Don’t Let Anyone Think You Published Your First-Draft

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I was zooming along with my first round of hardcopy edits on The Light Never Lies, feeling OK – when wham – the boom was lowered. I ran up against a couple of chapters that were so poorly written, they are headed right back to the drawing board. I found inappropriate conversation, passive voice, description details that dragged the story down like a loaf of bread that fell flat.

How did this hackneyed piece of prose get woven into my book? Here’s the thing I’ve discovered. A writer has to expect to see crap in the first draft of any piece of work.

The first draft is entirely in the service of getting the story down. Sometimes that’s done with finesse and sometimes not. That’s why we rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

I’m a self-published author. I have joined a growing rank of people who have decided they will not query agents, wait around endlessly for rejections, and then start the whole process again. We won’t allow gatekeeper traditional publishers to say that our work is not sellable.

With this stance, comes considerable responsibility to the craft of writing. If the traditional publisher is not going to narrow the eye of the needle through which we must pass our work, then who will? We have taken on this burden ourselves, and as we all know, policing ourselves is not an easy task.

I have made a commitment to go out of my way to support the work of other self-published authors. I upload your books to my Kindle, and I read them (and not only when those books are offered for free.)

If, in good conscience, I can give your book a 4 or 5 star rating on Amazon, then I sit down when I’ve finished the book, and I write a review. I’m new to this whole thing, so I don’t have five hundred reviews out there, but I’ve read a lot of your work and I’ve done reviews. (A caveat here – I’ve read a few wonderful novels that have tons of reviews already. In the interest of my own use of time, I’ve skimped there on writing one myself. I’m rethinking that position. Every review is helpful.)

There’s no easy way to say this – some of what I’ve read has not been good.

When I do a review I don’t focus on comparing your book with every other book I’ve ever read. I read each book on its own merits. Did I feel drawn into the story, did I like the characters, did you make me care enough to want to keep on reading?

Here’s a news flash. Readers don’t want to be insulted. If I’ve taken the time to read your book, then I’d like it to make sense. I don’t want to run into plot holes I could drive a semi through, or characters that change personality in mid-stream, or dialogue that sounds patently ridiculous given the situation the characters find themselves in, or the crap you’ve decided to throw into the story for no reason that I can see, or one of my all-time pet peeve – storylines that dried up instead of getting tied up before the last page. I don’t want to read through your entire book only to discover that you got lazy at the end.

It matters not to me if the genre of your book is my thing. If a book is clearly in a certain genre (romance, or crime, or mystery, or fantasy, or paranormal urban trash vampire – I made that last one up), then it isn’t OK for me to evaluate that book harshly for remaining true to what it is. I plan to respect that. But I still hold your book accountable to the points I made earlier.

Naturally, poor formatting, lack of editing for the basics of correct grammar and sentence structure, is a turn off – but I’ll put up with that if the story is compelling. I’ll probably mention that there were some issues, but if the story got to me, I’m forgiving of those points.

I will spend months of my life rewriting and editing The Light Never Lies. When this book is self-published, and you spend $3.99 to buy it and invest your time reading it – I want you to know that I have done everything in my power to ensure that you are not insulted or disappointed. The genre of story I have chosen to tell might not be your thing, or you might not approve of the paths some of the characters have taken, but there will be internal consistency to my book.

My point here is that self-published authors owe readers more than some of us are giving. Don’t blow it. Don’t self-publish your book without being sure it is the best story that you can tell. And if it’s up on Amazon and some readers are writing 1 star reviews, pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t compare the dozen 5 star reviews you somehow managed to have people who owed you something write, to the less than stellar takes on your work from objective readers. When I get to the end of your book, don’t let me think that you published your first draft.