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Confessions of an Ebook Convert

This originally appeared as a guest blog in author/publisher Zetta Brown’s highly informative column appearing regularly at the She Writes site for women writers.

On David, Goliath, Politics and the Environment

I love books. For decades I have read an average of three to five books a week and my walls are lined with bookcases. But, while I will always treasure every pristine or tattered member of my vast and precious book collection, I have happily joined the growing legions of ebook buyers for almost all my reading.

Why? To start with, I was born without a patience gene, and ebooks provide instant gratification. I don’t have to leave the house, rummage through a bookstore (used or new) or the library, wait for delivery, or get on a waiting list to borrow a solitary copy. When I’m lusting after a new book, why, zip, zap, zop and I can start reading. What’s not to love?

Another important reason is environmental. I’m a lifelong tree hugger, and after decades of worrying about my part in creating worldwide deforestation, I can assure myself that my ebook purchases are saving trees. And many agree that if you read more than four or five books a year, it is greener to use ebooks.

But to me the very best reason to buy ebooks is political.

I am convinced that the world has embarked on a cycle of change which could well shift the balance of power from large multinational corporations to the little guy. And ebooks, and the indie/self-publishing movement that ebooks have made possible, are right out there on the leading edge, just ahead of Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.

No matter how our work gets published, though, in order to compete successfully, our books need to be as professional, literate, compelling and error-free as anything put out by the Big 6 publishing giants. And, to put it bluntly, right now a painfully large number of self-published books simply don’t make the grade. The other painful fact is that these days the Big 6’s books often aren’t looking as polished and professional we we’ve come to expect.

Nevertheless, the Big 6 publishers, via several of their authors, are capitalizing on the fact that a lot of indie books are published carelessly and too soon by making a lot of interview and blog noise about poor ebook quality. So far there’s enough truth in what they’re saying to potentially affect your ebook sales.

Until recently, readers seemed willing to tolerate sloppy editing or poor character and plot development when a book cost $0.99 to $3.99, but I’ve been noticing more and more online reader reviews complaining about these things. They’re also much more likely to simply quit reading and delete a $0.99 or $3.99 book when grammatical errors and poor story development get too annoying. And there go your repeat sales.

The ebook transformation of the publishing industry is shaping up to be a David and Goliath confrontation, and self-publishing authors need to follow the example of book-loving indie publishers and keep the following thought in mind:

If you don’t have size and advanced weaponry in your favor, be sure you are really, really good at using a slingshot.

This means, among other things, that you need to get your criticism before you publish, not after.

Even if you’re really good at catching problems when you read books or critique fellow authors’ work, being your own (and only) editor is like being your own lawyer. Don’t!

If you can find a way to budget for it, it’s not hard to find good professional editors–either developmental editors who work with you on character and plot development while checking for technical problems, or copy/line editors, usually less expensive, who will make sure your book is free of errors.

A lot of editors of both kinds are fellow authors who are excited about the changing face of publishing and have a sense of mission, as I do, about supporting self-publishers.

If you’re working on a severely limited budget, though, you have alternatives.

There are very helpful self-editing classes , workshops and books out there. Romantic Times and Romance Writers of America offer good classes, to name just two.

If you go that route, then you’ll also want–and need–a respected literary editing reference book, like the Chicago Manual of Style or the Gregg Reference Manual. Preferably both. And you’ll need to stay current with the ever-evolving trends and tropes of your genre or niche.

And while friends and family, and even local English majors, could be an important part of your book’s growth, never, ever leave the your published work’s professional success solely in their hands.

Critique groups of writers, and fellow authors who are willing to be beta readers, are usually very important to a book’s development, whether you’re struggling with your first book or published many times over. And if you’re depending on your beta readers to make that all-important final read-through for accuracy and overall excellence, be sure they know it.

Conventional wisdom says that agents and editors will stop reading submitted manuscripts when they’ve discovered only three errors.

Readers might be a bit more tolerant, but if you’re building a career as an author, why take the chance? Show those precious people who pay for your book just how much you respect and appreciate them! Invest as much in correct use of the language, and in cleaning up other errors, as you do in developing your plot, characters and author voice.

This reader, to name just one, will be very grateful!

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