On my most recent trip, I've done a lot of reading. For whatever reason, I couldn't focus on writing on the plane, so I decided to read a bit.
Well, OK, more than a "bit"...I think I read about twenty-five books. Well, I read at least part of those books. Only a few did I get through the whole thing, and that's what I want to talk about.
E-publishing and print-on-demand (POD) has opened up a huge market for books. This also means that there are more authors and more publishers. And that's where the problem starts to show up.
Standards have fallen.
A fair number of the books I read were just plain bad. The plot-if you can call it that-was all over the place. Characters were shallow, not much more than cardboard cutouts. There was no tension or drama. In other words, they were just bad stories.
Many, if not most, lacked any kind of editing. Spelling and grammar errors were rampant. The punctuation was horrendous. In one book of about 240 pages, the author used the word "that" over 5,000 times. The mechanical errors were bad enough to make the books unreadable. The sad part was that most of these books actually had a decent story and interesting characters, but the lack of polishing by the author and the absence of editing made them terrible.
The obvious thing to do here is to blame the publisher. The publisher is responsible for fixing these problems. A good and thorough editing process will catch the vast majority of the errors and get them fixed.
But that's not totally fair...
The author also has a huge burden in this process. By the time an editor gets a book, there should be no spelling errors. Ideally, absolutely no spelling errors should remain. In reality, there will always be a few, but the number should be very small. Also, the vast majority of the other mechanical problems should be fixed; things like punctuation and overused words. The word we used to use to talk about this was "Polished". No one polishes anymore, I guess.
For years, publishers would typically release one or two new books a month. The rest of the submissions were declined. The common excuse given was that it was too expensive to publish more. Anyone with a brain in their head will see the problem with that statement...if you make 20% profit on every book you sell, it doesn't matter how many you publish. You come out ahead.
The high rejection rate was because the publishers declined the books that weren't polished. Those of us who were serious about selling a book made sure that our books were polished. I know of one major publisher who rejected any book that had more than three mechanical errors in the first twenty pages.
Most of the books I've read in the last month and a half have more than three errors in the first two paragraphs.
Today, here and now, we are rushing books to release. The same thing happened to the American auto industry in the 1970s and 1980s...they were pushing cars to production and sales floor. And the same thing happened to GM and Ford and Chrysler: The quality went through the floor and sales dropped like a falcon. American Motors didn't survive.
Just like the carmakers, we have to get the quality back where it belongs.
It's not my job to tell the publishers how to do their job.
I just hope they figure it out before we all starve to death.