Monday, September 24, 2012

Separating the good from the bad

With the new world of publishing, many pros of the traditional system are stuck in the former way of doing things, and if they've benefitted under the traditional system, they see no reason to change.
Sure, it's great if you have a publishing house that wants to push for you, but that's a tiny portion of the active writers out there. That leaves the 99% of writers who need something better, like small independent publishing or self-publishing.

Sue Grafton (A is for Alibi, etc) is a very popular writer of the traditional system, and she recently caused a firestorm with comments she made in an interview, describing self-publishers as "lazy."
Many people jumped on this remark to rip her, and the rhetoric has been rather heated.
For the record, I've met her, and she's very nice.
I don't believe she wants to harm other writers, but she does have an outdated and unrealistic view of modern publishing-- no surprise-- since she's been doing well under the old system for over 25 years.
She apparently based her remark on a couple of self-published ebooks she'd seen, which she thought were not of professional quality.

Granted, there are numerous inferior examples of self-published ebooks, but one should not make a sweeping judgement based on a couple of bad examples-- we can find similar bad examples of shoddy editing and printing in mainstream published books as well.

In the past, traditional publishing houses had in-house editors, and books did go through a better process. But now, editing has been relegated to junior people, or outsourced entirely.
So independent and self-publishers can outsource their editng services, same as the big trad houses do. But the perception lingers that independent and self-published books don't get the same level of editing.

With the modern advent of quick and easy "push-button publishing," the field is wide-open for everyone, including a lot of people who aren't going to take the time to learn the craft of writing,
or even decent cover art and formattingand here's where the problem lies--
how do we, as readers, separate the good from the bad?

A big publishing house product is no guarantee of quality, and independent and self-publishers can span the range of bad to extremely good.

Many bookselling sites have reviews, which are one way of screening, if a reader is careful to read into the review itself.
There have been a few incidents of writers posting multiple overly-complimentary reviews of their own work. Rather sleazy.
There have also been cases where some people trashed other works, to lower the desirability of what they see as competitors. Also sleazy.

You have to remember, independent and self-publishers don't have the reach of a professional review journal such as Publisher's Weekly or Kirkus, which in many cases are heavily influenced (and in some cases outright paid for) by the publishing house.
So a few independents are trying to stack the deck by adding a bunch of one-sided reviews for a particular book.

One way to check a review is to look at the profile of the reviewer, and see what else they've done.
So another good screen on what a book is like is to see non-selling review sites themselves: places like Goodreads, Library Thing, or Shelfari, sites where readers tell what they thought of a work. These are good places for book fans to say what they like or dislike about the books they read.
Some genres have particular websites that review books in that field. Usually you can find good recommendations.

The best way to separate the bad from the good, however, is to read a sample of the book itself- easy enough to do on Amazon, and with ebooks, the Smashwords site. You'll quickly see what the quality of the writing is like, and whether or not you wish to purchase said book.

Now there are some people who don't care-- they only want a good story-- but I find it rather offensive if a book is poorly written or worse, or if it's apparent the author hasn't learned basic grammar and spelling. I've spent years learning to do writing well, and someone who puts out junk is a blight on those who take care to put out professional work.

So screen those new purchases before you buy, and help out other readers by posting your own reviews-- tell people what you think and why-- good or bad.

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