So I stumbled across a fantastic post by writer John Hartness. Besides telling it like it is and making me want to hide my head under a pillow, he cusses a whole damn lot. I now love him and this post if for no other reason than I can find a “fuck” or “damn” in almost every sentence. Have you ever felt like that? Things that you know but still have to watch others fuck up over and over? He gets it all out here. Now I need to go practice my writing.
Why your self-published book looks like a pile of ass and won’t ever make you any money
by John Hartness
So last week I might have pissed a few people off and maybe opened a few eyes when I listed Five Reasons You Won’t Make it as a Writer. In reality, there are a lot more, including just sheer bad luck, but those five are a good place to start. So this week I figured I’d keep the ball rolling and be a dick about self-publishing on the interwebs. And it’s one word, regardless of what my goddamn autocorrect says.
Now before any of the Disciples of the Church of Konrath’s Beard get all up in arms and storm my house with pitchforks (and seriously kids, I’m a redneck – do not bring a pitchfork to a gunfight. It will fuck up your whole day), let me remind you that I started off self-publishing and continue to self-publish to this day. So I don’t have anything against self-publishing. I plan to continue self-pubbing as a part of my career path until it is no longer viable, which I hope is never. I enjoy a lot of the parts of self-publishing, including the vaunted “control” that self-published authors talk about all the time.
SIDE NOTE – I am not an “indie” author. I am a motherfucking self-published writer. I don’t wear horn-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans. I’m only ironic accidentally, and I don’t ride a fixed-speed bike. I’m not fucking trendy enough to be “indie.” I’m the biggest goddamn sellout you’ve ever met. Anybody in the world wants to write me a check with the appropriate number of zeroes, and I’ll stop self-publishing tomorrow. I have a wife, two cats, a stupid dog and my own fat ass to feed, so my hipster artistic integrity rode off into the sunset before we even started worrying about the Y2K issue. I don’t call myself an author, because I’m a working writer. I throw poop at the page every day and pray some of it sticks. I don’t sit around drinking wine with my pinky extended and discussing Shakespeare. When I discuss Shakespeare, it’s over beer or vodka. I’m self-published and I own that shit. If you want to crow about the control, don’t be fucking ashamed of the label. Own it, with the shitty history of AuthorHouse and every other goddamn thing that comes with it. /RANT
So what am I bitching about now? I’m bitching about the fact that you are making me look bad. I can do that perfectly well on my very fucking own, I don’t need any help from you. So here are some things to fucking stop doing, so you’ll fucking stop making me and the rest of the self-published world look bad.
1) Get your shit edited – I know, I know. It’s expensive. It takes a long time. It’s fucking hard. Wah-wah-wah, my rectum bleeds just fucking listening to you. You can’t write well enough to edit yourself. No one can. I don’t edit myself, Neil Gaiman doesn’t edit himself, Pat Rothfuss doesn’t edit himself, Brandon Sanderson doesn’t edit himself. And you’re not as good as they are. I’m nowhere near as good as they are. I fuck up dialogue tags all the goddamn time. So I pay somebody to fix that shit for me. And she also asks me awesome questions about things that don’t make sense. Because sometimes what’s in my head doesn’t all make it onto the page. And with apologies to a dear friend of mine – YOU MAY NOT HAVE YOUR SHIT EDITED BY A SIBLING, SPOUSE, PARENT OR ANYONE YOU SHARE DNA WITH OR ROUTINELY SWAP FLUIDS WITH. I don’t give a fuck how tough you say your wife is on you, she’s not going to be as tough as somebody who YOU’RE NOT FUCKING. Because she knows you, your husband knows you, there is a set of shortcuts in their understanding of everything you say and do that a stranger LIKE YOUR FUCKING READER doesn’t have. Something that may be crystal clear to the man you’ve banged for the last fifteen years may not make any fucking sense to a reader picking your book up for the first time. Because they don’t know that a fibbertygibbet is your made-up word for a Colt 1911 .45 semi-automatic handgun. And that’s going to matter to a reader. So get your shit edited. It can be a friend. But it cannot be someone who you’ve ever fucked or who you are related to. And we’re not going to discuss the states in which those may be the same people. This isn’t that blog.
2) Learn to lay out your fucking pages – I fucked this up when I published the first edition of The Chosen, and it was Allan Gilbreath who called me on it. I printed the book like it was a blog, with a blank line between paragraphs instead of running them together and indenting shit. You know, the way fucking books look. So I had a book that looked like a printed blog. And my page numbers were jacked up. And my headers and footers were bad. About the only thing I did right with the print edition of that book was I picked a decent font. You can’t go too far wrong with Times New Roman, although there’s apparently a backlash now against Times. So used Garamond. But pick a nice serif font, something that looks classic and clean. A perfect example of this was a book from a couple of guys I met last week. They have a nice looking product, awesome cover, but their typesetting looks like a blog. It doesn’t look like a book that Pyr or Baen or Tor or Roc published. And that’s the point – if you think you’re good enough to compete with the big boys, you’d better present as well as the big boys. And if you don’t think you can run with those big dogs, keep your ass on the porch. If you want to see an example of a self-published book that looks as good as or better than most NY-pubbed books today, go get Matthew Saunders’ new book Daughters of Shadow and Blood Book I: Yasamin. Order the paperback, and you’ll see what an amazing job Matthew did with the layout, the back cover, the front cover, the spine, the whole fucking thing. That’s my current gold standard for what a self-published book should look like. My shit’s not as good as this, but I have a little bit of a following, and they all know I’m a drunk, so I get a little bit of a pass.
