Last week’s post seemed to hit a nerve. There are few experiences more joyous to me than hitting nerves, so this made me very happy. Unfortunately, hitting nerves can also result in unpleasant occurrences, like readers having their own opinions.
Seeing as I’m a hard-hitting kind of news hound, I decided to tackle this head on, and bring some commenters’ shamelessly good points to you, rather than follow my first instinct, which was to ignore them (and permanently ban all sensible and erudite commenters from this blog).
One such opinion which came my way last week was that too many books were being published, putting the whole industry in a sorry mess. They meant through traditional publishing, in this instance, so let’s just stick with that for a moment and take up indie books at a later date.
I don’t believe that I agree with that statement, however. The idea of a quantum of stories being either too many or too few doesn’t make any sense to me, particularly if we’re talking about a large number of genres and authors in the mix. However, another commenter made the point on this blog a few weeks back in response to my post on books I’m struggling with which are slowing down my reading, and I quote – “The slush has moved from an intern’s desk somewhere to our kindles”.
Whichever method of publishing we’re talking about, these are statements on quality. And from what I’ve been hearing from people over the past few weeks, quality appears to be a problem now more than ever before. Whether this is as a result of book pricing, market uncertainty, the speed at which popular self-published authors are releasing titles, or just a panicked reaction to self-publishing in general, it just doesn’t look like as much work/effort/pain/love/determination is going into the production of books as was once the case. Marketing, yes: production, no.
Background On Finger Pointing
As I pointed out in my last post, nobody is happy these days. Not the authors, publishers, wholesalers, book retailers, nor, on an increasingly frequent basis, me. But while I can see an obvious benefit to readers from book discounting, I’m also wondering if my inability to source proper book heroin right now is a direct result of the mess that is book discounting and the subsequent rushed promotion of homogenous, easy-to-pigeon-hole novels.
A noticeable quantum of the books I’ve read in the past three years could have benefited from at least three more hard edits, and/or a less piercing marketing campaign.
In quite a few cases, the thing that sold me the book, namely some fascinating and attractive concept or plot point included in the blurb on the back, turned out to be barely relevant to the book at all. This is shocking, because this indicates to me that the Marketing Department may have actually known what should have been in the book, but somehow neglected to tell anybody else before it was too late.
In another case, a book which seemed obviously written in one genre had been shoehorned into another more popular genre by what appeared to me to be the hasty insertion of three or four ill-fitting chapters. On several occasions, fascinating plot threads were dropped entirely, as though the author never knew they were there. And in a couple of other cases, books I read appeared to be two halves of two different books, which with a bit more consideration and time, could have been expanded into two excellent books instead of one puzzlingly poor one.
Books Are The New Slush Pile
We are now sitting with rushed books on our shelves and on our e-readers, unable to put our fingers on exactly what went wrong with the book we’re struggling to finish. But that’s not our fault. After all, knowing what’s wrong is not our job. We’re not the professionals here. It’s the job of the publishers, the editors and the editorial directors, in partnership with authors, to sort this out before the book ever gets to us.
I don’t know what’s happening behind those closed and hallowed doors: I suspect that the workload of editors in particular has increased to unmanageable levels (and is also far from adequately compensated). The more rushed the market becomes – and the more the authors are being shaped to fit market fads and fashion, rather than books being shaped to be the best version of that story they can be – the worse it’s going to get.
In the meantime, we’re losing potentially excellent stories. We’re losing them because the seeds are still out there, but it’s like someone having an idea for a new colour, and then being given six minutes to make it with charcoal and water.
I’m not absolving authors of all blame. I write. I’ve had stuff pointed out by beta readers that made me feel about as intelligent as a small square of puff pastry. I’ve been made aware that I am guilty of misdirection, the coddling of darlings and tangential flights of fancy which are blindingly obvious, and yet I did not see them. This is why it takes a whole village to make a book. It’s certainly why a whole village is being paid to make a book, because the authors are getting feck all these days.
I just believe that if an author is paying so very dearly for professional services during the publishing process, these services should be fully and comprehensively delivered. And then, the two ends of the publishing chain – indeed the only ones visible to the naked eye, i.e. the authors and the readers – might actually end up happy. And what a shocking state of affairs that would be.