Apparently they may soon be dead as a species. Thanks to the ever-burgeoning self-publishing market, particularly since ebook sites like Smashwords have made it so easy and cheap.
I can see the advantage for writers. No more rejections, just get your excellent stuff out there were it can be read. There is a downside to not having editors, however. I haven’t made a longitudinal survey, but I have read a couple of these self published ebooks now and I do speak from the very recent experience of reading over three hundred short story submissions over the last twelve months for the upcoming ebook and print anthology Anywhere But Earth.
There is an art to editing work and also in collecting short works together in a book. While there are many authors who produce good, publishable stuff, I’ve worked with enough authors and had my own work probed and polished enough to know that a good editor is invaluable for clearing out the unnecessary, the poorly expressed, the badly structured in a work and really making it not only a better story, but a greatly improved reading experience for the poor consumer.
The self-published ebooks and the story submissions I have read over the last year were all open to being improved by an editor. In short, they weren’t as good as they could have been. With the very odd exception, the individual stories didn’t sing as well as they could post-edit. And for the ebook collections, the parts of the whole weren’t shown to best advantage either. As I mentioned there is an art to selecting and arranging stories in a book. You have to consider the groupings, the emotional highs and necessary quieter segments, the avoidance of thematic repetition; all that good editor stuff.
None of that is going to change the rising tide of ebook self-publishing. And for the most part, people will carry on, thinking ‘close enough is good enough’. Except it’s not. That’s what I worry about. That the reader, confronted with work after work that hasn’t been touched by an editor will eventually be turned off the reading experience altogether. That’s the point where we all lose out.