Or, when is an author an author?
Yes, you read the title correctly, I kid you not. Last week I was perusing a Google+ writers’ community and there it was, posted in all its inglorious splendor—a writer shouting to the literary world that s/he had finally fulfilled her/his (“he/his” from here on) lifelong dream of becoming a published author. I read the euphoric pronouncement which was also somewhat grammatically-challenged; perhaps in his excitement the author’s fingers leapt ahead of his brain. This new contribution to literature was a PI mystery, one of my favorite genres.
I clicked the link to the author’s title, available as an ebook only, from “A” large venue—no name-dropping here. In celebration of its release, the novel was on sale for a measly $0.99, limited time only. Hmm, the cover was so-so. Okay, I’m being kind; it whispered, “Amateurish!” but I scrolled down to check out some of the twenty-seven reviews (all four & five stars) the book had garnered in only its third day of publication. Not bad—pretty darn good actually. There were comparisons to John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, Lee Child, even Raymond Chandler. “Bold, witty.” “Didn’t see the ending coming.” “The action is fast-paced, like a runaway train.” “Couldn’t put it down,” etc., etc.
Wow, what’s not to like, and for less than a buck! But wait . . . I scrolled back up. Only 96 pages. Come on, this was touted as a novel, not a novella, the first in a continuing series of Blankety Blank Mysteries. That <dollar was stretching a little thin. But what the hey, it might turn out to be a great read. I wasn’t going to give up on what promised to be an exciting new PI series simply because the first course was a little on the light side.
It was nitty-gritty time, the “Look inside” feature. As I left-clicked on the cover, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” ran through my mind. I scrolled past the cover, the usual copyright, acknowledgments, dedication, and those annoying chapters one-through-whatever in blue.
Ah, finally—Chapter 1.
Yikes! The entire first line was set in some almost illegible script font. Each paragraph was indented a third of the way across the page. No justification, and the text of this 96-page tome were generously double-spaced, with additional double-spacing between each paragraph. The word count instantly shrunk by half, and the price shot up. This wasn’t such a bargain after all. But not to worry.
By page 4 I gave up. Not only did I find seven typos, but the opening sentence—after I painstakingly deciphered it—proved to be an exact word-for-word rip-off of Dashiell Hammet’s The Glass Key, with one exception: the dice in our newly published author’s story were white, not green. (I had re-read Hammet’s classic a couple of weeks earlier after watching the film version starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. While Ms. Lake is very easy on the eyes, I still prefer the book.)
Alas, no sale and no review for our new author.
Which brings me to my point, which might piss-off some people, a risk I’m willing to take: when is an author an author? With the explosion of digital technology ebooks have proliferated beyond what most could’ve imagined a few short years ago. Anyone with a little money and enough intelligence to string sentences together (typos, punctuation, or proper layout be damned!) can, in short order, have an ebook on the market and ready to sell. Voila—another published author!
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to give self-publishing a black eye, or to denigrate the process in any way, shape, or form. What I am trying to point out is that there are tons of poorly written self-published works flooding the marketplace. The majority are hastily flung together and published with little—if any—thought as to proper editing. The number of typos, punctuation, and other errors is astounding. A lot of the writing is simply atrocious. Books (I use the term loosely) like these make it more difficult for traditionally published and self-published authors who’ve paid their dues by learning the craft and producing quality products. They must compete with all the garbage—ebooks and printed books—on the virtual shelves of online booksellers.
As stated earlier, I have nothing against self-publishing and those who choose that path to publication. There are many hundreds if not thousands of self-publishing authors whose work is every bit as good—often better—as authors who’ve traveled the traditional route. I’ve considered self-pubbing myself, and might very well choose to do so in the future. Those doing things the right way, those who’ve worked hard and spent untold hours trying to master the craft (which none of us fully will) have every right to stand tall and be proud of their labor and product.
So, when is an author really an author? When he uploads an inferior, error-riddled ebook to the marketplace? I suppose by strict definition that qualifies. But what if I go out and buy a stethoscope and other medical tools of the trade—does that qualify me to the title of doctor? If I can wire and install a ceiling fan in my own home, am I then an electrician? If I go to a NASCAR facility and pay to drive a few high-speed laps around the track, am I a bona-fide racecar driver?
I think not.
As reader and/or writer, what’s your opinion?