The weblit bonanza

by Suw on May 8, 2003

Well, The Guardian is busy keeping up its journalistic standards by telling us that the web has not, contrary to earlier rumours, taken literature off into the woods and wrung its scrawny neck but is, in fact, helping the dying art form cling to life by providing us rich middleclass westerners with computers the opportunity to access an amazingly large corpus of free stuff to read which we could obviously never have afforded to buy for ourselves.

There appears to be an underlying assumption that more is better. That the mere availability of lots of words on the internet is a Good Thing and should be Encouraged:

Sites such as Zoetrope, the Short Story Group and, while offering no critique, sites such as ABCTales, will publish anyone who wants to show their work to the world.

But is everyone who has work to show of to the world producing something that the world wants to read? I would hazard, perhaps not. The publishing process may be full of holes you could fit the Titanic through, relying as it does on people?s occasionally iffy opinions, but at least there is someone else other than the author in the loop. Someone else to give feedback and suggest improvements and amendments. I don?t personally believe that there is an author on this planet who would not benefit from the assistance of a good editor.

Of course, this doesn?t mean that every book being published now has had the benefit of a good editor. Take Flood, by Richard Doyle. Now there?s a book that?s a compelling read, a real page-turner, positively gripping. It manages to be all these things, however, despite being really very badly written in places. And way, way too long.

Flood?s strength is that we all love a good disaster, and Doyle has obviously put a huge amount of work into researching the scenario of a major London flood. You just know when you read about the way that the Thames Barrier works, that it really does work like that. The book creates a cohesive reality in which you can immerse yourself without having your bubble pricked by contradictory information.

Instead your bubble is pricked by some really godawful prose that frankly should never have made it into print. If Flood had been given a really good going over by someone willing to question why certain scenes were included and to chop say, oh, about a quarter of the text (or failing that, every fourth word), maybe it would have been a bloody great book, instead of just a ?gripping? book.

I?ve not been in the publishing industry for a good few years now, but I?ve been getting the feeling that there is less and less good editing going on, and more and more of a demand for camera ready copy (although I bet it?s not called that anymore!) direct from the author. Add that trend to the immediacy and availability of web publishing and you have great potential for quality to go into freefall.

This is not to say that I think that all literature or literary endeavours on the net are steaming piles of rancid dog poo. I love Neil Gaiman?s blog and (this name I stumbled across for the third time in two days in that Guardian piece? someone?s trying to tell me something) William Gibson?s blog, to mention just two. I?m also sure that there are some fantastic undiscovered authors *coughcough* out there, publishing on the net in e-book, blog or other form, some excellent work. But I just can?t handle wading through the ankledeep shite to find it.

Perversely – of course, because I am the Electric Monk incarnate – these concerns do not mean that I hold anything against the flourishing weblit phenomenon. I see it in much the same way as I see the swapping of mp3s on SoulSeek or any other p2p network – if people get a taster of Gaiman?s abilities from his blog, and that makes them pop out to pick up a copy of Coraline that they would not otherwise have bought, then that has to be a good thing. I just wish that there were a literary version of SoulSeek to facilitate this process.

You?re probably wondering why I don?t find myself some reliable litcrit rag and go by that, but I?ve always hated reviews and reviewers – I have never found one that I agree with, so I just don?t trust their judgement. Which leaves me with two options – personal recommendation or accidentally stumbling over something good whilst looking for something completely different. And I suspect I?m not alone in that. Theoretically this would be where litblogs come in, but then you have that whole trust issue coming up again.

I?d love to have a conclusion to this, but I disconcertingly find that I don?t. I also am not now going to go on about how I?m not convinced that making more literature available for free to people with computers is actually going to result in the people who could really benefit from free literature getting anything out of it at all. There?s a whole discussion there about demographics and the lack of overlap between certain sections of our society that is a whole nother hour?s worth of thought.

However, as an end note I would like to tell you that I have made progress today on the internet detox. I have taken a whole new tactic: instead of trying to purge myself of the desire to post on SA, I?m trying to purge myself of the guilt of posting on SA. So far, this is working particularly well. I posted for several hours this morning and felt no guilt whatsoever.

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