An Indie Writer Gave Me Their Book and it Sucks. What Do I Do?

If you know any indie writers, there is a possibility that you have been stuck in this awkward position: they self-publish their sparkling new novel, and excitedly send it to all their friends and family members for feedback, reviews, and free word-of-mouth news spreading.

The cover might be good, it might not; some new writers wing their own design to save a couple of hundred bucks, and some pay for a cover. You open it and read the first page.

First lines are important, of course; it’s their job to suck you in and urge you forward into the story. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the writer is genuinely talented, giving you a pleasant reading experience that transforms you from friend to fan.

However, this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the book might, well… suck. Several pages in and you’re already tired of the clumsy prose, unlikable characters, eye-rolling cliches, and whatever else that puts you off entirely.

Out come the excuses, and you pop it on a shelf where it gathers dust for the next few months. You get on with your life, and hope and pray that your writer friend has forgotten all about it.

Let me tell you this right now: they almost always haven’t.

They won’t ever mention it, because who wants to be badgered with “have you finished it yet?” But the crushing realization comes after several months of nothing, zero, zilch, possibly hurting even more when we come over and see said book on the shelf, serving no more purpose than being some light decoration.

But what’s the alternative? You can’t just say to your friend “hey, I read some of your novel and… it’s just terrible. You aren’t a good writer.” It’s better to avoid such uncomfortable conversations and just let the book sit quietly in some forgotten corner of the bookshelf.

You might have some idea of the time, energy, and money that is spent on producing a book. You might feel bad for them or you might even be able to convince yourself that there’s nothing really wrong with the book, it’s just not to your taste.

I used to be that writer. At 22 years old and with a sparkling publishing contract from a new company, I thought I’d written something really special and I wanted the whole world to see it. I paid for postage and packaging of several paperbacks, sending it to friends, family members, and other writers. I waited for feedback. Probably ten percent of those who I sent it to ever spoke to me about it again.

Excuses

If you find yourself on the other end of this situation, do yourself (and us) a favour by avoiding these excuses, all of which I’ve heard before. We aren’t stupid, and we know what they really mean.

  • “I’m a slow reader.” Give me a break. There’s slow, taking a month to read a novel, and then there’s “I never intend to read it and I’m going to blame my reading speed.”
  • “I’m too busy to read.” Well then, why did you accept the book? If you dislike reading, that’s one thing, but if you claim to love books, you’ll make time. We all make time for the things we enjoy.
  • My personal favourite I’ve heard is “I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end!” Apparently they loved it so much that two years later, they still feel the same way. Uh-huh.

So what can you do in the painful situation of having received a free book, but not being able to read it? Here are some things you can do that will help the writer but not destroy your friendship.

1. Identify What You Didn’t Like

It’s not easy to just say “I didn’t like it” and it’s even harder for the writer to hear it. To make this constructive, identify WHAT you didn’t like.

I’m not telling you to become an editor or offer advice. Absolutely not. But if you see a crummy film and turn it off or walk out of the cinema, you can probably explain why: bad acting, horrible directing, clumsy dialogue, a silly story.

The same goes with the book. Here are some ideas.

  • “I couldn’t identify with the characters.” Characters are the pillars of a story and if you don’t care about them when reading a book, you won’t care what happens to them. Is their main character unrealistic, too perfect, too selfish, or just plain unlikable? Let the writer know.
  • “There is too much description.” It’s easy for writers to get caught up in paragraph-long descriptions of everything. Whereas writers from a few decades past such as Stephen King could get away with this, times change. This kind of feedback can be really useful for writers. If you find yourself skipping paragraphs to get beyond detailed descriptions and back to the action, be sure to tell them.
  • “It’s difficult to follow.” Some stories just don’t make sense! If the story itself is confusing, don’t keep quiet about it. Point out things that you don’t understand; it’s likely other readers feel the same.
  • “There are too many typos.” One thing that happens a lot with indie writing is the amount of grammatical mistakes and spelling errors and other errors. Don’t feel obligated to point out every single one – that is what proofreaders are for – but feel free to tell them that’s why you couldn’t carry on. Typos interrupt the flow of writing and

2. Be Honest but Constructive

Easier said than done – absolutely. Avoid vague things like “it wasn’t my cup of tea” (though this is MUCH more preferable to the aforementioned excuses) and give reasons why.

