Still writing – but what?

I’ve been bad at updating here lately, haven’t I? I’ve been ploughing away at my own writing, but at the same time wrestling with the question of publishing and reviews and marketing.

I’ve contemplated adding book reviews to this site, because everyone’s chasing book reviews. But I do so much work giving feedback to writers directly that I find it difficult these days to give public feedback. And somehow, it feels different reviewing a self-published book than a trad published one.

But should it?

Should we treat with kid gloves those authors who choose to rush their work out without any kind of quality control? Should they be treated any differently from those who have been published traditionally? Should we be criticising any creative work at all? After all, just because a writer is traditionally published doesn’t mean they don’t care about negative reviews.

Decades ago, a writer would pour their life into a novel, and then devote more of their life to sending it out, revising it, sending it out, revising it, until eventually they either gave up or found someone willing to invest in it. The investor would then pour more resources into it, and produce a polished piece of work.

Now it’s far too easy to type “The End”, upload the file and hit publish. There’s no incentive to keep reworking a piece until you find someone to invest in it – just publish yourself, cutting corners to avoid expense, and then move on to the next thing.

The end result is that there is a lot of utter rubbish out there. Some is of very poor quality and should never have seen the light of day. Some is of better quality but has been let down and not polished as it should be.

And then there is the very occasional gem.

I’ve had a real slump in reading recently. I’ve struggled to find anything that holds my attention long enough to get to the end. I got round it by reading print books rather than kindle books. Partly this is because the physical book is a better experience, and partly because if I buy a book at the supermarket, I can be reasonably sure of its quality.

So I guess that any book review site that helps to wade through the poor stuff and pick out the good has got to be useful, right?

But should it only publish reviews of the good stuff? Or should it report on any poor stuff that it finds? And is that fair on the author, who might be deliberately cutting corners and taking advantage of readers, but might be a genuine author who has done their best but fallen for one of these “editors” who claim they can edit an entire book for peanuts, and then just put it through the spell check?

Or do we take the attitude that any author who isn’t aware that they need to engage an editor, cover designer etc and ensure they put out high quality work deserves to be told that publicly?

And so the end result is: I don’t know. Would you be interested in another book review site? Would you be interested in reading reviews of poor books? Do you think it’s fair on the author? Do you think only the good ones should receive publicity?

And how do you cope with the flood of available books out there?

 

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13 Comments

  1. I don’t know either. What I do know, is I’m not reading anywhere near as much as I used to. Mainly because I was a cheapskate and downloaded a lot of free books for my kindle and a lot of them are extremely poorly edited or have story lines which do not hold my attention. In some ways, I feel like I’m ripping those authors off by only “buying” their free books. But if they were good, I’d probably go on to buy more. I find it hard to justify paying the same amount for a kindle book as a printed book too. It would be nice to find a balance between being fair to the author who has invested time and effort in writing it (and deserves to earn a living) but their costs to produce the ebooks would be considerably less, I think. There are many things to consider. People don’t seem to hold back with negative reviews on amazon, so if the negative reviews included in a book review website were constructive rather than nasty, the authors might actually appreciate it. As you’ve suggested, some of them might not even know that editors exist.

    Reply
    • Hiya, thanks for your comment. I know exactly what you mean about the number of free books that are poor quality. And yes, publishing on kindle does cut the costs a little, because there’s no print formatting to pay for, and the cost of production of the book is less with no paper etc, but the main cost of publishing is the quality control, i.e. the editing and proofreading, and that’s essential whatever the format.
      I just wonder that as an editor myself, would negative reviews seem too self-serving?

      Reply
  2. Lots of food for thought, there! I’m generally not interested in books reviews unless the review was written by someone I know or the review is for a novel I’ve yet to read but am interested in. FWIW, I’m very lucky to be engaged to a former editor/proofreader who takes an active part in my work, but sometimes it’s difficult to persuade him to spare some time from his own projects for my work!

    Reply
    • Thanks for that. Yes, it’s not always necessary to pay an editor in order to get a good quality edit! What about reviews that indicate strengths and weaknesses, and aim to help writers improve? (either the writer of that specific book or any who might be falling into similar traps?)

      Reply
      • I’d find it really helpful with regard to my own work but it’s hard to say what other writers would think.

  3. I think it’s fairly easy to avoid poor books by reading a few reviews, and by buying books that have sold a fair amount of copies. There are so many great books out there that I want to read, that I no longer risk buying self published books. (Sorry self published authors!) It’s rather sad, but I’d tried so many that aren’t quite good enough, and it’s easier just to avoid them. I trust books that have a publisher as they generally have more quality control.

