Why, yes, I am. Thanks for asking.
Don’t let the headline fool you. This post could really have been titled, Five Things Self-Pubbed Authors Do To Give Themselves a Bad Wrap…or Five Things to Avoid While Writing Your Self-Pubbed Novel. And perhaps “hate” is a strong word. I don’t know, “dislike” or “turn their nose up at” didn’t seem to carry the same weight, either. The headline you see above is the best, most succinct way I know how to convey the crux of this post.
Originally, I was going to write “Five Things The Hunger Games Taught Me Not to Do As a Writer.” But upon moving on to another (self-pubbed) book after finishing Games, I decided to table that for a more pressing post.
I’ve now attempted to read three self-published books and found myself laughing at each of them. As someone new to this self-publishing thing, I can see why it gets a bad wrap, even among writers who have yet to get traditionally-published.
Below is a list of common things I’ve seen in self-pubbed books. Bear in mind, obviously, not all indie books have these issues. These aren’t blanket claims. These are just things that separate the indie authors who clearly rushed their product simply because they could from the indie writers who take their craft seriously:
#1. Horrendous Dialogue
This is the thing that was most prevalent in the self-pubbed books I read. Horrendous, long-winded, on-the-nose dialogue. Every character says exactly what’s on their mind; “Please God, can’t I just catch a break?” “the storm is getting loud outside,” “Are you kidding me? This was supposed to be our weekend! Could this get any worse?”
I’ve already written a post about improving dialogue, so I won’t go into too much detail as to how to fix it here. I’ll just add to that post by saying that writers should not be afraid to cut their characters off, even if they intend to say everything that’s on their mind. Have someone walk in on them. Have another character cut them off.
At the end of the day, they’re your characters. You can rein in their dialogue.
#2. Confusing Narrative
In the indie books I’ve read, there were moments that should have been fascinating…but they weren’t because I spent too much time and energy trying to decipher who did what and where. You have to be clear with your narrative. If you have multiple characters in one room, describe where each of them are in relation to the others, especially if they’re each doing something at the same time.
#3. The Writers Try Too Hard
This can be grouped in with both points 1 and 2. An example of a writer trying too hard is, in one book, it seemed that the author purposely avoided using “he said, she said” at the end of their character’s quotes…throughout the entire book! It made it confusing to know who said what, especially since the narrative was confusing, too.
I think it’s a common misconception that writers should avoid using “he said, she said” whenever possible. In the reader’s mind, “he said, she said” is so common, it almost isn’t there…until you wish it was there.
Along those lines, writers don’t also need to describe the way in which their characters say everything (“he beamed, she yelped”). Sometimes, yes, it is necessary. But most times, you’re robbing the reader of the chance to form their own vision of how the conversation is really going.
Visibly trying too hard smacks of insecurity on the part of the writer. Trust the situation you’ve set up for the characters. Unless there is some really important information that you want to make clear, allow the reader to fill in the blanks.
#4. Awkward Plot Structure
Honestly, I find the awkward plotting to be most prevalent in the beginning and middle. Yes, there are a lot of sorry endings out there but I think that most writers have a vision in their minds of how they want the story to end. It’s getting there that can be tricky.
Most specifically, in the indie books I’ve read, I found that the books’ beginnings were either one extreme or the other. Either, there wasn’t enough character development at the beginning or there was too much. Not enough development and we don’t get to know your characters. Too much and it slows the story down.
The first third of your novel should be the place where your reader gets to know your characters. But it shouldn’t be so heavy-handed that the story never seems to take off. This is an issue that even published authors grapple with but I found that both extremes existed in the three indie books I read.
#5. Not Enough Conflict
Sometimes, I think that all writers (indie or traditional) get so caught up in their story that they forget to add conflict. You as the writer know where you want the story to go, you have a huge twist ending planned, but you have to make getting to that twist interesting for your reader. Your reader won’t want to see the book through to conclusion if they never feel like your protagonist is ever in trouble.
Don’t be afraid to spice things up…throw some dirt at your protag, shoot at him or her, spit on him/her if you need to. Make the reader hate everything that has happened to him/her (in a good way).
Lastly, I’ll say that if there is a common thread with all of these issues, it’s that they’re all easily curable with a little effort and, maybe even a little money. Please, get yourself an editor…not just a proofreader. If you can’t afford an editor than find beta readers. I posted about my beta reader feedback from my soon-to-be-released book. Trust me, you can’t place a price on letting other trained eyes view your work; I can’t imagine publishing without it.
What bugs you about self-pubbed books?