Sunday, January 15, 2012

Who Will Be The Gatekeepers of Self Publishing?

Recently, I have found myself overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of self-published and 'indie' authors in my network clamoring for me to read and review their books. I have had ten requests already this year. Out of the ten, only one book held my interest for more than a couple of paragraphs, and that one lost me before the end of the first chapter.

The culprit? Poor writing. Typos alone could be ignored; unfortunately, what I am seeing is basic mistakes - pronoun confusion, tense switching, extreme use of passive voice, incomplete or confusing description, etc. Many, if not most of these authors are active members of the on-line writing community and I encounter them on Facebook, on Twitter, at Goodreads, on Linked In and here. They all seem like such nice people. They all seem so committed to writing.

Of course, I am not the only one encountering this, and there is a lively discussion happening across the community on how we as writers should approach the problem. Chuck Wendig has a lovely (if profanity filled) blog post on it here.

One thing that Chuck brought up is the fact that so many self-published authors gush over the writing of other 'indies' regardless of the true quality of the writing. There seems to be such a strong feeling of camaraderie and support in the 'indie' community, which is good for authors, but does not truly serve the readers.

I have contributed to this atmosphere by politely saying nothing when given a free book that I subsequently find unreadable. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, so I just say nothing. I am beginning to think that is wrong. As I said in my comment on Chuck's blog post - I need to develop a polite but firm way of calling bad writing, bad. I am beginning to suspect that no response lets authors off the hook. Perhaps no one has told them that their writing is not up to snuff.

After all, my own mother thinks that all the drivel I write is magic. My husband will help me with trouble spots, but in the end knows me so well that his mind fills in blanks left in the story. My writing buddies that haven't yet finished a novel are in awe that I have. My writing buddies that are published have little time to spare.

In the end run, the critical eye is one of the main functions of the so-called 'gatekeepers' of publishing. These are people who don't know you and don't care how long it took you to write the book. They are judging the writing independent of any knowledge of you.

One of the things I think writers who choose to 'indie' or self publish need to do is create their own 'gatekeepers', a group of Beta Readers that can serve as honest reflections of the writing. This means finding people who do not know you, who do not know how long you have labored and who do not care if you succeed, but only whether the writing succeeds.

In the meantime, maybe the rest of us in the writing community need take the gloves off and start being direct and honest with those that have asked our opinion. Here is my version of a 'Thanks but. . . ' reply note:

Dear Aspiring Author:

I greatly appreciate that writing a book is a massive undertaking, and for accepting that challenge, I salute you. However, I do not think this manuscript is the best it can be.

Although I liked: (insert positive things here),

I was unable to read past (the first page) due to: (list of problems here).

I sincerely hope you will not give up on your dream of being an author, but reapply yourself to the craft, working and shaping your prose until you have words worthy of your aspirations.

Remember: “What is written without effort is in generally read without pleasure.” Samuel Johnson

Sincerely, Me

I would love to know what others in this community think.