But is it good enough?

There are a lot of people writing out there. A lot. And it’s great. There are so many stories to tell. Now with technology catching up to ideas, there are also lots of ways to get your story into the hands of readers, quickly, and affordably. But there are two things I keep hearing from both sides of the equation: the readers, and the authors.

The readers: I can’t find anything good to read. Or more blatantly: Everything I download is crap.

The authors: You can’t even convince people to buy a book for 99 cents! And: How hard is it to download a free book?

So there are two things going on here. Readers want to find something of value, even at free or 99 cents, because they’re not just paying with their cash, they’re also paying with their time. I’m sure we’ve all spent time on a book that we wish we hadn’t, because it’s time we can’t get back. It’s one of the reasons I won’t do any more reviews for ebooks unless I know the author. I spent a good chunk of last year reading crap. I had cancer. That was bad enough. But bad writing on top of it? No.

The second thing that’s going on, is that the authors are frustrated because they’re doing everything they can to promote their work, and don’t understand how much more these readers need. Blood? Writing is suffering enough! But there is one thing that the authors aren’t taking into consideration. Is it really good enough?

Consider this W. Somerset Maugham quote: “I have never met an author who admitted that people did not buy his book because it was dull.”

It’s a painful concept, that maybe what you wrote just isn’t good enough, but it is a reality, and it’s one that we have to consider as artists. If we’re asking people to read our work, we have to be prepared to find out that what we’ve put out there just doesn’t measure up. Not everything that comes out of our fingertips is going to be best-seller quality. But there are ways to stave off totally bombing when the book hits the shelves.

1) Read everything you can in your genre, and everything you can outside of your genre. I don’t think I need to tell any of you how important it is to read, read, read. It teaches you.

2) Use your beta readers wisely. While not everything they say is going to really work for you, everything they feel is a gold mine waiting to be plumbed.

3) Hire an editor. A good one. For one thing, an editor will save your readers the headache of trying to get through that tangled grammar. But more importantly, a good editor can point out plot holes, places where the pacing sags, inconsistencies in your character, or their speech, and the myriad other little things that slip by you when you’re the writer. I may be an editor, but I don’t edit my own work. I don’t even try.

It’s impossible to know how your work is going to be received. And taste is everything. One person’s crap is another person’s favorite book. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw who gets their hands on it, and what they think of it, and word of mouth, and the  momentum from that becomes everything. Still, it’s important to stay humble and think hard about your work. Even though it may be painful to admit, sometimes, it’s just not good enough.

17 thoughts on “But is it good enough?

  1. Alexandra van de Kamp says:

    Well-said, Tracey. In the recent frenzy over self-publishing, I think the rigors of being a good writer can get a little bit forgotten (although there is, of course, excellent self-published material out there as well). I like to believe that good writing will find its audience and that just getting your work “out there” should not be the only end-goal, or publishing for the sake of publishing. Being a writing teacher as well as a poet, I know how easy it is for a writer to forget or not to see his/her own grammar errors or to not revise as thoroughly, perhaps, as is needed. I bump into this in my own writing and have a husband-editor (as well as a writing group and other poets) who keep me honest. So, yes, be patient with the process of writing, try to push your work and to make sure it is really something ready and interesting for another to read, especially because there is so much writing available these days. Make your readers grateful they have found you! Some writing should not be published, as a blog or in any form, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from it as writers and use the lessons we learned from certain failed pieces to help us in a future writing project. As painful as it is to admit a piece is not working, sometimes it is the healthiest thing we can do to help our writing. It is all good in the end. Lastly, you want your writing to stand the test of time, so in 10 years you can look back and still stand behind what you have published and put out into the world for public consumption.

  2. Tracey says:

    Ah, the test of time. Well said, Alexandra. I have had to let some of my pieces go after years of work. My former agent (a very gentle woman) had to break it to me that one of my novels just wasn’t working. It’s a hard reality, but as you say, a healthy one when you come to that realization and find the courage to move on. It’s all a learning experience, valuable in its own way. Learning can sometimes be painful.

  3. A.D. Duling says:

    Wonderful advice! There is one thing I can say about my self-publishing experience is I have remained humble and am always striving for improvement. This is great advice, Thank you Alexandra!


  4. Michelle Reynoso says:

    So true. As a writer I struggle with this question all the time, and rejection has a way of hitting the point home. So I keep writing, and getting better, and reading, and putting the work in. This is the part that I think discourages a lot of would-be writers…the work that goes in to getting better. Most published authors do not get their book deal with their first draft, first book, first attempt at getting published. Oftentimes it’s the 10th book or the 30th draft. Like any profession, it takes experience and time to perfect your craft. And, as you said, it requires lot’s of reading in the genre you write.

    Even at the critique level, I’ve tried to find a crit partner and several of my attempts at finding a critique partner has proven unfruitful because the writing is not ready for the critique level, it’s still in the early drafting stages.

