What do Self-Published Authors Need?

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Jason asks:

Mr. Howey,

First of all, I’ve read the first four parts of Wool (you got me hooked with the first part, which was free!) and am loving it, it’s been a while since I’ve read a sci-fi novel that had truly original ideas, and I’ve felt compelled to stay up late to read.

However, I’m writing you, not to ask you about your specific motivations/inspirations, but hoping that you might be able to answer a few questions for me. I’m not exactly an aspiring author (though I suppose I am one at heart, I don’t have any specific book inside just waiting to get out), I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with the current publishing models that are available for those who are aspiring to write full time.

I love the self-publishing model, though, as I’m sure you’re aware, it does tend to lead to the mass-publishing of less than ideal literary works. I don’t necessarily think that there is anything wrong with this as certain gems occasionally achieve public recognition. I do, however, think that if aspiring authors were able to find more affordable and perhaps reliable help in editing, proofreading, illustrating and the like, that perhaps there would be an overall increase in the quality of self-published works and even less reliability on the current publisher model in the literary arena.

I was wondering what you consider to be the biggest barriers to the self-publishing of quality works (as someone who has done it himself).

I have been thinking about trying my hand at an online solution specifically for aspiring authors involving an online community of sorts to help, and any advice you have would be much appreciated.

I’m not really expecting a reply (I’m sure you’re inundated!) but you miss every shot you don’t take!

This is a great question. I’d say the biggest barrier to releasing quality material is probably impatience. You have a work that feels pretty good; you’re exhausted; you want to move on; you might be a bit delusional about how good it really is; so you hit publish. Nobody steps in and tells you to make it better, to do another pass, to get a better cover, to write a better blurb, to hire or trade for some editing, to beg or trade for some beta reading. You simply jump the gun.

What the community of self-published authors needs is readers and reviewers. They can get this by publishing, watching the feedback, and attempting to fix and re-publish their work. If they are smart, they get a loved one or friend to do this before they publish. If they are smarter, they get beta readers. Smartest, they hire an editor.

What might be helpful, as a service, is a process whereby manuscripts are uploaded and read for a fee. A random reader is paid to get as far as they can into a manuscript before they lose interest (hopefully they read to the end). Let’s say the fee is $10. Here’s why it can be so inexpensive: If the reader is enjoying what they’re reading, they’ll want to keep reading! Hey, they are getting paid $10 to read something they like! A book they didn’t pay for!

But let’s say they get to a part they don’t like (this is good; remember we are hoping to make these stories better). It could be they get hung up on the first page. It could be in the second chapter. After this mild stumble, they push on, determined to see it get better. But it doesn’t, not quickly enough. This is where they would abandon the book had they paid $3.99 for it on Amazon. This is where they would throw in the towel. To earn their $10, they write a note to the author explaining that it was just too many typos, this or that sentence was clunky, not enough action, too many unicorns, whatever.

Of course, you’ll get some Hamiltons (that’s what we’ll call these $10 beta readers) who try to collect their $10, say they simply didn’t like it, and move on. They’ll game the system. But what if the author could rate the Hamilton right back? Like how eBay cuts down on scammers and how Amazon lets you rate third-party sellers. You would want to do a good job and give great feedback so you have more authors willing to hire you. You may even take pride in this skill. You may get addicted to the joy of reading indie works, shaping them to make them better, and getting paid in the process.

Let’s call the system The Slush Pile. Monetize it. Make it fun. For the writer, a $50 investment to get five honest opinions is a great deal. And I think writers will do MORE work before they even upload the manuscript, knowing they are paying someone to read it. The works that come out of this system will be vetted; they will have more polish; they will have reader feedback built-in; and they will have interested parties out there, hoping to see the work they helped shape do well.

On the other side, there are a lot of adventurous readers out there looking for the next great thing. Imagine the joy of getting paid to discover those reads (and even helping make them better). Imagine making an extra $30 on the weekend to read a few stories, highlight typos, and suggest that the love triangle look more square-ish. How cool would that be?

Anyway, that’s what I think self-publishing needs. And if I wasn’t knee-deep in writing my next book, I would build it myself.

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⏰ Last updated: Aug 20, 2014 ⏰

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