The online queue of aspiring writers – committed and otherwise – is growing at a phenomenal rate. This situation – for that is what it is – begs many new questions. One I wish to focus on concerns a transparent void, once filled out of necessity.
Prior to the Net, it had been the responsibility of hardcopy publishing houses to oversee the proofreading and editing of a new author’s work, alongside those already on their books. Now, new technology has enabled the rookie to do this him or herself, with no recourse to a second, professional opinion.
Yes, this situation predates the Net. Virgin’s publishing arm dispensed with the nit-picking inconvenience of having a proof-reader/editor back in the late 80s’. This became discernible in their youth fiction range, where a horribly obvious ‘typo’ appeared on almost every other page. (I say ‘horribly obvious’ in that the offending misspelled word was often a simple noun of no more than two syllables). Taking a leaf out of Virgin’s cost cutting exercise, other publishers quickly followed suit. The result has been the greatest misuse of print English since the 17th century. Only the likes of Harper Collins – a publishing house with whom I have other issues – and their many subsidiaries, maintain a high level in print grammar; especially in the lines of biography and other non-fiction.
For mischievous checkers here, and as an up-loader to Amazon Kindle myself, I am as guilty of typos as anyone. Although my own errors are miniscule compared to those let through by Virgin for a generation, and typical of most writers who can’t afford their own staff.
This is symptomatic of a larger problem. The every-man-for-himself approach may be deemed the democratisation of literature; where everyone capable of forefinger typing can have a voice on a par with everyone else. In truth, this merely ensures the market drowns beneath a welter of voices of varying quality and legitimacy. This, of course, begs a secondary question: who says which literature is ‘legitimate’?
The answer is simple and one that brings us full circle - it must be the publisher. So, the solution is for unapologetic quality control administrators on respected literary sites who have real experience in proof-reader editing. Yes, this will mean rejection for some rookies. That’s tough; but as has always been the case, if you are serious about writing, then you go away, improve your writing style, and come up with a proposal or six that can, somewhere, gain acceptance. The rest of us can continue plying our wares on Amazon.
I don’t knock all users. It is wonderful, and probably necessary, that a man or woman of any age, any background and any home, who harbour a real talent, can access a vehicle to advertise and display their work to anyone else. But, imagine this same situation before the Net; a situation where everyone who submitted got published; where submission alone was publication. Who among us, as buyers, would partake of such longwinded, unfocused searching? To eagerly spend our hard-earned cash on anything and everything, taking such a chance on unlimited product, whatever the quality? All authors would quickly lose what credibility they had – as would the book trade. Perhaps, in the end, endless opportunity is no opportunity at all.
The problem lies in the fact that the Net is not a writer’s one-stop shop. It is a single, gigantic entity made up of an unlimited number of websites and users. The ultimate democratisation, and, right now, the ultimate mess.