Recently a question came up about how the quality of writing in the fiction world could be improved in today's market. At first I thought I'd treat it lightheartedly, but changed my mind. I hate to get serious, but this is one of my pet peeves.
What would greatly improve the fiction market would be to go back to manual typewriters and 16# bond, #2 pencils, erasers, having to pack and mail mss with return postage and package, and 12 to 18 month waiting periods before any kind of response. Why do I say this? Because with the advent of word processors, electronic publishing paths, print on demand, and/or "we'll publish your work for $___" firms numbering in the hundreds, every lame brained wannabe and his/her retarded siblings flooded the market with what used to never make it out of a publisher's slush pile. The amount of crap skyrocketed and the readers quickly got gun shy after several costly disappointments.
Do I want this to happen? Absolutely not, but it would be helpful if there were to appear a Handy Dandy Nuclear Powered Rotten Writing Recognition Machine that could cull the market before it reached the consumer.
I see it this way because when I started in this business the number of authors was limited in several ways. One way was the editors at publishing houses and other publications were highly selective in what was accepted for print. There were a few thousand authors vying for a few thousand outlets for their work, and it was hard/complicated/demanding, and generally a pain in the ass.
Today there are a few million "authors" vying for a few hundred outlets for their work. I put "authors" in quotes because anyone who has access to a computer with word processing software can write whatever and they like to think of themselves as authors, but authors they are not. I know this because I also serve as an editor on occasion and as a compiler of anthologies frequently. Over 90% of what I receive is rejected most of the time. A small portion is provisionally accepted and returned for rework. The rest make it all worthwhile.
Editors at real publishing houses are still highly selective regarding what gets into print, but they are now a tiny slice of the publishing pie. For every novel that comes from an established house, ten thousand fall from the self publishing and vanity publishing trees. It has nothing at all to do with video or audio books taking the business. It has everything to do with the flowers being buried in a mountain of manure.
Edit -- Added Note:
I am not saying self publishing and vanity publishing are in any way to blame here. There is some really good fruit falling from those trees, but in terms of volume, it represents a small fraction of what hits the market.
I do blame the vanity presses and those just in it to fleece people by publishing unreadable shit. Both groups have no standards whatsoever and will publish totally unreadable gobbeldy-gook that would earn them an F in a basic college English class. It's not enough to have good ideas. You must also be able to communicate them clearly.
I would also say that the ability to write fiction doesn't necessarily generalize to nonfiction and vice versa. I wish I could write fiction. I can't. But I do well with nonfiction. So I would say, know your limits.
Look at our educational system. I agree about the pads, pencils and erasers. There used to be consequences for poor spelling and grammar. Think before you write and you won't have to erase or whiteout so much. Yeah, those typewriter erasers for manuals was a bitch!
If every writer (especially myself) would read, read and re-read George Owell's 5 Rules for effective writing, things would instantly improve.
The full article is here [pickthebrain.com] but it is non-hypocritically brief.