Sunday, February 26, 2012

On Free Amazon Downloads, "Trying out new authors", and Cheerleading

Okay.

Possible rant ahead.  Filled with one writer's opinions, and nothing more.  We're all in this writing business for different reasons, therefore we have our own goals, our own standards, what makes us happy and content.  And maybe I should just file this whole thing under "stuff I see on Facebook and Twitter that annoys me" and leave it at that.  But, even if only for myself, I'm gonna grapple with it for a bit, because that's what I'm doing right now: grappling with this whole digital self-epublishing revolution.

So.

Let's start like this:

The other day one of my students - a 10th Grade Honors English student - stalked into my Creative Writing class (which she also takes), looking annoyed.  Almost irate.  I asked what was bothering her, and she proceeded to go on a mini-rant about all these free or .99 ebooks Amazon keeps offering her Kindle, and after she downloaded them, how her initial excitement fizzled when she realized most of them were either barely comprehensible and "shouldn't have been published at all" or so rife with editing errors, she had a hard time enjoying what she thought might've been a good story.

Now, granted - even as a 10th grade Honors student who's also a voracious reader, maybe she's not that discerning (I know back then I read a lot, and books fell into two basic categories: boring and not boring).  Maybe she just missed all the grown-up nuances in those free and cheap e-books.

Or, maybe she just downloaded really crappy self-published ebooks.

I see it on Facebook and Twitter all the time.  Probably should just ignore it, and I try to - until I get FB and Twitter messages, all saying a variety of the same things... 

"Hey, my buddy's ebook is free on Amazon!  And my Grandma's, too!"

"Hey, support indie-publishing! Buy  my buddy's ebook, for only .99! Fight the power and join the revolution!"

"Hey, try out new authors today!" 

Now.

In an effort NOT to sound like an insensitive jerk.  Also trying not to shoot myself in the foot, because hopefully soon - either traditionally or independently - I'll be out there, promoting my work, too.

All writers today need to self-promote.  That's pretty much a fact.  I do it.  When a new story gets accepted and published, when a new review comes in, I post about it.  And that's one of the things digital self-publishing has opened new, unproven ground for: author promotion, control over pricing, things like that.  

And the big houses in New York - even midlist houses, like that Leisure Fiction fiasco - are engaging in pretty dubious behavior at times, and the removal of the third party, opening the doors for readers straight to writers, is a pretty intriguing wrinkle.  Even I can admit that. 

And there are lots of great writers whom I love, or writers who've been blurbed by writers I love who are very proactive with their self-promotion in general and Amazon promotion in particular.  Folks who have been blurbed by other heavy hitters in the industry, who have earned respect from their professional peers.  

This blog isn't aimed at them.  They've done their time, proven their worth - if not to me, then to writers whom I respect - and aren't tacky in their self-promotion, like some of the catch-phrases above.

It's just this: I wonder if this whole thing can sometimes be....self-contained.

Self-replicating.

Heck.  Incestuous, even.

Because while I see lots of proven writers either going it alone - because they've proven their craft, have been really burned by traditional publishing or have been trying for YEARS (like 10 or so, not a month and half) to crack New York and just haven't - or they're reviving out-of-print works for new digital audiences, I also see a bunch of other writers - some of them proven (a select few), a lot of them NOT - simply supporting this new movement itself.  And, that's not bad...in and of itself.

Again.  This is probably something I should just leave alone.  But it seems like, to me, that while some authors are more than willing to blurb other writers and give them their due, other writers seem to be....turning into cheerleaders for the movement. 

In other words, it seems like they're simply supporting every single self-published and for-free digital download on Amazon simply because it's the latest, greatest new thing, reposting and offering up everyone and anyone's free ebook because, well - sure.  They're part of the self-publishing digital epublishing revolution themselves.  They're rooting for everyone and anyone who's self-published an ebook. And I don't know why, but something about that really bugs me.

Those scores of people who repost ad infinitum offers on Facebook about someone's newly self-published ebook, and the mantra is always the same: 

"Hey, support indie-publishing! Buy my buddy's ebook, for only .99! Fight the power and join the revolution!"

"Hey, try out new authors today!" 

