Double Standards for Books

One of the common complaints about the recent upsurge in self-published books is a lack of quality and of editing. Having read a fair number of self-published kindle books, I can agree with that concern. I have started and then bailed on so many of them, because of bad spelling, bad punctuation, bad grammar, bad stories, and bad characters, that I instituted a personal quality-control policy, to keep myself from wasting time reading something that just wasn’t worth the investment and to keep myself from feeling guilty for quitting- I give the book one hour to prove itself to me, and if it fails in that hour, I delete it. I’ve never needed such a policy with non-self-published books. Certainly, there are more bad books that are self-published than traditionally published.


I’ve realized, though, that those bad books I read so affected my expectations that I see every factual error, every stylistic slip, every loose plot point, everything that doesn’t strike me as perfect, as another failing of another self-published book. Which isn’t fair, because I’ve seen factual errors in bestselling books, and there can be stylistic lapses and loose plotting even in very good books. There must be, because we judge these things with our own taste, which means that unless someone can write the perfect book that is loved by everyone ever, someone will think the style or the plot or the characters leave something to be desired. And then there’s the issue of punctuation. To read the snide comments that are made about the lack of proofreading in self-published books, you might mistakenly believe that all these issues of grammar and punctuation were written in stone, unchangeable, universally accepted, and perfectly understood by these critics and by all good writers. Except they’re not. Commas, for instance, have many different rules of use, depending on the style, the target audience, the venue, the time, and even the writer’s personal choice. I have my pet peeves, things I learned never to do, that others do often, with no bad reviews or job loss or other negative consequence. Why? Because they’re not wrong. I was taught they were wrong, but they’re not. If I read these things in a bestseller, I take it as the author’s choice or style, or I write it off as an innocent mistake, or I accept that I have my own taste and this book might not perfectly suit it, and then I keep reading without condemning the book, the author, or the publisher. (Actually, I never condemn the book or the author with self-published books either. I’m not the condemning type. I just stop reading it.) The end result is that I actually hold the self-published books to a higher standard. It’s the literary version of the higher bar minorities feel they face- you have to be twice as good to get half as far.


Truth is, there ARE a lot of bad self-published books out there, which is not to say that they aren’t sometimes plenty fun anyway. There are also good ones. Self-published books aren’t the majority of my reading, by a long shot, but if there’s one that I’ve heard is good, I’m willing to try it. And when I try it, I will try hard to avoid demanding more of it because of its suspect lineage than I would of its more privileged cousin.


Have you read any self-published books? Did you like them?


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