Facebook Bestsellers and the Death of Writing

Writing is dying a very slow, painful death at the hands of self-publishing.

Actually, that’s not entirely true.

Self-publishing alone isn’t killing Great Writing, though it has set the bar increasingly low.  Facebook Bestsellers are what’s killing Great Writing.

Let me explain:

A Facebook Bestseller is a book that ends up on the Amazon Top 20 list, or something, due entirely to the Clicks of thousands of FB “Friends”.  Usually they’re derivative, repetitive, absolutely painful, damn near unbearable, poorly written pieces of crap.  If you can make it through the Free Sample without screaming out loud or falling into fits of laughter, I applaud  your strong constitution.  I can’t.  I’ve tried.

And you can spot a Facebook Bestseller pretty easily.  Take a look at a handful of those couple hundred five star reviews.  Do they read something like “OMG, this was SOOOO good!”, “Loved this SOOOO much”, or “YES! Another winner”?  If so, then it was probably written by someone who A) hasn’t read the book, but B) wants to show their support for their FB “Friend”.

Now, go ahead and take a look at those few, very brave One Star reviews.  You know, the ones written by “Friends” who are probably “Friends” no more?  That’s where you’ll find the real story.

Yet, still, there it sits at the top of the Amazon Bestseller List.

Because of the best of intentions of “Friends”, we now find ourselves faced with the stomach-churning reality of truly Great Writing by Writers with long, celebrated careers they’ve earned through hard work and talent, writers who actually know what they’re doing, sandwiched between Wannabes whose painful, amateurish prose wouldn’t make it out of an 8th Grade Creative Writing course.

This is the danger with Facebook and all those click-happy “Friends”.  Those who write Facebook Bestsellers, wrapped in the breathless, unquestioning support of FB, believe they’re really good.  They ignore the One Star reviews because, you know, they’re not nice, and continue on, having no clue how bad they really are and how deeply damaging their celebrated mediocrity is.

Readers who may be Writers someday are growing up believing Bad is somehow Good.  These Readers, surrounded by nothing but bad, will soon have no memory of what Truly Great Writing is, having to search before the Time of these Facebook Bestsellers for Good Writing.

You see, a Writer is more than someone who puts words on a page.  A Writer  listens to the words, hearing and honoring their rhythm.  A Writer knows that if there’s one word too many, or one word not enough, the structure will fall.  And that structure is everything.  That’s what cushions the Reader in this fictional world.  A Writer can recognize the balance in a sentence and know when it’s off, feeling, in his or her bones, that it’s not right and what to do to fix it.

A Writer would never be satisfied with what ends up in these Facebook Bestsellers.  He’d immediately see how amateurish and clumsy it is.  He’d FEEL it was wrong as he’s writing it.  He would not rest until it was edited and put right.  It would haunt him.  In fact, it wouldn’t even make it past his fingers TO the keyboard.

I believe a Writer, a True Writer, could never bring themselves to leave their worst masquerading as their best on the page and click Publish.

Yet these Wannabes do it all the time, without apology, without regret, and often to great applause.

I’ve often railed against Traditional Publishing and how, because of their penchant for guarding the Gates a bit too vigorously, a revolution like self-publishing was needed.  But at least, for the most part, we were spared moronic drivel ending up on the bookshelf, let alone the Bestseller List.

But now even that’s changing with Traditional Publishing abandoning all pretense of being an arbiter of taste and strong writing, and following the money to sign Facebook Bestsellers to contracts.  And, once again, the delusion that they’re “good writers” is perpetuated, their oafish efforts being celebrated and rewarded.

But a Publisher following the money is not supporting the writer.  A Publisher biting their tongue, smiling, and eagerly hoping to cash in on the last breath of the author’s FB Bestseller status — these “Friends” tend to tire within a year or two and move on to newer, equally abysmal voices, so it’s best to move quick if you’re a Publisher –doesn’t give a shit about the writer.  They’re read the words, they’ve winced and groaned and shook their heads.  They know this writer doesn’t have the chops to reach beyond their Facebook circle.  And they know, once the writer’s new books hit a wider audience, that’s when the chickens come to roost.  That’s when the One Stars outweigh the Five Stars and those “Friends” start second guessing that all important Click.

A Publisher signing a FB Bestseller is hoping to eke out a book or two before the jig is up, the lie is unmasked, the numbers drop, and people move on.

So, what can we do about this?  STOP FOLLOWING THE HERD!  If you’re one of those “Friends” who buys a book as a show of support to the Author, even when you know it’s not good work, STOP!  If you’re not sure about the quality, read the Sample.  If it feels off, read the lowest rated reviews to see if the issues you’re finding are issues they mention.  And, if they are, DON’T BUY THE BOOK!

