For a long time, I thought editors were to blame for books that weren't very well-written. After all, wasn't it up to them to clean up unecessary words, sentences, and phrases that didn't move the story along?
But the more I've talked with, researched, and read blogs from people on the editing/publishing side the more it seems they know what they're doing. Their job is to figure out how to tighten up plot points, sentence structure and word choice so the books they represent are more likely to sell. And most of them seem really good at this.
So how, then, do sub-quality books get on the market? If agents and editors are doing their job, then who isn't?
A better question might be, "Who is reading all these sub-standard books?" As long as a book has a market, it will sell. A question floated on this blog a few weeks ago as to why popular authors, once they've achieved success, don't seem to produce the same quality of material. A possible answer might be that people see an author they like, and buy their books on name recognition, and take them home. Regardless of the quality, the author and the publishing house still make money.
Some might say our society is dictated by money rather than quality of work. Owners of tabloid newspapers aren't concerned about producing good pieces of writing. They're concerned about putting headlines on grocery store racks so people will be intrigued enough to buy them.
Owners of publishing houses also seem concerned about profit margins. This is probably why they're more likely to take chances on well-known authors rather than a new ones. (Though feedback I'm getting from librarians seems to dispute this--they say publishers are doing a good job of finding the best new authors out there.)
As for the authors themselves? What else motivates their art besides a paycheck? Those who remember Alanis Morisette know the quality of her music went down considerably after she found success. Was it because she no longer had the angsty tone that made her a commodity? Or were there other reasons that affected her ability to produce good work?
I'm not sure answering any of these questions will get us any further ahead, or make us feel any better. My solution is this: no matter the condition of things, do what you love. Write what you love. Read what you love (when you can find it). The rest can fade into white noise.
-The Writer Librarian