In my last post I asked, “Where is publishing?” One of the reasons I asked was the increasing frustration I see in the writing community. New folks enter, enthusiastically engage, totally commit, find the writer’s world is rejection, become frustrated, bitter, and finally resort to fault finding and accusations. Discontent isn’t limited to writers. Agents complain about editors and publishers. Publishers about distributers. The bitching chain goes on to infinity. Everyone has a list of what’s wrong with the other guy. Few make such lists about themselves. The result: I see our industry’s product quality suffering.
Though some agents, publishers, distributers, and retailers may be reluctant to agree, writers are the reason the industry exists. Without us there is no publishing business. The problem is supply and demand. We writers are a mega elastic supply functioning in a relatively inelastic market. The ratio of writers to “positions” stated in my previous post is a staggering truth to many who haven’t faced facts before chasing the rainbow.
The traditional “gate-keepers,” agents and house editors, are overwhelmed by sheer volume. We may dislike their rejection, but what they did preserved the system’s balance. Like predators in an ecosystem, they insured the quality of the “writer population.” They can’t do that today; there is too much material to handle. The result – some very good work is discarded with the very bad. In many cases the mediocre survives when it shouldn’t.
The answer to this frustration for many has been self-publishing. That’s great. It allows a lot of good marketable work to find its way to the public. The problem is that the lack of gate-keeping has dumped product into the market that isn’t up to standard. Back in the sixties cheap import knock-offs flooded America. The mark on a product saying “Made in Japan” made it an object for derision and contempt, even if it was a good item. That’s how many book purchasers and publishing professionals view self-published work today. One avid reader friend of mine says, “There’s more published trash out there than there is shit in a Hong Kong sewer.” And, unfortunately, she’s right.
Since there is a shortage of needed gate-keepers (and many of those are lacking) we have to try our best to be our own predators. A writer friend of mine is fond of talking about “killin’ the chillin’” (the difficult process of editing out something we like in our work that doesn’t belong). She says it’s something we all have to face to improve our craft. Though her reference is to parts of a manuscript, I believe that advice extends to whole works.
The posts following this one will be suggestions that I believe will help us function better as our own gate-keepers. Each post will be something we can use to filter the chaff from the wheat. The posts will discuss one idea, I don’t want them looking like a larger version of War and Peace. The titles of the individual posts include: Read, read, read, read, and read more, / Testing, testing, one, two, three, / Am I fiction or fact? / What genre fits fine? / What in the hell do my potential readers want? / The “who cares” question, / Workers shouldn’t blame their tools, they better be sure they have them all and know how to use them, / Continuity, was it a Ford or a Chevy? / It’s just like ….. / and possibly more.
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