Taking a Chance on New and Independent Authors

When I hear some fellow readers say they tend to stick to reading good authors they’ve already read before, or that they steer clear of independently published books, I get it. It may not be easy to risk your money and/or time on an author who isn’t proven to you, and the rise of independent publishing has put a lot of books out there that are poorly written, full of typos and technical errors, plastered with unprofessional book covers, or all of the above.

Many times, I like to stick to what’s familiar and comfortable to me. However, becoming a book blogger, the rise of independent publishing, and the availability of ebooks have all made this lifelong book lover more of a risk-taker when it comes to reading.

Since becoming a book blogger, I’ve started trying more genres.

When readers say they don’t really try out authors they haven’t read before, I think, “But what about the authors you do read? Weren’t they all new-to-you authors you had to try for the first time at some point? And will those authors supply you with enough books to last you the rest of your life?”

Then when it comes to the influx of books riding the wave of indie authorship, I figure that having to distinguish good from bad isn’t some new concept or practice. Shoddy work is oftentimes easy to spot from a blurb or a sample, and the presence of mediocre writing on the market didn’t begin with independent publishing.

Typos and technical errors in books aren’t anything new, either. I now know there’s a myth that says, “Traditionally published books are always error-free,” but I’ve been finding errors in traditionally published books ever since I was a little kid sounding out words in picture books. Even professional editors and proofreaders reading copy for established publishers are human. Books edited and proofread by humans are subject to human error.

I suspect that more readers don’t notice errors in traditionally published books because their minds assume no errors are there. And on enough occasions, I’ve found traditionally published books with bigger issues, like batches of entire chapters missing from their middles.

Publishing errors happen, even for the big guys.

On a different note in my case, years ago, as a reader who liked to buy new books for keeps but could only afford so many (I did a lot of rereading), I ran into a little crisis. The new books coming out from publishers I trusted started to seem too alike to me. Not enough diversity in styles, plots, characters, or authors. I didn’t want to feel like I was essentially buying more of the same whenever I went book shopping.

The desire to read stories that weren’t too much like what I’d already read is a big part of what motivated me to start writing my own books. And that, along with the fact that I became an independent author after my first traditional publishing contract ended, has made me more open to trying other indie authors.

Yes, I still read books from traditional publishers too, and I don’t discount the importance of what they do. But I also find that indie authors often have more freedom to work and to write outside of conventional boxes, and despite indies who do put out substandard work, many other independent authors are serious about their writing craft, about having their work professionally edited, and about getting quality book cover designs.

Plus, to state a practical bonus, indie authors can often price their ebooks lower than traditional publishers can, so I can afford to buy a greater number of books instead of rereading the same ones as much as I used to.

Why do I choose not to ignore or bypass too many new and new-to-me authors, independent or otherwise? Because I don’t subscribe to the misconceptions that only old authors can be good ones and that only bad writers independently publish. There are good and excellent writers also who become their own literary bosses and publish their work for themselves because now they can. Independent publishing is a much more efficient and viable option now than it was decades ago.

At the same time, even while I’m branching out, I’m careful about my choices. We don’t have to jump into book purchases blindly, folks. We can check out the book blurbs, read or skim a few book reviews, look inside the sample portions at retailers to get a feel for the writing style and quality before we buy (or don’t buy).

Sure, I run into indie book blurbs and samples that are poor or unprofessional. Yet, there have been plenty of traditionally published books I’ve gotten a hold of with storytelling that I wound up finding lackluster or too unoriginal, or with rushed endings or disappointing halves (“Did the author have to hurry through tying this together to meet the publisher’s deadline?”), or with chunks of content that drag out the plot or take it nowhere (“Are these unnecessary chapters here to stretch the story’s length because the publisher wanted a prescribed page count for sales?”), or stories that simply turned out not to be for me.

But does that mean all traditionally published books are bad, or that none of them are worth my time and consideration? Absolutely not.

There’s never any 100% guarantee that I’ll enjoy a book, no matter who wrote it or published it. Even authors I love usually have some books I don’t care for or that don’t wow me like their others. There’s always some level of risk involved when I pick up a book I haven’t read before.

