A lot of fuss is being made right now about a recent blog over at The Washington Post titled, “No, I don’t want to read your self-published book.” The article was prompted by an open letter to indie authors by a children’s book publisher, maintaining that they will not consider self-published books for a few reasons, foremost among them being the fact that there are just too darn many of them. Past that, a good number of them simply aren’t very good.
The first fact is undeniably true. There are a ridiculous number of books being published, these days, thanks to affordable self-publishing options, especially digital-only publishing. But it’s that second statement that has self-published writers peeved. Because, let’s face it, there are some damn good indie authors publishing damn good books. Still, the fact remains that most self-published books aren’t great, and many are absolutely horrible. I’m comfortable in saying the majority are poor, given the sample of indie books I’ve read (or attempted to read).
Many people hold the attitude that, if a book is any good, it will be published by a conventional (read “reputable”) publisher. They believe that writers self-publish because they aren’t good enough to get a “real” publisher.
Hold that thought for a moment.
Now, this post isn’t actually to talk about the quality of indie books. Rather, it’s to comment on one short excerpt from the Post article. Specifically, the boldfaced, quoted text below (my emphasis).
“At The Post, we’re getting about 150 books a day. A day. And these are books that had to find an agent. And then a publisher. And then were professionally edited. And now are being professionally marketed by people with money on the line. Many of these books, of course, are bad, but many — far more than we can review — are interesting, engaging, informative, moving, timely and/or newsworthy for various reasons.”
Here’s the thing. Many readers view conventional publishers as the judges, the ones who decide that a book is good enough to be read by the public. It’s their job to weed out the crap. But as this excerpt admits, this task is routinely unmet. “Many of these books, of course, are bad…”
My question is: Why?
How is it that bad books are accepted by agents? How do they then find a publisher? How do the editors not point out their inherent badness? How do they make it to the bookstore shelves and into the hands of readers when they “of course, are bad”?
Well, for the same reasons that fast-food restaurants exist. Because people will buy and eat the stuff.
But when I go to a fine dining establishment, I expect something special. I trust the chef and the proprietor to guarantee the quality of what I’m about to eat. I’m going to be pretty upset if I’m served something I can get at dozens of drive-through joints in the city. My trust in them will never be the same.
When traditional publishers put bad books on the market simply because they sell, it means I can no longer trust them, either. It shows that they are not inherently better than self-publishers. In fact, in some ways, it shows that they’re worse.