Traditional Literary Standards Swept Aside by Publish on Demand - Part I

publish-demandGetting a book published was once an event to be celebrated. It meant that a writer’s work had passed muster with a publisher’s editorial staff and was deemed worthy of publishing and promoting to the reading public. The advent of publish-on-demand (POD) has changed all that. Agents and editors still stand at their posts, but they no longer bar entry. Most writers simply ignore them and find their own way onto the field of praise.

The applause for most authors, however, is not as thunderous as they may have hoped. The field is crowded. When the historical restraints collapsed, critical standards were swept away as well. In too many releases, plots meander aimlessly page after page. Characters do outrageous things without any apparent motivation driving them. Readers are required to parse out grammatical errors and mistakes in spelling and punctuation. Dialogue is stilted or hackneyed. Credibility problems crop up and go unaddressed.
Current Publish on Demand Standards

A few first-time authors can succeed in producing a work of literary merit without the assistance an editor, proofreader, and publicist, but they are the exception. Some may even enjoy a degree of financial success. Reality for most, however, is that quality work goes unnoticed in the market place because the supply of mediocre work has overwhelmed demand. A more cautious reading public is emerging, although no sales data yet directly substantiates this as a trend.

Most writers want to be recognized. It is the driving obsession behind their art. Most, in fact, would choose literary success over financial success. The hunger for recognition is what drives the POD industry. Anyone with the funds can publish. It doesn’t cost that much. I like to compare it to fishing. The fisherman who does his research, ties his own flies, grabs his gear and walks up into the hills and returns with a mess of three or four pound trout is worthy of his title and acclaim. The same can hardly be said of the guy who goes to the trout farm, uses the food the fish in the pond were fed daily for bait, and pays the owner for the fish. Trout farms prosper, however, and so do digital publishing companies, publicists, editors, reviewers, web site designers, consultants, software vendors and gurus of all sorts. The people who have benefited the most from the POD phenomenon are those who are marketing services to writers with promises of greater exposure, more recognition, and higher sales.

At the moment, the publishing arena is wide open. No licensing or certification of any kind is required for a vendor to enter. Dozens of websites are dedicated to writing and writers. Reading them produces a cross-sectional view of what is taking place from day to day. Every week, a first-time author reports being mislead, manipulated, or deceived. In their eagerness to see their own books in print, writers fail to do their research, enter the marketplace without taking any precaution, and fall victim to a vendor who exploits their trust and their drive to be recognized. The trend will continue. A reputation for dishonest dealings will eventually overtake the most aggressive vendors, perhaps, but a few who have already been discredited went away briefly only to open up shop again under a different name.