Separating Indie-Published Wheat From Chaff

I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Tsunami of Crap” theory, even if you’ve never heard it explained:

Now that anybody can publish anything, all these wanna-be writing hacks will take whatever drivel they have moldering around their houses and dump it onto the self-publishing platforms, and the world with be overwhelmed by a tsunami of this crap and nobody will be able to find anything good to read and California will sink into the ocean and the Spanish Inquisition will rise again and the earth will spiral into the sun and won’t somebody please think of the *readers!*

Whoa!  Time to calm down, take a deep breath, and look at this theory a little closer.  I’ve heard this from lots of sources, some of them big publishers.  Oh, the angst!

My biggest gripe with the argument, hands down, is that it tacitly assumes that readers are sheep, reading whatever is thrust in front of them with no ability or will to find what it is they like.  Without the gatekeepers, how will they know what is *good?*

The same way readers have always known what is good, my friends–read it.  If you like it, it was good.  If you can’t finish it, it was not.

So, here I am, faced with a tsunami of new reading options.  My reading time is limited–I don’t want to waste any of it on unreadable drivel.  What can I do to minimize my chances of buying something I’m not going to like?

Cover — I know it isn’t nice to say so, but I’m afraid I do tend to judge books by their covers.  So do many readers.  It isn’t so much a conscious decision as an instinctive response–when you see a book with a lousy, unappealing cover, your brain will instantly assume it is filled with lousy, unappealing prose.  It is natural to figure that if nobody cared enough to make the cover compelling, nobody cared much about the story, either.

Blurb — The back cover text, or blurb, is the next thing I look at.  When you look at a New York-published book, a professional copywriter wrote that back cover blurb.  In the indie world, though, blurbs are generally written by the author–the same author who wrote the text inside.  If the blurb is badly written, boring, full of typos or grammar errors or otherwise doesn’t sit well with me, I am unlikely to look farther.  I also don’t particularly like blurbs that are comprised mostly of marketing push and quotes from reviews, giving me very little idea what the book is actually about–but that is just a personal preference.  Your mileage may vary.

Reviews — You hear a lot about falsified and shill reviews, but I don’t think they are actually as prevalent as the conversations imply.  I have seen false negative reviews too, or “grudge” reviews.  How can a person know which reviews to trust?

The content and tone of the review itself is usually the first clue.  A review can be very positive without necessarily being a shill.  I look for the positive reviews that explain what they liked, or why.  “ZOMG this is the best book evah” is at best an unhelpful review, at worst a shill.  On the other hand, “This is the worst book ever written, they should burn it and bury it and bury the author too” is likely to be a grudge review.  (Although if they explain exactly what it was that made it so awful, I might change my assessment.)

Does a negative review, or several negative reviews, mean I won’t buy the book? Not necessarily.  It depends on why they are negative.  Sometimes the very things that another reader complains about are the things that make me think I might enjoy this read.

Reviews can be tricky.  They are a resource we as shoppers never used to have–the most we had was critic’s reviews in newspapers–and we never had them right there in the store while we were making decisions.  But they are a welcome resource, and I’m sure over time there will be mechanisms to help root out the shills and grudges.

Sample – One of my favorite things about ebooks is the ability to download a sample and read it on my preferred reader, immediately.  And if I like it, I can buy it right there from within the book.  If not–well, it’s easy to delete samples as well.  :)

I think of this the same as the way I flip through books in the bookstore.  It’s my chance to find out if this author’s style works for me, if the text is riddled with errors and grammar mistakes, or if it violates some personal peeve of mine (like the same uncommon word three times on a page.  “He shifted awkwardly.  “Wow,” he said awkwardly, “that was awkward.”  delete)

I’ve heard people argue that they don’t have time to read samples–I don’t subscribe to that argument, myself–if I have time to read the whole book, I have time to read the first few pages to make sure I can stomach it before I pay for it.

Will all of these precautions guarantee I never buy a book I don’t like?  Will it catch serious errors like unsatisfying endings, degenerating plots?

No.  But then all of the careful vetting I did in bookstores never saved me from those things, either.  And realistically, most of the “tsunami of crap” everyone keeps talking about would never make it past the blurb stage–maybe even the cover stage.

So chin up, readers, writers, everybody.  Writers will keep writing, and readers will keep finding things they like to read, and if the earth spirals into the sun, I don’t think it will be tomorrow.

Happy Holidays!  Have fun reading!

3 responses to “Separating Indie-Published Wheat From Chaff

  1. You are absolutely correct! Especially in your assertion that cover is important. The cover shows how much the author cared, and if it has something to do with the story, and is beautiful, they probably cared a lot!

  2. Thanks Kaitlin! You can probably tell I totally agree. The cover is the first chance you get as a writer to impress your reader, and the first chance you get as a reader to connect with the writer. You really can’t overestimate the importance of a cover.

  3. I know this post is a little old but it is still relevant two months later. I love being able to download previews of books before i buy. I also believe self publishing will led to uncovering some great authors that would otherwise remain unknown. I stumbled across your blog while looking for resources on character development.

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