Tag Archives: Goodreads

Self-publishing or self-satisfaction?

5 Oct

As I grapple with the idea of self-publishing my fiction due to the apparent impossibility of getting anywhere near a traditional publisher, I’m reminded of the misdeeds perpetrated by some members of the virtual writing community that bring the whole enterprise into disrepute. It’s sufficient to make me hold back for the time being. This post may not make me popular with some of my friends in the virtual world, but some things need saying. Here’s a little advice for the worst offenders.

Reviewing your own books on Goodreads and Amazon – what the feck?, as they say – and then having the temerity to award yourself five stars out of five… it takes some nerve! If you were really serious about the business of writing, you couldn’t possibly be so satisfied with your own work. The ability to be self-critical is an essential skill for the serious writer. Without it, you can’t move your work forward.

And then, it turns out that all of those other readers supplying your five-star ratings are self-published authors themselves. You scratch my back… If you want to be taken seriously, you can’t be dishonest with your potential readers. My traditionally published non-fiction work scores a mere 3.60 on Goodreads, reviewed as it is by people who don’t know me. Clearly, it doesn’t cut the mustard, then, despite the print run selling out at £40 per copy.

Some of these authors are churning out three or four books a year! I suspect that this is made possible by compromising the teensiest bit on quality… And that’s to say nothing of the relentless self-promotion that seems to go with the territory, the endless tweets, Facebook and Goodreads statuses bleating on about this or that five-star review of an author’s work that render social media almost unreadable. A key part of this strategy is to follow thousands of other writers and readers on Twitter so that they follow you back then ‘unfollow’ them, creating the illusion that you have hordes of fans and admirers (to borrow a phrase from the late Vivian Stanshall). And what is it with self-published authors and genre definition? Young adult romantic urban dark fantasy… Really? And why isn’t anyone writing books for grown-ups any more? The commodification and infantilisation of culture go hand in hand, it would seem.

This picture of my garden in spring has nothing whatsoever to do with the post, but it lightens the tone, doesn't it?

This picture of my garden in spring has nothing whatsoever to do with the post, but it lightens the tone, don’t you think?

You are not an ‘indie’ writer. You are self-published. At least let’s be honest about it. Let’s make the term respectable by cutting out all of the above instead of hiding behind euphemisms. Euphemisms are employed to cover up truths. What is there to hide? Independent publishers are small ones not owned by the big multinationals, not individuals who publish their own work.

Ah, I hear the counsel for the defence counter, but most of these misdemeanours occur in traditional publishing too. That charlatanism happens elsewhere constitutes no defence. I’m as critical of traditional publishing as I am of self-publishing. Indie music labels genuinely sought to cut out much of the corporate malpractice in which the big labels indulged. If self-publishers are to have any moral authority, they must do the same.

‘Lies that tell the truth’, someone said of fiction. Or at least, I think they did. And if not, I’m claiming it. Novelists make things up but they do so to tell us truths about what it means to be human. A good writer is honest in his intent. Pretending that your work has been impartially reviewed and evading the fact that you’ve published it yourself is dishonest. It doesn’t bode well for what may lie between the covers (pun intended).

There are honourable exceptions. My friend Mari Biella’s self-published works are genuinely good and she doesn’t endlessly trumpet their existence. J D Hughes’s infrequent self-promotion is witty, at least. The problem is that the claims of self-published works of quality are drowned out by the proclamations of self-aggrandising pulp merchants.

All text and images © PSR 2014

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One Star or Five?

24 May

Six years after everyone else, I’ve got around to joining Goodreads. I’m rapidly discovering that the site is crammed with people from around the world who are genuinely interested in books rather than those on certain other sites who are there just to push ‘product’. And among the reviews, all manner of books are presented as works of genius..

One of the most noticeable aspects when you look at members’ reviews is how certain books seem to polarise opinion. A five star review will be followed by another with one, often stating that the reader couldn’t finish the book. These are books that ‘get a reaction’, and in general that must be a good thing, surely. And it seems to me, that it’s books at either end of the spectrum that provoke this sort of response. Books that I love (by inspirational writers like those in the photo below) will receive eulogies from like-minded readers only to be dismissed by other readers as ‘boring’ or ‘pretentious’. Examples of ‘kidult’ fiction, on the other hand, will be declared literary masterpieces by the critics of Calvino and Borges.

