Rant…


…of Exhaustion, Frustration, and Some Other Word That Ends In “-tion.”

Friday night, I was told by an author I’d never heard of that her ultimate goals when she began writing were to see her book in a bookstore and to sell a lot of books. She further informed me that because her book had found an agent and a publisher and was now sitting in a bookstore that it was a “real” book. My book, not falling into that category, is – naturally – not “real.”

I wanted to tell her that my ultimate goal when I began writing was to write a good book. An awesome book. A book that, when people read it, they’d say, “I have felt exactly this way before! I thought I was the only one!” Or, “I stayed up all night reading this, even though I had to go to work early in the morning.” I might have even wanted it to make people cry, to make them think about things in a way they’d never done before, or to look at people in a way they’d never done before. I wanted to point her in the direction of postive reviews I’ve received, and send her copies of emails I’ve gotten from readers, stating that my book had accomplished exactly those things. I wanted to send her the link to this post, affirming that my book is, indeed, a real book. Then I Googled her name and learned about her book. That’s when I wanted to tell her that the only reason an agent had picked it up and had been able to sell it to a publisher is because it’s a cookie cutter of about 1000 other books already out there, which means it’s not considered a risk. I also wanted to tell her to stuff it (okay, I wanted to tell her to fuck off). 

But I didn’t say any of those things. Partly because the conversation took place in a chatbox and the comments were going by too quickly to engage her. It was also partly because it isn’t seemly for a co-host to tell a chatbox visitor, however rude she is, to fuck off. But mostly it’s because it wouldn’t have changed her mind one bit. Not the ‘fuck off’ part, obviously, but also not the “this is why my book is real” part.

Here’s the thing. I don’t understand how a writer’s main goal can be to sell a lot of books. The concept of licking your creative finger and holding it out to see which way the market’s wind is blowing is foreign to me. I look at that kind of writer as a sell out. I think the books that kind of writer produces are hackneyed and soulless. I think that the number of books found in bookstores that fall under this category grows exponentially each year. And it drives me fucking crazy, as both a writer and a reader, that marketablity too often trumps quality and originality.

But I would never stand before you and say that those books aren’t ‘real’, or that the minds that produced them don’t belong to ‘real’ writers. I respect the creative process too much for that, as I do the hearts and minds of the readers who forked over their hard-earned money for those books. It would be nice to get the same courtesy from that kind of writer. I don’t see it happening any time soon, but it would be nice.

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About R.J. Keller

R. J. Keller is the author of Waiting For Spring. An avid independent movie enthusiast, she was Managing Editor of The Movie Fanatic website and created episodes of the writer-centric YouTube series, Inside The Writers' Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. She co-hosted Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran from 2011-2014. She lives in Central Maine with her family, where she enjoys gardening, collecting geeky memorabilia, and watching other people cook. View all posts by R.J. Keller

23 responses to “Rant…

  • Naomi

    You’ll get outright anger from this sort of person long before the politeness kicks in. If your books start selling better and the positive reviews are flowing in (I don’t know about sales, but I know WFS has some really positive reviews!), then sooner or later she’ll take notice and take offense. How DARE your ‘book’ be doing well, it’s not even real, etc.

    Some people just have their head stuck up their arse far too firmly to take it out now and then to look at the real world 😉

  • Joe Glasgow

    If I were awake at the time, I could have told her to “fuck off” for you.

    But yeah, keep up with what you’re doing and don’t let these petty authors try to pull you down. Keep your head up, keep strong and keep the faith.

  • Rox1SMF

    If I were there I’d have told her to fuck off for ya too. What a twat-waffle!

    Me, I want to write a book (someday… this is still mere fantasy, since I can’t even seem to write a post for my own damned blog these days) for the simple reason that I figure maybe if I commit to paper all of the things that have been roiling around in my head for a lifetime, I can “neutralize” them or evict them from my cranium altogether – and maybe I’ll be just that much less crazy…

  • Thumper

    I wonder how she’ll feel when her agented book sells short of enough to cover the advance, if any. How real will that negative royalty statement make it all feel? Because the reality of the publishing game is that most books never make any money at all; it’s an extremely slim percentage of writers who make enough to live on, and even slimmer percentage of writers who make a lot of money from their books.

