Is the quality of writing the most important thing for any book? I’ve touched on this subject before, but I think it worth revisiting. There has been considerable chatter on the subject, on blogs and Facebook. There seems to be moves to push for better grammar and spelling, which might seem fair enough. I have read books where the quality of the writing most definitely left much to be desired. In reality, however, I’ve often found that a story is so intriguing, or a concept behind a story so worthwhile, that I’ve not only persevered in reading to the end, I actually read some of the books time and again.
I don’t claim to be perfect in my own writing. I’m pretty much self-taught, as in most things I’ve ever done. I could, of course, take courses to improve my writing quality, but would it really help to bring stories to light? I have this terrible suspicion that I would spend so much time worrying about maintaining the proper quality that I would actually never complete anything. Worse, the pleasure I derive from writing would be lost, forever. Is it worth it? Am I better off simply doing what I’ve always done? I suspect the answers to these questions are “no” and “yes” respectively.
Having reached this conclusion, what right have I to judge and condemn other authors for their failings? Of course I would prefer it if everything I read was easy to read. Being comfortable is part of the pleasure of reading. Despite that, I’m finding myself less concerned with quality than with ideas, though poor spelling still tends to aggravate me. In truth, I find typographical errors and editorial mistakes far more annoying, together with gross mistakes in “facts”. I have been content to accept poor quality writing only to be utterly infuriated when a continuity error in the manuscript occurs, whereby a paragraph is somehow confused with text from later or earlier in the tale. Also, I’m finding occasions in ebooks where the editing can only be described as abysmal! Punctuation is missing, replaced with incorrect characters (such as “ being somehow translated to /), and the flow of the story is very effectively sabotaged. Page breaks appear in strange places, even in the midst of words. These things, the mechanics of printing, if you like, are doing more to make books unpleasant to read than any difficulty with quality.
I have no desire to become a snob about the things I read. I am not a book critic! If I review a book, I do so based purely on the merits of the story. I have no interest in anything beyond that. Some things are, after all, beyond the control of the author, however much proofreading they may become embroiled in. Receiving the galley proofs, making the appropriate corrections, and returning them promptly clearly has little influence on the final product. There’s obviously something breaking down between publisher and printer. When ebooks suffer similar problems, then I can only assume that either they are simply direct copies of the printed version (complete with errors) or the product of third party involvement intruding between author and final copy.
If we have so little control over the problems caused by others involved in the publishing process, I think that we really need to reconsider our attitude towards any failings of the author. Let’s stop bullying writers, lecturing them on their errors. If anybody is deserving of criticism, it is the people who can cause such atrocious disruption to the finished product. If you must complain, complain to the ones who are responsible for the mechanical errors.