    If there was a review site for ‘books that need work’ I don’t think its audience would be readers, but the audience might be writers who need tips on avoiding common mistakes. You’d do a great job with a site like that.

    Reply
    • Thanks. I know what you mean about self published books, but there are gems out there, and there are authors who do go through proper quality control.
      I could write articles on specific books and what their weaknesses are and how to improve them, but I wonder how fair that is on the writer. But then, if they’ve put their book out there, then isn’t it fair game for constructive criticism?
      Still not come to a decision, but might try at least a review of the book I’m currently reading, which is a great story let down massively by technical issues.

      Reply
  4. As a self-published author myself, I’d be the first to agree that too many of them are badly written and badly presented. There are occasional gems, but they’re so hard to find.

    On reviews, I’ve been reviewing everything I read for several years now. I review as a reader, explaining what I personally liked and disliked about the book, and if I really didn’t like it, I’ll point out what kind of reader might enjoy it more. I post my reviews on my blog for the benefit of the 3 people who read it and on Goodreads for everyone else. I’ll post to Amazon if the author asks me to, but I don’t usually.

    As an editor, you’re in a unique position to review both as a reader and also as an editor. So you could post your reader’s view and then add a paragraph about the editing problems you found in the book. That would give your reviews added value. There’s one reviewer of Regency romances who always adds a line to her reviews: “If I had been editing this book, I would have corrected 27 errors”. Sadly (for me) she doesn’t say what the errors were. I’m always interested in learning how to make my books better.

    Reply
    • Thanks for that. How would you feel if you published a book and a review or blog post criticised the writing/editing? Not likely to happen with yours, I know! But this book I’m currently reading must have been self published without quality control, because it’s just full of run-on sentences and grammatical errors, and it’s just such a massive shame for all concerned – the author, who’s letting himself down, other self-published authors, whose reputation is being stained, and the reader who has to either plough through errors or give up reading.
      I don’t want to become one of those editors notorious for publishing bad reviews with an invitation to contact them for the full editor’s report – but sometimes it’s hard to review a book without saying “I could have made this much better”!
      On the other hand, I think a review/article that looks at specific issues and how they let the book down might be interesting, but risks shaming the author in the process. Is that fair?

      Reply
      • Have you ever seen the Immerse or Die blog? It’s at http://creativityhacker.ca/immerse-or-die/. He likes to read while working out on his treadmill, which takes him 40 minutes and the challenge is to find a book that keeps him immersed in the story for that long (not many do!). Authors submit their books and then the results are posted on the blog. All sorts of things trip him up – typos, punctuation, too many capital letters (a fantasy problem!), confusing sentences, info-dumps and so on. Three problems and he gives up on the book. I’ve actually learned a lot from it – things like not having successive sentences or paragraphs starting with the same word. Very useful.

        But his victims submit their books voluntarily. It’s different with a standard review. I always mention the editing and writing in a review if I found it intrusive enough to bother me. I’ll let a few typos go, but if it’s obviously never been properly proofread, I’ll mention it. I think other potential readers need to know.

        If you don’t want to go public with a specific book’s mistakes, you could do a post from time to time on common editing errors that you’ve encountered. With a few examples, it would be very useful. Or you could ask the author if he’d be willing to have the benefit of your expert advice, but publicly on the blog.

        It’s difficult, though. Now that I’m published myself, I’m far more aware of the effect of critical reviews, and although my reviews are always honest, I’m much more careful about what I read, so I can avoid too much negativity.

      • Wow, not seen that before. Fascinating, although he seems very harsh in places! Something like that would definitely be interesting to do, although I’m not sure I’d have people thrusting stuff at me to read that way – and I feel uncomfortable publicly critiquing or reviewing the work of someone I know anyway.
        I do sometimes put articles on common mistakes on my business blog, or on my business facebook page. Don’t think I’ve done it on this blog, though.

  5. I have a rule that unless it is a big author that I have paid serious money for the book (ie bought the hardback) I tend to avoid giving negative reviews, I have the line that if I cannot give it three stars and find as many positives as negatives I don’t do a review, any criticism I give I try to be constructive and I always point out when something I don’t like is a personal issue.

    Reply
    • Yeah, I tend to find it hard to leave negative reviews. But some books are just so poorly presented that I’m starting to get frustrated. Maybe there needs to be a “Send private feedback” option as well as the public review.

      Reply

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