    I imagine when reality settles in, her disappointment will be every bit as “real” as her book…

  • Christopher Meeks

    Kel, I’m flummoxed by authors who consciously or unconsciously cut down authors who are not in bookstores. Even being published traditionally, it’s hard to get into bookstores, and, as you seem to be suggesting, much of what sells there is nonfiction and genre fiction. Thus, if someone is a literary writer such as yourself, one may have to start by self-publishing, grow yourself into an independent author with a self-sustaining small publishing company, and then move onto an agent and bigger publisher.

    Because I teach creative writing at the college level, I’ve had agents come to speak over the years, and they often talk now about “building a platform.” Building a platform means that you have readers and reviews and people willing to buy your next book. The Catch-22 is solved by doing what you’re doing.

    I saw a lot of this undercutting on Kindleboards last month in a discussion of traditional vs. self-published books (at http://www.kindleboards.com/index.php/topic,14621.0.html). Poetry, short fiction, and literary fiction are not huge sellers traditionally. Of course, there are exceptions, but I know a number of poets, and they often publish in literary journals, chapbooks, and in very small runs of books. Are they any less a real writer than someone writing a popular romance?

    Perhaps some authors are angry that they, who have worked hard at their craft and diligently found an agent and are now working with editors at a name-brand publishing companies, are lumped in with the misguided soul who hammered out a novel in a week of methadrine use and uploaded the ungrammatical Word file to Lulu and calls himself “an author.” The reality is that the marketplace takes care of itself. Poorly conceived books are lucky to sell a single copy beyond family and friends.

    Yes, there are bad POD books out there, but there among the haystacks are needles of brilliance. Yours is one such book.

  • Hols

    I got the same vibe.
    I’ve often thought about writing a cookie-cutter book, just for the shit of it, but stopped. I don’t read those same old story, different twist kinda books. One of my favorite books is House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski, and the reason that it stuck with me for years is because it was unlike anything I had ever read before. In fact, it was so unlike anything, I read it again. And again. That’s Literature. That’s real. And that’s what matters most to me, as a writer and a reader.

  • kristentsetsi

    She related to that other author we’ve come to know and love? Sheesh.

  • R.J. Keller

    How DARE your ‘book’ be doing well, it’s not even real, etc.

    @Naomi, I’ve heard comments like that already. Not about my book in particular, but about other self-published books, and about self-published books in general. I think it gets to the heart of their problem with us.

  • R.J. Keller

    Keep your head up, keep strong and keep the faith.

    Thanks Joe!! I intend to.

  • R.J. Keller

    @Rox, I hope you do write a book someday…and soon! I’ve been reading your stuff for close to six years now. I’d love to see what you cook up.

  • R.J. Keller

    @Thumper, you are SO right! We’ve got it heads and tails above traditionally published authors in that sense. Another indie writer/publisher, Moriah Jovan, posted something recently about how self-published authors should look at “royalties” as PROFITS instead. Very cool stuff:

    http://moriahjovan.com/mojo/there-is-no-such-thing-as-royaltie

  • R.J. Keller

    Building a platform means that you have readers and reviews and people willing to buy your next book. The Catch-22 is solved by doing what you’re doing.

    Exactly!! Too many authors don’t understand that the internet has changed EVERYTHING. They’re not willing to adapt, or they have no idea how to do so.

    Perhaps some authors are angry that they, who have worked hard at their craft and diligently found an agent and are now working with editors at a name-brand publishing companies, are lumped in with the misguided soul who hammered out a novel in a week of methadrine use and uploaded the ungrammatical Word file to Lulu and calls himself “an author.” The reality is that the marketplace takes care of itself. Poorly conceived books are lucky to sell a single copy beyond family and friends.

    Absolutely. And I’d be willing to bet that most of them have never read a self-published book. In fact, most of them are proud of that fact. They’re just spitting out that old recycled “All self-published books are crap” platitude because it’s what they’ve been told and, probably, because it’s what they want to believe.

  • R.J. Keller

    I’ve often thought about writing a cookie-cutter book, just for the shit of it, but stopped.

