The E-Book Experiment: Product Quality

* If the quality is not there, then the customer will find a product that does have the quality. There is too much quality out there for them to put up with it.

In the typical business world quality means making your product out of quality materials that still allow you to make a profit. To having additional eyes on the production line to make sure mistakes or miss-cast items do not make it out of the warehouse. To checking the seams, connections, colors and a variety of other points to ensure that the customer receives a product that represents your company consistently well.

This is a highly subjective subject when it comes to the publishing industry and writing itself. What one reader likes another will hate.

We’ll start with the mechanics of the written product:

Now we all know that a few typos will get by the final proof before a book goes to print. Typos have been increasing in books sent out of New York, most likely because of cutbacks in the people who were once the watchful eyes for surface quality control. Obviously this isn’t representing the company well, but perhaps they think this is the new way of doing business?

However, something has changed when it comes to e-books. In the talk given by Kobo VP Michael Tamblyn called “Lessons Learned from Shortcovers and Kobo: A Year in the Life of the What and How of Selling eBooks,” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-colbert/kobos-a-year-in-the-life_b_547984.html ) he said they have an entire department dedicated to fixing the problems of e-book files uploaded to them. This isn’t only the file formats themselves. The problem is that some big publishers upload versions from early galleys and not the final (corrected) print galleys.

How hard is it to make sure you are uploading the final polished version? Do they even care about the quality level of the product put out for public consumption?

Excuse me while I get out the headache tablets.

No wonder people are finding horrible typos and basic problems in e-books even by so-called professional traditional publishers. Because they aren’t caring about the quality control of everything going out with their and the author’s name on it.

Right here the idea that what comes out of the New York will automatically be better than small publisher, indi presses or indi authors is destroyed. If one can hire, or trade off, editing services, the polish can be as good as New York or even better.

The Big 6 Publishers just lost one of the ‘advantages’ that are still being touted as a reason to continue to go “traditional”.

Should we even get into story-telling technique?

There is a prevailing wisdom that if an author has gone through the ‘vetting’ process of getting past an editor and perhaps an agent, then all the people in-between and after, then there must be quality.

I just finished a horrible book that shall remain unnamed. Good characters, an interesting hook, lots of tension, encounters and action. It made so many promises through the book, building up to a big climax.

And fizzled.

It left a majority of the plot points and subplots unresolved. Nothing changed at the end of the book. The author took the easy way out at the end for a ‘happily ever after’ but never showed them getting there. The ending didn’t matter, or deliver. No consequences, the MC’s were going to go back to their problem-filled lives because the AUTHOR DIDN’T KEEP THE READER CONTRACT! Specifically the part of making it matter.

If the book hadn’t been borrowed I would have burned it.

And this is only one example of many (I’ve now read 3 more since then). And it went through how many eyes and was still published? No one caught on to this fatal flaw?

So much for quality. Although ‘traditionally’ published books will have a higher percentage of quality, traditional publishing does not automatically equal quality.

Before people jump all over me, I would like to note that the above noted lack of quality does not apply to all publishers. Some out there ‘get it’ on the quality control issue. To them, Congrats! To those who don’t: get your resume ready!

For an author this means you must pay attention to the quality, both in the prose as well as the storytelling itself. Not an easy task. It means practice and more practice (which means writing and more writing). Getting honest crits and paying attention. Finding good beta-readers. Finding someone good to nitpick the polish. Learning from the writing, crits and beta-readers. Be willing to accept that nothing you do is or will ever be perfect, and that as a writer you never stop learning.

Quality. Make sure your product has it. If someone else has it and you don’t, your customer base will migrate to where they can find it. This applies no matter what format or by who the book or story is published.

For a writer, always keep the reader contract in front of you. What is this? It’s an unspoken agreement between you and the reader. Break it and the likelihood of a reader dropping money on anything by you again is almost zero. Ignore it at your peril.

There are different versions of the author/reader contract (Google to find more), but the basics are:

* The author will respect the intelligence of the reader.

* The reader will be entertained.

* The author will not waste the time of the reader. (Some phrase this as “The author will not deceive the reader)

* The writing will be clear and understood.

* What the author puts in the story will have a reason, and MATTER by the end.

* The author will provide a story and characters to care about.

* The ending will fulfill the promises made during the course of the story.

If you are not interested in selling the work, then the above can go by the way-side. You can concentrate on only what you, the writer, wants. But once you put the story out there, especially if you want someone to pay you to read the story, then pay attention to the writer/reader contract.

