I'm reading a mystery that is exquisite in its writing, plotting, characterization, and I'm willing to bet that most people have never heard of it. Okay, he was a 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist for the book, so that's not a great bet.
I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts as a representative for a small publishing house, the organizer of a book festival, and the presenter of workshops on writing and publishing. I talk to publishers and agents and writers and readers. We agree that the technology boom that introduced the ease of self-publishing has created a segment of books that aren't crafted.
Crafted means the writer learned the mechanics of writing, spent time going through multiple revisions honing the elements of a well-told story, worked with an editor to get a fresh set of eyes on everything from the plot's structure to the placement of each comma.
As I read Lee Martin's The Bright Forever, I'm amazed by his skill and his art of storytelling.
When I read query letters from agents and aspiring writers, I'm less amazed by some of the samples pages submitted. I admit there are gems among the rocks, but just a few.
I guess it has always been that way. I cringe when I think of the things I submitted ten years ago. Then, self publishing was around, but it was very expensive – like $10,000 expensive. Today, a manuscript can be made into a book $300 - $4,999 depending on services the author buys.
These lower costs mean more people jump into self-publishing.
Why self-publish a novel?
You have a story you want to share that may not have a wide appeal, but is worth telling. Yes.
You wrote a manuscript, tried to query agents and publishers without success, and now want – really want – to have a finished product in your hand. Frustration in the process of traditional publishing is not the best reason to self-publish.
Writing is not about the physical book and informing your dry cleaner that you're a published author.
Writing is a verb. It's the process that is important. Results may vary, but an author must love writing.
The rush to publish is a waste of time, energy, and money.
Self-publishing companies decorate their websites with accounts of authors making millions and landing on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. Why? To entice an aspiring writer into the dream of fame and fortune, and to collect as many upfront fees as possible. IT'S A BUSINESS.
Readers become disillusioned by poorly-crafted novels. So, they tend to stick to the name-brands in novels because new authors have burned them in the past. That's a disservice to all serious writers.
Big names and personalities gather crowds. I see this at book festivals and conferences. The authors with cleavage, the 1970s sitcom actors, and the writers with the game show host personality draw crowds. The writer/craftsman sits alone. After the books are written, edited, and published, it's marketing – a completely different skill set than writing – that's important. So, yes, those highlighted CreateSpace authors may sell well.
I realize that not every writer produces a Pulitzer Prize finalist-worthy book – I know I don't. But I'm working on the craft by writing constantly.
For those of us who are not celebrities, not pretty or sexy, or not followed by 80,000 Twitter citizens, we stay in front of our computers, writing and searching out opportunities to improve our skills.
Today, I'm looking at ways to bring serious learning opportunities on the craft and art of writing. I'd love to hear where other authors struggle. Set aside the topics of publishing, marketing, selling books for a while – that's the business side. I want to learn more about the art of writing, because that's why I do this.