Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Influencing Quality Regulation in Self-Publishing

With so much self-publishing going on, is there any way of influencing quality? 
It does come down to individual taste.

One method could be by reviews.  

This system already exists but is, I believe, under-utilised.   

Why?  Maybe because people forget that they are allowed to rate books.  We +1 Google posts. We favourite Tweets. We Like Facebook posts, and the list goes on.  So why don't we rate books more often?  Amazon allows it.  GoodReads allows it.  Heck, my local library allows it on their catalogues.

eBay, that ginormous online garage sale, uses a self-rating model to improve the quality of its transactions.  If nobody knew you were an asshole, you'd probably get away with poor service, ill-described products and other sins for quite some time.  But because of feedback for our transactions, everything is open and (mostly) honest and aboveboard.  Sure, there's a bad transaction here and there.  Nobody is perfect. Yet to see most sellers and buyers with 99.X% positive feedback is heartening.

Perhaps when it comes to books, as readers we need to up our game, especially for the small press, the indie publishers, the self-publishers.  Honestly, why are we bothering to give a review of Twilight or Hunger Games or Harry Potter when there's so many other midlist and debut authors whose work is in greater need of our honest feedback?

Are readers afraid of leaving a bad review?  How many of us were raised with "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"?  In casual face-to-face conversation, this is a very good rule.  In business, maybe honest is a better policy.

As readers, we're consumers of a product.  Providing feedback in the form of reviews lets us share our opinions.  If a book's good, we need to say it's good. If it's bad, we, likewise, should say something. 

Three Stories

Story #1:  Once upon a time I came across a blog somewhere about Really Bad Book Covers. (Forgive me, I can't remember which one.)  One post was dedicated completely to one self-published author.  Yes, his covers were truly hideous.  But it wasn't a case of good author/bad artist.  I looked up the author on Amazon and had a quick peek inside several randomly-selected novels.

Oh dear.  Spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes and a few other issues that even a half-drunk editor would have picked up on.  The work had not been edited and it showed. 

And the poor guy had written and self-published a good thirty-something novels.  I checked out early novels and his later novels.  I did not notice any significant changes between the early works and the later works.  This guy was getting no feedback.

Not a single review was posted at all under his Amazon page.  Have no idea how many copies he's sold.  Apparently nobody wanted to admit they'd bought one.

I checked out his books on GoodReads.  Five stars across the board, except for one, which was three stars.  

Oh, really?  How come?

When I had a look, the guy had self-reviewed and had rated himself highly. He was the only reviewer on his books.   The one book with three stars had two ratings, his, and another reader's. The reader had rated the book a low one star, mostly because of plot reasons.

Had he received several bad reviews, would this author have considered revisiting his [many] issues and create a better product based on consumer feedback?

Story #2:  As an apprentice writer and university freshman, I had the opportunity to attend a creative writing class at university.  Before that class, I thought I was a pretty good writer. I'd written several short stories, personal essays, poems, even three novels by then.  I thought I was doing rather well.

Then I workshopped a piece.  

Oh, one had never seen such terrible destruction of a piece of writing!  Had my vocation not been The Word, that class alone would have turned me off writing forever. (But I persevered throughout my university career, through even worse classes than that.  I survived.)

One thing I did learn was that I had not enough master of the craft to see the blatant mistakes I was making. Feedback gave me that. The taking apart of my work was not done maliciously.  The feedback was correct and justified.  I am a better writer today because if it.

Story #3:    Harry Potter.  The reason it did so well out of its initial first print run of only 500 hardcovers was because people read it AND TALKED ABOUT IT. 

They gave their honest feedback.  And look what happened.

Word-of-mouth is one of the best marketing tools there is.

We should use it more.

Her Grace likes telling people about the good stuff she's read.  Likewise, she'll also express her disappointment in a novel that didn't strike her right.

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