By Riley Banks
At the risk of being wildly unpopular, I am going to go out on a limb and say the mechanisms surrounding self-publishing are making Indie authors soft.
I’m not being antagonistic, particularly as I’m one of those ‘soft’ Indie authors in question.
But think about it for a second.
Before self-publishing became easily accessible to the masses, there were only two ways to get your manuscript published.
The first was to jump through a plethora of ever-increasing hoops that started with writing the best damned manuscript you could, then condensing it down to a 2 or 3 page synopsis, then querying agents and/or publishers.
Then you had to wait for months to get a response, watching your letter box and hoping it wasn’t another ‘sorry but your book just isn’t quite what we’re looking for’ rejection slip.If you were one of the lucky few, you eventually got picked up by an agent, or publishing house and paid a modest sum to be a legitimate author but had to wait up to two years to see your manuscript as a book on a bookstore shelf.Once your book was released to the public, you had to sit back and watch as it was subjected to rigorous critiquing by a bunch of jaded critics paid to tear your baby apart. Sure, there is definitely some back-scratching that goes on in the trade publishing world, but for the most part, the critics could (and did) say whatever they wanted about your work.
If you were lucky, you won a couple of awards and got some positive feedback. Less than 1% of authors became bestsellers and made a substantial living off their books.
The other way to be published was to pay out your hard earned money for a vanity press to print off your manuscript. That would then sit around in your garage or basement in boxes while you tried to flog it off to your neighbours, family, friends, work mates and every single person who had the misfortune of stumbling into your path.
Luck, for the vanity publisher, was breaking even and making back the initial outlay. Occasionally self-help or non-fiction books sold well enough through vanity publishing to make the author a modicum of money but generally it supplemented income made through other avenues.That all changed with the explosion of ebooks and Print-On-Demand publishing.Now literally anyone can – and does – publish books.
I’d be a fool to decry the self-publishing boom. It has made my life easier and got my book into the public arena in a fraction of the time it would have taken in the past – which is a godsend for someone with very little spare time to send multiple submissions out to publishers and agents. Self-publishing meant, that at least for the moment, I could bypass those lengthy, time-consuming steps.
Mind you, as an experienced self-publisher, I know that it’s all a bit of a misnomer, and what you trade in time up front, you pay in time marketing and promoting on the back end (but that’s a whole other blog post). One of those dreaded jobs the self-published author has to do is try to drum up reviews, which in turn drive sales.
Ah, book reviews! Being involved both as a writer and a book blogger, I now know how much of a mixed bag they really are. They are both a blessing and a curse for all involved.
I’ve been reviewing books for 12 months now, which has given me somewhat of an insight into the new role book bloggers play in the publishing industry.
I’m sure there will be those that disagree (and some heartily) but I truly believe book bloggers have become the new slush pile.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS:
Don’t believe me? Well, in the good old days, agents and publishers waded through a pile of manuscripts to find the ones good enough to be published.
While I’m sure they overlooked some gems in their time. We’ve all heard the stories of how many times JK Rowling was rejected before a publishing company took a chance on her. But what nobody really talks about are the hundreds, possibly even hundreds of thousands of really bad books the world was spared because of that slush pile.
We didn’t have to suffer through poorly crafted, and even poorer edited manuscripts. By the time we got the book in our hands, it was generally well polished.
When it was reviewed, whether in the New York Times, or the local newspaper, the only thing being critiqued was the power of the story, and whether the reviewer liked it or not.
Fast forward to the new publishing frontier, where any cowboy with a computer can – and does – publish a book.
As a book blogger, I have been asked to review books, and find positive things to say about books that are barely even publishable, and frankly, little better than rough first drafts.
As a reader, I’ve bought books that sounded great in the blurb but were so full of spelling and grammatical errors, inconsistent POVs, poor plots, and weak characters it became a struggle just to get to the end.
I am consistently appalled to find poor quality drafts and unfinished/unedited works being passed off as finished books.
Too many Indie authors are skipping the important steps of editing and polishing their manuscript, hurrying inferior works onto virtual shelves in time to jump on any old bandwagon rolling by.
Take the flood of 50 Shades of Grey knock-offs doing the rounds on the Internet. Two years ago BDSM books languished around the fringes of the publishing industry – generally on those shelves at the back of the adult book store where you had to wear a disguise to go in and purchase.
But when 50SOG took off, so did the copy cats.
I can’t even count the amount of BDSM erotica books on the market right now. A couple are remarkably well-written and deserve to be read. The vast majority are utter rubbish and would be better off lining the bottom of my cat’s litter tray.
