At lunch with a friend who aspires to be published, I was griping (not unusual, I assure you) about the difficulties of getting my work noticed in today’s world. She’s even worse off, trying to get that foot in the door with an agent or publisher but competing with zillions of other wanna-bes.  A comment she made struck me, that perhaps the Golden Age of publishing is over. Her contention is that there was a period of time in the 1900s (Why does that sound so long ago?) when authors wrote for a living and were published by entities that saw to it the books were edited into shape, attractively presented, and noticed by readers.

It’s easy to get published today. A chimp with an iPad might release a book by mistake (and some idiot out there would buy it and claim it tops Shakespeare). But recent research shows that most authors make less than $1000/year. The Big Guys are playing it safe by franchising authors who are dead or dying and pressing their top writers to crank out more books per year. Plenty of small presses support those of us who aren’t named James Patterson or Janet Evanovitch, but nobody’s getting rich in such ventures.

It should be a golden age: more opportunities to be published, more resources to make sure it’s done well. Every book out there should be a gem, because in the computer age nobody has to retype the whole thing after each edit!

Sadly there are too many writers who don’t care–possibly don’t even realize–their work is shoddy. Two examples.

Last night I finished a book by a major author, though I knew about half-way through it was flawed. By the end I was thoroughly disgusted. The killer was so unbelievable as to be a caricature, and the book slewed every once in a while into totally irrelevant chapters that should have been edited out.

The other example came yesterday when I sampled a book by an author unknown to me but who offered the first of his procedural cop series for free. It had so many errors in the first three pages that I couldn’t make myself go on. It was obvious no editor had even glanced at the manuscript.

Here’s the kicker: The book had 17 reviews on Amazon, all of them 4 or 5 stars. Not  one review mentioned problems with commas, run-ons, fragments, spelling, point of view, and stereotypical description. They were obviously bought or solicited or whatever, and if you haven’t noticed that trend, consider this: If some big-name authors really read all the books they blurb, they’d never have time to write their own.

So how can we have a golden age when neither writers NOR readers seem to care if the end product is as good as it can be?

The tools for a golden age are here. We have access to good editors, publishers, cover artists, and formatters. It’s up to readers to reject shoddy work and tell the author/publisher, (privately if you prefer) “This is terrible,” or “This needs work.” Authors and rival publishers can’t do it, because it looks like sour grapes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t see it.

Readers, when you find a book riddled with errors or bad writing, tell the author or publisher. I don’t mean if you didn’t like the way the author dealt with the topic: that’s personal taste. I’m talking about serious problems with the writing, editing, or other basic elements that could be corrected if responsible people work to make a decent product. A book is (should be) a joint effort, and someone should care if it isn’t the best it can be. If it isn’t, tell someone!

If that doesn’t work, there’s always the one star review on Amazon.

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