Digital Sucks-ess?

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I can’t help but ask myself whether ebooks have brought about a demise of the editorial standard of the written word. It’s not that I can’t see the fabulous advantages of moving script into the digital age – it’s so much easier to read my Kindle in bed turning pages at the slightest movement of my thumb, or to take hundreds, hell, thousands, of books on holiday with me, all fitting nicely in my handbag – it’s just that I can’t help getting slightly niggled by the numerous typos and bad formatting that peppers each little digital marvel. But perhaps that’s just me, being an editor and all that…

Still, it certainly is something to worry about as more and more people type the words, upload to Amazon and call themselves writers. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s great that the advent of the ebook has given endless opportunities to everyone who has a story in their head that is simply desperate to get out – I just think it’s a little sad that the English language appears to be taking a nose dive, innit.

But all this talk of the world of ebooks being swamped by amateur writers would appear to intone that traditional publishers publish nothing but ‘la crème de la crème’, and let’s face it, that just simply isn’t true. After all, Dan Brown is hardly an example of literary genius, yet his fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, went straight to the top of the New York Times best-seller list during its first week of release. But whilst his stories are repetitive and his writing style clumsy, at least the manuscripts are edited and at least print books don’t suffer from words squashed together and inexplicable line returns creating a mass of white space on the page. And although of course typos and grammatical errors will always slip through any net, they are far fewer in a manuscript born from a publisher, having gone through the usual editorial channels, than from its self-published digital neighbour – it’s easy to see which ebooks have been edited and which ones haven’t.

Past suggestions for the problem of multiple errors in ebooks include the idea of being able to continually revise the content, something that just wouldn’t be possible for a print book. But realistically, who is going to give a terrible book a second chance when there is so much choice out there? Not many. I suppose it depends on what you deem more important as a reader: a great story-line, even if it might have irritating errors and bad formatting, or an irritating-error-free read…although that’s not to say that the story-line is guaranteed to be any good.

Perhaps the best way forward would be for traditional and self-publishing to work together: if an ebook takes a bite, then the traditional publishers are in the great position of having a success on their hands that has already tested the readership. And for the self-publisher, it’s a good way for good writers to get noticed by the traditional publishing houses. Although this doesn’t solve the problem of an ebook appearing error-ridden in the first place.

Who cares? you might ask. They’re cheaper, more easily accessible, easier to store and easier to publish. So what if there are a few words misspelled, some clumsy grammar and a few words squashed and thrown apart here and there. Does anyone really care? Well, yes, there are plenty of readers out there who do give a damn about quality and with whom you only have one shot to impress. If you fail to get it right the first time it’ll show in reviews and returns, so make sure you get your book properly edited and proofread before uploading to your potential audience. Come on, ship shape, pull your socks up and don’t let the side down!

Posted by alice@editorsonline.org
www.editorsonline.org

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