So I go on and take some chances. I try to strike a balance between newer and older books, traditionally and independently published books, authors I hear everyone talk about and authors I discover on my own, etc.

I want to miss out on as few good books out there as possible. 😉

While they’re not at all the only good books I find all year, I’ve started sharing my favorites through my Annual Book Awards.

 

Christian Fiction: A Changing Genre

Janette Oke’s first, trailblazing ChristFic novel, which has gone through revisions and cover art makeovers since its first publication in 1979.

I’ve heard my share of praise and criticism about the Christian Fiction genre since I started reading ChristFic novels over twenty years ago. Sometimes I disagree with what I hear, and other times I agree.

When it comes to the criticism especially, I bear a certain point in mind. While authors have been writing Christian literature for centuries, the modern genre that we now call Christian Fiction (a marketing label) is still relatively young. It only started becoming a “thing” around the late 1970s, early ’80s. Anything young takes a while to mature, to get better with time, and as a bonus, it’s not unheard of for authors and publishers to go back and revise, reedit, and repackage—coming out with new and improved editions of previously published works.

Now, ChristFic isn’t the only genre I read, and I’ve spent years delving into classic works and other books that give me strong examples of command of language and storytelling mastery. It’s been my goal to take what I learn as a reader and to apply it to ChristFic as a writer.

The storytelling in some ChristFic novels has amazed me over the years.

No, I’m not claiming that I’ve become a literary master. Writers grow (or at least they should grow) and improve over time. Even now, I’m not the same writer, or the same person, I was back when I wrote my first novel, Yella’s Prayers, and my first historical fantasy book, The Movement of Crowns. (Oh, I still think the books were good back then, and more recent revisions have improved them.)

More ChristFic books that have been made-over since their first publications.

But I’m glad I’m here at this time in Christian Fiction, both as a reader and a writer. I do think that during earlier years in this young genre’s history, lots of Christian readers were simply happy to find wholesome novels with Christian content, with more choices available than, say, Grace Livingston Hill romances from the 1940s and earlier. That’s not at all a knock against GLH though, as I love old-fashioned books, I’ve enjoyed a number of GLH’s, and I respect her as the key pioneer of Christian romance novels.

The vintage cover art of a few of the Grace Livingston Hill classics I’ve read gives me a certain kind of nostalgia.

Even so, it seems to me that in a general sense, during the modern ChristFic genre’s earlier stages of becoming a whole distinct market, excellence and virtuosity in the style and fine art of fiction writing itself wasn’t the goal so much as having stories that conveyed Christian (and oftentimes evangelistic/salvational) messages.

But now that the genre has been around a little longer, ChristFic authors and publishers are raising the bar, and ChristFic readers’ standards and preferences are shifting and expanding. Along with themes reflective of faith, ChristFic readers want more skillful and insightful storytelling. More subgenres to choose from. More varieties and levels of content. More diversity.

ChristFic has come a ways in diversity, and we have quite a ways to go!

Moreover, while there’s a place for different levels of spiritual content in Christian Fiction, many ChristFic readers don’t necessarily want or need on-the-nose or “in your face” Gospel preaching or teaching while they’re reading novels. Everybody has their own preferences, and Christian Fiction has been shifting from meaning only “fiction that is conspicuously Christian” to meaning “fiction that is suitable for Christians,” whatever the level of spiritual content may be, and also “fiction from a Christian worldview, suitable for broader audiences.”

(And yes, readers have different opinions about what should qualify a book to be Christian Fiction. But before you say, “If it doesn’t have explicitly Christian content, it can’t be Christian Fiction!”—remember that Christ Himself told fictional stories, and His stories didn’t have what we would call explicitly Christian content in them.)

As for me, I started writing and publishing ChristFic because I couldn’t find all the kinds of stories I wanted to read in the genre. I saw that Christian Fiction had room for growth, change, and diversity, and I wanted to help bring that to other ChristFic readers. (I also write for readers who don’t normally read ChristFic, as I think telling a good story can and should often transcend genre/market labels and other boxes. You know?)

I’m not at all the only author who writes books because I want to read them.

