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.