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The Risk of Freedom

“I can do whatever I want. It’s a free country.” Well sort of. But we won’t start that debate here. Instead, we will apply this to authors. Because I have seen it happen even over the last week. Less.

You see independent actually means you are dependent on other professionals to make your work great, and responsible to yourself and your readers to ensure the highest quality possible is achieved.

sucksUnfortunately, many indie authors feel like the freedom to do everything themselves gives them some kind of right to do so, something I call the “right to suck.” When someone points out their work is not well edited or their cover is poor quality, they excuse it by saying, “I can’t afford to hire professionals the way the publishers or big name indie authors do.” In fact, one told me she was “just content to be writing” as if selling books was not important to her. But I know that’s a lie. We write to be read, and selling books is the only way to get others to see our work. So here are some tips to consider before you hit publish.

Hire a professional editor. Your critique group (wonderful people I am sure) are not editors. Nor is your Aunt, or you mother’s friend who has an English Lit degree. Editors have specific job skills relating to story structure and other things not all related to grammar. We are constantly “going to school” to improve both our understanding of the craft, and our understanding of the market, something you really want to consider when putting the final touches on your stories.

Hire a professional cover designer. Even if you are a graphic artist, don’t do your own cover. You are too close to your work to be objective about it. It will show in the final product. Just as I as an editor don’t edit my own work, I know a cover designer who does not do her own covers. She hires someone else to do them for her.

If you cannot afford to invest in your book, you can’t afford to publish. This is the hardest pill for people to swallow, but it is true. Be content to be a writer. But don’t self-publish, and for the love of all that is holy, don’t involve a small press or another publisher. You still must invest in marketing, and if you don’t and your work never sells, you can find yourself in a situation where you aren’t offered any more contracts, or worse are blacklisted from a group of publishers.

Writing as a profession takes the investment of time, money, and work to improve your craft and hone your talent. It is great to write, and writing itself is often great release and great therapy, but to self-publish or move into the publishing world requires a greater commitment: the treating of your art as a business, your book as a product to be marketed and sold.

Published inAdvice for Authors


  1. Loni Townsend Loni Townsend

    I think politeness might play into my (and others’) downfall. Yes, I am one of those rebels who does her own covers. I’ve had complete strangers comment on how much they love the cover of Thanmir War. I’ve had a few others say they love This World Bites. I’m not sure if they’re being polite, or if they are really so enamored that they felt compelled to say as such. How many people do they compliment, giving that author a false assurance that they have a good cover?

    And then I read posts about creating a good cover, and I’m not impressed by what I see. How can I trust “professional” opinions if my senses are telling me meh?

    Now, I know I messed up with This World Bites. At a thumbnail, my name is unreadable. Even the title is hard to see. It’s my choice in typography. I also had a hiccup where I was waiting on someone else for three months, and ended up having to do the work myself in order to make my own deadline. That, along with series title placement issues, put me in a mad dash to get things together on time. But it’s my cover. I’ll own it. I know what’s wrong. I’ll fix it.

    I also know that I don’t tell others when I think they have a bad cover. If they ask my opinion, I don’t lie, but I also don’t offer that opinion unsolicited. Most people don’t ask me, so I don’t say anything. But you know from dealing with me personally that I get rather picky.

    So tell me Troy, straight up, no politeness… Do you think my covers suck?

    • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

      Okay, so let me be honest. I like “Thanmir War.” This World Bites I like, but I see the same issues you do. And I feel your pain. I have worked with cover artists who are less than professional. After a few years, I now have the e-mail addresses and in some cases phone numbers of some really great designers who would be horrified at making anyone wait three months. But yours are not horrid, as the dozen or so I could name. And I tell them when I think their covers are horrible. Just as I offer honest critique and editing, not a pat on the back. Someone has to say it sometime.

      If some others had left the same comment? I would have to tell them straight up that their covers suck. Because they do. Many also look their editor in the mirror every morning. Almost without exception, this is a foolish idea. Hiring and vetting professionals is hard. But in the end, it is worth it. So tell me straight up: if you could have a professional tweak the cover you have for This Wold Bites, using your same concept, but fixing the typography and other minor issues, or even offer their own ideas to you for a reasonable cost, and if you knew you would wait days rather than months, would you go for that?

      • Loni Townsend Loni Townsend

        Fixing the typography and other minor issues for a reasonable cost, yes. If they wanted to pitch their own concept ideas, I’d be inclined to listen and view mock ups, but I’d be less flexible as I have an idea of what I want for a series look. Finding a consistent cover model in poses that match the story isn’t easy. I looked, as I had intended on going with a professional cover designer to begin with. She suggested I do a photoshoot.

        But I have to trust the source before I accept their opinion.

        • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

          Well, I would say this: going with one designer to do a whole series makes sense. I have a few I trust, and would go with. They can help with cover model ideas, photo shoots (expensive), and other options. But the best things I have ever done have been collaborative. Because someone else always brings something to the table you don’t think of yourself. So if it were my series, especially, I would be looking to hire someone, either at least to do minor fixes, or to work with me on the overall concept.

          That being said, that’s what I would do. I would be willing to pay, in that case, because I would feel the overall concept was worth the investment. But it is your story, your series, and your budget. You have to do what is best for you.

          • I was going to respond via my phone, but your site wasn’t playing nice. 😛

            Was Stray Ally collaborative?

          • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

            My designer is working on my site, so it may not be. But a quick answer: yes. Stray Ally is published by a small press. So I had an editor, proof reader, and cover designer (Cora Graphics I believe did that one) arranged by the publisher. So every step of the book was a collaborative effort. The publisher and I worked together with the designer on the cover design, and even changed from one designer to the other when we could not get what we wanted from the first one.

            Every project has more than one hand in it, even if the author’s is the primary name that appears on the cover.

    • Troy Lambert Troy Lambert

      Not all small presses are good. Nor do they all employ professional editors or cover designers. If the author of that book accepted that cover, self-pub or small press, then that is on them. Lack of professionalism often extends to the big six as well. More the point is simply this: if you are going to self publish, and you want your work to be the best it can be, then you should have a professional editor, and at the least a decent cover.

      I would call This World Bites decent, especially in comparison to others. At least you are studying graphic arts, and trying to apply professional principles. You can see the issues. Tons of authors can’t or won’t see them at all, or see the need for education in any area at all. You are investing time, money in purchasing stock photos. Many do not even to that. There are many paths to publication. Many paths to professionalism. But without the investment of time, money, or preferably some of both, most of the time work falls flat.

      Fifty Shades is horrid. Horribly edited, and really not all that well done. Yet it got picked up, made lots of money, and now is getting made into a movie. There are exceptions to every rule. But I am not sure I want to be that kind of exception.

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