A book so utterly shite I am not even going to tell you what it is

My policy is to review books and say what I think of them whether or not (I think) they are good. Other bloggers will review books only if they can give them three stars or more. I respect that, but my view is that it is better for readers and writers if the one and two star reviews are published as well. I can be critical, but I hope I am always respectful. I understand that the time and energy that most writers put into their work is enormous. I understand that writing and waiting for reaction to that writing can sometimes be lonely and scary and soul-destroying. I have loved books that have flaws in them; I have not liked books that are written and produced well. I recognise that often it is a matter of taste, but I think I can tell good writing even if I don’t like the book. I am not a fan of books knocked out in a couple of months so that the next one can be knocked out in the same length of time – but if they are making money for the author, what does it really matter what I think? But if I read them, then I will still say what I thought of them and I feel entitled to because the book is out there and usually I have parted with money for it.

I try not to get into dialogue with authors before I review them, as – contrary to how it seems – I am sensitive to thin skins. I don’t want to know that the author has cancer or suffered trauma, as then I will want to be nice about their book, come what may. I want to be all about the book, then I can connect with the author and have feelings about them.

What’s the point of all that preamble? Well, it’s this book, this book that could single-handedly give self-publishing the bad reputation that hundreds of others collectively have. It is so bad, so incomprehensible, that I can’t bring myself even to tell you what it is. I review for another publication – except they aren’t really reviews, they are more awareness articles of books meeting particular criteria. And this – thankfully short – book meets those criteria. I read it. I wrote about it – fairly impartially and with some restraint I thought. A while later I was emailing my editor about something else and I mentioned that this particular book “wasn’t very good”. He wrote back and said that he gathered it was “utter shite” from reading the review. That plan didn’t work, then.

But he’s right: it is utter shite, and here’s why.

1. There is no plot. Well, there might be a plot. Not a plot exactly, just an interconnectedness between chapters that are generally so nonsensical that the connection between them is gossamer thin and might have been thought about after all the words were written so that they had a reason for all being between the same covers. Or there might be a plot, but I really don’t think so.

2. The writing is pretentious. It uses big words to impress that no normal person would think of using unless they are writing a book to try to make people believe they know big words.

3. Some of the big words – even some of the little words – are the wrong words. Not merely inappropriate, but wrong.

4. The writing is self-indulgent. That’s rarely something other people will enjoy reading.

5. The spelling is bad. The punctuation is bad. What makes this such a crime against publishing (apart from the fact that they shouldn’t be published) is that the author thanks a “proof reader” for their “thorough and extremely professional job”. There are lots of things I don’t know, but I do know that this was no professional job.

6. The person thanked for the “painstaking formatting process”  leaves widows and orphans and puts all page numbers on the right regardless of whether it is a left or right-hand page. The first chapter starts on a left-hand page. Painstaking it probably was; well done it wasn’t.

7. It costs nearly £10. (Ten pounds!)

8. There is no look-inside feature on Amazon so you don’t know what your £10 is going to get you.

The book had a proper launch in a proper venue. The author was on the radio talking about the book. He is proud of his achievement. And he should be proud. It is an achievement to sit down and write so many words they can fill a book. The author has suffered; he’s getting his life together; he has people supporting him to do that. But those people should not have encouraged the publication of this book. Be proud; print twenty copies to give to your family and friends; have a party. But do not make it for sale. I should not be asked to part with my money for it. I should not have to be feeling bad for it being utter shite.

I’ll eat my words if I read one genuine review saying this book is enjoyable. As yet there are no reviews on the main sites. Mine won’t be going up unless I see five-star reviews containing the words “unputdownable”, “the best I’ve ever read” – then you can be sure my quarter star will be posted pretty smartly.

I have read some wonderful independently published books – three of my favourite books last year were self-published. I can forgive minor errors, even big ones if the writing shows potential. But although I try to fight against a common perception that self-published books are generally rubbish, I have to admit that I can see why people get this impression. And yes, there are some bad traditionally published books, too, but no traditional publisher – really, not one – would take this book on.

