(Note: Having written this post a few days ago, I have spent a fair deal of time debating whether or not this should be posted as I do not especially like the idea of spreading things that end up quite so hateful and dramatic through this blog. As this situation has showcased an important point about self-publishing, however, I have decided to hit “publish”. Should anyone have any comments, I only ask you attempt to remain respectful. Unnecessarily rude comments will be deleted).
Last week, a blog post for a woman named Quin Woodward Pu went viral detailing her response to what otherwise seemed like a pretty benign “I’m not feeling it” text message. While I do personally agree with the bulk of commentators that her text back to this unnamed man seems, well, crazy, one thing got me thinking. In passing in Pu’s text she mentions that she is “a 25 year old with two published books and a condo” as evidence for why she won’t be affected by him not being interested (I think?) With that detail out there, it didn’t take long for one commentator (what can I say, I sometimes like reading angry responses to things on the internet, it’s a guilty pleasure) to find her book on Amazon and bring it into the hate storm as fair game.
As of me typing this blog post, both books have been brought down to below two stars based on an influx of one-star reviews that, more likely than not, are tied to her blog post (some directly mention the blog post in the reviews). Now, I never support writing mean reviews for books that are focused on the author rather than the book itself (just recently Goodreads cracked down on reviewers after an author pulled the release of her book from being attacked with one-star reviews before anyone could even read her book because of asking what people thought was a “stupid” question on a site forum) but the ones who read either the book or the free excerpt on amazon and thought the writing was bad quickly pointed out something else–both of Pu’s books are self-published (Amazon lists the publishers of books on their listings and “Createspace” [Amazon’s self-publishing platform] is the one listed for Pu).
Now, there are several very good self-published books out there. For authors who want to maintain complete control over their books, or are just sick and tired of the traditional publishing model, it’s a great option. But while the self-publishing stigma is slowly starting to dissipate as more authors start putting out quality books through such outlets, the reaction to Pu’s books shows that stigma is far from gone.
The problem, you see, is that by passing the power to publish from publishers to authors, you lose the gatekeepers (and the support systems) publishing was once use to. In some ways this is good. As I’ve stated before, publishers buy books they think will sell. If they don’t think a great book will come off the shelf, they will pass on it. Self-publishing allows a great book to attempt standing on its own merit. It does mean, however, that anyone can put out anything in any state. The people employed to find good stories and writing (acquisitions editors, slush pile readers, [and to be honest] publishing interns) aren’t controlling the publishing platform anymore. If someone wants to publish a book that is barely legible from typos and entirely nonsensical, they can put it out there and point to being a “published author”. Without the support system publishers offer as well (content editors, copy editors, cover designers, etc.) it is entirely on the author to make sure they are turning out a professional product (either by being multi-talented artists who can also do graphic design or putting up the money to hire freelancers/editing firms before going to print). And the fact is, many self-published authors just don’t take the time to do so.
I did read the free sample of one of Pu’s books before writing this post, and did I, personally, think that sample at least shows good writing? Not especially. Even the first few pages have typos that should have been picked up and as an editor I would have had several notes for her to work on before going to press. Do some of the people who have taken the time to read a bit–rather than simply attacking her as a person–truly believe that that’s what the book deserves for a rating? Very possibly (unless the book gets much better further on, I’m not sure it would have gotten much better marks from me). Does she deserve her books ending up in the hate storm that’s becoming attached to her name? That’s where it gets difficult.
Like I said before, I never support rating a book that’s available off an author’s personal life/their beliefs/anything that isn’t the book’s own merit. It is a nasty thing to do, period. With Pu’s seemingly self-important attitude about being “published” as a talking point, though, it nearly seems as though she purposefully threw the books into the line of fire.
Who knows? There’s the old adage about any publicity being good publicity. Perhaps people will start buying her books just to see/to hate read them, in which case, good for her, royalties are going to go through the roof. Personally, I think what this example really says, though, is that one needs to be careful when self-publishing. Using a platform like Createspace or Lulu shouldn’t be a mark of shame on any author, but when you’re bypassing the gatekeeping method so long used in publishing for your own path, you are opening yourself up to the full brunt of critiques to your book. There is no “idiot publisher” people will point to whose fault it is for letting a bad book out in such a state. It automatically becomes some “idiot author” who thinks “they’re good enough to sully the name of books” with their opus. Your book suddenly has to carry the entire weight of proof that it is a good book. Otherwise, it’s simple for the great internet droves to dismiss as some nobody who just wants to see their name on a cover without being a “real” author.
And so, if there’s anything to take away from all of this as an author (other than don’t post inflammatory things on the internet without purposefully hoping to get a stir) it is to be thorough when planning to self-publish. As your own publisher, it’s up to you to make sure that your work is the best it can be before being sent off into the world. Nobody else is going to. Hire an editor (hopefully a good one) if you can. Get tons and tons of beta readers and an English teacher to copy-edit (at the least) if you can’t. You are taking a road to publishing that has its benefits, but also many, many pitfalls to watch for. Don’t make it easy for people to dismiss you with a pat on the head.
As to people attacking you as a person, not your book, in a review? Ignore them. Seriously. They’re jerks.
(For those who wish to see the blog post that sparked the hate storm, you can find it here [assuming Pu doesn’t feel the need to remove it at some point]. Fair warning though, of all the comments I’ve found around the internet about this story, the ones on her blog are by far the worst, devolving to mean comments about her race, appearance, and weight rather than any comments about the post/her actions).