3. Say What You Did Like (But Only if it’s True)

If possible, start with something you did like about the book. It’s a lot easier to hear negative feedback when it’s accompanied by the positive. Were there some good ideas hiding among the mistakes? A certain character you genuinely loved? Let the writer know. Give them the ol’ compliment sandwich.

4. Give the Book Back

You might think that giving back an unread paperback is the ultimate insult, but I personally don’t think so.

Getting a book back when they haven’t read it provides a bit of closure to me – now I won’t be waiting and waiting for the feedback that will never come.

The financial aspect is also relevant here; if I get back the book, I can offer it to someone else.

5. Assure Them Nothing Has Changed in Your Relationship

Artists can be quite, well… fragile when it comes to their work. The writer might take your feedback on board and use it to become better, and some writers might fall apart. Worst case scenario, the writer might even get angry.

I was extremely embarrassed after getting some negative feedback. I remembered sending my book to dozens of people and realized that they were probably all laughing at me, shaking their heads and thinking “poor, naive Poppy. Don’t tell her she’s untalented and her book belongs in the trash.”

Have you ever watched X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent (America’s Got Talent if you’re across the pond)? When people go on thinking they can sing only to be shot down and heartbroken by the judges?

That’s what it feels like when you don’t bother letting someone know their book needs work. Thankfully, our version doesn’t include humiliation on national TV, for which I’m grateful.

Please, please, please be honest! Otherwise we cannot grow.

Tell them that you love them all the same and you’re excited to see them improve. Assure them that they will get better – great writers become great only after plenty of practice, after all.

A Note to Writers

If you’re on the other side of this situation – the eager writer waiting on feedback – then here is some advice for you, too.

  • Don’t get emotional. Getting upset or even angry is a big mistake when dealing with feedback.
  • Be grateful. People are taking time out of their day to provide honest, free feedback. It isn’t easy for them, especially if you’re both close, so be sure to say “thank you” (even if you’re picking up the broken shards of your heart as you do so.)
  • Take their feedback on board. A Taylor Swift-esque shake it off, haters gonna hate attitude works in some cases, but if this person has given you honest, specific feedback, be sure to listen to it. It’ll make you a better writer.
  • Look for patterns. If you’re lucky enough that several people have talked to you about your book, look for patterns in their feedback. If three people have told you that the main character is too wooden, it might be time for some rewriting. If four have said there are too many typos, hire a proofreader. Feedback is extremely valuable.

Writers adore people who give real feedback! A potentially awkward situation can be a big opportunity for struggling indie writers. Don’t be a “someday” reader who lets their friend’s book sit, untouched, on the shelf forever.

Stop Asking Indie Authors for Free Copies of Their Books

Day 24 [New Year’s Resolution]: Stop Asking Indie Authors for Free Copies of Their Books

If you’re an indie writer, it’s highly unlikely that you’re swimming in riches right now. It’s likely that you have put a lot more money into your project(s) than you’ve gotten out of them. Maybe you attempted to get traditionally published and then self-published as a backup, or perhaps you decided to go indie from the start in order to maintain complete control over your work.

If you’re not an indie writer, then you might not realise the hard work, money, and time that is put into re-writes, editing, finding beta readers, more editing, book cover design, publishing, and marketing, not to mention the months or years put into writing the book in the first place.

coins-948603_960_720

If you know an indie writer, or you are a self-published writer yourself, you’ll know that it isn’t the easiest or most lucrative path to take. Writers write and publish for the love of writing, of creation, and the pride of having something that they made out in the real world.

If the writer has followed the 8 essential steps before publishing, then it isn’t unreasonable to assume that they have spent at least several months and several hundred dollars on getting it “out there.” Why, then are writers still being asked for a free copy?

People who know indie writers usually don’t take much interest in their books unless, perhaps, they are avid readers and the books are written in a genre that genuinely interests them. This is OK; after all, you can’t expect someone to read something of yours just because they know you.

An indie writer has put so much time and money into their work that being asked for a free copy is something of an insult. If you were involved in the book, as an editor, designer, or beta reader, then asking for a free copy is acceptable, but if you’ve shown no interest, how is it fair for you to suddenly ask for a free copy (and a free paperback, no less)?

book-fair-678255_960_720

To give you a free electronic copy, the writer has to send you the original document or convert it to PDF. In a lot of cases, they have to instruct you on how to get it onto your Kindle. Sometimes, people will want a free paperback, so the writer has to pay for the printing and shipping costs. That’s an awful lot of work for someone giving away a free copy of a product they made.

