walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Long Live The Universal Slush Pile

AKA The Shit Volcano

Nate over at The Digital Reader points to some other blogs talking about OMG THERE ARE A LOT OF CRAPPY SELF PUBBED BOOKS!!! What should we do about it. Lists ensue. Nate goes meh. (<-- Probably the Correct Response.)


I thought about it. I even _read_ those blog posts, despite their very powerful tl;dr vibe.


Chuck Wendig sez, in part, my summary:

Self published books will suffer individually (even the good ones) because they collectively suck. He argues that it’s pretty easy to tell self-pubbed from regular old pubbed, people will do so and self-pub will suffer. So in group self-interest, self-pubbers should get their shit together or remove themselves from Amazon and similar.

(here endeth summary of part of Wendig's post)

This is an interesting assertion. When I started working at Amazon, the single most requested search feature was “Search by publisher”. For the most part, I was pretty much the only person who heard that and went, well, duh! Everyone else went, we were surprised and still can’t figure out why anyone cares about the publisher. (Right there, you can tell that publishers and branding just don't work the way they do everywhere else.) For a variety of reasons (mostly because there were a lot of way more pressing issues _for customers_ than _any_ search issues), we didn’t prioritize adding this feature for a while and someone (you probably know him, because he’s had an nth career as a writer) cobbled together a perl script search by publisher and that caused enough mayhem that we did in fact implement the feature. Or something. I forget — it was a while ago. In any event, this suggests that mocking Wendig for believing people will notice who the publisher of a book is, well, that would be stupid. But thinking that people _will_ notice who the publisher of a book is, well, probably not tremendously bright either.

Most readers don’t have any trouble finding books to read, even books that they enjoy, because most readers read 12 or fewer books a year. They are all going to read (exclusively) books getting talked up by friends, family and/or a huge media push. Or the latest book by the one/few author(s) they love love love. If you are talking about discovery, you are talking about a tiny, tiny fraction of the reading population. We’re damn near all “pro” readers, in some important sense.

Will “pro” readers as a group — people who read at least one book a week, and usually closer to a book a day — turn their collective nose up at the continuing prospect of reading the Universal Slush Pile which is Amazon?


Some will, sure. Burnout is a real issue. But there will always be people willing to dive in, and Mr. Wendig makes an interesting point when he notes that you can detect sloppily produced books just by using the Sample feature on Amazon. You can. Which means you can limit your time in the Universal Slush Pile by being prepared to be utterly vicious in dumping drek. And please believe me: people reading self-pubs do NOT feel compelled to finish books they start. (Not for long, anyway.)

Over at http://chocolateandvodka.com/2014/02/05/why-the-self-publishing-shit-volcano-isnt-going-to-stop-erupting-any-time-soon/, SUW sez:

"With writing, however, there is no such clarity [as consistently losing at tennis]. The factors influencing the quality of a book can be broken down into three categories”

The three categories are objective, less objective and subjective. Let’s take a look at that middle one and try not to be an asshole about any of them.

"Subjective factors: Poorly drawn characters, unconvincing plots, poor dialogue, cliche-ridden prose. Problems that many people will find problematic, but that some people will be able to successfully gloss over when reading.”

I realize this may be a shock to educated folk like SUW, but it turns out that poorly drawn characters and so forth are actually _more_ appealing to many people than the alternative. And this actually is an enormous issue. There’s even less objectivity in writing than SUW and Wendig think there is. (Cue Rant about that ridiculously overrated novel and how people couldn't even _tell_ that there were publisher introduced errors in it, because of the weird language.) I know, it’s _such_ a disappointment to find out that all our English and Literature teachers lied to us. Relentlessly.

If it isn’t sufficiently obvious by this point, there’s a wide stream of elitism here, masquerading as a call for professionalism. Just so we’re all clear here. We’re talking about predominantly genre fiction, right? Right? Because that’s what self pub is.

"I’m talking about people who are selling their books and, through asking for money for their work, presenting themselves as professional writers.”

I feel right now the way I felt when my triple-threat (sings, dances and acts) cousin-by-marriage went on a rant about children’s shows in which the vocals (generally children) are off key or otherwise poorly performed. She is by every other conceivable metric a fantastic human being, but wow, that was not pretty what was coming out of her mouth. The kiddies like shows with “poorly performed music”. Those shows are not made for her. Criticizing them for being what the kiddies like just exposes your own foolishness. (More relevant example: complaining about the mandatory HEA in romance-land.)

