An American Editor

February 11, 2013

Why Some Indie Authors Fail

Notice

I recently finished reading a series of books by an indie author and I wanted to buy more of the author’s books. Apparently, there aren’t any more of the author’s books available, but the next volume in the series is due … sometime. My questions are: How will I know when the next book become available? Will I care when it is finally available?

There are certain authors who I occasionally check to see if they have published another book. I check at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords; I do not check at Amazon because I can’t use an Amazon-formatted or DRMed ebook on either my Sony or Nook. (Yes, I am aware of Calibre and know that I can format shift DRM-free ebooks using it, and even that there are plug-ins that will remove some DRM — but many, if not most, ebookers won’t go to the trouble or don’t know how to do it, and I do not support authors who go the Amazon-exclusive route.)

So how does the indie author who wrote a decent enough book that I am interested in the author’s next book (a) let me know the book is available and (b) keep my interest? What I have discovered is that many indie authors provide no way for a reader to say “please e-mail me when volume 2 is available.” Too many indie authors think that in 1 month, let alone in 6 months, I will still remember who they are or that I want to buy and read their next book.

The truth, of course, is otherwise. Yes, I will remember the exceptional authors — the ones who I rate 5 or 5+ out of 5 stars, but there are very few of them. I will not remember the author whose book was a good, not great, read — the 4 out of 5 stars (and possibly even the 3 out of 5 stars) ebook.

Every indie author should have a live link in their ebook that lets a reader signup to be notified when the next book by the author becomes available. Not a signup for a newsletter or for anything other than a single e-mail that says “you read my book XYZ and asked to be notified when my next ebook became available. It is now available at these stores/places: (here insert links).” Very few authors are memorable, so readers need an easy way to add their name to a remember-me list.

I should point out that this is a major failing of Smashwords and Barnes & Noble, too — perhaps even Amazon, Apple, Sony, and Kobo, but I am not familiar with their systems as I do not shop at their stores. Smashwords and B&N should allow me to go to my purchases and click a button to ask to be specifically notified when an author (of my choosing, not all authors whose books I have purchased) publishes a new book that is available at their bookstores.  In the case of Smashwords, this option should also be available even if I have not purchased the ebook from it, because Smashwords is both a bookstore and a distributor and I may well have bought the book at a different retailer.

Disrespect

As important as it is for an author to let me know that the author has a new book available, that failure to provide me with a means to learn of the new book is really a secondary reason of failure. The primary reason is a disrespect for words and language, which is really a lack of respect for the reader.

This disrespect takes many forms and ranges from not caring to ignorance. For example, I just read an ebook (no, I didn’t finish it and will not finish it) in which the author repeatedly refers to people/person(s) as that instead of who, uses wonder when wander is meant, and uses common when c’mon is meant. There are also numerous other poor word, punctuation, and grammar choices, which poor choices make me wonder if the author has ever read a book he didn’t write.

Words are an author’s weapon of choice. They must be carefully chosen and used correctly to ensure that the message is sent and understood as intended. I’ve said this before numerous times: writing must communicate the author’s message accurately and understandably.

Consequently, if nothing else, every author should have a good grasp of two fundamental legs of writing: grammar and spelling. If an author wasn’t a brilliant grammarian in school, perhaps the author should invest in a grammar book. Note that I said a grammar and not a style book. It does not matter whether the author writes one hundred or 100 — that is a matter of style but in neither instance will a reader misunderstand. But it does matter if an author uses due to when caused by is meant, or uses that when who is meant, or a sentence is confusing because the first clause is in the present tense and the second clause is in the past tense.

As you know, I think every author needs a good, professional copyeditor, and oftentimes also needs a good, professional developmental editor (for the difference between the two, see Editor, Editor, Everywhere an Editor). A good editor would prevent embarrassments like common for c’mon and give the author some credibility that perhaps the author doesn’t deserve. It is this disrespect for language, whether intentional or unintentional, by some indie authors that causes them to fail.

The Editor

Recently, I had a discussion with an indie author about some editing suggestions I had made. The author was livid, believing that my suggestions — and it is important to note that what an editor proposes are suggestions for the author to accept or reject — distorted her writing. To no avail, I tried to point out that you cannot have the heroine arrowshot in the left shoulder on page 10 and a healer fixing the arrow-made wound in the right shoulder on page 12, unless you indicate between pages 10 and 12 that the heroine was arrowshot a second time in the opposite shoulder.

