Friday, September 23, 2011

In Defense of Crappy Writers

I try not to get caught up in the “us versus them” mentality that often goes on between legacy publishers and independent authors. If you ever want a good debate on the subject, you’d be better off checking out Joe Konrath’s blog, where the topic is touched on almost daily.

But one thing I hear a lot of in the writing community—from both my legacy and indie friends, and yes, it’s okay to have both—is that bad writers are going to ruin things for everyone. Being a contrarian by nature, it was only a matter of time before I was forced into this blog post:

In Defense of Crappy Writers…

That’s right. I’m going to defend authors, who go to market too quickly, refuse to get help from an outside source, and are incapable of proofreading. Indies think bad writers make them look bad. Legacy guys think they create too many distractions for readers, and a distracted reader is a reader, who isn’t buying their book. And virtually all of us, who may not be the greatest writers in the world but know how to weave a yarn, get insulted that offensively bad writers even attempt to do what we do.

We need more gatekeepers. Crappy self-pubbers give indies a bad name! I’ve heard it all, but I’m not convinced. If that’s what you think, consider this:

We need them. You, me, and indies everywhere. And so do legacy publishers. If every person, who ever published a book was a masterpiece writer, the market would be saturated beyond belief. The next Ernest Hemingway could easily go unnoticed. There would be no way to distinguish good writing from piss-poor. We’d all be great, and, subsequently, ignored.

Writing a bestseller is hard, people. The writing is important, but it’s not the only thing that goes into it. You need to proof your book till it shines like gold. You need to hand it off to a brain you can trust. One who will read it and tear it apart. You need to lick your wounds and declare yourself too stupid to write another word before finally getting past the criticism and using the constructive remarks to make it a better book.

You need to get on the social networks and build a Twitter / Facebook following. You need to write blog posts that people may actually find informational, enlightening, entertaining, or inspirational. You need to fight discouragement when your book isn’t selling by writing another book. And you need to go through the entire process again and again and again until the world gets the point that you’re not going away.

It’s the 21st Century, and there are more opportunities than ever before to find your audience. Write well, write often, finish what you start, and connect with people. Don’t wait for Amazon to algorithm your book to the top. They won’t. Keep writing. Keep connecting. Build authentic relationships with people, and the rest will fall into place.

Crappy writers are not stopping you from doing that, and they’re not stealing your potential audience. They’re proving themselves to be crappy writers, and they’re making your book look that much better when it is finally discovered. Furthermore, they are making your eventual audience grateful to you for providing a good story at a good price.

Bitching doesn’t help. Forming a new body of indie gatekeepers won’t either. Only writing the best book that you know how to write, not becoming discouraged, and continuing to do what you love until you break through or don’t love it anymore will help. Those are the keys to success.

So the next time you buy a 150,000-word tome for 99 cents and pick out 18 spelling and grammar issues on the first page, thank the author. Oh, not personally. That would be tacky, and staying positive is a far better way to live. I mean inside your head. Because when your book finds its audience, that writer is going to make your work stand out.

Joe Konrath has a philosophy: cream will rise to the top. But it can’t do that unless there’s a bottom.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Interesting and agreeable thoughts. I like to read blogs with different 'takes' on issues and yours does that. I'll be back to read more. I commented and removed it because ironically there was a typo in it! This is the corrected version.

  3. Thank you. This has given me the booster shot I have needed to keep going!


  4. Hi Richard, thanks for stopping by! And don't sweat it. Leniencies are allowed when commenting to a blog :)!

  5. You're welcome, Kathryn. We all need those booster shots from time to time. If you love what you do, then there is nothing to lose in continuing to do what you do. Worst case scenario, you get to write. Best case scenario, others find you, and you make a lot of money doing it.

  6. I do agree with what you say- as a writer. As a reader, sometimes I get the feeling that because someone is selling a book for $0.99, they believe that quality isn't important. It frustrates me when I encounter, not bad writing, but lazy writing. If an author doesn't care, it feels like I've been cheated. I hate that.

    This comment section and the post, all has the feeling of a Konrath experience. You are correct in that as well, Aric, that if anyone wants to delve deeper into this subject, then JA Konrath has practically cornered the market.

    It is always a good topic, however, to discuss, because really, it critical in so many ways.

  7. Y'know, Michael, I can't say I disagree with you there. I don't believe crappy writers are keeping good writers from earning a living, though, indie or legacy. They are, however, causing me to be much more discerning of whose book I purchase and whose I do not.

