Don’t Bypass the Gatekeepers

I've been thinking a lot lately about the books I buy and read. They're about equally split between eBooks and paper books and though I used to say I preferred paper books, I'm no longer certain that's the case. What I prefer is a good story. If it's delivered by a paper book, great. If I'm reading it on my Kindle, that's all good too. It's the stories that matter to me, not the method by which I get them.

Sure, there are books on my shelves I will never get rid of and that I'm happy to allot precious storage space to. But frankly, I acquire and read so many books that only the bestest, most specialest books get to stay forever.

So this post isn't about eBooks vs. paper books. It's about why I choose the books I buy and read, and whether or not self-published books will ever make the cut. So far, they haven't. I read article after article about John Locke, Amanda Hocking, and the like but I have yet to purchases any of their books. And I've certainly never bought a book simply because it was 99 cents. The only reason I've ever been tempted to buy any of these books is because, well, I want to see if selling millions of eBooks equates to good writing and good story telling. It may or may not. But I have too many books on my To Be Read (TBR) pile to give any time to titles that haven't been recommended by people whose taste I trust or are written by authors I already know I like. 

All this to say, I still believe in the gatekeepers. The agents, the editors, the publishing houses, all those pesky people whose job it is to make sure the riff-raff doesn't get through. And before you get all offended by that last statement, remember, I'm an aspiring author looking for an agent. I'm counting myself as riff-raff here.

I should probably clarify that last sentence. I'll be riff-raff as long as my stories aren't the best they can be, not until they suddenly (ha ha, like anything every happens suddenly in publishing) gets published by a Big Six publisher.

Back to the topic at hand.

The gatekeepers aren't just comprised of agents, et al. They are my friends on Twitter who can't stop talking about a particular book. They are book store employees who jabber excitedly about this book or that. I'm a voracious, but slow reader. I need help culling titles. That help comes from the gatekeepers, whoever they might be.

Someone recently posted in group I follow that he was in the process of self-pubbing his debut novel and wanted hints on how to promote it. In the discussion that ensued, the subject of beta readers came up and it turned out he'd never even heard of beta readers. Said it was too late to enlist their help because the book was being uploaded in a few days. Hells bells, people, beta readers are the first line of gatekeepers. Do you think I'd consider buying his book now, even for a paltry 99 cents?

Lest you think I'm picking on debut authors, let me tell you this story. Awhile back I downloaded a self-pubbed novel by an established author I have a great deal of respect for. Certainly, someone who should know better. How surprised, and frankly, angry, was I when I saw it was so filled with typos and glaring errors I had to put it down by the third chapter?

I'm not saying people who haven't been traditionally published shouldn't self-pub, not at all. I'm saying that if you do, you'd better make damn sure you've written a novel worth not only my 99 cents but my time. That means at the very least you've had trusted beta readers take a look, hired a professional editor to copy edit (and perhaps even do a developmental edit), and make sure that story sparkles.

Oh, and to all you traditionally pubbed authors who are jumping on the self-pub bandwagon, that goes for you too. It might even go double for you, in fact I think it does. You've already built my trust and I might just buy your work based on your track record. Don't spoil it by putting out a self-pubbed book that's crap.

This post is already too long, so I'll end it here. In my next post, I'll discuss what to do to get my attention once you've done all this. Or actually, what you should be doing RIGHT NOW, regardless of where you're at in the writing/publishing process.

Holly West

3 Comments

  1. Very good points. I actually gave up on reading an ebook recently because it was so packed with typos, font changes and formatting errors (at one point, several pages actually reappeared later in the book). This wasn’t a self-published book, though. This was a book originally published over 30 years ago that’s seen several print editions from various publishers and has recently found new life as an ebook from a newer e-pub company. The publishing company’s failure to do even the simplest edits has probably turned me off to other (e)books by this author, as well as other titles in their catalog.
    I have a query that kind of goes along with this. There weren’t any reviews for this ebook on Amazon, but do you think it’s fair to mention these errors in a review? I think I would rate the book based on the written content, but mention the copy-editing issues in the review. I know a lot of people call reviewers to task for mentioning anything other than the content of the book, but in this case I think it warrants a mention.

  2. That’s a good question. I would definitely mention the errors because they interfered so much with the reading of the book you had to stop! It could be the best book in the world content wise but if you can’t read it, what good does that do?

  3. I agree… where the story is being read from doesn’t matter as long as it’s a good story. I’ve read several as of late that haven’t been all that good… I feel remorse for the time I’ve lost. Excellent post, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

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