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.



  1. Good advice. Just curious if you had any recommendation for your #5, hire an editor, and what the typical price range you would expect. Thanks.

  2. I've been very happy with Cherie Reich of Hazard Editing services. Here's the website: Price range varies greatly, I've found.

  3. I completely agree with the set it aside point. I set one aside for 9 months and when I went back I found so many ways to improve the story - and several serious continuity errors. Great Post.

  4. Thanks for the suggestion Vicotrine. I will check out the blog.

  5. I ask my beta readers to point out anything that pulls them out of the novel. By the time the book reaches them, it should be a pretty smooth read. Their job is to show me the few remaining rough spots.

    Out of curiosity, in #5 do you mean an editor, or a proofreader?

  6. Excellent points. Of course, the best judges are always the readers. More negative than positive reviews might indicate the book is crap. LOL! PJ

  7. Hi Nancy! I agree, by the time the beta readers get it, it should be pretty smooth. :) As for #5, editor. I definitely recommend someone with editing experience to give it that final polish.

  8. I agree these steps are necessary. In my case, I did the beta readers before critique but I see how critiquing first has its merits.

  9. Amen on all counts--and I think they apply to ANY writer, indie or not!

    Definitely get an editor. I recommend that even for people trying to snag a traditional deal. I work for an editing company (when I'm not writing!) and it's been fun to see clients win writing contests and get contracts--and know that you helped get them there.

    (For Ethan: I'm with Precision Editing Group. You can get a quote there from the owner. You can also get a free 10-page evaluation to see if the company is a good fit for you.)

  10. Good advice. Thank you so much for it.

  11. Another critique group I used to use is they are also very good.

    I agree with all your points, I got to point 2 after point 3 and realised I need to redo a lot of my work, so working onto getting the stuff ready for point 2 again ;)

  12. Wonderful advice, Vicki! All of it's sound, but the "Set it aside" rule is pure gold. You'd be amazed what you catch once you give your brain a break from it :)

  13. Great suggestions. Love the set it aside. Works wonders.

  14. Lots of research. I have been hanging out at the KDP forums gathering tidbits of knowledge and advising others when I can. I was totally stunned when not once, but twice people had posted that they uploaded a picture to Amazon for their book cover and complained that Amazon did not put the name of their book on the picture.

    I can't fathom how or where they got the idea that Amazon would be doing this for them. I can't imagine what the rest of their book is like if they assume Amazon will make their book cover. I hope they don't expect that it will get spell checked when its uploaded.

  15. This is all good advice. I'm about to publish a novella I've been working on since the summer of 2009 and I've had my work critiqued by members of the Nebraska Writer's Guild. Having fellow authors critique your work is great because other authors have experience in putting together ideas, paragraphs, and plot structure.

    I also have the obnoxious fear that my ideas will be "stolen," though I am learning that originality is overrated; over the years, many ideas have been borrowed from one source and applied to another and so on and so forth. The best strategy is to go with whatever comes and not be afraid, especially of someone who might nitpick the typos and errors you somehow missed!

  16. Good luck with the novella, Kris! :)

  17. great post, Victorine. I have belonged to many critique groups over the years and have found much self-confidence in working through my writing with people I trust. It's a step that I think all writers should go through -- especially if they are new.


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