J.L. Pattison
Jul 18 · 9 min read

As an author of indie books—and an occasional reader of indie books—I felt compelled to write this brutally honest, open letter to indie authors, even if I receive hate mail for it.

Courtesy of Movidagrafica Barcelona via Pexels

There are three failures that keep rearing their ugly heads in far too many self-published books. And as long as authors insist on committing these three self-publishing mistakes, they will keep hurting their book sales, their potential writing careers, and the indie publishing community as a whole.

If you’re an indie author who’s committing any—or all three—of the following self-inflicted wounds, the good news is they can all be remedied.

Let’s examine each of them below.

Self-Inflicted Wound 1: Failure to hire a professional editor.

This one drives me crazy. I can forgive a mistake here and there (especially in larger books), but I am shocked at how many self-published books I’ve come across that are rife with misspelling and grammar issues — some that are even found on the back cover.

So many of these errors could have been caught and fixed had the author employed a professional editor.

Much to my chagrin, however, my position on this matter is not an axiom among writers. Here is what one author wrote to me on a social media site regarding the topic:

I believe it’s precisely this attitude that has been partly responsible for earning the self-publishing community a bad name. Why do so many indie authors settle for less, refuse to strive for excellence, and expect readers to lower their expectations?

If you can self-edit to the degree of a professional, then you’re an anomaly and my hat goes off to you, but even the most successful writers use editors because no matter how good we think we are at catching our own mistakes, the sad fact of the matter is, we miss a lot.

You need an additional pair of eyes to go over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. Even your friends and beta readers will miss errors.

The above detractor also took a position that I didn’t expect from an author, namely that “perfect editing does nothing to actually sell the book.” This is like a restaurant saying “sanitary practices do nothing to actually sell the hamburger.” Perhaps not initially, but how many repeat customers do you expect to serve when your clientele becomes ill after dining at your establishment? You may sell that hamburger today, but if your customer bites down on a toenail in the beef, you can bet you’ll never see that customer again.

And you can bet that customer will surely tell their friends about the experience and possibly even leave a poor review on Yelp. In the same way, I’ve seen reviews on Amazon where readers lament the copious spelling and grammar issues they found in a book, some even going so far as to say they put the book down and couldn’t continue.

I don’t want to be the kind of author that cares more for the initial sale of my book than for establishing a long term reader (fan) of my work. And like any relationship, trust is vital. If readers aren’t going to like my books, I certainly don’t want it to be because of toenails in the meat, so seeking out an editor is of utmost importance to me.

But how do you find a quality editor who is reasonably priced? I admit, it’s a challenging task, but do your research and it will pay off in the end.

Personally, for my most recent book, I chose editor Jennifer L. Harris. She did a good job and was reasonably priced (compared to other editors) which was a strong selling point on my decision to choose her.

If you can’t afford a professional editor, then wait. Practice a little patience and save up your money until you can afford one.

Self-Inflicted Wound 1: Conclusion

If you won’t devote the time, money, and effort to ensure high standards in your book’s content in regards to spelling, grammar, and formatting, should readers expect that your book will be a compelling, well-written story? Short answer: they probably won’t.

And if you approach the writing craft without the desire to provide the best error-free reading experience for the consumer, will readers come back for more? Short answer: probably not.

So treat your manuscript like the important life-work that it is. Pay for an editor and polish that masterpiece. You owe it to your readers and you owe it to yourself.

Courtesy of stevepb via Pixabay

Self-Inflicted Wound 2: Failure to hire a quality cover designer.

The fact is, people do judge books by their covers. I know, because I’m one of those people.

If you’ve ever spent time on a book-selling website, scrolling through the countless books available for purchase, you can surely attest to the fact that there are far too many poorly crafted covers out there.

But the solution to this problem is simple. You’re a writer, not a cover designer, so focus on your writing and leave the cover designing to the professionals.

See how simple that was?

In this day and age there are many cover designers available to choose from so there’s no excuse for having an unprofessional book cover. If finances are a concern for you, many of these designers offer pre-made covers at a lower cost than custom designed covers.

Here are just a few designers (listed alphabetically) that I’ve personally looked into over the past few years, but there are many more out there:

Self-Inflicted Wound 2: Conclusion

There’s no way around it, you need a cover for your book and you’re going to pay for it one way or another. Either up front (for a professional designed cover) or settle for cheap and pay for it later with lost book sales.

