The poor quality of many self-published books comes up with some regularity. The most discussion has been started by Chuck Wendig who makes a point that self-publishing isn’t “amateur hour.” You should always put your best foot forward when you’re making a thing you’re going to charge money for.
Interestingly, a lot of people are either attacking him (I’ve read comments calling him a bad writer) or outright dismissing him (because he’s such a “bad writer”). People do seem to get defensive when self-publishing is called out for poor quality works. And it isn’t because they’re arguing that self-publishing books aren’t bad, more like they’re arguing for being “bad” because readers will suss out what’s bad and what is good which will then, hopefully, teach an author what doesn’t work and what does. Their next book will be better, and the book after that will be better.
Some thoughts I always have:
The people often talked about are not reading these discussions. There are plenty of people who write crap or have written crap and just throw it up online because why the hell not? Some people hope to make a little money. Some think they are honestly good and won’t hear talk that they aren’t. The people who don’t give a shit exist. But see, they don’t give a shit, so do you think they’re going to care about the call to stop publishing crap? (No. The answer is no.)
The beauty of self-publishing is that it’s open and anyone can do it. This is also the ugly side. I always say that our greatest strength are often our greatest weaknesses. The same goes for self-publishing. I can post whatever I want for whatever reasons I want. But so can the previously mentioned non-shit giving author.
Readers are not “gatekeepers.” They are customers. And customers make decisions. They can download samples of stories that sound interesting, and they can read it before purchasing. If they are not aware of this, then I don’t know what to think because the preview button is right next to the purchase button. Amazon also gives you seven days to get your money back, so if you pick up a book with a good preview that falls apart after you’ve read it, you can get money back. (At least you could last year. I feel like I’ve been gone forever. You can still do that, right?)
There are shitty publishing house books too. Sometimes a shit book is a shit book. It happens. I don’t think I’ve ever really read a crappy book– because, you know, previews– but I’ve read some books where I got to the end and I just said, “What the crap?”
These discussion are going to continue of course. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but I’m going to keep on not caring what my neighbor is doing (unless they’re my friend and they’ve asked for my opinion). I don’t really believe it matters. Readers will find what they like, they’ll call out what they don’t like. If they swear off self-published books because of one book they read that was really terrible, well then, they are probably not your audience. There are plenty of other readers to go around, just like there are now plenty of writers.
I suck at marketing: I’d like to tell anyone happening across this blog who might be curious about how terrible or not terrible I am that I’ve placed Ruin free on Smashwords. Okay, not exactly free. It’s set to, pay what you want which means you can get it without paying anything or you can use it as a chance to tip an author. 🙂
That’s it. I needed to say it out loud. Though I do get a thrill when someone buys my book (c’mon, I’m still a human writer), I didn’t really publish it for the money. Any money I have made on it goes back into the book to cover the costs of artwork. That’s pretty much it. I’m not about to make a living selling books. I’ve always known that. Still, I often beat myself up because I don’t write fast enough. Instead of encouraging me to write, it only makes me want to give up. Except that it’s impossible to stop writing. So it’s a circle that will continue, leaving me feeling like crap.
This is a new level of doubt, brought on by our modern age. There are so many books and stories out there right now that I think we all fear getting lost. If you don’t put out so many books a year, then you’re supposedly screwed.
Maybe I am. So maybe I’m fooling myself here, but I think that if people read your story and really enjoy it, they will always find a way to stay in touch. This is also the way I approach my friends. Instead of being surrounded by a lot of people I have to constantly keep in contact with, I surround myself with a few choice friends that I can call up any time, no matter how much time has passed, and have it be as if we never left off. (This might be part of why I don’t get very far on Twitter.)
My last book was published in 2011. I’d intended to have another book by summer. Ha! I look back on my hopeful self and sort of laugh. (It might still be too soon. Maybe I can fully laugh next year. Hopefully I have another book out by then.)
So here’s what it comes down to: Do I want to race a story out because I’m afraid of being forgotten? Or do I want to write a story that will strike a cord and ensure that I’m remembered? Even if only for that one story. How long will it take for that second option? I don’t know yet. I’ll tell you when I finish something good.
It’s not a good thing for a writer to brag. Or at least not good for this writer to brag because fate aims to keep me humble. But I feel as if I’ve made great strides recently and actually gotten a lot done. It’s too good a feeling not to share.
Since I’ve managed to come back, I’ve finished one short story and today I’m going to say I’ve finished another novella. I’m going to say I’ve finished, because it’s about as done a rough draft can be. Now it’s a matter of cleaning it up, tying things together, and making it all make sense. There were a lot of things in the rough draft I didn’t plan for but worked out perfectly. I may not know what’s always going on, but my subconscious seems to have a plan at least.
