The Publishing Bitch-Slap: Porn Novels Have Ruined the Literary Marketplace

X-rated

Consider this scenario:

5 young men wake up one morning and decide they want to form a band and record a record. They have never played a musical instrument or written any songs before, but since they have listened to music their entire lives they are pretty sure they can learn how to do it all.

They spend 4 weeks learning the basic chords and functions of their instruments and can play those chords well, but they have no idea how to string those chords together into music. They know nothing about harmony or melody, nothing about the recording business, nothing about laying down tracks or how to mix the different instruments into a single track.

Despite this, they buy some recording software and record an album, without the benefit of a professional recording studio or the behind-the-scenes professionals that help create a quality album, opting instead to do everything themselves or hire “friends” who know a little bit about the process. Two months later, the album is complete and they start selling it on every available outlet that will allow them to sell it as an indie title. How do you think the record would sound, as opposed to those albums recorded by musicians who have not only spent years mastering their art, but who had an entire team of professionals who knew how to create, mix, and produce a quality product?

Let’s take this a step further. Imagine now that this band starts sending this record out to every small radio station and blog it can find. Under normal circumstances, it would never get a single spin. It would end up in the trash bin because it did not come close to meeting industry standards.

But now imagine that this record and the band gather a fan base. Small at first, but word of mouth spreads. Soon it’s all anyone is talking about.  It’s all over social media. So many people are tweeting about it that more and more people rush out to buy the album just to see what everyone is talking about. It’s not that it is particularly good, but with so many people talking, the curiosity alone sustains it. Soon the band and their album are being covered by magazines and blogs, it’s went from small town basement radio stations to national radio stations. It’s hitting the charts, outranking bands that have been playing music for years.

THIS is what it feels like to be a veteran author in today’s market. I can think of no other way to describe it, when someone who just woke up one morning and decided they wanted to be a writer and two months later upload a poorly edited, literary train wreck to Amazon and then demand the same respect and success as those artists who have spent YEARS of their lives honing their craft, learning the business, and sitting at the feet of their mentors taking notes. They have allowed their work, a piece of their soul, to be ripped apart because, even though it hurts, they KNOW that only by listening to those with more experience than they, can they truly become a better writer.

After 3 DECADES spent writing, I still do not consider myself to be anywhere near the same league as the greats of my generation (Rice, Crichton, Cook), yet I see authors who have literally pushed our 6 novellas in as many months with questionable writing ability act as if they are some great smut Tolstoy. So when you wonder why authors who have spent years learning how to create solid plot lines and rich, well-rounded characters , those who agonize over each word put to paper, those who edit and rewrite mercilessly, those who painstakingly go over each and every word of the manuscript for plot holes, get all bent out of shape over the likes of FSOG, it is because we feel like we have been virtually bitch-slapped by the entire industry.

It’s like being a doctor, spending all that time in school learning the trade, and suddenly that knowledge no longer applies because anyone who took health class in elementary school can now be a doctor … or a lawyer … or a teacher. You get the idea. Just because the usual gates that normally would keep out those without the technical know-how came crashing down doesn’t mean everyone who had a notion to do something should go out and do it now that they can. Just because you sing in the shower doesn’t mean you should start booking concerts and performing in front of people.

In other words, just because anyone CAN be a writer now, doesn’t mean everyone IS a good writer. It takes lots of practice to get good at anything. So exactly why do people think the very first thing they slapped into a word document is worthy of publication?

Veteran authors’ disdain for FSOG and the inevitable pile of porn it has encouraged has nothing to do with envy of success, but everything to do with the level of professionalism we expect not only from ourselves, but from our fellow writers. We feel since we care so much about our readers and providing a well-written tale, everyone else should as well. So while the likes of FSOG may have been wildly successful, it bears repeating E. L. James’s lack of technical mastery is a fact that should have barred the manuscript from ever reaching an editor’s desk.

It Only Takes ONE

For the last three years, the VP of my department at my Evil Day Job has been forwarding newsletters from motivational speaker Jon Gordon. Every time one of these newsletters comes into my email box, I eagerly read it from beginning to end. While most of what Jon writes and speaks about does not translate well into the publishing world, I always strive to find that one kernel of truth that holds even in this fickle industry. In fact, Jon’s ideas and words of wisdom have sparked more than a few blog posts of my own, and today’s is no different.