Personally, the cover designer I selected for my last book was Ivan from Book Covers Art out of England.

I went with a custom cover design and Ivan did an impressive job. He was patient and accommodating with my many demands and change requests. The total cost was $250 and this was the final result:

Cover Art by Ivan at Book Covers Art

Self-Inflicted Wound 3: Failure to have a good story to tell.

I loathe reaching the end of a book only to be left thinking to myself: That was it? What was the point of this story? Why did the author even write this, let alone publish it for public consumption?

Reading a dreadful book is a great disappointment to me, not only because my money was wasted, but also because my valuable time was wasted, too. (I can make more money, but I can never get my time back.)

If, as an author, you have nothing new, important, or profound to tell, you should ask yourself: Would anyone want to read this? Why would anyone want to read this?

People enjoy reading books because they want to learn, grow, laugh, cry, feel, be amused, or escape from the real world. And in some cases, all of the above. If your story does none of these, are you providing sustenance to hungry readers, or are you just adding one more book to an already overflowing ocean of books, making it more difficult for readers to find the stories they actually want to consume?

Courtesy of John Schnobrich via Unsplash

Now this is where some of you will begin formulating your angry response to me. Something along the lines of scolding me for dissuading other writers from writing.

Please understand, this is not my intention.

I have a collection of my kids’ drawings that adorn my refrigerator at home and my wall at work. Those rudimentary stick figures are all very special to me, but let’s be real, no one is going to try submitting them to an art museum. You recognize that, my kids understand that, and the art museum appreciates my discernment to not waste their time.

Just the same as my kids’ art, I am merely asking for discretion among authors.

If someone feels compelled to write, then I say go for it, but remember, not everything that’s personally meaningful for an author to put on paper will be fit for an audience to consume. Don’t confuse someone’s need to write with someone else’s need to read it. Put out only your best work (even the most successful authors have written stories they never publish).

Now, for those of you who are still angry at me because you feel I’m discouraging writers from publishing their work, has it ever occurred to you that there’s someone else in this equation that you’re forgetting about? Have you ever considered how discouraging this is for the reader?

Before the advent of self-publishing, it used to be the job of the publishing houses to weed out subpar works. Now readers themselves are stuck doing that job (oftentimes after spending money and their precious time). This is unfair to readers because life is way too short to read bad books.

Self-Inflicted Wound 3: Conclusion

There used to be a time when authors couldn’t get discovered because the gate keepers at traditional publishing houses were extremely selective. Now, with the advent of self-publishing, anyone and everyone can publish a book (and they do). But where we once couldn’t get our books into the hands of readers because we couldn’t get them past the gatekeepers, now we can’t get them into the hands of readers because our books are lost in a sea of other titles. A reader stumbling upon any particular book is equivalent to the proverbial needle in a haystack.

It’s true everyone has a story to tell, but it’s equally true that not everyone is capable of telling that story. And with the market already saturated with books, is it really that egregious of me to demand quality over quantity?

Courtesy of Pixabay

Final Thoughts

We all know there’s a stigma associated with self-published books. And every time readers of traditionally published books boldly venture into the indie market, only to find themselves reading a book full of grammatical errors and spelling issues—or just an awful story—that stigma is reinforced in their minds. When this happens, indie authors everywhere lose credibility and sales because those disappointed readers oftentimes make a resolution right then and there to never again waste their money—or their time—reading another self-published book. (I confess: I’ve even reached that point of frustration myself, which is why I rarely read indie books anymore.)

We’re all in this together. What one indie author does in the publishing world—good or bad—ripples throughout the entire indie publishing community. A poorly written and edited book not only hurts your own sales, but it negatively effects sales for the rest of us.

It’s because of this ripple effect that I plead with my fellow indie authors to stop chasing after the glory of how many books you put out (and how fast you can put them out), and start focusing on the quality of those books. Your readers deserve better than that and the collective body of indie authors who take their craft seriously deserve better than that.

Remember, the writing profession is a marathon, not a sprint, so please pace yourself and publish responsibly.


J.L. Pattison

J.L. Pattison has self-published The Island and Saving Kennedy. If he can temper his fishing addiction he might eventually get around to finishing his next book. Find out more at JLPattison.com.

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J.L. Pattison

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A mildly melancholic, mostly misanthropic contrarian who cherishes life, liberty, and lattes. He turns coffee into books at JLPattison.com.

The Startup

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