Further Reflections

As I reflect further on yesterday’s dispiriting observations (cover reveals, blog tours, social media strategies, video book trailers, and so forth), I’m coming to feel that trying to do anything at all with my fiction would be both difficult and emotionally exhausting.

Various factors contribute to the situation. Let’s take a look.

First, any attempt at self-marketing will require an enormous amount of effort and considerable expense. This will not only cut into my writing time, it will engage me in assorted activities that I find uncongenial. I’m a writer, damn it! I’m not a marketing whiz, I don’t want to be a marketing whiz — and in any event, the tools for online marketing are mostly controlled by giant corporations that have their own policy agendas and care nothing for small fry like me. Amazon, Facebook, and YouTube can change the rules however they like, and you and I have no choice but to scramble to keep up.

Second, there’s no guarantee that the effort, if I roll up my sleeves and get busy, will have the desired result. I could spend endless hours and thousands of dollars and end up exactly where I am now.

Third, the field of self-published novels is enormously overcrowded, making it very difficult indeed to bring one’s books to the attention of readers. We can blame the Internet for this. NaNoWriMo also deserves some of the blame. Untold thousands of people have decided it would be great fun to write a novel (and yes, it is fun!). Then they discover just how easy it has become to distribute their work, so they turn their first book into a series.

Fourth, most of the overcrowding (more than 90%) consists of very bad writers producing very bad books. In this climate, differentiating oneself and one’s work from the glut is not easy at all. Most aspiring authors have no idea at all how hard it is to write a good novel. They’re clueless, and their cluelessness shines forth on every page. (And yet, this doesn’t matter. See below.)

Fifth, many of those bad writers are using complex, expensive, and possibly effective marketing tactics. In order to compete, one is forced to use the same tactics they’re using, and this makes it even harder to stand out from the crowd. There’s a reason why the blurbs for fantasy novels on Amazon all read very much alike: Everybody has been studying the same playbook — or, just as likely, hiring marketing companies that know the playbook and specialize in fleecing writers by overcharging them for services that are, at best, marginally useful.

Sixth, it’s not clear that most readers even perceive the differences between good writing and bad writing. Quite a few of them are undoubtedly as satisfied with bad writing as with good writing. For that reason, attempting to craft a marketing message that says, “No, look — I really am better than all those other people,” is not going to get you anywhere.

Seventh, the product that one is asking prospective readers to purchase is, in any event, of no real value. The reading of a novel is not essential, and it is not life-changing. It’s a leisure activity.

Eighth, as an entertainment product, a novel (any novel) is competing with films and TV, which are more immersive and can be consumed with less mental effort. Competing also with Facebook, Twitter, and whatever else soaks up people’s time.

Ninth, my own work is not a neat fit with the dominant culture in which we live. Thematically I’m something of an outlier. I don’t do steamy romance. I don’t do vampires or zombies. I don’t do palace intrigue, vast supernatural evils, or huge pitched battles in which knights swing broadswords.

So where do I go from here?

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