(thanks to Albert Einstein for that lovely insight, even though I ganked it from Suw”s post, linked below)
My absolute favorite thing about social media has nothing to do with the people I know “in real life*” The thing which really tickles my fancy is getting to see people I’m interested in interact with each other, particularly when there’s no obvious relationship between them. Watching the Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer romance bleed over into twitter was a delight. Seeing Michael Ian Black, A.C. Newman, and John Scalzi riff on the #SadToys @Midnight thread was a hoot. These things happen all the time in social media. These weird little connections you might not have expected pop up like a new synapse firing in your brain and you can’t help but grin. Or, at least, I can’t.
Today’s example takes place in the long-form blogsphere. Chuck Wendig wrote a compelling case for doing something about the pile of crap self-publishing has created. Chuck is a working professional writer so he’s in a good position to see the damage an unchecked spew of self-published garbage can do to the landscape. I strongly suggest anyone interested in earning a check from writing take a good, long look at his post. Even for people like me who harbor no illusions of professionalism, it’s a worthwhile read.
Wendig lays out of list of potential solutions, but I don’t have great confidence that any, let alone all, of them will do anything to stem the tide of self-published crud. Suw Charman-Anderson wrote a thoughtful post which I urge you to read in its entirety. I could sum it up as “bad writers think they’re good writers and there’s no way to deny them the means to self-publish,” but there’s quite a bit more to it than that and she’s a better writer than I am and considerably more authoritative about the subject than I am.
However, I have seen this sort of thing before. This democratization of distribution hit the music business hard and they’re still trying to figure it out. The signal-to-noise ratio is bad and only getting worse. Search on YouTube for a “cover” of a song you like and there will be someone who flat-out can’t sing trying to sing along with the original version in front of a tiny condenser mic. That’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. There is suddenly no necessary gap between “creating your work” and “making it available to all the world.” You don’t even have to spell-check, let alone make sure what you’ve written actually makes sense.
It used to be that you could expect at least a minimal level of competence when you purchased music. This was not because people who couldn’t play didn’t try to make music; it was because recording an album and distributing it were extremely expensive and the only way an artist could do it was to convince someone else their music was worthy of the investment. In addition, these investors tended to insist on things like “professional recording studios” and “professional sound engineers and producers” to hedge their bet. This seems to my outsider’s eye to be very similar to how publishing worked for a very long time.
In both industries, it’s now possible for the creator to eliminate all of the middle steps traditionally involved with producing music or novels. In almost all cases, this is a terrible idea. The very best in both businesses continue to use editors and producers and proof readers and engineers to ensure their work is as good as it can be. If absolutely brilliant writers use editors, how on earth do I expect to succeed without one? The answer, frankly, is “I can’t.” My use of grammar is, at best, “non-traditional,” my punctuation is iffy, and I tend to ramble and wander away from my central point.
Case in point, right?
Anyway, it’s an interesting problem and I’m not sure there’s an answer, at least, not one which won’t grow semi-organically from the sludge that’s out there now. We all have sources we trust. We have the ability to connect with those sources more than ever before. I love reading what Joe Hill writes. I can go on Twitter and see what he’s reading, who he’s interacting with, or even just see a list of the people he follows on Twitter. To me, that’s a much more interesting way to find someone new to read than reading reviews, or back cover blurbs, or just looking at book covers.
As a writer, I’m not worried about all the chaff out their because I’m not a professional writer** and I’m not ever likely to be one. As a reader, I’m still not concerned because having more writers out there is inherently better than having fewer, even if it means having to search a little harder to find the ones I like. It does, however, make me glad that I’m not a publisher or an editor.
EDIT: Kristin Skarie’s take on self-publishing just popped up on my feed and it belongs in this discussion.
* If this distinction hasn’t been retired yet, it really ought to be.
** I did some work for a few magazines some twenty years ago. I was, in fact, paid for it, but I’m not going to put “writer” on my business card. I’m a little less concerned with my online profile’s accuracy.***
*** For example, my profile picture is far more attractive than I really am.