It’s been nearly a year since I put out my last book, one which hardly counts because it was a novella companion to Ruin, meant to offer an alternate view point of the world. I have to admit that I feel like I have failed in some way. I’d definitely planned to have more than just one book out this year.
I can’t completely blame real life. I can’t blame writer’s block either. I can’t really blame any one factor. The truth is that I’m still getting a hang of everything– not just the self-publishing, but the whole act of writing something and then working hard to make it polished. I’m not just writing straightforward stories. I’m always trying to push myself in small ways.
I’m still learning what I can get away with in book format. Sometimes, I feel like I’m a real writer, doing writerly things and experimenting with ways to tell my stories. Most of the time though, I feel like a sham. That’s what I let stop me cold. I’ve always suffered with self-esteem issues. (I know many people do.) And sometimes I let them get the best of me.
I think I stopped writing in April. I just didn’t feel I could. So I took a week off. Then two. Then a month. Then bad stuff happened that had no relation to my writing.
Here’s what I’m learning: Even when I don’t want to write, I need to write or else I let the dark part of me triumph. I haven’t quite learned how to make myself do it other than sitting down in front of the computer or on my notepad and just doing it. I have all sorts of simple ways to trick myself into writing. Ultimately, it always comes down to just taking the time to face my fears and get to work.
Video games. In my mind, many video games are very much the same as books. I don’t just have to read to learn about a story and story structure– I’ve said this before, I’m sure. I have spent the last couple of months playing video games and become immersed in a grand amount of lore crafted for a series of video games that’s just amazing.
I’m talking Elder Scrolls. It took a bit for me to get into it. I’ve had a bias against first person games for a long time, and Elder Scrolls definitely has action elements. I’ve always said that I play Final Fantasy for the story, but for the past few years (since FFX) I haven’t wanted to play Final Fantasy at all. There were several reasons for it. 1. Each game was really a stand alone game with a new story which meant they couldn’t really get that in-depth. They created just the surface of a world and a story, more of a fairy tale really. After a while, that gets boring. 2. They started making sequels to sequels. Each game is a sequel already, and then they would make a part 2 which looked to just be the same game but with more story? I don’t know, but it certainly seemed money grubbing. Of course I haven’t laid my hands on any of those because I’m bored to death of Final Fantasy.
Elder Scrolls is a different. How different? You can read books in game. I started to get into reading and collecting books while out on my adventures. I became fascinated with the books on the Dwarven culture which disappeared way in the past, before the first game is even set. There are books to be found by scholars who’ve studied the ruins and put forth their own theories as to the culture. There are also books that collect dwarven folklore which is not meant to be trusted as a source. The more scolarly sources will tell you so. It feels quite real!
I came to find out that these books actually go back as far as the second installment of the series which was released around ’96. The Elder Scrolls actually builds their entire series up on the lore. You can read about Queen Barenziah in books in Skyrim and then play Daggerfall or Morrowind and actually meet her. It’s immersive, and not just through game play. It really shows the power of story to connect the different parts of this series and really bring it to life. People always have stories. They also always have opinions. They share what they think and over time, sources of information can become corrupted. Sometimes sources of information start out corrupt. I find that the Elder Scrolls series understands that, and it adds a serious level of realism to their entire world.
I was tagged by my friend Gayl Taylor and I thought it sounded like a fun meme. Here are the rules:
- Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
- Go to line 7
- Copy down the next seven lines as they are – no cheating
- Tag 7 other authors
Here’s the seventh line from page seven:
She wanted to flinch away from the words, but she’d hurt him if she did. Instead, she buried her face in his shoulder and let him hold her close against him.
It wasn’t clear who pulled back first. Alex brushed under her eye with his thumb. Another tear had managed an escape. He looked worried. “You are always so sad.”
This story is going to end up being packaged with The Two Brothers and another story that I’m working on now, then turned into a print book and a repackaged ebook.
For who I’m picking, well, I admit I don’t usually do that part of the meme, but I’d love to see Ashley Scheuerman and Laura Rae Amos post stuff from their WIPs. Anyone else who’d like to participate, please do and leave a link so I can check it out.
So in that other post about first person, my friend Ashley brought up that a lot of the things I’d pointed out as pros and cons of first person could also be altered by voice. Now in my mind, first and third person have different effects on me as a reader. That doesn’t mean that they can’t cross over or at least attempt to. There are some writers who manage to effectively use a third person narration in different and unique ways, and so I want to take a look at some authors I’ve read recently who have used third person a bit differently from the norm.
Again, a disclaimer: This is just opinion, and hardly an in-depth look. I’m looking at how these narrative structures affect me as a reader and how I react to the story because of them.
