Something Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well

This refrain comes up again and again when talking to my writer friends (and not always initiated by me): something worth doing is worth doing well. It’s certainly not a controversial idea, though talking about it is not without its risks (as writer myself, I will not be providing examples of poor work to avoid shooting myself in the foot).

Put another way: we as an industry are going cheap, and it shows.

Usually it starts with the cover—bad art, or weak stock photos, with poor typography. If the cover is bad, the inside is often worse—poor layout, weak font choices, text that’s too small to read, or so big you could read it from across the room. The interior art looks fuzzy, or way too dark. Maybe there’s nothing in particular you can put your finger on, but something just isn’t right—very possibly the paper itself is poorly chosen (or left unconsidered).

Overall, you’re left with a feeling of cheapness—and it’s probably true: not enough money and attention has been put into this product.

Like it or not, this lack of detail negatively impacts the stories themselves. Fewer people will buy the book, and some people will be so turned off by the experience that they will set it aside for good. All of this, regardless of the quality of the stories themselves.

It would be easy to lay blame at the feet of self-publishers, but it’s not limited to that world. Poor quality runs throughout all levels of publishing, at least sporadically, from indies to the big names.

The blame for this lies in a few areas.


It’s been said that there’s little money in publishing, and perhaps that’s true. Spending much on something with little chance of seeing it returned doesn’t make too much sense. To create a work of quality, it does take skill (or money to hire that skill). We are at a point where it requires little to no money to produce books, even printed books—from ebooks to print on demand, a publisher does not need to outlay much cash to get a book to a reader and see a return on investment. Unfortunately, this low-budget approach shows all too often.

Too Many Hats

I’m a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy: I have an art background, I work as an illustrator and designer (and animator, and video guy, and…), I’ve done some sound work, I write. I understand there are people (and publishers) out there that can handle the whole shebang and do a fine job of it. The thing is, the vast majority of people can’t, and even those that can generally are not great at everything—I know this, all too intimately. If you’re trying to take it all on, you probably shouldn’t.

Plus, if you are taking on all of the roles, you will generally suffer from tunnel vision, and miss out on glaring problems. As the wearer of all of the hats, you are probably working in a vacuum, and regardless of problems with teams (group think, lowest common denominator results), more people means more eyes on the end result.

Another quick point here: I’m a big believer in using the right tool (or software) for the right job, but just having that tool does not make you a master of it (and mastering it still doesn’t make you a designer).

Quantity vs. Quality

Perhaps this is a flawed perception, but it appears that some go for the shotgun approach: more products offered, more sales. It may be accurate, too—I haven’t looked for research to disprove this notion—but it seems to me that spreading money across fewer books (and thus more per book) would significantly improve the end results, and the financial gains from each. No doubt there’s a tipping point, where a piece goes from appropriately treated to collector’s edition (with a price to match)—but if this is your concern, this article isn’t really aimed at you.

Contrary to what it might sound like, I’m not trying to say “you all suck!” or that I want fewer books around. I love all kinds of books, and I want to see the publishing world do better by delivering better.

There are solutions to these problems, and not all of them require more money spent (though some expectation of investing in a work should be assumed). Educating yourself, spending smarter, hiring the right people, finding others who will give you honest opinions…these are all steps in the right direction.

And these are all planned future posts. Stay tuned.

Wonderbook Winners and Select Comments

We had a great turnout for the Wonderbook contest last month, and I’m happy to announce our three winners: Sarah Hendrix, Dylan Fogle, and Connie (we still need your full details—check your email).

Sarah Hendrix:
I’m currently running back and forth between the Oasis of Malaise, the Fortress of Distractions and the Bridge of Certainty. Although I think I left my muse at the Desert of Pointless Writing and Writing… I am nearing the completion of this draft and am ready to spend quite a bit of time exploring the Lake of Endless Revisions.

Dylan Fogle:
I seem to be perpetually stuck at the Start. Always on the verge of going. But somehow getting stuck in not doing it.

