If you are skimming a book, why even read it? What the ease of self-publishing has done to the “great” novel

I recently picked up a book that I was really excited about.  The premise was new to me, and the cover was stunning.  The five-star reviews on Amazon helped a bit too.  So I nestled down with my E-reader and delved into this wonderfully imagined tale.

swish swivel squiggle

***My bubble soon popped***

The idea of this story was great… elves live among us.  They look just like us, only a little shorter, and they are all quite beautiful.  The story is about an elf girl who is predestined to marry a particular elf, but they cannot meet until her eighteenth birthday. (Of course that gets screwed up or there wouldn’t be a story.) There is also this great buildup of a huge battle between dark and light elves.

(In respect to the author, I am not going to reveal the title or author. No one likes a bad review. And everyone should form their own opinion.)

The story sounded so exciting, but as I read, I had to wonder where all these five-star reviews came from.  Has the influx of bad novels stilted people’s reading so much that they would consider an average novel to be extraordinary?

I found tons of things wrong with this novel.  Long, unnecessary conversations with friends that have nothing to do with the story, several typos in the first few pages. (missing words) Scenes that seemed placed into the text just for page count that had nothing to do with the story, and so on.

But I delved on.  I figured all these stars had to come from somewhere.  So I started to skim, and skim, and skim. Then all of the sudden, the hero (future husband) pops up and gets jealous of a drunk guy hitting on his future bride (who he has not even officially met yet)…


Yeah… cold blooded murder. And then there is a conversation with his Dad about how it really didn’t even bother him to have killed someone.



I sooooooo don’t like this guy anymore. And I should like him, because the main character loves him. Right? (Or am I an old fogey and it is okay these days to have a murderer for a fiancée?)

I was resolved to see how the author would write her way out of that one… but she never did.

At the end, when I reached the big battle, I stopped skimming, but continued to be dissatisfied.

When I was done I shook my head.  How was this possible?  Why did I dislike this book so much when the premise seemed so good?

I looked back and checked to see who published it.  Yes, there was a publisher listed, so I looked up their website.  Guess what? No website.

[[Smacks herself in the head]]

Yep, I was duped.  This appears to be a self-published book with a fake publisher name to hide behind.  And the author did a great job…  good marketing and a gorgeous cover. I think they paid more attention to the cover and marketing than writing and editing.

Now… I am in no way shape or form saying that there is anything wrong with self-publishing.  There are some great self-published books out there. I think I gave a four star review to Sweet Blood of Mine.  It deserved it.

I know that many self-published authors paid their dues, learned their craft, and produced great works of art.  The problem is, these people are getting swallowed by the influx of people producing skim-worthy… or just plain HORRIBLE books.

I don’t even know what my point is. I guess I would not have been so bothered if there weren’t something like 250 five-star reviews on this work.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you have never edited your manuscript, or had a beta reader other than your mother, or if you did have a few real beta-readers, and you ignored their shouts of “Show Verses Tell” or their requests to delete a scene, or NOT HAVE YOUR LOVE INTEREST KILL SOMEONE.  (Yeah, that part really bothered me)

Anyway… If any of the things above apply, but you went out to query anyway, and your received rejections, you may not want to take the easy way out and self-publish. Maybe you should really look at your writing, and try to figure out WHY you are getting rejections.

This book could have been AWESOME. The writer just needed a heavy line edit, and a proofreader. A good developmental editor could have made this sucker EPIC.  I mean seriously, this book could have been stupendous!

Was it that bad?

Well, no, but the work reads like little or no attention was given to make this story sparkle.

Yes, self-publishing may give you personal satisfaction.  Yes, most of your friends will not know the difference and they will be excited for you… but all these books out there make it really hard to find a good novel these days.  And with all those five-star reviews on this one particular book, I have to wonder if readers, in general, are losing their capacity to even notice a well crafted book when they read it.

It makes me sad.

Then again, maybe what a “good book” is has changed. Maybe I’m the one who needs to catch up with the times.


