The Cresting Wave of Crap?

I was reading a post by Chuck Wendig where he identified a number of problems facing self-publishers. One such problem is that as a self-publisher, you’re tainted by the poor quality of all the other self-published books out there, and there are some true stinkers. No gatekeepers means no quality control.

As part of this, he talks a little about the pervasive attitude among self-published authors where they have finally won their freedom, felling The Man with their mighty Kindles. No one is going to tell them that their story isn’t good enough for the masses. Gatekeepers be damned.

This attitude is great for writers. “Who cares? Poop out a book!”

This attitude sucks for readers. “I just bought this book. And I think it’s made of poop.”

Well, yeah. There are a lot of poop books out there, a diarrhea-spewn river of Kindle crap, floating through the… ok, I’m just going to back away from the rest of that sentence. You’re welcome. Sufficed to say, there are a lot of really bad self-published books out there these days, and it shows no signs of letting up.

Or does it?

To further plumb the depths of this messy metaphor, is this truly an endless turd or are we merely experiencing the explosive climax of a long-endured case of constipation? *

For decades, traditional publishing held the all the keys to the marketplace. They had the printers. They had the distribution. They had the know-how. (They also had the story editors, the copy editors, the art directors, the marketing folks and so on, but what crap-crusted self-publisher cares about those things?) There was no way for the average Joe to publish a book.

Well, actually, there was a way: get really good at the craft, write several good novels, and patiently offer them up to the various publishers. For most people, this was asking too much, especially when it was clear that The Man was going to keep them down, forever mired in the slush pile. (At least slush is better than crap, no?)

But now the Gatekeepers are irrelevant. E-publishing has torn down the walls. There’s nothing to stop any would-be best-selling author from pooping out his book and putting it on the market. And after decades of wanting to do just that, a lot of folks are.

But I’ll bet that the vast majority of them stop after one book. They may sell more copies than the previous sad self-publishing tales, i.e. five copies sold, including two to Mom, but by both numbers and quality, most of this surge of self-published books will be commercial failures.

Yes, the shelf-life of an e-book is theoretically forever, but the truth of it is that readers like to buy more of what they know they like. That means the next book in the series or another book by their favorite author. But if these newest authors had only the one book in them, then there is no next book in the series. There is no latest release. There is no backlist of twenty-three novels, all ready to be devoured by your newest fan. There’s just the one book, its bits getting dusty on some distant drive array.

And so they will write their one stinker, feel rightfully proud about having finally done it, and then see very few sales. They’ll hang on and spam twitter for a few months, maybe a year, but eventually the reality will settle in. The disappointment will sting, but they’ll get over it. Before long, they’ll move on to other distractions. I hear script-writing is all the rage now. And you know, I have that camera, and video-editing software is really cheap now. And we could shoot it at the old mill…

Now, maybe this sounds overly harsh. As it is, I am undistinguished with only a few short story credits to my name. I can’t claim to be the greatest thing since the Holy Ghost writer. But I am a reader, and I’ve looked at some of what’s out there in the Kindle direct store, and much of it is indeed utter crap. Finding worthwhile stuff there is a lot of word-of-mouth and skimming the free samples, but it’s a hard slug – hard enough to me to feel sympathy for all those slush-pile readers of old. So harsh or not, it seems to be the reality.

But like I said, I think it’s going to pass. I don’t know if we’ve hit the crest of the wave yet, so it may get worse before it gets better. And I know there will always be a steady trickle of this kind of crap as each new generation offers up its own would-be best-selling self-published authors. I only hope that when we do get to the other side of this wave, the eventual trickle is a lot smaller than the river we currently find ourselves in.

(*Ok, I promise to limit myself to one scatological missive per year. Or month? Week? Hell, what do I know? I’m making it up as I go.)