    The John Locke way of pricing a book for 99 cents is losing some of its effect on me, I think. I spend a lot of time ignoring the 99-cent stuff UNLESS the writer seems to know what he or she is doing in the marketing copy.

    If they have other books available at $2.99 and $3.99, and the books have solid looking covers with compelling plot descriptions, I will gravitate toward those. But first, I usually download the free sample. From that point, if I want to read more, I'll buy it, and it doesn't matter whether I pay 99 cents or $4.99.

    But 99 cents alone doesn't cut it anymore. When there are millions of books on the market (seemingly), you just don't have the money to buy every cheaply priced thing that you see, even if you would like to.

    As for Konrath's blog, I dig it, but I'm starting to feel that going there is counterproductive. Not because of Joe so much as the comments section. It's largely sycophantic or contrarian-for-the-sake-of-being contrarian with no in-betweens. It's far better to spend more time writing than feeding that beast.

  8. Well said. Kudos.

    There will always be bad writers. They're not going to go away by some magical poof of a wand or gate keeping process. They are here to stay and it's great. And that is good news for those of us who are working our butts off trying to make our books the very best they can be--you are right, we will stand out, we will rise to the top. Rising to the top should be everyone's goal. But for some, just getting their book into print the quickest they can, is their goal and it will show.

    In reality, the only person I feel I'm in competition with is myself. I have to produce the best book I can, something free of errors, something a reader can't put down--and I know I need all the help I can get from talented editors, alpha and beta readers to do so. I don't trust myself. And that's a good thing :)

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Definitely agree here.
    Besides, its not writer's job to parse out the good and bad books. It's a reviewer's job. The writer's job is to write something delicious.
    Besides, for some people, writing a terrible book and putting it out there and having it ripped to shreds is an important part of their learning process. A kind of trial by bludgeoning.

  10. @Mredria: "Trial by bludgeoning..." I like that. May I steal it lol? No, in all seriousness, you hit the nail on the head. There are many distractions out there that are keeping us from perfecting our craft. The indie vs. legacy argument is the biggest. And what it comes down to is this: making a living as a writer means you write; you don't get involved in the work of a reviewer. Can you be both? Of course. But to quote The Offspring, you've gotta "keep 'em separated." Yes, I know, my age is showing through.

  11. @Angela: Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. And good luck with your writing endeavors. You've got the right perspective. I was going through my Nook Color store last night trying to find Indies that I could invest in, and I'll admit, it was tough. Many have yet to adopt your way of thinking, because, I presume, it's too much work for them. I got three pages in to one and had to archive. All the characters sounded the same, the grammar / spelling / syntax was horrible, and reading each word reminded me how truly short life is. But in that sea of crap, I was able to find two indies, whose short stories I really enjoyed. I'll be remembering them. I've already forgotten the name of the bad writer. Crappy writing will police itself. Like you said, you are your own competition.

  12. It all evens out in the end....the good, the bad and the mediocre all find their niches.

  13. I kept hearing Al Pacino in Devils Advocate in my ears when I was reading this..

    "The two of you, all of us, acquittal after acquittal after acquittal until the stench of it rises so high it reaches into heaven and chokes the whole f&*&*g lot of them."

    I say let the sea of bad writing rise and drown the writers themselves.

    The rest of us will on the surface, kicking back with the novels we enjoy or crafting the work we so love, more than likely on inflatable dinghies with sombrero's and beer.

  14. It really comes down to what you consider to be good writing. I've read numerous books that were perfectly edited, no misspelled words, grammar errors, or lay-out mistakes, but they did not engage me.

    Recently, I had an author share a work in progress. It had a ton of misspelled words and grammar errors, but I really enjoyed it. This writer had a real passion for their subject. I provided some direction on how to use spell check and suggested that they pick up a grammar textbook.

    Editing can be learned! If that's the criteria for blacklisting other authors, it's short sighted. Writers should support each other and provide guidance. Tell the truth, but via an email or direct message. This writer's work would have received one star if published, but this person has the very real potential to become a great writer.

  15. @Scott: That's a much more positive way of looking at things.

  16. @TheGearCog: "Devil's Advocate" is a really underrated horror gem, and that's a terrific analogy I'd forgotten about. Thank you for reminding me to pop that one back in the DVD Player.

  17. @Carrie: It's all about finding that balance between passion and craft. If you're not enthralled by the subject, you can't fake it. Doesn't matter if you're Stephen King or a self pubber. I've read books by King that I couldn't finish because I was as bored as he was lazy in the writing of it. But then, I've read some of his stuff that I couldn't put down. Good or bad, his books have always been technically sound.

