From Nathan Bransford:
It’s not a secret that the quality of books published by traditional publishers varies greatly. Some are breathtakingly magical, some read like lukewarm porridge.
I personally have long felt that authors cast too many aspersions against traditionally published books and underrate how good they really are, particularly if you’ve never read slush to get a sense of the “competition.” If you’re not finding more wonderful books than you could possibly have time to read, you’re really not looking very hard.
But it’s undoubtedly true that there are some traditionally published books that feel a bit, well, mailed in. And whenever an author brings one of these to my attention and uses it to interrogate the standards at traditional publishers, I often ask this question: was it a debut?
There are many reasons an established author might get a so-so book over the line to publication: they might have a faithful readership who will buy any book that hits the right notes, or it may be as simple as the author delivering a second or third book in a contract that has already been signed. These books may not need to reach the same level of excitement that’s required for an editor to go through the hurdles of acquiring a new book on behalf of the publisher.
If you want to know how good you have to be to get a traditionally published book across the finish line: look to the debuts. Those are the ones that had to get an editor excited enough to make an offer and take a chance on an unknown author.
Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford
PG suggests that authors may be best-served by letting readers decide. At a minimum, an indie author with little talent will have more readers and make more money than a would-be traditionally-published author who never gets a book contract.