How to rise above the self-published slush pile

The self-published slush pile is the worst fear of any indie author. It’s the condition where your work languishes in the great limbo of internet obscurity, never rises above 2 reviews on Amazon, generates only a handful of sales on Smashwords, and doesn’t reach the target audience that it calls for.

I don’t want to write too much content for self-published authors for my little review blog, because I want to write content for other readers like me, not self-published authors. I’ve decided to write this little guide anyway in the hope that it will help someone out there. This is a guide written from a reader’s perspective.

(1) Remember that there is a whole world of literature out there, and readers will not settle for anything less.

As an SF genre fan, I’m a 3 minute bike ride away from my local library’s beautiful collection of Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula K. Le Guin. I also have a massive amount of free Edgar Rice Burroughs sitting in my e-reader, waiting to be read. What makes your work interesting or worthwhile enough for me to read over everything else that is available at my fingertips?

Think about this. I listen to indie musicians not because they’re indie, but because they’re good and they just happen to be indie. I don’t listen to Antic Clay because they’re not on Virgin Records, I listen to them because they play fantastic death blues. I don’t care about business models, I care about the product.

(2) Make your product perfect.

Readers expect perfection, regardless of whether it’s free, $0.99, or $9.99. $0.99 is not an excuse for poor quality. $0.99 is a marketing opportunity to win over new readers. If all the readers saw was a couple of typos and awkward dialogue, it was a waste of everybody’s time and those readers will not give you a second chance.

When I watch a movie, I don’t want to see the mic and camera hanging all over the place. Similarly, I don’t want to see typos or bad SF concepts. You can be the new Birdemic or Eye of Argon if that’s what you’re going for, but if not, then make it perfect.

(3) Perfect products need editors.

Just because you don’t have a traditional publisher now doesn’t mean you can also do away with the editor. Get an editor. Editing doesn’t just mean typos and grammar. Editing also means getting rid of scenes that slow a book down, or fixing awkward dialogue. Readers are unforgiving. I can’t find out if the rest of the book is good if the first three pages clearly did not go through some kind of quality check. Like with all forms of fiction, quality is judged on the basis of a good story and a mastery of the craft. If the work doesn’t have either, it’s not worth anybody’s time no matter what the price.

(4) Perfect products are not the stuff you had hanging around and decided to see if you could sell it.

As a reader, I judge the quality of literature on the same scale as any literature I’ve been exposed to. If I see something and think, “This reeks of my old FictionPress lurking days”, do you think I’d want to read it? Do you think I’d want to review it? Smashwords is not the place where you go to learn how to write. You learn to write with your writing circle, your writing forum, and yes, FictionPress. You test the waters by sending short stories to SF magazines. If you feel like you’ve created something that’s perfect and will have an audience, then you publish it. Do not publish anything expecting that readers are forgiving and will correct your work. Self-publishing is not your writing forum, and you will not get feedback or reviews if your work is not polished.

(4) Create packaging that is worthy of your perfect product.

If you have a great story, or a great book, why damage it by dressing it up in rags? Write well-thought out blurbs that will interest your target audience. If I see a blurb that’s missing punctuation or is a complete rambling mess, I’m not going to touch the sample. If you don’t think your book is worth the time of hiring a half-decent graphic designer, why should I read it if you seem to value it so little?  It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to be well-thought out and seems like some care was placed into it. Heck, a cover with a black sans-serif title against a white background is better than some of the covers that I’ve seen out there. Please, I just want to read some SF. Don’t make my eyes bleed.

(5) Find the right avenues to get to your target audience.

I can’t talk much about marketing a self-published book, and there’s a lot of great blogs out there about that subject, but find relevant blogs and websites that would be interested in your work. Read and follow the review policies. Sometimes the work will passed over just because of the reviewer’s personal reading preferences, but hey, that’s just readers for you, not everyone can enjoy reading everything. Sometimes the work is good but will get passed over because other work seemed more interesting to the reader. That’s also just readers for you. What is in your control is just writing the best book you can and crafting the best product possible, then leave everything else to the readers.

When you have the confidence that your product is perfect and you want to send some review copies to interested SF reviewers, then send it to folks on this list: Indie SF Reviewers. Before then, craft your work to perfection.


Frida Fantastic–your neighbourhood indie SF reviewer


Helpful guides and resources for indie SF/F writers

Last update: April 23, 2012

  1. Great tips! I think all indie reviewers would be in heaven if indie authors followed them 😉

    GraceKrispy@MotherLode blog

  2. Wow, all writers (indy or otherwise) should read this. Very helpful. It’s common sense, but really helps to see it laid out point by point 🙂

  3. Thanks for the kind comments, Jon. The tone of this page can come off as a bit harsh, but I wrote it after a lot of headdesking at some of the indie books I’ve seen. I just think selling/releasing a bad book is worse than selling no book at all.

    Selling/releasing a book that’s not ready is just bad for business and bad for branding. The same author could write an amazing book a year later, but readers won’t touch it after the first bad experience.

    Everything on the internet is immortalized forever, so writers should only release content that reflects the brand they want to project: i.e. the I am a good writer brand. Anything less is counterproductive.

  4. I can’t find your email on your website. I must be stupid. Can you direct me to where it is?


  5. Hey William, no worries. I don’t have my email on any of the side widgets to reduce the spam mail. If you’re submitting a book, read the policies on the Submit a Book page and you’ll find my email there 🙂

  6. That’s so true! Thanks for this! I don’t really think this is harsh at all. It hits the right chord with a little bit of humor–exactly what self-published authors need. Keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s