Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday Musings

New self-published writers are often advised to produce, produce, produce. The big-time SP gurus like Dean Wesley Smith, JA Kornrath, and John Locke heavily promote this idea. In some SP circles, unless you write four books a year, you're not a serious writer. Now this may just be sour grapes because I'm such a slow writer, but I think this advice is crazy. An author's economic future depends on sales, to be sure. But what are the hidden costs of factory-style creativity?

Back in the day, highly productive best-selling writers started out slowly, learning how to write, improving with every book. Stephen King, for example, first wrote short stories. Nora Roberts got her writing chops by publishing short category romances. But now there's immediate gratification through self-publishing. About 30,000 SP ebooks are uploaded to Amazon each month.

Many of self-published writers are great producers: The young man who announces the release of his very first book--part of a fantasy trilogy. A woman who has just published her eleventh romance book (in two years), which read like fanfic. A writer who is papering amazon with short stories, informing the amazon forums, "Good, bad or ugly, just get it out there. I figure I'm going to hit all sides of the market and like spaghetti on the wall, see what sticks." A young woman who aspires to write 11 books in her fiction series, and then sell licenses for writers who want to play in her universe.

A rapid publishing schedule can't improve writing skills. Writers need feedback during the process, not just after publication. And getting that feedback takes time. Beta readers, critique partners, and superb editors, can all point out flaws. With enough time between drafts, a writer can even recognize problems in her own work. Wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am style of writing is the same as working in a vacuum. Improvement is unlikely, no matter how economically appealing.

The hidden price of mass book production is author stagnation. But the ultimate cost to the self-publishing industry is more devastating. Crap books damage the reputation of SP. There are superior self-published books, but on average, they are pretty bad. With uploads increasing every month, the average quality of an SP book is going to get worse. When the novelty of the 99 cent SP ebook wears off, and everybody has a kindle or nook, readers will turn away from SP. It's a pyramid scheme. The authors who first published cheap ebooks will have reaped the financial rewards, but the newbies won't. Because readers, having been burned too many times, won't risk reading a random SP book again.

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