Do that and you will have gone a long ways towards quality of product that will stand out whether it’s Big 6 traditionally published, small press, indi or anything else.

But, back to the point. Publishers don’t always pay attention, or have the time to pay attention, to the above. As such, product is slipping through that doesn’t meet the basic guidelines, much less rise to the next level of trying to find and fulfill a renewable market.

It also means they do not always recognize quality in all the manuscripts they ‘vet’. Don’t believe that?

With the advent of digital sale, writers are putting up books that the Big Publishers rejected. They are also putting up their back list that the publishing industry feels no longer has a market, i.e. readers.

We’ll go further.

There are authors out there that are publishing their books without ever letting the Big Publishers see them, such as Karen McQuestion, Zoe Winters, Kait Nolan and M. Louisa Locke. Some of them are making the Kindle top-100 lists, such as  J Gregory Smith, Charles Shea, Casey Moreton, Eric Cristopherson, Michael Harvey and John Luciew. Some of them are authors with no traditional print behind them, no ready-made readership, no fanbase, no name for themselves (some don’t seem to have a web presence at all other than their books for sale).

And they are selling. Are all of the above described books of less quality because the books were not ‘traditionally’ published?

It all depends on how you define success.  Is success landing an agent? Is success getting a Big 6 deal? Is success defined by how many books are sold? Or is success defined by how much the content producer, the author, brings home to support their craft and lives?

Let’s go back to the people who really matter. The readers, the ones who actually HAVE the money to buy (not the wholesaler, not the bookseller, not the outlet). The reader is the one who is ‘vetting’ the books, and if they keep selling, it’s because it was a good book that they think is of good quality. The readers are leaving positive reviews, blogging and tweeting about, and recommending the work to their friends and family.

As an author, my proof of quality and success is defined by how many readers they have as well as the money they bring home to support themselves (By the way, those two definitions do not go hand-in-hand. Many bestsellers, who sell a LOT of books, are not making much money at all).

The proof is in the money. And many of the previously mentioned authors are laughing all the way to the bank.

These are good books. There is nothing wrong with their quality.

An added benefit to the reader who has been fed homogenized generic stories: Unique story telling with strong voices that are outside the current fads, with a wide variety of styles, genre, sub-genre, characters and plots! Of good quality.

If a book does not have the quality, no matter who publishes it, the author or a ‘traditional’ publisher, it will sink in the digital store rankings never to be seen again. This puts to rest the outdated idea that if anyone can publish (the fear-mongering complaint of the big publishers and the agents to feed them) then a reader can never find the good stuff.

Of course they can. Look at the top for the cream, not below!

For an author who has refined their craft, the prospect of impressing the people that really matter, the reader, is thrilling. For an author that has not refined their craft, the book will sink to the bottom after they have exhausted friends and family.

The authors that are going to stay for the long-term will be those who understand their product must have quality. These are the authors that will never stop learning, practicing, honing their craft, experimenting, finding new ways to connect with their readers, strengthening their weaknesses, who will pick themselves up from mistakes and try to do better the next time. These are the authors that will find and build for themselves a long-lasting readership. A career. And a livelihood.

Readers are beginning to realize that they can go outside the Big Publishers for their reading material. That they can buy and support the content producers directly.

Offer for sale a quality product, and the readers will find the author.

If it is a quality product.

The gatekeepers are falling, to be replaced by the new gatekeepers: the reader.

Authors rejoice!
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“The E-Book Experiment” chronicles the business and creative side of an experiment with the business opportunities new technology and creative outlets now afford content producers. Will if fail? Will it succeed? The only way to know is to approach it with a solid plan and try. No regrets!

I hope the details of this journey will be a help to other authors. As the process proceeds to selling the final products I will also share hard data that might be useful in the decision making process of other authors who recognize that only they can take charge of their careers. For a listing of all the posts in this series, please click here.

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2 thoughts on “The E-Book Experiment: Product Quality”

  1. Dear JA,

    Thanks so much for the mention and the link to my blog.
    By the way, I noticed your link to CJ Cherryh, my all time favorite SF writer, I am so psyched that her newest Foreigner book just came out!

    • You’re welcome. I appreciate you taking the time to also document your journey including hard data in sales. We need more authors willing to share instead of viewing all such information as ‘top secret’. Only then Only can we r make good decisions concerning our writing careers!

      And yes, I did see CJ Cherryh’s new book has been released. So nice!

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