I recently read an interesting stream on indie publishing questions. The comments ranged from "all indie books are terrible" to "there are some real gems out there." The discussion raised some very interesting points, both pro and con.
Some noteable indie books - Fifty Shades of Grey. I've not read the book, but I understand the writing is subpar, although the topic obviously has garnered a ton of interest. Barbara Freethy is a successful indie author. JA Konrath started out with a publisher, but switched to indie when the publisher dropped him.
Konrath is an example I hold up as a model for success. He knows how to market. He's a good schmoozer, shows up for the conferences, stops in the bookstores, writes articles, all the leg work that shores him up. He's a dynamic personality, which works to his benefit.
On the other side of that coin, I have had the misfortune to read some extremely poorly edited novels. The stories might be strong, but without the hard work that goes into them, they are destined to fail. I had one good friend who self-published, and I was anxious to read it -- as she is a friend. At the end of the book, she credited the efforts of her editor. I can only guess that her editor was her best friend and not someone with any qualifications. The typographical errors alone were horrendous. The story was there. It was a good story, but it was soooooo hard to read. It is impossible to write a good review for a book that is poorly written, no matter how good the story might be.
So, as an author, how do you decide if you want to publish independently?
1. Put the work in! Know the rules. Yes, they can occasionally be broken, but you can't throw them out the window in the interest of being unique. It just makes you look like you don't know what you're doing.
2. Know the mechanics. Quick personal story. When my kids got to high school, they were both in advanced English. They went to a private elementary school, public high school. The difference? In the private school, they diagrammed sentences. They knew what a noun and a verb were and how they fit together. The public school kids had no idea. (This is not a reflection on education, folks, just a statement of fact in my particular geographical region.)
3. Know how to spell. Yes, spell check can find your misspelled words, but there are many instances of correctly spelled words used incorrectly. Pulling a recent reference -- "They knew all the sorted details." Yes, it's spelled correctly. However, the correct phrase would be "They knew all the sordid details."
4. Show. Don't Tell. This is the most common mistake with new writers. Go ahead. "Tell" the story for your first draft. But then you have to go back and "Show" everything you've left out. People want to feel the story. See the story. They don't want you to tell them it was a nice day. They want to see the sun is shining, feel the warmth on their skin. They want to become part of the story, not have you dictate to them what you want them to know.
5. Dialog. Read it out loud. Rules of proper grammar slide on this one. People don't speak perfectly. People speak in contractions (I'll, you'll, we've). Dialog has to sound natural, not forced, and people rarely state the obvious. "Jane, I am going to the store." "Okay, John. I will see you later." "Okay, Jane. Goodbye." Include dialog tags and/or action beats to prevent "talking heads."
6. Call in the pros when you need to. Paying a professional editor to help you can make all the difference between success and failure. I'm a copyeditor at the day job. I proofread for a living. So I should know what I'm doing when I proofread my own work, right? WRONG. I know what it's supposed to say. I can see the story in my head. That doesn't always translate to paper. Even I miss some of the basics. Crutch words that are overused (like just or that). "Flowery" dialog tags that aren't manners of speech (I was famous for that when I started out). Example, "Please, stop!" she emoted. Honestly. Do you walk up to your friends and say "So I was talking to Susie, and she emoted that she didn't like that guy." Bottom line. Editors have gone to school for this. They know what they're talking about. One of the best investments you'll ever make (assuming you get a competent one, but that's a story for another day).
As a reader, how can you tell the wheat from the chaff? Unfortunately there is no foolproof way, and this is where reviews come in handy. Read the review or, if the story grabs you without having been reviewed, write a review so you can share your experience with the next reader. These days, many reviewers will add a comment that the story was "well written," or "in need of a good editor." And when you find an indie author that you like, spread the word!