Are We Cutting Self-Published Authors Too Much Slack?

Recently, I was given an ARC of a soon-to-be-released self-published novel to read and review. And I was excited to do so. In fact, I was the one who contacted the author asking for the ARC, because the concept seemed interesting and like something I’d love to read. Unfortunately, my experience reading the book was… less than fun. It was so flawed in so many ways that, at fifty percent of the way through my read, I had to stop.

This left me in an uncomfortable position: Should I review the book or not? I felt torn, because the author had been so sweet to me during our few interactions, and because it felt like maybe I was critiquing his book too harshly. After all, it was self-published. That meant he didn’t have a team behind him to help him make his book shine and shimmer. So should I really be holding him and his book to the same standard as I hold traditionally published books and authors?

Then, I stopped and I realized that people like me are part of the problem. I realized that if we let books like this pass without honestly critiquing them, we’re basically ensuring that self-publishing will never be taken seriously. I mean, self-publishing is notorious for half-baked novels getting put out into the world before they’re ready. And if we say, “Oh, well, it’s bad because it’s self-published, so we should be less critical of it”, we’re only making things worse. I mean, Jenna Moreci’s novel The Savior’s Champion is proof that, when done right, a self-published book can be just as well-made as a traditionally-published book.

I’m not saying Moreci’s book is perfect, but neither are most traditionally-published novels. What it is is well-structured and written, with no glaring grammatical flaws, and a well-developed world and characters. It doesn’t feel like an amateur wrote it, or like someone tried to save a buck by foregoing a necessary step of editing. It is, essentially, the same quality as your average traditionally-published novel. And that’s what I want from all of the novels I read.

So, I’ve decided to write a review. I plan to be as nice about it as I can, because I understand that the author is a person and that being rude or mean is completely unnecessary, but I don’t plan on holding back on my critiques. My personal standard for self-published books is for them to feel professionally made, and from now on, that’s the standard I will hold them to. And I encourage all of my fellow book reviewers to do the same.

Don’t give a self-published book four or five stars just because you feel bad and are trying to be nice, or because you think it’s okay that it’s poorly written because it’s self-published. Don’t avoid writing a review at all just because you can’t think of anything positive to say about the book. Not only are you doing the author a disservice by letting them think their book is flawless when it isn’t, but you’re also doing potential readers a disservice by not warning them about what they’re getting themselves into. And you’re doing the self-publishing industry a disservice by letting sub-par novels pass without even a slap on the wrist.

What do you guys think? Does it seem to you like we’re giving self-published authors too much slack? Or do you feel like I’m wrong, and that they shouldn’t be held to the same standard as traditionally-published authors? Let me know in the comments!

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Shelving My Book (And Why It Was A Great Idea)

I wrote a book. It wasn’t the first book I’d ever written, but it was the first book I’d taken seriously. And I didn’t just write it. I wrote it, and then revised it, and revised it again, and then rewrote it, and revised it, and then queried it, and then rewrote it, and then revised it… I did everything I could to get that book onto the shelves, and I was planning to keep doing everything I could to get it onto the shelves. It was my baby, after all. The book of my heart. I knew and loved those characters like the back of my hand.

But then, a few weeks ago, I decided to stop.

Full stop. Dead halt. No more revisions or rewrites. I was actually already five chapters in on another rewrite. But then I decided that wasn’t the right course of action, because it wasn’t getting me anywhere. It was like I was on a hamster wheel, running and running but never making any headway. Sure, my book was getting better… but as my book got better, my relationship with it became strained. I loved it, but the thought of working on it caused me stress and misery, rather than joy. I was drowning in self doubt. I tried working on other, newer projects simultaneously with it, in the hopes of keeping things semi-fresh, but it didn’t work. Instead, I was hit by the hardest bout of writer’s block I’d ever experienced. It was miserable. I was miserable.

That was when I decided I was done. Enough was enough. And I am so glad I made that decision.

It took a little while to get used to. I had to force myself to stop thinking about it, to stop opening the document. But once I finally managed to leave it be, the creative floodgates opened. Suddenly, my writer’s block disappeared. I got a great idea for one of the novels I’d been writing, and I went with it. I sat down and wrote over 3,000 words in two days! 10,000 words in a week! And now I’m almost at 20,000 words! On another novel, which had been stalled at about 27,000 words for months, I’m now at 33,000 words! I mean, holy cow! Now that’s what I call progress.

And I know I wouldn’t be experiencing this kind of success in my writing now if I hadn’t let that first novel go. If I hadn’t put it away and decided to focus on my new projects. Yes, it hurt to do. It felt like a betrayal, and I had a lot of doubts and fears about doing so at first. I’d been so sure that it would be my debut novel, and the idea of letting go of that dream was scary and sad. But now I know, without a doubt, that it was the right choice. Shelving that book gave me the freedom to move on and love my other projects with the same passion as I’d loved that book. To give them the same kind of hope that they might be my debut novels as I’d given it.

