Yes, it’s a favorite theme of mine: the sheer number of books written has always been astronomical. Now, the production costs to publish books is equally astronomical. Is the sheer number of books good or bad?
Yes, it isn’t.
My Clintonian response is based on the fact that this is an incredibly liberating time for writers, based on technological advances we are all aware of: digital publishing, etc.
It is also dismaying in the sense that now, even more bad books get into circulation.
Recently, a writer sent me his latest self-published book and asked for a review. The package also contained a container of Fig Newtons and a bag of Starbucks coffee. As you might expect, the hammy effort of sending gifts was a superior idea to the goop I read briefly between the cover and back cover.
Yes, I lament the fact that human nature abhors a filter in weeding out bad book ideas and bad books. There are many thousands of bad writers out there with tunnel vision, writing and producing the weeds that choke out the few flowers.
On the other hand, I continue to be thrilled by the opportunities afforded authors by burgeoning technologies.
A writer I know told me this week he is going totally independent. Buying ISBN numbers. Lining-up a warehouse facility. Going grassroots to sell direct to readers, while claiming those bookstores that will have him.
A lot of work, but man, will that be fun. A bit like Lewis and Clark gazing into the Western horizon, as they prepared to push-off from the civilized world. It’s not for everybody, but it is for innovators.
Twenty percent of Amazon’s top-selling e-books are self-published. They do not get to the top without adulation, lots and lots of it.
A recent item from a writer’s magazine: “‘If there was anything the human race had a sufficiency of, a sufficiency and a surfeit, it was books,’ the New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell wrote in 1964. He reflected on ‘the cataracts of books, the Niagaras of books, the rushing rivers of books, the oceans of books, the tons and truckloads and trainloads of books that were pouring off the presses of the world at that moment,’ regretting that so few would be ‘worth picking up and looking at, let alone reading.'”
It used to take the same time to produce a book that it does to produce a baby. Now it takes about as long as boiling an egg.
“Nearly all human beings have unrealistically positive self-regard,” said Robert I. Sutton, a Stanford professor
This is true. For example, here’s a derisive notice, recently posted on Amazon: “I was utterly bored.”
A second reader offered this: “Mediocre.”
A third: “This isn’t good prose.”
All three were offering their opinions of “The Great Gatsby.” Quite a few reviews of the book, the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic that’s among the greatest American novels of the last century, deem it somewhere between so-so and poor.
So you can see that opinions and reviews of books are all over the map. Who knows, maybe I was wrong about the Fig Newton author. Maybe he will be the next Fitzgerald.
The efforts of new writers to fully make available their books to new and wider audiences is something to celebrate. Sure, many of them still have a narcissistic approach to promotion. They see themselves as brilliant trailblazers deigning to make their works available to the rabble.
It’s usually this type of writer that fails, frankly. I spent some time recently consulting for a guy who has a big enough platform to make a name for himself. He is quite a good researcher and a credible writer.
Problem is, he doesn’t truly listen to suggestions for making the whole stew tastier. And I’m talking about just tweaking a few things here and there, not an overhaul of his work. He appears to listen, then dismisses ideas.
I am certain he will experience limited success, and he is the poster child for the new breed of writer that enthusiastically reaches for the speeding technology train, but won’t do the work necessary to make the product the best it can be. He is the reason that while new opportunities give us reason for optimism in publishing, too many will continue to bounce along on a sea of too many books.
May I ask a favor? Would you check yourself and stop to consider whether your book is worthy of being published? If it is, great – go for it and Godspeed.
If it isn’t, move over and make room in the lifeboat for us other poor souls.