It’s only seven in the morning, and I’ve already made myself upset.
Today is day two of a five-day break from school. I spent the large part of yesterday doing either one of three things:
a cracked copy of Sims 4 with all the DLC installed and taking care of a piddling little alien family while watching and wondering why all of the city’s vampires were killing themselves in protest in my front yard, (???)
- Agonizing about how I couldn’t get myself in the right mood to write, and
- Reading whatever was in my Now Reading shelf on my e-reader in order to try to get back into the creative mood.
Ah, the overflowing Now Reading shelf, perpetually at the 99 books mark (the shelf size limit on my current e-reader). It takes me back to the summer of 2014, when I’d just gotten my shiny new Moto X (which is currently serving as a backup phone while my current Note 3 reigns supreme) and didn’t know that maybe letting all my data sync to Google unfettered wasn’t such a good idea. It takes me back to countless nights spent scraping the free section of Play Books, wading through myriads of erotic fiction to find the few nuggets of comparable gold (you know, anything not filled with tentacles or underdressed men or anything of the sort) and sending each and every single one to my account’s library.
And then came the first Googlepocalypse of May 2015 where I scrambled to export every single book offline and into a neatly compiled Calibre library. Give another year, rinse, and repeat in the second Googlepocalypse of August 2016.
The result: a library filled with poorly-written self-published works that were most likely once-and-dones. Never having seen a single consideration of an editor or a decent cover artist or even a single revision, these disgusting greatures crawled their way out of the recesses of my library with their stinking claws, begging to be put out of their mercy and forever expelled from the Now Reading shelf.
I’m not kidding. The horrors you are about to witness gave me stage 4 terminal cancer. So strap on your seatbelt, prepare your bleach (or whatever tired adage you want to use), and let’s begin.
I… I don’t even know what’s going on here. This is supposed to be a series about a city that never gets the sun? But there’s a tiger on the cover that’s afflicted with the rainbow outline filter from Windows Movie Maker? And some generic blue wavy background? I’m confused.
Yes, artistic covers are quite pleasing for books to have, and a well-designed cover can lure leery and prospective readers in. But a cover should have something to do with the story: for example, in my first book series The Phobia Interim (no, I still haven’t gotten around to revising Me Before You; I’m stuck in The Duality of Mankind hell) the covers are simple: a white background with an item of significance (the gun that killed Samhain; Anders’ heart, one of Nox’s feathers) and a red bloodstain letter pertaining to one of the characters affected by Bes’ ascension to power. The covers are (at least in my opinion) pleasing to look at. At the very least, they don’t brutally rape my eyes.
Take a shot for every single amateur writer trope you see on this cover:
- Listing the full series title and number on the cover in a confounding fashion. Just by looking at this cover, I’m not sure what the title is: Tale Of Two Worlds? The Wizard, The Battle Mace, and The Werewolf? (Ignore the fact that I can’t even read that particular snippet for now: that’ll be point four.) Is “Tale Of Two Worlds” a subseries? If that’s the case- if your series is so convoluted as to require subseries, then maybe you should rethink your plot structure and rework it to make it a little less frustrating to a prospective reader.
- Spoofing the lion/witch/wardrobe title. I violated this crime in the past with a horribly-written book on my dad’s old school-issued Macbook while writing about some generic boy named Sylvan and some fairy named Holly. But then again, I was only nine or so, and it never happened again. I see this mistake a lot for the bottom-barrel amateur writing: they think their book is going to become a classic, so they attach themselves to classic book titles, thinking that the name recognition (“Oh! I remember reading that book in high school!”) will be enough to entice readers. Hint: it’s really not. It just screams out “amateur”.
- A sharp, uncomfortable contrast between the graphics of the foreground and the background. See, the covers of The Phobia Interim worked despite the background being blank because the foreground matched- a few strokes of the pen to form a simple image. There was an established “hand-drawn” aesthetic. Contrast that with this cover- the background is blank, but the graphics look like they were pulled from some website, passed through an outline filter, and then stretched until the pixels started popping and haphazardly pasted.
- The text is some generic genre font with “edgy” colors inconsistently stretched as to make the text almost illegible. A reader shouldn’t have to strain to read the title of your book. That’s just pure torture.
