All Books Are Not Created Equal

This anything-goes publishing world has been perplexing me for quite some time now, both as an author who is trying to find a place in the wild book frontier of throw-everything-out-there-and-see-what-sticks and as a reader who is trying to find sanity and good-editing and great story-telling among the millions of books being offered for sale.

People think that good books will rise to the top, that such books will automatically find a readership, but that is not always the case. Wonderful books are being overlooked, and dreadful books with no redeeming value are filling millions of Kindles. Shrugging off the conundrum as “survival of the fittest” doesn’t help matters, because in this case, it seems to be matter of devolution, of having to accept typos, poor grammar, ridiculous errors of fact, and an appallingly low standard of literacy. Compounding the problem is that many good writers, who have to watch their books stagnate, no longer see the point in writing, which lowers standards even more.

I used to think this was a matter of a breakdown in the filtering process. If authors have to submit their books to publishers, if they have to go through an editing and copyediting process, then books have a minimum of errors and at least a modicum of good storytelling. Or at least they used to. Even the major publishers are lowering their quality control. If their aim has always been to sell the lowest common denominator, and if those people don’t care about quality, then there is no point in adding to the expense by doing the work. Nowadays, when the fastest selling self-published authors are those with an ever growing stream of books, quantity and not quality are the key.

The real problem as I have come to see is not one of filtering, but of strata. There used to be definite strata when it came to readers. People stuck to their own genres, though even within a genre there were definite layers of quality. Some romance writers, such as Colleen McCullough, rose to iconic status. Others, such as Danielle Steele, were firmly entrenched in the lower middle. And still others churned out myriad books for lowest of the low, Harlequin and Silhouette and the other subscription publishers.

And never, except for perhaps the iconic writers, did anyone consider these books to be great writing. (Most could not even fall under the heading of good writing.) And never did the best writers have to compete or be compared to these writers. Yet that is what is happening today. With Amazon taking hold of the book business and running away with it, demarcations between utter trash and high quality books have completely disappeared. All books are thrown into the slush pile, all are ranked by the same classification system, all are treated equally.

But the truth is, all books are not created equal. Just because a book is uploaded to Amazon, just because it sells, it does not mean the book is worthwhile. A badly written book with no redeeming value is still trash, but few people seem to notice, and fewer seem to care.


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9 Responses to “All Books Are Not Created Equal”

  1. sandy Says:

    You got that right. We seem to have entered a kind of dark ages of literature and hopefully there will be a rennaisance one day, I don’t expect to live long enough to see it tho. Then again, a few intelligent readers will find the few good books, I hope.

  2. Jen Bresnick Says:

    True, but I think Amazon and the like have also given an opportunity to unique writers who just can’t find an agent or publisher, because the pros don’t think it can sell. Separating the wheat from the chaff is always a disheartening process, though.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Being unique does not necessarily mean a book is well-written or that it is even readable. Sometimes being unique simply means the author didn’t bother to learn the elements of story telling. But your point is well-taken. The major publishers did just as much to ruin the book business as Amazon is doing now by only publishing books within narrow parameters.

      • Jen Bresnick Says:

        I completely agree. I said “unique” because I’m self-published through Amazon, and I thought using any other adjectives would seem a little arrogant. I like to think I fall into the readable category…but so does everyone else!

  3. Shawn Bailey Says:

    You’re absolutely right. Having to sift through all those horrible stories before you get to a good one.

    Publishing is too easy. It’s almost as easy as . . . blogging.

  4. Polly Iyer Says:

    I had an agent for two years. Loved her. She loved my books. She couldn’t sell my books. I’m of a certain age and didn’t want to go through the rigamarole of queries and rejections again, and because of the book publishing climate, I would have had little chance of success because my books don’t fit neatly into a specific genre. So I self-published. Am I a great writer? Actually, I’m not sure what that means anymore, but I’d have to say no. Great is a word reserved for very few writers, and even that is fodder for discussion. Am I good? I think so, and by the reviews of my books, others think so too. What I do is write a good story. Will my books appeal to everyone? No, of course not. No book does, even those of the “greats.” After rounds with critique partners, I still found typos in my books or words that should have been there and weren’t because I read them knowing they were supposed to be. (I think everyone has done that.) I paid to have my books read–mistakes found, mistakes corrected. One review said the book he read was perfectly edited, proofed, and formatted.

    I’ve read some excellent self-published books. I’ve read others that are terrible. (I’ve also read some books published by “traditional” publishers that are both terrible and poorly edited.) The sadness is that those terrible books are written by people who don’t know they’re terrible because they haven’t taken the time to learn their craft. And time is what it takes. Reading your older books is the best way to judge how far you’ve come. I was appalled at what I thought was good writing, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know yet. I still don’t know everything. There are plateaus in the learning process. I’m still learning–which is always a good thing–but I hope it’s not at the expense of those reading my books.

    I’m sorry to make this post about me, but my experience is the experience of many. It still leaves us sifting through the junk to find the treasures, in many cases relying on others’ reviews.

  5. mickeyhoffman Says:

    I find the quality of nonfiction books is much better than fiction, as far as the writing and number of typos and grammar mistakes. Perhaps publishers feel that readers of nonfiction are more intellectual and have higher standards? I don’t know. The “best sellers” have never been great literature and they’re really supposed to be just for fun, so I can’t really complain when I read something silly. But as a lover of mystery novels, I’m seeing a rush to be sensational without necessarily writing anything interesting or new, to just include more violence, serial killers, paranormal events and pseudo-religious themes. Some of the well established mystery writers have ignored this trend, but they’re established and don’t have to worry about getting the attention of an agent or a publisher who are pandering to “popular culture.”

  6. Kathy Says:

    Timely post! The thing about my book “Real Women Wear Red” is that those who love it, really love it!!! And those who don’t, just don’t and feel free to tell the world about all the things they didn’t like about it. They were one reason why the genre was killed off in the first place. But when I hear from those readers who say, “love, love, love it” and talk about the characters as if they’re real people, well, it just makes my day. And I think about how they never could have read this if it wasn’t for the new publishing world where Indie authors can be seen and read. In fact, I’m reading books by authors published with the major NY publishers who refused to publish this genre so the authors are publishing these books themselves. Lucky me and other readers – we now have new access to the books we love.

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