It’s as simple as that.

Buying abysmal writing as a way of being “nice” doesn’t help anyone.  It doesn’t help the writer.  It doesn’t help the reader.  And it doesn’t help the industry produce and celebrate better, stronger work.

My hope is once we rid the publishing world of these Facebook Bestsellers, it’ll be easier to go back to once again celebrating the truly great writing of real Writers, not Wannabes who would be nothing without their Facebook Friends.

 

It begins with a whisper …

From the blood drenched depravity of The Wounded King and the ancient curses of The Elder, we now follow a young man in his journey to the coveted red and gold robes of a Priest in Red and Gold, the third installment in The Martuk Series, Jonathan Winn’s ongoing collection of short fiction inspired by his award-winning novel Martuk … the Holy.

It begins with a whisper.

The words a warning, silently spoken to the heart of this innocent kneeling in the mighty Temple of Uruk one thousand years before the birth of Christ. A young one who dreams of being wrapped in the red and gold robes of a priest.

But this warning whispered by a mysterious Magi leads to doubt. And then to fear. This stranger who wields magic from the anonymity of shadow forcing this initiate to look beyond the power of the Temple into the frightening black hearts of those who rule.

Haunted by the cries of those Bones in the Stones, his kindness stumbling under the weight of a young boy he leads to slaughter, all while trapped in this life he’s chosen and now can never escape, this is the story of how horrible truths and bloody betrayals destroy the dreams of innocent hearts.

This is … Red and Gold.

– available now –

Killing us softly

Although the dust is still settling and no one — not even Barnes & Noble, evidently — is sure just how indie authors might be affected, this latest decision to not carry or make available ANY books published by Amazon or Amazon’s KDP (and perhaps even CreateSpace) in their stores, both online and retail, is just one more sign of Traditional Publishing’s push-back against the growing success of indie authors.

How’s that?

Books published by the Big 6 aren’t limited to one pipeline when it comes to sales. They can choose B&N, brick and mortar, Amazon, and anything else out there that makes their work available to the widest readership.

Independent or self-published authors? Well, hell, B&N obviously doesn’t give two shits about us. To choke off potential sales and Nook readers for those of us not repped by Traditional Publishing in order to fight back against a company that’s playing the game a lot better than they are is the height of both arrogance and stupidity.

So, in the short term, this may hurt sales as we self-pubs recalibrate to NOT include B&N into our marketing plans. And, perhaps in the long term as self-pubs continue to climb the ladder of public success, Nook readers will openly question why they can’t get the latest hot release from Author X.

But nothing will kill my desire to write, to publish, and to forge something of a career out of it.

You want to compete with Amazon, B&N? Convince me to publish with you, make the process easy and quick, and give me a strong royalty rate. To throw me — and hundreds of thousands of writers just like me — overboard to make a point to a behemoth who will just laugh at you like the petulant ingrate you are then go on to sell even MORE of my books (while you won’t) does nothing but turn the self-publishing community against you.

And I find it somewhat laughable that you think any self-published author is going to choose you over the powerhouse that is Amazon. And, again, this cutting off my nose to maybe hopefully perhaps maybe spite Amazon’s face isn’t endearing me to you.

At the end of the day, this latest move by B&N won’t kill my career or even the careers of other self-published authors. In fact, as mentioned earlier, I trust as self-pubbed books go on to gain notable success, the Nook will become synonymous with NOT getting the latest bestseller everyone is talking about. This could end up hurting them in the long run more than it will me and my self-pubbing compadres.

They’ll going to have to try a little harder to do that.

I’m not King

If you’ve published a book, you’ve probably found yourself asking “Why isn’t my book selling?”

Heck, let’s just be real here. If you’re independently published or even lounging under the umbrella of the Big 6, you’ve most definitely asked that question.

Oh, c’mon! Of course you have. We all have.

In this vast ocean of pages and ink and black pixels on white, Why isn’t my book selling? is the bond that links us, all of us — rich, poor, newbie, old salt, superstar, anonymous hack –, together.

And if you haven’t wondered Why isn’t my book selling?, well, let me be the first to welcome you, Mr. King. Or is that you, JK? Mr. Patterson? In any case, Hello!!! Glad you could drop by.

Any-hoo …

Trudging your way out of NoSales Desert isn’t always an easy thing. And, in the end, the answer to your How the Heck Do I Get Out of Here may not be up to you anyway. I’m as proactive as the next guy, but sometimes the What of what has to happen isn’t a Something you can do.

