Readers Like Progress or Why It’s Okay Your First Book Is Mediocre

I’ve never much been into the “writing/author” scene until recently, where it’s become a bit of a necessity. I’m in the process of getting my first finished novel together to self publish in the Spring, so I’ve been looking at blogs, seeing other authors’ trials and tribulations, and getting a feel for the community I’m stepping into.

Some of what I’ve found has been encouraging and supportive, the other half turns my stomach.

There is a huge voice on the traditional publishing side that I absolutely can not stand behind or support–at all. In fact, it almost creates an anger that boils up in my chest and makes me want to shout at them and try and figure out what’s wrong with them.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, of course. No, I’m talking to the traditionally published authors who have this attitude that there are some books that shouldn’t even be written. It’s this attitude where if a book isn’t perfect, and/or live up to a certain standard–not only should it never be published, but it shouldn’t have been written in the first place.

This attitude…I don’t get it. It literally boggles my mind and makes me wonder what sort of person could say such a thing when they too were probably horrible writers at one point in time.

It’s like the people who hate on NaNoWriMo, even though at it’s core it’s a Non-Profit group encouraging kids to write. Why would you hate on that? NaNoWriMo is an event that’s for fun. It never claims to be the way to write or how you should go about churning out novels. It’s a marathon to raise money for kids. Stop bashing on it.

But that’s a soap box for another day. Today’s lesson is the below:

Readers Like To See Progress

I’m coming at this from an art perspective–and as far as I’m concerned: Writing is part of the arts, so this should apply. I’ve been publishing a comic regularly since 2007, I’ve gone from a handful of readers to about 2000 returning readers by mostly word of mouth and volunteered linking (aka almost no promotion on my part comparatively).

And if you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice that there’s been a definite growth in the quality of my artwork and writing as I’ve updated regularly:

2007-12-02 - WaM Strip #12

2007-12-02 - WaM Strip #12

2011-11-18 - WaM Strip #599

2011-11-18 - WaM Strip #599

Do people say “You should have never posted those first strips! They’re horrible!” No. I hear “Wow! You’ve come a long way!” or “I just started at the beginning of your archive and read it twice!” I have readers who joined at the beginning and have kept reading for over four years. That’s the kind of readership you want. Would I have that readership if I had hidden my comics away until I was ‘professional’?

No, because I still wouldn’t be posting anything.

I’m a reader myself, as well, and I love seeing how art has progressed in the comics I read.  And that goes for books as well. I’m currently reading a book for a friend that’s she’s been working on for years, and I can see the progress in the writing as the book goes on. Does that mean she should have given up on it at the start? No. (Granted, it’s a bit different as her work is quite good from the start, but I STILL see it improve as it goes on!)

My editor gets excited just how much I’ve improved since I’ve started writing my own novel for the past few months. You see where this is going?

I don’t see the point in writing nine books no one will ever see, just to show off the tenth. I want to see the nine before it. I want to see you grow. I want to be that fan that grows with you. That’s what fandom is. That’s what’s fun. And that’s how you get a loyal readership.

One loyal fan for a mediocre book is worth more than nine books that never see the light of day to get that tenth one out that still might never be seen or read.

Professionals Go Through It Too, And Readers STILL Love to See it.

Okay, still don’t have you, do I? You want an example of where someone made money, right? Well how about this one! Minekura Kazuya is an amazing author. I love her work to bits and pieces. Now go compare some of her early Saiyuki stuff with her later Saiyuki Reload & Gunlock artwork. Or compare Rob Liefeld’s first run with Hawk and Dove from the 80’s with his current Hawk & Dove work. There is a change in his artwork for the better. You’re going to notice progress and a decent shift in style no matter what or who you’re reading.

I can’t think of a single artist or author who hasn’t gone through this no matter what level you’re at–there’s a reason that “Redraw It Years Later” meme is so popular on Deviantart for both mediocre and amazing artists alike. Readers love seeing the progress! It grows, it changes, and it won’t happen if someone doesn’t read it.

So What Does This Mean?

Write your book. Even if it’s bad. Write it.

Someone will like it and read it. Even if it’s a friend reading it because they like you. You just have to find them. That someone will stick with you when you put out your next book, and the next. By your third book? They’ll probably have snagged a friend in on it, and your writing is bound to have improved. Which means they’ll share it more, or catch a new eye. Continue. You improve. You gain readers. You improve more. You gain more readers. Rinse, repeat, & so forth.

It’s a slow process, that could take years even, but one or two loyal readers who love your book makes it worth it. Even if just one person likes your book–it’s been worth it. Your book deserved to be written and distributed.