I… I think the title is Sisters? I can’t tell, because there are all these cliché vaguely-bad words scattered in front. And here we go with the fonts again- I can’t even read half of these litle stamps of whatever synonyms the author could find for “bad”. Besides that, there’s really nothing interesting about this cover that would make me want to read it. There are sisters? And some vague sense of dread? And that’s all we know.
And while we’re here, I want to talk about the real reason why I hit the “write” button on WordPress this morning. The 140-or-so-page book that I just deleted from my library.
I despise this book. Not just for the boring, tired tropes that plague its pages- I mean, seriously? Oh, look, it’s a teenage girl who has daddy issues and hates her mom. Oh, look, she’s got a boyfriend who’s the only one in the world who understands her. Oh, look, she turned into a vampire! And there’s a secret coven who hates her! And there’s a mysterious man…
I fell asleep two-thirds of the way into the book. I didn’t finish it. It wasn’t worth my time, and I’m not sure if that’s because of some innate bias against vampire YA books or if I’m just angry that I wasted so much time on it. You are what you eat, and you are what you read, and I’m now ten IQ points lower from having to experience this festering pile of poo.
And while we’re still critiquing covers, I’m seeing a load of clichés that could have been avoided. We get it, it’s a vampire book. We get it, the main character is angry. We get it, you desperately want to be dark and edgy. My tired eyes are already sliding shut.
It’s the same tired crap over and over and over and I’m tired of it, and unfortunately it’s working, because apparently Morgan Rice is a bestselling author. If you’re reading this, stick to the fantasy genre, please. Your books in that area are far better. Don’t ruin yourself like this.
Am I scraping the absolute bottom of the bucket? Yeah, sure, whatever. But I continually got these books in my recommended bar until I ditched Google services and turned to superior ways of gathering free books, like eBook Bike (formerly Tuebl) and the DRM-stripping method for Overdrive books (which I will detail in a future post). And even then, the entire site was plagued with self-published once-and-dones, most of them erotic.
A wise man once said that everyone has at least one novel inside of them. Everyone has some unique experience to share, but more often than not, all these weird and wonderful ideas are thrown aside in order to chase trends and readers. Books are supposed to be art, not commercial products, and they should be treated as such.
The problem is that the self-published community is being flooded with this kind of crap on a daily basis. The focus isn’t on telling engaging stories to captivate readers, or to make them cry or laugh or contemplate whatever issue the book is contered around. It’s on pushing out as much crap as possible to line a portfolio or a Goodreads page: “Hey, look at me! I’ve written seven books! Never mind that, with the basest amount of effort, I could have compressed this all into one book and saved you the thirty dollars it took to buy the entire series!” (Because, you know, Google Play extracts a tiny amount of sales tax with each purchase. More purchases equal more money wasted in taxes that could have been spent on something else.)
It’s amateurs who flunked English class who see authors like John Green and Cassandra Clare (despite how much I despise both of these examples, but that’s a story for another time) succeed in the young adult genre and want a slice of the profit pie without doing any of the work. It’s amateurs who see a trend like the rise of vampire fiction a few years ago or the dystopian societies that are all the rage right now and half-ass an entry to sweep up a few extra dollars.
Look, I appreciate free books. I appreciate authors who make the first book of their series free so that those of us who don’t have unlimited money to take chances with can at least have something. And I have massive respect for those who make all their books free, whether it be for ideological reasons or because they don’t want to have to deal with bank accounts and money transfers. (Hint: I’m both of these.) But there’s a point where you have to step back and ask yourself: is this worth publishing? Is this worth sending out to the world for unknown strangers to read?
I understand that no prospective author starts off serviceable. Everyone is an idiot at the beginning. But there’s going to be an interim between when you start off practicing and when you become serviceable: for me, that interim started out with a fifth-grade short story called High in the Sky that was four pages long and ended with an eighth-grade diary called In Case Of Emergency that I hopes burns in the pits of literary hell forever. The only way I’ll ever release those works are if they’re in a “from the archives” critique. It’s incredibly helpful to see how much you’ve improved.
I’m no gatekeeper. I’m not telling you to stay out of self-publishing if your English is less than stellar. But, god, at least try! And it’s okay if you don’t publish a work if you don’t think it’s up to par!