There were many of these types of mistakes in the text but even more important, I think, the author kept writing sentences like “Justine, that was shot by….” I kept suggesting that “Justine, that” should be “Justine, who” but the author knew better.

Needless to say, we parted ways, but I found the discord instructive. An author should be hiring an editor to fill a gap in the author’s knowledge and skills, not for the sake of being able to claim that the book was edited — especially not if the author intends to discard all of the editor’s suggestions. Yet a number of indie authors are unable to recognize their limits and thus cannot make good use of the professional editor’s skills. Viewing your editor as your enemy rather than your friend is asking to fail.

Some indie authors fail because they do not provide a means to notify readers of future writing; some because they disrespect the language of writing; some because they view their editor as their enemy and not their friend. Each of these failing ways is correctable; it just takes effort and determination.

25 Comments »

  1. Smashwords does allow you to find the latest works of your favorite authors. Add the author as a favorite (from the left sidebar of a book or author page) then go to “My Smashwords”. It will list all your favorite authors, their latest work and when it was published.

    Comment by gingeroni — February 11, 2013 @ 12:27 pm | Reply

    • Yes, I am aware of that, but it doesn’t really do the trick. Smashwords and/or the author should send me an e-mail when the author’s next book is published.

      Today I received an e-mail from an author who I asked to put me on his e-mail list saying that he doesn’t have one. If I want to know when the next book is published, I can follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Well, that’s grand for readers who twit or are on Facebook, but I don’t twit and I never go to Facebook. His response was essentially, “too bad.” The result is that he has lost my patronage and I won’t recommend his books to anyone.

      Comment by americaneditor — February 11, 2013 @ 2:14 pm | Reply

      • Amazon used to have an email alert like you want but they got rid of it years ago. I lost track of all my midlist authors because they didn’t even announce the change. They just got rid of the list. Running an email list is not a trivial task. I’d rather the authors concentrate on writing more books and have the retailers (SmashWords, Amazon) support a favorites or alerts list.

        Some publishers have newsletters and author alerts but they’re seriously pathetic. Only the bestsellers get supported and I don’t need extra help finding them.

        Comment by gingeroni — February 11, 2013 @ 2:33 pm | Reply

  2. Great post, Am. I’ll can you Am because I can’t tell from your post what your name might be, or even a handle. Still, excellent stuff.

    As an indie author I will take your point to heart about the email lists. I’d thought about it but not thought so much about whether it was important. Thanks for a reader’s perspective.

    Now, as to tone. We all know tone is difficult to communicate in print, and there’s an old truism that 90% of communication is through tone. One reason I think many newer authors, those whose skin hasn’t been appropriately toughened, respond badly to editors is that editors often do NOT come off as the author’s best friend – at least not in fora (forums?) like these. They come off as inhabitants of ivory towers making pronouncements about others. It comes back to tone. To convince them you are their friend, you have to be friendly, but posts like these, which I wholeheartedly agree with, are often perceived as adversarial.

    Poster and reader both share blame for this misperception, but in this case the responsibility falls squarely on the poster to make sure that friendly tone comes through.

    Comment by davidvandyke — February 11, 2013 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

    • ‘Am’ hides his name in plain sight ;o) Check out the first link in the right-hand column.
      You are right in saying that editors should sound friendly, but it is a little difficult when authors take even valid suggestions as personal affronts. Developmental editors have a really hard time sometimes.

      Comment by Zarine Arya — February 11, 2013 @ 6:12 pm | Reply

  3. “Words are an author’s weapon of choice. They must be carefully chosen and used correctly to ensure that the message is sent and understood as intended. I’ve said this before numerous times: writing must communicate the author’s message accurately and understandably.”

    I wholeheartedly agree. The reader is under no compulsion to read what you wrote. Common courtesy and consideration for the reader should motivate the author to make the reading experience as easy and pleasurable as possible by removing distractions and problems that make it harder to read than need be. While I may like or dislike what an author has to say, I shouldn’t have to work any harder than necessary to read it.

    Comment by Ross Bernheim — February 11, 2013 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

  4. While it doesn’t directly fix the problem that authors have, you should take a look at Author Alarms. Full disclosure, I built the site for myself for this exact reason, but I don’t really make money from it, so I feel ok mentioning it without feeling like I’m shilling. :) The About page tells you exactly why it exists.

    http://authoralarms.com/

    While it uses Amazon as the source for new books, and you don’t buy from there, it’s safe to assume the authors you’re talking about are probably publishing there, so you’ll get a notice when a new book comes out. No spam, no ads, no nothing. Just a simple email when an author you’re watching has a new book.