3) Get a better cover – For fuck’s sake why am I even still talking about this in 2015? Covers are easy, they’re cheap, and they look good. The covers I got for the Quincy Harker series look awesome, and I paid under $100 for the pair of them. Spend the time to get a good cover done professionally. Here’s the first cover I did for The Chosen.
Now in defense of the artist, this is exactly what I asked her to create for me. It references a specific item in the story, Lucypher’s keychain with an apple on it. It also says not a goddamn thing about the book and doesn’t look anything like a fantasy novel.
This is the revised cover. This has a lot more interesting elements, more engaging typestyle, and a lot of neat things going on there. There’s a fire, an apple, an angel – a lot of fantastical elements that draw a reader in.
One of these covers sells a hell of a lot better than the other. I’ll let you decide which one. No I fucking won’t, that’s the whole point! The second cover is obviously better, but some of you are still putting out half-assed covers. It drives me nuts and drags me down by association.
4) Get better back cover matter – If I read another self-pubbed back cover that tells me everything about the character and their backstory then tells me how much I’ll love the book, I’m going to fucking vomit. Have none of you ever gone to a bookstore and read the back cover material on a book? What the fuck? Do you think this shit just materializes from the word fairies? That they just sprinkle this shit all over the shelves and descriptions appear? Go read back cover copy! Rip off the best ones! Every fucking body else is doing it, why should you be the special goddamn snowflake that has to write some Pulitzer-winning bullshit for the back of their book?
Do you write horror? Read the back cover of Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. Do you write fantasy? Read the back of some awesome fantasy books. Do you write romance? I got nothing for you. Duh! Read the back of romance novels. But don’t give me this bloated, hyper-descriptive shitball of a back cover with eighteen paragraphs in 8-point Helvetica telling me the entire prologue that you wanted to write but didn’t because some other dickhead on some other blog said that prologues are out this season, like skinny jeans and floral prints.
5) WRITE BETTER – Seriously, goddammit, work on your fucking craft. If I read another opening page that’s a dream sequence I swear to Jebus I’m gonna wipe my ass with it. Don’t tell me every fucking thing about your character’s morning ritual. I don’t give a shit how many squares of TP she uses to wipe after she pisses. I don’t care about how she scratches Mr. Pibbles, her Maine Coon Cat behind the ears as she passes him on the way from taking a piss to putting on clean undies. I care about the fucking zombies coming up the fucking stairs. Get to the point. Tell me the story, no bloat.
And show me the action. Show me the relationships. Do not tell me that your main character loves his sister, even though he picks on her all the time. Build the fucking characters. Show me through their actions, expressions and dialogue that they love each other. You spent so much fucking time describing the wallpaper in the shitter, but you won’t take three paragraphs to develop the character? That tells me you haven’t learned what’s important to the story yet.
Avoiding passive voice is a given. Adverbs weaken your writing is a cliche because it’s true. Avoid filter words is a maxim because it’s something everybody needs to remember. Show me, don’t tell me runs off the lips of every editor because it’s the truth. Polish your craft. Work on getting better every single day. I spent four years and over four thousand articles writing about internet poker before I moved to fiction.
Between five years of blogging almost daily and four years of poker writing, I worked my way through a million shitty words before I ever started work on The Chosen. And I’ve still got a lot shit I work on in my writing. But I’m working on it. Everything I write this year is better than anything I wrote last year, because I’m writing all the time. I’m reading all the time. I’m working on my craft. If you’re not willing to do the same thing, get the fuck out of my profession.
I fuck off a lot. I make wisecracks, joke around a lot, but there is one thing I am deadly serious about – my craft. Do not come in here thinking you’re the next fucking Hemingway and you don’t need to work to get better. Because I’ve got over forty titles out, I’ve sold over 50,000 books since I started this journey five years ago, and I still have a loooong way to go. I’m nowhere near the best I can be, but I write the best I can each day. And I make sure that every single product I put out with my name on is the absolute best I can make it. Because that’s all you get in this world – your name. Your reputation is what you make it, and so is your career. You might judge success differently than I do, and that’s fine. But there are benchmarks for quality, and if you can’t hit those benchmarks for quality – don’t hit “publish.”
But if you’re willing to work hard, and you’re honestly ready to bust your ass and get things done, then jump on. Let’s ride.