There is a strange tendency of mine to go onto the Kindle store and see what all is being offered for free on the store. I’m almost never impressed with anything that I find, but I keep hoping that something will change. That I’ll find a diamond in the rough somewhere, and find a good book that I can read and enjoy, and review for higher than 3 stars.
But the likelihood that I’m going to be able to do that is slim and none. I find more books of generic ideas and formulaic nonsense that it makes me want to throw my Kindle across the wall. It’s absurd. But here’s what I don’t understand. Who is buying these books?
If you look at the books that are floating around, it’s easy to try and take about four or five major themes. If I wrote a billionaire romance, a werewolf shifter romance, and a thriller that has to do with people forgetting who they are, I would be able to make billions of dollars on books that aren’t necessarily as good as they could be. The advent of the self-published book in many ways has been amazing for the industry, but isn’t necessarily good for actual book quality. It’s really unfortunate, because I want to see good books coming out of self-published authors, so that we can make that particular method of publishing seem more realistic and more professional than what the usual publishing companies seem to think of. The trouble is too many indie authors have decided that because they’ve written a book and because someone they know has told them it’s good, that means that they can put it up on Amazon and it will be fantastic.
At this point, the problem becomes that this means that no proper editor (necessarily) has ever taken a look at this book, and that means that the quality of the writing is suspect. Now, it’s not necessarily difficult to find an editor who was willing to look at these things, because us freelance editors are pretty much everywhere and we work for relatively reasonable prices. The inevitable issue is, that these authors don’t want to pay money to make their books better. They just want to get them up on the marketplace so that they can sell copies. The trouble lies in when you start trying to find reviewers, and then reviewers like me to pick up your book, and notice that there are bunches of problems. This is not going to get you a 5 star review. This is going to get you a 4 star review–and only if your book is amazingly good, and more likely a 3 star review because you cut corners where you didn’t have to.
If not worse. I’ve definitely seen worse.
So why exactly do I inundate myself with mediocre fiction? Well, the answer is: I don’t, or at least I try not to. When I get my Bookub email, a book has to grab me not only with the description in the email, but with the summary on Amazon as well. (They don’t always match. I’ve passed up a book at least twice now because I keep reading the Bookbub description and thinking it could be good…until I read the Amazon one. Nope.) And that’s really the hook. You have to sell me at the beginning, or else I won’t waste my time on you. I don’t care if the book is free. I have more than enough books floating around my Kindle, and WAY more sitting on my bookshelves that I haven’t read yet. If you can’t convince me in that paragraph to read what you’re selling, then I’m sorry. Is that harsh? Yes. Does it terrify me as an author? Oh hell yes. Because then I know when any of my books go up, if I’m self-publishing, then I’m the one in control of what that paragraph is. Can I summarize my book into one enticing paragraph–maybe two if I’m lucky? How do I take all of the angst and drama and action that is my book and try to stuff it into so few words?
This is why I don’t have an elevator pitch yet, and I’ve been working on this book for something like 7 years now.
You can’t be afraid of the editor. You can’t shy away from feedback. I feel like I’ve touched on this topic before, because I remember quoting the description I hate so much. (In fact, I’ve just gone and found it. Here is the post from September, talking about bad blurbs not selling books. Yup.) But it’s not just blurbs. I’ve read really excellent and interesting blurbs…that turn out to be for truly average books. (If we really want to pile on everyone’s favorite dead horse to beat, I could say that Twilight does that pretty well. Interesting concept, not terribly well executed.)
But back to the point at hand: are these terrible books selling? If so, who is buying them? Are they free because the author is trying to push their name, or are they free just as a promotion? I know often, say, when a book three is coming out, the author will make the first book of the series either free or very much discounted. I don’t know. I haven’t been following these authors, so maybe it’s the latter. But too much of me wonders about the former. I can see the benefit, especially as a new author, taking something of yours and saying “hey, you can read this thing I wrote for free, and then if you like it, I have a bunch more stuff!” Last I knew, EARTHRISE by M.C.A. Hogarth was free on various outlets for that very reason. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that; in fact I think it’s brilliant marketing. It gives people a chance to see your work, know how you write without a financial investment, and then you hook them with that well enough that the next time you see their books, you buy one.
Example: I got the first two books of the Unseen trilogy for free…somehow. (Still can’t remember how.) I’d never heard of Stephanie Erickson, I didn’t know anything about her, but it sounded interesting and–as I’ve said here–as long as you hook me with your description, then I’m willing to try your free book.
I now own all but one book Erickson’s ever written, and the only reason I don’t have the last one is because it only just came out, and I’m in a serious financial bind right now. (But watch that not stop me.)
It really does work, and I hope these authors are getting what they want. But it still hurts me to look at all these books…and wonder why mine isn’t out with them.
Oh yeah. I need to finish mine. Whoops.
*goes back to editing*