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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Should Writers Censor Themselves?



Do we really have too many books?

It’s a question I wrestle with.  I know we have too many books that go unread, unpurchased, unpromoted.  We simply lack the number of readers – and reading hours – to have all books get the exposure they deserve.

But how many is the right number to publish?  Is the real issue not as to how many books are out there, but rather of what quality these books are?  Additionally, what system is in place for people to discover – or find – the best, relevant, and latest books?

The information explosion was taking place long before self-publishing and new technology came on the scene.  If you go back almost 40 years ago, The UNESCO Statistical Yearbook ’78-79, showed that 608,000 books were published globally in 1977 – which represented a huge jump from prior years.  In 1970, 521,000 titles were published.  That number jumped 9% in five years to 568,000 in 1975 – and another 7% two years after that.  In just 20 years, from 259,000 titles in 1955, to 1975 with 568,000, the number of books released annually across the globe doubled.

Now add in the advent of personal computers, cheaper printing, self-publishing, and digital books, and you have millions of new books flooding our planet’s markets.  Plus you have increased numbers of reprints, translations, and books that never go out of print due to digital and print-on-demand services.

It’s safe to say there are too many books published but how would we decide which ones need to be removed and never given a chance to be released?

It used to be the job of just a handful of major book publishers who determined what got published.  That may have had some advantages but of course many felt displaced by a system that was perceived as political, self-serving, and unfair.

Then things swung the other way.  One can publish anything, anytime. No permission necessary.  No big money required.  Just click and it’s up for sale.  But because anyone can do it, they have.   Many anyones publish a book without proper editing, sufficient promotions, good marketing analysis, or taking into consideration consumers' needs.

We need a balance – you don’t want a gate keeper, but a standard needs to be set.  You don’t want everyone with an idea to simply jot it into a book without taking some serious considerations of its quality.

But once we get many decent books published each year, we’ll still be left with far more than we can handle.  The question is, how do we inform the reading public – in a fair, honest, and accurate way – about what’s available?  What responsibility is to be required of publishers or authors to eventually withdraw a book and put it off the market?

We’ve been flooded with books since the invention of printing in 1456.  In 1822, a statistician calculated that during the first four centuries of printing, the number of works printed escalated quickly.

While 42,000 works were printed in the first century, 575,200 came the following century, and then 1,225,000 in the third century, and 1,839,960 in the fourth century.  I can’t imagine what the newest century holds globally, but it’s sure to exceed 100,000,000 just in the US alone.

No one should act as a censor or book banner, so how do we get to restrain the number of books published? It has to be a voluntary thing that’s encouraged by fellow writers.  Yes, writers should peer-pressure their fellow writers and convince them that they should each dig deep to determine if their book warrants publication.  Is it needed?  Is it in its best shape?

It can’t be the government that dictates what gets published.

It can’t be egotistical authors who get to green-light anything that comes to mind.

The book industry should create standards and benchmarks to help writers determine if they should publish their book.  These standards should be promoted and hopefully accepted by writers and book industry professionals.

Though I’m encouraging we craft a voluntary litmus test to help everyone determine what warrants publication, I also acknowledge that no one has to pay attention to this.  We’re a free nation, and to limit the voice of one is to control the voice of all.  But I just hope common sense prevails and the writers collectively see that in order for good books to gain readership and media traction we’ll need to reduce the number of books that don’t deserve attention and serve as a distraction to the process of finding the right books.

I would think a book should be published where it is well-written, serves a need or desire, doesn’t provide lies or factual errors, promotes an important message, compares favorably to its competing titles, and potentially inspires, informs, enlightens, or entertains.  Books that shouldn’t be published would fall into any number of categories -- mainly that they are not well-written or edited, seem to be no different than what’s out there, or come from writers who seem to lack significant credentials.

Whatever the quality and quantity of books to be published this coming year and beyond, this will all be determined by authors who must self-regulate and keep the book industry safe from saturation.  In order for many books to survive – or thrive – some will need to be sacrificed.

Search your writing soul: Should your book be published?  You decide, so think carefully about it.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©. 
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