by Will Viharo
As every writer and reader knows by now, the self-publishing revolution has created a glut in the industry.
While this accessibility provides unprecedented opportunity for aspiring authors, there might be too much of a good thing. Not to mention a bad thing.
The marketplace is frankly overwhelmed by the number of writers vying for glory, or just a little attention.
Sometimes, especially in such an increasingly overcrowded field, less really can be more.
In previous posts I’ve encouraged indie writers to experiment and publish as frequently as they choose, since unlike traditional presses, their investment and overhead costs are practically nil. As with most pieces of advice in the arts, that comes with a caveat, since every situation is unique, and circumstances are constantly changing, which directly affects your reaction as a professional.
One thing to keep in mind when marketing your work, besides strategic pricing and targeted promotion, is that you are completely in charge of your own reputation, as well as the content and quality. And no matter how many copies of a single book you sell at first, the entertainment or informational value of your writing over time is going to affect your career as a whole, somewhere down the line. It’s inevitable.
Not every author can remain both prolific and creatively competent indefinitely. Sure, there were the pulp authors back in the day that churned out well crafted if formulaic novels month after month, and then you have genre masters like John D. MacDonald and Stephen King who had the ability to crank out masterpieces one after the other the way some pizzerias make consistently tasty pies.
But again, not every talent is that prodigious. Nor do they need to be. For instance, J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee made their names with a single classic novel.
That’s probably not going to your case, either.
Here are some ways to discern your own artistic boundaries so you can set a realistic agenda for your output, especially if you’re self-publishing without the benefit (or drawback, depending on your perspective) of a traditional “gatekeeper” to keep you in check:
Be Your Own Worst Critic
While basic confidence in one’s own work is one of the most crucial attributes any writer needs, no matter how seasoned, you also need to be extremely picky about what you choose to publish, even if your byline is a nom de plume.
In any case, you’re attempting to sell a product to skeptical consumers already overburdened with options. Even if you get them to buy one book at a cheap price, or even download a free copy as part of the Kindle Select program, they won’t give you any repeat business if they don’t enjoy the book. Nor will you benefit from positive word of mouth, still the most reliable (and affordable) type of promotion ever invented.
Sure, it’s impressive if you can churn out successive classics or even good books as a matter of routine. Some successful “bizarro” authors have that capability. But those novels are typically very short, and the audience for that genre is well established, so these authors know exactly what expectations must be met, time and again.
But you really should concentrate on impressing and attracting readers with the quality of your work, rather than the quantity.
Just pace yourself. You don’t need to publish everything you write. Many novelists, including myself, are sitting on entire unpublished manuscripts that have been chalked up to “practice.” Only put your best work out there. Always.
And you don’t have to be the only one that determines the quality of your own work. Show it to some friends whose opinions you respect and trust. Or maybe relative strangers in your social circles that you may know only via a writing class or club.
But if you do decide bounce your unpublished work off others, make sure you protect yourself, a warning which leads right into the subject of plagiarism…
Avoid the Cooker Cutter Syndrome
Fans of genres like mystery, crime, horror and romance probably appreciate a certain amount of familiarity in this type of escapist, often disposable fiction, but the authors that truly excel and stand out are those that take chances, if within conventional parameters.
If you’re trying to be a commercially viable and competitive author, it’s good to know what else is out there, and what you’re up against. But being a literary copycat will most likely backfire. Originality within the framework of a proven formula can be a tough nut to crack, but if you can distinguish yourself as a stylist and storyteller, not as a human assembly line, that’s the best way to pull ahead of the pack.
Don’t Let History Repeat Itself Too Soon
Another risk you run by over-publishing is repetition. No reader wants to feel they’re buying a reworking of your last book, no matter how much they liked it or desire a similar experience.
If you write more but publish less, you’ll be in a better position to please your conditionally loyal and discerning fan base.
As Clint Eastwood once said as Dirty Harry, “A man has got to know his limitations.” (That applies to women, too.)
How many books do you think is too many to publish within a single year?
PHOTO: PAUL DOWNEY
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New Orleans, LA