Early influences are often the strongest. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Thumper was the dispenser of this particular wisdom, as prompted by his mother, upon noticing how shaky newborn Bambi is on his long legs. Now I recall having seen Bambi only once, at an age so early that it’s buried in my personal ancient history, but I’ve tried to live by those words ever since. I don’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings if I can help it. When I do, I feel awful myself, often for a prolonged period. Add that to the fact that I read a lot and review the books, in some fashion, here, and I sometimes face a dilemma. Particularly when it comes to self-published books. Most of them just aren’t that good.
My wife once asked me whether I was concerned about my own critical reputation by not pointing out the problems in self-published books. I had to ponder that a bit. Just when the keystrokes start to point out the issues, Thumper hops into my mind and I think how I wish my own reviewers would be nicer at times. You see, we’re all the victims of circumstance. I’ve read self-published books where the author was clearly trying to make a living and honestly believed that s/he could write. Ham-fisted keyboarding clearly stood behind some of these books and I realized that an editor serves a vital role in the literary ecosystem. It’s also why I’ve resisted self publishing. Before Holy Horror, I’d been compiling a book on monsters that I was ready to take to CreateSpace. I’m glad I didn’t. Books need editors just as surely as sparks fly upward.
The problem is the review. I don’t mind saying critical things about books published in the standard way. I’m still petting Thumper, though, and keeping it nice. When it comes to self-published material I realize just about every time why the authors really should pursue a different line of work. Many of us who write books do so while holding down full-time jobs. Writing productivity suffers, yes. I could write a lot more books if I didn’t spend nine hours at work most days. As much as the criticism of editors (or peer reviewers) always stings, the resulting book is better for it. You have to convince an editor, first off, that a book is worth doing. If you can’t, perhaps there’s a hint to be taken. I’ve never read the story behind Bambi to know if Thumper’s line came from Felix Salten or not, but I know the book was published by the prestigious German publisher Ullstein Verlag. And self-publishing is, in many ways, a life in the woods.