It does have a nice cover, though.

I still believe that one and two star reviews should be made public, that once the words are published it is the book we should be concentrating on and not the author. Should I stick to my values and post a bad review to Amazon and warn potential buyers about the book (with reasons, of course, so people can make up their own minds whether or not to listen to me)?

You are never going to please everyone with the content, but standards, people, standards! You have to at least try, don’t you?

Over to You – Comment and Share!

  • carol Hedges says:

    Having discovered you weren’t talking about my book……I read on. EEK! Interesting that you cite the book as ‘self-published’. It lets the side down, as there are enough editors/proof readers/etc. Only you have to pay for them. Maybe that is the problem? Gosh…

    09 Nov 2015 17:49:03

  • Clare says:

    Thanks for commenting, Carol. Definitely not your book :) (Hope this isn’t going to be a process of elimination to find out whose it is though! My lips are sealed.)

    I think the problems in this case are (a) ill-advised encouragement by well-meaning friends (guessing here), and (b) no knowledge, or understanding that knowledge should be sought, about publishing.

    09 Nov 2015 17:56:26

  • carol Hedges says:

    I find the second comment startling…given the amount of advice and exampla on social media!! And n Writing Magazines!

    09 Nov 2015 18:01:05

  • Clare says:

    Yep – but bearing in mind how many badly written/edited/proofread/produced books there are, I suspect there are many people who don’t have the awareness to seek advice.

    09 Nov 2015 18:06:46

  • Lorna says:

    I did see a first time writer comment recently in a facebook group that she had written and edited her own book. I genuinely think that some people don’t realise how essential an editor is and yes, how well meaning friends often won’t have a clue (or simply want to be kind).
    I don’t tend to give one star or two star reviews but I’ve read a couple recently that could definitely fall into the 2 or 3 star ones. I must catch up on my reviewing actually as it is important.
    You’re always very fair and level headed in your reviews Clare so I’m guessing this book was dire indeed.

    09 Nov 2015 20:26:31

  • Clare says:

    Thanks, Lorna. Yes, there is so much information (and support) on the internet that there really isn’t any excuse for not heeding advice. I think some people just don’t look for it because they don’t know they should. There are probably a few that are so arrogant they think they don’t need to go through the editorial process, but really I think they just aren't aware of the necessity.

    I think the low stars (given respectfully, of course) are an important part of the reviewing process, but I know a lot of people won’t give them. (They are all obviously a lot nicer than I am!)

    09 Nov 2015 20:52:43

  • Julie Stock says:

    Phew! This must have been so difficult for you to write.

    As a self-published author, I am so annoyed by poorly self-published books because it reflects on us all. It is true that it costs a lot to get a professional edit, book cover and proofread but I wouldn’t publish a book without those checks having taken place.

    However, I have also read traditionally published books that looked like they had never seen an editor’s or proofreader’s pen but no-one seems to comment on that. It’s a difficult line to tread and it’s what stops me going for a traditional contract – if I’m going to go for that, the publisher must be able to offer me more than I can do for myself. I have read so many trad. published books with hundreds of reviews that didn’t meet my expectations but still seem to sell well.

    It is a changing time in publishing, no doubt about it and we can only hope that those authors with standards will be the ones to survive.

    29 Nov 2015 20:08:34

  • Clare says:

    Thanks for looking in, Julie.

    You are right – badly produced self-published books do give all self-publishers a bad name. Someone who read this “review” said that this type of book is precisely why she steers clear of all self-published books. That is so sad, as there are some (including your own) very well produced books.

    I agree there are some poorly produced traditionally published books, and some that have obviously been published in a hurry. I do think, though, that the majority of traditionally published books are well edited and proofread and many self-published ones are not. I can forgive some minor mistakes in books that are published either way – few books have none, but glaring and many misses raise the blood pressure all right.

    Your professionalism, and that of other self-published writers, shines through and we can but hope that others will follow your lead. We just have to shout all the louder about the really great ones. And there are some really great ones.

    29 Nov 2015 20:33:42

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