The fact that it’s easier than ever to self-publish a book is both good news and bad news for authors and readers. Read on to discover the good news and how to overcome the bad news through quality self-publishing.
The good news for self-published authors is that we can get our messages and stories out in a cost-effective manner thanks to print on demand technology. We can connect directly with our readers instead of using a traditional publisher as a go-between. We can write our own books, unlike many celebrities and high-profile businesspeople who use ghostwriters. We don’t need to have a large platform, which traditional publishers require of their nonfiction authors (because it’s easier to sell books by authors who already have an audience).
The good news for readers is that self-published authors cover far more topics and genres than traditionally published authors. The traditional publishing industry has become more and more consolidated and is now dominated by the big 5: Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette. These are big companies that are in business to make a profit so they sell books that appeal to the largest number of people. If you’re a reader interested in a niche topic or unique genre, you’re out of luck unless an independent author decides to write a book that appeals to your personal interests.
The bad news for both authors and readers is that the lack of gatekeepers in self-publishing has also meant a lack of quality control in self-publishing. Professional indie authors care about their readers and the quality of their books. But, unfortunately, there are also some “authors” who are out to make a quick buck and don’t want to put in the time and effort to produce quality work. This hurts readers because they may buy a book that is poorly written, shoddily published, and misleadingly marketed. It hurts authors because, in some readers’ minds, “self-published” becomes synonymous with “poorly published.”
I am happy to see that IngramSpark and Amazon KDP (the two largest self-publishing companies) are taking steps to improve the quality of independently published books. IngramSpark announced that they will no longer allow certain types of low-quality content effective April 27, 2020. For example, they won’t accept summaries published without permission from the original author. Nor will they accept books that mimic popular titles, books with misleading descriptions, books with illegible content, or books created using artificial intelligence or automated processes. Amazon KDP is also working to improve quality and has created a Quality Issues Dashboard which notes any issues authors need to correct. They are also inviting certain authors (including me) to join their Great on Kindle beta program to help Kindle customers discover high-quality nonfiction eBooks.
As professional indie authors, quality control ultimately rests with us. We are in the best position to police ourselves. If we don’t, someone else will do it for us. I read a suggestion a while back that Amazon should include the ability for readers to filter out self-published titles, which would be a draconian measure that would hurt both authors and readers. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Let’s not let it come to that.
How We Can Improve the Quality of Our Self-Published Books
1. We can improve the quality of our writing. We can work to improve our writing through practice and by listening to feedback from our readers. We can also read and implement the suggestions from books like The Elements of Style, On Writing, On Writing Well, and Dreyer’s English.
2. We can improve our book quality through editing. Professional editing can help us correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. It can help us with fact-checking. It can also help us improve the flow of our books and enhance readability. We can use editing software like Grammarly or hire professional editors at marketplaces like Reedsy.
3. We can improve the quality of our titles. A good nonfiction title (and/or subtitle) includes keywords that accurately describe what the book is about and helps readers find our books. A good fiction title fits the genre and hook’s the reader’s attention. A quality title does not deceive the reader, such as a title that is very similar to a New York Times bestselling title.
4. We can improve the quality of our book cover design. We can study successful books in our genre and hire professionals to design our covers. We can find designers at marketplaces like 99designs or Upwork. (Compare my first book cover (amateur hour) to my fifth book cover (professionally designed) and note the difference in quality!)
5. We can improve the quality of our interior book design. By looking at high-quality books in our genres, we can see what type of information is contained in the front and back matter. We can also ensure a good reader experience by using proper pagination, hyphenation, font size, margins, and other elements in our print books. And we can ensure that links, interactive tables of contents, and other features work in our eBooks.
6. We can improve the quality of our metadata. Metadata allows readers to find our books. It includes information like title, subtitle, author name, keywords, categories, book description, author bio, publication date, ISBN, etc. When we enter metadata on Amazon or elsewhere, it’s important to be as clear, complete, and accurate as possible. Misleading metadata, such as placing a book in an irrelevant category in order to rank higher, annoys readers and invites negative reviews.
7. We can consciously focus on quality when making publishing decisions. If we think about quality as we write, publish, and market our books, we will produce better books. And we can convey higher quality by not pricing books as if they were cheap commodities. We can also consider the implications of participating in Amazon’s KDP Select program which automatically enrolls an author’s book in Kindle Unlimited (KU). KU is an “all you can read” subscription program, not unlike an “all you can eat” buffet. Eating buffets and reading buffets attract bargain hunters and aren’t exactly associated with high quality!
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional thoughts on how we can improve the quality of our independently published books.
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