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I have this conversation on a regular basis with enthusiastic friends and family who are really excited when they find out I am a writer. The conversation usually goes something like this:
Friend: OMG, I heard you published a book! That's so awesome!
Me: Yeah, thanks! It's entitled... and it's about...
Friend: So, how does that work? How'd you get published?
Me: Actually, I published it myself. It's really easy to do that now.
Friend: *blank stare*
Me: *awkward moment of silence*
Friend: Oh... *timidly*... so... you don't actually need a book deal to do that? You don't really have a publisher?
At that point in the conversation, I typically spend the next twenty minutes explaining myself, in a feeble attempt to convince my friend that just because I self-published my book, that's not an automatic indication that it sucks. Once I explain that I actually turned down publishing contracts to do so, they usually thaw a bit.
But it doesn't have to be that way, in my humble opinion. The fact that so many successful authors DO turn down or abandon publishing contracts these days in order to self-publish is, to me, a clear indication that it's a viable--and credible--approach. And that's the first thing readers need to understand:
Self-Published is NOT Synonymous with Sucky
To be fair, I think that most readers don't even look at the publisher of a book. It's only when they hear that the publication was a DIY job that they get a bit skeptical about the quality. Don't. I won't reiterate here what I said in my last post, but please just understand that the paradigm has changed, and both traditional publishing and indie approaches have their merits. There are many great authors doing it one way and many great authors doing it the other way. So keep an open mind, and judge the book by its cover.
A Book Can, and Should, Be Judged By its Cover
OK, Kris, so you've convinced me that a book doesn't have to be published by a big publisher in order to be good. But how, then, can I tell the good books from the crappy ones? If there's no gatekeeper in the form of a publisher stopping just anyone from putting their book on Amazon, then what is a reader to do?
Judge the cover. Chances are, if an author invested in a professional-looking cover, he or she is serious about writing and publishing books. That's a good start. An additional thing to look for is formatting. You don't have to be an expert... just look at the interior of the book, and if it looks like other books you have read, then the author must have paid some attention to detail. If it looks like a Word document mashed in between two covers, the author probably did not want to spend the money to do it right. This might mean that the author has also not invested in honing his or her craft as an author... although, certainly, not always. Which is where the true litmus tests come in:
The Litmus Tests For a Book You Want To Read
1. The "See Inside" feature on Amazon.: Use it. Read the first chapter. If the book doesn't grab you now, chances are, it never will. And...
2. Reader reviews: Reader reviews are the new form of promotion. In the old world, the publisher would decide which books get the promotion dollars, and that would mean exposure, which typically also meant catching the eye of professional reviewers, who would tell you whether a book is good or bad. And nine times out of ten, readers as a whole would completely disagree and decide for themselves what they want to read. Except that their choices were limited in the first place by the aforementioned gatekeepers.
Today, it's finally democracy and capitalism that propels a book to the top of the heap, and I think that's a beautiful thing. The overall rating will tell you how many people liked the book, but more importantly, read the reviews they write. You'll find that some people hate a book for a very quality that you look for in a good read. And this is why you, the reader, are so, so, important:
Your Review is Golden
Did you like the last book you read? Please, go to Amazon right now and search for that title. Then scroll down until you see a link that reads, "Leave a Customer Review." Click there. You might need to register, which takes five seconds, but then you can tell the world exactly why you loved the book. And if you hated it, you can share why. All we authors beg of our readers is that you be honest and try to provide constructive, specific feedback rather than those useless blanket statements like, "this book sucked!" with no further explanation of what you didn't like about it.
In addition to a formal review, your word of mouth is priceless for all of the same reasons. Tell your friends what you thought. They'll thank you, and so will the author.
In today's landscape of democracy and capitalism, the power is finally where it belongs... in the hands of the readers and the authors who write the books. As a reader, you finally have the ability to do your part to help great books rise to the top. I hope you enjoy this new paradigm as much as I do.