|We are here.|
The Rainbow Reader is primarily a blog that features book reviews, but as the evil mastermind behind the Pretty, Witty & Gay brand, I like to think it serves a wider purpose: to get readers to think more critically about what they are reading, to get authors to write more readable books, and to get publishers to offer a higher quality of product.
It was not so many years ago that we, as lesbians, were thankful to have a whispered voice in literature.
It came wrapped in brown butcher’s paper with no return address. It sat on the bottom bookshelf on the back wall of some small, nondescript bookstore somewhere. It rarely dared to view the bright light of day, much less dream of a life lived within the hallowed halls of small town libraries or college classrooms across the land.
With all due respect to Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys, “…time changes everything.”
Today, lesbian fiction is a thriving art and commerce, and it’s once whispered voice has become a full-throated warble—authors are bursting out of the proverbial closet, readers are gleefully buying books in bushel baskets, and publishers are releasing unprecedented volumes of titles in every size, shape, and flavor imaginable. Colleges and universities the world over are offering classes in queer literature, and companies like Follett Library Resources and Ingram Content Group are providing physical and digital lesbian content to more than 40,000 retailers, libraries, schools and distribution partners in 195 countries.
Heck, lesbian fiction has become such a hot commodity, that even straight writers are cashing in on the voracious appetite of the fiction-starved lesbian reader.
However, this is a cautionary tale…
Growth is a good thing. But too much growth too quickly can easily overwhelm an industry, and put it at high risk of collapsing (with all due credit to Eddie Izzard) like a flan in a cupboard.
Simply put, unchecked expansion can cause big problems. Think "too much change, too fast," the prophetic thesis set forth in the bestseller, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. A huge rise in product demand combined with overly ambitious plans to forge new sales markets, expand production, and offer new product lines—can easily compromise or topple any number of entities within that expanding industry.
Take for instance, the case of how mighty Toyota Motor's unchecked growth led to safety issues and massive recalls, which then resulted in a significant and ongoing loss of market share. Toyota had traditionally focused on safety, quality and volume, in that order. Yet, by their own admission, those priorities became skewed, and corporate decision-makers were not able to stop, think, and make improvements as much as they were able to before. In essence, they pursued growth over the speed at which the company was able to develop their people, their products, and their organizational structure. Toyota executives, like many at flourishing companies, lost sight of the mission that paved the way for initial success.
As an avid reader, I have been consuming lesbian fiction for the better part of my adult life.
However, as a reviewer, I have been focusing on the finer technical and editorial points of lesfic for the last two years. As much as I try, I can’t review every book that comes my way. Still, I read plenty of books that are never in contention for reviews—these are books that end up on my “readlist” for myriad reasons. On the one hand, I have witnessed an exciting explosion of talented authors flooding the landscape while the number of available and easily accessed titles has grown exponentially. And, on the other hand, I have slogged my way through more scarcely conceived, poorly written, barely edited pieces of flotsam than I can count.
That last line sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it?
It’s meant to be.
Regardless of which side you take in the great More Sex/Less Sex/No Sex Debate, story quality and readability are suffering. Grammar has become an option, idioms are horribly mangled, em and en dashes are used with reckless abandon, dangling participles have reached epidemic proportions, comma splices are enthusiastically embraced, spell check is nearing obsolescence, and perfectly good subjunctives are butchered for no plausible reason. Conflict is grossly contrived. Milquetoast characters populate a landscape that is far too often skewed toward unbalanced narrative, and then littered with choppy dialogue. And authors randomly violate the logic of their narrative points of view.
So it is perfectly clear, that this is (mostly) an industry-wide pandemic.
It affects not only self-published authors and micropublishers, but also the lesfic industry leaders. Authors and publishers who are too focused on swelling revenue, increased publicity, and pressing production rates run the risk of overlooking what made the readers flock to their books in the first place. And, as the novelty of the All You Can Read Lesfic Bar phenomena begins to wear off for the readers, it will be those few publishers and authors who have paid attention to detail, adopted sustainable publishing and writing practices, and emphasized quality that will survive.
Quality never goes out of style.
This is a cautionary tale.