Okay, I want to say straight off that this is not a criticism of Smashwords or Mark Coker. They provide a wonderful service to those of us who choose to self publish, allowing us to get into vendors we otherwise would not have a shot at, and not charging us anything out the door and a very reasonable cut of each sale. My beef is not at all with Smashwords as a service.
But here’s the thing. I consistently hear people who are considering self-publishing or just trying to see if it’s really changed from what it used to be, using Smashwords as their rubric. And what they’re finding is a whole lot of the unpolished, unedited crap that self-publishing has always had. Because, yes, absolutely, all of the speshul snowflakes who couldn’t hack it in traditional publishing, who refuse to edit their opus, who think editors and agents are blind for not recognizing their bloated manuscript of awesome, have all published through Smashwords. I daresay, there is probably more of THAT on Smashwords than really truly good work. And there’s no particularly good way of sorting through it. Buying books just on browsing through Smashwords is really a crapshoot in a lot of ways. You can check out ratings, but there are no rankings.
So to the detractors of self-publishing, I ask you not to judge Self-Publishing as a whole by what you find on Smashwords because you’re already looking for proof that self-publishing is still crap, so of course you’re going to see it.
What you SHOULD be looking at is those same books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble where they are competing directly against traditionally published works. This is the true marketplace, people. Are those same crappy works you saw over at Smashwords on Amazon? Probably. But they’re at the bottom of the barrel and you’ll never find them without looking for them specifically. But here you have the opportunity to do something you CAN’T do at Smashwords. Check the reviews and the rankings and see exactly how many of the top 100 in each category are self published works with 4+ star ratings.
Sure, plenty of people say “oh they’ve gotten all their friends and family to come rate it high”, but that only lasts so long. Rankings are an hour by hour indication of SALES. I promise you that everybody runs out of family and friends a lot quicker than that. And if these books were total dreck that someone was only fooled into buying because of the low price, then there would be an increase in the number of crappy ratings to overpower the family and friend contingent. For a lot of self-published works hanging out in the upper echelons, you’re not seeing that–because the books are quality.
So to everyone worried about the fact that there’s no gate-keeper or quality control in self-publishing, I say to you that there is both. And that person is the reader. The crap will not rise to the top and the good stuff will. Shop at places that cater to BOTH self published and traditionally published works. Places with a ranking system. Check out ratings and reviews, read some of the sample, and make an educated decision about a book by deciding for yourself instead of waiting for someone to make that call for you as a consumer.