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How Can Writers Know if Their Work is Ready for E-Publication?

E-publishing is growing in popularity. With the ease and low cost of getting a book into digital format and the lure of retaining the larger share of profits, e-publishing (as a self-publishing option) is a tempting choice for many writers.

Currently, anyone, anywhere, with any type of printed word can take a shot at e-publishing. And while I’m all for freedom of expression, and artistic license, and doing what’s right for you, and all that good stuff, sometimes I can’t help wondering if maybe we’re taking self-publishing freedom a bit too far.

Should we as writers develop a few general standards by which we measure our readiness for e-publication? In other words, how can we know if our work is ready for any publication, particularly e-pub when we don’t have some of the checks and balances that traditional publication provides?

Recently, fiction-writing guru James Scott Bell decided to venture into e-publishing. He’s the author of the widely popular Writer’s Digest books: Plot & Structure, Revision & Self-Editing, and Art of War for Writers. His newest writing book, Writing Fiction For All You’re Worth, just released. And wouldn’t you know it, he published it himself in e-book format. And he also recently self-published his e-book, Watch Your Back, a collection of suspense stories.

Because I respect Jim for his writing wisdom, and because I was curious about his venture into e-publishing, I asked him a couple questions. (For more of Jim's thoughts see this post: The Eilser Sanction.)

Me: If you were just starting out as a relatively unknown debut author, would you try e-pub? Why or why not?

JSB: First of all, I would not rush into anything, be it e-publishing or querying agents. I would first do everything I knew to make sure I'd written the best book possible. Most of the time that is not going to be a first novel. You have to become a real writer, being able to do more than one book, and making each book better than the last. Learning to write requires an apprenticeship of years, and just because you CAN put something out as an e-book doesn't mean you SHOULD.

The traditional route has the advantage of telling you a lot about your writing. It teaches you discipline and professionalism and how to create works that are marketable. All good.

Getting a good agent to be your partner is also a major plus in a writing career.

So, no, I wouldn't rush to e-publish. I'd spend time writing, going to some conferences, being in a critique group, and above all those things, learning to write.

Me: Without the checks and balances that traditional publication provides, what are some ways writers can know if their work is ready for e-publication?

JSB: That is indeed one of the good things about the traditional route. But then again, there ARE some very good novels that should be published but aren't.

How to tell if yours is one?

One gauge is a group of beta readers. In my early years I used the managers of an indie bookstore I loved (sadly, gone the way of so many other stores) and friends who were readers (not necessarily writers). I'd give out 5 manuscripts minimum. If I got back some of the same comments, I'd know that aspect would need work.

If I was just starting out, I'd do it this way. I'd first do back cover copy to see if my idea gripped people. I'd have some people over for dinner and pitch them the story, then sign them up for Amway. On second thought, maybe just pitch the story. See if you get an "Oooh" factor. You could do that with a few ideas, in fact.

The reason for this is you can have a nicely written but low concept or low stakes novel. And a book needs concept and/or stakes to be worth doing.

Now write it. Then test it. Then pay for a good edit.

Is your book ready now? Remember William Goldman's axiom about Hollywood: No one knows anything. So, in the end, you make the call...you know as much or more about it than anybody else.

My summary:

We need to develop personal standards for our own work and set them high. Remember most writers are blind to their own faults. So if we’re thinking about venturing into e-publication on our own we must have beta readers, critique partners, and professional editors. In other words, we need trusted, critical feedback from many sources.

After having been through rigorous traditional in-house editing process for my books, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting qualified and objective feedback. My books have numerous (a dozen or more) sets of eyes read and comb through them before they hit the shelves. We should expect no less from ourselves with e-publication.

By the way, if you want help in taking your writing craft to the next level, I strongly suggest picking up one of Jim’s books. In fact, his e-book WRITING FICTION FOR ALL YOU'RE WORTH is available for $2.99 on Amazon. I bought my copy last week and love it!

So, what do you think? How can writers set high standards for themselves no matter what publishing route they choose? Have you set standards for yourself? If so, what are they?


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