Thursday, 7 July 2011

21st Century Fahrenheit 451

I don't own a kindle so perhaps it's ironic that Geraldine Steel is the number one bestselling female detective on amazon kindle. But although a devotee of print books, and a self-confessed techno-ignoramus, I've never been against e-readers; it seems to me there's a place for both print and electronic books. For many people kindles are ideal: travellers, students who want instant access to research tools while reading, people with limited storage space, and many others.
Yet we shouldn't ignore the risks that electronic books pose.
Without production and distribution costs, self-publishing will be readily available to all. Companies offering a self-publishing service are already burgeoning. But is it a threat or a wonderful opportunity that electronic books look set to revolutionise the publishing model, a move that is bound to signal the demise of the bookshop and diminish the role of the publisher?
Of course not all self-published books are second rate, any more than all traditionally published books are well-written. Nevertheless the publishing process provides a filter, albeit a flawed one, as well as an editing and proof reading service. Remove that filter and you pose the danger that the market will be swamped with books that haven't been professionally edited or even proof read. Working alone, writers can be forgiven for not producing near perfect manuscripts. No one can be writer, editor and proof reader all in one.
But if writers skimp on employing editors and proof readers, standards will inevitably fall until the concept of the book is devalued to the point where it ceases to have any meaning at all, indistinguishable from self-indulgent ramblings written by people lacking any talent for writing. Yes, I would defend the right of anyone to write what they want (so long as it isn't offensive) but I'll be worried if we cease to distinguish between quality prose that has taken years to perfect, and incoherent drivel that has been dashed off without revision.
This article first appeared in Crime Time Magazine

Leigh Russell writes the Geraldine Steel series of crime thrillers.

amazon kindle's number 1 female detective


  1. The one thing that might salvage this situation is the online critic if that critic is willing to be honest about the quality of the product. Whereas offline critics have tended to get a bit of a reputation for saying nothing good the opposite tends to go for online reviewers who tend to play it a bit too safe a lot of the time.

  2. Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately for some writers - online reviews can be biased, posted by paid promotion companies (this does happen!) or personal contacts of the author. It amuses and irritates me to see amazon reviewers who have posted just the one glowing review. I tend to give more credence to top 50/100/1000 reviewers and to those who have posted numerous reviews. Reviews in publications like The Times or US Publishers Weekly, or the well known crime sites like Crime Time or Shots, are also reliable. That said, it's a tricky job reviewing a book, and it's always nice when a reader takes the trouble to write one.