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Sunday, June 24, 2012

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

As always, the hot button topic of indie/self-publishing versus traditional publishing has generated lots of comments in recent days here at TKZ and one issue that comes up time and time again is the 'gatekeeper' concept - basically agents and editors acting as a 'quality sieve' for what comes into the publishing pipeline. While I agree this is an imperfect system - there's no doubt that agents and editors can get it horribly wrong - there does need to be some system of quality control. Doesn't there?


Nowadays on the indie front,  this typically comes from readers who are just as well-equipped to judge what makes a good book as anyone else. But from the standpoint of a writer who relies on her agent to raise the bar for her work -  I do wonder how these quality checks and balances will get made in the new era of indie publishing. As a reader, I don't want to troll through a plethora of e-books that were dashed off prematurely in my search for books to read. Though social media and reviews certainly help, the sheer number of releases makes my head spin and  I still fall back on buying e-books from traditional publishers as I know the system of quality control (though imperfect) is at least in place.


As a writer I have a group of beta readers who help me enormously - but though their feedback is invaluable, none of them ever quite bring the perspective my agent does. For all the tough love I get from them, my agent manages to point out ways in which I can improve the manuscript that they never even considered. So my worry is that if I went the indie route the books I put out there would be good but not as good as they could have been....Because my agent's 25 years of editorial experience in publishing adds a level of input that, quite frankly, none of my other beta readers can match (and they are an amazing group of people whose input I value enormously).


Many members of my writing group have used freelance editors to help polish their manuscripts but with mixed results. Many of these editors aren't looking to dissuade a writer from publishing a manuscript and so, given that they get paid to edit, aren't necessarily going to be as upfront about a manuscript's shortcomings - not if it means putting themselves out of business.  I'm sure they are all professionals and do their best but do they act as an objective assessor of 'quality' - I'm not sure they can. 


Now many of you will argue that this assessment is best left to readers (who will vote with their pocket books as well as airing their online opinions) but it exhausts me to think of all the half-baked e-books that might end up out there, just as it worries me that aspiring writers are becoming ever more impatient to release material before it has been crafted into the best possible shape.


So who do you turn to for editorial guidance? Do you rely on freelance editors to give you much needed input? Are you convinced your own circle of reviewers give you the tough love you need? 


Despite being published, I admit I still lack the confidence and experience to know when a manuscript is really, truly, finally ready. Most of my 'final' manuscripts end up being revised and reshaped based on input from my agent before they get shown to publishers, and as a result they become significantly better than the 'best' I originally could do (okay, so this might say more about my lack of talent...). In a world where we acknowledge the traditional system has many shortcomings, how do we view the concept of 'quality control'? If that is still even relevant, how do we achieve it?







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