A Higher Standard For Indies

I’ve realized something about myself this weekend.  I read a lot (no that’s not the realization), and since I jumped on the indie author train this year, I have made an effort to read a lot more indie work.  What I’ve realized about myself is that I hold indies to a higher standard when I read.


Well, part of it is that I hold myself to incredibly high standards and I tend to hold other people to the same standard (my students really hate that about me)–and it’s a standard that a lot of people who are not excessive, type A, overachievers fail to meet.  So when I put out something for people to read, I make sure that it’s the best that I can possibly make it.  I’m a grammar Nazi, freelance copy editor, and I’ve spent hours and hours learning craft to improve my work.  So I expect the same from other indies.  Because the buck stops with them.  There is no New York editor or copy editor who’s gonna go behind you and fix your screw ups (unless you hire someone freelance, which most indies apparently don’t do).  Indies are the underdogs of publishing, and as such, they need to put out a product that is well-written, well-edited and gone over with a fine tooth comb in order to compete.

When I pick up a traditionally published book, yes I notice when there are mistakes.  They stick out like a sore thumb, often pull me out of the story, and generally cause me to think nasty, demeaning thoughts about whatever editor or copy-editor failed to catch it.  Lots of eyes go over New York published work, so there tend to be fewer of those kinds of mistakes.  So yeah, while I notice them, I don’t think I’m QUITE as on alert for them when I read a traditionally published work.

With indies I’ve noticed I am almost in the same mentality as I am when I grade students’ papers.  I’m LOOKING for errors in grammar, punctuation, formatting, misused words.  And of course, I find them, because so many indies don’t get enough eyes on their work before they put it out.  So here I am going through and mentally practically giving demerits for every careless error I find.  Which, obviously, leaves me very disappointed in a lot of indie work.

I read a back and forth on some book review site a while back between a reviewer and an author where the author thought she should get cut some slack because she had kids and a job and apparently didn’t have the time to devote to honing her craft and seriously editing her work.  She was just writing “for fun” and not “in it for the money”.  She just wanted to be read.  Well, sorry sugar, but even if it’s free, nobody wants to read unedited crap and you’re giving indies a bad name.  If you don’t take some pride in putting out the best book/story you can, you don’t deserve the honor of being called “writer”.

I think that’s part of it too.  Indies have such a stigma to overcome that I have zero tolerance for the kind of amateur errors that continue to contribute to it.  So, yeah, I hold indies to a higher standard.  They should too.

28 thoughts on “A Higher Standard For Indies

  1. Great post! And I agree with you about that one indie author. If she’s just writing for fun and doesn’t have time to polish, she needs to save it for her friends and family. It’s hard enough for indie authors who are polishing and doing their best to put out a great product (like you!), there’s no need for someone who’s not putting for the effort.


  2. I don’t hold indies to a HIGHER standard, but I hold them to the SAME standard as traditionally published work. Regardless of which you are, you are going to make human errors. But editors for traditionally published work are PAID for what they do. So I guess I get a little more upset with those people when there are multiple errors. I’ve recently edited two books written by indies who have never published, but are in the process. I did the very best I could to catch all the errors. One of them had so many that it was a really long process. I hope I caught everything. And even though I did it for free for both of these people, I did it as if I was being paid.

    I think the reason most indies hold other indies to a higher standard is because we want to be taken seriously. Trads are already taken seriously. We want the same respect. So I understand it.

