Last week I asked if you’re worth more than a Taco Bell burrito. This week, I want to know if your work is better quality than a Taco Bell burrito, or, if like a Taco Bell burrito, your work is barely edible pile of muck you slapped together and called a book. (I think I’ve now pretty much eliminated any chance of a Taco Bell sponsorship.)
In Italy there is a concept called bella figura. The phrase literally means “good form,” but actually refers to how you present yourself to others. Having bella figura means dressing well (not fancy, just in clean, well-fitting clothes), behaving well, and simply presenting your best side to the world.
The concept probably extends from the Ancient Roman requirement that men, especially upper class men, present themselves with honor in all things. Although an old concept, bella figura is still a vital part of the Italian mindset today (and when I see someone out in public in their sweats or PJs, I really wish it was a concept Americans would adopt).
But bella figura isn’t just about clothes and behavior. Bella figura can also refer to how you present your work to the world and writers, especially those who self publish, need to adopt the concept. Like, now!
You’re Making Me Look Bad
Let’s face it, self publishing does not have the clout or prestige of traditional publishing.
Unfortunately much of this is the fault of self publishers who don’t give an emperor’s butt about bella figura. They’ll put out poorly edited, poorly written, poorly formatted books with tacky covers (if they even bother to design a cover at all). And this behavior makes the rest of us look bad. And it drags the impression people have of self-published books down into the Cloaca Maxima (literally: the big sewer).
Case in point, the other week I stumbled upon a blog of a self published writer. In it she said she was working on the first draft of her manuscript which was going to be the second book in her fantasy series. Please note, that that is not a typo…I did indeed say first draft, not final draft. That’s an important clarification because in the post she stated she expected to have the book out by the end of February. This was her goal and she was afraid she wouldn’t make it but was determined to meet her own deadline to get the book out.
That’s right, she intended to go from first draft to compete, published book in about 5 weeks. I sort of went off in a ranting comment…which I then deleted. Bella figura, baby.
Writing Takes Time, Good Writing, That Is
There’s nothing wrong with setting deadlines or having goals, but sometimes you need to realize to put out a quality product (aka The Book), you need extra time. Unfortunately, some self publishers are in such a race to get something, anything out they forget that they are writers and that writing requires revision, copy editing, and more revision. And then there’s the other work of formatting and marketing. All of this takes time…much more time than five freakin’ weeks.
It Starts With YOU
The problem with people who claim to be writers but are simply cranking out poo to say they’ve been published is that it looks terrible for the rest of us who take the time to do things right (or write, haha).
People’s impression of self publishing will only change if writers start taking their job more seriously. Give your book every attention you would if submitting it to a publisher and the. Give it even more because you are the only gatekeeper for your book.
I know it’s hard to have the patience to release a quality book. I was desperate to get The Trials of Hercules out last fall. And I could have. I had a third draft that was so-so, I had a mock up of a cover design, I had already begun the marketing. But I am beyond glad I held off.
The final version of the book (I don’t know, maybe Draft 6, I’ve lost count) is exponentially better than the third–the plot layers increased, my descriptions and settings improved, the cover design is way better, and overall (if I do say so myself) the formatting and design (especially of the print book) is super fab.
It was really hard to take a step back from the book and look at the book with a critical eye and admit it just wasn’t ready. I’m a stickler for meeting goals and deadlines, but this was truly a time when examining those goals paid off because let me tell you, this book has oodles of bella figura.
The Experts Agree
Part of a post from author Charles Finch summed up the patience it takes to be a writer…
“To me, the single biggest mark of the amateur writer is a sense of hurry. Hurry to finish a manuscript, hurry to edit it, hurry to publish it. It’s definitely possible to write a book in a month, leave it unedited, and watch it go off into the world and be declared a masterpiece. It happens every fifty years or so.
“For the rest of us, the single greatest ally we have is time. There’s no page of prose in existence that its author can’t improve after it’s been in a drawer for a week. The same is true on the macro level – every time I finish a story or a book, I try to put it away and forget it for as long as I can. When I return, its problems are often so obvious and easy to fix that I’m amazed I ever struggled with them.
“Amateur writers are usually desperate to be published, as soon as possible. And I understand that feeling – you just want it to start, your career, your next book, whatever. But I wonder how many self-published novels might have had a chance at getting bought, and finding more readers, if their authors had a bit more patience with them?”
I only hope that other self publishers will take a more professional, a more Italian attitude toward their work. Your writing is a reflection of you. Your published work is a reflection on all self publishers. So if you want to impress people, if you want to make a statement about who you are as a writer, be sure your book has bella figura.
I’d love to hear how you practice patience when you want to rush your book’s release!