Are There Too Many Books Out There?

Writers, for me, are philosophers. And anthropologists. They search for meaning, and they observe and report.

Writers are smart. They have to be in order to survive, in order to create something worth surviving.

But quite frankly, there’s a lot of bad writing out there. Technology gives anyone with a computer access to a word processor. Anyone with enough time on their hands can sit down and start typing. Anyone with enough money can call up an editor, who can rip their work apart and build it back up.

I struggle with the flooded marketplace. There are simply too many books out there, many not worth reading.

A friend once told me, “I think most people think they have at least one great story inside them.” As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Forbes estimates that somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year (nearly half of those are self-published).

Writing initiatives, like National Novel Writing Month, seem to purport the idea that “anyone can write” if they only just pushed themselves, if they only just set aside the time. I have quite a few friends, people working in publishing, that have participated in NaNoWriMo. And when I ask each of them where these novels exist now, I get told that the manuscript is in a drawer or a trash bin—wherever it is, the answer is always the same: it wasn’t very good.

My point, I suppose, is that both readers and aspiring writers need to remember what it is that drew them to books in the first place. The goal of writing shouldn’t be to hit a word count—to write 50,000 in thirty days. The goal of writing shouldn’t even be to leave your mark on the world. Because I get it, really I do. Life is short, but art lasts. The goal of writing should be, in my opinion, to give readers something of value.

In a recent interview with Guernica, agent Chris Parris-Lamb, of The Gernet Company, stated that this problem is actually the most common one he sees. On the manuscripts in his slush pile? “I just wish I read more submissions where it felt like the author had taken great care with it, had spent a lot of time on it, and had a better idea—or any idea at all—of the books they saw their own as being in conversation with, as well as how theirs was unique. Most submissions I see feel like someone checking ‘write a novel’ off their bucket list.”

Maybe everyone was always writing, and it took social media and platforms like Amazon for us to all see it. But it isn’t writing that I take offense with. I, after all, am one of those individuals who has taken advantage of the lack of gatekeepers on the internet to create this very blog. I do think, however, that the instant gratification so many of us have become used to because of the internet has given us unrealistic goals of the amount of time and effort that can and should go into a novel.

The best novels aren’t simply a series of plot points, exciting and twisting. They make you care, and to do that an author does have to be a bit of a philosopher or anthropologist. An author has to invest the time in their work to have a deep understanding of who their characters are.

More importantly, Parris-Lamb hits the nail on the head in regards to these books value. He says, “And most of these submissions just don’t really justify their existence, or the time spent reading them. They might do something for the author—and that’s a perfectly good reason to have written it—but they don’t do anything for the reader, which is a perfectly good reason why they shouldn’t be published. Time spent writing a novel is valuable, but readers’ time is valuable too.”

Take my next statement with a grain of salt. I’ll fully admit that I don’t ever—and probably will never—read work from self-published authors. I’m biased, to say the least. But this value is exactly why I refuse to spend $1.99 on an e-book from Amazon. My time has value. I want gatekeepers. They read all of the bad stuff, so that I don’t have to.

Maybe there’s a needle in the haystack. Maybe there’s a break-out title somewhere in there—nestled between thousands—but do I really want to search through each to find it?

Melanie Figueroa

Melanie is the Editor in Chief at The Poetics Project. Having earned a masters in writing and book publishing from Portland State University and gained experience as an in-house editor, she now works as a freelance editor and writer. Her favorite book is The Bell Jar. You can follow Melanie on Twitter or Instagram @wellmelsbells.

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