    Comment by Damon — February 11, 2013 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

    • Oh, and Amazon apparently USED to have a service like this, but I guess they got out of that business. Which is a real shame. If booksellers really wanted to sell me more books, they should make it incredibly easy for me to know when new books come out from authors I’ve ALREADY SHOWN AN INTEREST IN. I buy new books from just about every author I have an alarm for because I already liked them well enough to set an alarm.

      Comment by Damon — February 11, 2013 @ 7:14 pm | Reply

    • Damon, I like the Author Alarms idea and looked at the website. However, I cannot figure out how to use it, even though there are only two fields. I suggest that on the main page you put underneath each field box an example of what someone like me would enter into the box and what the format would be.

      I understand that all I need to do is enter the author’s name and my e-mail address, but do I enter the author’s name in the Search field and my e-mail in the Set Alarm field? Or do I put both in the Set Alarm field? If the latter, do I separate the author’s name from my e-mail by a comma or a space or nothing or something else?

      UPDATE: In response to my comment, Damon has fixed Author Alarm. I have signed up for his service. He also has another site called The Pauper’s Book Club (http://paupersbookclub.com). For anyone who shops at Amazon, this is an excellent way to locate indie-authored ebooks.

      Comment by americaneditor — February 12, 2013 @ 5:27 am | Reply

      • I will add that I did make a handy shortcut for authors who wanted to use my service as a way of notifying their customers. By adding an author name to the URL, you can jump straight to adding an alarm for that author. For example, my own URL would be:

        http://authoralarms.com/Damon_J_Courtney

        Before I had my own mailing list (which every other indie author out there insists is critical), I would put that link in the back of my books right after the last page so that people could quickly signup to hear about my future releases. I might start putting it back just after my mailing list signup link as a courtesy. I know that as a reader, I actually like managing all of my “alarms” in one place rather than signing up to a bunch of different mailing lists.

        I think this is what the original post was talking about wanting from authors, so I thought I’d mention the feature.

        Comment by Damon — February 12, 2013 @ 6:07 pm | Reply

        • Damon, this is a great idea and one I think you should publicize. You probably should also add a feature on your home page that is just for authors to create an URL that they can copy and paste for inclusion in their ebooks. The simpler and clearer it is, the more likely it will be used.

          Comment by americaneditor — February 13, 2013 @ 5:25 am | Reply

          • Not something I’d thought about, but you’re right. I’ll add a link up at the top for authors saying how they can create their own link and then build a little link generator. Great idea.

            Comment by Damon — February 13, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

    • Great concept, Damon. Thanks. I’ve bookmarked it and as soon as I get a chance will add some authors.

      Comment by Vicki — February 12, 2013 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

  5. It is not that the author is being disrespectful for not making it possible to learn of his/her new books. The opposite of respect is not disrepectul is it apathy i.e. the author is tellin you (s)he doesn’t care if you or others want to read new works. Or, maybe, it could be that the author is so naive that it didn’t dawn on him/her or,because Amazon often puts other books by the same author and that’s enough.

    Alan, author of “Elements of Selling”

    Comment by Alan J. Zell — February 11, 2013 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

  6. You can find out when my new book is being released by subscribing to my author blog at http://www.exciting-stories.co.uk/monty .

    Comment by billblog1 — February 12, 2013 @ 5:35 pm | Reply

    • The problem with subscribing to your blog (and any author’s blog) is that as a reader I may have no interest in your blog — all I want to know is when your next book is coming out. And if I have 50 authors whose books I want to know about, your solution means that I would have to subscribe to 50 blogs and be inundated with e-mail notifications of new postings or I would have to regularly go to 50 blogs to read all posts I have missed just to find out whether an author has published a new book. Authors should be making it as easy as possible for readers, not require them to do work.

      I know that in my case I already have too many blogs and forums that I follow, which consume a couple of hours every day. I am not the least bit interested in trying to follow yet another 50 sites on a regular basis.

      Some authors have suggested that I could just check their website. But that means I would have to remember them 6 months from now. Why should it be my responsibility to do that? With the hundreds of thousands of indie books published each year, it isn’t as if I can’t go to Smashwords or B&N (or Amazon for those who go there) or any other retailer and find new books to read. Again, it is up to the author to write well enough to interest readers and then to make it as easy as possible for the interested reader to buy the author’s next book.

