Being an indie can be a wonderful thing. We have absolute creative control. We can react to market changes more quickly than the big 6, and we can price very competitively without losing per sale revenue compared to print.
It's also incredibly difficult. Not only are we the author, but we're also the editorial staff, the proof reader, the marketing director, the artist (or art co-ordinator), the financier, the formatter, the all around lackey and everything in-between.
Around here there's a saying, 'Jack of all trades, master of none'. I think that, however clichéd the saying, it holds water for independent publishers. We make a lot of mistakes - few indie books make a fortune, but our price point mitigates a certain number of these mistakes.
Of course, if we want to compete with the big six, we have to emulate their professionalism - and do it on a shoestring budget, without dedicated teams to support us. So, what areas do we often fall a bit short on, and how can we make sure we don't next time?
I think the biggest points of contention are:
· Indie covers. If it looks indie, it won't get clicked on as much, and therefore won't sell. This is the easiest way to avoid professionalism. Thankfully it's mostly self auditing - readers just won't buy, so you won't find 'Hate the cover' style reviews
· Indie blurbs. Selling descriptions are hard work - they need to sell the story without giving it away, but still convey enough of a teaser to whet the appetite.
· Plot flaws - Often a lack of proper editing, or disregard for logical fallacies.
· Typos. This is the #1 area where we self-sabotage. A 100,000 word book typically has HALF A MILLION characters typed in it. Of course there will be errors in that - Typing at speed I might have a typo every few paragraphs (As an exemplar, ALL my blog posts are off the cuff unedited - so you can see how often mistakes creep in. I know there are a few even in this blog series).
Fortunately fixing these is pretty simple. Unfortunately it's either very laborious or expensive. Two things we really could do without. A cover is going to cost you good money. A basic licensed cover should run to a minimum of $125 for a reasonable one. Something done by an experienced artist who has a large eBook cover portfolio is likely to be $400. Professional print designers are more like $1500+. We used DeviantArt to hire our artist - See this post on the how & why. The short of it is, you need a talented artist, working to your vision of the cover in a style that fits your genre. Then you need to licence it properly.
Writing a blub is again very hard. Our efforts can be seen here. We tried to crowd source to get feedback, and our basic structure was 100 words approximately with a mandate to set the scene, give a hint at what is to come and use strong language to convey the story. There are a number of posts on the blogosphere on this - all with differing advice of course. My advice is to look at bestsellers in your genre and emulate the structure of those that best appeal to you.
Plot flaws - A major inconsistency will sink an eBook. There's nothing for it but to do a complete re-write of the offending chapters when this happens. Hopefully this is the sort of thing your beta readers/ editor will catch. A critique partner would help too. If not, and it's live my advice here is pull the ebook from sale while you fix it. You don't want a fundamentally flawed product making it's way into the hands of your readership. It will taint your credibility.
If it's something more minor, I would fix it but wouldn't pull the eBook. Loose ends in subplots are the most common offence I have seen in indie books. It's OK to leave a few threads hanging if it's a trilogy or series, but make it clear that is deliberate. Just dropping subplots is not acceptable. The other major problem for me is an eBook full of logical fallacies. The plot advances, but the steps it takes to do so don't make sense. In all honesty, the word offences here are when someone has rushed to market and bypassed the editing/ re-editing/ critique partner/ proofreaders/ beta reader stages. The bottom line is scrimping on editing time/ costs will cost you long term.
Typographical errors are another result of skimping. The worse offenders are those that ruin a sentence. There are grammar purists who are vitriolic towards any mistakes, but at the end of the day we are all human. 500,000 characters... even one miss hit key per thousand gives us 500 typos. Careful proofing might remove 90% of those if we're lucky. We're still talking about 50 errors.
There are no perfect eBook, but if the typos are so prolific as to become jarring then it ruins the escapism. The best way to check for the obvious 'Huh, that doesn't read right!' typos is to play the whole text back via kindle text to speech, or read it aloud. That will get you as far as basic flow.
You'll still have typos after that, but hopefully editing will catch the worst of them. Print books have many typos too - so don't expect perfection, but do fix everything you find. I'm also offering a free copy of my next ebook to anyone who helps me correct a typo in this one. It's a small gesture, but a small 'Thank you' never went amiss.