By Catherine Rudy, Dec 1 2013 12:28AM
The overall criticism of independent presses and self-published authors is that they lack quality control of their work. In part, this is true, but in varying degrees. Some independent publishers are meticulously attentive in editing and production, and put out excellent books. But more and more, I’ve found that these are not the norm. There are hundreds of small, independent presses, and the quality of their production runs the gamut of good to atrocious. Without a doubt, all of them extoll their invested interest in literary quality, yet that is not always the case in reality. The problem lies in little or no editing, lack of editing skill by their staff, and indifference in their end product. This is a shameful attitude to be found in such a noble art form as literature. Much like texting is dumbing down the skill of conversational writing, the lack of editing in literature is lowering the standards of what readers should expect in books. This is a travesty that must be remedied for the betterment of an educated society.
This flaw in publishing is not limited solely to small independent presses and self-published writers. It is understandable—but not acceptable—why self-published writers put out less than perfect work. They may not be well-versed in editing or objective enough to self-edit. They may be anxious to put out their work and short-change themselves on editing to do that. However, there is no excuse for a publishing company that touts itself as a conscientious publisher to chintz on the editing phase of producing a book. In the past, the traditional icons of major publishers have turned out exceptional works of literature, regardless of genre. Their editing quality was superb, almost flawless. They gained the right to demand perfection from writers who wanted to submit their work to them. They even gained the right to demand writers to get an agent before submitting to them. This snub against writers was a slap in the face to aspiring artists in the literary field. But an agent was meant to screen manuscripts for quality. This effort was met with mixed emotions—disdain from writers who now had limited avenues to publication, and approval by the reading public. No one wanted to pay hard-earned money for a book that was poorly written, and major publishers ensured that these works wouldn’t find their way into bookstores.
However, at some point, editors at the traditional big-time publishers have begun to lose their edge. Their quality control has dwindled. Their production is suffering. The overall quality of literature is crumbling. With that, I wonder what right they have in telling writers to get an agent for screening purposes. Who is at fault here: the agents or the editors at the publishing houses? Why is there a serious lack of quality control now?
I have been an editor for several years, even while working in a non-editorial job to pay the bills and support a family. I have diligently kept up with grammatical rules and changes, and invest myself in demanding perfection in literature. I have even spent some time running a publishing company to experience what writers submit as finished products. It was during this time that I realized the sad state of the future of literature. I gave up the publishing company and created The Wolf Pirate Project to teach writers the rules of writing, how to self-edit, and what to expect out of the publishing industry. Improving literature is more important than churning out books for profit. Personally, I would be embarrassed to release a book riddled with grammatical mistakes, or one that is not pleasing to read. That is the responsibility of a publisher, although I feel they are faltering in this respect.
A publisher has several responsibilities in producing a quality book. For one, its editors need to review the manuscript’s content for consistency and completeness. Then they need to edit for grammatical errors, typos, and proper sentence structure. Of course, style in creative writing is independent of each writer, but there is no excuse for poor grammar or spelling errors. There are also key concepts, which we teach in our writer’s classes, that are integral in literature. As explained in the classes, these are not rigid rules, but guidelines to follow. These include keeping point-of-view consistent, active versus passive sentences, showing over telling sentences, and avoiding an overabundance of purple prose. For the most part, these are what publishers demand from writers, and there is a good reason for it. For example, keeping the point-of-view consistent avoids confusion and facilitates a more vivid story experience. Active sentences are more natural to read, while passive ones are clumsy and sound awkward.
Since the inception of The Wolf Pirate Project, I have been inundated with work. All my time has been spent editing writers’ works and teaching writing concepts. I haven’t had time to read for pleasure. Recently, though, I realized I was losing touch with contemporary publications. I wanted to read for pleasure again. I carved out some time to do that, going to a Barnes and Noble and browsing for books that struck my fancy. I grabbed several at a time and began reading—only to toss one after another aside because they didn’t meet my high standard of acceptable literature. The editing was unsatisfactory. In some cases, it was deplorable. Inevitably, I turned the book over to read the publisher on the spine and winced. Many of these books had been produced by the traditional major publishers. I was shocked and disappointed. I went back to the bookstore and grabbed another bunch of books. Some were well done, offering me a satisfying experience of reading. But many were unacceptable. I couldn’t get through them. I shoved them in a closet, knowing I’d never read them through. Nor would I donate them to charity because I don’t believe in sharing poorly produced books with the public. Overall, purchasing those books was a total waste of money. Hard-earned money, at that. How many other people do the same thing every day.
What frightens me the most is that people will eventually get used to this poor quality of literature coming out on the market. Just like the populace has accepted texting in lieu of their diminished writing skills, the reading public will inevitably accept subpar literature as the norm. That is a horrific shame. Humanity will then have peaked in its advancement and started its downward slide. No one will even know this is happening.
The editors at The Wolf Pirate Project have decided not to let this happen. Not willingly, at least. We have taken it upon ourselves to critique the editorial work of publishers. There is no excuse for poorly produced works of literature. A publisher should be proud to put their name and logo on a book. The content of the book is a reflection of their idea of what they consider acceptable work. Readers should demand more perfection in what they read. Reviewers should be honest in their assessment of literature, not keep with the current practices of having a publisher write their reviews for them. (This is another travesty in the literary industry). There is no excuse for publishers to put out subpar literature when they demand so much from writers in the first place and have a staff of editors to polish the work up before publication.
In critiquing editors of publishing houses, we will focus on the editorial aspect of what a publisher is responsible for. We are aware of what a publisher demands in a book before it is accepted for publication, and we will grade on those issues—grammar, sentence structure, typos, and key concepts of storytelling; those being keeping point of view, active versus passive sentences, telling versus showing, and avoiding an abundance of purple prose, among other criteria. We will minimize critiquing the author’s work, although we will note where the publisher failed to correct consistency in the story or credibility. Anything a publisher should catch and correct will be addressed in these critiques. It is not meant to embarrass a publisher or editor, but to educate them in where they went wrong. The point is to be educational, to push for the improvement of marketed literature. It is only fair to expect this, when hard-earned money is being spent on what they produce.
These critiques will be sent directly to the publisher, along with the book they go with. The critiques will not be posted on the web site in the spirit of not embarrassing the writer or publisher. The goal is to inform the publisher where their quality control faltered in an effort to put it back on track. I encourage anyone who encounters a book that falls within the category of subpar work to submit the title to us so we can do a critique on it. If everyone who finds a book that is poorly edited stands up and speaks out, we can change the way others are edited and improve the overall quality of modern literature.
We hope editors take note of this feature and take heed. Reviewing the rules of grammar can do wonders in boosting an editor’s skills. Paying attention to the writing is another manner of doing the job they are meant to do. Having an invested interest in what is produced is imperative in producing a good book. Caring about the course of literature in modern society and drawing more people to reading for leisure is imperative to keep this industry alive.
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