What's going on with indie fiction, then? Why aren't I seeing this sort of spark anymore?
I’m not talking about formulaic genre, here. That’s everywhere just as it is on the print shelves and that is good, it’s FINE; it’s tapping a market just as the big houses do. That sort of best-selling pulp will always be one avenue of income for prolific writers. I’ll be a one man cheer squad for the basic novel. It has all the expected elements – my big blather – it meets reader expectation, so it sells. It is what it is, it conforms, it is not about breaking free or bending rules.
So, why this wash of bleh from those who believe they answer to a higher form of Art? Editors are a big No No here in the ether, so we can’t blame them. [Editors with the skill to nurture individual voices might just be real life angels, imho.]
When I discovered online writing, both ebooks and webfiction, I came with the preconception that this was where failures came to flog their wares. I thought if it wouldn’t sell in the real world, they gave it away online. That’s certainly what I did. I took some manuscripts that hadn’t sold, not even proofed just typed into word docs [direct from hard copy I might add], and made each of them a webpage, uploaded some pdfs and I was done.
Except, I learned that I was wrong. I was as wrong as a big lump of 'completely misguided' in a bucket of 'totally confused'. What I found online was a community of writers who had made the deliberate, abiding, and successful choice to publish themselves online. There were thousands of magic free books, serials, and collections, and there were as many more available for sale.
Just amazing. Gobsmacking. Extraordinary!
‘Indie’ represented a conscious choice and philosophy. I hoped that the outside world, the traditional world, would look at what people were doing in here and say – WOW! We can learn from this.
That isn’t going to happen.
What is happening is a flood of writers from the outside world are bringing in their traditional values and their dreams of traditional adoration. If they cannot get B&M editors to see their light shining from the neat double-spaced hardcopy manuscript on the desk in front of them, they put their work online and call themselves ‘indie’.
What’s the difference?
Many years ago I gave up on Writers’ Groups. I found lovely, lovely, likeminded people who got together to share a common interest and help and encourage each other. Most groups fell apart after six months, but those that succeeded drew new members and the old members gained some kudos. Original members became the elders, the voice of wisdom, the judges, and the critics. Their publishing credits remained at four letters to the editor and two shorts stories with a flower motif published in the Gardeners’ Monthly, but time gave them prestige. They put out a newsletter and added Editor to their list of credentials; they ran competitions among their members and added Prizes to their CV.
Why? So that when they sent their neat double-spaced hardcopy manuscripts to the publishers, they had a publishing history to embellish on their cover letter. A bit of ‘spin’. Then they began running ‘How to’ courses. “How I reached these dizzying heights of publishing glory, by Troy McClure”. [Yes, there’s my regular Troy McClure reference.] ‘Published Author’ after your name does not make you an expert. I could even point you to ‘teachers’ who have no publishing history and no expertise, just spin, spin, and more spin.
I saw this awful machine making and perpetuating a false hierarchy, and I said to myself: You know, if I’m going to pay good money for someone to tell me how they got to where they are, I’ll pay Stephen Donaldson, or Stephen King, or Julian May to tell me how to get to where I want to be. Sadly, authors of that standing do not run three week courses from their local writers’ centre.
So what’s wrong with any of that? Nothing. Go ahead and do it. Enjoy.
But now I see that same Writers’ Group crowd moving into the independent fiction world. Colonists bringing their dreams and their MO and imposing the false hierarchy that ends with a three book deal or bestseller status in the traditional world, as if it is ideal. Self-publishing is only seen as a way to gain the attention of a fictional editor who scans the World Wide Web looking for the next big thing. [Meanwhile they spam every webpage that does not explode with news of their yet-to-break bestseller.]
In the online world there are and were a thousand people with amazing histories who have seen how the traditional pyramids of smoke work. Many of them turn back to the masses and give away information, tips, and free encouragement. It’s free!
But in the end no one can teach you how to do it. They can only offer insights they themselves have gained. They can save you some mistakes – like continually paying for another ‘how to’ course.
Aside: [I restore antique furniture. Every now and then I convince myself my collection is valuable and ‘one day I’ll get my money back’, but it is a delusion that helps me justify the money I spend. Someone told me, kindly, that you do not have to justify the expense of a hobby because the value is in the joy it gives you. True. I love the look and the feel and the smell of old timber. If I was to try to convince an accountant it was an investment in a career, he’d not buy that for very long. He’d expect me to be able to show some sort of significant return on a continual outlay. Just saying.]
If there was a secret you could buy, the way to be successful, everybody would be doing it and everybody would be successful.
So do what YOU do and do it well. Use YOUR voice.
I saw a short story recently and I was delighted. It was a gem, just a little diamond, tiny and sparkling. It was put before the kind souls in a writers’ group for consideration. I wept – Really! Tears! For someone I do not even know.
Why? Because the very well-meaning people in that writers’ group shredded the story. They explained how to form 101 sentences. They suggested some improvements that would gain better marks in a creative writing 101 exercise. They did their very best to encourage the author to write as they themselves had learned to write, 101. They did it from the very best of hearts, and the kindest wishes. I always think of the paving on the road to Hell, though, I’m afraid. I don’t know what happened to the story.
And that, in the end, is what is wrong with half of the independent fiction I’ve seen lately. They are written in the hope of being discovered by the phantom editor, or they are shredded by the well-meaning support network. Anything like an original form of expression has been simplified to the mantra 101. Anyone using sentence structure for more than the transference of thoughts has their grammar and punctuation hammered flat to the mantra 101.
The 101 rules are out there. I laughed yesterday reading ‘The World Is Mine’, by William Blake. “Show, don’t tell, Mr Blake,” I said. “Are you an expository imbecile?” That fool Herman Melville with his seventy-six word sentences, with three semicolons and eleven commas. Joyce! Where do I start with James Joyce? That blitherer Shakespeare, making up words! Can you believe it? They’d never pass 101, none of them, ever.
That is also, then, why I no longer use the word ‘indie’. What is that quaint little nugget? Conceive, believe, and receive, is it? I think I inadvertently caused a shift in reality, superpowerful as I am, by believing that the world of independent fiction was a bit like the Vanity Press of ten years ago only cheaper. I was wrong then, but it seems to me to be changing before my very eyes. The mess I once conceived has begun to take shape, and now they call it ‘indie’.