I’ve always rather liked the idea that the self-published industry gives readers and writers alike the freedom to read countless books which would otherwise stay on the slush pile.
Until recently the only literary diet a reader could access were those deemed ‘publishable’ by editors with either strict house requirements or particular tastes. With self-publishing we, as readers, can now get hold of work that would not normally see the light of day and, in most cases, that’s a good thing. Self-published work breaks the boundaries set by commercial publishing houses – who put trends and popularity above a good story. In fact, it sets new trends of its own. It brings a whole army of undiscovered talent into the fray. And it gives an unpublished book an outlet into the real world, where it would previously have gathered dust on a shelf.
But that freedom has its price. I write the above as a novelist, a fiction writer. Whose stories aren’t true and whose readers know that. The problem comes when a reader moves from the fantasy to the fact. So-called fact.
One thing mainstream publishers have provided in the past is veracity. A non-fiction book should be factual, its findings and views rooted in truth. There should be sources, references, bibliographies. And if not, if a non-fiction book is expressing beliefs or views, it should be stated, plainly. A mainstream publisher will also apply some kind of censorship to what they publish, moral, legal or ethical.
This is where self-publishing falls over itself because anyone can publish anything. At all. I’m thinking in particular of the current outcry about ‘To Train Up a Child: Turning the hearts of the fathers to the children’, which teaches new parents how to beat their children (including infants) into submission. Amazon have this horrifying book on sale in both print and kindle form and are refusing to take it down.
I’m all in favour of freedom of speech, and everyone has the choice about what they read, but really?
The problem is, the written word is somehow more powerful than the spoken. Don’t ask me why. Maybe it’s because, subconsciously, we feel that if someone has taken the trouble to write something down, it must be true. Yes, most people would be able to tell that such a book is grossly inappropriate, but sadly there are those who would welcome such advice. There are also those who would actively seek out ‘How To’ books on sexually abusing children.
The fact that there are these kind of books out there, combined with the lack of censure that mainstream publishers have always provided is probably the worst downside to the self-publishing industry that I can imagine. Unfortunately, though, because anyone can publish anything, these and even worse books are out there. It’s mind-boggling to me that Amazon don’t run a cursory check over what they put up. They have the right to refuse to accept a book on their site – it’s in their terms and conditions. Amazon, of course, aren’t the only site that sells books or publishes e-books. These self-publish sites with print-on-demand services and e-book generation are springing up all over the place.
Yet to my knowledge there’s no body set up to monitor the kinds of books being published. I’m not even sure it would be possible. But surely it should be the responsibility of sites like Amazon and Lulu to have at least guidelines in place to ensure books that encourage child abuse or terrorism never reach the public?
I don’t want the self-publishing industry to get censored. I love the fact that every author has the chance to get exposure, to put their hard work up on the internet so people can buy it, and enjoy it. But while there are people who follow distasteful, immoral and downright evil practices, there will also be books to encourage and enable them. There has to be a line drawn somewhere.