Are you listening, Amazon?

In the good old, bad old pre-internet days you wrote your book and submitted the typescript to as many publishers as you liked. Eventually, either one of them accepted your efforts or you ran out of patience / confidence in yourself or in your work. Then, permanently into that dusty drawer went the child that had been so painfully fathered by your fevered imagination and mothered by all those lonesome hours. But of course the process of submission had been laborious in the extreme. All by itself it dissuaded many potential authors from embarking on the road to becoming that which I and most others think of as being ‘a proper writer’.

Then along came the Net and with it, the mighty Amazon. Suddenly you could easily publish your work, whether it be a novel or an autobiography or The Art & Craft of Making Lead Soldiers. Anybody could become their own publisher, so to hell with Faber & Faber! Dozens of eager new beavers queued up to help you ‘publish’ your new book in the certain knowledge that Amazon would offer it, sight unseen to the world, truly beautiful or truly awful as it might or might not be. Furthermore your little darling could actually take the form of a hardback or a paperback or - hey presto - an e-book for your Kindle. Magical!

The fly in the ointment is simply that, without the screening provided by literate professionals, a trickle of self-published words has rapidly grown into a true shit-storm of waste paper and pointless electronics. Too many of we readers have laid down our hard earned cash on commercially eulogised crap only to bin the thing after just a few disappointing pages or chapters read. Far from opening up a new readership for the betterment of the books trade, both paper and electronic, this self-publishing revolution is, in my opinion, threatening a kind of death by a thousand cuts!

My own suggestion, as follows, would apply only to novels. Looked at from the reader’s (i.e. the market’s) point of view, what is needed is a fail safe system allocating a yes/no rating as infallible, as believable and as totally independent as possible to all newly published novels, however and wherever the thing is being published. Either: yes, this book is worth the expenditure of your time and money or no it is not. No caveats, no stars, nothing else. And when a new book comes out without such a yes/no rating one’s assumption has to be the latter. In other words, buy it if you like but we (the raters) would not advise it!

Ah, but how to create such an infallible, independent system of rating? You might well be asking that question. Fortunately the web-site YouWriteOn incorporates something of a model. Through it you submit an initial ten thousand words of your (anonymous) work to five other (anonymous) authors, computer selected, who rate what they read according to a set of YouWriteOn’s criteria. You in return receive five anonymous works by - different - randomly selected fellow authors for your own critiques. There is an in-built check to ensure that you and the others actually did read what you / they are criticising!.

You would begin by inviting any and all readers of novels in English to put themselves forward as panel judges, specifically by genre. But why would anyone agree to get on such a computer assembled panel? Because when the computer selects you as part of a fifty person group to judge a currently unpublished book unattributed by author or publisher, you receive the initial ten thousand electronic words, then when you return your critique in the terms required you receive perhaps ten pounds or fifteen dollars to spend on books (from Amazon?) Thus, when you look for, say, a crime thriller, you know that fifty people thought this one worth buying - or not buying as the case may be.

So my novel's yes/no rating costs 50 x £10 = £500. Where is that money coming form? I, as an author who has devoted a year of my life to the creation of my novel, would be happy to pay £500. Many of my reviewers will, given they will know by then who is its author, want to spend their reward on buying my novel - or more important yet, recommending it to their book loving friends! But what if my reviewers said 'no, this is not worth reading'? Well, I could either go ahead anyway with publication of a book carrying that 'no' burden or I change tack altogether, having saved myself a lot more than the £500 in wasted time, morale, physical cost and personal energy.

Is it just possible that everyone really is a winner? Oh yes! Are you listening, Amazon?

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