Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My take on "When anyone can be a published author"

I think this article, When anyone can be a published author, fromSalon is interesting, but focuses too much on hand-wringing about the poor, lost readers who will have to wade through the slush-pile of "bad writing" without the gatekeepers (editors, book agents) to guide their way. But there's one thing the  writer does not take into account: Not all readers care about "good writing." And speaking personally, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing.

In fairness, the article does touch on the fact that new gatekeepers -- bloggers, aggregator sites and social networks -- will take the place of traditional editors and agents (something that is already happening). Regardless, many readers -- I'd say the majority -- are only looking for something they think is entertaining, or interesting. If a reader thinks they can get something of value from a piece of writing -- regardless of how well-written it is -- that reader will plunk down the money to download the piece to their laptop or e-reader.

For example, I've plodded through dozens of poorly-written e-books and articles, as well as printed books and articles -- misused punctuation, no spell-checking, low production values -- to find information I can use to help my older son with autism. The "bad writing" drove me nuts, but the information was coming from the most credible sources I could find: other parents who had tried some of the therapies I needed to learn about. (In the world of autism, with so little known about the causes and treatments, other parents/caregivers usually offer more useful information than doctors and scientists.) These were books and articles that would have never made it past the slush pile of a traditional publisher, but I was so grateful to find what I needed, and was glad the writer's information was available to me -- even if they did forget to spell-check.

It is the same with fiction. Most readers care more about story, and less about the prose. Writers who care about their craft might be put off by that statement, but it is a plain and simple fact. Stephen King is not a bestselling author because he is renowned for his sentence structure and original phrasing (although I think he is underrated as a writer.). He is a bestselling author because his stories are consistently entertaining.

The challenge for all writers -- the good and the bad -- will be finding their niche and learning to how to market themselves to showcase their strengths. Readers who care about good writing will seek out those writers. Readers who care about story will seek out storytellers. Readers who care about getting credible, useful information will seek out experts. And writers who care about both -- writing and readers -- will do their very best to create entertaining, credible stories and articles that stand out from the slush pile as "good writing."

1 comment:

  1. I read the article and it came off as very defensive. She's right in that I don't think self publishing is going to create a slew of new bestselling authors from your mechanic or crossing guard, but I don't know why more choice is a bad thing. You're right, people don't care about craft if they enjoy something. As long as it's entertaining the average reader isn't going to be driven nuts by comma placement because let's be honest, they don't know the difference anyway. Laura Miller sounded like someone a little worried about being able to make a living as a paid writer in the future. She may have a point, because the one thing a flood of cheap content is going to do is make generating content less profitable. It's already happening.