For those of you who don’t follow me on Twitter, my user-name there is @hprw and I use this tiny picture of a peacock as my avatar. Remember the picture: it will be important later.
A few days ago I encountered a self-published writer on Twitter who had some rather strange views about how self-publishing is regarded. He suggested it was considered almost criminal by the mainstream press; and that perhaps this view resulted from the biased opinions of a few literary reviewers and book sellers.
When I responded that most self-published books were terrible; that book sellers couldn’t afford to give shelf-space to bad books, otherwise they’d soon go out of business; and that most reviewers are only interested in reading good books, he suggested that I hadn’t read any self-published books; that I wasn’t thinking for myself; and that I was just adopting mainstream publishing’s dominant attitude. And so I sent him a link to my other blog, where I’ve been reviewing self-published books for nearly two years.
To which he responded with this:
You’re anti self and ‘vanity’ publishing and your avatar is… LINK PROVIDED
Although his comment initially made me laugh, the more I’ve thought about it the more I realise that it was profoundly sad, because it involves so many fallacies and misjudgements.
By putting those quote marks around the word “vanity” he implied that vanity publishing isn’t exploitative and ugly, and that it’s hardly any different to self-publishing–both of which viewpoints are untrue.
By associating that link to my avatar he made an ad hominem attack on me, which is such a weak retort that it’s embarrassing.
He wrongly assumed that I’m anti self-publishing because I’m not prepared to give bad books good reviews. Perhaps if the top review on my blog had been one of these positive reviews, instead of this rather negative one, he might have felt differently: but it seems from his response that he didn’t look any further than the information which was immediately available.
It’s not my intention here to make a laughing stock out of this particular self-published writer, so please don’t attack or insult him (and just to make that clear, if any comments are posted here which are rude about him I will edit or delete them as soon as I see them): he’s trying his best, and I don’t think he meant me any harm. He’s just defending his territory the best way he knows how and he really didn’t upset me: I’ve had far worse things thrown at me over the years.
What did concern me, though, was the lack of clear critical thinking that he displayed. He assumed that the bad reviews I’ve given on my blog indicate only that I’m anti-self-publishing: he didn’t stop to consider that those bad reviews might have something to do with the quality of the books I’ve been sent for review. And he seemed determined to blame and find fault with me instead of debating with me when I said things that he didn’t agree with.
Why does this matter? Because he is not alone. Every day I see a torrent of misinformation; of prejudice and opinion masquerading as fact. It comes from people who set themselves up as editors and publishers and literary agents without realising they are simply not qualified for the job; it comes from vanity presses who seek to exploit the unwary and the ill-informed; and it comes from writers who accept all they read without questioning it, and prefer the easier options to the often-uncomfortable truth.
Please: if you’re a writer, don’t let your hard work become the victim of such misinformation. Research your subject, question your sources, and make sure you really know what you’re doing before you commit to a publishing contract. It’s just basic common sense.