Whither Originality?

We can’t constantly tell stories of heroes. We have to hear the other stories, too, about people in dire straits who make bad choices.”

~ REBECCA HALL

I can remember a time long ago when every time I went to a movie, it was a new experience. The same with books. When you bought a book, you expected to be transported to a fantastical world like you’d never seen before. That time, sadly, is gone, and it has been for a long time. We have entered a world where innovative entertainment is shunned and disparaged, treated like a perversion that makes you weird if you like it. Publishers and studios are on epic quests to find and publish the latest example of the Last Big Thing. So, how many retellings of vampire romance are you up for? Dominant billionaires? Star Rebellions?

Movies I can understand. You can’t make a movie cheap anymore. The sad fact is that to make a solid action flick or a period piece can cost $100,000,000, and if it doesn’t return something close to twice that in sales, it could bankrupt a studio. Look at John Carter; it’s unlikely that any studio other than Disney could have absorbed that loss and survived, so I get it. That doesn’t mean I like it any better, but I get it.

Books are another matter. The traditional publishing industry bears no resemblance to what your grandfather would have recognized. Gone are copy editors, or even acquisition editors. Independent agents who earn their living from their percentage of a book’s royalties are expected to bring them print-ready manuscripts, proofed and edited, and ready to sell. I’ve heard that they expect their authors to do most of their own marketing these days as well. If all that is true, that all the work is done for them before they ever see the manuscript (and I don’t deal with them, so it’s all hearsay), what’s the source of their fear? Perhaps fear isn’t the word; perhaps it’s greed.

Whatever the case, the effect is the same. The Big Publishers are like self-proclaimed explorers turning over flagstones in the middle of town, hoping to unearth some great discovery in a place where millions of feet have already trodden. If you, as a reader, want to see something original, something that hasn’t already been done to death, you need to venture out of town, off the familiar streets, out onto the plains and into the mountains beyond. You need to get out past the edge of the map to where those authors who are beholden to no profit-based publisher, who dance to their own tune, who can’t be coerced by the threat of non-publication to change their vision to align with someone else’s ply their trade.

These explorers are independent authors. Self-published visionaries whose impresses are CreateSpace, Kindle, or Kobo. These people write stories that aren’t copies of someone else’s success, they build plots that take turns no traditional publisher would allow, and their characters are, well, characters! Of course, if you’re patient, you can stay in the middle of town; ten years from now, the Big Publishers will move into these strange lands that the indies have already moved beyond, and thump their chests while loudly claiming to have created a whole new genre. But if you’re a reader of indies, you’ll know better.

There are those who will warn you off of indies. Maybe they’ve gotten hold of a lousy self-published novel and now they’ve sworn off indies for life. So what? Who among us can say we’ve never gotten hold of a lousy book from a Big Publisher? Modern websites offer previews of almost every book they sell, and you don’t need more than a couple of paragraphs to know whether the author has the skill level you’re looking for. So there are no excuses for that assumption anymore. If you’re prejudiced against indies, fine, that’s your right, but don’t try to make it sound like it’s all the indies’ fault, because there are some damned good writers out here writing stories like you’ve never seen, with engaging characters, well-developed plots, and storylines that will leave you breathless. That’s what I’m trying to bring you in my Thursday “Edge of the Map” feature.

But don’t take my word for it. Look, the world of self-publishing is moving fast. Maybe it’s a world you haven’t been introduced to yet. If that’s the case, allow me to introduce you to William Jackson, David Lee Summers, Karen Carlisle, and C.W. Hawes . . . and even Jack Tyler. These folks have a story to tell you, more than one, in fact, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they could win you over to a point where you’d support indies for life.

I should point out that during the course of this past week, I got the first six chapters of Broken English posted in the tabs above. The pace will slow down until I’m finished, as from this point forward, the remaining seven chapters need to be transcribed by hand, but if you’re interested in seeing what I did in my first and only foray into the crime drama, dive in and see what you think.

BREAKING NEWS! The astute among you will have noticed that you can no longer access Possession of Blood.ย  That is because I am in talks with a small, specialty publisher who has expressed an interest in publishing that story, and any follow-ons I may be able to produce. We are in very preliminary discussions, and I’m not offering any details for obvious reasons, but should they pick it up, it would be my first book that I haven’t self-published, and would fulfill a life-long dream. Wish me luck!

Other Voices . . .

Tara Sparling, my favorite Irish satirist, looks at how Brexit can be expected to affect the books being written and read in the British Isles. Well worth a look, as is all of her material.

Jefferson Smith of Creativity Hacker announces the launch of a new YouTube series consisting of fun and unusual readings from his books. He admits that even he doesn’t know what that means right now, but knowing Jefferson, it should be entertaining.

