A Surplus of Quality
So, there’s this article over on Salon.com by Laura Miller. You may have read it. You may not – but go ahead and do so, and then come back. I’ll still be here.
The gist of this article is a point that’s been talked about before (though perhaps more eloquently in Miller’s article) during the whole Great Death of the Publishing Industry apocalypse that’s been going on since the eBook thing and self-publishing took off: that there is a veritable flood of poor-quality, un-edited or badly-edited manuscripts waiting in the wings ready to deluge you, the fair reader of fine fiction, in an unending wave of crap, in the aftermath of the publishing industry’s final death throws. It will then be your job to discern the good from the bad (a job you can only do by reading everything) – either that, or new gatekeepers will arise from the ashes of the old to tell the reading masses what’s good and what’s bad for them, as the editors and agents and publishing industry execs used to do.
Now, of course, the point of the piece is speculative in nature. Certainly, publishing is undergoing some seismic changes, but it’s still a bit early to sound the death knell, and I think Laura Miller subtly suggests that in her peice. And while I largely agree with her thesis, I think there’s a subtle correction that might need to be considered.
Certainly, there is potentially a lot of crap the writers of which want to get it published (present company not necessarily excluded, unfortunately, until proven otherwise). But, I suspect there is another problem that compounds this. Right now a very precious few ever succeed in getting their work past the various gatekeepers of agents and editors and marketing execs to get their work in front of the eyes of readers. Most of these who do are good writers, some of them even great.
But for every good writer who succeeds at getting published, right now, I’ll grant that there are dozens of bad writers, but I hypothesize that there are also a few more good writers who don’t manage to break in.
Which means that not only is there a flood of crap waiting in the wings; there is also a surplus of quality waiting to rain down on us.
What’s the problem, you ask?
Why, only this: as unrealistic as it is to expect the reading public to wade through all that crap, even if we narrowed it all down to just the good stuff, there’d still be more good writing available than your average reader can be expected to consume. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already got a reading list that’s longer than I can handle, and that’s just dealing with traditionally published stuff. If you add all the good, and even great, writers that are out there, as-yet unpublished (as much as I’d like to see many of them succeed), that already-unmanageable list becomes entirely unwieldy.
Certainly, there are super-readers who can absorb a certain increase in their reading material. But for most of us, time is a precious commodity. We want to read, but we don’t have time to read everything. Generally, we slice up our reading list by self-selecting for genre, but if the “walls” of traditional publishing come down, that self-selection won’t be enough.
Think about it, though. For instance, in my personally preferred genres (the speculative fiction genre), many of the old giants of the genre are still alive and kicking and writing new stuff. Whenever they do, of course, the fans will flock to them. (They’ve earned that.) And just behind them is a whole new generation of rising stars and other published authors. There are many of them. And behind them, an untold number of writers who have not yet broken into the industry. When the walls of publishing come down (if), that will be three generations of writers, including many really good writers in all three generations. You’re not going to want to stop reading the old giants nor the rising stars just because the wall came down. Do you have room for a whole new crop of fabulous fiction in your diet, let alone the accompanying less-than-superb fare?
That’s just food-for-thought for today. Have fun reading!