Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dumpster Diving, Not A Fan

There's no problem with dumpster diving if you find a shiny CD and clean it up. There IS a problem with dumpster diving if you find a moldy couch that lots of people have clearly loved and just leave it in the condition it's in.
Nicole at WORD for Teens
No, I'm not attempting an alternative lifestyle.  I'm not even talking about myself.  I'm talking about publishers and Nicole's quote there sums it up wonderfully.  I may get some shit for this but quite frankly I just don't care.  I'm tired of reading more shit than not and publishers dumpster diving plays into this.  If I see one more headline of this person or another getting culled from free access serial posting sites (or fucking fanfiction, seriously???) I'm going to give up reading (probably not but I will, at minimum, throw my hands up in the air in frustration and utter expletives not under my breath).  I'm not going to name names because this isn't really about the author.  Not really.  It's about dollar signs in publisher eyes and the erosion of quality as a result.

First and foremost I'm not talking about self-published authors; the people that actually publish to the likes of Amazon or Lulu and then go off and sell their product.  While I am not a fan of self-published works my first reaction to seeing one of these guys get culled is 'good for you' instead of 'are you fucking kidding me? not again.'  Why?  What's the difference, you ask?

The difference is actually selling a product and getting eleventy billion people to leave comments like 'omg i luuuuuuuuuuurve this plz post moar soon' on your work.  The difference is a proven sales record versus people that like free shit online who may not translate to actual sales.  That's why.  Being able to sell a half million copies of your book all on your own (through word of mouth, a hired publicist, etc.) is an astronomical feat and not something to be taken lightly.  Quality of the written work aside this person actually has a bonafide, PAYING fanbase behind them.  People have already proven they want to spend money on this person.  Getting a million likes isn't asking very much of anyone except for clicking a button.  While it may have been heinously time consuming for the person shilling you're merely asking for votes for prom king or queen.  Hell, Tila Tequila did it.  Why don't we give her a book deal too?  She's super popular on the internets.  Or was.

When a publisher snatches up some super popular story from Fiction Press or WattPad or LiveJournal or wherever the hell they're getting these novels from it's such a shameless grab for money that it actually puts me off reading the book now.  All they see is a fanbase: 10 million fans already built in, less money spent on marketing, as close to a guarantee as a publisher can get when releasing a book by someone otherwise unknown.  Ejecting one more person from the slush pile because sorry this was already picked up from a free site and the agent won't be able to sell it now although it's really good.  Quality?  Who the FUCK cares about that?  People are already going to buy it by default no matter what it looks like so bind it up and release it.  Let's go.

And fanfiction?  Seriously?  The very function of fanfiction is that it's not publishable because it would be a massive copyright violation because, you know, you're using characters you didn't create writing in a world you didn't build and using a plot that's probably more contrived than a scarf on a hipster in July in Arizona.  Now apparently it's publishable.  As someone that's been reading fanfiction for years now I can tell you that about 95% of the fanfiction out there is total dog shit.  The most popular stuff?  Suethor fic that panders to reader wants.  I've seen the comments.  I've attempted to read some of the stories.  My eyes have bled.  This is what the pubs are pulling from?  The slush pile wasn't enough?

This isn't about the right way and the wrong way to do something.  If a writer gets published, hooray!  I personally prefer the traditional route mainly because I suck at selling myself (a requirement for self-publishing) and I want the satisfaction of an objective third party looking at my work and going 'we can sell this' and pulling me from the mire.  Most writers I know want that feeling.  We don't want to circumvent it and we're okay with that.  Are we bitter because these people are throwing up whatever online and getting attention for it?  I'm sure a lot of people would say yes but I can assure you we're not.  I'm not.  Does it make me die on the inside that publishing is basically turning into an interweb popularity contest?  Yes, but I still have faith in the gatekeepers and the reading public that will eventually tire of the shit being released.

That's not to say all culled material is shit or all shit comes from culled material (I've read quite a bit of shit that never touched online serialization).  I'm just dandy with guilty pleasure reading but does all of it really need to be published?  Can't it just stay in the bog (of eternal stench) it's currently dwelling in and let another author with extraordinary talent get that slot even though they don't have a billion fans from the beginning?

This is about quality over quantity.  People are saying shit like this is the fault of book bloggers; our inability to fully contemplate literary criticism is what's destroying literature.  Frankly those suede-elbow-wearing, puckered asshole types can just shut right the fuck up.  Book bloggers alone, and citizen reviews, are not to blame for the deterioration of literary society, I assure you.  There are more than enough people out there putting more than fan praise into their thoughts on a book.  While publishers have a tendency of listening to what readers want and hopping on waves in the hopes of riding tails we're not dictating terms to them.  We're not saying you need to publish more of this or we'll stop reading.  Nyah.  Publishers are actively seeking out lower quality material for release in the hopes that it's what the readers want.  Sure some will want it but I can guarantee many are getting fed up with the low quality of what they're reading.  I've been seeing far too many reading funks going on for it to just be coincidence.  Trying to figure out whether the chicken or the egg came first isn't going to help anyone.  Editors can easily say you know what, we're good with that.  We need to move on to something else.  And some are but more are still clinging to waves.  That's the fault of book bloggers?  We crave copycats or are they thrust upon us in the hopes that we'll like it just as much as the more popular one that came out?  Let's grow a brain about this.  Not everyone wants to be surrounded by piles of total trash.

This is about me not having to wade through a pile of shit in order to find a diamond to read.  I don't want my local bookstore to turn into the live action version of or FictionPress or WattPad where it's mostly crap and I'll have to be searching for days in order to find something good.  Yes, people like mindless shit and most readers don't really care about quality (which chagrins me to no end) but it manifests differently than just coming right out and saying it if it's getting to be too much: calling out copycat covers, copycat plots, pointing out overused tropes and cliches, characters blending together, noticing crappy editing in final copies (I've been seeing a lot of this lately), people not loving what they're reading more often than not.  They may not come out and say the quality isn't up to par but they're saying it in other, more passive, ways.

The more dumpster diving that occurs I think the lower the quality will dip.  If publishers think we only want fluff to read and to hell with editing that's what we'll get.  I think self-publishing started this trend but at least there it was merited with accounting reports to support it.  Now we have a slew of catastrophically misspelled fan comments as a means of justifying acquiring an online serial to turn around and sell.  And hell, they loved it unedited and all so why change it?  Just repackage it, run it through spell check really quick and we're good.  

No.  Times infinity plus one.  No.

The publishing world needs gatekeepers to preserve the quality of literature because obviously leaving it up to the public just runs it right into the ground.  Not every book needs to be Moby Dick (or insert dense classic here) but agents and editors edit and like Nicole said to me while sometimes things were missed (was that series called Dusk?  That time right when the sun's setting . . .) more often than not quality was maintained.  Not all books are for all people but there used to be a higher integrity of books out there.  Now not so much, whether that's because publishers are pandering to the public because that's what the collective we actually want, they THINK it's what we want or they just don't care and they'll publish it to ride a wave/because it already has a huge fanbase/because it cashes in on an already popular trope (PNR with vampires, for instance).  Quality is already deteriorating and culling from the online sludge and just throwing it into a bound version with the pub's logo on the spine is not the way to correct that.

Maybe cutting off that festering spot on that otherwise "good" tomato may save you some money in the short term but when you end up in the hospital with food poisoning that investment ultimately wasn't the wisest one to make.  Next time you might want to just go buy some fresh tomatoes at the store.  A littler pricier, yes, but at least you know they're GOOD.
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