Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World (Part I)

In a recent discussion on Facebook, someone mentioned the case of a self-published story that was being offered for sale on Amazon. A woman posted a review, stating her opinion that the work was far from ready for publishing, and she gave the writer several examples of how to improve, but the writer took these comments as insults. What ensued was a protracted argument between the writer and the reviewer.

The Facebooker who brought this exchange to our attention asked who was right and who was wrong. I thought the reviewer brought up some excellent points, gave wonderful suggestions for redoing the story without getting disrespectful about it. (And the reviewer could have gotten nasty. The story really was atrocious.)

I can’t imagine arguing with a reviewer as the author did, though. A couple of times I have privately asked a reviewer to remove a spoiler that gave away the ending (and the reviewers graciously complied) but the writer in this case had a terribly unprofessional and arrogant attitude. She more or less said she could publish whatever she wanted, it didn’t have to be perfect, and too bad if people didn’t like it. Unfortunately, there are millions like her, which leaves me continually perplexed by the entire book business today.

The major publishers have had control of publishing standards for way too long. I certainly have no love for conglomerates or corporate thinking, so I don’t object to a lessening of their control. On the other hand, many writers now think they don’t need any standards at all. They say they can write whatever they wish, however they wish. The prevailing attitude is that as long as the writer is satisfied with the book, that’s all that matters. They don’t care if their story is derivative, if the editing is slipshod, if typos litter the pages.

Some of these writers even manage to sell a significant number of copies of their books.

Self-published writers seem to be a militant lot, demanding the same respect as authors whose books are published by a traditional or an independent press, yet self-published authors adhere to no one’s standards but their own, while a book that was accepted by and released by a publishing company has had to live up to at least the publisher’s standards. But some self-published writers do adhere to a high standard of literacy while some bestsellers released by the major publishers have an appallingly low standard of literacy.

Does any of this matter? With texting and twittering, leaving out letters of words to shorten them or using number for letters is standard. (AFAIK, u cn rd this. Me 2. LOL) Eek. Whole novels have been written in such shorthand.

Do kids today learn grammar in school? Do they need to know grammar? With spell check and grammar check on their computers, probably not. So, if books today have grammar mistakes, punctuation mistakes, typos, do most people even notice? Those of us who have spent a lifetime reading do notice, but do we count? We value language, but is language important? Language is an evolving organism, so perhaps those of us who quail at poorly written and poorly copy written books are running a race that has already been lost. A new generation grows into adulthood every year along with a new generation of electronic toys and tools and together they spawn a new generation of idioms. A new language.

I don’t know why this new anything-goes publishing world perplexes me. Most writers seem thrilled with the new order of doing book business. They don’t have to take the time to research the business, finding out which agents will accept their genre and which publishers they can submit to without an agent. They don’t have to learn how to write query letters or learn how to write a description and a hook. They don’t need to learn to deal with rejection. And especially, they don’t need to learn how to improve their work to make it as near perfect as possible. They simply decide to publish. That’s all it takes.

And most readers seem thrilled to find myriad books to download to their new ereaders.

So perhaps it’s just me who worries about a lessening of standards. Perhaps this new frontier, this stampede to publish and be damned (or not) is what everyone else wants. It’s certainly not the first time in my life the world didn’t act in accord with what I thought was the right direction for it to take, and it certainly won’t be the last.

See also: Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World (Part II)

9 Responses to “Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World (Part I)”

  1. Rod Marsden Says:

    Rejection is hard to take and always will be. Some reviewers make an effort to be fair to both writer and potential reader. Others think that taking the negative approach all the time makes them REAL reviewers or critics. I have no problem with critics that set out to be fair and may not be entirely wrapped in my writing. Since my novels are not self published and actually go through two editors besides yours truly, I would be surprised and annoyed if told there were major faults in the editing. My editors would also not be happy. I have found minor typing, spelling and even grammar problems in some popular novels put out by well respected companies such as Penguin. As they say, gremlins get in. A continuous flow of errors that has to irritate the reader and spoil the read, however, can and should be commented on. As a writer, I start with my own standards of literacy but, realizing I am not perfect, I will then let an editor or two look for things that I’ve missed. As for what other people do as writers, well, I chalk some of it up to letting the spell check and grammar check on their computers do their thinking for them.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Rod, thank you, as always, for your astute remarks. I don’t like bad reviews, but they are easier to handle than the two hundred rejections I’d received. Apparently, my books didn’t fit in with the typical genres. Luckily, I found Second Wind Publishing, and they were willing to take a chance on my not-easily-defined works. Like you, I’d be annoyed to find major (or even minor) editing faults in my books.

  2. knightofswords Says:

    Back in the 1960s, people spoke of “situation ethics,” pushing the envelope on “right and wrong” to say that the old rules no longer applied. To some extent, this was good because the point of view forced people to look at the old rules and figure out whether they really were valid. In those days, a lot of people were spreading their wings in very overt ways.

    To some extent, there’s a lot of wing-spreading going on in self-publishing. This forces us to look at BIG PUBLISHING and think about which of its rules and practices are “good” and “bad.” As you say, some of us don’t love the conglomerates. We need something fresh and new. Unfortunately, that means a lot of weeds in the garden.


    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I agree — we definitely need something new. The reason I took up writing was because the major publishers stopped writing the kind of books I liked — books with a spark of ingenuity, wisdom, and uniqueness. Perhaps not surprisingly, most self-publshed books that make it seem like clones of the books the major publishers print. But many small presses are coming out with interesting books, so that’s a good place to be — with a small, independent publishing house.

  3. knightofswords Says:

    “Weeds in the garden” includes bad proofreading, as in not noticing I had an extra letter in my name when I clicked on the POST COMMENT button.


  4. movingforeword Says:

    A noise woke me up last night, and when I checked my phone to see what time it was (1:50 am) I noticed I had an email. That email gave me the link to this blog post. Once I began reading I couldn’t stop! As someone coming to terms with and weighing the pros and cons of self-publishing, the scenario you described is exactly why I had been shying away from taking that route. I’m sure all of us understand how easy it is to become defensive when another person criticizes our work; however, if said criticism is given professionally and in an effort to help improve the project, it should at least be taken into consideration. After all, someone took the time to give his/her honest opinion.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Thank you for your comment. It’s a touch decision. I considered self-publishing, too, but I wanted the validation of a publishing company behind me. When I get a bad review, it helps to remember that I was chosen, that someone loved my work enough to want to publish it.

  5. Rod Marsden Says:

    Your last remark really hits home, Pat. Even when I get a short story published in a magazine I feel validated as a writer because it is not my magazine and the story was chosen by someone else.

  6. Book Bits #117 | Malcolm's Book Bits and Notions Says:

    […] Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World, by Pat Bertram – “A woman posted a review, stating her opinion that the work was far […]

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