Writing Wednesday – Are E-books Any Good?

I had a couple of folks express an interest in my idea of doing a semi-regular writing post, and since both writing and Wednesday start with W…

Anyway, I wanted to start with a general topic today, e-books. I’ve had the opportunity to read a lot of e-books lately. I love my netbook, and I love reading e-books on it. I’ve enjoyed a lot more books since getting the netbook than I have in a while. E-books don’t take up a ton of space in my house, and they’re very transportable, and hot diggity-dog! Barnes and Noble has made it every easy for me to get e-books from them online!

Of course, Barnes and Noble, and that mega-giant of e-books Amazon.com, are not the only places to get e-books. There’s also Fictionwise.com, which offers some pretty nice deals, and carries a lot of small e-press published books. And just about every e-publisher sells their own books on their website. My publishers do, I know that. So there are lots of places to go buy e-books.

Still, in spite of the availability and the ease of buying, there seems to be this perception that e-books aren’t as good as “real” books. I can say from experience that reading a book on my netbook is just as easy as reading one in print. So I don’t think the problem is the digital format per se, but the perception that e-books are not as well written. I’m not talking about the books that are e-published as well as print published by the big New York publishers, but the e-books that are put out by all those small e-publishers, the books that usually don’t come out in print.

Is the reputation of poor quality one that’s been earned by these small e-publishers? Maybe yes, maybe no. We’ve all seen the major New York publishers put out books that suck rocks, and I’ve personally seen small e-publishers put out books that kept me up reading all night long. But I’ve also seen the reverse, more times than I care to admit.

The fact is, there are some publishers out there who don’t edit books as well as they should. Granted, most e-publishers don’t have the near the staff that the New York publishers have, so frequently you’ll find one editor doing the work of three. In that case, editing mistakes are bound to happen – the occasional misplaced comma or dropped word – and I understand that. But what about the books I read that I can’t believe got published? You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re riddled with bad grammar, punctuation and spelling errors. The plot isn’t so much a plot as it is an excuse to string together sex scenes, or horror scenes, or action scenes, depending on the genre. The characters might as well be cut out of cardboard, they’re so two-dimension. In fact, the entire story reads like really bad fan fiction (nothing against good fan fiction; I LIKE good fan fiction, and frequently the good fan fic writers go on to become good original authors). When I run across bad books like this, I wince, because I know these books are the reason many people perceive the e-publishing industry to sub-standard and filled with crap. And there are far more of these kinds of e-books out there than there should be. Certain publishers are intent on churning out as many e-books as they can, and I get the feeling they will sign anyone who can string more than a few words together. Quantity over quality is never a good deal. Thus I’m always wary of buying books from a small e-publisher I’ve never bought from before. Will I get a treasure, or a dud? Even reading reviews doesn’t help, if I don’t know the reviewer. Many is the time I’ve seen an e-book with great reviews, only to discover that there are some reviewers out there who like everything and anything they read, while I, a rather picky reader, can not get past the first chapter of this book with the glowing reviews. For some reason, I always figure this out after I get the book and start reading. I hate that, because then I’ve wasted money and time, two things I really hate to waste.

So here’s my thought. I like to read e-books, good e-books, and I think there are plenty of good e-books out there put out by small e-publishers. But there’s also a lot of dreck out there too. If you’re a reader, I do recommend you search out some e-books and give them a try. Get books from the big publishers and the small, and be willing to do a little research to find books you’ll like. There really are some gems out there, if you take the time to look. If you’re a writer, do your readers a favor and write the best book you can. Don’t just knock out a quick draft and boot it out the door, thinking your editor will catch all your mistakes and fix them for you. You need to do that before you submit, not after. And please, for love of Pete, don’t treat plot and characterization like afterthoughts, something to be added in after you write all the hot sex scenes (erotic romance writers, I’m looking at YOU!). Finally, if you’re an e-publisher, do EVERYONE a favor. Demand quality books; publish quality books. Publisher fewer books if you need to, to make that happen. But make sure the books are good.

I’m not the best writer in the world, but I am a reader, a reader with a wallet, and I know how I want to spend my money – on quality stories. The publishers and writers who produce those stories are the ones who are going to get my hard-earned bucks.

About Cynical Woman

Cartoonist, Artist, Geek, Evil Crafter, Girl Scout Troop Leader and Writer. Also, a zombie. I haven't slept in I don't know how long.
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  1. I agree with a lot of this.
    I wish e-publishers would be more mindful that the entire image of the industry rides on their product, even though that's unfair. After all the truly dreadful print books I've chucked across the room before finishing the first chapter, I haven't given up on print, so why hold e-publishers to a different standard? Thankfully, the market will eventually take care of the publishers who consistently put out poorly written and edited books.

  2. Kathleen,

    I have read some extremely good e-published books from small presses the past few months, and I can say without a doubt there are definitely quality writers out there and quality publishers. But like you, I've also given up in disgust more than a few times when I couldn't even get past the first chapter without stumbling over a slew of grammatical and spelling mistakes. Unfortunately, I've gotten the bad books more often than the good books from these small e-pubs.

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