    I have been reading authors that I see commenting or mentioned on Zoe’s blog. And, honestly, I’ve been seeing lots of errors. Even with authors who have books that are both trad and indie published. I don’t cringe over 3 or 4 errors in the whole book. But that many per chapter or two is a little annoying. I will mention that someone did point out 3 errors in one of mine. 🙂

    Sorry for a long comment, Kait. I try not to do that on people’s blogs, but I’m “long-winded”. LOL

    1. Psh, no big. I can deal with three or four errors in a whole book. I’m reading J. R. Ward’s latest and I’m only 50 pages in and have found 4 pretty big ones that somebody should have caught. And given my proclivities as a copy editor to begin with, I’m a lot more likely to notice stuff like that than the average reader. I keep looking for the same standard in indies that I get from New York and so often I just don’t find it. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep reading indies in hopes of finding another Zoe Winters or another Kerry Allen, but it’s definitely a matter of separating the wheat from the chaff, and that means I wind up a lot more critical than perhaps I should be–looking at all the things that someone should have caught or simply straight up lacks in craft from an immature writer who still has a lot to learn. Part of me admires their moxie for putting stuff out and having faith in it, and part of me is less likely to give them a chance down the line because it wasn’t as good as it should have been. Unreasonable? Maybe. But honest. There is only so much time I have to devote to reading and I’m getting pickier and pickier and not willing to waste my time sticking through to the end of something that isn’t up to my standard.

      1. I don’t think average readers catch a lot of errors, but I sure do! I just think 3 or 4 per chapter is pretty bad! Trad or indie. And I’m seeing that a lot with both.

  3. I have to admit, I read all books with a critical eye. I will actually stop reading something and complain to my husband about the error rate in the books. The books are mainly through e-publishers, and I question if they even have editors that look over these manuscripts. It’s insane the level of errors, and I walk away pissed that I spend what little money I have to spend on fun stuff on a book riddled with grammar/spelling errors and formatting errors.

    The Keeper is my first release. It comes out in a week. I have spent the last eight months perfecting that manuscript (since finishing the manuscript). It’s gone to beta readers, proofreaders, and a paid editor. It’s gone through dozens of eyes. I am not under the delusion that it is error free, but I think, at this point, it’s about as error free as I can manage.

    While I notice the errors in the e-published books I read, I don’t open the books with the intent to find those errors. Opening an indie’s book as if you’re their professor, grading them on every little mistake, is simply disingenuous. I don’t care for the double standard. You will excuse a professional, mainstream books its errors, but not an indie book. Yes, if the book is riddled with glaring errors, all throughout, that’s a problem, and I won’t pretend that it’s not. But, if the story is good, an occasional typo doesn’t spoil that for me precisely because it happens so often in mainstream novels.

    In my opinion, those mainstream books should be held to the higher standard because, as you say, so many people look at them. Should indie authors do everything they can to make their book error free? Hell yeah. But is it fair to look down on them simply because they have an error rate comparable to a mainstream novel? No.

    The key here, though, is that the error rate should be as minimal as possible, and having many eyes look over a manuscript is key. I don’t excuse an unedited book. However, I do excuse a book where the effort has been put forth to the best of the author’s abilities.

    1. I didn’t say it was a RATIONAL mindset. It’s just what I find myself doing. 🙂 Clearly I expect the books that I read to be as error free as possible, no matter who published them.

      A lot of the ebook publishers out there are fleecing authors as far as I can tell. They claim to have editors, but either the editors aren’t reading the text or they didn’t actually pass an English class because, you’re right, I’m seeing a LOT more errors in books coming from this quarter. They routinely have crappy covers that look totally homemade by someone with no photoshop skills, their prices often are not reasonable, and it seems that they are preying on authors who want to have that level of legitimacy by saying that a “real” publisher decided to publish them. I’ve gotten to where I will rarely even look at books from these so called ebook publishers.

      1. I’m with you on that. I did a small buying spree about a month or two ago from a couple e-presses and… *sighs* I felt cheated out of my money.

        After speaking with a couple of authors who have been with those presses for a while, the structure of editing and cover art seems to be that editors are paid via a royalty system based on the books they edit. So, IMO, if the press is already giving 35-40% to the author, that leaves 60-65% left to share between editor, artist, and publisher. I doubt the editors or artists make all that much on the books, so I don’t think there’s much impetus for them to do an excellent job.

