Self-publishing a book can be a labor of love and for some of us, it’s what we live for. But why is it so many people now fancy themselves an author? And why is it that so many simple and frankly unreadable works are hitting the Amazon e-book charts? Should we all join in and get stupid?
Many books are intelligently written and beautifully constructed, but it is the pulp romance thriller that used to be a throwaway holiday read that catches the “public”‘s attention. Young Adult fiction, mostly about reckless sixteen year-olds fancying each other are leaving the digital shelves as quickly as they can be thrown together – read by, in my opinion inappropriately and rather creepily, by adults of all ages. Bad business advice books line the pages of every digital store. Some business self-help books turn out to be Christian in tone, an absolute obliteration of any sense of genre in my opinion – given that any bias toward religion in most workplaces would be severely frowned-upon.
So what is it about these books that dumb it down for the rest of us? Comments on Goodreads for example, about books I hold dear, written intelligently and with thought to the construct of a novel and inner world, are doomed to the trash by inexperienced readers on Goodreads declaring them “more boring than Dostoyevsky” or moaning that they “couldn’t get past the first chapter.”
Henry Baum, founder of Self Publishing Review says, “It’s not that only the writer has to be talented – the reader has to be talented too.”
And I agree with this, when I look at some of the terribly inane comments on my favorite books of all time, surely these world class authors fare well, you’d think:
Nog – ” I find it really frustrating to read a book with no plot, just a series of flashbacks”
Valis – “I gave it a good try… but it was exhausting”
Fight Club – ” The film is better than the book – It is indeed bad writing.”
The Portrait of a Lady – “Ugh. If I could describe this book in one word it would be “Laborious.” “
Requiem For A Dream – ” I’ll never bother to read anything by this writer again”
The Man Who Fell To Earth – “This was better than 1984 but never the less I still couldn’t get through it with it’s repetitive descriptions and awkward pacing”
Solaris – “Solaris wasn’t very rememberable (sic). I’m not even completely sure what it was about because not a lot of things happened.”
So now are we supposed to start writing for the Great Unwashed of the reading population? Do we have to dumb down our literary genius to meet ” commercial tides” and ” what the market wants?” Stop writing ” boring” books? Should the intelligent among us humans, often referred to by the rest as, ironically, ” well-read”, a euphemism for a somewhat resented lofty IQ, now find ourselves beholden to those not so “well-read”? It just seems to me they have no stamina.
In a panel this morning, the Book Industry Study Group announced these and other new stats from its Consumer Attitudes Toward E-Book Reading survey:
-E-books currently make up around 11 percent of the total book market. The percentage of print book consumers who say they download e-books more than doubled between October 2010 and January 2011– from 5 percent to almost 13 percent.
-Women make up 66 percent of e-book power buyers. In 2009, they didn’t even make up half of e-book customers (they were at 49 percent of the e-book market).
-Most e-books sold (58 percent) are fiction, with literary fiction, science fiction, and romance each comprising over 20 percent of all e-book purchases.
-”Power buyers” represent about 18 percent of the total people buying e-books today, but they buy 61 percent of all e-books purchased.
-The most influential factors leading to an e-book purchase are free samples and low prices.
In fact, Amazon cannot keep up with their typical e-book reader, desperately trying to find ways of censoring certain books as the tide makes haste, as this survey report from Paid Content concludes:
Today’s e-book power buyer–someone who buys an e-book at least once a week–is a 44-year-old woman who loves romance and is spending more on buying books now than in the past. She uses a dedicated e-reader like a Kindle instead of reading on her computer.
And it’s not just that. To find our market, we have to trawl through the slush to deliver ours untainted, blazing our books with the right ” sexy cover” and “marketable blurb”. In his blog post on the perils of self-promotion, a section entitled ” Shaking Your Can-Cans In The Whore’s Parade”, Chuck Wendig talks slutting it up for sales.
We’re fucked for good promotion. Just fucked. Twitter has turned into a near-ceaseless whore’s parade of authors showing a
littlea lot of tit and advertising their self-published books over and over again. And I say that as an offender dancing in that very parade. I try to do right with it — try to be funny and engaging and equal out my self-promo whore-tweets with just as many non-whore tweets to water down the acrid bite of my whorishness, but just the same, it’s hard. And here’s the rub: it totally fucking works. If I advertise one of my books directly, you know what happens? I get sales. The more promo I do, the more sales I get.
Which means, being a trashy sloppy self-promo slut-bot is rewarding.
So are we to drop our pants and ride the wave of idiocracy? Sell out for the sake of the stink of money?
How’s this? None of us do.
Instead, we promise to write quality, well-formatted and well-presented books that engage and challenge a reader in the same way we pre-internet over-40s were challenged (if not infuriated) by Dickens, Chaucer and Shakespeare, depressed by Kundera, Selby Jnr and Nabokov, and enchanted by Bronte, Fitzgerald and Eco.
Don’t let good books die on your watch.
I shall leave you with some Alan Moore.
Magic in its earliest form is often referred to as “the art”. I believe this is completely literal. I believe that magic is art and that art, whether it be writing, music, sculpture, or any other form is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. The very language about magic seems to be talking as much about writing or art as it is about supernatural events. A grimoir for example, the book of spells is simply a fancy way of saying grammar. Indeed, to cast a spell, is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people’s consciousness. And I believe that this is why an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world that you are likely to see to a Shaman…Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art and writing are merely forms of entertainment. They’re not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being; that can change a society. They are seen as simple entertainment; things with which we can fill 20 minutes, half an hour, while we’re waiting to die. It’s not the job of the artist to give the audience what the audience wants. If the audience knew what they needed, then they wouldn’t be the audience. They would be the artists. It is the job of artists to give the audience what they need.
I start the revolution against idiot writing here. Who’s with me?
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About Cate Baum
Cate Baum is a filmmaker and writer of self-published book “The Bull and The Ban” (under the name Tosko) and contributed to "Ole!", a book about 21st Century attitudes to bullfighting with Ernest Hemingway's grandson John and New York Times writer Edward Lewine. She is also editor and co-founder of Filmmaking Review, the sister site to Self-Publishing Review. She is married to SPR founder Henry Baum and lives in LA.