    On the same token, I’m also an avid reader, and yes there is a lot of unpolished, not-ready-to-be-published work out there that gets put out by authors as self-published books. I’ve read some self-published work that is truly amazing and I wonder why this author has not yet been able to get traditionally published. But more often than not, there’s tons of self-published books that look, read, and shout-out: self-published and unleashed to the world before it was ready.

    I have to believe that those of us that keep putting the work in and striving to get better, will reach the point where the quality of our work warrants publishing it. Those that can’t see, or can’t listen to advice that the work isn’t ready, probably will get discouraged. I just hope that the rest of us hang in there long enough to see the fruits of our efforts come to fruition.

  5. Catherine Stine says:

    Truthful post, which is valuable. I’ve been reading a lot of indies lately-and good ones! I go a lot by reviews. They usually steer me right. As far as my own novels, I take the word entertain very seriously. My story must entertain, excite, inspire, or why bother? Oh, and get a crackerjack editor and book designer. Shoddy mechanics are a sign of shoddy writing.

  6. debatterman says:

    And here, I dare say, is the conundrum: for every one of us who asks that question all the time — Am I good enough? — there are hundreds who just put their out there, no thought to what it really takes to be a writer. I wrote a post months ago re: all those free and cheap books on iPads and Kindles and whether they do in fact diminish the value of a single book. Happy to link you to it if you’re curious. At the same time, I decided to come up with something I could sell for 99 cents — a kind of Kindle Single — as a way of gaining in exposure. You’ll be hearing about it soon enough. In the meanwhile, so happy to have you in my sphere, with your thought-provoking posts.

  7. Léna Roy says:

    Thanks for another fabulous post Tracey! (Confession: I used to think that I could be one of those authors who could write a novel every year or so – then I got to really know myself and my writing!)

  8. Tracey says:

    I recently read a blog post from someone who did find a great indie. I know that they’re out there. The problem is they are so few and far between, and I barely have enough time to read, so when I do start something, it had better be good. Recently I read something and offered the person some advice. They said that they had the work professionally edited. I was appalled. I didn’t want to sell my services to them, but I told them that they really need to check credentials going forward. I felt badly. She had done the right thing by trying to get professional help, and her pro failed her. Not good.

    Deborah, I think most of us are riddled with self-doubt and so we fear we’re never ready, and yes, there are many who just put it out there. The trick, and the thing we’re never sure of, is knowing just the right moment when the work is done. It’s like a master chef knowing when to turn off the pot.

    And Lena, I feel the same way as you. I thought I’d be able to crank out a novel a year too. Who knew I was such a slow writer! Sigh.

  9. Claudine Gueh says:

    Truth draws blood. This one certainly does, Tracey. And we need to acknowledge it (acknowledging but not quitting). I always fear that my writing isn’t as good as it should be, but there’s an Ira Glass Youtube video I watch to keep the spirits encouraged: the idea is to keep writing until we GET as good as we should be.

    (Beta readers and critique groups are absolutely necessary. Having fresh eyes we trust to go through the lines is very important.)

  10. Tracey says:

    Deborah, please link to your post.
    Claudine, can you also link to the Ira Glass video? I’m sure we can all use any encouragement we can get for those days when we don’t feel good enough.
    Thank you both!

  11. injaynesworld says:

    Very interesting stuff here, in both the post and all the comments. I come at this from a little difference perspective having already had, and retired from, a successful writing career in television. Burned out after my last movie in 2004, I didn’t write more than a grocery list until 2009 when I discovered blogging. Wow. Instant audience. On my blog, I write about everything “from politics to private parts,” most of it with humor, but some serious, as well. It’s been a whole different type of writing and such an education. I brought to it the same professionalism I brought to my TV-movie writing because, as you say, you have to respect the reader’s investment of time. In December, I self-published a compilation of humor essays, “Suitable for Giving: A Collection of Wit with a Side of Wry,” and because of my years of having to deliver on another person’s dime, I was able to tell that the collection was ready for an audience. But now I’m entering a whole new realm: fiction writing. As a TV writer, fiction was always something “real” writers did, and it’s like I’m starting from scratch. I published a piece of short fiction on my blog this week, but at 63 I wonder if I’ll even live long enough to ever feel that my fiction writing “ready enough.” The insecurity never ends, does it?

  12. alfredliveshere says:

    Good article, thanks for posting and sharing — all writers, of blogs, books, articles, gum wrappers, whatever, wonder if it is good enough, and these are solid steps!

  13. Tracey says:

    It’s true that the insecurity never ends. But nobody said writing was easy, right?
    I’m glad the steps are useful to you, Alfred.

  14. debatterman says:

    Here’s the link, Tracey — ‘What’s Your Writing Worth?’ http://amwriting.org/archives/5911 As a postscript, I should note that, since writing this piece, I lowered the price of both the print and digital editions of my short story collection and I’m just about to go into full-scale promotion mode for a new e-book timed to Mother’s Day and priced at 99 cents. Stay tuned.

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