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33 responses to “If you are skimming a book, why even read it? What the ease of self-publishing has done to the “great” novel

  1. I’m glad I found your blog. I’m working on a book, think the idea is sound, the characters are interesting and compelling. I have had a couple of beta readers give feedback, posted excerpts to my bog, etc. I’ve been working in publishing, PR and newspapers for 35 years, and know that no matter how much effort I put into this, i’m a fool if i don’t get a good editor and listen. I just had a fellow blogger give me some really good feedback. It was the kind of thing that I knew was true as soon as I read what she had to say, but I wasn’t able to see it for myself.

    • Totally! This happens to me all the time. I look at what they say and smack myself in the head. Crazy how it is right there, staring at you, but you don’t notice until someone points it out.

  2. Zingo! In an indie world, where so many are trying to build platforms, learn to use & keep up with social media, and support each other, it is such a bummer to read an indie book that needs an editor! Saw a great quote once: so many books, so little time.

    A good book is still a good book.

    Not finishing a book, for me, is like leaving food on my plate. What about all those starving children in wherever? However, after having about ten experiences like you just described, I’m learning not to slog through books that don’t grab me by chapter three.

    Thanks for the post.

    • Yeah, I wish I could, but when I pay for something, even if it is just a few bucks, I like to get my money’s worth. Not finishing feels like flushing my money down the toilet.

  3. This is a really good point. I’ve read some really badly written self-published novels and I think why didn’t you make this as good as you could before you published it? At least get it looked at first by beta readers and LISTEN to them! Great post. 🙂

  4. Georgina Cromarty

    Sadly I agree. Sometimes they have amazing rating and you keep reading in the desperate hope you are missing the good part. I try samples now before I buy on my kindle which can weed some out- but not all. I have also taken to reading a couple of bad reviews even on ones with great rating, some times the worst review give you the biggest hint as to whether you are going to like it.

  5. Yes, yes, and yes. Just blogged about this myself last month. There are so many amaZING premises out there being totally destroyed by their own creators.

    • Oh… I read one last year that was even worse. The idea was sound. The story was great. But the author had huge info dumps and pages of summary. They hate each other on one page, then there is a summary, and a page later they were getting married. SAY WHAT?

  6. Nice post! If I don’t know anything about a book, I check to see if it was self-published. If someone I know has read it and liked it, then I’ll take a chance. Otherwise, I don’t put much credence in reviews that may or may not be legit. I also have a couple of favorite blogger book reviewers who do an amazing job and may disagree on whether they like the same book, but I respect their opinions highly. You can find them at Fiction Fan: http://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/ and Lady Fanciful: http://ladyfancifull.wordpress.com/. They review a wide variety of books.

  7. Well, look at the success of 50 Shades of Grey . . . I picked it up at my mom’s house and could only get through the first 10 pages b/c the writing was so blatantly horrible. And how many 5 star reviews does that have? Seriously?!?! I mean, SERIOUSLY?!?!?!

  8. You’ve touched on one of the great conundrums of 21st Century publishing. Badly thought out and badly edited books appear more in self-publishing than traditional, but still appear everywhere. Reviews are exchanged with friendly parties, or even outright faked. (Ie: having more than one account on Amazon so you can review yourself without being screened.)

    I see this mostly as a computer-induced laziness. Newer writers depend more on spell checkers and grammar checkers, whereas more experienced writers may have experienced the shortcomings. Those little “auto-spell gaffe” jokes that always go around the Internet are funny because they’re so true.

    I also see an influence from media overlap with movies and especially video games. Speaking as someone who loves video games and plays every day, the video game makes “killing” foes extremely easy and even routine. You kill NPCs and grab their loot. Or the game may send endless waves of zombies or such that players will regard as “okay to kill without remorse.” Very seldom does a game ask players to think about what they’re acting out in play. The notable exception is the Elder Scrolls series, where guards will pursue characters who commit murders and robberies.

    Like you, I hesitate to give negative reviews. But I will do them, because it’s my reputation at stake as well as the author’s. If I give five stars to vapid trash, it undermines my credibility. However, I do seek to find some positive aspects, and if I can’t find anything… It will be a really short review.

  9. I just want to agree with one of the above comments, this is not just an Indie issue. I read a great deal, split almost evenly down the middle between trads and indies, and I don’t find myself skimming only the indies. I also find myself rolling my eyes at typo-riddled trads, too. I think it’s the ease of publishing in general, not just the ease of self-publishing. My two cents.

