1s and 0s, an unlimited resource: Part 2 of 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the precious resource of paper and how writers have dealt with it. Today we turn to an unlimited resource: the bits and bytes of digital reading material.

Whether we’re reading blogs (thank you, by the way) or journalism, essays or novels, many of us do our reading on screens. Like everything digital, e-books are just a series of 1s and 0s, artfully transformed by technological wizardry into words, sentences, and paragraphs.

We’ve cut out the papryus-pounders and ink-grinders. But we’ve also cut out the editors and publishers. Anyone who can find the “Submit” button can publish something.

In the past, self-publishing meant paying large sums out of pocket. Today, the sums have shrunk even as the options for gaining an audience have grown. You don’t need a dime to publish a blog, or to post on any of the social media sites that seem to be multiplying like rabbits.

“Technology has advantages and disadvantages,” my friend Sher Downing said. “The advantage is, it’s easy. And the disadvantage is…it’s easy.” You can say that again. And Sher should know: She’s an educational technology expert, who’s created and delivered online learning programs for clients all over the world. Easy access has affected those offerings, too.

Yes, we no longer have to jump through hoops with editors or convince publishers of our work’s merit. On the other hand, a professional editor can help you strengthen your work. And maybe it’s good that publishers are no longer the final arbiter of taste. But at least we can count on a published work to be relatively well-written and coherent. Sadly, that’s not always the case with an e-book.

Sometimes the gatekeepers get it right—sometimes a manuscript really does need more work. When anyone can publish anything with just one click, all that stands between writers and readers is autocorrect. And that’s a pretty flimsy barricade.

The best intentions

Last year a friend of mine published an e-book of children’s stories, soliciting contributions from a number of people. She trusted that her writers knew more about writing than she did, so she barely glanced at the submissions before she published the e-book. Hundreds of sales later, she tried reading some of the stories aloud to an actual child and realized something was very wrong.

When she asked me to look at the book, I ran it through the invaluable Hemingway App (bookmark it) to check the grade level. Some of the stories in this “children’s book” would have confounded a college student! I think one even hit Ph.D. level—Grade 20. The moral: Merely writing about a toy train does not a children’s story make.

The other moral: Gatekeepers aren’t always bad. Find an editor before you self-publish.

And keep writing. Every day.

Whether or not you work with a coach to hone your skills, always get a second opinion before you hit “Publish.” Because digital “ink” may be an unlimited resource, but your readers’ time sure isn’t.

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  • writing