I have noticed a very distinct increase in the number of self-published “writers” over the past two years. I have only to scroll through my FaceBook newsfeed to see that approximately half of the 4000 people on my friends’ list considers themselves a writer, most of which have at least one novel self-published through Amazon or are working on their first novel that they plan to self-publish. One would think that being around that many creative minds would be conducive to helping a writer stay on track and do what they do best – write.

Unfortunately, as I have discovered so many times in the past, being around writers is actually counterproductive for a lot of us. We tend to measure our own successes by how much other writers have accomplished. It’s disheartening for most of us. Who wouldn’t be discouraged when they have a half-dozen projects going at once with no tangible goal other than to actually get one of them finished sometime in the next six months, while their newsfeed is filled with writers who have churned out their fifth book in as many months. Sure, we all know that we shouldn’t measure our own successes by those of others’, especially when we know what type of quality most of these “writers” are producing.  But when you are bombarded by this information in virtually every other post in your newsfeed, it makes it extremely difficult to not feel at least the tiniest twinge of inadequacy creeping in.

Then today, I had this wonderful piece of advice from Jon fill my inbox, and I realized that what I have been telling other writers for so many years still rings just as true not only in the writing world, but in the business world as well:

Sell without selling out. Focus more on your core principles and customer loyalty than short term commissions and profits.

 

For years I have told budding young authors that they don’t want to write a word-vomit book, the self-published equivalent of a mercenary writer, those writers who focus more on quantity than quality. A word-vomit book is just that, a book that someone vomited words onto a page without so much as a single rewrite and little to no edits.  These types of books are generally seen the most in categories that contain a propositionately  larger number of sales than other categories, such as erotica. These types of writers will churn out large quantities of sub-par reading material in an attempt to keep a steady stream of royalties in their bank account. These types of writers rarely make any type of real name for themselves.

As I like to say, such writers are “selling out” their readers by offering them mediocre plotlines when they could have just as easily spent the required time to polish it to perfection. Consider this, Harper Lee only ever published one book in her life, and that book has become one of the single most read books of all time. It is a timeless classic, required reading material in half of the nation’s schools and banned by the other half. That is no small feat, especially these days. And while no one may know the author’s name, they have most definitely heard of the book.

I remember a fellow author friend posting on FB that in this day and age, a writer cannot just produce one book a year and expect to make any money. You have to keep churning out dozens of books to keep your name out there.

I find so many faults in this statement. It only takes ONE really great book to make a name for yourself in the writing world. And you have to ask yourself, do you want to be remembered for producing thirty mediocre books, or for producing that one book that is read for generations to come, the type of story and characters that stay with your readers regardless of how many other books they read? There are over 1.5 billion English speaking readers on this planet. You will make more money by selling one really great book to a few million of them than you will trying to market dozens of crap-tacular books that will only sell a few dozen copies each at most.

This is another reason why I love this wonderful piece of positive wisdom. So many writers are focused only on getting the next book out, to do a massive launch and sell as many books as they can the first week or two. And once they see their sales start to tank, they immediately start writing the next mediocre piece of word vomit and wonder why no one outside of their base 100 fans are buying. It never occurs to them that there are literally MILLIONS of readers out there that have yet to be exposed to their works. And if they did not spend the time and energy to produce the absolute best piece of literary work they are capable of, it does not matter how many books they produce, it only takes a reader getting hold of just ONE badly written book and they will never read another book by that author again.

The good news is that it only takes a reader getting hold of just ONE really great book by an author to keep that reader coming back again and again, even if it does take you a year to produce your next book. It is for this reason that while I continue to write and do a bit of marketing for each new release, I only really do heavy marketing for ONE of my books. Those who already know about my work stay in touch and eagerly snatch up the next release, but for those who have yet to discover my vivid imagination, I try to captivate them with only ONE book, and once they take a look around, they will see that I offer a wide range of books and adventures.

It only takes one. This is my motto for everything. It only takes ONE good book to make a name for myself. It only takes ONE reader talking about my book to spread the word. And it only takes ONE badly written book to turn off a reader forever.