Now, if you're about ready to pick up something heavy and throw it at me, are cursing my name for how insensitive I'm being and think I hate all indie authors, stop for a minute, breathe, and let me clarify: I'm rapidly and quickly evolving my views on digital self-publishing and self-publishing in general.  

I've taken the time to peruse some indie works, and have more coming up the pike soon.  And, once I've read those, I'm going to blog my results, share how I think I stack up against those writers, and what I think about ME self-publishing. 

What I'm NOT changing any time soon, however, is my commitment to excellence, my standards,  my desire to read - and therefore recommend - only what I consider to be high quality work.

"BUT QUALITY IS SUBJECTIVE!  EVERYONE'S CREATIVE VOICE IS DIFFERENT, UNIQUE, AND SPECIAL, AND THEREFORE WORTHY!"

In all kindness, as gently as I can possibly manage: No.  That's just not true, at all.

At least not for me.  And, based on a tenth grade honors student who reads like people breathe, apparently that's not true, either, and the "for-free" or .99 cent price didn't soothe the irritation of time lost reading....well...crap.  

And I wonder how many legions of readers out there feel the same way.  Because THOSE are the people we want to connect with, THOSE are the people we want spreading the word.  Not other writers who are all cheerleading the movement.  But readers who are reading. Because I don't know about anyone else, but:

"Hey, try out new authors today!"

Doesn't mean anything to me.  I consider myself a pretty avid reader (I read like some people breathe).  But  - especially with a growing family, full-time job, part time graduate school and my own fledgling writing career - I have neither the time nor inclination to try out new writers I know nothing about.  I'm going to stick with the writers I know and love.  Only way I'll try out a new writer? If one of those writers I know and love - industry professionals - endorses them, either because they're older writers who are foundational, or are new writers breaking new ground.

Case in point: Recently read avid self-published writer Robert Swartwood's Man of WaxIt was excellent, and I plan on picking up one of his other novels, The Calling next.  What finally tipped the scales for me? Man of Wax was blurbed by F. Paul Wilson.  Who DOESN'T blurb lightly, mind you.  Also, Robert has repeatedly been name-dropped by Brian Keene, who ALSO doesn't endorse lightly.  SO, I decided he was worth checking out - and, lo and behold, he was.

I've made no secret of my writer-crush on Rio Youers.  What made me initially pick up Mama Fish? Believe it or not, it wasn't publisher loyalty. He was blurbed by PETER FREAKING STRAUB. One of my favorite writers, and every book Peter has blurbed has been a winner for me.  Buying Mama Fish was a no brainer.

I've read and reviewed Dan Keohane's self-published novel, Margret's Ark.  I've got Destroyer of Worlds on my shelf, ready to go next.  Dan is a Bram Stoker nominated author, has been published professionally numerous times, a member of the HWA, a mentor...he's proven himself.  And he's TRIED to crack the New York code.  Margret's Ark was an honorable mention or runner-up or something in Amazon's Breakout Novel contest.  He's TRIED, for many years, to break through to traditional publishing.  Was unsatisfied with his experience with the small press, so decided to go it alone.

When Glen Krisch's novels go into print, I'll snap them up, too.  Why? He's been blurbed by Kealan Patrick Burke, another proven industry professional.

See a pattern, here? 

This blog is already too long.  And I'm still not sure what I'm trying to say.  That I wish people would promote quality writing first and the newest publishing model second? And who am I to comment on "quality writing"? And am I'm just being a pouting, stick-in-the mud big meanie unwilling to support his fellow brothers and sisters in ink?  

Will I offend people so badly that when it's finally my turn to promote my first novel, folks will think: "Oh, there's that guy. The one always ranting on his blog. Fat chance we'll buy his book."  And, even though I'm just venting, this is all stuff I should just ignore.  Not like it really affects me, directly.

All I know is this: 

1. I only ever repost and pimp writers who have PROVEN themselves in the industry, or have earned the respect of their professional peers. I'm a cheerleader of GREAT WRITING, and that's it.

2. Someday, when it's my turn, I'll be pimping my own first novel.  And I'm sure there'll be offers and special-promotions, too.  But I'll run it like I always do: blog about it, post it to social media, and hope people like my writing.

Okay. I've run out of steam.  Let loose in the comments, because I've certainly run off at the mouth on my end....