Self-publishing writers should aspire to writing well, not fast

stop-watchThe “Writer Beware” blog usually warns of scams and fly-by-night publishers trying to take advantage of inexperienced writers, but a guest post from writer and writing instructor Marcia Yudkin warns of something else—inexperienced writers apparently trying to take advantage of readers. I’m reminded of the aphorism, “Fast, cheap, good: pick any two”—because Yudkin is talking about writers who write fast, and self-publish for cheap, but may not actually be any good.

Yudkin talks about communities she’s encountered where writers, enamored of the way they could make money right away by listing cheap e-books on Amazon, share tips on how to write as fast as possible, review each other’s work, and so on. But in all the talk about becoming a faster writer, there doesn’t seem to be much about becoming a better writer. The idea seems to be to turn it out as fast as possible so you can sell as many as possible.

There also doesn’t seem to be much discussion of getting advice and feedback from readers or editors on improving your work, either. Yudkin notes that novelist Sue Grafton once compared the process of learning to write to the process of learning to be a doctor, and decided to allow herself the same five years as medical school takes to learn to write a good novel.

You won’t ever find folks who tout ebooks as a route to easy riches talking about studying for five years or throwing away such a large chunk of effort. And that’s why, with the absence of any gatekeepers and the lack of respect for quality in their publishing model, readers and writers everywhere stand to suffer. As the current trend spreads, we risk having literary marketplaces that are drowning in unripened works, making it harder for superb new writers who deserve attention to find readers.

And it also harms the authors, too—publication of some work not their best may cause them to get hammered by bad reviews when, if they’d only taken more time to polish it, they might have done considerably better.

The problem of the Internet slushpile has been with us at least as long as self-publishing has, and indeed as long as anyone’s been able to post any kind of fiction to the Internet, for pay or free. With Amazon offering so many writers what seems like such an easy road to riches via e-book self-publishing, it’s not surprising they would try to take advantage of it. Amazon has tried to curb the worst of the excesses by cracking down on private-label rights content, but you still end up with plenty of stuff that’s not written as well as it should be.

I still think it’s a surmountable problem, however. As every new month goes by, people are inventing more and more new ways of winnowing wheat from chaff, or at least helping people find what’s “wheat” for them. Which might suggest that these speed-demon authors should make the best of it while they can—sooner or later people won’t read them anymore.

3 Comments on Self-publishing writers should aspire to writing well, not fast

  1. The two are not mutually exclusive. Taking two or twenty years to write a book does not guarantee a good book. Writing a book in a few months does not guarantee a bad book.

    The important part of the equation is that the timing needs to be based on the writer’s capability not on the publisher’s schedule.

  2. What I’ve seen mentioned by good, established authors is that writing is a skill and you learn it by doing it, a lot. The fast writers may not be any good now, but in writing fast they learn fast. Some of ’em are going to graduate into being both fast and good, which is an absolute killer combination.

  3. Writing quickly and without going through the editing process in a thorough way is a bad idea for any writer who respects his or her work. It also damages the reputation of other self-publishing writers. What I do as a writer to prove that my work – whether you like my stories or not – is well-written and properly edited is provide a free example of one novella and keep the other work priced. If people like the free story, they can then purchase my other work with confidence.

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