My advice to authors is to start using this same philosophy. Stop trying to churn out an endless stream of sub-par books. Concentrate on creating just ONE really awesome book, and market that book far and wide. And once that ONE book has become a household name, you can start working to make another one of your books into a household name. Keep writing, and treat all your books as if it is going to be that ONE truly great book. When you do this, one day you will realize that you have a half-dozen really great books, and any ONE of them can help cement your name in the history books.

Why I Quit FaceBook: What You are REALLY Getting in a Self-Published Book

Back in 2005 I began researching the self-publishing industry. I spent more than 15 years trying to get some of my first books published through traditional publishing companies. I racked up more rejection letters than I can count, had more than my fair share of well-meaning editors tell me that I might want to rethink a career as a writer, and for good reason. The first three novels that I wrote were utter crap, and editors were not afraid to tell me as much. I’ve had my soul crushed on numerous occasions, but through it all I kept writing, because I knew that the only way that I was going to improve as a writer was to practice the skill.

And so I did practice. I not only wrote three novels before I turned 25, but I also wrote countless term papers, an endless chain of book reports and composition papers for high schoolers and college goers alike. I joined several RPGs back in 2004 and, after nearly a decade of only scribbling down a few notes and trying desperately to breathe life back into those first few horrendous books of mine, books that I finally realized there was absolutely no hope for, I once again found myself enjoying the art of writing. At the urging of several thousand readers on my social networking page, I began researching self-publishing, and after two years of reading everything that I could on the subject and weighing the pros and cons, in 2008 I decided that I would at least give it a try.

Back then there were only a very small number of self-published authors and only a handful of true self-publishing venues to choose from. Most people had never heard of the phrase “print-on-demand,” much less knew what it meant or how it worked to an author’s advantage. And self-publishing back then was not the easy “upload and click publish” walk-through-the-park that it is today. It was old-school publishing, where everything had to be formatted perfectly in order for your file to be accepted by the POD. You didn’t have a few dozen fonts to choose from, the POD companies only accepted about 3 fonts and you had to spend days reading through forums and self-help PDF files buried on their sites to figure out what those few acceptable fonts were and how to embed them into your file. You had to learn about the different sizes of books, what mirror margins were, what a gutter was, and what it meant for your cover art to “bleed” when creating the file. It could take you weeks of playing around with the formatting of the file before you finally got the company to accept the file, and then if there was anything wrong once the file was converted, you had to delete the file and start all over again. It was torture. These days all it means to be an author is that you figured out how to upload a WORD file and stock photo to Amazon. When I first started, you actually had to learn how to format the entire interior of the file before you could upload it.

So all the annoyances aside of those early days into the indie publishing realm aside, to boost sales I also posted excerpts of my stories and novels on an adult site. I did that for about six years, slowly building up a reader base of several million readers. Towards the end, around 2012 or so, the site was being trolled so badly that I simply could not stomach going to the site. All the little wannabe writers had learned to game the system, figured out how to create an unlimited number of accounts and up-vote their works to the point where any author who wasn’t willing to stoop to their levels was quickly buried beneath all the utter shit writings that polluted the story site. Needless to say, I was not one of the authors who was willing to stoop to their levels. So I left the site, disgusted that the owners of the site allowed such behavior to go unchecked.

I am a damn good writer because I have spent more than 3 DECADES honing my skill. I have been ripped apart by some of the best editors and publishing houses out there, been rejected by all the major players and hundreds of the minors as well. I took their harsh criticism with a smile on my face and a thank you on my lips, listened to their advice, and spent years honing my skills and writing style. I have EARNED my right as a legitimate author through decades of practice, which is why it pisses me to no end to see my facebook list filled with wannabe writers who cannot string a complex sentence together without leaving out the proper punctuation and misspelling half the words in the damn sentence. I am tired of these people whining and complaining about readers who leave them bad reviews. If you can’t handle the criticism, then don’t publish. It’s as simple as that. Don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t send your damn little facebook fuck-buddies to harass the reader because you would rather spend your time and energy trying to figure out a way to screw more unsuspecting readers out of their hard-earned money than improve your skills as a writer. That is not fair to the readers nor to the other writers who actually give a damn about their reputation as a writer and put forth a whole hell of a lot of effort to provide their readers with the absolute best product they can write.