        Personally, I’d rather spend my own money on beautiful cover art and a skilled editor and publish it myself. Most of these authors top out at $300 in sales for the lifetime of their book with that publisher. $300? I know many indie authors who can manage that in one month. Yes, the e-published authors paid nothing out of pocket, but they have shit books that no one will buy/read. I’d rather pay out of pocket and have a fanbase who knows I publish quality, beautiful material than pay nothing and have to publish DOZENS of titles with several e-presses just to have enough money each month to pay my car payment.

        1. AMEN! I passed the $300 mark at 3 months, which tickled me pink since nobody had ever heard of me. Come back and let us know when The Keeper is live!

  4. I really can’t think about the people like you who might read my indie titles. LOL I’d probably never publish anything if I thought the majority would be actively *looking* for errors while reading. What would be the point? It means the story itself is less important than the delivery…and I disagree with that, as long as the basic rules of grammar & spelling are followed (allowing for a few gaffs here and there – I learned long ago that there is no such thing as perfection, in anything).

    I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy the act of reading anymore if I were constantly keeping an eye out for errors. When I’m reading, it takes pretty glaring mistakes (or oft-recurring) to pull me out of the story…and that applies to both traditional and indie books. I don’t differentiate. They’re all just books to me, some better than others. I read excerpts before I buy, and so far, I’ve had really good luck with most of my reading material, NY, small press and indie.

    Yes, I use beta (alpha too, actually) readers. Yes, I’ve got a friend with editorial experience doing a line edit for me. I like to think I have a fairly decent grasp on the English language to start with, yet I know that someone out there will pick it apart, and find it wanting – probably on the basis that I published it myself. And if that means that person/those people won’t read anymore of my work…I have to say, that would be a relief. I’d rather people were reading for the story than in some sort of quest for perfect prose. I can guarantee my books won’t be perfect.

    1. I can guarantee I would not be stuck in this mode if I hadn’t just spent the last 5 years grading the assignments of college students who can’t seem to put together a grammatically correct sentence as simple as “See Jane run.” If I wasn’t constantly teaching and grading, I’d probably get out of that mode, but since that’s what I do for a living… I just see SO MUCH EVIDENCE of the erosion of the English language both because they aren’t learning in school, nobody’s enforcing it in life, and they’re simplifying everything because of texting and the casual nature of the internet…and it just drives me nuts. I’m a demanding reader. I know that. But I really think that indies are going to have to step up and do everything they can to put out a better product in order to be taken seriously on the same playing field as traditionally published authors.

      1. I also have to say that in the last 5 years or so, I’ve seen a much higher number of errors in books published out of New York than I used to. Some of that may be my sensitivity to it, but I think it’s also a symptom of the fact that the economy is tanking and publishers have had to cut back on staff, so there are fewer people doing more work and more stuff is being missed.

      2. I know this post is long past by now…but I felt I needed to come back after recent experiences reading/talking to other indie authors in my genre and let you know that I now, unfortunately, see what you’re saying. It’s not just that they don’t know – but they don’t care. Quite disheartening and disillusioning.

        1. It’s really unfortunate that everyone doesn’t hold themselves to a professional standard. There’s just such a HUGE percentage of people self publishing who DO fit into that stereotype of publishing dreck that was rejected because they can’t bear to edit or kill one little darling. Certainly there are an increasing number of us who DO fit the professional mold, but we’re outnumbered.

  5. I liked this. For my e-books I have seven reviewing it, and most of the time since I use Microsoft Word, which does most of the error checking for me, I feel that I’m taking the time to review and edit it. In which I review, edit, change, fix, all the time, which has me re-reading it later on with a fresher mind, and I think I usually catch my mistakes, but as said, it’s up to the reader to discern that.

