I have a soft spot for authors because I am one. I know how hard it is to find a publisher and write a book in your spare time. It requires an overwhelming amount of work, and every time you go back and review what you’ve written you find something that needs improvement. For me, no book is ever really finished because I can always find something that needs fixing. But I have to stop somewhere and move on, so even though I am proud of my accomplishments I always have that little nagging voice that says “Sure, but it could be better.”
Now authors don’t need publishers, thanks to digital publishing. Hack out your manuscript, format it for Kindle and Epub and shoot it out into the world. Avoid mean editors who make you redo entire chapters. Who needs copyeditors and proofreaders? Dew wee knot have spall-chukkars?
And so, inevitably, with the barriers to entry considerably lowered indie publishing has risen, and overall quality has declined. So, also, have reliable filters to help readers find good stories. The Internet has done tremendous damage to publishing, and overall quality has plunged. Under the ad-supported financial model, Internet publishing has devolved into into a giant clickbait delivery system, and expert reviewers have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. Instead we have customer reviews.
Customer reviews are valuable when you learn how to interpret them. I rely on them for a lot of purchases. But they fail at helping me find books to read. I had to get burned on a number of indie Kindle books before I wised up to the fact that when it comes to books, most Amazon reviewers are easy to please. They like a particular author, they like certain types of characters and certain genres, they’re happy with getting books for cheap, and that’s good enough for five stars. They call bad writing good, they don’t care about a story having a consistent internal logic, and they’re fine with howlingly awful plot holes. That’s all right; everyone should read books and I don’t care if they like what I like. But that doesn’t help me find books that I will like.
In the olden days of publishing houses and professional reviewers all over the place in newspapers and magazines, there were a lot of filters to weed out the junk. I expect those filters also weeded out some good stories as well. We’ve all heard how JK Rowling and other skillion-selling authors were rejected dozens of times before getting published, so how many other stars have we lost? Probably not as many as we might think. Some of our most beloved books had considerable intervention by the publisher, such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Gone With the Wind.” If they had been released as indies they would have looked very different. For all we know Rowling learned from each rejection and rewrote “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” until it was acceptable to a publisher.
I don’t know what the remedy is. It’s wonderful that anyone can follow their dream and write and publish books, and find their audience. But for readers, it’s like sipping from a firehose.