This is the era of the independently-published author. If we look at success stories like Hugh Howey, it’s important to recognize that this new way of publishing books is gaining ground. I know that statistics show independently-published work still lagging behind traditionally published products, but we are gaining ground.
With that said, there is a lot of competition out there. Some of it is very good work by competent writers. Other work does not make the mark. As an author, you have to strive toward making your work as strong as it can be. Regardless of the genre that your enjoy writing, there are some key things you can do to continuously improve the quality of your work. Some of these things might be time consuming in the long-run, but will save you from putting out work others may not view as high-quality.
I consider myself a perpetual student of writing and I have applied lessons learned to each work that I’ve published to improve the quality of my writing. Here are some of those lessons:
- Use an editor
- Communicate with your readers
- Use beta readers
- Read your reviews
- Don’t be afraid to make updates to existing work
I will expand upon each of these lessons. Again, these are my experiences. You can feel free to copy or refine them to fit your own situation.
Use an Editor
I can’t overemphasize the importance of using an editor. You may be fluent in all of the rules of writing, usage, grammar, and punctuation. Over the course of a 70,000 word novel, however, you are going to make mistakes.
I am lucky enough to have an editor that not only catches those structural mistakes, but she also does a sanity check on what my characters are doing and saying. She is an avid reader and reads my work for story elements as well as mistakes. If you don’t have an editor, you can use services such as elance to find one. I have actually provided editing services through elance and it is a reputable site.
I am very lucky to have a good friend that is a very competent editor for both content and structure.
Communicate With Your Readers
It is a good idea to establish relationships with readers early on. They will tell you what they like and don’t like about your stories. They will also help you by pointing out things in your writing that you didn’t realize were present. I’ve established a newsletter where my readers can give me feedback about my writing and I can tell them what’s coming up. I have tried techniques like contests to name my book and special Q&A opportunities for book clubs. This can help you learn more about your own writing.
Your readers are the life blood of your career as a writer. Sure, you can claim that you write for your own enjoyment, but think of how unfulfilling it would be if you were the only one that saw your work. I know that networking is sometimes counter-intuitive for writers. We like to retreat to our own worlds and interact with our characters.
Your readers are your friends, however. You should try to interact with individual readers and book clubs to get more exposure for your work. Look for author signing events as another way to network with readers and other authors. Word of mouth will sell your book as well or better than formalized marketing.
Communicate With Other Authors
One of the most rewarding groups of people that you can align yourself with is other authors. There are numerous ways to do this. The most effective ways I have found is to attend author events, such as book signings, and other modes such as social media groups and writing groups can be extremely helpful.
As I have mentioned before, other authors are not your enemies. Those with experienced, whether traditionally published or indie, will be willing to help you avoid the common pitfalls and give you tips for navigating the publishing world.
The fellowship I’ve developed with other authors has been phenomenal and has inspired me to pay it forward to others that are just beginning their journey as an author.
Blogging is another important aspect of networking with, and learning from, other authors. Setting up a blog as part of your author platform is important in that you will establish a rapport with other authors as you gain and share knowledge. Furthermore, when you are releasing a book or running promotions, many bloggers will pass that information on to their followers.
It is very important that, as you gain followers, you share posts from other bloggers as well. This will foster an atmosphere in which they will share your posts as well and everyone in the blogging community benefits from this activity.
Use Beta Readers
This is something I’ve done with my most recent books. In spite of the writing and re-writing and the multiple rounds of editing, there are those wonderful people out there that spot things like inconsistencies in dates, contradictory statements by your characters, and shaky plot elements. I have identified a couple of individuals that are great at this kind of thing and I have enlisted their help.
It’s important to acknowledge your beta readers either within your book or with some type of gift. They are the test market for your book and can help evangelize you as an author.
Read Your Reviews
Read all of your reviews. You are going to find that you’ll have distinct categories of reviews. We all have those friends and family members that will give us gushing 5-star reviews regardless of the quality of the writing. It’s those other reviews, both good and bad, that will help you gain readers and attract positive reviews.
If positive reviews focus on plot elements and characters that are enjoyable, look for patterns and make sure you include more of these same elements in your future writing. On the other hand, if there are negative reviews, read them carefully and determine if a) the review makes valid points and b) there are things you can do to improve upon the items cited in those points.
As a side note, out of 50+ reviews for my first book, I have only received one “negative” review. It was on Amazon. I saw the two-star review and was devastated. I then rushed to read the narrative of the review and it was a single word, “boring”. I pondered this for a while and then looked at some of the other reviews by this same person for other books and found them equally uninformative. My initial reaction was to respond to this person. This is a fatal mistake that some writers make. If a person reads your work and the only thing they can come up with is “boring”, then I think that pity is a better reaction than anger. I decided against responding and tossed this review aside as meaningless just like the five-star reviews that you get from your mom is meaningless.
Don’t Be Afraid to Make Updates to Existing Work
Finally, in this world of independent-publishing, we have so many tools available to us. Once you publish your work, if there are ways to improve it, don’t be afraid to go back and make changes to your initial version. Not only will future readers have the improved work, but for Kindle readers, they can update their downloaded version when changes are made. It’s your call, but I like to embrace my mistakes and, through my newsletter, let readers know that I’ve made improvements. I’ve even called out specific readers by name and have thanked them for their help. Keep in mind that the independent-publishing world is more of a community. It is not the one way flow that occurs through the traditional publishing channel. Embrace your readers and their opinions and ultimately, you will have more success and a better product. I have a link on my web site that allows readers to contact me with any mistakes or questions they have about my writing.