writing coherently, to dialogue, exposition, description, transitions, as well as plot, structure, characterization, pacing, revision, and even queries and book blurbs. Some of the stuff that I’ll be covering will be old hat to a lot of people, but every day, another writer hits the interwebz with their first manuscript, looking for guidance. If I can help one person, it’ll be worth it.

I was lucky enough to get all of my bad writing out of my system in the three years I spent studying at my university. I wrote a lot of crap, but because of that crap, I learned how not to write. And then I learned how to write. Maybe I can help someone skip ten years of bad novels with this blog series, which I’ll be starting after the new year, when I’m a bit more focused. And that will give me plenty of time to organize an outline of posts, because there will be several. I’m thinking that the blog series might take up at least two months’ worth of blog posts.

If there is anything you’d like me to cover in that series, don’t hesitate to comment here or send me an email. I’m also thinking as part of this series, I’ll answer specific questions from other writers, which you can email to me. If there is anything you’re having trouble with, I am here to help. I may not be a bestselling author, but I’ve been around for a while, and I did go to school for this. I want to help. So, if you have any questions about any aspect of writing, even if you think it’s unique to your work-in-progress, I would be happy to answer your question on my blog. Your question might help someone else in the same situation. So don’t hesitate to contact me.

So, starting next year, we’ll be going back to basics, and we’ll work our way up to the more complex writing elements.

I hope you all have a fantastic weekend! See you Monday.


  1. Ooh, can I then step in and teach them all how to be pretentious literary fiction writers? :P

  2. Loved, loved, LOVED this post! I hope you finish the series quickly...I want to post a permanent link to it on my blog! :D

  3. I'm sure that a lot of people will have much to thank you for, down the road -- the writer(s) you'll have assisted in guiding away from disgrace, and the readers who who got better writing because of it.
    Exposure to constructive advice, making mistakes (preferably out of the public view!), and knowing better for all the next times: Such is the road to writing well. Good on you for trying to help smooth the way. :)

  4. Yes, "the readers who who". *Those* readers. (Where's the "shaking head at self" emoticon...?)

  5. So few seem to care about correct grammar and spelling anymore. It drives me crazy. I've even seen obvious mistakes in newspapers and magazines, which are definitely not self-published. Thank you for this post. I really hope those who need it see it.