The Christian Fiction genre is indeed changing. Sometimes change is hard and unsettling. It involves trial and error and learning, taking risks and seizing the day, and many times, change is necessary, healthy, and enriching. Back when I first curled up with novels like Oke’s Love Comes Softly and GLH’s Happiness Hill, I didn’t know I’d one day be reading ChristFic military and legal and political and techno thrillers, and ChristFic historical mysteries, and ChristFic psychological suspense, and ChristFic written by authors of color featuring main characters of color, and on it goes.

This relatively young genre isn’t what it was forty years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing it continue to mature, expand, and improve with time.

Decades ago, I didn’t imagine some of the different kinds of ChristFic I’d find to read years later.

2019’s Top Ten Posts

Prismatic Prospects just had its busiest year so far! Check out 2019’s Top Ten Posts.

When Calls the Heart (Television Show)

The Canadian West Series by Janette Oke

Christmas Book Picks 2019

Favorite Covers 2019

Romance in Christian Fiction: How Much Heat is Too Much?

Who Brings Forth the Wind by Lori Wick

Diversity in Christian Fiction: How Can Readers Help?

As Time Goes By by Lori Wick

The Kindness of Critical Book Reviews

Favorite Reads 2019

 

Life After an Author’s Mistakes

I recently took a survey that asked me, “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as an author?”

Oh. Ouch. All the ouch.

There’s a lot of research, trial and error, learning, and growth that comes along with this authoring and publishing gig, especially for those of us who are in it for the long term. It’s a journey that requires creativity, business know-how, and oftentimes a combination of both.

Yet, my biggest mistake as an author wasn’t exactly a creative one or even all that business-related. It was part of the result of being grievously maltreated for ten years.

I’ll not go into all of those details in this post. But suffice it to say that I published some books in reaction to the constant demands for marketplace productivity from a twisted, abusive manipulator who feigned to care about my success and wellbeing—because my productivity would help the manipulator look good. There’s much more to it, but I’ll leave it at that.

No, those books I published in vain attempts to stave off further abuse weren’t bad books. I’m a good writer, and I didn’t just pick up a pen yesterday. Even so, I often say that writers should know the specific reasons why they, as individuals, write. Further, authors who publish should know the specific reasons why they publish their work. (That is, just because you love to write doesn’t mean you have to seek or desire to get into the business of publishing. Not all writers do, and it’s okay.)

But some time after I got out of that abusive situation and took stock of my work, I found that some of my books didn’t line up with my personal reasons for writing and publishing. They weren’t a reflection of my real passion. They weren’t the kind of books I hoped to be known for, nor were they books I would search for or purchase as a reader.

Why would I want to sell stuff to other people that I wouldn’t even buy myself? Publishing some of those books was a mistake.

Granted, I gained valuable information, skills, and experience in the midst of my mistake-making. Publishing those books taught me how to publish. Still, once I realized that those books (while good for what they were) weren’t produced in the spirit I want for my life and career, and they weren’t what I wanted to provide for readers, I had to stop and change my direction.

That meant doing some revising and reediting, and for one book, doing a thorough rewrite for a new edition. For other books of mine, it meant going through and unpublishing them, taking them off the market altogether. No reworking or rewriting—just removing them and putting a close to that unfortunate chapter of my journey.

Would I be further along than I am now as an author if I hadn’t had that weight on my back for a decade? In some ways, it’s quite likely. Even knowing what I learned at the time, I can see how that weight held me back, to put it mildly.

The important thing, though, is that after making my biggest mistake(s) as an author, I didn’t hang a “Forget It” sign on my door and close up shop. I kept going. I’m still going. And as long as I’ve got more stories to write and to share with the world, I’m going to keep at my life’s work, because no one can do my life’s work but me.

This absolutely doesn’t only apply to authors, but whoever you are, if you’re reading this: there’s life after your mistakes. Find a way to make things right, even if it means changing your direction or taking a totally different path, or going back and making corrections, or “unpublishing” some chapters you’ve written, taking them “off the market,” and letting them go.

Dust yourself off, inhale some fresh air, and keep going. No one can do your life’s work but you.