“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”
–From Peter and Wendy
I used to looooove this book when I was a kid. Seriously, I read it all the time, and now I’m revisiting it as an adult. I picked it up just a few days ago and read this opening paragraph (which is probably what
got me thinking about narrators). A smile immediately came to my face the second I started reading.
So we have someone sharing this story with us. It’s very much like my father sitting down to tell me a story. Is it intimate? Yes. It is very comforting and quite intimate. Do I distrust this narrator? Now that is the big question. Clearly, this narrator is a bit tongue in cheek, but that doesn’t mean I distrust him the way I would if, say, Wendy were telling this story.
Held at a distance by third person, the question of “how true is this story” is not important. Now if the story were one told in first person, there would be much more resistance on my part. I’d be constantly questioning the narrator, whether they believe this story to be true and just how crazy are they.
Plus, this particular narrator is not a character in the story. He’s an observer/teller of tales, and I think that in my mind that’s exactly what lends him some of his credibility even though he’s clearly telling a tale that is suspect.
“Orbiting this [small unregarded yellow sun] at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green plant whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
–From The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Again, an opening paragraph that sets the tone for the book. Is there any wonder why Adams is so loved? This is another opening that surprises me again, even though I’ve read it twice now. He’s the same man who explained in one of the stories in this series that in order to fly you have to aim for the ground and miss. Simple right? Why haven’t I thought of that before? *makes note to give this a try from a low altitude*
Is this intimate? Yes, in a way. I mean, someone is telling me this story with every aside that he thinks I should know and sometimes side stories he thinks are funny. I LOVE this narrator. But this also holds me away from the characters, specifically Arthur Dent. Do I feel for Dent when his planet is blown up? Well, yeah, kinda, but that could be because it’s our home planet that Adams blows up in this first book (thanks to those paper pushing Vogons and their sneaky administrative ways).
Do I trust this narrator? Well that is questionable. I sort of get the feeling that I’m a therapist and this narrator is sitting on my couch telling me this crazy story he saw when he traveled to the future. But once again, because this is a third person narrative and because I feel at a distance from the story, the issue of trustworthiness becomes less important than the messages hidden throughout the satire.
“These days the nights and mornings have a tendency to bleed into one another. Old-fashioned notions of a.m. and p.m. have become obsolete and Dexter is seeing a lot more dawns than he once used to.
On the 15th of July 1993 the sun rises at 05.01 a.m. Dexter watches it from the back of a decrepit mini-cab as he returns home from a stranger’s flat in Brixton. Not a stranger exactly, but a brand new friend, one of many he is making these days, this time a graphic designer called Gibbs or Gibbsy, or was it maybe Biggsy, and his friend, this mad girl called Tara, a tiny birdlike thing with woozy, heavy eyelids and a wide scarlet mouth who doesn’t talk much, preferring to communicate through the medium of massage.”
-From One Day (beginning of Chapter 6)
I read this book recently with friends, and I found it a fascinating study in techniques. First off, it’s told in the third person omniscient. The focus will slip from Emma to Dex with little transition. There isn’t even a scene break to indicate that there’s going to be a refocusing, but it’s effective. At no point did I feel lost. The first time it happened, I think there was something of a bump as I went back to read over the paragraphs where the shift happens. Unfortunately, it happens right in that blank line between the two, so there was nothing much to do but accept it.
Now this story starts off being told in the usual third person past tense, but this quote here is in present tense. It took me a moment to notice the transition, and when I discussed it with friends, at least one or two of them confessed that they hadn’t noticed the change until it was mentioned. One friend (one who hadn’t noticed it) brought up a good point—it seems to be used to mark the routine of this character’s days. (Part of it all being that his average isn’t average for the normal person.)
Now this narrative is a little more serious than the last two, but it’s still somewhat quirky. One Day is a literary fiction novel that is supposed to have elements of humor in it as well as some truths about life, love, relationships. The narrator is not a character. No one is sharing a story with us. I can’t even call the narrator a “he” here. It’s more of a narration system/technique. There is nothing getting between the reader and the characters.
Except the words. “He” or “she” when referencing the main characters does push me back which is not a bad thing. It helps me transition easily when the focus snaps from Emma over to Dex. This is possibly the type of story that could be told from the first person point of view and focused on only one character, but then it would have gotten messy with their personal bias. A first person narrator would not have been trustworthy in the same way this non-entity narrator happens to be. How can a non-entity/narration system lie? They can’t, they’re just telling us what Emma and Dex are thinking and doing.
Quirky third person narrators add interesting energy to a story. I think I have one more piece I’d like to look at, and that is one specific example of a quirky first person narrative which happens to be told by the writer. It’s all very meta, but it was nearly maddening with the questions it brought up that weren’t even posed by the text, but just by his choice of narration system.