Disclaimer: This post pertains to fiction ebooks. Names of books and authors have not been included--thereby protecting the innocent (and the guilty). And, since I am not yet published, I write this wearing a reader's hat. Okay, it has a matching writer's scarf. I do love the craft...
I start this post with a heavy sigh, even while knowing you will be tempted to click the back button on your browser. But, questions that seem unanswerable do tend to make me sigh.Where to begin? Where to begin...
While spending a great deal of time alone today at work, I did a lot of thinking. My job is often like that--solitary. And as they often do, my thoughts drifted in and out of the writing world. Today, it was not so much my own little writing corner, but more about the writing world at large.
Let me back up and tell you what started my thought train. I downloaded an eBook yesterday evening and immediately started to read it. Wow! I was turning those digital pages as quickly as I could read the words. As I was being reeled in by the action and the terror of this dystopian world, it occurred to me that the author was changing point of view quite often.
Hmm...it was a self-published book. Is this part of the crap that I so often read about on writer's blogs? Nah...not a book this engaging. Today, out of curiosity, I went back to Amazon to double-check the reviews before I wrote this post. Over 200-- and standing at four and a half stars. Nobody has THAT many friends and relatives ready to put up a shill review.
It was just the tip of the iceberg for me in this whole, enormous, reading/writing/publishing journey I have undertaken.
And, I must confess, just when I start to think I know something about this r/w/p world, I realize I know next to nothing. I could go on confessing...there again, nah. Perhaps another day :-)
During the last year, my writing journey has intensified greatly. It was one year ago that I entered ABNA for the first time. I didn't enter this year, because this year I understand that I really have nothing ready to go. Last year, I was too ignorant of good writing to realize it. And now, it is painfully obvious to me when a writer publishes their work--at a quality level of which they are too ignorant to comprehend--just like me a long year ago.
But, no regrets...ABNA was a wonderful experience that propelled me forward into the online writing community. And it nudged me to explore the writing world at large.
I began reading blogs--even created my own, and put myself in sponge mode--to absorb every little drop of meaningful advice that was offered. The writing community is a generous one. And there was not a better time to have begun to spread my wings, readying to fly with my writing. But I had to fly fast--like everyone else who was trying to keep up with the near-daily changes. The landscape is shifting so quickly in the publishing industry that no one is sure where we all will be when the dust settles.
In my travels from blog to blog, when I read a post, I also read the comments that follow. And there has been a recurring question asked, and then opined upon...over and over again. "What to do about the crap that is being self-published? The stuff that is clogging up Amazon and other sites that sell ebooks? The real writers can't find their way out to stand at the top--to be noticed."
I understand what they are saying; I have read excerpts that made me feel bad for the authors. Have they no idea? Then I remind myself that everyone has a story--some of them (us) have many that they (we) just can't help but share. :-)
But, I am not here to pick arguments, and I am not here to take sides. And on some blogs I have visited, it is apparent that sides are forming.
I have read suggestions that there be some type of rating body, or a system that books are rated on, bearing some sort of mark of quality. Hmm? Are we trying to put up another gate to replace the one that the big six have had for years and years? The one through which only a minute number of writers ever made it?
I don't mean to diminish the enormity of their success--just making it through was magnificent--and a testament to their work, their dedication, their expertise...their education...
But, is there something more? How do we define good and bad writing? How do we define what is good and what is crap? How do we define a person's sense of story?
It seems there is a huge disconnect between readers-- and the writers who cross every "t" and dot every "i". It appears that understanding the correct way--the taught way to write, is not as important to many readers as it is to the writers who are clamoring for a way to rate books. A system that will allow the stellar to stand in front of the not so stellar.
But, to be fair, there are storytellers among us who just don't know very much about grammar and punctuation. There are people who are passionate about their stories--but the last English class they sat in was in high school. There are people typing away (right now, I bet), who have never once sat in a creative writing class. Maybe they have never read The Elements of Style, never heard of The Chicago Manual of Style . Maybe they hated English, but love to read--and their mind can't stop creating stories.
And it is prudent to consider the written standard--that nearly everything has. It is the reference, the thing we come back to when we need to analyze, to double-check, to see if we are slipping away from the right way to do things. I understand the importance of a written standard.
Yet, in visual art, we can be taught a certain way to do things, a "method". But our finished product is much less often judged on, and defined by, the written standard from which the artist was taught. There is an acceptance for crude expression form.
And music. I smile--there are some pretty successful artists out there producing something which I cringe to call music. And I am awfully sure that those artists never sat in a music theory class. But their work sells. And it sells because it entertains someone.
I don't know what the answer is, but it worries me that anyone would presume a design for standardized rating of books-- based upon content quality, could be done in a fair manner. Such arbitrary judgement begs the question... who among us is worthy to judge? Who among us is worthy to set the specs--the standards that must be met to earn a certain rating? Who will provide the screening of the books' quality? Who will pay for it all?
Having said all that, I am sensitive to the frustrations of the many who are mired in a sea of ebook mediocrity. And there is mediocrity in abundance--along with worse. And how can authors with exceptional books be noticed in an already over-saturated ebook market?
That last question exists for all ebook authors, too. Even the ones who write "crap", yearn to be read.
The book I began to read last night (and will return to as soon as I post this blog) is a fine example of someone who did not follow the rules. Yet, I say without reservation, even if they don't know the term or the definition for it--are quite capable of motivating people to "suspend their disbelief".
I have read traditionally published books that, although, every letter and symbol was exactly where it should have been, put me to sleep. I have, for years, read traditionally published books written by authors who I think might have been resting on their laurels. Where was the story?
What to do? As long as there is a buck to be made, companies will provide a means for writers to self-publish. Demanding anything more or less--to me, smacks of censorship. "Just sayin..."
And I think that ultimately, any type of rating has to come from the reviews--from the people who read the books--or start to read them--then don't finish.
I don't know about you guys, but I read the reviews before I buy a book. And if they aren't shining reviews, I probably won't buy it. But, in all honesty...if I read a review that told me the story was excellent but the grammar or punctuation needed some work, I'd likely still read the excerpt to see if it was actually distracting. If it wasn't? For a good story, I'd still buy the book.
As a writer, I encourage others, rather than discourage. And I hope that my honest criticisms of their work would serve to motivate them to improve...to reach for a higher place.
In the same line of thinking, I add that just tonight, my son's girlfriend and I were talking about books. We recommend good reads to each other, and warn each other away from bad ones. I told her about the book I started reading last night. Then she told me that she has found so many bad ebooks, it makes her mad to waste her time. She had just read the beginning of another one and was disgusted--and will not continue reading it.
I asked her if she wrote a review. And then, as a good member of the writing community, <smile> told her that there are guidlines available online for writing a review--since she has never written one and seemed sort of shy. Ha! I act like the grand master of reviews. I have written four--but will write many more now that the importance has become tantamount to how to sort out the wheat from the chaff.
Then I talked a little bit about writing reviews, being your own person and sharing your honest opinion, not insulting other reviewers when you disagree with them, explaining why you liked or didn't like the book. And the big one: never get personal about the author. <big smile>
Any thoughts out there?