My old friend Alice E. Keyes, who’s been away from blogging for a year, returns with an update, including news of her new posting (her husband is in the Diplomatic Corps). If you haven’t known Alice before, stop in and get acquainted.

Astronomer David Lee Summers talks about his work at Kitt Peak, and how it informs his writing, in his latest post at The Dead Planet. Fascinating stuff.

Writers Helping Writers, always a good source to reference for quality writing advice, looks at chapter hooks, and what you can learn from television shows.

Independent author C.W. Hawes has embarked on a series to spotlight excellent writers you’ve probably never heard of, and this week his attention is focused on Andy Graham’s An Angel Fallen.

Andrew Bloom of Classic Film Jerks joins the Nerd Lunch crew for another installment of Down the Rabbit Hole. They have no theme this time, but just go where Wikipedia’s links take them. This podcast is hard to describe, so just click in and join the fun; you may find yourself with a new guilty pleasure!

Author Phoebe Darqueling is on installment 4 of her series on things to see when you visit Paris. This issue is about the Botanical Gardens, and even if you never intend to visit the City of Lights, the photos accompanying this post are well worth lengthy perusal.

Michael May ofย Michael May’s Adventure Blog is joined by his son David on a regular feature of the blog, Dragonfly Ripple, in which they take an in-depth look at 2011’s Thor.

Karen J. Carlisle, author of steampunk, Victorian, and fantasy stories, has a Patreon account for those wishing to follow her activities. It is quite inexpensive if you’d like to take a look, and she makes videos for her followers; one was just released, and announced here with details.

Sarah Zama, an author enamored with the Roaring Twenties, offers a book review of Zen Cho’s The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. Enjoyable reading, and an excellent chance to meet a talented writer.

There is little peripheral activity of greater value to a writer than good editing, and it is my privilege to be friends with one of the best. Join Lynda Dietz for an only partly comedic look at the admonition against using contractions in “serious” literature.

Photographer Richard Schulte also loves to write little slice-of-life short stories, and he has added another gem to his portfolio with One Lone Candle. Be sure to take five minutes to broaden your horizons with this one.

Sandy, or Doris the Great (see blog for more information), a Newfoundlander enjoying the tail-end of summer, has posted about a wonderful nature hike she took recently. There are pictures and some interesting text describing them; a nice relaxing side trip in the midst of all this heavy reading.

Novelist C.P. Leslie showcases an interview with fellow author Karen Brooks concerning Karen’s latest period piece, The Locksmith’s Daughter, an Edwardian novel of a lady spy. Looks like some good reading here.

Kyanite Publishing, LLC is seeking horror authors to join its ranks. They seek works of 15,000 words and up, and offer traditional contracts with royalties, editing, design, marketing, the works. Could be a great opportunity for the budding horrorsmiths on my reading list, and there are some other categories they support as well, so if you’re looking to get your foot in the door of traditional publishing, the link is just a few lines up. Don’t miss this opportunity!

And that’s 30 for this issue. Be with me Thursday for the latest list of promos; I’ve already found some beauties, and with four days left, who knows what might turn up? I’ll see you then. Read well, and write better!

 

Buy these fine books at Amazon.com.

14 thoughts on “Whither Originality?

    1. Thank you, Richard! We’ll see where that goes. Like I said, everything is very preliminary right now. I hope my humble mentions are driving some traffic your way as well.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Icky, and welcome back! I’m glad you enjoyed my article! I had to think a bit over whether to include your work in the body of the post, and I risked not doing it because as you point out yourself, your stories are a bit off the beaten path, an acquired taste if you like. Now that you’ve commented, it works out perfectly!

      Folks, Icky writes some off-beat material, and recommending it to an indie-virgin would be like throwing The Watchmen at someone who’s never read The X-Men, but if you like your fiction strange and unique, by all means, visit Icky on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Ichabod-Temperance/e/B00J71862M?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1537116172&sr=8-1 ~ Tell ‘im the Blimprider sent you!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for the shoutout, Jack. Much appreciated.

    I do have one correction, though. John Carter was not actually a loss for Disney. It actually made approximately a 75 million dollar profit worldwide. The problem was that was a much slimmer profit than Disney wanted for the movie. Arguably, that happened because of Disney’s own advertising campaign that was so abysmal it was as though Disney was trying to make the movie fail.

    My main point here is that society has fallen into a kind of madness that says “too small a profit is just as bad as a loss.” The reason this has happened is that for any big company, if profits are too low, they fear investors will leave, driving stock prices down, and that will represent a loss.