    1. I think Microsoft Word (and similar programs) are part of the problem. People rely too much on the program to catch mistakes but a computer can’t do that. Not really. Example, in one love scene I wrote, Word thought the hero should be “cutting” the heroine’s breast rather than cupping it. A computer can’t read context. And its grammar check is horrific. Nothing is a substitute for knowing the rules yourself and proofing it actively.

      1. Um, just ew on the cutting.
        No, wait, ew, Ew, EW!
        MS Word needs to go work some stuff out in therapy.

        When Word can learn to recognize when I leave out the little words like: as, the, not, one, on, etc., or other contextual things like on/one, of/off, my error rate will really improve. That…or I could learn to type as fast as I think.

        But there will never be a substitute for a good line-editor who is trained to really look past the story at what’s actually on the page without letting her mind fill in what’s supposed to be there. That’s really a skill, and not as easy as people think it is.

  6. True enough, and I’ve gotten hit with the same thing, such as “Sighting on the target” and it wanted to put “citing” or some such thing. So I do kinda both, I reread a sentence, and rewrite it if I have to, so I use Word as my main tool, but I still use the eyes and other things that hit me. 😉

  7. An interesting perspective on a topic that gets quite a bit of play. Here’s my take:

    I know I am easier on the indies than other books, both trad and boutique. For me, it’s a get what ya paid for thing. Part of the (relatively) high price of non-indie books is going to pay for ALL the services we keep hearing about that we writers supposedly need, including content editing and copy editing. (Which we do, it’s just we can hire/trade for freelance people to do that. So when I read one of those books, since I paid for a content and copy edited story, I expect to get it, and it pisses me off when I don’t.

    With indie authors, I usually haven’t paid as much. I look for a certain standard when I read the sample, hope for the best, and if I don’t get it, it’s more disappointment and irritation than the cheated feeling I get from a crappy NY/boutique book.

    Also with indie releases, some of them are rough. Some of them are bad. You think: well, I can see potential here, but it’s unfortunate that this writer either didn’t have any competent peers with honest opinions, or didn’t heed their advice. But some of them are well on their way and I tolerate them better because it seems to me that they’re no worse and in some cases better than some of the name-brand, bestselling authors who aren’t even trying anymore because they don’t have to–phoning it in, as Zoe would say.

    But I’ve got absolutely no tolerance for the excuse-making self-published hobbyist writer. If you’re not going to have a professional attitude, then don’t take money for it. It’s that simple. Saying “yeah, it could have been better, but…” is like selling a small appliance at a yard sale, even though you know it doesn’t work right. It’s dishonest, and then it goes back to me not getting what I paid for, and pissing me off.

  8. Susan and I decided that I’m more type A than you, because it was really important for me to be the MOST type A. LOLOLOL 😛

    Susan said you probably wouldn’t care. But if you do… we have to fight in mud or something to determine who is most Type A.

    Thank you and goodnight.

  9. You’ve put this wonderfully. I’ve read a few indies that made me want my money back, but there’s some really great stuff out there getting stigmatized by the folks who just put any damn thing on paper (or PDF.)

  10. I agree that indies should be held to a higher standard. I have a second edition planned of my first novel because of three errors, that I found. These were missed by me, my beta readers, and editor, before it went to press. But that being said. Why squirm about the spelling error when content errors are far worse.

    Case in point: I downloaded an indie book that sounded like a great premise. I stopped reading it after 40 pages. Why? The grammar was great, the spelling was perfect, but the content made me cringe. Every time the author introduced a character, large or small, you got at least a page of back story on them. It started to read like a video game script and not a novel.

    Yet, I have read great indie books, that had formatting errors, spelling errors, and a couple of misplaced commas, and loved them. Because the stories were compelling and the writing easy.

    Kait I can understand where you are coming from, but there are reviewers out there that will ridicule a indie book if they find one error. They won’t look past the one time “mad” was used instead of “made” and call the book garbage. They make it a game. There is not one book printed, trad or indie, that does not have at least one error.

    The higher standards are great, but I rather be held to the same standards or hold traditional writers just as accountable.

