Do I have the right to say “that book should never have been published”?
According to a participant in a discussion on self-publishing I’ve been involved in, I do not. After all, if I didn’t like the book, others might have.
But I don’t mean the divisive books of the world – the books I didn’t like, but others did, the Twilights and Eragons of the literary landscape. Nor do I mean the self-published books that were submitted to traditional publishers and rejected because they were “not right for us at this time” or “not marketable in the current market”, which authors decided they would go it alone with.
I do not mean such a judgement to be a subjective dismissal of books disliked or which wouldn’t meet the requirements of the traditional publishing houses. I mean books which don’t meet certain objective quality standards.
Self-publishing gets a lot of rap because of the sheer quantity of books which do not meet certain standards of quality. I have read samples to books which demonstrate clearly that the author lacks some fundamental understanding of the English language, books which haven’t even been spell-checked, much less proofread or copyedited. I’ve seen opening chapters where present, past and pluperfect tense have been used with no grasp of when to use them, or where the narrative switches seemingly at will from third to first person as if the author changed their mind repeatedly which they wanted to use and forgot to go back and make it all the same.
Such books do not meet a minimum standard of quality.
Such books should not have been published.
Of course, I have the right to say that. I have the right to say it about specific individual books, should I desire. But morally, should I say it? Is it just raining on someone’s parade to say “your book shouldn’t have been published?” Is it cruel? Is it bullying? Should I be content to merely think it, and ignore the book?
On the other hand – as a reviewer – do I have a moral obligation to readers to warn them off books which lack such fundamental requirements, or must I leave it to the reader’s common sense that they will likewise read the sample and make their own judgement? Or is it better merely to lift up those books worthy of reading and ignore the rest?
The problem is that unready books, books lacking that fundamental grasp of English and the time taken to proofread – they are the problem in self-publishing. The dregs at the bottom of the barrel. They form the foundation that validates criticism of the industry, they are the reason some readers won’t read self-published works. Eliminate those, and the average rises.
I don’t know the answer. I don’t want to be a downer on anyone else – and where my opinion is that a work does not meet minimum standards, if I voice such thoughts it will be in private or directly to the author, never publicly. And certainly the approach of shining a spotlight on what’s good instead of banishing the bad to the basement is more positive and nice.
So perhaps the best approach is treat the bad in a general sense by advising authors not to publish first drafts, not to publish without getting another set of eyes on the manuscript, not to publish without proofreading the book – and hoping that the authors who might be inclined to do such things will see and pay attention – while being more specific with the positive treatment, by recommending good books and shouting out about them.