Sunday, August 8, 2010

Readers and Reading Part One

By Bryon Quertermous

So somehow I got conned into covering two Sundays for Joelle while she covers for Dave while he's off getting married. But the real joke will be on Dave when he realizes what he's gotten himself into with this whole marriage thing. I kid, I kid, but two weeks in a row gives me a chance to tackle something I'd been meaning to talk about but couldn't really contain to one blog post.

Now this is sort of about e-books, which I know is a subject that has been discussed way past death and bores even me, but it's not so much about the publishing side of e-books, rather the what all of this has to do with the experience of reading. Part one today we'll talk about some things I've discovered while trolling the Kindle boards and places like GoodReads and review blogs and such. Then, next week, I'll give you my pet peeves about new additions to the reading experience.

Now, I'm fascinated by all of this e-book stuff and can't help but follow all of the news and predictions and broad pronouncements, but the one thing I've noticed most in all of this is that readers are having a greater influence in publishing more than ever before. And, as with most changes, there are good and bad aspects to this.

The Good: Readers, and I say this as a reader myself, don't care about the minutia of publishing. The sorts of things we as authors and editors and publishers and publicity gurus debate passionately like genre and tense and style and such just don't register to the average reader. The want to be entertained. They don't care how you do just as long as you do it. And I realize this is true of myself. I read widely across genres and have enjoyed books that involved things as varied as second person narration and even animal narrators. So yeah, that's cool and puts to rest a lot of the bunk we hear about "rules" and which genres are hot or dying or whatever.

The Bad: Readers, and this one doesn't include me, don't care. Other than improper use of grammar, mistakes regarding guns, and swearing, nothing seems to bother the legion of readers snapping up these Kindle books for $.99 with awful writing, poorly developed characters, and stories that just generally drip crap out of every electronic orifice.

And I'm not talking Dan Brown or James Patterson type bad. Those guys are All Stars compared to these amateurs. But it doesn't seem to bother readers. Sure, they'll comment on it in an Amazon review or whatever, but then mention that they still loved the story and will buy the next book by the author.

But my biggest insult comes from the fact that they don't seem to distinguish AT ALL the difference between an author who has slaved and sacrificed and put in the hard work to make their book the best they can be then run the gauntlet of gatekeepers, rules, traditions, whims, luck, and corporate landmines that hold together the publishing industry or the author who gave up on the traditional route and slapped up a rough draft with some zippy copy and a garish self-designed cover with some blurbs from their mom and their old aunts writing group. It's hard some days when the writing isn't coming or the rejections are coming too fast and I want to give up. But I've known all along that I don't just want to be published, I want to be published right. Call me elitist, call me traditional or stuffy or whatever, but that's what I signed on for and that's what I'm working toward.

But this isn't all about me. How about you? What do you care about in fiction? Why do you think it is that the bulk of readers (in actuality it's the bulk of society about everything) just don't seem to care about quality? And why do I find it so bloody necessary to use "just" so many damn times in one blog post?


Dana King said...

I read for the writing, and did before I tried to be a writer. (In fact, that may be why I started writing.) I can forgive a lot plot-wise if the writing sings, the characters engage me, and the dialog sounds like people talking, preferably in an entertaining manner.

I understand this makes me weird. People may have become so used to watching shit on television they don;t recognize something good when they see it. John McFetridge and I traded thoughts on this a while back, how people will stop watching a show if the production values don't measure up, but don;t seem to care about the story, characters, or dialog nearly so much.

I hate to say it, but I'm afraid it might be because television is such a passive medium. People sit there and are entertained, with no investment (other than time) on their part. Good writing requires you to think, and a lot of people don;t seem to want to spend their leisure time thinking.

Fred Zackel said...

Yes! There's hope for me and my stuff! (Ah, the audacity of hope!)

More seriously, two points:

#1. Have you considered that readers may have a compassion for the earnest .99 novelists?

#2. I teach. The majority of my family are teachers. Expect less. And if poor English is an obstacle, drive around it. Let it be "just" something smudgy in your rear view mirror.

"Actually" ... I hate "basically." It serves zero purpose in the English language ... other than as a duffer word to let the speaker catch his or her breath.

Instead of "just" switch to "merely." Then, before you submit, delete "merely."

Jon said...

Audiences didn't care in the 1920s and 30's when bad pulp fiction was being mass produced in thousands of yearly publications. They wanted to be entertained. And they were. In the long run Hammett and Chandler and others were able to shine through. Bottom line is these are tough financial times and who wants to give Stephen King another $20.99 for a book.

What's is also funny is we now collect much of this bad fiction from the Golden Era and excuse bad grammar and poor plotting. But we are worried about gatekeepers today. Rubbish.

Anonymous said...

Fred makes a valid point - the teaching. My wife taught for over 30 years and the mantra was always "at least they're reading."

But is that true? If all you read is crap and you can't tell the difference between Stephenie Meyer and someone who can write, what hope is there?

My own personal peeve:

'"No," he hissed.'

Jeff M.

Rusty James said...

Who says no one cares about quality?

Donna said...

What I like is a good story with entertaining, well-written characters (leaning toward character over plot).

Bad grammar and spelling and awkward phrasing annoys me. It's like gopher holes and deep puddles for someone running -- it pulls me up short and spoils the flow of the story.

But I think many people under 40 have been so poorly educated it doesn't bother them. They don't distinguish between their, there and they're, for example, figuring out the usage as they read along. Maybe.

It's one thing to not learn something. It's quite another never to have been taught. I think subjects are deliberately being dumbed down because they figure people don't need it for the jobs most of them will be doing. Those who really want to learn always find a way, but most are happy enough not thinking. Most colleges now have remedial reading and writing courses.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would imagine, but maybe I am wrong, that anyone who reads ebooks, reads pretty extensively in all venues and will soon sort through what is good and what isn't. I have yet to hear anyone who isn't a fervent and educated reader spending the money for a Kindle.

Ron Scheer said...

I don't lose sleep over people reading crap. What gets to me (and it probably shouldn't) are those customer reviews online that take fine writing by fine writers and call it crap.

Brian Drake said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Drake said...

I cannot tolerate bad writing, either from an amateur, or a pro, and I cannot for the life of me explain why Brown and Patterson sell so much when they write so badly.

But with ebooks, since I'm doing a few myself, all I want to try and do is build an audience I can show to a real publisher and tell them how many books they'll sell if they publish me. It's a means to an end, and a debatable means at that, but while the doors are open I might as well give it a shot. I've been pleasantly surprised by my results so far, too, and have no reason to quit.

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

I think you might be forgetting about all of the talented Kindle authors. Since the publishing establishment will not take chances with new writers anymore, many are going the indie route to get noticed and build readership.

There are as many good e-books as traditionally published ones. And they are cheaper, so if a reader hates it, he or she is only out $2.99 or less, instead of $20 or more.

Lately, I have seen many errors in books for which I have paid full hardcover price. That is inexcusable!