So I’ve been involved in several discussions over on Goodreads on this topic. We all know that self-publishing has become easier than ever over the past few years, thanks both to technology innovations as well as huge mega-distributors such as Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. It used to be that to self-publish, you had to fork over a lot of money for a print run, then sell them out of your garage. Now anyone can publish with the click of a button.
This is both fantastic and terrible at the same time.
Fantastic, because it does away with gatekeepers only looking for revenue from the most widely popular books they can sell. So this opens up HUGE possibilities for the kinds of books that never would have made it to a reading public. Want a steampunk romance? A friend of mine wrote one. How about a western murder mystery? Saw that the other day. About anything you can conceive of now has a means to reach an audience.
Unfortunately . . . it also means that anybody with a computer can publish something and call it a book. This includes love poetry by a thirteen-year old, memoires of every person and their grandfather, plagiarized junk from Wikipedia repackaged as non-fiction, and that 2000 page Great American Novel that Uncle Bob has been working on for his entire life. A lot of it is bad. REALLY bad. Not a correct punctuation mark or grammar rule to be found.
On just about every forum discussing books and literature, you’ll find the discussions. There needs to be some kind of quality control, they’ll say. Bring back some kind of basic gatekeeper! I’ve read pleas on the Kindle Direct Publishing forums that Amazon should hire people to make sure that at least books have been proofread for basic spelling and grammar issues. (KDP installed a spellcheck on their publishing program instead). Or that there needs to be some kind of an organization devoted specifically to self/indie publishers to read through and give a seal of approval, not only that the book is moderately well-edited, but that it has a decent story structure.
Ah, but now we find a slippery slope.
Who determines if a story structure is good or not? I’m sorry, but I’ve seen plenty of traditionally published books with horrible story structures. Um, Twilight? 50 Shades of Gray? Tolkien sure takes a long time getting started on the ‘good stuff’ in his books. Victor Hugo likes to go off on HUGE tangents. Stephen King uses Deux Ex Machina.
The list goes on and on. And yet all the above are widely liked by the public. So when it comes to quality control beyond the basics of spelling and grammar, things can get dicey. This is where the review benefits the hopeful reader, into at least looking at a sample of the writing to see if they like the style and the plot.
Well then, let’s just stick with spelling and grammar. For those self-published writers who try to have their books edited and try to fix all the spelling and grammar issues and are angry about the other writers out there who skip these steps, what’s a person to do? Amazon’s NOT going to cut into their profit margin and hire 1st readers to look for these kinds of things. At some point maybe one of the other distributors may take this step, but again, it creates costs. Readers have to be paid, which is less money for the distributor. So I don’t see them implementing this unless NOT doing so seriously impacts their bottom line.
What about organizations to review and rate books? Or give a “stamp of approval?” This is what I’m starting to see crop up here and there, but with only limited success. Awesomeindies? After about six months of existence, it appears that they’ve become bogged down by requests for review. So now you have to pay for the privilege of even being looked at. And to what benefit? Are their stamped, approved books doing any better in sales?
I looked at one of the first books that happened to pop up on their site: Becoming Lola, by Harriet Steel. Currently 9 reviews on Amazon, current rank at 309,096. Currently 4.3 out of 5 stars, so that’s good. But that sales rank? Meh. It’s doing about as well as my non-stamped, non-vetted book, which currently has 12 reviews and a 4.7 rating. Biography vs. fantasy genre? Okay. How about Waterspell by Deborah J. Lightfoot? Prominently displayed at the top of Awesome Indie’s page for fantasy. But on Amazon? Twenty-three reviews (4.5 rating), so that’s decent. But sigh. The ranking is 364,600. So even with its nice shiny seal, it doesn’t seem to be really benefiting the book. And this one is a really good one to compare mine against because they were both published the same day: Jan 2, 2013.
So the quest continues. Readers seem to want some kind of service to help them weed out the good from the bad and ugly in indie books, but the current organizations don’t have much clout or publicity. Will this change? I’m thinking that it might. Goodreads has certainly grown in popularity with its reviews and lists and forums, but even there you can trick readers by having a bunch of fake reviews, good or bad. Personally, I’ve learned to ALWAYS download a sample before buying a book, even if it’s traditionally published.
Dean Wesley Smith and Joe Konrath have both said if it looks professional (professional cover, good editing, publishing company name), then readers won’t know if a book is indie published or not. Many readers don’t even look at the publisher name. So until other means exist to help erase the stigma, I think that’s the best solution.
We’ll see what tomorrow brings.