(Draft preview edition; not proofread)
I love books. I have loved books almost as long as I have loved rocks. As an often very lonely child, I found both solace and companionship in books. Books were my ticket to adventure and excitement, to other times and other places, even other worlds. I have never lost my sense of wonderment when losing myself in a good book.
Physical books are precious objects to me. Only in college was I able to get up the courage to actually write in a textbook, and to this day if I do write in a book, it's more often eraseable pencil than ink or highlighter. But I still never crack their spines, never dog-ear their pages, never plop them face down.
Some might call me a book hoarder. Do I have multiple copies of some particularly well-loved books? Uh, yes, I have to admit that I do. I have more books than I will probably ever read. I don't care. I love books.
My love for books is not, however, a childish infatuation or an adolescent crush. I have always had a healthy respect for books, the kind of respect that allows me to see each one for what it is, with its unique strengths and weaknesses, flashes of brilliance and painful flaws. That respect includes an acknowledgement that every book is the product of an author (or more than one) who has brought a lifetime of experience and a personal perspective to the writing.
As a writer, I know exactly how difficult it is to write a book. I know how difficult it is to edit and revise. I've been through the critique process where someone pointed out gaping holes in my plot or absurd inconsistencies in my characterization. I've been there and I've done that, and I didn't even come back with a T-shirt.
Not every book I've ever read has been wonderful. There are the favorites, the books that I could read again and again and never tire of. There are those that I enjoyed but wouldn't necessarily read again. And there are those I really didn't like.
But up until a couple of years ago, I never had to worry that a book I picked up from a bookstore or library shelf would be badly written. Yes, I had seen and read author-published books before, and yes, most of them were pretty badly written, but they were also pretty easy to identify before I even picked them up. The covers weren't very professional looking, and the "publisher" was usually Vantage Press or Dorrance or one of the other subsidy houses that charged an arm and a leg and then dumped 5,000 copies on the author's doorstep.
When I came back to the writing business a few years ago, I was quite unprepared for what I saw. There were books published on Amazon that embarrassed me. I didn't know the authors at all, but I was ashamed of them and ashamed for them. I wanted to go up to their readers and apologize and let them know, "There are better books out there. There are writers who know how to write. There are good stories, well written stories. But these aren't the ones."
Outraged, but not entirely sure of the landscape, I read reviews and I followed blogs and I signed up for an account at GoodReads, and I began to write reviews. And I wasn't surprised when I was labeled as a harsh reviewer, because it's true. I'm not ashamed of it. Badly written books are badly written books. Readers have a right to know that. Can they still read them if they want to? Sure. Can they still enjoy them? Sure.
Can readers ignore my reviews? Sure. And I won't hate them for it. I won't -- and don't -- stalk them to their reviews. I don't stalk authors to their blogs and websites. I'll defend my opinion of a badly written book, and I'll post a detailed analysis, but I won't badger anyone who disagrees with me. The most I'll do is delete their comment if it's on my review, but I don't even like to do that. Come to think of it, I've never done it. I've left them to remove their own comments ... or the site has deleted their account.
Over the past several months, my day job has placed additional demands on me and I simply haven't had the time for reading or reviewing that I used to. I've also become much more active in my various creative endeavors (though never as much as I'd like) and that, too, has limited my reviewing time.
But I've also watched the outrageous behavior of Badly Behaving Authors become more and more outrageous. And I've watched as more and more reviewers are refusing to touch works by self-publishing authors. I've read and participated in the discussions about why readers don't want to read self-publishing authors, and I've watched the frustration as reader after reader after reader complains about the poor quality of the writing. First and foremost, that's the reason readers don't touch self-published authors' books.
Second, of course, is the risk that the author will retaliate against the reviewer if she dares to post a negative review. If the reader puts forth the effort to slog through a disappointing book and then has to endure the added insult of being verbally assaulted by the author or her fans, why should she bother?
Third is my own frustration that so few people seem willing to do the necessary dirty work to clean up the mess. One group after another forms to offer a seal of approval, a stamp of quality for those books that pass their muster in terms of professional presentation. And far too many of them end up being nothing but mutual admiration societies at best, or vehicles for profit at worst. They're no better than all those contests and awards that claim to be the "Festival of Books" in some major city but are really just an office in some minor city where the entry fee checks are cashed and the website is maintained with the names of all the "winners."
Too many authors won't post negative reviews because they're afraid of retaliation. Too many reviewers won't post negative reviews because they want authors to send them free ARCs. Too many readers don't have enough confidence in their own ability to spot a bad book, and too many people have just bought into that "if you can't say something nice..." mantra.
But books are products, not people. Books are supposed to provide a service, either as entertainment or information or both. If they don't adequately provide the service the consumer has paid for, other consumers have a right to know.
More and more of my friends are giving up on self-publishing authors altogether. This not only saddens me, because it's usually done in response to some uncalled for nastiness from an incensed author; but it also angers me, because it means one less honest voice is going to be calling out the badly written books for what they are: crap.
I love books. I love reading books, and I love writing books. One of the reasons I walked away from my own writing career was that I love books but I hate publishers. That's why I became so excited about the new opportunities afforded to writers to self-publish digitally. Wow! This is terrific!
But it's not terrific if most of the stuff is crap, garbage, dreck, pure unadulterated shit. And sadly, a lot of it is.
Publishers, and their flying monkey henchmen otherwise known as literary agents, did and do provide one invaluable service to readers: They are the gatekeepers. They keep most of the dreck from hitting the bookstore and library shelves. They counter the gushing praise of spouses and parents whose judgment is suspect to begin with but further clouded with visions of fat Kindle royalties. And the publishers also guarantee at least minimal standards of product quality in terms of proofreading and digital formatting.
But who is going to be the gatekeepers for the stuff that never made it to the agents' slush piles?
I've read some of the dreck. I've been appalled and ashamed and angered. I've read the harangues from the pride-wounded authors who claim their critics are all agents of the Big Six publishers, who accuse every negative reviewer of jealousy and/or incompetence. I've been there and I've done that and I've written about it until sometimes I don't even like the sound of my own voice any more.
But if I'm tired of griping about the quality of the writing out there, I'm even more tired of my friends leaving the reviewing arena. I know I'm opinionated, and I know I'm a bit of a bitch at times. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty, I trust myself as a critic to know good writing when I see it and bad writing even sooner.
i'm tired of crappy writing. I'm tired of dozens, even hundreds of gushing reviews on Amazon and GoodReads, from "people" who are either shills or socks or fiverr phantoms.
The digital marketplace is glutted with garbage. I can't clean it up singlehanded, but I can at least point out some of the worst of the offal. If you want to come after me, go right ahead. I don't care. I'm going to take a stand for good writing. I'm going to do my part to clean up the mess and make the streets of KindleTown and NookCorners safe for readers again.
Yes, shitty writers, I'm going to love hating your books.