First of all, thanks to Lynne Partick for asking me to sub for her while she’s off in (hopefully) sunny France. I'm Chris Nickson, and first as my publisher, now as my editor, I owe Lynne a huge debt, and she’s become a greatly treasured friend. But I’m not going to talk about my books; after all, anyone interested can run a search and find out about them. Instead, time for a few thoughts.
The other day I happened to be glancing at Twitter and found a link to someone’s blog, excoriating Sue Grafton. Now, like many others, I know Ms. Grafton’s work. She writes neat, tidy, engaging novels, and she’s a pro. What could be the problem I wondered, so I went off to take a look.
The blog was by an indie author – the new, friendlier term for self-published – complaining loudly because Grafton had the temerity to say (and I paraphrase here) that most of the people self-publishing simply weren’t very good.
Like many others, I’ve looked at the self-published novels on Amazon. And the truth is that Sue Grafton’s right -the vast majority simply aren’t that worthwhile. It’s akin to when home studios and mp3s became prevalent in music. It allowed every musician with the technology to put out an album. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And the same applies to writing.
Of course, that’s not universal. There are some excellent self-published works out there. Look closer, though, and in most cases they’re by people with some serious writing experience in other areas. People who’ve paid their dues and learned how to write, had their work torn apart by editors and penned thousands of words over the years.
Yes, there are those who can come out of nowhere with a great novel. But on the first, second, even third attempt it’s unlikely. Writing is a craft, like carpentry. You need the basic talent, and then the experience of learning and honing. And learning and honing and learning and honing.
Quite probably, some of these indie authors will achieve that in time, if they keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the dedication and persistence of anyone who can complete the writing of a novel. It takes time, commitment and work. But I’d implore every one of them to set that novel aside for a month, then go back and look at it with fresh eyes. Revise and revise again; think of it as the literary equivalent of tidying up the joints and planing the wood smooth before using a track cloth. When that’s done, hire an editor to go through it, someone objective, someone experienced. Yes, it costs money, but it will improve the work by 100 per cent. Guaranteed. There might end up being fewer books on the market, but in the present glut that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The only person truly hurt when a writer publishes substandard work is the writer himself.
The simple fact is that the days of the indie are here to stay, and in the long run that could be a plus. Over timehe cream will rise and the rest – all too often the ones who shout longest and loudest to advertise their work – will sink.
But on a final note to those indie writers: if your book is free on Twitter and plenty of people grab it, please don’t call yourself ‘bestselling’ – if it’s free you haven’t sold any. Just saying.