I should probably just stay away from self-published fiction altogether. Don’t download any, even when it’s free on Kindle Unlimited. Don’t read any. And above all, don’t comment on any.

It’s not that I think the Big Five publishers are publishing all of the good, worthwhile books that are being written — nor, for that matter, that all of the books they’re publishing are good! I’m sure some good books fall through the cracks, and I have bailed out on a number of mainstream-published novels after only a few dyspepsia-inducing pages. Somebody in the publishing house certainly liked these books enough to spend money having them printed up, but maybe the books were the best of a bad crop.

The problem is not bad books, per se — it’s that the realm of self-publishing is so very, very glutted with garbage. I have looked. I have downloaded and attempted to read novels, surely several dozen of them by now. I have yet to find even one that I could be grateful to have found. As a venerable TV commercial put it, “Where’s the beef?” Where is the good stuff?

Today, on a Facebook authors’ group, I stumbled into an awkward encounter with a self-published novelist. He posted a link to his novel, together with a brief, glowing quote from a 5-star review. (I think the brief quote was the whole review, actually.) The quote was entirely generic: It made no mention at all of any specifics of his book. So I went and looked at his book page on Amazon, and sure enough, ten of the twelve reviews (all of them 5-star) were entirely generic. The remaining two mentioned, in passing, one detail each from the novel.

I’m aware that some authors pay money for generic reviews. I suggested to this author that the reviews seemed to be generic, and that the potential customer was bound to suspect that they weren’t genuine. He thereupon took umbrage. He called me a jackass. (Actually, he called me a jack ass. Two words. His grasp of English spelling remains open to question.)

At no time did I state that I was certain they were paid-for generic reviews. I merely raised the possibility. Inasmuch as the purpose of this particular Facebook group is to discuss effective promotional strategies, I felt the topic was within the purview of the group, and should probably be broached. Generic reviews tell a tale that the careful author should not want told.

But no — this fellow insisted that all of the reviews were genuine, and that I was being very unprofessional and a jackass (or jack ass) for suggesting otherwise. In a public forum, he added. I pointed out to him that that’s the nature of a public forum: Some of the comments are valid and some are questionable. I suggested that if he couldn’t take the heat, he might want to stay out of the kitchen.

What I meant by this is that any author who expects to receive nothing but enthusiastic approval in public forums is living in a fool’s paradise. I didn’t put it to him that way, however.

Another commenter in the group suggested that one reason why short, non-specific reviews show up on Amazon is that some of them are surely typed (or entered, or poked at) on tablet devices. Putting details in a review, when the user interface is so constricted, is likely to seem more trouble than it’s worth. So quite possibly I was wrong. Quite possibly all of the reviews were genuine. I’m also a professional reviewer; my standards for reviews can indeed become a source of trouble.

Another author, who will likewise remain nameless, proved some months ago to be just as thin-skinned. That other author has the distinction of having created one of the worst self-published novels I have ever come across. Whether today’s jack ass caller is a fine writer or utterly inadequate, I can’t judge. I have no intention of reading his book to find out. But I do think it’s worth suggesting that from time to time the most thin-skinned among the self-publishing community may be ultra-sensitive owing to their perception, however dim and fleeting, that their published work is not all that they might wish it to be.

Conversely, they may be utterly convinced of the shining worth of their fiction, convinced as well that the world is conspiring against them, and in a pugnacious frame of mind because that’s how they deal with imaginary conspiracies. I’m not in a position to do in-depth psychoanalysis on people I’ve never met. I can only guess.

The take-away here is not complicated. First, I need to give up on self-published fiction. It is gruesomely bad, apparently without exception, and my encounters with it disturb my serenity to no good purpose. Second, if you’re a writer who expects to encounter nothing but praise and approval in public forums, you need to get over yourself.

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2 thoughts on “Welcome to the Meat Grinder

  1. That’s today’s world and today’s “intelectual” elite: a bunch of talentless wussies who can take nothing but critical appraise. Be it in the realm of self-publishing trash books or twitter-like IF or mobile gaming.

    The internet is like the public press for all. It all fools a sudden mouth and how do they scream their past suppressed pet peeves to the presses.

    What self-publishing really lacks is the same critical machinery that gives traditional publishing businesses their visibility in shelves. Critical acclaim by tons of clones’ meaningless stars doesn’t have the same ring as the relentless typing from good ol’ respectable critics.

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