Are Self-Published Books Crap?

I really do wish this self-publishing ebook market would implode. It’s loaded to the gills with idiots, fools, and just by-Jove lousy writing. The purveyors of this monstrosity are, quite frankly, a bunch of jerks. I hope they all get ass-cancer and die horrible, painful deaths.

Thus spake writer James Robert Smith on his blog a while back. There are quite a few folks out there who share his view, and Smith often posts this sort of thoughtful musing about self published books and the presumably malignant souls who write them. Because what could be more malignant than putting out a book that inspires some good man to wish you get ass cancer and die an agonizing death?

To be fair, there is a great deal of utter crap being self-published, and unless you act as a rational consumer you can drown in it. But if you exercise roughly the same amount of care it takes in a bookstore to find something worth reading among the stacks of largely mediocre books, you can largely avoid buying shitty books.

Look at the cover; if it looks crappy, the author didn’t bother with doing better, and odds are the same holds for the writing. Read the reviews; yes, there are some slimy writers out there gaming the review system, but overall it’s still useful. Finally, before committing to buy, make sure you download the free reading sample offered by online vendors; if the writer can’t write, you’re gonna know that very quickly. Then, please, whatever your opinion of the book, review it on the site, even if you only write a few lines. A good review will help a writer who entertained you; a bad review will help warn others away.

It’s a time of great change in publishing, and self-publishing is the wild west. But it’s actually great for writers, and for readers, as I’ve written about on this blog (check the “Publishing” category in the sidebar), most notably here.

Here’s a thought experiment for you:

There are six major publishers. You write a book. You manage to find an agent (which, incidentally, may well have taken you longer than actually writing the book). The agent submits to those six publishers.

Five turn the book down. The sixth buys it. Does that mean that your book is awesome, because it was accepted by one of the big publishers? Or does it mean that your book is mostly crap because it was turned down by 5/6 of the big publishers?

If it’s awesome, or for the sake of argument, at least very good, of high enough quality to be published by a NY house, why did the other editors pass? Could it be that they have limited resources, different, highly subjective opinions, different needs for their lines, and that they may well turn down many perfectly good books simply for those reasons? Could it also be that the one editor who decided to buy it did so not just because of its quality but because he thought it fit a specific place in their line, and the editor at the desk next to his may well have passed on the book because he has different tastes?

What if there were only five publishers, and they were the five who turned you down? Same book, but you fail. You didn’t find that one dude. Now you can self publish, if you like, you can get your book out there, and you have complete control of the process and the quality of the book you produce (I’m assuming that you would make sure to have it properly edited and such, because we’re talking professionally here). If you do that, and we’re talking the same exact book only less traditional good fortune, are you, to use James’s rhetoric, thereby an asshole?

How about this? You write a novel and a senior editor at a major house loves it. She wants to publish it. She takes it to the editorial board, a panel of five editors who must all read it and give it a “yes” vote in order for her to buy it. Your book was good enough that a senior editor wanted to buy it. So do all the others on the board, except one. So the vote isn’t unanimous, and the book doesn’t get bought.

That’s what happened with my first novel. It was good enough for four out of five editors at a major house, and its champion was a senior editor. But it didn’t sell. If I self publish it, is it thereby automatically crap?

Self-publishing allows bad writers to publish their effluent, yes. But most importantly, it allows good writers to publish books that they may not have been able to publish, or that fell out of print, through the old system, with complete creative control, and the opportunity to actually make a good deal more money than they probably would have through traditional publishing.

That is good for writers. And an ecosystem that presents more creative control and opportunities to writers can only be a good thing in my eyes.

2 comments on “Are Self-Published Books Crap?

  1. Proseia says:

    I can dig it. My dad had a few agonizingly near misses with his book recently and decided to self-publish as a result: his main criticism was that although the book is tightly written, a good concept, and punchy as hell, it’s not part of a major genre. It’s a niche book: Texas detective noir. He got tired of the run around, so he’s self-publishing. No shame in that. Saying that someone is a crappy writer because they got passed over by a publisher is like saying that everyone not running for Miss America is a troglodyte that shouldn’t show their face in the light of day. Not everyone that deserves to gets lucky, and that should come as no surprise.

    Thanks for the post. :)

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