I am fed up with “Amazon bestselling author” being a new catch-phrase that these idiot writers keep using to screw readers out of a few bucks. And I cannot even begin to tell you how revolting it is to be put into the same category as these people. I take pride in my work, I do dozens upon dozens of rewrites and edits, my work goes through as many as 6 professional editors before it goes up for publication, and about once a year I send items that have already been published BACK to editors to fine-tune them even more. I am a professional writer, I produce a professional piece of work, but these days, when you one-click that indie book, chances are you are getting little more than a pile of word-vomit from someone who slapped down the first thing that came to their minds and then uploaded it to Amazon.

But my unhappiness with FaceBook and the hordes of first-time writers isn’t my only gripe. Just like that site I used to post to, a huge chunk of the writers on my friends list have learned to game Amazon’s ranking system as well. They are creating multiple accounts to post fake reviews or having all their family and friends post fake reviews for them. I can name you more than a dozen websites where you can buy a scripted review for a few bucks. There are dozens of so-called ‘review’ groups on FB alone where people will sign up and post any review the author wants on Amazon in exchange for a free copy of said book. And if you don’t want to get blacklisted from the group, you had better NOT post anything less than the required minimum star rating that the authors demand. The sheer amount of groups and websites that have sprung up that allows authors to fake their way to a high-ranking on Amazon is utterly disgusting. And readers are falling for it, bad writing and all. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter HOW much spit and polish you put on a turd because, at the end of the day, it’s still a turd. And there are now so many turds floating around Amazon that the entire site has become nothing more than a giant sewer filled to the top with one piece of word-vomit novel after another.

I’ve also had my fill with so many writers having pity-parties every few days. I’ve had one hell of a difficult childhood filled with physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. But you don’t see me posting about it on FB to drum up a few sympathy sales. And just because I write steamy books and shorts doesn’t mean I have to cyber with half my friends list and then wonder why my significant other left me. I’ve seen some writers on FB act like bigger whores than prostitutes on the side of a New York street corner. Acting like a douche-bag and lying to get more readers isn’t the right way to get known as a writer. What it WILL do is cause you to lose the support of those decent writers who value their reputation as a quality writer who strives to only put forth their absolute best work.

So I decided to make a change. Just like I cut out that other writing site from my life, I am now cutting out all the negativity from my FB life as well. I simply cannot sit by and keep biting my tongue any time I see one of these truly horrific writers post a book teaser filled with mistakes. I am not going to keep suppressing my sheer disgust with writers who keep claiming to be BEST SELLERS when their ranking is lower than mine and their name has never ONCE hit the ‘Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store’ list on Amazon. I am no longer going to literally pull my hair out whenever I see one particularly bad writer whore it up on Amazon and see his little harem giggle themselves silly whenever he starts talking about doing a live naked chat with his readers. I have tried ignoring these sorry excuses for writers, I have managed to NOT tell their readers that if they seriously think these are good books than they are flaming morons because honestly, it isn’t the readers’ fault. They have been conditioned to think that if there are dozens of positive reviews sitting on a book and the same dozen fake FB accounts keeps posting stupid-ass comments like “Yesss! That was soooo hot!” to such utter shit as “My dick would like to say hello to her kitty” then this author and his work MUST be good and popular, right?

WRONG!! FUCKING WRONG!! It doesn’t make it the book good or the writer a good writer just because you have a few dozen “people” talking about it anymore than it made “50 Shades” or “Twilight” good books. It’s the complex social behavior behind it that made everyone flock to it, the ‘herd mentality’ if you will. When you are put into a group where everyone is saying the same thing, you don’t want to be that one person who doesn’t agree for fear of rejection by the group, so you go along with it. Same thing is happening with these wannabe writers, just like it did with “50 Shades” and ‘Twilight.” They have their little clique filled with who are more than willing to harass the fuck out of anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

As a writer, as much as I would LOVE to tell these idiots how fucking bad they are as writers and that they really should pull that shit down from Amazon before they embarrass themselves further, I simply can’t BECAUSE of the herd mentality. So I have done the next best thing. As of today, I have started removing a LOT of these so-called authors from my friends list. I figure if I cannot support them as a writer then there is no need to have them on my friends list. I do NOT want to stoop to their level to make sales. I refuse to buy, beg, or trade reviews, I will not start posting half-naked pics of myself online and cyber-sexing with my readers in the comments section of my Fb posts, and I will not claim to be a best-selling author just to try to convince readers that they should buy my books.

