In days of yore, publishing a book was a privilege realized by a select few, thanks to a rigorous culling process by publishing houses. This seems to no longer be the case since self-publishing is easier than ever before, particularly with the advent of the e-book. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Certainly, there are several gems that must have gotten lost in the past due to a publishers’ discretion. After all, almost every successful author has faced rejection, even of works that go on to be wild successes. But now that anyone can publish anything, have sub-par offerings diluted, or even reduced, the overall quality of today’s body of publications? While far from a systematic review, one recent experience certainly made me consider the thought.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to settle in with a book that is supposedly written in English and expect to understand it. Yet I recently had the unfortunate experience of torturing myself by slogging through a book that I could swear was originally in a foreign language and run through Google Translate before being offered in “English.” Translation scams are not new, but ebook publishing provides easy access to a potential source of revenue. As any language student who has tried to take a shortcut on their homework has learned, Google Translate is best used for individual words; it is completely befuddled when it comes to structured sentences. (This wouldn’t be such a terrible state of affairs if I didn’t have a compulsion to finish every book I start.)
Even though being a “published author” is perhaps not as difficult to achieve as it once was, it still carries that note of exclusivity, and people like to be able to lay claim to it. There is a reason the club of published authors was once exclusive: it is because writing well requires dedication to the craft and a superior mastery of language, a difficult and time-consuming endeavor that few undertake. Just because it is possible to loose terribly written works on the world does not mean that it should be done. After all, a writer – a published writer – should be interested in serving the reader. And no reader wants to struggle through a sloppily thrown together collection of words.
Searching the Internet reveals that I am hardly alone in my opinion. I got sucked into a vortex of posts on the topic. Some, like Chuck Wendig, bring up many valid points, as well as several possible solutions. Alas, none of them seem to be solutions that will ultimately solve the problem. The one that appeals to me most is Andrea Phillips’ proposal of publishing on a spectrum, but in a way, that’s just a slightly more lax form of the traditional publishing industry. While self-publishing can be a valuable creative outlet, having some indication that a work has at least been vetted for quality control would go a long way in helping the discriminating reader to weed out the bad apples.
Contributed by: Leiba Rimler, Librarian, Technical Services