Friday, February 19, 2010

The Effect of Technology on the Quality of Writing

I was just reading an article this morning and found some writers addressing a concern that I have had floating around in the back of my head. Could all of this new technology affect the quality of writing that we see out there? I am, unfortunately inclined to say I think it will, but it doesn't have to. I am always hopeful that those of us in the publishing industry have the power to prevent this, the question is, will people make that effort?

What I found interesting, was that most of the articles I read never once addressed the real issue of the quality. All of the articles tended to focus on simply the money issue and the effect on the writers. We've all see those articles... decrease the money for a book and the author suffers.

As I see this though, there is a bigger issue at play here. As the accessibility to publishing opens up more and more, there will be opportunities for a lot of people, who really did have books that were below quality to be published. Since it doesn't cost as much to produce books that sit on a hard drive some place in the world until someone wants to buy it, many companies can just acquire anyone.

When I thought about this, one of the first things that popped into my head was the deregulation of the phone industry back in the 70's. While the initial idea of breaking up "Ma-Bell" sounded like a good idea, and for a while, things looked pretty good, in the end, we did see decreases in quality. Suddenly, we all saw companies sprouting up all of the place proclaiming they were the new face in the phone industry. Were they inexpensive? Yes. Quality? In many cases, the quality simply wasn't there. Again, just because I can create a phone company, it doesn't mean I have the knowledge or the infrastructure to produce a quality product.

Now please understand, I am not of the opinion that there is an exclusive place in the world for writers and unless you are published by a mega-publisher, you are nothing. I am simply saying, that if we want to insure the quality level remains high, there is a need for some quality control.

It is fine by me if companies want to open up publishing for more people. I have no problem with this. But please people, if you are doing this, maintain standards that demonstrate you have a quality project. Don't lower the bar just because you want to make more money.

I have always been of the opinion that writing is open to everyone. This is a craft that writers can really have the chance of self-expression. With that said, just because the technology is there for writers to "publish" it does not mean that they should.

As an agent, I am all for finding new avenues for authors to promote their books. If e-publishing is the new wave, then so be it. But please, watch the quality. As for me, I am going to continue to look for quality writing.


  1. But Scott, do you think it's fair that a really good writer who gets rejected by book-print publishers would have to move to e-publishers just to make a name for themselves, and then find that later on, with a following, book-print pubs don't want anything to do with them because they are e-writers?

    I have had my heart set on book-print for as long as I can remember and have no wish or desire to e-pub (although a lot of people are doing it). I feel my book meets the "NY pub standards" and I worked hard to get it there. I fear that an agent would tell me e-pub is the way to go and I don't want to. (If I did I would have sent my query out to those folks long ago.) To me it's not about the money, it's about the feel-in-your-hand, smell the paper, see my name on a real cover in a bookstore Book.

    We can't stop the future, but what about those of us who want to hold on to the past? Do we have any choice now?

  2. Piedmont,

    I guess my first comment is no one is making someone move to e-publishing to make a name for themself. Too often, I see writers do this because they are lacking the patience it takes in this business. When their first book gets rejected, they immediately run to an e-pub. Writing takes time and yes, it may mean it takes you many years and many books before you find the right one.

    I guess I would also say that if writers know they run the risk of moving to print because of e-publishing (which does not always happen), then why take the risk.

    As far as your book being at NY Pub Standards, it may be, but remember that there is more than just having a good book. It could simply mean that your book was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Now, if an agent tells you that e-pub is the way to go, remember that you have the choice. You don't have to follow the route of the agent since you hired that person.

    As always, in my humble opinion.

    But Scott, do you think it's fair that a really good writer who gets rejected by book-print publishers would have to move to e-publishers just to make a name for themselves, and then find that later on, with a following, book-print pubs don't want anything to do with them because they are e-writers?

  3. Thanks Scott. I guess I'm just getting antsy. I've got my book out to query, have had 2 partials requested thus far and although encouraging, I'm just scared. I have the patience and determination but like you said, I might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    And no, I will not run to an e-pub with this if it gets wholly rejected. I'm working on the next 2 books and will continue on this crazy pursuit of mine to be landed by a book-print publisher.

    And thanks for being a romance only agent. Your insights are invaluable.

  4. Interesting post. I've never given e-publishing much thought as it's not a format I'd be interested in reading, but the possible effect on quality is an interesting point. It would be nice if e-publishing opened up avenues for less mainstream quality writers to publish their work as opposed to mainstream low quality. It seems like people are either on board with reading e-books or they strongly prefer the idea of having a book in their hands.

    I wonder if there has been research done into what type of readers e-books attract, what type of readers "real" books attracts, their respective reading preferences and if that will eventually direct an author to which form of publishing they pursue.

  5. I must leave for work but am glad you have decided to address this issue. We may wish it were otherwise, but ain't nobody going to wait years to get published through the old means (2-7 years!) if they can find a way around it. Especially now when what sells so often is really subpar writing, but a very good idea contained therein. I won't diss other writers, so fill in the blanks for yourself, people. I will say that some genres, which seem to have been written by five year olds (at best,) for other five year olds, as in Chicklit, for instance, obviously sells well and is what many women must want to read, so how is one to know what is quality writing & what is not anymore?
    When the NYTBR finally gave and started to review pop lit, I knew it was over. And why not, every age has had its own National Enquirer literature. Most entertaining.
    I admire your resolve to maintain high standards in this economy, but think it may be an uphill row. As always, follow the money, but hope the cream rises to the top in the coming avalanche of awful ebooks.

  6. From my perspective, writing is money + time, and time = money, so the conclusion that technology does have a major effect on the quality of writing as we have the spellcheck tools F7 in words :)