In a strange way, self-published books are held to a higher standard than traditionally published books. Here’s what happens: a reviewer or reader receives a book and is informed that it’s self-published. The reader then reads the book looking for clues about why the book was self-published. And when you’re looking for something to criticize, you’re going to find it.
By all means, there are self-published books that should never see the light of day. But the same can be said for some traditionally published books as well. I’m not a great fan of writers like John Grisham or Dean Koontz. There’s a factory-line quality to the writing – as if it was written by a computer. And one of the disappointments about self-published writing is it seems to be written by people who aspire to be the next Koontz, rather than writing something that has yet to be done.
Certain mainstream writing just isn’t that much better constructed or fleshed out than mediocre self-published writing, but Koontz is famous and successful so he gets a pass. I would love to conduct an experiment with editors at mainstream houses: a blind test of self-published and traditionally published books and have the editors try and guess which books were self-published or not. The results would probably be surprising. Their prejudice against self-publishing may just be revealed.
I collect quotes from books to be used as epigraphs. Not to dig into Somerset Maugham, who is great, but I put aside this quote as an example of jumbled writing by a writer who’s a member of the literary canon:
“It is a sound instinct of the common people which persuades them that with this all that needs to be said is said.”
Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
That’s a verbatim quote – your guess is as good as mine what he’s trying to say. If this was in a self-published book, it would be met with the response: “See? Self-published writing sucks! It needs an editor! No wonder it wasn’t published!” But because it’s in the book of an established writer, it’s overlooked.
Every book is flawed. Every single book. Even books deemed masterpieces. As someone said, “Art is not finished, it’s abandoned.” There are ways to rewrite any sentence. But self-published writers are judged unfairly from the start – as not being legitimate, as assumed to be poorly written or it would have found a taker. And so the book is immediately judged based on not having a publishing contract, rather than the quality of the writing – “It must be bad.” That is an unfair standard that is not placed on other books.
About Henry Baum
Author of The American Book of the Dead, which won Best Fiction at the DIY Book Festival and the Gold IPPY Award for Visionary Fiction. Largehearted Boy says it's "reminiscent of Philip K. Dick and Haruki Murakami, a book that boldly explores the future and defies genre." Also the author of North of Sunset, winner of the Hollywood Book Festival Grand Prize, and The Golden Calf - first published by Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. (Rebel Inc.) and France (Hachette Littératures). Henry was a finalist along with Alan Moore and Dr Brooke Magnanti for his novel " God's Wife" at for Best Writer at The Erotic Awards London UK in 2013. He lives with his wife Cate Baum in Los Angeles. He is the founder of SPR. Visit henrybaum.com for more information.