    If a writer gets excited about what he's writing, then he should do whatever it takes to finish it and then make it available for public consumption. Nothing should be a deterrent. Not bitter legacy guys. Successful indies with an inflated sense of their own abilities. Agents and publishers terrified of industry changes. It's all background noise. But the key is, "ready for public consumption." That means getting people you trust to give you an honest and constructive opinion.

    It was commendable that you could see through the errors and offer some constructive help. Now it's that writer's job to listen. That's what will set him apart from being part of the problem. And yes, editing can be learned, absolutely!

  18. I can think of two people that were considered crappy painters in their day:
    Vincent VanGogh
    Adulf Hitler

    What's my point? I'm not sure. It's not well thought out.

  19. Wonderfully funny post with some darn good points. I enjoyed this. What bothers me about people 'complaining' about crappy eBooks is that all eBooks allow you to download a sample before you buy. I ALWAYS without fail do this. Then if the book isn't to your liking - either it's crap, or it's set in the 1800s and you hate reading stuff set in the 1800s, you can easily delete it and move on.

    Thanks for the writing.

  20. I set out planning to disagree with your stand because I abhor writers who do not properly edit their work, but in the end you won me over. I'd never thought about the bad writers shooting themselves in the foot. Good post.

    Toni Noel, proudly published by in ebook by Desert Breeze.

  21. I could not agree more. Even in traditional publishing I have found some crappy books too, so obviously indie authors do not control the entire market of bad writing. I think you are correct to focus on what you are doing and not what others are doing.

  22. @Mark: Lol they were certainly influential!

  23. @Linda: I used to be right there with you on the samples. Nowadays, I can tell pretty fast from a look at the cover and the synopsis whether the writer has a professional's head on his/her shoulders. If I'm on the fence I may give the first couple of pages a read-through to check for mistakes. From there, as long as the price is right, I'm sold. But you can tell so much from just a glance at the cover and the synopsis that it cuts gatekeeper chores in half.

  24. @Ed and Toni: Welcome to the site!

    (And you, too, Linda and Mark :)!)

    I really appreciate bad writers in a way--not enough to buy, of course, but for making me a better "gatekeeper" of what I like and what I don't.

    Legacy books that are awful do more harm because they can get past your internal gatekeeper more easily. After all, they've got pro designers, professional marketing copy, and vetted writers to back them. As a result, you end up blowing a lot more time, and that's a commodity that is so important to me the older I get.

    I'd rather be inundated with crap than waste time, effort and money on a book that "looks right," but completely fails in its storytelling. At least with the bad stuff, you can tell in a few seconds that it's bad.

  25. Let crappy writers write. With any luck they will receive some constructive reviews that will either help them become better writers or will convince them that they should seek another direction with which to spend their time. I consider myself to be a fairly decent writer who has received some good reviews. The not-so-good reviews help me to realize my weak points. Someday I hope to be an excellent writer.

  26. Great post! I'd have to agree. Doesn't everyone start out as a crappy writer? Technically? We hone the craft, we practice, we write and write and write. The difference being that we maybe don't publish before we're ready, for whatever reason. Hopefully, the crappy writers learn from the mistake of publishing too soon, and everyone else can learn from their mistake, as well.

  27. Good post. Question for you (I'd do this via email but can't find your address): How has your experience been in formatting ebooks via Scrivener? Does the program make clean, well-behaved files or do you have to clean them up (or have someone do it)?

    I ask because you've talked about using the program on Konrath's blog.

  28. Hi Mister Snitch, for future reference that's aric dot mitchell at gmail dot com, which I've also placed in my latest post.

    Here's the thing with Scrivener. This video tells you EVERYTHING you need to know:

    Less than 5 minutes, and you'll know enough to get the job done. From there, it's just a matter of going through each option for compilation and playing around with it. You can check the layout on Adobe Digital Editions or just transfer a copy of the book to your eReader. From there, just make adjustments as you see fit. By the time you get to the end of it, you'll be ready to compile in seconds. I seriously never spent a full hour learning how to format, and I'm thrilled with how the book looks on Nook Color and Kindle. Doesn't look bad on the iPhone either. Also, super simple to drop photos inside. Just copy and paste.

  29. Wanted to acknowledge having gotten the reply, and thanks so much! Great to hear that Scrivener works as advertised (I tend to be suspicious of any programs that purport to spit out flawless HTML code). I have been using an older version that does not do such exporting, so it looks as if I'll be upgrading.

    Thanks again.