I can’t start because of an Encounter With Self-Doubt :)

While the contest winners were chosen randomly, I would have loved to give prizes for the most imaginative answers. Here’s a small selection that were submitted (you can read them all at the bottom of the contest page—and you should, because there’s far more than can be included here).

Did you know: if you scuba dive deep into the Lake of Endless Revision, you can access a system of submerged caves that you eventually exit right near the loops of procrastination? Yeah, I found that out by accident.

Annie Thompson
I am in a turnabout between encounter with self doubt and fortress of distractions. It seems that every time I wade through one, I find myself right in the middle of the other!

Daemon Hoskin
I laid siege to the Fortress of Distractions, won the battle, stormed the gates and locked myself in. From the arrow slits, I watch the line of figures marching towards the True Ending, and just when I am about to lower the drawbridge and ride out – ooh shiny!

Dave Versace
I’m definitely on the plains of distraction, but I think maybe these bites I picked up in my various encounters with self-doubt are beginning to fester.

I thought I’d made it from the Loops of Procrastination to the Desert of Pointless Writing and Writing, but instead realized yesterday that I was somewhere in the Plains of False Inspiration. The Story shook off my hand, dove into the ground ,and disappeared. Looking off to the west, I see the same blasted Loops of Procrastination and I have…um…dusting to do. And the pantry to reorganize. And I should fold all the laundry. Also knit another five pairs of socks. Then there’s the music to learn. Piles of papers to be sorted. The tack room’s a mess. I need to get back to riding the bike, but the refrigerator has gunk in the vegetable drawers…maybe a nap is in order.

I’ve been swimming in the Lake of Endless Revisions for a few weeks now. Someone please send a boat to fetch me!

I’m stranded on the Lost Coast of Shipwrecked Endings. Please–someone send a map that includes the correct ending and a lovely rum drink inside a coconut.

Stephanie Bogart
Two suits of tragedy in action
Beguile blocks the Bridge of Certainty
Keeping purpose from gaining traction
A hollowed voice echoes through eternity
Chastising for the infraction
Another day gone to ignored opportunity
A creation so near to satisfaction
Maybe a Wonderbook filled with diversity
Will lead me out of The Fortress of Distraction.

Took me all day but, this is what floated around my head after I saw the map. However, this is the first time I have actually spent any time writing anything for the past month. I thank you for the inspiration.

You can find out more about Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction here at the official site. I’ve had the book for a couple of weeks now and it truly is beautiful, and full of great information. Every writer should have a copy, and should give a copy the budding writers in their life.

Win Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

As a writer, your journey to the end of the story is a long, tortuous one, fraught with problems—procrastination, distractions, self doubt. These dangers are countless, and unimaginable.

That is, until now.

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction shows you all of that and more, through the use of wonderful, whimsical, and sometimes just plain weird imagery. In partnership with Jeff VanderMeer, we at BookLife Now are offering an exclusive look from Wonderbook: a map of this journey. So we ask you—where are YOU on the journey to the end of the story? Look at the image below and tell us where you fall. Answer in the comments area and you’ll be registered to win print copies of both Wonderbook and Booklifenow – three winners will be selected randomly, just add your comment below.*


Of course we’re all writers here, too, and a few of us (unable to join in on this contest), offer our own glimpses:

Caroline Ratajski: I’ve emerged from the Plains of False Inspiration and I am currently stumbling along the border of Desert of Pointless Writing and Encounter With Self-Doubt.

Jaym Gates: I’m somewhere between the Oasis of Malaise and the Fortress of Distractions. I have the book, and it’s probably a decent book, but I have too many other things that need to be done, and no real energy to get back into momentum.

Bear Weiter: With my current novel, I really wallowed in the Plains of False Inspiration for a long time—everything and anything that came to me that seemed special, unique, was considered and explored. It took more time than I had expected to wade through there and get past it. Now I’m mostly working around the Fortress of Distractions, but that’s pretty standard for me—that one I know well, and battle often enough that we’ve almost become friends. Not quite, but almost.

Update: Jeff says “I’ll throw in a couple of extra things into the winner’s packages.” He has refused to elaborate, but free books, free postage, and extra stuff?! You definitely want this.