This doesn’t mean I’m shelving it forever, though. For those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, and who have cheered me on through the ups and downs of writing The Caspian Chronicles, I don’t want you to fear that it was all for naught. I will pick that book–that series–up again, and I will publish it if it’s the last thing I do. I love that story so much, and it’s a story I know needs to be told. But for now, I need a break. For now, I need to set it aside.

It wasn’t an easy lesson to learn, but it’s one I’m glad to have learned all the same. And I’d like to know: Have any of you had to shelve a project? How did that make you feel, and how did you deal with doing so? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Five Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Writing Books

  1. Looking in the mirror is just like reading your WIP for the millionth time. You know the story, so now all that’s left for you to do is nitpick. You start to doubt yourself. To see the flaws. But, to others, you’re something unique. Maybe you are flawed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be a bestseller, or someone’s favorite book. In the end, you truly are your own worst critic, and the best thing you can do is learn to stop overthinking and just love yourself.
  2. It’s okay to restart. Just like with your manuscript, if you’re not happy with what you’ve written in the past, you can start over. You can change your mind about what to study in college. You can decide to find a new job. You can choose to grow and be a better person. Your life is your story to rewrite however you want.
  3. You can’t worry about what other people have accomplished, or compare your journey to their successes. Doing this is like comparing your WIP to a published novel. Just because you’re not there yet, doesn’t mean you won’t get there. And, until you do, you’ve got to enjoy where you’re at and take in every experience along the way. After all, the journey is half the fun!
  4. You have to let the story of your life surprise you sometimes. Because, no matter how hard you try, you can’t outline every little thing that’ll happen in your life. Things will pop up that you weren’t expecting, and sometimes the best thing you can do is roll with it and see what amazing new doors they can open up.
  5. You need to write your life story for yourself, and not for anyone else. Because, the simple fact of the matter is that you can’t please everyone. No matter what you do, someone will doubtlessly have a problem with it. But so long as you are happy and fulfilled, it won’t matter if you get negative reviews every once in a while.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

My worst personality trait has always been my need for instant gratification. If I don’t get the thing I want the second I want it, I go berserk. Not in the crazy, screaming, throwing things way (well, maybe once or twice), but in the frantic, anxiety-riddled way. If I see something I really want to buy, I’ll think about it night and day until I finally get it. If I set a goal for myself, I’ll let it consume me and get down on myself if I don’t accomplish it right away. And if I develop a crush on a guy, I’ll go crazy thinking about him, wanting him to be my boyfriend without the fuss of having to flirt with and impress him.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Use Your Scenes (And Use Them Well)

Scenes. I love ’em. I love reading them, and I love writing them. My favorite thing to do is sit down and write out a random scene from one of the many story ideas kicking around in my head. It’s almost like a stress reliever, and it’s a surefire way for me to push past any writer’s block I might have. However, during my time at Columbia College Chicago, I learned that, for some people, scenes are difficult to write. It shocked me to learn that some people actually prefer summary to scene. I mean, don’t get me wrong, summary can be a great tool. We all know that not every moment in a story needs to be a scene. The last thing I want is a step-by-step account of how a character gets ready in the morning. But to write a story entirely in summary? Well, I’d argue that’s not really a story at all.

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Why I Keep Losing NaNoWriMo (And Why I Just Can’t Quit It)

Remember last October, when I made 31 posts about prepping for NaNoWriMo… and then promptly lost NaNoWriMo? I do. And you’d think I would’ve learned from that experience. But, no. This year, I got all jazzed up about it again, did some prepping for a new book idea, hammered out about 30,000 words, and then dropped the ball. So what is it about NaNoWriMo that just doesn’t work for me? Why do I do great for the first half of it, and then just… quit? Case in point:

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Long Time, No Blog

Sooo… It’s been a while. A long while. About four months, actually. And I’m really sorry about that. I mean, I never meant to neglect this blog the way I have. In my defense, though, I was sort of going through a quarter-life crisis. Graduating college and entering the real world hit me a lot harder than I thought it would, and I’ll admit that I started to flounder. I started second-guessing everything, which led to me overcompensating in some parts of my life while totally dropping the ball with others. But no more! We’re going to get things back on track.

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Let’s Talk About Writing – Creative Writing Degrees: Yay or Nay?

When you go to Google and type in “Are creative writing degrees…”, the very first auto-fill that pops up is “worth it?” And, it’s a legitimate question. If you’re going to go to college and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a higher education, you want to make sure you’re getting some bang for your buck, right? Because the last thing you want when you leave college is to feel like you not only wasted your money, but your time. I get it. And, having gone through four years of college to graduate with a BA in Fiction Writing, I feel pretty damn qualified to help you make that decision. So, with that said, let’s get started.

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Don’t Let the World Bring You Down

The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is getting off of social media.

I know, it sounds crazy. How can an aspiring author exist in this world without social media? How can they live without scrolling through the bookstagram tag or retweeting helpful threads written by agents? If they don’t stay up-to-date on the publishing world every minute of every day, how will they know if it’s the right time to query their debut novel? I wondered all of this at first, too. I believed the lie that the modern professional had to spend hours of their day on social media, or else they weren’t going to get anywhere. But I’m here to tell you that it simply isn’t true.

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