I tend to project far too much of myself into just about everything I write, so I am making a conscious effort not to do that with this post.
My self-imposed exile from Booklandia was desperately needed and in retrospect should have occurred much earlier. The time off was mostly put to good use. Some of it, of course, was frittered away, but that is the nature of the creative process.
What sparked my decision to return, though perhaps only on a limited basis, was a complex combination of forces that doesn't really warrant a public analysis. More interesting, I think, was the discovery I made almost immediately upon making that decision.
For several years, I began my day's reading with a systematic perusal of Amazon's listing of free Kindle historical romances. I picked up some reprints and some new offerings by established authors, but of course the vast majority of these gratis books were self-published efforts by authors who had not been and probably could not be picked up by traditional publishers, print or digital. And the vast majority of that vast majority were poorly written. Some were just plain awful.
Yesterday morning when I logged in to Amazon to skim through the historical romances from low price to high, I did not expect any of that to have changed. And it hadn't.
What caught my attention, however, was a growing collection of recently published items that seemed to have unusual but similar titles. As the list grew, and the titles as listed on Amazon became more and more bizarre, I began to chronicle them here.
My first impression was that someone was trying to optimize the listings for searches by including every possible word that might be used to locate this type of book, similar to the way items are listed on a site like Etsy, for example. Was the person or persons responsible for Kindle publishing these books not familiar with how books are titled and listed on Amazon? Furthermore, did such a lack of familiarity with standard titling mean that said person or persons was not a frequent buyer/reader of Kindle books?
People who aren't frequent readers tend, in my estimation, not to be very good writers.
And thus Josh Olson, who claimed that it is necessary only to read one sentence of a book or manuscript to tell if the writer can write, was superseded by these books, in which it was not necessary to read even a single sentence of the text. The listings alone were sufficient. (That theory was put to the test. The theory held.)
None of this came as any surprise. I had no expectations that the past six months had effected any radical improvement in the quality of author-published romance fiction. The clumsy listings were at best amusing, at worst slightly deceptive. Status quo.
So I purchased them and added them to the gargantuan library of books on my Kindle for PC app. And when I had done that, I knew I had to take at least a quick glance to see if the writing was as bad as I feared.
Most of the cover art for these books is what I'd call low-end professional. We've all seen the truly amateurish cover art put together by some self-publishing authors. This is maybe one and a half steps above the worst. Not terrible, but not very good, although others in this collection look as if they may have been purchased from a cover art service.
But what I found both disturbing and a bit shocking were the links blasted at me upon opening the book itself.
I had to laugh. I hadn't actually read a word of the text of the first book I was looking at after deciding to venture back into Booklandia, and POW! shenanigans off the bat.
An enraged accomplice with a safe computer was able to check out the links in another of the books, and they proved to be probably -- probably -- more annoying than malicious, but still, Why?
The links appear to take the reader to a Table of Contents and thence to other stories/novellas. The purchased book is actually a collection. In Rescued by the Highland Warrior, the TOC is on the next page without using a link, so I don't know where the links pictured above lead.
Wait a minute. The Rugged Cowboy's Mail Order Bride? What does that have to do with Highland warriors?
Page 2, TOC:
Captured by the Alien Prince? Are you kidding me? And Navy SEALS? And billionaires? In words of one syllable, what the fuck?!
It appears that these collections of stories are assembled without rhyme or reason, then published with titles that try to cover all, or at least several, bases. Investigation has shown that there are repetitions, meaning the same stories are published in more than one collection.
Per my enraged informant, some of the links lead to the website of the publisher Eclipse Publishing, but it's apparently a skeletal site. I haven't checked it out yet; my computer isn't that secure. It's possible that Eclipse Publishing is a front for the author, just like the series of pseudonyms.
The details of all this posturing, from the wacko listing titles to the internal links to the freebie Weebly website, are only the window dressing. Is there anything worthwhile in the actual contents?
Hunter, Annabelle (2016-01-01). ROMANCE: Rescued by the Highland Warrior (Alpha Male Scottish Pregnancy Romance) (Highlander Medieval Historical Scottish Short Stories) (Kindle Locations 62-65). . Kindle Edition.
I can live with incomplete sentences when they're used for literary effect. I can't live with not knowing the time and place setting for historical romance. Nor with poor formatting, especially double spacing that makes the book read more like a paper manuscript. I don't need to write notes or make corrections between the lines; on an electronic edition one doesn't write there anyway. This is a mark of amateurish writing and lack of familiarity with how books really look.
The next few pages contain similar formatting issues, such as uneven paragraph indents. There are more sentence fragments. Lots of punctuation errors. And lots of internal inconsistency.
Hunter, Annabelle (2016-01-01). ROMANCE: Rescued by the Highland Warrior (Alpha Male Scottish Pregnancy Romance) (Highlander Medieval Historical Scottish Short Stories) (Kindle Locations 66-70). . Kindle Edition.
The point here is that Lorna has stated (through the narrator) that she will never marry her father's killer. Yet she has in fact agreed to do so: go with (or to) him and allow him to bed her. That's marrying him. Words have meanings.
An editor or even a qualified critique partner would catch these glitches. This book -- or story -- has never been capably edited.
Do I need to read more to confirm the impression the book gave me in the first two pages, or even the Amazon listing? No, I don't.
This was not how I wanted to return to reading and reviewing. I didn't want to have to research the quirks of weird books and their gimmicks. I don't even care if the favorable reviews and ratings are purchased or are provided by friends, family, sock puppet accounts. (This particular book has no reviews as of this moment; others in the batch do.) But with my first post, I realized once again just how much harm Amazon has done, even while it has done some good.
There may very well be readers out in Kindleland who will find this story enjoyable and perhaps even think it is well written. That in itself is a sad commentary on the state of the readership. Others will probably say that it's good people are reading anything at all, rather than glued to the television and mindlessly soaking up the Kardashians or whomever. This juror hasn't reached a verdict on that issue.
What I think we've had too little of is a public dialogue about the state of reading and writing. We read and we review and we share a few comments, but we don't really dialogue very much. By "we" I mean the greater Booklandia citizenry. Part of the reason is the very nature of Booklanders, whether on Booklikes, Goodreads, Amazon forums, Facebook, wherever. We do not function as a group but rather as an aggregation of individuals, which means collective action is almost impossible.
As individuals, too many of us have been retaliated against for speaking out. That means we've been bullied into silence. We know who the bullies are. We know their tactics. We know the very real harm they can do.
None of that makes their books any better. And readers deserve better.
So, I'm back.
Josh Olson is vindicated . . . and validated. Not that any of us had any doubts.