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.

***

See also:


Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World (Part II)

Yesterday I wrote about how this new wild frontier, this stampede to publish and be damned (or not) of the new publishing world and how it could be lowering literacy standards because of the almost blythe acceptance of errors in books. The prevailing attitude is that as long as the writer is satisfied with the book, that’s all that matters. Neither they nor their readers seem to care if their story is derivative, if the editing is slipshod, if typos litter the pages.

To add to the confusion of this anything-goes publishing world, books that do well are seldom the best. Often, these successful books are the result of a very aggressive promotion campaign or the result of luck — by being chosen by Amazon for an aggressive promotion campaign or by hitting the right market at the right time.

It seems as if the world is a poorer place if good books are destined to remain undiscovered simply because the author is a wonderful writer and a mediocre promoter. Since we reward wonderful promoters who are mediocre writers with huge numbers of sales, the whole book business becomes even more skewed than it already is. 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. And shrugging off the conundrum as “survival of the fittest” doesn’t help matters.

Some people think readers are screaming for quality, that readers are lost in the stampede, but when you consider the vast number of sales made by a few mediocre but bestselling traditionally published authors, most people are not screaming for quality. They are screaming for . . . comfort, perhaps. Predictability. A community of like-minded readers.

To make the situation even more complicated, publishers are not taking responsibility for marketing the books they publish. They want their authors to do that.

I recently read an article by a publisher who said that a publisher’s role was simply to prepare a book for market and to make it available. That’s it. Learning how to promote, navigating the insanely competitive book market, marketing one’s book, paying for book tours and conferences — all of that is the responsibility of the author. So then why does an author need a publisher at all? With Create Space, Lulu, Smashwords, and now Goodreads getting into the epublishing business, authors can prepare their own books for market. And what they can’t do, they can hire done, and keep all the profits. And authors by the millions are doing that very thing.

Maybe the problem I’m having coming to terms with this new wild frontier stems from a life-long respect for books, a sense that books are somehow sacred. Maybe it’s time for me to give up that old-fashioned attitude and treat books like any other temporary reading commodity, such as a blog post or a cereal box.

Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World (Part I)

In a recent discussion on Facebook, someone mentioned the case of a self-published story that was being offered for sale on Amazon. A woman posted a review, stating her opinion that the work was far from ready for publishing, and she gave the writer several examples of how to improve, but the writer took these comments as insults. What ensued was a protracted argument between the writer and the reviewer.

The Facebooker who brought this exchange to our attention asked who was right and who was wrong. I thought the reviewer brought up some excellent points, gave wonderful suggestions for redoing the story without getting disrespectful about it. (And the reviewer could have gotten nasty. The story really was atrocious.)

I can’t imagine arguing with a reviewer as the author did, though. A couple of times I have privately asked a reviewer to remove a spoiler that gave away the ending (and the reviewers graciously complied) but the writer in this case had a terribly unprofessional and arrogant attitude. She more or less said she could publish whatever she wanted, it didn’t have to be perfect, and too bad if people didn’t like it. Unfortunately, there are millions like her, which leaves me continually perplexed by the entire book business today.

The major publishers have had control of publishing standards for way too long. I certainly have no love for conglomerates or corporate thinking, so I don’t object to a lessening of their control. On the other hand, many writers now think they don’t need any standards at all. They say they can write whatever they wish, however they wish. The prevailing attitude is that as long as the writer is satisfied with the book, that’s all that matters. They don’t care if their story is derivative, if the editing is slipshod, if typos litter the pages.

Some of these writers even manage to sell a significant number of copies of their books.

Self-published writers seem to be a militant lot, demanding the same respect as authors whose books are published by a traditional or an independent press, yet self-published authors adhere to no one’s standards but their own, while a book that was accepted by and released by a publishing company has had to live up to at least the publisher’s standards. But some self-published writers do adhere to a high standard of literacy while some bestsellers released by the major publishers have an appallingly low standard of literacy.

Does any of this matter? With texting and twittering, leaving out letters of words to shorten them or using number for letters is standard. (AFAIK, u cn rd this. Me 2. LOL) Eek. Whole novels have been written in such shorthand.

Do kids today learn grammar in school? Do they need to know grammar? With spell check and grammar check on their computers, probably not. So, if books today have grammar mistakes, punctuation mistakes, typos, do most people even notice? Those of us who have spent a lifetime reading do notice, but do we count? We value language, but is language important? Language is an evolving organism, so perhaps those of us who quail at poorly written and poorly copy written books are running a race that has already been lost. A new generation grows into adulthood every year along with a new generation of electronic toys and tools and together they spawn a new generation of idioms. A new language.

I don’t know why this new anything-goes publishing world perplexes me. Most writers seem thrilled with the new order of doing book business. They don’t have to take the time to research the business, finding out which agents will accept their genre and which publishers they can submit to without an agent. They don’t have to learn how to write query letters or learn how to write a description and a hook. They don’t need to learn to deal with rejection. And especially, they don’t need to learn how to improve their work to make it as near perfect as possible. They simply decide to publish. That’s all it takes.

And most readers seem thrilled to find myriad books to download to their new ereaders.

So perhaps it’s just me who worries about a lessening of standards. Perhaps this new frontier, this stampede to publish and be damned (or not) is what everyone else wants. It’s certainly not the first time in my life the world didn’t act in accord with what I thought was the right direction for it to take, and it certainly won’t be the last.

See also: Perplexed by the Anything-Goes Publishing World (Part II)