Mike Cane went on to argue that Amazon had a business case for yanking all self-published books that didn’t sell and then banning everyone from posting future self-published books if they had previously published something that didn’t sell. In a way, I’d love to see some version of this future, because it would be _exactly_ the self-published universe version of I-papered-my-house-with-rejection-notices-and-now-I’m-a-monster-bestseller-who-wins-awards. Because you _know_ that that would eventually happen. He notes several excellent refutations of this argument. I will add one more. There _is going to be_ a Universal Slush Pile somewhere on the web/in the cloud. It is in Amazon’s Best Interests to make sure _they_ and _only they_ are the ones who are collecting data on what moves and doesn’t move in the Universal Slush Pile.

And now, anecdata!

My husband bought me a kindle for Christmas of 2007. It didn’t hold a charge, so it had to go back and the replacement came after Christmas. I was very uncertain about whether I wanted it. It was expensive. There wasn’t a ton of selection. But I figured out pretty quick that I read faster on the kindle than on paper, and when the selection problems were squared away, I basically quit buying paper books (rare exceptions: used scholarly non-fiction). Whenever I read a paper book now, I want to hurt someone, because paper books are so fantastically not ergonomically friendly (you have to hold them open! Your arms get tired holding them up in bed. You need a light. Damn it! Also, the ketchup doesn’t come off paper nearly so well as it comes off a kindle. And if you leave the book at home, you can’t download it to your phone and keep reading. Unreasonable!).

Over the years, I’ve been a real pusher for kindles, including the kindle fires and similar. In an effort to hook two female relatives, I let them share my amazon account and sent them e-ink kindles that I paid for. I told them as long as they kept the monthly charges under $200, I didn’t give a fuck what they bought. One of them (one generation older than me) bought very few books, mostly for her book group, and eventually confessed that it bothered her so much that I was paying for her books that she switched to her own account. (She might be a little neurotic. Just a tad.) She never bought or read self-pub. The other (my generation) buys a ton of books, mostly freebies and cheapies, with some genre trad pub thrown in. I actually read a few of the ones she buys — that never happened with the other relative. I’ve asked her how she picks self-pubs, and it’s mostly off of customers who liked this also like etc., and reading samples. She starts with the free one by a particular author, and then if she likes it, she’ll buy a lot more by that author. So even if the book recommended by the algorithm is not free, she might try the author as a result of the recommendation (thus supporting EVERYTHING Konrath ever wrote about how to promote self pub books), and the freebie will lead to Real sales if she likes the author’s work.

She’s also working on writing her own genre fiction, and through FB, connected with someone I’ve known since college who reads probably more than anyone else I know (and honest, that is saying something). So when my relative was soliciting the friend network for beta readers/feedback, my friend spoke up, and is now editing my relative’s book. (I know my friend’s work — she’s doing a good job, and one that will contribute to making my relative’s work commercially viable, vs. “objectively” better, but less readable, which is a real risk with editors.)

Skill is not something that is innate. It is something that develops over time. You get to be a better reader by reading. You get to be a writer by reading, and wanting to try your hand at it. You get to be a better writer by writing, and hearing from your readers. Preventing “bad writers” from exposure to readers who are interested in their work is just ridiculous. The Universal Slush Pile may need some sorting based on plagiarism (which can often be detected mechanically), gaming (writing an awesome sample, and then the rest of the book is blah blah blah with a bunch of typos and bad grammar; also attempts to confuse customers by creating titles/authors similar to currently popular work) and risk to retailer brand (Amazon’s decision to remove incest themed erotica, for example). Amazon knows better than we do which of these are important (and how important) because they are on the receiving end of the complaints and have to pay the customer service reps who respond to them.

But typos, bad grammar and cartoonishly 1 dimensional characters who speak in cliches are _not_ factors in selecting candidates for removal from the slush pile. And I really have to wonder about the kind of person who thinks they might be.

I haven't used the mocking e-book coverage tag in forever (mostly because the whole but books smell so good! thing finally died down). I'll use it today.
Tags: e-book coverage

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