Rattling The Publishing Cage Again

And @fakebaldur is stirring the pot again today, with this post: On quality in publishing.

I tackled him yesterday with this: Don’t Be Harold Robbins.

Despite his assertion that it’s a choice between “Cheap or edited, pick one,” in his new post he drags in two different things that are just beside the point.

1) O’Reilly’s books can be a benchmark only for that audience. O’Reilly caters to the masses that horrified me in Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne. (There’s nothing wrong with such an audience — but Verne imagines the entire world being that.) Those people are looking for practical knowledge, not art or entertainment. They are the “cheap or edited” — or really, the have it now or wait until later — crowd. They don’t figure into this at all. And I really doubt O’Reilly books, though unpretty, were actually unedited.

2) He drags in this:

Critics don’t care. They love self-involved rubbish that wades around in the mulch of fleeting contemporary affairs, mayfly fashion trends, two-dimensional characters, and overwrought narrative structures, written in a language and style that only a creative writing professor can love.

How something is written has zero bearing on the professional editing brought to it. He is arguing, “Because some people like fiction I see as crap, it therefore follows it doesn’t matter if any fiction — the stuff I like as well as the stuff I don’t like — has an editor, because stuff I don’t like will get published anyway even with editors.”


I’ve tackled the subject of fiction twice. The first time I dragged out that excellent essay from The Atlantic, which I will do yet again here: A Reader’s Manifesto. It sums up my opinion of what’s “literary” perfectly. And I think @fakebaldur would agree with much of that essay.

That said, it has this companion piece, in this post: The Post-Book Review Age.

People don’t care what you like, unless you happen to like what they like.

In other words, it all comes down to taste — for which there is no accounting. Why is that guy with that woman instead of this other one? Why is that person eating that food instead of this other one, which I deem tastier, superior, or healthier? Why is that person watching Deal or No Deal instead of that excellent documentary on the National Geographic channel?

Variety makes the world. There should be something for everybody. And just because some of that stuff isn’t your cup of tea doesn’t translate into destroying professional standards.

And yes, eBook prices will drop — god, I’ve covered that subject in too, too many posts to link to them all — but that doesn’t automatically mean they will make less money. My argument is the one that inspired the original Pocket Books: affordability equals many more buyers.

While @fakebaldur chases the chimera of “Cheap or edited, pick one,” he should be after the Big 6’s dragon of “Expensive eBooks or none, pick one.” That’s the real battle.


Filed under Digital Overthrow, eBooks: General, Pricing

2 responses to “Rattling The Publishing Cage Again

  1. Don’t put words in my mouth. I don’t like most of the stuff published today, but I didn’t mention all of those in my post. I mentioned literary fiction for a specific reason: Their endemic flaws, structure, language, characterisation, are specifically the problems an editor is supposed to solve.

    The point with the two quotes in the post, one from O’Reilly and one from Eric Ries on software product development is that “If you do not know who the customer is, you do not know what quality is.”

    The discussion on editing in publishing and self-publishing centres on the idea that every book needs to be edited, that it’s a basic requirement of passing some sort of abstract bar defined by publishing incumbents.

    But as the two quotes point, and as you point out, out the sole determinant of quality, of what is good, are the readers and their tastes.

    And they plainly care less about it than they do other issues, metadata, covers, design, formatting errors, pricing, and such. I don’t see any evidence in the market that a book that has got the full editorial treatment is any more likely to be accepted as good by readers and critics than a book where the publisher spent most of their resources on PR, marketing and design instead. Which, incidentally, is cited as one of the reasons why Douglas Rushkoff changed publishers: Publishers weren’t doing any editing, so he decided to go with one that got the book to market quicker.

    • mikecane

      I think you have a fetish about that quote: “If you do not know who the customer is, you do not know what quality is.”

      It flies in the face of W. Edwards Deming, who *could* define quality without respect to who was being addressed as the customer. And because Japan listened to him — unlike the U.S. — they ate our lunch and a lot of lunches around the world, exercising *quality* and not wasting time navel-gazing an imaginary customer.

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