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I know that it seems progressively harder to get published, as more and more books seem to become yet another commodity, and fabulous advance bidding wars are fought over the rights of (sometimes mediocre) books which are snapped up for megas because someone sees FILM RIGHTS or MERCHANDISING.

Meanwhile, the role of the carefully crafting book editor, nurturing a talent, working with a writer over decades, seems to be in decline

Inevitably the ‘well I can publish this myself on digi’ beckons, and clearly some writers find this hits the sweet spot – 50 Shades the classic example.

Now I’m sure there are wonderfully written books out there which failed to get publication the normal route, and the authors of them are desperate to get reviewers to try their free downloads to see if genuine enthusiasm can get the work read, as it absolutely deserves to be.

But it is also true that some stuff of abysmal quality is being self-pub’d, and I guess many of us have sneaked ‘look insides’ at what we were getting requests to read, and finding jaw-dropped moments of disbelief at how bad some of this was, and, in the end, we decided to draw a line and state, firmly ‘no self-published works will be read’. Which is horribly hard for the writers of the stuff we might have absolutely been blown away by, but unfortunately finding the pearl means wading through dozens and dozens of stuff which is badly written, – or completely outside the reviewer’s interest.

So – I had definitely become a ‘no self-pub’, clearly explained, on my Amazon profile. But still the requests keep coming, several daily. Delete, delete, delete.

Except – one arrived which was right within my area of expertise – a specific modality of the complementary health field. So, I thought I ought to read it, as I do keep up with what is newly being written on the subject. Though I had some reservations, as the title of the publication did rather suggest that the author was jumping onto a cash-cow bandwagon – self-help books, and that possibly, probably, her expertise might not be that high.

I started my read expecting to find only that the eBook on free download when offered would probably be no more than the usual same old same old fluffy repetitions, cuts and pastes. It’s an overcrowded, but lucrative market, particularly when the writer does a mass-mailout, offering a free download in the hope of garnering the 5 stars, pushing the book up the listings, before charging a very modest sum, and watching the modest sums stack up.

What I found, instead, was outrageously dangerous. The writer clearly had no more knowledge of the subject than I have of how to perform open-heart surgery. And yet her marketing found her managing to garner 5 star reviews from people who clearly were either patsies, or people who knew nothing whatsoever about the subject either, and thought that what was written was advice which could be safely followed

However if any misguided person actually does follow the given instructions they might – suffer severe skin burns from using essential oils in the bath in the manner suggested, suffer severe burns to the mouth, throat, oesophagus from ingesting essential oils diluted in water and suffer burns (both giver and receiver) attempting to massage someone with essential oils dissolved in water.

Essential oils are primarily hydrophobic – the majority of the individual components in each essential oil either do not dissolve in water at all, or are only marginally hydrophilic.

The worst which can result from reading a painfully bad work of fiction is irritation, boredom and the like.

But when ignorant writers turn their hands to writing ‘health advice’ on subjects they clearly know nothing about, the results can be serious, for the reader who takes that advice.

I  wrote a blistering, detailed, scathing and far too long 1 star review of the ill-advised book, on the Amazons, quoting from the book, and explaining many of its erroneous and dangerous mistakes, in the hope that possible readers who have no knowledge of the field might at least think ‘I wonder why there is a one star review’, and be deterred from following suspect advice, and perhaps seeking out one of the books written for lay-readers, but published by a reputable publishing house who specialises in the field of good quality books on health care and self-help.

Inevitably, some negative voting has happened on my review to drive it out of sight, on the USA site. But it’s telling, that so far, none of the negative voters has challenged that what I quoted from the text itself are not true quotes

Hawking quote

Curiously, this distresses me even more – if I had put out advice into the public arena which was dangerous, but perhaps I was blithely unaware of the danger, and it was pointed out precisely why this was dangerous advice, personally I’d rather people were protected from danger, rather than want my dangerous information to be utilised.

Having read this particular self-pub it reinforces, for me, the importance of making sure that any books I read on complementary health matters which involve advice on supplements, homoeopathy, herbs, essential oils, manipulative bodywork and the like are published by one of the publishing houses which specialises in the area, and ensures that ‘advice’ for self-help is given by people who know what they are talking about.

Sometimes, the fact that a publisher might be held liable for dangerous advice and that the threats of lawsuits make publishers cautious, even over-cautious, is a good thing.

Complete freedom to write and self-publish whatever you like, as long as it isn’t an incitement to criminality, terrorism, racism and the like, does not mean that work which falls outside these obvious cavils, is necessarily writing which is without danger.

Caveat emptor – and perhaps, even more, Caveat free-downloader!

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