Imagine walking into an electronics store and asking for free stuff. Even if you know someone who works there, it is surely out of the question. A book, something that took the time, effort, and money of the writer, is a product, not just a hobby. Respect that.

If the writer offers you a free copy, by all means accept. Just do them a favour and actually read it. If you don’t plan on reading it, don’t take a free copy. 

If you don’t want to support an author you know, then that’s your prerogative. But don’t ask for a free copy just for the sake of it. If you want to read their book, buy it!

If We Could All Rediscover Our Love for Writing

Day 9 [New Year’s Resolution]: If We Could All Rediscover Our Love for Writing

If you’re a writer, you’ll probably be able to relate when I say that I’ve loved books and writing since I was a little kid. My mum read all the Harry Potter books to my brother and I, and my aunt gifted me a large collection of Jacqueline Wilson books when I was around seven or eight. I read a lot, and loved writing stories in school.

dream-2924176_960_720

When I was in Year 6, my teacher liked my story so much that he read it to the whole class, and then he wrote in my school report that I was gifted. Gifted. Me! I already liked writing before that, but that was the day I decided – I knew – this is what I was going to do.

My whole life was writing after that. I started writing the Fire Princess stories, scribbling on pages and pages of A4 printing paper. When I inherited my Mum’s old computer – big, heavy, bulky thing, it was – I’d sit and type for hours and hours and hours. By the time I was thirteen, I’d written three books. Not great books, mind you, but at the time that didn’t matter. I had no idea what the difference was between a good book and a bad book. I really, seriously believed that I would be a famous author by the time I was 20. That’s how easy I thought life would be!

I got the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and sent my poor Fire Princess novels, along with a poorly-written cover letter, to a lot of people, but although some people replied, they weren’t picked up by anybody. It didn’t deter me, though; I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough, and it would happen for me eventually.

 

Then when I was 17, I started writing a fantasy series called the Blood Scrolls Trilogy, and self-published it (with a hilariously horrible cover) in 2014. Then a year later I met the proprietor of a Greek start-up publishing house called Quest Publications and they re-published it with a new cover. I’d done it! I was going to be a successful writer!

Ha ha.

Quest Publications are HORRIBLE, by the way; do not go anywhere near them. They didn’t edit or proofread the book (and the sequel) before it was published – even the proprietor didn’t finish reading it, and he was supposed to be in charge of marketing – and they put no effort into selling whatsoever. They “forgot” to pay me my share of the profits and if I offered suggestions, I was either told off and insulted or ignored completely. In 2017, I ended up firing them and finally got the rights to my books back.

Speaking of bad companies, check out this article on how to spot fake publishers and agencies if you’re trying to get published.

Even though Quest Publications finally removed me from their website, the damage was done. Because I hadn’t got any professional editing, some readers spotted plot holes or mistakes that should have been fixed before release. I got badmouthed on Goodreads and my reputation was damaged.

I was heartbroken. Imagine thinking your dreams have finally become a reality, only to have it come crashing down and be back to square one. Worse, actually, because Goodreads and Amazon never completely delete out-of-print books, meaning negative comments are going to be online forever.

Now and then, though, I’ll rediscover that excited feeling I used to get when writing. And I’m not talking about excitement for fame and fortune. I’m talking about that sheer, raw joy of creation, the excitement of buying a notebook and scribbling all your ideas down, no matter how outrageous they were. It’s something that was lost while focusing on writing what people like.

The Fire Princess books were very flawed. I sometimes go through them and laugh at how ridiculous some parts were. But they’re pure like nothing else I’ve written. I wrote whatever I wanted back then, because I wasn’t afraid to fail. I miss that feeling. Can you imagine what we’d be capable of if doubt didn’t exist?

background-2850091_960_720

I might go back and rewrite the Fire Princess books. Why not, right? “You weren’t put on this earth to win a popularity contest,” my dad always says.

Writing shouldn’t be a chore, not unless it’s your day job, I suppose. Writing a novel is recreating a piece of your soul, and I sure put all my soul into those books from my childhood. I’d really love to have that feeling again, of actually enjoying the writing, not toiling through it with the promise of having a product at the end of it. Maybe we’ll discover that passion again someday.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all enjoy writing again?