Today looked a lot like Tuesday. There are school trips to volunteer for, evening meals to be planned before Karate, the washing has to go on…Tuesday stuff.
But then I got to the computer and a friend had posted a link to Chuck Wendig’s latest post. Here it is:
Apologies for the profanity – it’s his, not mine, and it’s just the way he is, bless him.
I like Chuck’s posts, and I like his books. He writes in a way that sounds like a snarl, like the words come pouring out at speed, but I’ll bet he revises and works really hard on every sentence. In fact, since my e-copy of one of his books was published with some editing notes left in, I KNOW he does that.
Anyway, I like to read his books and his blog, and I usually find myself in agreement with what he says. In the case of e-publishing, what he tends to say is “There’s no problem with it, but since there are no Publishing House Editors, or agents involved, YOU have to be the guardian of the quality of your work.” There’s literally nothing stopping you typing a stream of consciousness novel and uploading it with a crayon drawing for a book cover.
In his latest article, Chuck argues that the very freedom that e-publishing has brought has clogged the virtual bookshelves. Finding decent books amongst the dross has become harder and harder, and many people are taking price points, or even the self-publishing aspect itself, a indicators of quality. You can see the logic – “I downloaded five $0.99 books, and all of them were terrible. I won’t bother with books that are sold so cheaply.” Or “Every self-pubbed book I’ve read has been riddled with mistakes. I’ll stick with traditional publishers from now on.”
The very first e-book I bought was “Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister”, by Gregory Maguire. It was for my Hewlett Packard iPaq, and it had some beautiful illustrations, as well as the text. That was a book that had recently come out through a traditional publisher. I later bought “The Hunger Games” and “Save the Cat!”. These books looked, on my e-reader/phone, just like they did in the stores.
Then I bought a book that was self published. The author had set up a small press, but was writing their own books as well as advising and publishing others. (No gender indication or clues here.) The book wasn’t good. The cover was pretty enough, looking more professional than amateur, but the story was unlikely. Within the first two chapters I was openly scornful of what I was being asked to accept, and I had already found upwards of ten spelling or grammatical mistakes. Although I had downloaded the book on a free offer, it was going on to charge around $7 per copy, and this was only the latest in a series of books by this author. This book had been written by someone with experience, edited and proofread, and yet it was still a very bad book.
Perhaps the problem is identifying the difference between a bad book and books we don’t like. “On the Road” is held up as a classic novel. My Father-in-Law has two copies. I read it years ago and despised it. I found the characters unlikeable, their journey pointless and the whole book depressing. Does that make it a bad book? I don’t think so. I won’t read it again, but I know that other people reading it have found it to be marvelous and inspiring and so on. No one reads it and says “I hated all the spelling mistakes, and the main character’s name changes spelling three times through the book.” As a novel, it’s done properly, despite the author writing the whole thing on one continuous roll of paper. It’s been properly edited and proofread and packaged. It’s a good book, and I just don’t like it.
Compare that with other books I’ve read, where the story might have appealed, if it weren’t for the constant errors and formatting disasters that drag me out of the story and make me grind my teeth. It’s a bad book.
All these are things I thought of while reading Chuck’s blog today, and it made me think about the eight or nine e-books I have on Amazon. I’m giving one away currently, and it’s not setting the world aflame. The last few days I’ve been wondering if there was any way to get more people to download it, to review it, to tell their friends about it. And now, I’m considering removing it, along with all the others.
I like the books I’ve written. The collections of short stories were fun to produce, and writing longer things was a novel experience (heh heh heh!) But as I mentioned before, it’s been two years since I began putting my work up on Amazon, and in that two years, though some books have sold, I’ve not earned anything from them. And in addition to not earning, I’m adding to the heap of books people have to wade through to find what IS worth reading.
I wonder if it’s time to admit to myself that writing prose is only ever going to be a hobby, and if that’s the case, is it something I need to share with the world? My plays have a publisher and moderate success – they have a purpose, in that they are sold and performed all around the world, every month. I get an income from those sales, and people out there get plays to act in. But these e-books go out into the world and I worry that they don’t sell, even though I’ve told myself there’s nothing riding on those sales, that I’m just publishing for the fun of it. Well, that doesn’t feel like a worthwhile reason any more.
All this has more weight right now because I have few commitments this week – no library shifts until Saturday, just the one school trip to volunteer for today, and the laundry already more than half-done. I have the Romance Challenge novel standing at 7,500 words, and four days of writing might see most of a first draft completed. That would leave a week of half-days to finish and revise and publish before my self-imposed deadline of Feb 14th.
And then? Do I watch the stats for another e-book, telling myself it doesn’t matter if it sells, but wishing it would? Wouldn’t my time this week and next be better spent working on sketches and pays for TLC and planning Tiniest Weasel’s birthday, and something for Mrs Dim for Valentine’s Day?
It’s not that I’m thinking about stopping being a writer. That’s something I’ve thought about before and rejected, because I couldn’t stop being a writer. But maybe I can do without the extra worry of publishing e-books. If I’m finding my head full of short stories, I can write them down, but there’s no need to take them further, and if I do, there are always competitions out there, if you look hard enough.
Answers in the comments please – vote “Give it up!” or “Stick it out!” . Remember, the e-books were never meant to turn me into the next JK Rowling or Hugh Howey, so it shouldn’t be about financial success.