The Independent Reader

“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!

Daily Double: The End is Nigh!

They’re out there, oh yes they are, and I’ll bet you’ve seen them.  The less-traveled cable channels are full of them, especially in the middle of the night.  Nation-wide AM radio call-in shows?  Check!  Internet?  Try turning on a computer without a measured bombardment, I dare you!

Oh, I’m sorry, did I start in the middle? Allow me to clarify:

ARE YOU READY FOR THE COMING DEMISE OF THE DOLLAR?

I’m just a dumb secretary with an AA degree from a community college, but my billionaire boss just moved to a secret ranch in Outer Slobbovia after converting all his assets to one form of holding.  He survived the Great Depression, the Nasty Recession, the Unexpected Gold Plunge, and the Other Great Depression, and if you buy my book, I’ll disclose the secret method he used that will enable you to survive the Coming End of the World!

Now, this is brilliant, and I’m a bit ashamed that I didn’t think of it myself.  After all, I’ve lived my whole life in the US, where the politicians get elected by making up some perceived end-of-life-as-we-know-it that only they can fix, the military gets the new budget they want by reporting that our ideological opponents are just one circuit board away from rendering our armed forces impotent, where the auto industry has pretty much convinced us that it’s too dangerous to drive on public roads if you aren’t in an SUV that can go head-to-head with a Tiger tank.  How did it never occur to me to simply tell everyone that you’re going to die in poverty if you don’t buy my book?

Oh, wait a minute, because of my personal shortcoming, integrity.  I just can’t do it, largely because of the embarrassment I’m going to suffer when the sun rises tomorrow, and the only thing that’s different is that I now have some of your money.  And his, and his, and hers, and…  Hey, looks like I’m going to survive the coming recession, after all!  What are you going to do?

Okay, at this point, you’ll recognize that I’m tap dancing as I try to find a point to put on this ramble.  I’m just having some fun this evening, but I think the point I’ll make for you, the aspiring author, is to be careful!  Let me make this perfectly clear:  This is the Golden Age of the snake-oil salesman!  Those guys who went from town to town in the Old West, selling bottles of colored water from the back of a wagon could reach maybe a hundred people a week.  These guys today can reach a million people a nano-second, and from Deposed Nigerian Princes to Undercover Bank Auditors, they’re doing it; and they have their sights on you!

Breaking into writing is a tough prospect, and I don’t think I’m disclosing any secrets to anyone who has already tried their luck with the publishing industry.  Even if you’re destined to be the next J.K. Rowling, you’re going to experience rejections; in all likelihood, you’ll collect enough rejection slips to wallpaper your bedroom.  It’s the nature of the life we’ve chosen.  But some of the less scrupulous among us have chosen a different path.  They prey on young writers, new writers, some not so young, with stars in their eyes, and dreams in their heads, and they come calling.  They’re in your e-mail, they’re in your sidebar, they’re in your pop-ups and your blog comments.  Once they find out that you’re trying to market a book, they’re as relentless as ants at a picnic.  They’ll sell you this, they’ll sell you that, they’ll sell you that elusive success that’s just around the corner…  Only they won’t.  What they’ll sell you is a bill of goods that will never be delivered, and what it will cost you is every nickel they can wring out of you, and most of your dreams besides.

Don’t believe me?  I know how easy it is to be taken in by these hucksters, because I almost was myself.  They found me as I was shopping my first novel, Temple of Exile, around looking for a publisher.  They were so smooth they made butter look like sandpaper, and they might have caught me if their first request for money, for “editing” services, hadn’t been so far beyond my means.  I’m here now, an almost-victim, to try to help you avoid these predators.  And you don’t have to take my word for it.  Read what the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has to say about them.  It’s a fascinating read, but don’t go into it unless you have a few hours to spend.  Yeah, it’s that bad.

So that’s my post for this week.  There are, unfortunately, people out there, lots of them, who feel that they are somehow entitled to take your money and give you nothing for it, and they know that people with dreams are soft targets.  Knowledge is power, forewarned is forearmed, intelligence is victory, you guys are writers, you’ve heard them all.  They’re all true.  Educate yourselves, be smart, and don’t be a victim.  And until we meet again, let’s be careful out there!


This is the tenth and final post of my first-week blitz.  The tone of the site is established, and there’s enough material here to hold the attention of a new visitor for a while.  I am amazed at the turnout.  Writing this at 6:45 PM Pacific Time, the counter shows 145 visits, which is about three times what I would have considered a decent number.  There have been 26 Likes and 14 Comments, all of which I have enjoyed and appreciate greatly.  Two more Likes have been posted while I was typing these sentences, and nine of you have seen fit to follow my humble work.  I am in awe!

Commencing immediately, I am shifting to my normal schedule, which means I’ll be back with a full post next Thursday, although of course, should anything important arise, I’ll pass it along immediately.  And what will I be doing in the interim?  My plan tonight is to begin in earnest to assemble notes and the outline for the first story of The Darklighters, my Beyond the Rails sequel.  The Muse will have quite a bit to say about it as he always does, but rest assured that I’ll be working on something.  Drop me a line about anything at all, and we’ll talk.