Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Call me Ishmael

While scouring the Amazon Customer Forums, I stumbled across a discussion regarding poor spelling, grammar, and punctuation in a self-published Kindle e-book.

Here's the initial comment, republished without any sort of permission from the author or Amazon, of course.

"Poor formating in ebooks is bad but books which use the wrong words drives me crazy. Not long ago I read about a woman whaling and tonight I read about a man whose shirt collar was taught. How can someone whose vocablulary is so stunted actually write a book?"

While several other responders seized the opportunity to take shots at the complainer's own mistakes, the point was mostly missed:

We've dumbed down publishing to the point where anyone can be called an author (including yours truly, I admit).

And, alas, we see the problem with Kindle and self-publishing. There are no editors, no gatekeepers, no orchardist to keep the worms out of the apples. If you have a keyboard and the gumption to slaughter enough electrons to call it a book, you're a published author. Agents, editors, and houses get a bad rep for sending the majority of books (and authors) to the showers, but it's just as much the fault of wannabe best-sellers who are to blame for the state of the publishing world.

We've become a society of instant gratification, including the process of getting your words into the hands of the masses. Editing? Proofreading? Pshaw! There's no time for that. My words are far too important to be edited!

Another "author" recently announced "I'm new to this, but here goes. I've wrote a series of books and I don't exact;ly know how to get them out there. I need publicity on them so what do I do?"

This person has multiple books out there, waiting to be purchased and adored by her legion of fans. And the books, she claims, are so good, no one really cares that it's only been edited by "a college student with a degree in English." But where's the oversight?

The answer is: With the buyers. Despite the number of e-books and self-published tomes available, it still takes houses to make the marketing commitment, and editorial decisions that ultimately get good books the publicity they need to actually sell. Five copies of a Kindle book does not buy a Victorian cottage overlooking the sea.

I should point out, to be fair, that there are many (MANY!) fine self-published books on the market. There are writers who can't get through the door, not based on the quality or merit of their work, but because the houses ultimately care more about commercialism than literary integrity. This rant should not, in any way, take away from the good that self-publishing has brought.

And so we're left with what we have. As long as there's a venue for putting untouched letters on paper, there will be books that were written and released without so much as a second read. But, buyer beware. You get what you pay for.


  1. well, what's staggering is, you sometimes don't get what you pay for. That second author's book is on sale for a whopping $24.95. And what's more amazing? TYPOS ON THE COVER. Seriously, you can't get the words on the cover right?

    My fear is readers will get turned off altogether.

    There is something to be said not only for a well-written book, but a well-polished one.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly, Gae. I get as frustrated with the gatekeepers as the next unpublished author, but there's nothing like editorial oversight.

  3. As a freelance editor, I can definitely say first-hand how little people value a good edit. And not just a proofread. An EDIT. The kind that not only ensures the words are spelled right, but that the sentences don't sound like a Mylie Cyrus album sans Autotuning. It's so frustrating.

    And you have voiced my own fears about the self-publishing industry. The gatekeeper system may have its own sets of flaws, but at least it polishes the turds it puts out into the marketplace.

    Oh and: "...gumption to slaughter enough electrons to call it a book" is awesome. :)

  4. Thank you, Allison. Coming from a journalism background, many of my college friends eventually made it from writing to editing. And many of them are now doing something else because people said, "Editors? Who needs 'em?"

    I'm a horrible self-editor. I know my limitations. For a writer, there's nothing more valuable than an editor.

  5. I can see why people resort to self publishing. Agents are overloaded, publishers have to be particular. The novel not only has to be well written, it has to be commercial or by a well known (sometimes crappy) author it seems.

    But it is troubling that a person would self publish without paying a professional to edit. Without going to workshops and classes to improve their art form.

    The truth is, some writers think they are better than they are, and if they can't land an agent they're just going to do it themselves.

    And I agree, there are many many very good self published titles out there, but unless you have recommendations from readers you trust, paying $25 for a self published novel is too big a risk.

    Ok, I think I've rambled enough. :) Good blog, Jeff.

  6. Yes, very well written and interesting blog piece, Jeff. I suspect we're in the midst of a revolution in publishing. It will take awhile to shake down, but eventually, I think it's possible that those people self-publishing without any attempt at editing or even proofing will begin to see it as a fruitless endeavor. But, in the end, I guess it doesn't really matter. We don't have to buy their books. Perhaps it will make those of us who write well stand out? (She said with a wisp of hope.....)