Fall on the FraserSelf-publishing has become “free and easy” – the consequence is a plethora of prosaic publications.

Mistakenly, I have agreed to participate in an author review swap on Goodreads.

The mistake came after I agreed, but it was through this participation I realized the nature of the mistake. In that regard, I suppose you might say the review swap wasn’t a mistake, in that it revealed to me one of the misconceptions I’ve had about marketing and promoting my books.

Sound convoluted? I’m not surprised since it has been a circuitous route with many pitfalls fraught with ego and self-delusion.

When I signed on to the genre specific review swap on Goodreads it was with the intention of garnering a few more reviews for my books. Before you start shouting hypocrite, let me say I review all matter of books I read professionally or for enjoyment written by authors I have no acquaintance with whatsoever. If I swap books with another author on the understanding that we’ll post reviews of each other’s work the assumption I make is the reviews will be honest. If you hate my book than say so, and likewise if I find your book a masterpiece that’s the review I’ll write.

For me, this is not only about integrity it’s about becoming a better writer. I learn from bad reviews. No, really, I do. After I’ve picked my ego up from the floor and dusted it off, I try to look objectively at the points made by the reviewer and, if legitimate, and at least some usually are, see where I can improve in the future.

This might not be everyone’s assumption with a review swap so I send my opinion of the book to the author to read and give them the opportunity to let me know if they’d like it posted or not. Evidently, becoming better at the craft is not that high a priority for a lot of writers. What is important apparently, is garnering positive reviews and making another $2.99 sale.

I just finished reading one book I found it so mediocre, the writing so juvenile, the plot so contrived, the characterization so clichéd, and the experience so frustrating that I will never, ever (to infinity) enter into this kind of agreement again.

This book has garnered 15 reviews on Amazon and all have been 5 stars – thus a flawless, 5 star rating. Yet the latest work by Anna Quindlen, Still Life with Breadcrumbs (1656 reviews) ranks only 4 stars, Jean Thompson’s The Year We Left Home, a National Book Award finalist (96 customer reviews) has a 3.5 star ranking, and Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager, the winner of The ScotiaBank Giller Prize (92 customer reviews) rates 4.5 stars.

Reviews on Amazon are no indication whatsoever of the literary value of the book. But everybody already knows that, right? So what?

While simultaneously struggling to fulfill my commitment to the Goodreads group, I’ve been investigating opportunities for self-publishing other than KindleDirect. Smashwords and BookBaby both have excellent sites that offer support, promotion and marketing advice, wide distribution and are relatively easy to navigate through and, will publish your e-book free for a percentage of the sale price.

So where’s the downside?

That’s been my mistake. I assumed there would be a downside to self-publishing a really bad book, but there isn’t.

You’ve written a novel, it has a beginning, middle and end, you are mightily pleased with yourself, your wife loves it, your friends are supportive, at least to your face, and it doesn’t cost you a penny to have it electronically published and listed on Amazon – just like a real author.

And this is why we are drowning in dreck.

Unlike any other creative pursuit, or almost any other endeavor for that matter, everyone thinks they can write a novel without any specific training or practice. It’s tantamount to saying, “hey, I can run (at least a little ways), I think I’ll go in a marathon”.

The floodgates have been opened to mediocrity and it has overwhelmed us.

What makes it worse is an entire industry has sprung to support and make money from this epidemic of self-delusion. The free e-book is just the incentive, the lost leader. The money is made on the graphic cover design, the enhanced distribution network, the marketing programs, the promotional platforms – all these “necessities” that in the short run, and that’s as far as it goes, won’t make a difference (except to their bank account) because the book is garbage.

The review system established by Amazon is designed to support this plethora of prosaic publications and is so flawed as to make it worthless. Well-written books are lumped in with garbage and to distinguish between them is almost an impossible task for the reader.

There must be a better way, but until I figure it out I’ll continue to write, always striving to improve, because it’s what I enjoy most in life. I’ll continue (attempt) to publish, traditionally or on my own to give voice to issues important to me and for the validation, however illusionary, that what I write makes a connection with others.

But I will never again make the mistake of wasting my time reading bad writing in the hopes it can some how benefit mine.

I do this in full knowledge that my latest book, The BIG PICTURE – A Camera, A Young Woman, An Uncompromising Ethic, could sure use a few positive reviews as it has yet to realize it’s first sale and it’s coming up to three months since launch.