The Self-published Ego
I belong to a number of writing groups. Some are more helpful than others, but all have a single thing in common. They exist because someone has taken the time and made the effort to create a place where writers can come together to read each other’s work and offer feedback, advice, encouragement and constructive criticism.
Lately, I've seen a number of writers who have posted to these groups for none of the above reasons. Instead, they have tossed out a sample of their work like a potentate scattering coin to the unwashed masses, and sit back to wait for the compliments to roll in.
In every one of these cases, the coin has been cheap and counterfeit. Riddled with spelling errors, poor grammar, tired similes and drab narrative, these throwaways are always in dire need of an edit. The groups have responded promptly with helpful suggestions, encouragement and advice. Yet, in each case have been met with responses like, “It's literature. I'm not changing it,” or “You'd have to read the whole thing to understand.” They will state proudly that they “don't follow the standard rules of writing” or they “don't want to be published by one of the big five” publishers.
I find it hard to understand the egos that prompt someone to feel that their very first attempt at putting pen to paper lifts them into the firmament of Hemingway, Twain and Kerouac. Yet, the pages of Amazon, Kindle and others are filled with volumes which should never have been published.
Sadly, many if not most of these have a decent premise or an interesting main character. They have the potential to be good stories. Yet the author was so convinced of his or her own genius and so anxious to see their name on the spine of a printed book that the obvious was overlooked. In their righteous outrage at having their masterwork criticized, many of these writers turn rather quickly to insults and rants at those offering the advice. They assume, erroneously, that those offering criticism must be either uneducated, uninformed or pursuing a personal vendetta against them for vague ill-defined reasons.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Every group that I belong to can boast professional editors among their admins and often among their membership. Each of these admin/editors is also a published author in their own right with years of experience in both writing and editing. Many members of these groups are also successful published authors both traditionally and self-published. Some have taught creative writing at the college level. Yet these new writers are so convinced of their own greatness and so blinded by their name on the spine that they not only fail to heed the solid, sound advice they are being offered, but attack like a wolverine defending their cub.
I must commend most of the dedicated authors and editors for their patience and forbearance in dealing with this. However, in most cases, the offending ego simply can't listen or learn and ends up banned from the very groups which would help them to eventually achieve their dream. They hustle their baby off to a quick and premature publication, ask a half-dozen friends to write glowing reviews, or worse, create new user accounts to write their own reviews, then wait for the money to flow and the big publishing houses to come to them offering six-digit advances and artistic control. After selling five or six copies to family and friends and watching their work languish with few or no additional sales, they convince themselves that their masterpiece was simply beyond the intellectual capacity of the average reader.
Sadly, Amazon and other sites continue to fill with this drivel making it difficult for readers and reviewers alike to find that lost gem among all the muck. This is not likely to change any time soon. Until it becomes so prevalent and infamous that the market moves away, sales driven platforms are not going to limit the offerings and we shouldn't blame them for it. I believe that, eventually, it will reach the point where Amazon and others will have to find a way to sift the offerings or pay the price in stagnant sales. That time is a long way off.
So what do we do in the meantime? As a stop gap measure, I suggest that authors who have taken the time and trouble to learn their craft and availed themselves of professional editing services need to find a way to distinguish their works. I would suggest a simple line of acknowledgement in the blurb mentioning who did the editing. This will give credit where it is due and alert readers and reviewers that you have, at least, gone to the trouble of having a professional edit done before release. It may not be the final solution, but for the time being it will set the professional work apart from the ever-growing piles of drek.
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