Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Is Quality Writing A Thing Of The Past?

   Not long ago, a fellow writer lamented the lack of quality books available either traditionally published or indie. Personally, I believe that person has become a little too critical, but I also believe the quality of writing has steadily declined over the years. I will try to explain what I mean.
   Years ago, when there were many publishing houses, the competition for quality writing was extremely high. Not only did the story have to be nearly perfect just to be accepted, the publishers had an army of editors who would help the authors polish their work to an even higher standard. Obviously, the idea being the best books got the best reviews, sell the most copies, and make the most money for the publisher.
   With the advent of e-books and self- publishing, it feels like the emphasis has shifted from quality to quantity. Where before, the expectation for the author was to sell a large number of one quality book, the reality now is the hope to sell a mediocre number of many different books. Profits have dropped, forcing the publishing houses to reduce the number of editors, yet increase the number of books. The small number of editors no longer have the time to ensure the quality of the books being offered.
   Some self-published authors understand that to have any success, they have to make sure their stories are at the highest level of quality and will hire several different editors to help that happen. Unfortunately, without a large advertising budget, these authors are hard to find. The only thing on their side is time and word of mouth.
   The other problem I see is with the ability of the average reader. It's a sad fact that reading comprehension has been on the decline. The last report I read claimed the majority of high school graduates are functionally illiterate. This is reinforced by the fact that most popular books are written at a lower grade level than ever before.
   Having decided to become a writer myself and learn the proper mechanics for creating a quality story, it's easy to spot many of the mistakes made in today's books. However, as someone who is more interested in story telling than perfect grammar, I can forgive a multitude of errors if the story pulls me in and takes me for a ride.
   Whether this is a bad thing, I have no idea. I'm certainly no expert, and these are just some of my observations. I would love to hear your thoughts or opinions on the subject.
   Thanks for reading.


  1. I do not think quality writing is a thing of the past. I say that even though I disparaged email and social media as a dumbing down of people as a whole. In those mediums, communication is done on the fly with little to no editing; words that don't have abbreviations have them invented, sentence fragments abound, and mnemonics are made up and used to save space (thanks Twitter). Writing is to the written word what impressionistic paintings are to the art world; we just get the gist of it.

    For those of us that still enjoy a good book, we find them. I have been desperate enough to read bad books when on West-Pac (Navy lingo) when that was all there was to be had.

    Someone made a comment about the degradation of Stephen Kings books of late. Perhaps, I don't know. But, I do know that many authors change with age. I read everything Robert Heinlein wrote as a teenager and as he and I got older his books became terrible. Dean Knootzs can turn a tail like few others but, even he became ashamed of the science fictions he wrote to start out his career only to buy them all back, except one and retire them. The point being is that even writers we love can turn sour eventually because of our tastes change or theirs does. That doesn't mean they don't write quality stuff.

    Like Roland, as I write more, study more and become more aware of the construction of good writing I see flaws in books that my writing group points out to me in my writing. I think that unless we are English majors or authors it doesn't really matter. Flaws are hardly noticed or at least forgiven if we like the story. That said, we would still rather have the writing in the book well constructed.

    Those that write a good enough tale to get it published (aside of self-publishing) ought to have their manuscript pretty well cleaned up at submission. Then the editors can polish it and whala, it pops up on your Kindle, or mp3 player or whatever. There are plenty of folks out there that are comfortable enough with wordsmithing to rip out one book after another nearly flawlessly. Look at the Mack Bolan series. I think I stopped reading them somewhere around twenty-five or so. That was long before the internet.

    It may be true that reading comprehension is declining, but I don't see it. What few young people I know love reading. I know of five-year olds comprehending chapter books. The people I know that hate reading are late twenties and thirty-year olds. They are gamers. It isn't that they can't read. They simply don't want to. Personally, I find that sad. I equate them to like when I got my first electric screwdriver; I never wanted one and then I couldn't live with out one. Someday when arthritis sets in and they can't work the game controller anymore they will discover the written word.

    To sum it up. There is plenty of great quality writing to partake of if we seek it out. After all, isn't that why we collect a corral of favorite authors? I think so.

  2. Reading, as a hobby, is now just one of several available entertainments yet books are not dead: the voracious book worms we writers want to hook are still fattening themselves up on fine morsels, and great books are still being written and read.

    That said, I, like Roland's friend, have noticed a drop in standards over the last year or so in the generic crime fiction I buy from supposedly reputable publishing houses. Poor formatting, bad syntax, sloppy writing: it's all there.

    I thought, as a writer, I'd simply reached a more sophisticated understanding of what it is we do, but hearing other people express similar sentiments, I'm not so sure. I hadn't considered the plight of the struggling houses, staff cuts, et cetera, but it makes sense as a possible explanation as to why quality seems to be an issue.