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What I wanted to say over at Terrible Minds on the topic of quality control and (self-)publishing…

January 28, 2014

…But the internet was not cooperative.

Much of this discussion reminds me of Senator Hruska’s defense of the nomination of Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court by Nixon: “Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”

If life and budgets had no limits, I would be more tolerant of poor quality control generally, in publishing and in the wider world. As things stand, though, every bad book I am suckered means a few bucks and a few hours I can’t get back. Thus I prefer writers do the first part of their education on their own dime and time, not everyone else’s. It’s partly an ethical problem for me, and partly one of raw inefficiency. Throw an unfinished work out there and get a thousand people to buy it, and what chance of coherent feedback toward improvement can one expect? Even the unadorned “not interested” from an agent or editor has binary simplicity going for it.

This gets at the real flaw with reader-as-gatekeeper: arithmetic. An agent or submissions editor sees a lot of queries in any given year, but neither sees *all* of them, even within the relevant genres. A reader-as-gatekeeper, in theory, would have to select from *all* of the offerings out there at any given time. In practice, though, what happens–what *must* happen–is that most readers go to resources that help them narrow the selection process to manageable levels. Amazon reviews, Goodreads, blogs, social media et al are gatekeepers just as surely as agents and editors.

They’re just gatekeepers with murkier motives. With the traditional system, I at least know the gatekeepers have a vested interest in putting out product that will sell, which should (and usually does) mean halfway-decent stories without wholesale offenses against clarity and style. The Wild Wild West of the internet has no such overriding premise, as every cycle of authorial/fan shenanigans and backlash at Amazon or Goodreads or wherever demonstrates.

Which makes it that much more significant, if paradoxically frustrating, when self-published work of real, even sublime quality emerges. It’s like finding a gold needle in a stack of brass-colored steel needles, using a refrigerator magnet and a metal detector I picked up at a swap meet. There’s got to be a better way to do this, one that doesn’t waste so many people’s time and money.

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