Self-published authors who want to sell ebooks, listen up; the consensus in the Amazon Kindle forums is primarily that there’s “more editing needed for Indie authors.” Visit the Kindle forums (or fora for fancy-pants literature types) for a great place to learn many things: how all the nuances of Kindles work, publishing-world happenings, great new releases and often complaints of what Indie authors are promoting as salable ebooks on par with traditionally published ones.
The main complaint about Indie writers is lack of editing, which results in typos, grammar errors, bad dialogue, overuse of things like adverbs, plot issues and a long list of “pet peeves” from the average reader. Of course, there are no exact rules to writing as it is an art-form and many wonderful new stories are produced by nontraditional authors. However, when enough readers complain about the same things… it’s a safe bet they’re onto something. Poor craft or execution leads readers to mentally trip over your sentences and lose focus on the message within.
Solutions abound. Unfortunately, not all Indie authors have the same means (money) to hire the best help (editors), but there’s a list below to suit any budget. Here’s what can be done to help any manuscript get in shape for Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iPad, Smashwords and a host of other ebook retailers:
1. Hire a professional editor if you can afford it. Rates vary dramatically so research will be needed. Pro editors abound in writing forums or can be recommended, so ask around at places like Authonomy, Goodreads, RedRoom, and such. Maybe you can find a high-school English teacher wanting part time work as an alternative to an expensive full time editor.
2. Hire another editor if you can afford it. Why? Two heads are better than one.
3. Repeat until the money gets low.
(For many Indie writers, myself included, skip down to step 4.)
4. Get familiar with online resources designed to help with grammar and more. You can Google terms like “English rules,” “grammar,” and even things like “that vs. which.” Here’s a place I found using this method – http://www.grammarbook.com/english_rules.asp. Many more exist for free advice.
5. Use spell-check to make sure words are spelled correctly. It’s easy to miss your own obvious typos no matter how many times you read it!
6. Look up big words, homonyms, sayings, words with multiple meanings and also uncommon words to make sure they’re being used correctly. (E.g. is it “say your peace” or “say your piece?”)
7. Be very careful with things like clever dialect. Not everyone writes character dialect like Twain or Dickens, and many readers are seriously turned off as their minds labor on how to pronounce every third word.
8. Same with adverbs. Let the reader’s mind determine how things happen by using adverbs less frequently than over-explaining every little action. Often a better verb will convey the action rather than an adverb.
9. With dialogue, try to keep it flowing. If it’s obvious which character is speaking, there’s no need to point that out with a tag like, Clara said. If the dialogue explains the manner of tone, there’s no need to add, she shouted. These are general suggestions, of course.
10. Double-check little punctuation rules. Indie books commonly have errors like this; “I’m not sure which case to use for tags lines following quotation marks,” He said. (The tag line should be lower case, he said.)
11. Beware of passive voice vs. active voice in verbs (she was writing vs. she wrote). In general, readers agree that active voice makes the story come to life. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for passive voice, but it’s something to watch out for.
12. Get as many friends, family and others to read it as possible, asking for honest critique including editing advice instead of just pats on the back. Look for consistency in comments, and listen to what they say without getting defensive. It takes thick skin to make it as a writer, and some of that thickness is needed when readers point out how it can be made better.
13. Read more. Check for answers to some of your questions (like the lower case example above) in popular books.
14. Does the story have plot issues? Does it work for the average reader? This is often the hardest thing to fix and an element that can make or break your chances at Indie success. Listen to readers if they have major complaints with what happens in your story.
15. Once you’ve self-published ebooks, remember that it’s simple to update a revised version if new readers identify mistakes and issues. Just takes a few mouse clicks.
Sadly, some readers claim they’ve stopped reading Indie authors altogether. They say roughly 10% of them are worthwhile, and they just don’t have time to read through the rest to find the true gems. That’s why it makes sense to go the extra mile trying to get your book in the best shape it can be.
Your thoughts or comments?