In response to E.Ayers on a thread on the Exquisite Thrills Yahoo Group, discussing poor quality writing and editing in published books:
I have been writing, editing, and designing for a living for 20+ years, not in big publishing or fiction, but rather small-ish periodicals, corporate work, and academia. I have a summa BA degree in Writing, with a minor in Creative Writing (non-fiction), have taught and trained grammar and structure, and have probably authored and/or edited at least one of every kind of composition that exists English, from an epic poem to a three-inch thick technical proposal.
The editing problem, as I see it, is this:
When I started in small pubs in the early 90s, traditional publishing was still a fat industry. There was a place for new authors to come up, strong, smart editorial departments that had enough internal support and financial liquidity to take creative risks, enough staff to ensure high quality, and enough clout—as an industry—to attract high-quality English majors coming out of college and train them to become superlative publishing professionals (editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, cover designers, marketers, agents, buyers, etc.).
Over the past twenty years or so, Big Pub has gone the same way as every industry that becomes more profit-driven (an — perhaps the — intrinsic feature of capitalism).
The amazingly good people who were trained to be part of the “honorable book trade” were downsized; younger, less experienced people were hired for less money, but without the mentoring structure that had always existed to teach important skills. Budgets were pared in all areas, from staffing to paper quality to font sizes to “risky” projects (which had fewer advocates on staff anyway). Authors were weaned off the marketing budget, publishers requiring them to take responsibility for more and more every year, until now, the marketing budget is only used for low-risk authors, meaning ones who earn the company money before they even start writing. Everyone else? Buy your own bookmarks. Do you have a Facebook page yet?
To your original point, as the traditional industry falls in on itself and the e-marketplace advances, many, many small presses and indies have popped up to pick up where Big Pub left off. However, there are only so many of those downsized professionals who can/will work for what a small press pays and only so much capital available for indie ventures. Further, the training structure and professional standards that once were integral to the industry have not been replicated in the indie world yet (and may never be).
Getting a 4.0 in English is not the same as being a book editor, copyeditor, or proofreader — or an author. There is a dearth of professional depth in the book trade; a low barrier to entry into publishing; a massive, industry-wide misuse of author time (and money), now spent on tasks other professionals and publishers used to do; and a surplus of people who “always wanted to write a novel” and “got good grades in English.”
The untrained beta reader has become a substitute for an editor with two degrees, ten years of on-the-job training, and a meaningful understanding of all levels of the book trade. The neighbor’s sister’s friend is proofreading books to subsidize beer money, rather than someone who has been correcting galleys for twenty years and can quote ten different stylebooks on request. Marketing is piecemeal on a proliferation of social media sites, rather than being handled by in-house teams who have been maximizing book sales for decades. And to be clear, these professionals may not be available with a contract at the Big 5 anymore, either.
No one wants to be the person pining for “the good old days” (because how old does that make me?), and in some ways, the industry and authors have benefited from these changes in the marketplace. Not least, it is brilliant so many more writers can now be heard and are so much better compensated by royalty. But the past twenty years have not been kind to publishers or authors, and on the whole, the “improvements” are not improving the quality of what we read.
Next up, what to do about it.
(Don’t hold your breath for that installment.)