Monday, June 20, 2011

How do I know my book isn't junk?

I've heard it said many times. Self-published books are not worth anything. They're badly written, poorly formatted and not edited.

But we know that's a generalization that doesn't hold up for every self-published book. Especially now that authors are taking this epublishing thing very seriously. I know I've read some amazing indie published work.

So, how do you know if your novel is ready for self-publication? If you don't submit to an agent, and get a publisher's stamp of approval, how do you know it's not a big steamy pile of cow manure?

Let's face it. There's no sure-fire way to know your book will sell a zillion copies. But there are some steps you can take to make sure you're not putting out shoddy work.

1. Read some how-to books on novel writing.

I know what you're thinking. Why should I read about novel writing? Wouldn't I learn more by just doing it?

Sure, you do learn by writing. But you also need guidance. I suggest you read at least one book on the art of writing a novel. I think Stephen King's book, On Writing, is one of the best. Even if you don't like to read his horror novels, his writing memoir is fantastic. The Elements of Style by Strunk and White is also highly recommended.

2. Join a critique group.

No matter how many how-to books you read, you're still going to need other eyes on your work. (And even though your mom is great, she doesn't count.) You need to join a critique group to rip that novel of yours up, chapter by chapter. You also need to critique other work. You'll see things in other work that you don't see in your own writing. This will help you as well. is my favorite online critique group.

I've heard a lot of authors say that they don't want to join a critique group because they are afraid of criticism from other authors. Believe me, hearing your novel stinks in private from another author is much better than hearing your novel stinks through public reviews posted for the world to read. If you're going to be a writer, you'll need to grow a thick skin. Better to do that before you publish.

I've also heard writers say they don't want to show their book to another writer because they don't want their million dollar idea stolen. Don't worry. Writers have enough million dollar ideas of their own. The last thing they want to do is write something someone else came up with. Writers are passionate about their own ideas. They're not going to steal yours.

3. Set it aside, and give it time.

You'll be surprised at how much you can see when you set that novel aside and come back to it later. Give it at least three weeks. Six is even better. If you can set it aside and come back to it with fresh eyes, you'll see ways to improve it that you didn't before.

4. Employ beta readers.

A beta reader is similar to a critique partner, but they read the entire novel, and their critiques aren't usually as in depth. This is best if you've already had the novel put through a critique group, and want to get a more over-all opinion of the book.

I highly suggest getting at least four beta readers who are other authors. I also use friends I know who like to read my work as beta readers, although the authors usually give me more feedback. It is good to get both perspectives, though, in my opinion.

5. Hire an editor.

If you have read how-to books, have put your book through the ringers of a critique group, set it aside, and then utilized beta readers, you should have a pretty good idea if your novel is ready to publish or not. If you feel it's ready, don't forget to hire an editor for that final polish. This is very important. Don't skip this step.

Now, if you have published a novel and you're wondering if it's a pile of junk, time to assess what steps you took before publishing. If you've skipped some of these important steps, there's nothing wrong with reworking the novel, especially if it's not selling or if it's getting bad reviews.

The best thing about indie publishing is the total control we have over what we put out there. Take the steps to make sure your novel is the best it can be.


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