Gatekeeper or Renegade: What kind of Reader Filter do You Prefer?

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Over the past week, two posts – Chuck Wendig’s epic rant on the way stinker self-published books are pulling us all down and J.A. Konrath’s rip into literary agent Donald Maass for his arrogant gatekeeper ways – have made their way around and around the blog world. Many bloggers have reacted with posts of their own or lengthy comments.

These posts represent strong statements at either end of a spectrum. Wendig calls for gatekeepers of some variety – perhaps a vetting group of other authors and professionals. Konrath argues for the wild-west – an open frontier where readers decide what they want to read.

I have no idea how many self-published books busy guys like Wendig or Konrath read. I do know how many I read – probably one or two a week. Regardless of how I feel about a book, I almost always finish. My husband will often ask me, (as I sit, fume and spew out my own rants) why don’t you just stop reading it? I’m not sure of the answer to that question – maybe I’m stubborn, maybe it’s curiosity.

At the end of the day, I respect all the authors I read because I know first-hand the challenges they’ve faced. Writing, my dear friends, is not an easy pursuit. That being said, I certainly don’t recommend every self-published book that ends up on my Kindle.

As a reader, my needs are straightforward. Did I feel enriched in some way by reading this book? Did I learn something interesting about a geographical location or a particular aspect of the world – culture, work, or lifestyle? Was I challenged about a stereotype I didn’t even know I had? Did I grow through the emotional experiences of the characters? If I can answer yes to any of these questions, the story did its job.

When I read a self-published book that didn’t hit the mark, I delve into the question of why. Not a genre I enjoy? Not really my cup of tea? Those aren’t criteria upon which to judge because that’s about me, not the book. Did poor editing or formatting get me hung-up? That isn’t a deal breaker, though it can be awfully irritating. I want to see beyond that, to the story.

Was it too long? Was it author indulgent with information dumps and pet peeves rammed down my throat? Was the underlying structure of the book confusing or out of order? Were there plot holes you could drive a semi through? Were the characters real to me? Did I care?

What upsets me the most are the stories that could have been so much more. I long to have had the chance to read those books before the authors published them. I want to be a content or structural editor who says, cut it by at least a third, don’t leave me hanging, don’t start with this part – start with that part, stop repeating yourself, you’re using a chainsaw here when a butter knife is more appropriate, you’re not giving me a chance to bond with this character, you’re head-hopping, you need to pick up the pace. get your own crap out of the way so the story can be told etc. etc. etc.

Then of course, there are the books that are just plain poor in every way. The stories don’t work, I don’t care about the characters, the editing is non-existent and the formatting problems are off the wall. I call that a perfect storm of unfortunate writing.

Maybe I sound a bit arrogant and I don’t mean to. I have only written two of my own novels but I’ve been reading all my life. I claim expert status in the reader department. I know what works and what doesn’t.

Even in the case of the perfect storm books, I don’t believe those authors are dragging me or anyone else (but themselves) down. I don’t think self-publishing, as we know it, is about to implode and become a sucking black hole, drawing the entire universe into its inky darkness. I just feel sort of sad. I heave a sigh and get on with my own writing. As the saying goes, hope springs eternal – I look forward to the next book on my list.

I suppose this puts me in the Konrath camp. As a reader, I don’t need a gatekeeper to filter my choices. I’ve always been a bit of a renegade.

What’s your opinion on this contentious issue? Do you read self-published authors? Do you want someone to filter out the so-called unworthy books for you? Go ahead – weigh in. The topic is not one that is about to go away anytime soon.

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