  10. What bothers me the most are grammar, spelling and punctuation. I cannot say I never make punctuation mistakes but then I find 20 commas on a page, or colons and semicolons, then I’m too frustrated to learn.
    Someone recently asked me to review her book. I couldn’t do it. The title and the content were at odds with each other and I felt the author talking down to the reader, which made me feel stupid. How can all this happen only a dozen pages into the book?

  11. Anthony Schiavino

    I actually just wrote a post that tied into what you’re saying. I know a good number of people that give each other five star reviews because they essentially know each other. Their reviews will even say I know nothing about this type or book nor do I even read it but I LOVED THIS ONE. It’s based on friendships and reciprocating reviews unsaid. It’s seriously undermining readers, and in giving unwarranted five star reviews it does nothing to help the writer hone their craft.

  12. terrirochenski

    Hear hear! Excellent post, Jen.

  13. Once I start to skim, I’m done reading. I might go to the end and read the last chapter, but not usually. I love that you didn’t mention the author. Very kind way to review.

  14. Great post! I agree, I’ve been disappointed by a large number of self published books that just needed some good editing. I love the idea of not depending on publishers, but it’s harder to find books with good content and writing when there’s no one double checking.

  15. No you don’t need to catch up with the times. I feel similarly. On one hand the ease of self publication is wonderful-but on the other hand… well, you said it quiet plainly. There were typos and issues as a whole with the manuscript. I’m more on the side of traditional publishing if only fpr the system of checks and balances it has for the content.

  16. This is exactly why I hung in there (read ‘worked my butt off’) for over ten years to get published. I want to be the best writer I can be and I know I can’t get there by myself. I’m learning so much through the publishing process. As writers, we owe it to our readers, our manuscripts and ourselves to give the best we can. Just my opinion of course.

  17. I feel sad too Jennifer. I don’t waste my time anymore on badly written/unedited books. It looks like more and more people are saying “I could do that” and unfortunately, they do.

  18. I’ve been having trouble with the traditionally published books as well as indie. A couple of my favorite NY Times best selling authors with big name publishers had glaring typos in their books for some of their newer releases. There are also novels where I can’t figure out what the editors saw in them. Why Divergent got so popular with all it’s major plot holes is beyond me.

    Then there’s the self published books. I find some real gems among indies, but a lot of crap too. The best method I’ve found is to load the sample first. Usually I can tell if it’s going to be good early on and make an informed decision.

    Of course, there are some books out there that even if they have typos they are a cut above the rest. The important thing to me is the story telling. If the author can make me care about their characters and keep me turning the pages I don’t care who published the book.

    • “If the author can make me care about their characters and keep me turning the pages I don’t care who published the book.” — Yes, I totally agree. I don’t care WHO published, but I feel like one should at least make an effort to be the best it can be. I should have gotten a sample first.

  19. Lots of friends, lots of peeps in the author’s circle. Maybe even a mass pleading out to an e-mail list: ‘hey, my book is out and would love you to leave a review or a star or two.’. I get all kinds of e-mail requests from authors to go ‘like’ their page or their book or whatever. I know there are places you can pay to have your book reviewed and these places promise ‘excellent’ reviews. I’m not saying the author did this, just that they exist. I’ve also heard of sites that actually create hundreds of e-mail addresses so they can ‘spam’ messages. Again, I don’t know if the author did this, but I’ve heard of the practice and it makes me kind of sick. I hope the author didn’t create his/her own fan reviews but sometimes people do that so ‘real’ people will buy their books. The art of deceiving. Even Oprah was duped once by supporting an author’s book that turned out to be completely false. Sad.

  20. Or maybe those five star reviews came from … questionable sources.

  21. I completely understand. I’ve just recently finished an indie book that had a similar high user rating and I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t horrible from the typos perspective, but imo the story was very very lacking. I finished it and should have a review coming out shortly. This isn’t the first time this has happened to me and I think I am going to stick to the larger published books, I feel like I am less likely to read something I dislike going that way. The indie way is just too unbalanced and I can’t trust user reviews on them.

  22. jwpattenauthor

    Excellent article…!