I mean, there are the usual culprits to look at first. The inevitable chaff to separate from your literary wheat. Your formatting sucks or your writing isn’t what it could be or your cover throws people off or the lack of reviews makes potential readers skittish or your price is way, way too high or, swimming in a sea of millions, people just don’t know you exist yet and you’re still stuck believing that somehow the book will magically market itself.

It could be any one of those things. And those are things you can fix. Sometimes.

What you can’t fix is Time.

Someone once said to me that a good book — a really good book with great writing and professional formatting offered at an appropriate price with a cover that is genre specific and really pops — takes a solid 6 months to a year to find its audience.

Yep, six months to a year. If you’re lucky.

Do some writers bolt out of the gate and become overnight sensations? Sure, if by “overnight” you mean a couple years spent building a readership on fan-fiction sites or laboriously crafting an online platform for the past three years via their blogs and websites and social media.

But most of us aren’t that prescient — or smart –, so instead of working our already strong internet presence, we spend the first several months wondering where in the heck we went wrong.

Which is where the second piece of advice from this very wise Someone comes in.

Instead of waiting for your book to sell, obsessing over the big, fat 00 on your sales chart, and wondering when it’ll get better, write.

That’s right.

Write.

His point, this Wise Someone of whom I speak, was that writers with more than one book tend to sell more. As if somehow readers feel more likely to commit to an unknown if they see the journey has the potential to continue past that first book. Furthermore, he insisted, books in a series tend to attract readers who prefer, well, reading series. They’ll buy one and then another and another until the end. And then look for your next one. If your work is good, of course.

I guess the point of this rambling missive is this:

You’re a writer, so write. Don’t worry about sales. Don’t worry about your plummeting ranking. Don’t woulda, coulda, shoulda yourself to death. It is what it is.

Just write.

If it means writing another book, write another book. I think every writer has more than one in them. You should by all means offer as much as you can to potential readers. If they like what you do in one, the chances are great they’ll follow through with your next.

So, get busy. Type The End, publish the book, open a new document, type Chapter One, lather, rinse, repeat.

If it means writing on a blog, go for it. In this day and age, the more readers interact with you, the better. For some, having a glimpse behind the Chapter Headings and discovering an opportunity to talk with the author of a book they’re considering reading could be a key selling point that tips it in your favor. Or slamming out a guest post on someone else’s site. Abso-frigging-lutely. Brilliant. Being a part of a community never hurts. And, again, the more who know you exist, the better.

Whatever can draw more eyes to your work, that’s what you want to do.

Besides, anything is better than looking at those double doughnuts on your sales chart, right?

You really should know …

A.M. Schultz.

Why?

Because the dude rocks big time.

Seriously, he lifts me up when I’m down, makes me laugh when I frown (forgive the rhyme), and is packing some serious talent underneath that “aw-shucks, I’m just doing what I do and hope it turns out good” demeanor.

He doesn’t know it yet, but he is.

Just check out his bio:

A.M. Schultz is a student, pseudo-scholar, writer, closet-nerd, and philosophy junkie. Predicted to become either a college professor, a full-time author, a part-time Buddhist, a selective pescatarian or a total recluse, he enjoys sporadic fits of writing in between meditation sessions, kickboxing workouts, Greek yogurt/sushi indulgences, drooling over the works of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, scribbling in his Moleskine notebooks, preparing to battle the dreaded GRE, underachieving and spontaneously traveling across the eastern United States in search of high adventure and low-country cuisine.

I’ll say it again, this guy is a talent powerhouse.

Take a look at the cover for his upcoming debut novel RING GIRL:

Photobucket

I mean, really? OMG! I want that cover. And he has more covers over on his site, including the ones he’s done for me.

But let’s fast forward to the nitty gritty — ’cause I’m a nosey type — and hear what the man behind the myth has to say for himself.

I know you’re still writing your book RING GIRL, but, if you had to, what’s one word you’d use to describe it as it stands right now.

Kinetic. This thing is a ball of energy and it is pressing forward. There is a fire under my ass to get it done, but there is also a fire under the story’s ass. It’s not taking “no” for an answer. I can’t promise that it’s going to be great, or that people will remember this story thirty years from now, but barring some major catastrophe, it’s coming. It will be available for readers around the world in January… so yeah, kinetic.

Your biggest challenge as a writer?

My lifelong habit of being my own worst enemy. Any time I have tried to write, be it fiction or non-fiction, I have succeeded. After a while, the challenge was gone. Now, I hop on the internet and see thousands upon thousands of other writers and wonder how the hell I’m going to line-jump thousands of people who might be just as good or better than me, and it’s horrifying. When I trust myself, though, and stop trying to enslave myself to the trends of the market, I do well. It’s just a matter of making that happen.

