“One of the dumbest things you were ever taught was to write what you know. Because what you know is usually dull. Remember when you first wanted to be a writer? Eight to ten years old, reading about thin-lipped heroes flying over mysterious viny jungles toward untold wonders? That’s what you wanted to write about, what you didn’t know.”
~ KEN KESEY
In Tara Sparling’s last post, she laments the dearth of original material in the new books being published, and well she should. I have long been lamenting the dearth of originality in movies, and the reasons are very much the same: The bottom line. It costs a blankety-blank fortune to make a movie, and the risk of not making a worthwhile return is just too great to face anymore; we’ve all heard of those movies that cost $100 million to make that only brought in $10 million at the box office. A big studio might survive that, but the people whose names are on those non-starters may never work in Hollywood again.
Books, fictional books at least, operate under very much the same immutable laws of economics. While I’m sure the cost of producing a book is far less than a movie, the publisher still has to sell enough copies to the reading public to make a decent return, and the audience for any given book is much smaller than that for a movie. Books are also consumed differently than movies. A movie aficionado might look at a mystery starring Brad Pitt, and decide to attend or not based on whether he wants to see that star in that genre; he may not know nor care who the director is. Many readers, on the other hand, have a stable of authors whose work they’ll buy, sight unseen, whenever they offer a new release. I myself, while I enjoy the work of certain actors, do not automatically attend every film one of those actors appears in, but every time R.A. Salvatore releases a Drizzt DoUrden novel, I’m first in line at Barnes & Noble. Why not Amazon? I don’t want to wait an extra week to be reading!
All of which stacks the deck against any new or obscure author trying to find his way into the hearts of these fans. If you aren’t already known, how do you get known? It’s Catch-22 brought to life: “You have to have experience to get this job.” So, how do you get experience?
If you are a recreational reader of fiction, I must then pose a simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For one very good reason. Originality. What was the last original movie you saw? Can’t think of one? That’s because no one is making them anymore. That’s why we’re inundated with remakes of old movies, reenvisionings of comic books, reboots of old TV shows, the unrecognizable retelling of old, popular books “brought to life” by the “magic of Hollywood,” and episode CCXLVII of the Big Space Saga. No one is willing to take the chance anymore that something might not have a built-in audience clamoring for tickets before it arrives in theaters.
Books have largely gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn’t follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many clones of Twilight, Fifty Shades, or Game of Thrones can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I’m going to tell you where to find them.
In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of convention, carefully scouring their submissions for yet another retelling of a done-to-death story, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you’ll remember long after the last Underworld Ring Games clone is moldering in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the true heirs to the tradition of storytelling.
Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn’t want to get involved with the “you do the work, and we’ll keep the money” attitude of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.
We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, “Enough of this! I’m sticking to the Big Five from now on.” That’s your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.
We all try new products every day. Whether it’s a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn’t do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, “I’m never using makeup again!” Of course we don’t. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that’s your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list.
How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren’t too many of them. A low rating isn’t a deal-breaker either, unless that’s all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the “Look Inside” feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can’t write, you won’t need much more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there’s the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we’re waiting to welcome you. Here are some names to get you started:
Raymond Esposito, David Lee Summers, C. William Perkins, Karen J. Carlisle, S.K. Anthony, C.P. Lesley, William J. Jackson, E.C. Jarvis, C.W. Hawes, Stephanie Kato, Sarah Zama, Kara Jorgensen, N.O.A. Rawle, Alice E. Keyes, Steve Moore, Ichabod Temperance, Bryce Raffle, Jonathan Fesmire, Maxwell Grantly, and of course, yours truly, Jack Tyler.
If you can’t find something to engage your imagination on that list, you really just don’t want to read. Try something new and exciting. Come take a ride!