As I grow as a writer, I grow as a reader. (What comes first, the chicken or the egg?)
However, I also recognize a third change, or variable: my patience. It grows thin for terrible writing. Teenage (North American) school girls would describe the phenomena as, “I can’t even!”
Seriously. I just can’t. When I see blatant structural issues in a published piece of writing, particularly in the first few pages, my brain deems it garbage, and I stop reading. ‘Garbage’ because it was published with major flaws. If it was a piece of writing in progress, that’s a different story (literally and figuratively? Ha).
Unfortunately, I have mostly (only?) experienced blatant flaws—specifically within the first few pages—in self-published books (-_-”). Before I go on, this is not an attack on self-published authors, because there are GREAT self-published works. Micheal J. Sullivan, one of my all time favorite authors, self-published his Riyira trilogy. But he is an example all self-published authors should strive to emulate. Sullivan would use at least two different freelance (copy) editors, in addition to himself and his wife (he and his wife would do the structural editing). That’s four sets of eyes, to begin with. But, Micheal would take it two steps further by having alpha- AND beta-readers. So by the time Micheal deemed his work ready to be (self) published, it would have gone through various stages of quality control.
All self-publishing authors should do the same—from my experience, a large number of authors publish their first drafts; or they publish without feedback from alpha/beta readers. Everytime someone self-publishes without quality controls, they contribute to a major problem by flooding the market with absolute crap. And believe me, if you work is not sufficiently edited, just like any other writers’ work, it will be crap. Jagged edges need to be smoothed, sanded, and painted before a masterpiece is ready to sell (for hard-earned, non-fictional, real-world money). Furthermore, those who carelessly self-publish ruin it for the rest of the self-published community. It contributes to and maintains the biased perspective some people hold regarding self-published work.
I personally respect self-publishing, but bad Indie-book experiences in rapid succession has made me cautious… I’ve been scarred to the point that I would never buy a self-published book with less than ~100 good reviews. That’s quite sad because there are Brandon Sandersons and J. K. Rowlings out there who had no success with traditional publishing. And of course, like traditionally published authors, self-published authors range in talent. Only, the ability to publish anything, anytime, has flooded the market with tsunamis of absolute crap. That makes it hard to swim… Lazy readers, like myself, are forced to swim in traditional publishing firms’ sewers and hope to catch a good piece of crap, not structureless diarrhea. It’s easier in a sewer than the ocean.
I’m writing this blog because of a recent experience I had with a self-published author who requested an honest review. I was truly excited to read their work, and dove right in. It was utter S#!T, right from the beginning… The author spent paragraphs describing settings and other details that were completely irrelevant to the story. They wrote descriptions for the sake of describing, not to enhance the story. It seemed as if the author felt tiny (irrelevant!) details were required for the book to pass as fantasy. My ‘purple prose sirens’ wouldn’t shut up.
Furthermore, the book had absolutely no conflict, only a list of events that took place. It was BORING. Yes, there was a plot, but no character development, or conflict. (Gimme conflict if you wanna hook me in!!!) Naturally, I couldn’t sympathize with the character, nor could I get into the story. Bleh. I stopped reading. And showered.
However, I took note of the major problems as I read. Then, I elaborated on those points and sent it to the author to explain my thought process. As was requested, I gave my honest opinion. But I went that extra mile to give thorough explanations (writer-to-writer bro talks, you know?). I hoped the author would find it educational, enlightening, especially because I took time to craft my response from a pile of swears and curses to human language.
Nope. All I got in response was a defensive statement, in which the author compared their work to the likes of Lord of the Rings… This was a writer who didn’t see their own flaws… They believed their writing was fine the way it was… Seeing flaws in others’ work, as well as your own, is important to being a writer. I didn’t waste time replying. There are some lessons writers have to learn on their own, for themselves. No one can teach another to be humble. A writer has to develop the ability to understand the perspective from which negative criticism about their own work comes from.
I do, however, sympathize with the author. Their work had five-star reviews, so my review was likely the author’s first encounter with (polite) constructive criticism. I remember the first real negative criticism I received. It was devastating. But I didn’t let it keep me down. I used it as concrete to build myself up. Harsh criticism helped to address all issues I hadn’t noticed in my own writing. It was a moment of learning, a life lesson. I assume all writers go through that in some form. But those who make something out of the harsh feedback are probably the ones who go on to succeed.
Back to the self-published work I tried to read… Had the author gone through alpha- and beta-reader stages, I guarantee those major problems would have been flagged, and addressed.
Moral of the story: be humble; graciously accept negative criticism—use it to better yourself and your writing; and subject your work to quality control before you start selling it for real money (non-fictional, hard-earned $$$). Think of it this way, assume you bought a subpar product, let’s say a phone. Both hardware and software malfunctions, and you can’t use the damn phone the way you want. What will you do?
I would seek a refund, and give the phone a terrible rating, despite the fact I know there are other perfectly functioning phones of the same model (Side Note: the analogy here could be for self-publishing as a whole or, specifically, the author’s work). Why? Because time doesn’t come with customer service. Do yourself a favor and go that extra mile to produce your best work. That way, everyone will be happy at the end!
Note: I’m a hypocrite, this post has no edits 😉
Thanks for reading,
Thomas J. Benedict