Your greatest joy as a writer?

When someone reads my stuff and makes a point of telling me it was good. A lot of my fiction was role-playing on-line with a small community of other writers, and quite frequently, I would hear that “if he’s on, nobody touches that guy.” A writer once called me his “Zen Master.” It’s not the ego stroke, per se, but the fact that people would go out of their way to say something like that in regards to my writing. It’s fueled me to become better, and it’s what has brought me to the table. I want to write things that play to people’s emotions, to their intellects, to their souls. If I make a few bucks, pay a couple bills, buy a new Polo shirt, whatever; if 100 people go out of their way to tell me my writing inspired them or entertained them, it’s all the same.

What’s that ONE thing you need in order to write?

PASSION. Confidence, inspiration, time, all of that are nice, but if you are writing flaccid prose, it’s going to show. If you are pouring passion on the page, people will be able to tell. You don’t even have to be a “great” writer – make people feel what you are feeling, and you’re golden!

You pop open your laptop, bring up the Blank Page, sit back, fingers ready to type … and then what? How does your process begin?

It’s usually not that formulaic. I rarely sit down with the intention to write. I always check my e-mail, my social networks, my Alexa ranking, a few other pages, etc. Then, I’ll do some pre-writing, maybe slam a cool 300-400 words out on something innocuous before I attempt to build upon one of my “serious” works. This has been working well because it gets me in the mood to write. Writing foreplay, I guess…

What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever received? And it doesn’t have to be writing related.

There is a quote attributed to Socrates (the philosopher, not my pug): the unexamined life is not worth living. I’m a hardass towards myself, and throughout my adult life, I have never been comfortable or content if I wasn’t pushing myself. For a few years, this was working a billion hours a week. Then, it was living in the gym, going to shows all across the East Coast every weekend while toggling school and work. Now, it’s writing. Not only am I writing the book, but I am promoting this book, and supporting a network of other authors I want to see succeed. It’s pressure, but as long as I remember to look inside myself and remember why I’m doing all of this, then it’s entirely worth it.

And what’s the best advice you can give someone who’s struggling to put their words on the page?

DON’T THINK. Ray Bradbury posted this above his desk, and it seemed to work for him. For me, “thinking” involves worrying about trends, or trying to make your story fit somewhere it doesn’t; trying to fit elements into your story that don’t belong. Write from the heart, from the soul, but don’t worry about what other people will think while you are writing.

In addition to your talent as a writer, you also design kick ass book covers. What inspired you to throw your hat into that ring?

Honestly? I followed Mr. Jonathan Winn on the Twitter, he RT’d me a couple of times, and I visited his Amazon page. Read the blurb for MARTUK… THE HOLY, thought it sounded awesome, but then thought “wow, that cover is gonna hurt his sales big time.” So, I messaged him, said I was willing to give book cover designs a whirl, and here we are now.

I had messed around with graphic design for about a decade before that and figured I might as well strengthen my presence as much as possible. Now, the hard thing is getting people to hire me for work. ;-)

When beginning work on designing a cover, how do you begin? What’s that first step?

I usually have a very rough idea of what I want to do, and the cover never turns out the way I intend. Tons of trial-and-error. “CUSS” actually came to me while I was lying down one day, thought big, blocky letters across a black-and-white background would look cool, and forty-five minutes later, I had perhaps my coolest looking cover thus far. It’s basically improv.

Five years from now, where are you and what are you doing?

Ideally, I’m sitting in my condo in Hilton Head, South Carolina sixteen weeks a year.
Realistically, I’m finished with graduate school, working as a college professor, and selling enough copies of my books/doing enough book covers to handle a few bills per month. I’m curious to see what the landscape of the publishing industry looks like in five years, and I expect that quality self-published authors will continue to see a major spike in sales.

Mark my words, kids. Five years from now, we’ll still be talking about A.M. Schultz. This guy rocks seven ways to Sunday and back again.

And his pug Socrates ain’t too bad either. :^)

Doin’ it

Just stumbled across an interesting conversation that set my own mind a’thinkin’ (always a dangerous thing). And since I wasn’t asked to share what MY process is on said blog — truth be told, they don’t even know I exist, so who can blame ‘em? –, I thought I’d bee-bop on over to my little corner of the Universe and share it anyway.

So, how do I write?

It all begins in my head.

Okay, that’s kinda not true. It starts in my head, yes, but it’s more a story I’m hearing rather than a story I’m “making up”, if that makes sense.

