by: Joelle Charbonneau
This week Amazon came under attack for a book that was self-published under their on-line publishing program. If you're on twitter or Facebook, you've probably heard about it. People clamored for Amazon to remove the book because of the content. I’m not one for banning books. I think that's a slippery slope whose navigation causes more damage than good. However, in this instance, even I was ready to get out a pitchfork and torch. I didn’t think I would ever go there, but I learned that a how-to pedophilia guide will cause that kind of reaction. Go fig.
Since the bru-ha-ha began, the book has been removed from Amazon, but not before a brave reviewer decided to read and post her thoughts on the book. Her review is a thoughtful attempt at objectivity about a book whose subject is inflammatory and unsettling. I applaud her ability to do so and thank her for reading the book to help me better form my own opinion.
However, after reading the review, I realized that this book is a symptom of a bigger problem. Everyone in the publishing universe is talking about the rise of e-books and how they are the wave of the future. I don’t dispute this – although you will probably have to pry paper books out of my cold, dead hands before I switch to reading on a screen. I like paper. I can’t help it. Still, this book, despite its horrific content shows why self-published e-books have a long way to go. Amazon allows anyone to upload their books onto the site and publish them. That sounds great in theory. No need to be rejected by publishers or agents and no need to share the profits. Type THE END on your book, format the sucker and get it out there so the reading public can discover you.
The thing is, too many books, like the one called into question this week, are not ready to be published. In traditional publishing, the editors and agents act as screeners. They do their best to ensure a book has correct spelling and a readable sentence structure. Are mediocre or bad books published despite these gatekeepers’ best efforts? You betcha. But someone has done their upmost to make sure the book is professionally produced no matter what the content.
That isn’t the case on Amazon. Yes, an author can hire a freelance editor to go over their work before publishing, but how many of them do? I’ve looked at a number of excerpts and free reads that have been self-published. Some are interesting and well-crafted. Unfortunately, at least half of the ones I have seen, like this week’s How-To Guide, have terrible spelling and grammar. A new author is going to have not only a harder time getting noticed amongst the large quantities of books on Amazon, these poorly crafted and nearly unedited books are going to make it harder for the electronic book reader to take a risk on a new author.
The NY Times this week announced that starting next year they will begin publishing an e-book best seller list. What do you want to bet the same names who appear on the Hardcover or Paperback lists will appear on the e-book list? In this economic climate, readers are being careful with their money. If they have tried an Amazon self-published book with poor spelling or grammar, how likely do you think they will be to try another one? I’m betting they won’t unless given a darn good reason.
So I guess what I am saying is that I’m not a believer of the Amazon model – yet. (Yeah – I’m betting a bunch of folks are going to get out their pitchfork and torches and come after me now. That’s okay. I have my sneakers on and can run fast.) The lack of gatekeepers means more authors can be “published” but until the reading public can trust the quality of those books, the ones who will really be cashing in are the authors who are part of the traditionally publishing model.
What do you think? Do you think a new author has a chance to be noticed in the glut of books listed on Amazon and if yes – how do they get noticed? Do you plunk down your money on unknown authors (and not ones you’ve met on twitter or Facebook – but true unknowns)? If so, why?