by Will Viharo
The good news: nowadays anyone with literary illusions of grandeur is free to upload their work to any number of platforms – most commonly Amazon – and instantaneously declare him or herself a “published author.”
The bad news: a lot of inexperienced amateurs are exploiting this unregulated access along with many authentic talents.
It’s important for writers and their audiences to be discerning, for the sakes of everyone concerned…
Becoming a published author has never been easier. No longer does the ambitious scribe need to type up a manuscript, Xerox a few copies, and then mail them off to prospective publishers and agents – only to be rejected, more often than not. What a waste of postage!
Some of you have never experienced that pre-Internet era, since the DIY digital revolution has been in full swing for several years now. Self-publishing has shed much of its formerly fatal stigma, and there are numerous success stories to validate the aspirations of any type of author, writing almost any type of material.
It doesn’t require a formal education, raw experience, or even innate talent to not only publish a book, but for it to become a bestseller. Much of it now is just a matter of plain, dumb luck.
Indie publishing is the garage rock of the 21st century.
Working out the "Kinks"...
Long time industry observers have been lamenting these developments for about a decade, at least, but to no avail. The tide has already turned. The gatekeepers have already been swarmed and overwhelmed.
Readers are now the ultimate critics. If they like a book, it will succeed. If they don’t, it won’t. It’s always been this way, but now that the “middle man” has been effectively excised from the equation, consumers hold more sway than ever.
Of course, public tastes can be not only fickle, but also questionable. Trashy reality TV is more popular than ever. As long as everyone on either side of the screen is happy and the producers are making profits, should we care about the dumbing down of our culture?
That’s a personal call. Myself, I don’t see the same decline of Western Civilization as others do, but then I’m a known proponent of pulp fiction and B movies, which aren’t always acceptable by polite societal standards, either, no matter how artfully I compose my own rather exploitative work.
But even “lowbrow” art should have some sort of inherent value or function to make it worthwhile, or else even connoisseurs of this particular aesthetic will reject it as well.
"Trash culture" can and should be entertaining, but nobody wants to waste his or her time and money on outright garbage. This is where the “quality control” comes in, and since many big and small publishers are being cut out of the profits as authors go it alone, where is the pre-market evaluation and third party validation?
Nowhere. Consumers that purchase indie lit – even inexpensive eBooks - are taking a big chance, relying mostly on word of mouth to make their decisions. This is risky territory for writers and readers alike.
But since writers – when they aren’t being unreasonably hard on themselves – are often their own biggest fans, how can we be sure our work is worth publishing, much less worth being purchased by total strangers?
A lot of it comes down to trial and error. It's much wiser to polish any product before it's put out in the marketplace. Circulating your unseen work before you hit the “publish” button is definitely a good idea, and ideally not amongst people that know you personally and can’t help but bring a natural bias to their critiques. Their only agenda should be the perpetuation of quality literature.
It’s also constructive to keep in mind that all opinions are subjective, so just because one person dislikes a certain creative decision on your part doesn’t automatically mean it’s “wrong” or even “bad.”
However, if a consensus forms amongst the first round of manuscript readers, it’s probably time to consider the credibility of their criticisms.
All authors expressing themselves artistically should write mainly to please themselves, unless they want to actually make a living with their craft. In that case, a certain amount of pandering to mainstream demands will no doubt be required, at least unless and until you establish your own unique reputation as an individual with a unique vision.
Most publishers and basically all agents are actively seeking out commercially viable material, which is one reason so many authors have circumvented traditional channels and taken their unconventional work directly to the audience.
But readers can and should be just as discriminating as agents and publishers, since in all three cases, it’s their time and money being laid on the line to fund your personal and professional goals. They deserve the very best you have to offer. And if your best simply isn’t good enough, your name as an author will quickly sink into oblivion, perhaps irretrievably.
So ultimately, you owe it to yourself to put your first draft through a rigorous pre-publication screening process, wide open to all editorial suggestions from people whose opinions you can trust. Try not to take any negative comments personally, either before or after your book is published. All feedback is subjective, true - but that doesn’t mean it’s all worthless, either.
Eventually, after you’ve read and studied the celebrated output of established, successful authors, and have written enough on your own to gain confidence and a sense of what works and what doesn’t, you may not need that kind of “vetting” process.
Then again, no writer ever stops learning, or growing. Even great writers are capable of substandard work, due to fatigue, complacency, laziness or self-indulgent creative myopia.
The secret to being a “good” writer? Be your own staunchest supporter – and your own worst critic.
PHOTO: QUOTES EVERLASTING