In response to your query about the etiquette of selecting books for a book club, it feels to me that you are a snob that knows little to nothing about the publishing industry and knows less about writing and why people publish in general. It is your type of attitude that “published by a publisher” books are superior to “self-published” books that shames and invalidates those who are, as you put it “trying to find an audience.” In fact, the general responses to this entire letter in the comments remind me that only those who are in the publishing industry or trying to break into the publishing industry have any idea at all how it works.
My advice is before you shame authors whose reasons you don’t know why they are self-published, try and write an entire novel of “merit” yourself. Then, go ahead and try and get an agent to sell it to a publishing house. Oh, you mean you didn’t know that you don’t go to the publishing houses directly? And you didn’t know that agents and publishing houses get hundred of letters and manuscript bits a week because everyone thinks they can write a novel. And that like any other business it is a business that also depends on personal taste of the gatekeepers. The novel you may think has “merit” may actually be considered “trash” by some people and vice versa by others. (Or it’s too long or the idea is too complicated or it’s been done too many times before or no one wants to read the memoir of Mrs. Jane Doe.)
Here is a rude awakening. Many people in the publishing industry are published because they are friends and acquaintances of the agents and publishers. They went to high school together. (True story.) Or are even family. (True story again!) Writers are rejected by publishers for all sorts of reasons all the time and it may not actually have anything to do with their writing talent! Agents who say they take new authors, may not actually be doing so. Not every book in a book store has or was chosen by “merit” even/especially if they are put out by one of the big six publishers.
There are more reasons to self-publish than money. Some self-publish to have something physical in their hands or to share with friends and family. Some self publish to bypass the gatekeepers or keep control of their writing. Self-publishing has been available for years and now technology has made it even easier. People who self-publish have to market their own book in order for it to sell. Promoting yourself as an artist is fine or even as a member of a band, but promote yourself as an author and suddenly it is heresy. Not every one who writes a book is great at marketing either! Of course these books “haven’t found an audience” yet, the writers have to promote them and their friends and acquaintances are ‘helping’ by recommending them to the book club!
Apparently, Gentle Reader, you have a choice in the book and a vote. Use them. Or decline to participate. Rather than writing to Miss Manners and trying to silence your friend’s choices and a chance for others to enjoy their creativity all together.
– A Fed Up Ginny O.