      Comment by americaneditor — February 13, 2013 @ 5:20 am | Reply

      • Having completed my third novel for youngsters, “Austin and the Lost Kingdom of Atlantis” (for release on 28th February), my new year’s resolution was to make 2013 my marketing year! An author blog is only one component. Marketing is in its own right a full-time occupation undertaken by specialists in the field.

        I am working quite hard right now to add downloadable freebies to my blog in the form of mini eBooks that complement my stories, giving extra warts-and-all background on locations and characters and fantastic equipment that is used by my story people. I also provide games and puzzles. Remember those breakfast cereal packs that gave away little plastic free gifts to make them appealing to children? In addition my Amazon profile is updated with my blog posts and my facebook and Twitter profiles are likewise updated. I also use Smashwords although this hasn’t been successful so far.

        If you view TV for several hours over any weekend, the time allocated to celebrities promoting a new book, a new film or play, or a new TV series on chat shows is substantial and it seems to me well-known personalities still have to mount the publicity treadmill in order to keep their names in the forefront.

        As a newbie ‘Indie’ author I am under illusions that to build a public awareness is an uphill struggle and requires the utmost tenacity to succeed. I am in this for the long haul. I try when possible to get speaking engagements with local clubs and societies, press releases in local papers and I’m presently engaging with book groups on Facebook and Twitter with some moderate success. It would be nice to get some reviews as I have only ever sought and received one.

        I suppose a gifted Indie author might find success by luck alone but I’m expecting to work hard and keep working at it to try and become a successful author with all of the various activities needed to achieve this. I’m learning so much right now and having great fun into the bargain.

        Comment by billblog1 — February 13, 2013 @ 9:26 am | Reply

  7. “Every indie author should have a live link in their ebook that lets a reader signup to be notified when the next book by the author becomes available. Not a signup for a newsletter or for anything other than a single e-mail that says “you read my book XYZ and asked to be notified when my next ebook became available. It is now available at these stores/places: (here insert links).”

    Excellent idea. In my books I welcome emails from readers, but a link to sign up for new release notifications would be good.

    Comment by Vicki — February 12, 2013 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

    • You should definitely have a link to signup for your “new releases” mailing list right in the back. Preferably immediately following the last page of the book. Get ‘em while they’re hooked, they always say. If you wanted to provide an Author Alarms link as well, yours is:

      http://authoralarms.com/Vicki_Tyley

      Just so’s you know. :)

      Comment by Damon — February 12, 2013 @ 6:10 pm | Reply

      • Fantastic! Thank you, Damon.

        Comment by Vicki — February 12, 2013 @ 6:11 pm | Reply

  8. The problem is places like Lulu.com forbid having personal links in your ebooks. It’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve avoided going with them.

    Damon, I adore the author alarms idea. I checked the site, but didn’t see the “handy shortcut for authors who wanted to use my service as a way of notifying their customers.”

    I’m an Indie author and very interested in that.

    Comment by kittyb78 — February 13, 2013 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

    • I was only given the idea for said handy shortcut this morning, so I haven’t had a chance to go in and add it yet. In the meantime, your link would be:

      http://authoralarms.com/Catrina_Barton

      I plan on working on the author link page before the end of this week. The day job comes first, I’m afraid. :)

      Comment by Damon — February 13, 2013 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

  9. I found this page by accident and wanted to say, what a excellent idea about the email link! I have four books on BN and always wanted to know who was buying the books, and, for precisely the reason you indicate, to inform cusotmers of new releases. Since none on the book distributors report customer names this idea of inserting an email link for the author and or publisher within the book is great. This is something I will start to do. What’s great about this is that the customer has to initate the email. So it’s not like some spam gimmick. Actually I think a website link or something not personal so as not to break rules that a distibutor my have. Will have to work out the details but great idea. Thanks!

    Comment by RalphK — February 20, 2013 @ 4:22 am | Reply

  10. Adding a signup to my website so I can send “release e-mails” sounds like a great idea. All I have to do … ALL! … is to learn how to use the HTML tag, and then to learn how to do something called a “server-side processor.” Probably in PHP or Perl or something … luckily I have books somewhere on those. Sounds like fun. I just hope my Web host supports this stuff …

    Comment by James Hartley — March 9, 2013 @ 4:22 pm | Reply


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