The Ugly Baby: Why QA is so Important

Monday already, huh? All right. I’m up for that challenge.

I apologize in advance for the scatter-shot nature of this post. You see, a few things have been bouncing around my head since this weekend and I need to get this out of the way before I descend into Full-On Horror Mode for the rest of the week (Coffin Hop, what up).

My current train of thought begins with one central event: I attended a conference.

© Photographer: Gina Rothfels | Agency: Dreamstime.com

Yes, on Saturday I got up at the asscrack of dawn – well, okay, before dawn – so that I could attend the 2012 Maryland Writers Conference. This was my first such incarnation of this beast.

I suppose I went in with some expectations based on stories that I’ve heard in the past, and I’m not sure it lived up to any of those. One of these days I’ll learn to go into things with zero expectations, but for now, this is the best I have.

My personal frustration with logistics aside (seriously, they didn’t plan for parking in Baltimore), I found myself on the outside looking in. It’s a customary position for me, but I also suppose it’s normal, given that I’ve only been a member of the MWA since September. If I attend next year, I imagine it might be much different. At least, I hope so. I had fun, but found it really hard to connect since just about everyone seemed to already know one another.

Thankfully the conference wasn’t just about attending – they offered classes, as well, and I enjoyed the few that I attended. I found them quite informative, and learned a few things. The classes aren’t really the core of what I’m getting at here. It’s the impression that I got from those classes, and indeed from the whole conference, that I feel is worth speaking about.

© Photographer: Dariusz Sas | Agency: Dreamstime.com

You see, the MWA is a legacy organization, built during the height of the publishing empire. Many of its members have agents and/or publishers, and have been doing the traditional publishing thing for a long, long time. I don’t begrudge them that. It clearly works for them, and they seem happy and successful. Unfortunately, it means that a great deal of the group’s focus is on following that traditional publication venue. For example, coming right in the door they tried to sell me on face time with agents and/or editors, which holds as much appeal to me as getting my eyebrows waxed.

The attitude kind of seeped into even the classes; only a handful of classes were geared to the self-publisher, and those seemed very elementary. Hell, even the teacher who thought that traditional publishing would be all but dead in five years advised us to try for a minimum of 50 agents or publishers. Lots of old-school thinking, and like I said, that’s fine, it works for some folks and I’ve tossed the idea around myself more than once.

The unfortunate side-effect is that it leaves the dedicated self-publisher out in the cold. The whole thing kind of came to a head for me when, during a self-editing for writers course, one of the students raised his hands and asked whether it’s true that self-publishers have horrible editing.

Several emotions bubbled to the surface on that one. Frustration came first, that some view it so easy to paint us all with the same brush. “Those self-publishers”, who obviously don’t or can’t compete when it comes to quality. I also felt some sadness, to realize just how far we still have to go.

The Man is holding a shoe. Your argument is invalid. © Photographer: Bellemedia | Agency: Dreamstime.com

To his credit, our teacher corrected that misconception. A freelance editor, he said that he’s worked with some fantastic self-publishers who really cared about the quality of their work and that he’d never talk down about it. A fellow indie author also spoke up, stating that she felt we’re in the same place that indie music was in the late 90s/early 00s, where lots of people are creating things because they can, without thinking whether they should. Her overall optimism on this is high – she believes that the people who did it because they had a book in them and felt that the gold rush was on are slowly weeding out of the pipeline.

I hope she’s right. I really do. I think quality assurance (QA) is one of the most important things for an author; no, for a business. Yes, writing is an art. Nobody knows that better than me. Everything I write is an attempt to push some sort of boundary and evoke emotional response. Sales are a secondary consideration. Would I be delighted if one of them took off on its own merits? Hell yeah. But I’m not focusing on marketability, and I understand that this, too, is a business decision, and my books are products.

As such, it’s important that products receive QA, whether you’re producing a car where it’s literally the difference between life and death, or a service. I work in the cable industry, and QA is just as important there to ensure that someone’s connection doesn’t die. The same applies here: you must engage in QA to ensure that your connection with the reader doesn’t die.

So, yes, this was all a long-winded way to say that while indie authors/self-publishers don’t have the responsibility to anyone when it comes to their art – I sure don’t feel it’s my job to correct those misconceptions – it is a good idea to feel that responsibility for your own work. You fought for that baby to be born, don’t let it come out ugly and unhealthy because you didn’t want to take the right steps during the gestation period.

To this end, I have my own QA process, and will be sharing some of it in the near future as I approach the end of the road with Room 3. Maybe not this week, as the Coffin Hop approaches, but watch this space early next week for more information.

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3 Comments

  1. This is an excellent and very useful post. I haven’t self-published (yet), but I will look to you and others who have for advice if I go that route.

  2. Wow can I relate! I am about to self-publish my first book. Once the content was created, one of my main objectives was to make sure the quality was better than satisfactory and involved a few people in the process. Unfortunately, the stereotypes of poorly edited self pubs exists for a reason. Hopefully people will start to take pride in their work and realize it is better to take the time and make it right than to get it “out there” faster.

  3. Very interesting (and I imagine frustrating). I wonder if we are in a point where people are giving up on the proverbial “gold rush.” I kind of hope so, too. I figure it is inevitable. And hopefully the perceptions will change.

    And I would’ve had a hard time holding my tongue with the jackhole assuming that every self-publisher is a poor editor. Nothing like blanket statements about an entire population to reveal one’s intelligence level.

    Good luck with the Coffin Hop. I’ll be stopping by and watching the gang. Enjoy, my friend.

    Paul D. Dail

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