*Because this is a contest, a few quick notes. You must be 18 or older to enter—I know, that sucks, but it simplifies things legally. If you’re under 18, get one of your parents to enter for you. Three winners will be selected at random from all of the posted comments—we reserve the right to not approve your comment for spamming or inappropriateness (rudeness, tastelessness, and excessive profanity all fit in here). If you post a comment and use a bogus email address (yeah, I said bogus), you get nothing! No purchase is necessary to win—and we’re not selling anything anyway. Postage will be taken care of, but it may take a while for the books to arrive should you live outside of the US. The contest is open through October.

Working with Others—A Primer

Unless you’re a jack-of-all-trades type (and a master of all, too), chances are you will need to work with others on your path to success. Of course there’s the obvious ones: editors and publishers. But there’s others you may encounter with varying degrees of involvement, and you may possibly even employ: web designers and developers, graphic designers for layout and covers, illustrators and artists—the list is long. Here’s some tips to improve your working relationship with them.

Know Their Work Schedule
Many are freelancers and may have day jobs. Even if they work full time in their field, they may not work 9 to 5. That’s one of the perks of working for yourself—choosing your own hours. Find out when the person is available, and work out the best times to contact each other (and don’t be calling them at 8 in the morning if this isn’t organized ahead of time). Don’t forget, time zones can greatly influence this—freelancing through the net means people could be anywhere and work with you.

Work Out the Means of Contact
There’s email, phone calls, SMS, IM, Twitter, Facebook messages, Skype, and many more—all potential ways to get in contact with someone else. For me, I’m not generally fond of phone calls. They’re great for focused attention, and I’ll rely on them if the client seems unable to process long emails, but generally my preference is email (it can be detailed, thorough, there’s a written record of everything, and I can read or write at my convenience). I also don’t generally give out my cell phone. Others will have their own preferences. Of course, like the time of day, your input is important here, too. If they insist on working through Skype and you’re video shy, let them know—maybe it’s not the right fit.

Remember You’re Not the Only One
Very rarely will you be the only client the other person is working with. You have every right to expect people to stick to agreed-upon timelines, but it’s unrealistic to expect their full attention to be on you. Don’t message them several times a day, don’t micro-manage the project, and give them space to do their work (for you and others) and get back to you in a reasonable amount of time.

Be Respectful, and Be Direct
While politeness goes a long way, being direct is also important. If you are unhappy with how something is progressing, you need to raise those concerns at the first opportunity. During a website design, the designer should be showing you steps along the way—wireframes, color schemes, design concepts. Other work may have similar steps. You don’t have to be a jerk (there’s always ways of saying something nicer than others), but if you’re not communicating clearly you may leave too much room for misunderstandings.

Should a project get to the point that you need to walk away from it, realize there may be a kill-fee (where you owe something even if it’s not finished or usable). And even if not, come to a solution that works for both—if someone just spent a week of their time doing something for you, there should be some monetary exchange.

Come Prepared
There’s a lot of leg work you can do yourself before engaging someone else. Is the project something visual? If so, find pieces that represent what you’re looking for, and other examples of what you don’t want, and convey your thoughts on it all. This works for website design, book design, covers, illustrations—you name it. Take photos of physical goods (or buy a copy or two), bookmark sites, build Pinterest boards. Show this when you start working with someone else and see if they’re even comfortable with your goals—they may not be, and it’s best they walk away before getting involved.

Use Written Agreements, and Stick to Them
There should be a contract in place when work is being done and money is being exchanged. At a minimum, you should have an email with the project listed out, including deliverables, timelines, rights, and costs, and have an acknowledgement from both parties that it represents what is to be done.

My agreements always contain responsibilities for clients—these include quick turnaround times for feedback, getting sign-offs for work, and getting any assets in a timely manner. Without proper follow-through on my client’s end, I am unable to perform my job and delivery dates may well be missed. You should know what your responsibilities are to assist someone working for you, and do everything you can to take care of them properly.

There’s more posts to come in the future, but hopefully this works as a primer. You will need to work with others, and it can either be a rewarding or challenging experience—it’s at least partially up to you.