Why quality counts

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One of my newsletter subscribers subscribers sent me an unsolicited copy of his self-published nonfiction book. He included a note asking me to review it on Amazon.

He didn’t ask me if I’d review it before mailing the book. I wish he had, because it’s not the type of book I read, so I’m not qualified to review it.

But there I was, holding a book that was part memoir, part rant, and all awful.

Much of the content, while important to the author, was irrelevant to the book’s topic. In addition, because there were few paragraph breaks in the text — imagine a book with page after page of text with no white space — it was hard to read.

So I didn’t.

“Did you read it yet?”

The author kept hounding me for an “honest” review, all the while reminding me of how much that review copy cost him to print and mail.

I eventually read several pages to get a feel for his style and content. Then I scanned the rest to confirm that it was a book fueled by a vendetta and not by a need to help others. When I felt confident that I had seen enough to write an informed review, I did so.

I focused on the positives — his passion and topic knowledge — and gave it a three-star rating instead of a more honest one-star assessment.

It wasn’t the glowing five-star comment he expected, so he sent a scathing e-mail about me to his friend . . . or  — imagine “Dateline’s” Keith Morrison asking this question — “Did he?” 

The author sent his cranky message to me by mistake! Ha!


Quality makes a difference

This author doesn’t understand the importance of quality — in his manuscript, in the finished product, or in his dealings with others.

If you want people to know about, purchase, and read your books, quality counts. It really is that simple.

People don’t tell other readers about books that are “so-so.” But they will do your marketing for you when you give them something worth sharing.

Signs of quality in a book

Whether you plan to write just one book or several, you need:

  • great title (and for nonfiction, a corresponding subtitle)
  • An attention-getting, professionally designed cover that’s appropriate for your genre
  • Excellent content
  • Well-written content (which isn’t the same as excellent content — you can write well, but still produce text that’s useless)
  • Text with very few typographical errors and grammar mistakes
  • Quality marketing materials (this applies to everything you communicate about the book, from your tweets to your website)

It starts with the cover. There’s that cliche about how you can’t judge a book by its cover, but guess what: We do. And it’s the first thing we see when we discover a book.

Whether it’s a thumbnail-size e-book cover or one showcased on a bookstore shelf, if it doesn’t look “right,” we’ll move along without bothering to read the book description.

What’s more, if the cover looks amateurish, we’ll presume that what’s inside is sub-par, too. Can you take that risk?

Hiring help

If you’re serious about using your book to educate, entertain, influence, or inform, you’ll have to make sure it’s a quality product. Most authors need outside help to accomplish that.

There are all kinds of excellent professionals available to make sure that you’ve got the best book possible — one that represents you and your talents well. Yes, you will have to spend a little money on good talent, but isn’t that smarter than wasting your time producing a book that nobody reads?

Ask authors whose work you admire to refer you to cover designers, editors, proofreaders, and others who can help you take your book to the next level.

You can also use online writers’ forums, your local writer’s group, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, or your social networks to request referrals to trusted professionals.

A few resources for improving quality

I get a lot of e-mails asking me for resources, so here are a few that might help.

Can you do all of it on your own? Not likely.

If you’re a good writer, you probably aren’t a good cover and interior layout designer.

If you’re a good artist, you might not be a solid writer.

Figure out where you’re weak and get help. You won’t regret it.

What services do you recommend for cover designers, book interiors/layouts, ghostwriters, editors, etc.? Please help others by sharing referrals!

(Editor’s note: This article was first published in April 2012. It has been updated and expanded.)

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  1. You’re exactly right about the importance of quality – if it’s good, you’ll get 5-star reviews without even asking. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to know if your writing is as good as you think it is. So run it by a friend or colleague for an honest review before sending it out to strangers. That feedback can be invaluable and help to ensure everything you publish is work you’re proud of – for good reason.

  2. I would like to think that we could overlook bad grammar, punctuation and formatting and just focus on the heart of the writer, but as a self-professed grammar nazi, I simply can’t. I was recently alerted to a similar book as you describe. The book was self-pubbed but because the author had a co-writer I thought it would be error-free. Nope. I keep hearing and reading that even the best writers need an editor. There is no shame in seeking help.

    1. Grace, I can’t even read a menu with correcting typos. (Sigh.) I agree that even the best writers need an editor — we’re often too close (or attached) to our words to see things clearly.

  3. Indeed. When it comes to writing a book, things such as passion, storytelling ability, and insight are not enough. Getting a book made means that there should be a target market for it, and so it is integral that you shape the book into something that would be a benefit to them.

      1. Isn’t some punctuation a matter of style? When my writing coach edits my work she makes changes and when my journalist friend edits he uses more commas. I often use his suggestions because I like the slow pause of considering the thought.
        Also, when I etype I’m less formal because it takes less time.

        1. Kiz, yes, punctuation can depend on which style you follow, but when we’re talking about book quality, it’s about something bigger than which style you use for punctuation. Most people don’t get hung up on the commas when they’re reading — they’re more likely to get hung up on awkward sentence structure or dialogue that isn’t realistic, etc.