    1. I do hold traditional authors as accountable. The latest Black Dagger Brotherhood book is riddled with more errors than any of the others (the e-version anyway), and it irks me. It just happens that I notice a lot more errors in indie work because in the stuff I’ve read there have been more of them earlier on. If somebody missed a typo of “mad” rather than “made” that’s not going to squick me. But when someone says “smelt” instead of “smelled” and can’t use a comma correctly so that every other sentence is a run-on, that’s a big problem for me. And yeah you’re absolutely right that content is the most important…but so far I haven’t come cross an indie read that was compelling enough to make me not notice extensive screw ups. And there are huge numbers of indies out there who are NOT devoting time to learning to improve their craft–pacing, characterization, etc. I’m just saying it’s a tough row to hoe as an indie, and that kind of thinking isn’t helping the rest of us who are making an effort.

  11. I’ve been tossing this Indie vs. Mainstream idea around in my brain for the last week or so, and I’ve realised that I DO hold indie writers to a higher standard! Although, I’m not sure why because you’re right: most indie writers are doing everything for themselves, and often have kids and full-time jobs. Unfortunately, I think that the public is leary of indie publishing, thinking that it will generate a volume of writing that is less than par, but I don’t think it’s necessarily so. Of the indie authors I know, there are many eyes/brains that read and edit a manuscript before it ever sees the light of day, and that, I think, is the authors’ best kept secret. More eyes = more opportunities to catch errors. Granted, no one is perfect (Sorry Kait, not even you), and there will be errors, but blatant errors that are easily caught? Now, that is something I would have to look down upon. For example, almost 500 pages into Susan’s manuscript, I’d found one error. Just one?! Now I know there have been many eyes looking at this already (yours included), but I was impressed. Plus, it was on of those errors that spellcheck wouldn’t catch, use of an incorrect word, but still a word. Simple typo. Easy to fix. Yet, I digress.

    I guess my main point is that it should be a level of pride in your work, and in those who you choose to edit your work. Personally, I edit/beta read free of charge, because that is what you do for friends and aspiring writers! Period. And I love reading. Just ask @SharonGerlach. I think I’ve read one of her novels no less than five times. First, I read for pleasure, and to get a grasp of the plot/characters/motivations. Then, I read strictly for grammatical purposes. Then I read it again to make sure I didn’t miss anything the first time around. Then, I read it again, truing to figure out ways to make the plot run more smoothly or looking for repeating ideas and/or metaphors to be expounded on later. And again, I’m going off on a tangent. Hey….I warned you. 😉

    Anyway, to me, it’s all about pride and committment to the words. Always striving to be something better than you were five minutes ago is a worthy cause. And now you’ve got me thinking about lazy vs. hard-working people in general. There’s a blog post in there somewhere. 🙂

    1. Exactly! And boy do I know I am not perfect. 😀 I do my best, and then I have OTHER people who are good copy editors go over my work because by that time I’ve looked at it so much I can’t see it anymore.

    2. Thank you, Christel!! When you say it like that, it almost seems like such a waste, to have you do all that reading and only find one. I’ll try to make more mistakes next time.

  12. “Indies have such a stigma to overcome”

    Yes, exactly, and that is why every indie author should strive to be better than average – to erase that stigma. Except for every author that is Type A obsessive about presenting a perfect copy there are three that throw their stories up without editing much at all because they were too easily disillusioned by the process of COMPLETING a story.

    I recently had to point out to an acquaintance that his Amazon blurb didn’t make sense and, when I asked what his story was about, he couldn’t tell me. Sure, he told me, but … he told me nothing about theme, plot, genre, etc.

    Indie authors have to draw themselves up and above that pack of the hobby writers and the uneducated writers to prove their work has quality. It’s an uphill battle, but I wish you (and the rest) all the luck in it because the good stories are to be cherished no matter where or how they are published.

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