Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bad eBooks Good News For Serious Authors

     Everyone complains of the impossibility of getting anyone to notice their eBook. I say that if your book is any good then readers will eventually seize on it with considerable relief. I'd even argue that you will get farther ahead as an author if you lay off social media altogether for a while.
     I began publishing online scant months ago and have overcome new problems every day--but I've learned that social media is the annoying zit that never goes away.
     I have sympathy for one writer's complaint about the new age. He said he was a loner and didn't want to change. He resented having to do all this other stuff that had nothing to do with writing (actually, he used the word 'crap', not 'stuff').
     I have a limited liking for social media as well. When I first started fooling around with it, I found myself transported back in time to an online Sweet Valley High--giggling, fingering my braces, and hanging around the edges of an established group while begging them to let me in.
     I finally decided I didn't much like these people anyway (this could have been sour grapes). It had occurred to me by then that a flock of authors dripping with shiny five-star reviews (given out by other members of the same group) was not credible.
     There are published authors out there who work much harder at giving the illusion of success than they do at their writing. I'm finding them easier to spot these days because they rarely talk about what they're working on, they talk about themselves. These authors also have poor circulation (in more ways than one) and tend to huddle in groups for warmth. No one is allowed to express an opinion that doesn't conform to the general opinions of the group (e.g., the only reason they aren't on the NY Times best sellers' list this month--or any list at all, for that matter--is because they're too good to be noticed by ordinary readers.)
     Social media is important as a means of promoting your book. But it's my personal belief that it's nowhere near as important as most people believe.
     In the news business, a great story was bound to go places. Even if it started out small and got buried for a few days, someone at a big metro newspaper or wire service would eventually notice it, and pump it larger. Then everyone would jump on it with both feet. A news wire service was really a rudimentary internet and the principle remains the same. If a story was really worth the ink, then it got out there in spades.
     I think that if you're good enough, succeeding at fiction writing is exactly like this. I don't deny there is a large component of luck that goes along with any success in publishing. I don't deny there are successful writers out there who largely suck at writing, but are very, very good at self-promotion. I don't deny the sun will probably rise tomorrow. But I do disagree with disgruntled writers who say it's all luck. I know cream will eventually rise to the top because that belief is based on life experience, not situational optimism.
   There is so much self-published crap (I use this word, too) floating around out there, that we all sometimes wish someone would flush the toilet. And I am not really surprised at the number of established, but possibly mediocre, eBook authors out there who like to blame their stalled careers on luck. They think in terms of luck because they themselves got in on the ground floor of Indie publishing. But the eBook market is no longer novel--it is, in fact, maturing. The gold rush is over and quality is becoming a much bigger deal.   
     I look at it in terms of a traditional newspaper. If you pull a newspaper apart, the star placements are the front of the sports page section and page one. If your stories made it to either spot on a daily basis, then you were a hotshot, the approximate equivalent of a well-known and successful self-published book author. But the bulk of any newspaper was made up of more mediocre local stories, fillers, and advertisements. They all served a purpose, but none of them garnered top attention.
      Working as a reporter gave insights traditionally published authors never receive. I got loads of feedback from the public (some of it not especially pleasant) on a daily basis. But I did well as a reporter because I never made the mistake some of my contemporaries did--of assuming people were stupid. Quite the opposite. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, it has been my experience that people have a fundamental bottom of good sense.
     Just as art can be appreciated by anyone, so can good writing. And just as page one stories stood out from the less exciting inside content of a newspaper, a good book will be noticed with a reasonable amount of marketing.
      I don't happen to consider writing overfilled with academic jargon or made unintelligible by excessive experimentation--to be good writing. (There are exceptions to this rule, e.g., Finnegan's Wake, but I'm speaking in general terms.) We are what we learn, I guess. Having been a reporter, I feel that if writing fails to communicate with readers, then it is, by definition, not good writing (no matter how erudite its author).
     Where real disagreement may arise is in what constitutes the successful writer.
     As we all know, absolute drivel turns a good profit if it is well marketed. Temporarily. But to write a book that can hold the attention of many and survive over time to continue to hold the attention of many . . . well, that's a different goal entirely. Few ever achieve immortality.
     But give it your best shot anyway. Why not? High goals are better than none, I think. And if you don't set high goals for yourself, then you likely won't have high standards for your writing. These things tend to be symbiotic. For myself, I'm still writing for page one, whether a hole's been left open there for me or not.
     Oh, and don't forget to flush the toilet on your way out.   

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