From my point of view as a reader, this just has to be the best photo ever... It  could only be improved if Perec were looking over their shoulders.

From my point of view as a reader, this just has to be the best photo ever… It could only be improved if Perec were looking over their shoulders.

Back in the dim and distant past, when I belonged to a writing group, my own work would receive a similarly split response. I tend to think that you must be doing something right if your writing pleases kindred spirits while annoying those with limited horizons and no work ethic when it comes to writing. I’ve remarked before, which side of the divide you’ll find me on. There’s no sense in standing on the sidelines of your own blog. I’ll be manning the barricades in defence of complexity and depth, ambition and experimentation, throwing metaphorical Molotov cocktails at writing that’s lazy, juvenile and shallow.

Curiously, even as I type this post, sitting in Caffe Nero, there’s a man, clearly on a blind date, slating The Great Gatsby as preposterous and pretentious. Fitzgerald’s book is far from being my favourite book, but I can appreciate its craftsmanship and originality. I suspect that Romeo’s one star review is a reflection of his philistinism and intellectual laziness. She seems to think he’s wrong too. It must be his chat-up lines, rather than his erudition, attracting her five star reviews…

All text © PSR 2014. Image found on Goodreads – its provenance is unknown to me.

Goodreads, badspellings…

25 Apr

Setting aside for a moment, the illiterate title of a website dedicated to reading and writing (is it a horror of messy hair extensions that I’ve subscribed to?), I’d like to consider the merits of the ‘social cataloguing’ site Goodreads. Friends kept on mentioning it, so I thought that I’d give it a look. I allowed Goodreads to import my Twitter account followers and within three days I had almost 200 friends on the site. I suppose this illustrates that the more you work on your ‘internet presence’, the more the interconnectivity of the web kicks in. Does all of this serve any purpose, though?

I’m also an author-member of Library Thing. I have to confess that I’ve hardly looked at this site and have found it intrinsically uninteresting. Whether this is due to my not having explored its possibilities or its innately boring nature, it’s difficult for me to say. If Goodreads enables the individual to connect with like-minded readers and writers, that has to be a good thing, I think. I’ve linked up with fellow admirers of Georges Perec’s Life a User’s Manual, for example, so maybe this will lead me to other authors that I’ll like, of whom I’m currently unaware. We shall see. And it’s interesting to discover the books that other people are reading and what they have to say about them. I’ve detected the rot of self-promotion seeping in, though, with one writer/reader listing his own work as his favourite. Hmm…

A large quantity of books hidden behind the Christmas tree in the author's front room...

A large quantity of books hidden behind the Christmas tree in the author’s front room…

All social media have their limitations. They’re about the people that you meet and how able you are to interact with them, given the obstacles that each of the sites inherently places in your path. I enjoy blogging and reading the posts that my friends write (please take note, WordPress!). Once you reach a certain number of followers/blogs followed, though, it becomes increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Twitter’s USP of limiting communication to 140-word characters ultimately undermines the ability to connect. And that’s to say nothing of the constant stream of self-promotion that makes it all but impossible to pick out anything of interest. It’s the same needle in a haystack that blights your blog feed. I find Facebook pretty boring in the main with the same quizzes and YouTube clips endlessly recurring. And I just can’t get interested in Pinterest or Instagram.

I’ve actually discovered an interesting new social medium. It has connectivity pretty much the world over. There are no advertisements or outages. It’s called RealLife. You go to a café or bar and talk to people. If you don’t like what you find in your news feed or comment box, you walk to another café or bar and talk to someone else. Then when you’ve had enough, you catch the bus home.

The fact that Goodreads is now owned by Amazon strikes me as worrying. That one, hyper-capitalist corporation should have so much control over a vital cultural activity is a disturbing development. Democracy and government, communities and national boundaries are becoming increasingly irrelevant in the corporate age.  Kautsky got this aspect of society right, it would seem.

Any thoughts?

All text and images © PSR 2014