Jo’s Views will be a series of short articles on any aspects of books, writing or language. Replies and arguments are always welcome firstname.lastname@example.org
I read a lot. I review some of the books I read. As a result of the increase in self-publishing during the last few years I have read a number of self-published books – though many are actually published by firms who offer the service of publication. I now draw a few tentative conclusions about self-published fiction:
1.The standard of self-published books has improved markedly over the last few years.
2.The creative ability of the writers, their use of imagination and their story telling-ability is often no less.
3. They are consistently let down by a number of factors, many of which are easily capable of being remedied:
- choice of type face or size which are not comfortable to read;
- poor spelling (often homophones not picked up by spell-checkers);
- poor punctuation (especially over-punctuation, such as putting non-dialogue in inverted commas or the excessive use of exclamation marks);
- inconsistencies in usage (for example inconsistent use of capital letters for words such as mother, father or days of the week);
- overuse of qualifying words (although I accept this is more a matter of opinion, the multiple use of adjectives before nouns – especially if they are hyphenated – doesn’t always make for smooth reading and often detracts from the force of the nouns; likewise with adverbs and verbs); and
- stylistic oddities such as writers putting words, which they think important, in capitals or having people who are talking to each other repeat the other’s name in every separate part of the dialogue;
4. I also think – though again this is very much a matter of my opinion – that writers forget that their readers are intelligent beings too. Many of the writers qualify or over-explain words, events, motives and much more. My own view is that less is better: if the reader is at all interested and doesn’t know, they can look up anything unknown: we do not live in an age short of information sources.
When I read the worst texts, I sometimes wonder if they aren’t more examples of everybody talking and nobody listening – for it seems that none of the talkers listen or, in this case, read.
My conclusion is that self-published books are important but they could be better if they were read before publication by a number of readers who would then bring their thoughts to the authors. This would enable them to iron out or omit anything likely to put off a significant number of readers. Writers will not please all their readers all the time but they then may be better able to reach a wider audience.
Updated 26 October 2016
THE FUTURE OF BOOKS
I think there is a place for ebooks (though I wish they didn’t have the word books in their description. They are not books but a means of reading texts). They are particularly useful for people who travel (including holidays – which may explain why most books downloaded are either free or could be classed as holiday reading) and for replacing large books (reference books and for people who have to refer to them at work – doctors, lawyers and so on). Ebooks allow more people to publish at a reasonable cost. Except that this is both good and bad. Good because it allows more people to be heard but bad because the world is already flooded with titles. Far too many are published: too many are of doubtful merit or duplicate titles and areas already covered and will be read by few.
But will they replace books? Not in my lifetime. Apart from the well known arguments in favour of books (the concept and the sensual aspects) there is research showing that reading from a book uses more parts of the brain that reading an ebook or on a computer. I am not sure why but this may explain other research which shows that people learn better when reading a book than when reading the same information in an electronic medium. University students in New York still apparently prefer books.
Books, for the hours of enjoyment they give, are still relatively cheap – though I do not like putting monetary value to aspects of life such as reading (or education or health) – are easily replaced, can be lent or even thrown. Books have been part of us for nearly 500 years. They will not last another 500. They will, however, last longer than most people seem to think. The numbers of users may be smaller, the number of titles published in book form fewer but they will be here. And valued.
Jo Harding 26 October 2016