Hi, gang! This week, a look at what forms our thinking about various aspects of authorship, and whether that's a good thing or bad.
The Tao of eBayAfter four+ years of making books, and seeing the ebook "gold rush" that has ensued since the first Kindle millionaire, I have been constantly surprised by something that seems to pop up often, on the Kindle forums. There is a pervasive theme of ill-prepared books being considered, by their creators, as "good enough." You've read me say it here before: it's the "The World is my critique group" mentality, when manuscripts are published to Amazon before they are ready.
What does that even mean? Why is work that has not been proofed, edited, or even properly written in the first place, "good enough?" This has driven me nuts for the past eighteen months, since I started to really note the onset of "good-enough-itis," as I call it. Assuming that the average author has read a number of books, may have taken some creative writing courses, etc., how does this occur?
After giving it a lot of brainpower (okay, at least 5 minutes), I had a startling thought—had the hopeful authors of self-publishing confused Amazon with eBay? Or, perhaps that their thinking had been formed by "the Tao of Ebay."
Beanie Babies and Bedroom SetsAfter all, the Internet grew up not with Amazon, or eBooks, but with garage sales; with the gold mine that was created by the truism (the "Tao of eBay") that one man's trash was another man's treasure. Isn't that how the monolithic billion-dollar empire called eBay came into being? On the back of Beanie Babies? Essentially, someone's leftovers? And if we disregard eBay—and say that Beanie Babies were collectibles, not leftovers—it's hard to overlook Craigslist, which surely survived and thrived on detritus. What person living, under the age of ninety, hasn't bought something that they found on Craigslist? Hell, I once renovated an entire house's countertops with granite slabs I boneyarded on Craigslist, being sold by a guy going out of business.
Maybe this, then, is the source of the virus of "good enough." If we are all accustomed to listing our garage-sale items for sale online, maybe there are some hopeful writers that think that putting second-hand (second-class) writing on sale is also the way to go.
But a new book is not, by definition, second-hand. While on eBay, a seller is rated, transaction by transaction, on anywhere from one to tens of thousands of item sales, an author on Amazon (or Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Smashwords or Wattpad, etc.), is rated by his or her book. Today's book; the book most recently published; the book of the NOW. Granted, there will be dozens or hundreds or thousands of buyers/readers, and some percentage of those will leave reviews, but if we have learned anything over the past few years, it is that people are more likely to leave reviews when they do not like a book, or feel that they've been ripped off, than they are if they are simply satisfied with their purchase.
I wonder if this "garage-sale" mindset has influenced some of the writers I see on the KDP Forums, who say "well, I couldn't afford an editor, so I've published it, and if it sells a lot, then I'll pay for an editor to edit it." Or, "[s]ee, this is my first book, so, I've done as much as I can, I just thought I'd throw it up there and see what happens." It reminds me strongly of things I've actually said--about eBay, Craigslist and garage-sale items. "Well, I don't think that old bike of Bob's will sell, but I'll just throw it up there and see if I get any takers." And, for garage sale items, gifts you can't regift, etc., that's not a bad idea at all, because your unwanted goods may very well be someone else's treasure.
But the problem is, if an item like Bob's old bike doesn't sell, that failure won't taint my life as an eBay seller forever. My "experiment" simply doesn't sell. Same thing at a Garage Sale, or a Craigslist ad. But if you slap up a book before it's ready on Amazon, and it does poorly--or worse, gets scathing reviews because it was born before its time, that can taint your life as an author forever, particularly if you have more books already up for sale, or have some ready-to-go. Sure, you can change your nom-de-plume (and many have), but if you have a perfectly good name of your own to use, or if you really love that nom-de-plume you picked out, why abandon it in the dust?
Goodreads, Wattpad and Other CrittersIt seems that many writers today eschew the idea of writing buddies, writer's classes and writing/critique groups, as I've noted here before, using the readers of Amazon as their "critique group." I've never wrapped my head around that--I'd rather be humiliated in a small group than by dozens of strangers, for the eyes of possibly millions of people--but then I'm chicken that way. ;-) Maybe the feedback of people that they can't see, or don't have to see again, is somehow more palatable.
If that's the case, then, I'd highly recommend trying other platforms, to get a sense of whether your book is ready, before you make the big step of hitting the "publish" button. Goodreads seems to have a lively and thriving "Creative Writing" community that gives near-instant feedback on sample chapters (or your whole book, if you're feeling brave!). Wattpad, a free site, allows you to post almost anything for feedback. Wattpad is targeted at a younger audience--it has a lot of teens, but if you're writing YA, it's absolutely spot-on for your demographic. There are numerous online critique groups or Writer's Forums; I particularly like Holly Lisle's Writer's Bootcamps, which is for folks serious about becoming published, successful authors, and is moderated. And, of course, NO list of critique forums would be complete without The Critters Workshop, which is legendary. Scribd, I've personally found not that great...it seems to attract people looking for philosophical or political debate more than readers of genre fiction, if that's your "cuppa," as they say. But I'm sure that there are dozens more--if you leave a comment, leave a spot for up-and-comers to post their work for excellent feedback!
So, anyway: above and beyond Mom and Dad, and your friends, give your manuscript a whirl at one of these places first. You may have to shop a bit, to find a good fit--but the results are quite worth it. LJ knows more about Goodreads than I; I'm so busy at the shop, I don't get much of a chance to drop in over there, but I have seen some pretty damn fine creative writing in progress, and I've noted that some authors, like the fellow who wrote the very successful (in terms of fans and downloads and feedback) Harry Potter fanfiction books (the James Potter books) went on to do extremely well with his writing career, due to the fan-base he built, almost solely on Goodreads, which translated to his "for-sale" books at Amazon, etc.
And isn't that what we all want? For you, as an author, to do GREAT? You betcha.
For a total HOOT this week: http://lousybookcovers.tumblr.com/
This is a DO NOT MISS. It's the "CakeWrecks" of BookCovers.
I now visit it daily, for my daily grin, or even LOL. Seriously, don't miss it. I'll post other "bad cover" outlets on my next visit!