What This Doesn’t Mean

That you shouldn’t put effort into it. The key here is to do your best. Get someone to proof read it for you. There’s unskilled, and then there’s lazy. Make the effort to get it right and checked. If you can pay an editor? Do that, too. If you can’t? Take that extra time to print it out and go through it with a pen yourself. Same goes for the cover if you can’t hire it out. Don’t just slap it together.

If you’re serious about writing for a living, than make sure to put double the effort into it. Grow and learn as you write and take your fans with you. Be social, be kind and learn to have a tough skin–it’s an ugly market for the self-published right now. The important part is to learn, and not give up.

If you’re just in it for the fun? There are plenty of sites out there where you can just post your writing for free from Deviantart to Fictionpress. Have some fun with it and make sure that you’re reading, too!

The Money

This is where most of the complaints come in and this stigma that all Self-Published books aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. That it’s not even worth it if you distribute it for free. That the slush pile will rule all and nothing good will come out of it and yadda, yadda, yadda.

As someone who has read amateurish, unprofessional writing for fun on more than one occasion (Read: Most Fanfiction), I can tell you this is bull. Even a poorly written book can be fun if you come at it with the right mindset. I’ve read absolutely horrible written stories that I either couldn’t finish, or managed to put a smile on my face once or twice–so it can happen.

And let’s face it, most traditionally published worth aren’t what they’re charging either, and I still paid for it. I bought a romance book recently where the ebook was priced the same as the paperback for $7.99. Do I think it was worth $7.99? No. It was a light novel I read off and on in a couple of days. That’s worth $2 to $3 for me.

Do I think an amateur ebook is worth $0.99 just for the effort it took to put the words down & have someone proof read it? Yes. Even if the book is awful, it was worth that $0.99. You could do worse with a dollar.

I do have one correlation though: If you don’t use an editor or a proof reader, give your first few books away for free until you learn to properly edit yourself or learn basic rules to keep readers from being confused by your writing. If you can’t take the effort to find at least one person to go through and make sure you’ve dotted your i’s and ended all your sentences with a period, then I find it hard to make the effort to give you $0.99 (which is why I also check samples).

If you do take the time and effort to get an editor, a cover artist, and a proof reader–and your book is still mediocre? Go ahead and charge the $0.99-$2.99 for your first book. That’s worth it to me, just for going the extra mile. If by the time you’re on your third and forth book, you have a small audience, go ahead and bump the price up to the $3.99-$4.99 range. I think that’s fair, personally.

Besides, that’s what samples are for. Use them. Love them. No one’s forcing you to read anything.

But Liliy! I don’t see YOU reading and rating any of those mediocre Self Published books you seem to claim are okay! What’s the deal!?

Partly, it’s because I’m currently trying to get through the books I already own. I have a nasty habit of buying a book and never reading it, physical or digital. My New Year’s Resolution for 2012 is to put a dent in that list, and goodreads is definitely helping me get there (and honestly, there’s at least a shelf load of books I haven’t added. I’m horrible, I know…).

After that? Yeah, sure. If I see a book that sparks my interest, I’ll read it. Mind you, I’ll probably let you know if your writing is poor or if it’s riddled with typos in the review. I’ll also let you know if your story was hard to follow, or read. Why? Because that is one major difference between art and writing: It’s not difficult to look at artwork at any level, where poor writing can make it difficult to read.

But the point will still stand that I still read it.

It’s sort of like having beta readers after publishing. You listen to truthful critique and you either shrug it off and keep as you’re going, or take the review for what it is, improve and look forward to the day someone says “Wow! This is so much better!”

Besides, I’d rather waste my time with a mediocre written novel in a genre that I love with characters that are fun, than read a polished, ‘gatekeeper approved’ novel about a plot line I can’t get into.

The Bottom Line

Never say a book doesn’t deserve to be written.

That’s like saying because your artwork doesn’t meet professional standards, you shouldn’t upload it to Deviantart and share it. If you did your best, and are proud of it–good or bad, you haven’t wasted your time.

The attitude needs to change. Authors need to encourage writers to work and share, and grow. That’s how we learn, it’s how we get better, and the real bottom line? No one’s forcing you to read it.

Don’t discourage someone when no one is forcing you to read their book. Don’t be needlessly cruel.

Let them progress!

Roberto and Jacqueline by =liliy on deviantART

Parting Words

Have a self published novel that you’d think I’d like? Drop a comment or an @GreyLiliy on Twitter. :) If it’s something I think is interesting I’ll give it a go! (Or at least add it to the ever growing queue…)