You know who you are. I don't need to cite your names or post your book titles or link to your blogs. Most of the rest of us know who you are, too. Or at least we know who some of you are.
You're the authors of badly written books. And you need to face that reality. Oh, I'm sure you won't, but you need to. For your own sakes if no one else's.
Some of you are new to this game, but others have been around for a long, long time. I know this because I've seen your manuscripts before when they were entered in RWA contests. My last RWA membership lapsed in 1998; some of the books that are being digitally self-published now, in 2012, were contest entries in the late 1980s. They've been around.
These are the books that never won a major contest, never found a traditional print publisher. Maybe they collected a lot of rejection slips, with or without suggestions for improvement. Maybe you revised them based on critiques; maybe you didn't.
Then there are the books that have never been evaluated, never entered in a contest, never subjected to a critique group or any other analysis. Never been sent to an agent or editor, and thus never rejected.
And there are probably some that fall in between: They've been critiqued by friends or rejected by a couple of agents or. . . .something.
But old or new, experienced author or novice, you know the routine: You've written a book or two, maybe more, and now that it's so easy to put your books into digital print, you do so. You get some stock photo art and create a cover, then upload your MSWord file. Presto! You're published! Woohoo!
You launch with greater or lesser private fanfare on Amazon or Smashwords or Nook or Kobo. Friends and family, who think it's terrific that you've done this but who know nothing about writing or publishing, post five-star reviews. Maybe you post a few yourself, under other account names or even under your own name on Goodreads. (I saw one author the other day who had posted three separate five-star ratings for one of her own books on Goodreads. Not reviews, just ratings.) If you're ambitious enough, wealthy enough, and/or greedy enough, you buy a few more five-star reviews. Or you swap reviews with other writers who are just as eager as you to get those ratings, because after all, ratings equal exposure and exposure equals sales and. . . .
Wow! Look at all the people who think you've written a great book! The royalties will come pouring in now, won't they!
Excuse me, honey, but none of those people count. Not one of them. If they're a friend or family member, they are automatically biased. If they're you under another name, you're out and out lying. If they're paid shills, they just plain don't count.
Even if you send your book to an "independent" review site, unless that site is recognized in the reading community as unbiased and fair, it doesn't count. The awards and recommendations of a site that only gives five-star ratings don't count.
The only thing that counts is the truth.
And the truth is, your books suck. They're bad. They're really bad.
Oh, did that hurt your feelings? I'm sorry your feelings are hurt, but as a reader, I'm not in charge of making sure you feel good. My job is to read the book; your job was (past tense) to write one that I would enjoy. You didn't do your job.
Now, let's back up here. You can't defend yourself here, since it's my blog, and you're probably about to have a stroke at this point, but that's not my concern either.
There are books that a lot of people don't like which are not badly written books. I for one can't stand anything written by Hemingway. Nor do I like books that have depressing endings. I will go out of my way to avoid horror stories, or those with graphic descriptions of violence. And I'm invariably traumatized by a book in which an animal dies. (This is one of the many reasons I absolutely can't stand and will never defend Judith McNaught's A Kingdom of Dreams: The heroine is such a spoiled twit she disregards common sense and is directly responsible for the death of the hero's beloved horse. She never expresses remorse, never apologizes for it. I hate that book with a passion.)
That's an entirely different kettle of fish -- a book can be very well written and still not be to the reader's personal taste.
I'm talking about the badly written ones. The badly published ones.
I'm talking about the books whose authors defend them on the basis of those five-star reviews, insisting that the reviews -- even though they are not legitimate reviews -- are necessary for sales and no critic has a right to deprive the author of potential sales.
Say what? Honey, your book has to earn its sales, and no one owes you anything. No one owes you kindness in their reviews. Hell, no one even owes you a review at all. No one owes you a critique that will help you improve the book. No one deserves your excuses or your protestations of hardship, your whines, your rants, your angry responses and sock puppet comments.
And no reviewer ever, ever, ever deserves a personal threat from you. Not ever, not under any circumstances whatsoever.
Bad books are just bad, and that's a simple truth. Do some of them eventually sell a few copies? Yeah, sure they do. Some may even sell a lot of copies. But that doesn't make them any less bad.
So, what qualifies a book to receive a "bad" rating? The writing. If the writing is bad, the book will have a very difficult time succeeding. And if an author defends a bad book, or denies that it is bad, the author cannot improve.
1. Bad technical skills -- spelling, grammar, syntax, word usage, punctuation. These are as basically basic as you can get. If you can't punctuate dialogue, how can you give your reader an accurate sense of what your characters are saying? If you don't know how to use the right words, how will your reader know whether you mean demise or surmise? proceed or precede? Fray as a noun has a similar meaning to struggle, but fray as a verb means something very very different from the verb struggle. They cannot be used interchangeably.
2. Bad story skills -- plots have to be consistent with an internal logic. Do you know how to construct a cause and effect chain of events from opening to resolution? Are your characters consistent? Do they have sufficient internal and external motivation and conflict?
3. Bad research -- check your history. Check your geography. Even if you are writing a paranormal or fantasy, you can't ignore facts unless you provide some logical explanation, either explicit or implicit. Review your own personal anatomy and make sure human beings can do what you have them doing in your book, especially the love scenes, for the goddess's sake!
4. Bad formatting -- how many times do we have to go over this? Readers do not want to read badly formatted books. You simply cannot expect readers to do your work for you. You just can't. And you have no right to complain when readers bitch because you didn't format your book properly. That's your job.
Reviewers are going to leave negative reviews if you publish a badly written book. The readers and reviewers don't know you and they don't care about your excuses -- or your precious feelings. You published a badly written book, so now suck it up and either fix it or write a better one. But don't you dare accuse the reviewer of anything other than telling you the truth.