One of the sadder consequences of the advent of Web-enabled self-publishing has been the number of races to the bottom it has unleashed: in price, in quantity overtaking quality in social media rapid-firing, and worst of all, in the quality of writing itself. Why? Because everyone has to spend half of their time – or more – in promoting their work. And also because having multiple titles to work allows you to use the most powerful mix of promotional tactics available to you. Given that there are so few tactics that do move the needle at all, kicking out titles as fast as you can is becoming the norm rather than the edge case.
I made this point in greater detail awhile ago in a post I titled The High Price of “Free,” and that point was again brought home to me in a sad fashion yesterday when someone pointed in a Twitter post to an article titled Vladimir Nabokov on Writing, Reading and the Three Qualities a Great Storyteller Must Have, by Maria Popova. It’s a wonderful short article that summarizes, and frequently quotes from, a lecture in which the great author proposes, and builds on, the following thesis:
There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three — storyteller, teacher, enchanter — but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer.
It’s a well written article that I recommend to your attention, but my reason for pointing to it isn’t to highlight the article itself. Rather, it’s to reflect on the fact that the pointer to this article is the first dealing with serious writing theory that I recall seeing since I’ve started to utilize social media to explore self-publishing. Virtually all of the others pointed to either one or two screen, entry-level articles about writing basics (this was the minority of links), or to an endless stream of pieces on one aspect or another of promotion.
That’s a pretty sad commentary, and demonstrates how much of a self-published writer’s focus today is committed to the threshold issue of getting anyone at all to read what they write. Given that success does not seem to equate to writing quality anyway, that results in, if not a race, at least an inexorable gravitational pull to the bottom of the literary bucket.
What does that mean for the future of writing? As I ended my earlier post:
Personally, I would not want to face a future where the odds of success were so poor that new authors were no longer willing to make the sacrifices necessary to see if they had it within them to create great literature. Or to research and write the kind of critically analytical non-fiction books that provide a last defense against prejudice, FUD and willful ignorance.
If that’s the price of “free,” then in my book, the cost of free is far, far too high.
Is there a solution? I hope so. But I don’t see it on the horizon yet.
In the meantime, the good news is that there are some wonderful sites out there that do concern themselves only with the wonders of writing and the ways to advance in that art, rather than on the gritty aspects of self-publishing. If you’re looking to add some of those sites to your mix, the site at which the Nabokov article appears is called Brain Pickings, and you might do well to start right there.