Unfortunately, this is a growing trend not just in the erotica genre, but in many others as well.
‘Authors’, and I use that term loosely, think that if they liberally dust their books with explicit sex scenes people will be so turned on that they overlook poor plot structure, grammatical and spelling errors or even completely unlikable characters.
They think if they copy the plot structure from their favourite popular novels the audience will lap it up.
Unfortunately, it is too often true. People do buy these books but what is the overall cost to the industry?
ALL TARRED WITH THE SAME BRUSH
While Indie authors definitely have their fans, and no one can deny it has forever changed the publishing landscape, poor quality hurts us all.
It perpetuates the myth (that is all too often truth) that self-published books are inferior to trade published.
Unfortunately, book bloggers are somewhat responsible for this belief.
For the most part, book bloggers are just as inexperienced as the authors they are reading.
That is both good and bad.
Good because they are passionate about reading, and unjaded by the cynicism that too all too often plagues long-term book reviewers.
Good because they are often willing to read Indie authors where the big boys aren’t.
Good because they make it so much easier for Indie authors to get reviews and publicity, which in turn increases sales and profits.
However, there is definitely a flip side to that coin.
The inexperience of book bloggers means they often lack the confidence to be critical when a book calls for it.
I’ve been in forums where book bloggers openly admit they will not give less than 4 stars on their site because they don’t want to be known for being negative.
I’ve also heard book bloggers admit to being afraid to give negative reviews because they are scared of the backlash from authors, who have gone on hate campaigns to bad mouth bloggers and mark down all their reviews.
So they resort to giving overly positive reviews for books that are inferior.
I’ve seen a number of book blogger sites that say if they don’t like the book, they won’t publish a review. Can you imagine The New York Times refusing to publish a review because the reader didn’t like the book? Can you imagine if they only published positive, overly nice reviews and gave everyone 4 or 5 stars, even if they weren’t deserved?
Undeserved five star reviews do nothing but ensure the market gets flooded with even more inferior writing.
It’s possible to be critical without being harsh; to give feedback rather than useless, non-helpful fluff that praises what does not deserve to be praised.
I’m not saying bloggers should be routinely ripping books to shreds.
On the other hand, book bloggers should not be giving leniency just because a book is Indie-published.
In fact, quite the opposite is true – you should be holding it to a higher standard.
You owe it to the people who read your reviews to give them honest opinions.
Honesty includes pointing out where there were faults. Tell your readers how a book compares to others in its genre.
Think about it.
Trade published authors learn early on to develop thick skin. They learn to overcome rejections and criticisms, to take the knock backs and negative reviews and learn from them. Or, like EL James and Stephanie Meyer, they make enough money not to care what people say about their work, knowing their books won’t appeal to all but are loved by those they do appeal to.
Without exception, all trade published authors have had their fair share of good and bad reviews.
On average, 37% of Stephen King’s books get 5 star ratings, with the rest of the percentage spread out between 1 and 4 stars. 39% of reviews for Suzanne Collins’ The Mocking were 5 star.
Yet I’ve seen Indie books where the percentage of 5 star reviews are much higher, sometimes as much as 85%.
Some of those books I’ve read and found they were so badly written, I could not finish them.
One such Indie book I read had 81% 4 and 5 star reviews, yet I couldn’t even finish it. The book was completely littered with bad grammar and spelling, poor plot, and incredibly weak characters.
When I read between the lines of the reviews, it seemed most people had the same issues as me. They, too, spoke about the unlikable characters, and pointed out the mistakes. Very few people actually sounded as if they liked the book.
Yet they still gave it 5 stars!
To me, a 5 star book is something I would go back and read again and again. If I’ve given a book 5 stars, I loved it and immediately ran off to tell someone about it as soon as I finished reading.
It didn’t have to be the most perfect piece of literature. But I had to love it completely, and feel so passionate about it, that a part of the story will stay with me forever.
So why do so many book bloggers hand out 5 star ratings like its welfare?
Undeserved 5 star reviews only dilute the power of a real 5 star rating.
But even worse than that, it makes Indie authors soft.
They come to believe their book deserves 5 stars from everyone. They even get upset when someone has the audacity to tell them the truth. I’ve had authors complain about being given 3 stars, like I have somehow done them a disservice.
I even had one author demand I take down a 3 star review because she only accepted 4 or 5 stars! (No word of a lie – it really happened)
Right, now stepping down off my soap box and getting ready for those that disagree with me. Feel free to post your thoughts.
If you want to know how to write better book reviews, check out 6 things you need to know about book reviews.