  4. I’ll step in and join your always excellent and stimulating discussion. “Punctuation a matter of opinion?” Hmm…. Just like a “Stop” sign and a “Yield” sign are suggestions for behavior in traffic?

    As an editor, writer, and writing teacher I recognize the importance of where that comma belongs, because that pause contributes to meaning. Good sentence structure is always the main consideration, but the correct punctuation helps.

    While we’re on the subject of editing, I’ll emphasize that in today’s publishing world, where there are no longer any gatekeepers and anything can and is published, a well-edited manuscript will help your well-written manuscript become a better book. Editors are partners with writers, not adversaries. We want to make your writing stand out!

    Jerry Simmons, of Writers.Readers.com, once wrote an article on “editorial integrity.” Your wife or husband or best friend are necessarily subjective. There is no substitute for that objective other set of eyes. BTW, I have used CMS for years because it is almost never considered wrong for U.S. usage.

    Thanks, Sandra, for the good work and the helpful handouts, always shared with my students in one form or another–of course, with attribution. Michaele, MichaeleLockhart.com

    1. Thanks so much, Michaele, for contributing so much to this conversation. I appreciate it! I think there are a lot of self-published authors who don’t understand the important role that those disappearing “gatekeepers” play as far as quality control is concerned. Like you said, they’re partners, not enemies.

      I’ll have to look up Jerry’s article — it sounds like something I should share.

  5. So very true. My mother sent me an article about a young writer who published her first young adult novel and how she wrote the story in a week. I looked for it on Amazon and read the few pages they let you take a peek at and wondered how this writer got an interview. The pages I read were pretty bland and certainly would not have captured any of the young adults I taught–eight pages and nothing happens, just rambling about where the main character lives, her choice of colleges, blah-blah-blah. The 178-page book sells for $14.95, and the Kindle version sells for $5.99. It was published by Charles Towne Press, but I have to wonder who at that company thought this was such a wonderful book and why they didn’t give her more helpful feedback. Of course, I’m basing this on the first few pages. Maybe the rest of the book is good.

    I’m about three fourths of the way through my first draft, and I have an incredible critique group from whom I’ve learned a great deal. Getting helpful feedback is so very critical.

    By the way, this is a great blog. Thank you.

    1. That’s an interesting story, Valerie! I can imagine how surprised you were to see that it wasn’t particularly well-written.

      I just did a quick Google search for Charles Towne Press and found nothing, so it was probably self-published and that’s the name they created for their self-publishing venture.

      Also, I suspect that the interview was in a small local newspaper and was written by somebody who either didn’t check the book for quality before the interview or didn’t care about the quality — the “hook” here was that the author was young, was writing for her peers, and “wrote” the whole book in a week.

      Finally, thanks for the kind words about the blog! Feel free to subscribe via e-mail or RSS feed so you get alerts when I post something new. Your comments are always welcome!


  6. Great article, thanks for sharing.

    Now I’ll be sure to write that most excellent of books with the most excellent of covers and very few (hopefully no) typos!

    1. I hope it gives authors something to think about, Syl. FYI, it’s hard to produce a 100% typo-free full-length book, but it’s a great goal!


  7. You shouldn’t have been so nice, Sandra, and given that 3-star review. I understand why you did, though; yet writers need to know the truth about their work – good or bad. As with any aspect of business, it merely comes with the territory. In the creative arts, we simply can’t appeal to everyone – certainly not all of the time. All of my writings had been rejected by mainstream publishers going back to the 1980s, which is why I finally resorted to self-publishing my first novel in 2018. Yes, it took a while, but at least I got it done.

    And I certainly couldn’t have gotten it done without the help of a professional editor! I found her on Linked In several years ago. Her insight and expertise were invaluable. I can’t stress enough that publishing a novel is much like constructing a building: one can’t do it alone. We need a number of different professionals with various levels of specialization to accomplish such a monumental task. It’s prudent and wise. It also leads to a greater chance of success and being considered a true professional in one’s chosen field.

    1. You’ve offered excellent advice, Alejandro. Thank you. I love your “constructing a building” analogy — it’s perfect. And you know, I am to this day uncomfortable with the fact that I gave that author 3 stars instead of 1. The next time, I’ll stand by my decision to pass on the opportunity to read and review.



  8. I always read your posts, Sandy. What is it about you?

    Ah, typos…the perfectionist meter. Someone should write a poem about them, they’re so mischievous and dodgy. Last week, I sent for physical copies of my new book (“Silence of Islands — Poems,” haha), believing it was ‘ready.’ Quite the wake-up to STILL find typos and even misspellings (!) in the final product.

    Corrected now. And I even changed the font.

    At least for this book, I finally set my release date way out there, to allow tweaking time. I’ll always do that going forward. Here’s the deal, no one’s holding their breath for the book. I’ve been buzzing about the thing to my list for over two year! So, launch date’s not the issue. However, folks WILL appreciate how lovely it is, how polished, and how clean of error, when they’re holding their copy.

    Conscientious publishing is a matter of respect—for the reader and for oneself. My mantra is, “My readers are smarter than me.”

    1. I always enjoy your feedback, Wendy! I love that you now give yourself time — and room — to polish and tweak your manuscript. I hope others adopt your mantra, too. It’s very wise!


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