Martuk from Martuk … The Holy introduced himself to me one day in March of 2008. Out of the blue. You know, kind of one of those Hey, how are ya, and do I have a story for you-type of deals. And once I understood and accepted that I could be THAT kind of writer as well as a screenwriter and playwright, I found the first draft of the book flying onto the page with relative ease.

But as to HOW that happened, this is what I’ve found works for me:

I type myself emails. Short and not-so-short thoughts working through the plot. Hashing it out. Working it through. Seeing if it squares up, makes sense, could maybe be an interesting read. You know, making sure it all fits before I type Chapter One.

Unlike some, I don’t really plot out people to be met or character flaws to surmount or any of that stuff. Maybe I should. But I find if I have a general map — my Chapter Map –, the people Martuk needs to meet end up introducing themselves when need be.

And many of the characters in Martuk couldn’t have been plotted out because I wasn’t in that world yet, the palace in ancient Uruk, the altar, the priests in red and gold. I needed to get there to discover who was waiting. And I was smart enough to sit back and let them introduce who they were and what they were dealing with. Instead of assigning them wounds, I allowed them to lift up their sleeves and show me the cuts and scrapes and slices themselves.

But, still, I’m following that map.

If I find a character wants to go deeper into his or her story — and stray further from Martuk’s narrative –, I now make a note for The Martuk Series and promise them they’ll get their own book. Short Fiction, of course, but still … it seems to placate them for the time being.

Once the book is finished, I save it in PDF and send it to my iPad where I open it anew and, stylus in hand, start covering the page in red. Call me weird, but I love this phase. And for some reason, I notice things a lot more when I move away from the laptop screen to a PDF on an iPad. Glaring mistakes. I mean, huge doozies. I don’t see them until I open that PDF on my iPad.

Strange, isn’t it?

But it’s during this process where the book really comes to life. Marked up PDF in one hand, my laptop open in the other, headphones firmly in place as the story shifts and changes shape. Becomes tighter, leaner, meaner. All that red scribbling and circling and question marking and WTF-ing necessary in creating a great read.

Depending on how sloppy I’ve been, I’ll sometimes go through three or four edited PDFs before the book is ready.

And then, AMSchultz cover in hand, book published, and new chapter map on deck, I find myself typing Chapter One. Again.

God, I love what I do.

Obsession and Oblivion

From a recent guest post I wrote:

Why do I do what every indie writer does every single day?

Because I’m curious. No, scratch that. Because I’m obsessed.

This obsession can’t be stopped by the absence of a Big Publisher brandishing a goody bag of guidance and media connections. This obsession won’t be quieted by the lack of a sizeable advance propping up my bank account or the implicit promise of three martini lunches in suit-and-tie restaurants. With tablecloths. And flowers. Or not.

In fact, my obsession — perhaps I should be calling it a sickness by now? — isn’t even disheartened by this apparently endless wandering among the parched, wind-blasted dunes of NoSales Desert.

My characters, my stories, my books steamroll everything else into oblivion.

the feel of the page

I grew up on books, my youth spent quite literally in my bedroom reading or wandering for countless hours in the teeny tiny library tucked in the middle of my teeny tiny town. In fact, even today, decades later, I could sit down, put pen to paper, and draw a fairly accurate map of the space, down to where my favorite books were often found.

With the rapid rise of ebooks, though, there’s a whole generation somewhat unaware of the feel of the page. Perhaps even unfamiliar with the clean, somewhat inky smell that greets you when you open a new book and see Chapter One, the pale paper still somewhat stiff and crisp as you turn the page.

In a land of digital and laptops, iPhones and blogs, ebooks and Word DOCS, how often do we really take a book off the shelf, crack it open, and dive in? Speaking from personal experience, and with a hint of embarrassment, I can say not often.

So, I’m biting the proverbial bullet and formatting my ebook version of Martuk … The Holy — and the incomparable A.M. Schultz is generously reworking the cover — for a print version via CreateSpace.

Although I was and am very eager to embrace the changes sweeping the Publishing Industry, the child in me who fed his budding imagination and stumbling creativity with dog-eared paperbacks and hefty hardcovers still yearns to hold Martuk in my hands and, yes, turn the pages. And I think, somewhat optimistically, how nice it might be for some kid tucked away in his or her bedroom on the outskirts of his or her own teeny tiny town to hold this book of ancient magic and immortality and wanderings through the rainy streets of modern Paris in their hands and lose themselves, as I often did, for hours.

I am beyond excited about this new development.

Expect an announcement on when it’ll be available within a month or two.

*happy dance* (^~^)