    This, though, really goes back to your main point. It means big corporations are so hungry for profits that they will take very few chances on anything that’s an unknown. And it’s a greed so pervasive that we’re changing language to match this warped sensibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. David, welcome back! It’s always a pleasure to see you around here, even when you disagree. Let’s talk Carter. I didn’t research that one sentence (and shame on me!) because you are the first person I’ve ever heard suggest that Carter made any sort of profit. So I did some after-the-fact research using the source footnoted below, and found that Carter cost $250 million to make with another $100 million spent on advertising and promotion. The source cited was published in 2012, contemporary with the movie, and projected a loss of $200 million. World wide box office over a longer period has certainly helped, but using contemporary figures, it would suggest that DVD and Blu-ray sales may be about to bring it to the break-even point . . . And even that doesn’t take into account that box office has to be split approximately 50-50 with theater operators. The same article estimates the break-even point to be $600 million in sales.

      Now, I’m not here to argue with you, and any good scientist will recognize that I’m simply defending my thesis. The same article does go on to mention the effect of skittish investors. It may be safe to conclude, in any case, that while the movie has made up much ground over a period of years, the loss in its first quarter of release would quite likely have sunk any other studio, and it goes a long way to explain why studios are reluctant to take any risks at all. But books? The Big Five or Six (depending on who you ask) have moved all the risks onto the author and his agent, and still don’t want to give us anything but the 27th iteration of Twilight, or Fifty Shades of Clones. It goes from puzzling to disgusting after a while.

      But, thank you for joining in. This is the kind of discussion I’m dreaming about when I’m preparing these articles, and you’ll always have a reserved seat at this particular forum!

      SOURCE: https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Latest-News-Wires/2012/0320/John-Carter-Movie-to-lose-200-million-among-biggest-Hollywood-flops-ever

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can’t argue the numbers — I only did a quick look at the cost and profit cited at IMDB, which is where I got the 75 million profit figure. There could well be more to this picture. Like statistics, profit and loss figures can be cooked to justify almost any point of view. I don’t think either of us have access to Disney’s actual books to figure out how it really did.

        Whether or not this specific case is true, I believe my bottom line point is valid. We have developed an almost Orwellian language of profit that says “small profit=loss.” I think we have to be careful about letting companies sell us on this mindset because it’s a close cousin to “only big profits matter.” That, in turn, can be a subtle way of saying the only things we should pay attention to are things that make big profits — such as movies from major studios and books from the big five publishers.

        The power of the Indies is that we can take chance and for us, even small profits can be a good motivation to try writing something different. It will pay big dividends to the readers who discover an Indie who took a chance with a cool new idea.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for yet another shoutout! Appreciate it.

    Being independent means freedom. Working for the man means slavery. I hope you can get a good contract that minimizes the slavery and maximizes the freedom.

    And just an FYI, tomorrow “The Stone Seekers” will be book of the week on my Facebook page (also on Twitter) and I will have a more extended review on Tuesday’s blog. Spread the word! Let’s get you some sales and reviews! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by to classy-up the joint! It’s always my pleasure to support my friends, especially when they’re supporting me; I can’t wait to see your treatment of The Stone Seekers.

      The publisher interested in Possession of Blood, or more accurately, its parent series, The Nexus Chronicles, is a small imprint with several “branches,” in the case of my story, horror. I have become interested in the genre recently (which at my age means a year or so ago), wrote Possession, then set it aside to pursue another angle. Should I get a reasonable contract, it will certainly become my main focus probably for life, not to say I won’t divide my time among some other things I want to do for fun. As a writer with a hobbyist’s mindset, I don’t feel the need to get rich and famous; that part of the dream died with my 20s. But to be published by a professional house would be the check-mark on a bucket list item that has been on that list for half a century. The dream now is that I can have a friendly and long-lasting relationship with these guys that benefits us both. Of course, they haven’t even read the full manuscript yet, just my teaser, so even dreaming is probably getting ahead of myself, but I’ll update developments as they occur. Stay tuned . . .

      Like

  3. It definitely seems like the world is lacking original content. Even literature seems to flow in trends. It’s true that a large quantity of original ideas are coming from indie authors, yet major publishers don’t want to take a chance for some reason. I guess they want to play it safe. In the end, it’s always about money. However, original content would probably generate more sales and they should think about that part. P.S. I hope everything works out with the small publisher! Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Steff! I don’t know where the originality has gone, but it’s made more painful by the fact that I’m old enough to remember it. As you say, it has to be about the money. Thanks for the good wishes. I wouldn’t object to having a publisher, of course, I’m fine with not having one, too, so I guess it’s a no-lose situation.

      Thanks for stopping by; don’t be a stranger!

      Like

    1. Ah, yes, an interesting tale. An odd length at 150-some pages, but the subject cries out to become a series. I’ll put it on Thursday’s book list, and see whether we can help you get some traction. Good hearing from you, old friend. Don’t be a stranger!

      Like

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