The “Writer Beware” blog usually warns of scams and fly-by-night publishers trying to take advantage of inexperienced writers, but a guest post from writer and writing instructor Marcia Yudkin warns of something else—inexperienced writers apparently trying to take advantage of readers. I’m reminded of the aphorism, “Fast, cheap, good: pick any two”—because Yudkin is talking about writers who write fast, and self-publish for cheap, but may not actually be any good.
Yudkin talks about communities she’s encountered where writers, enamored of the way they could make money right away by listing cheap e-books on Amazon, share tips on how to write as fast as possible, review each other’s work, and so on. But in all the talk about becoming a faster writer, there doesn’t seem to be much about becoming a better writer. The idea seems to be to turn it out as fast as possible so you can sell as many as possible.
There also doesn’t seem to be much discussion of getting advice and feedback from readers or editors on improving your work, either. Yudkin notes that novelist Sue Grafton once compared the process of learning to write to the process of learning to be a doctor, and decided to allow herself the same five years as medical school takes to learn to write a good novel.
You won’t ever find folks who tout ebooks as a route to easy riches talking about studying for five years or throwing away such a large chunk of effort. And that’s why, with the absence of any gatekeepers and the lack of respect for quality in their publishing model, readers and writers everywhere stand to suffer. As the current trend spreads, we risk having literary marketplaces that are drowning in unripened works, making it harder for superb new writers who deserve attention to find readers.
And it also harms the authors, too—publication of some work not their best may cause them to get hammered by bad reviews when, if they’d only taken more time to polish it, they might have done considerably better.
The problem of the Internet slushpile has been with us at least as long as self-publishing has, and indeed as long as anyone’s been able to post any kind of fiction to the Internet, for pay or free. With Amazon offering so many writers what seems like such an easy road to riches via e-book self-publishing, it’s not surprising they would try to take advantage of it. Amazon has tried to curb the worst of the excesses by cracking down on private-label rights content, but you still end up with plenty of stuff that’s not written as well as it should be.
I still think it’s a surmountable problem, however. As every new month goes by, people are inventing more and more new ways of winnowing wheat from chaff, or at least helping people find what’s “wheat” for them. Which might suggest that these speed-demon authors should make the best of it while they can—sooner or later people won’t read them anymore.