When I read a phrase like this one, my inner-consumer chafes and my publishing skin crawls.
Really? Is that what authors want? Is that what publishing in a digital world needs?
Creative and editorial control may be enticing to authors, but it signals the end of book sales–digital, print or otherwise.
Let’s count the reasons why it’s a bad idea.
One, writers are not artists like painters or sculptors. On the creative-discipline level, authoring a book is more akin to writing a song, recording a CD or film-making. These latter disciplines usually involve shared creative and editorial control, partly to keep the product from become self-absorbed and intensely dull to the rest of us. Leave the average filmmaker to his own devices…90% of the time it turns to crap. The same holds true for book writing.
Two, most authors are amateurs. Writing isn’t their day job, and when they turn to writing–ask any professional book editor–it’s quickly clear that most are out of their element. Just because you’re a good communicator in one medium (say, speaking), or do a lot of business writing or blogging, or a profound earth-shattering idea inhabits you like E. coli in a treatment plant doesn’t mean you’re capable of writing a complete book that
a) contains readable prose, or
b) is capable of holding a reader’s attention page-after-page.
I’ve learned that even professional writers in one field (say, journalism) often can’t write in another genre or medium without making a sizable number of errors. If you’re an amateur writer, turn the reins over to professionals if you want someone who doesn’t already love you to read, let alone buy, your work. Turn it over, then don’t seek their affirmation–beg them, pay them handsomely if necessary, to spill red ink on your project until it’s the best it can possibly be.
Three, when it comes to the written word, beauty is NOT, first, in the eyes of the beholder. Every time you pick up a book, you instinctively expect the book to be written and edited at a certain, acceptable level, or you will put it down. And so will everyone else. Books require a culturally understood minimum standard unlike any other artistic endeavor. The editing of grammar, syntax, story arc, correct spelling (of every word) transitional phrasing, logical argumentation, good pacing, accurate, documentable facts, noun-verb agreement, correct punctuation, overly long sentences like this one–just to name a few tiny, little issues–may be part of a process you know little or care little about, but they are the DNA of readable writing.
Four, the VAST majority of manuscripts turned into agents, publishers and editors–at some level–stink. They don’t stink because they contain tired ideas or are not marketable (though that’s certainly true for some), they stink because they contain traces if not entire vats of linguistic, rhetorical, or analytical chicken manure. The solution for this wide majority of badly composed manuscripts waiting to become bound into appealing little book nuggets isn’t to let former English teachers and really smart sisters-in-law continue to edit the work, it’s to let qualified, credentialed pros do the disinfecting.
Five, on the visually creative side (read: book covers and interior design)…well, don’t get me started on why authors have little business snooping around in that barn. That’s for another rant.
Forty percent of America can’t read above the 8th grade level, which means that any entertainment that involves reading has–by far–the smallest possible audience in America. Reading and book buying gets its collective butt kicked by everything from movies to playing solitaire on iPhones to anything you can download from iTunes. So the path to getting a book read is not traversed by letting authors police themselves–it’s by using every available tool at our disposal to create better products for our eyes and ears than the competition.
Opening up the distribution spigot, ala “Powered by Amazon” and its kind, may put more books into the marketplace faster, easier, and cheaper, but if what starts running through that pipeline increasingly smells like sewage, America will simply turn it off.
Tags: day job
, readable prose
, red ink