I recently sent an old novel off to reviewers from the ginormous list of indie reviewers. There are so many more reviewers than when the book was first released (in 2006) that I thought, why not? Literally, there were 5 blogs devoted to self-publishing at that time. Now, hundreds. In the back of my mind I wondered if some of the reviewers would have a problem with the language, as this is an issue that I’ve seen come up frequently on review blogs. And lo and behold, this was exactly the response the book got. Some nice reviews, but this was the response:
One warning I do have to make is that Henry Baum has included a fair amount of strong profanity throughout the novel. Whilst I felt the characters and their attitudes fitted this language, I know that some readers may find this to be rather unappealing.
I very much enjoyed it and I highly recommend it but I must warn you, the F-word is used often so if you don’t like books with a lot of swearing then I think you will not like this book.
I need to start off by saying that the language in this book really held me up for some time. During the first few pages I think I read the F-word used in every part of speech. Seriously… noun, verb, adjective. The whole bit. For me, it was a bit much, even though I know people talk like this often. I managed to keep reading because I knew the story line would be good, I just had to make myself read through the language. Usually my intuitions are right, and they did not disappoint me this time.
The book’s not crazy profane, either. It’s a crime novel about Hollywood – about people who behave badly. It would be odd if there wasn’t profanity.
I don’t mean to single out these reviewers, as I’m grateful they took the time, and plowed through something that they thought was off-putting, but there’s a pattern here. Last night, I was looking at RJ Keller’s Waiting for Spring on Amazon. This is the sum total of one review*:
Before you purchase this, be aware that there is a lot of profanity in it. The story is intriguing but did the author have to use the f-word this much to get the story across?? I think not – I will not read more by this writer.
I am puzzled by this. I get not wanting bad language to be on TV because it can have an influence on kids, but in the privacy of reading a book, what is the problem? Frankly, it’s surprising that the f word still has this kind of resonance. I mean, what do people think when they see a movie like “Pulp Fiction” (very NSFW):
I post that to show that in the world of the web, the f word is a joke: no one cares about it. It’s a punchline. Yet in the indie community, profanity is treated as weird and foreign – when in real life most everybody uses it.
And I think this is actually a problem. Amy Edelman on the Indie Reader Facebook page has asked the question – why indie publishing doesn’t have the respect of indie movies or indie music. And here’s your answer. Indie film and music historically have been more willing to push boundaries. Yet in indie publishing, it often seems to be the opposite. There’s more to “indie” than just the method of publication. And “Pulp Fiction” would hardly qualify as “independent” – it’s a mainstream movie. So indie publishing could actually be said to be more tame than the mainstream.
This isn’t true across the board, of course, but it’s an issue, and it’s potentially slowing down how quickly indie publishing gains credibility with all types of readers. As more writers self-publish, this dynamic will change, but until then the indie revolution is not entirely available to everyone. That’s not really in the spirit of independent writing – it’s not really even in the spirit of mainstream writing either.
*The book also has a lot of five star reviews.