What I will say is that 30 years of writing has made me a decent author, that I pride myself on producing the absolute best story that I can. I won’t say that my writing style and storylines are for everyone, but there is a reason why I have less than a 1% return rate on my books, and it’s not because I slapped up some word porn onto Amazon and then lied to my FB friends about being a best-selling author. I’ve tried mentoring these young ‘writers’ and have basically had them spit in my face. If you cannot be bothered to at least try to learn and practice your craft and show respect for those of us who have been in the business way longer than you have, then I simply cannot support you any longer. And it’s not because I think I am such a better writer, it’s because I have come to expect so much more from myself and other professional authors.

Writing Forums: Yes, It’s a Popularity Contest

Any writer who has spent more than a few hours on a writing forum will quickly realize that your talent has nothing to do with how well your stories are received, how many reads you get, how well your ratings will be, or the type of comments you will receive.  As much as it sucks, you could write something to rival Anne Rice, Stephen King, and J. K. Rowling and STILL have your work rate very low, have people tell you that you suck as a writer, and not receive 1/10 of the reads that the top-rated story has, even if that story sounds like it was written by a ten-year-old.

It totally sucks, but writing forums boil down to a giant popularity contest.  Unlike real life, though, it is not necessarily the “who” that is popular so much as it is the “what” that is the flavor of the day.  For example, XN caters to a very specific group of readers.  They are looking for instant gratification in their adult literature.  The more vulgar it is, the more taboo the subject, the better the response.  The readers apparently do not care anything about stories which are well written, well thought out, and have actual storylines and character development.  

Even though I know this, it is still very disheartening to have my hard work butchered and torn apart by readers who have absolutely no idea or appreciation for the amount of hard work and effort that goes into creating the type of erotic fantasy that I enjoy writing.  And despite this, I still post on this site.  I know that if I would take all of the sex scenes out then I would be able to post on other writing sites, but I refuse to jump through hoops and rewrite something that I like just to try to get a few more reads.  Being forced to change who I am as a writer and consequently the writing itself is the very reason why I have turned down mainstream publication offers and chose to go the self-publishing route. 

I know that I could have other options if I changed my genre of writing.  I know that posting on XN will result in my stories being trolled by mean-spirited readers and consistently rated down by jealous writers.  I know that members of the site are not looking for anything that has any type of thought and creativity behind it.  One has only to see all the “That was so hot!  You are a great writer!  I want more!” comments on seriously pathetic attempts at writing to know that most of the members and readers that frequent that site would not know a decent piece of written work if it bit them on their asses. 

This goes back to that whole “popularity” thing again.  If it’s a really badly written piece from a writer who has gotten a “following” because his brain-dead readers seem to think his vulgarity is a rare treasure, then they will continue to follow him around as if he were a literary god.  If it’s a wretched piece of text that jumps straight into an adult situation with no mention of the characters or how they came to be in this situation, then it will be praised and voted up.  Decent pieces of writing, those with thought and character development, coherent storylines and intriguing plot twists, will, inevitably, be voted to the bottom of the pile thanks to under-handed people who want to pretend they are writers by slapping a bunch of crap onto their computers and then post it on a site that has absolutely no literary standards what-so-ever.  Yeah, it’s the only place that would take their mindless drivel.  Most writing forums have standards.

Yet I choose to stay.  If I could find other sites* that allowed graphic violence and adult themes and situations then I would happily post on said site(s).  Until then, I will continue to put up with the trolls and oceans of mediocre writing that is XN.  In the meantime, I feel that each positive vote, each encouraging comment, each additional read is another small victory for the few decent writers that still cling to some ray of hope that XN will eventually stop catering to all the bad writers and mean trolls and start appreciating all the talented writers who give their writing genius to the site FOR FREE.  But it’s a choice that I stand by.  Sure, I’m not popular.  I will probably never be one of the “popular” writers.  But I’m betting that if any of my works ever hit the mainstream publication circuits I’d be a pretty damn big hit.  Of course, that maybe because in my own mind, I am already popular!

*If anyone knows of any good writing forums/sites that allows adult content with graphic violence, allows the writer to retain all copyrights, and does not require an act of congress to join, please feel free to let me know.  I have tried 4chan, fictionpress, Lit., Lush, SOL, wattpad, booksie, and a bunch of others that I can’t remember at this time.