    Thank God!! We don’t need anymore of those out there. 😉

  • R.J. Keller

    She related to that other author we’ve come to know and love? Sheesh.

    Oddly enough, she used him as an example. Cracked me up.

  • Candy Beauchamp

    Interesting, esp because you care so little about profits that you are giving the proceeds of one of your books to a charity. That’s the author I want to read, one that writes because they want and about what they want to. Not someone that is writing simply to get me to buy the damn thing. Heck, I got your book for free from your site or somewhere.. but I still bought it, simply because it was good and you were sharing the profits. I say to her.

  • staceycochran

    I would argue that your book is more “real” in that it more directly reflects the truth of who you are. What cookie cutter mid-list authors fail to realize is that they’re selling their soul for 20 grand. Which is actually sad… really when you think about it. It doesn’t make me angry at all; I just feel sorry for them.

    That said, there is clearly a heated debate brewing between mid-list authors who are published with 2nd tier publishers, and folks like us who are selling well as indie authors. I think we’re on the side of the consumer culture, and they feel very legitimately threatened by this.

  • R.J. Keller

    Candy, thanks so much! I really appreciate that. 🙂

  • R.J. Keller

    Thanks, Stacey. And you’re absolutely right about midlist authors. They’re the ones who are suffering the most now, and the ones who will be dropped first. Hell, they’re being dropped already. It’s sad.

  • Harlequin Horizons is not a self-publisher | Stacia Kane

    […] Apparently I was wrong. Turns out, Jackie, Simon, Paul, and myself are simply scared that self-published books will put us out of business, in addition to being elitists. Oh, and don’t forget we’re also hacks who write cookie-cutter garbage, and should be shunned for wanting our books …. […]

  • Jaye Wells

    I was on the chat on Friday and I had trouble keeping up with the conversation so I didn’t see the comment you’re referring to. I’m sorry you feel like someone talked down to you. There’s never an excuse for that. However, I would caution everyone that the last thing that needs to happen right now is for authors to turn on each other.

    Publishing–all publishing–is tough. Any time you combine art and commerce there are a lot of grey areas and compromises. But I have to say, I’m disappointed at the vitriol I’m seeing here about midlist writers. Just because someone writes popular fiction and publishes with a New York house doesn’t mean they’ve “sold their souls.” I’m proud of my work. I work damn hard to write the best books I am capable of. Just like you. I try to write stories I’m proud of, and no one at my house has ever asked me to compromise my stories to fit some mold.

    I think as creative people we need to support each other and look out for each other. Not tear each other down. Yes, the changes in the industry deserve a thorough examination, but let’s not let it devolve into mud slinging.

  • R.J. Keller

    Jaye, thanks for stopping by!

    My views on midlist authors, in an exhausted nutshell (I just got out of work and am headed to bed): Too many of them are getting dropped by their publishers and I feel bad for them because of it. It makes me glad I’m handling my writing career the way I am. (It’s not for everyone, but it’s the right choice for me.) And, yes, a lot of their work is – in my opinion – formulaic. Obviously there are readers who like ’em, and who am I to judge? There are people out there who can’t stand my stuff. To each his-or-her own.

    Heads up (not just to you, Jaye, but just in general): I’m going to be scarce on the internet until the first week in December (see my newest blog post for an explanation). I’m very interested in continuing this conversation with anyone who pops in, or to anyone who adds to their already existing comments, but it may take until then for me to get back to the thread.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Julie Weathers

    To me, it’s all about attitude. I admit I am going the agent traditional publishing route because frankly, I don’t want to be a one-man band. I’m just too tired to do that.

    I’ve just about stopped following #writechat on twitter because one person constantly belittles agents, publishers and authors who want to be published traditionally and then boasts about how wonderful he is and hawks his works like a medicine show.

    Then there is the other one who is the expert in all things, e-publishes and then gives out answers to every single question even though she’s never been published traditionally to my knowledge and gets very defensive if anyone disagrees with her.

    There are so many opportunities out there today.

    People are foolish not to take advantage of them, but it’s also wise not to get too cocky because you have reached this step or that step.

    Zach Recht published his Morning Star Saga on his website. Plague of the Dead caught enough attention a small publishing house bought the rights. It did amazingly well. He came out with the second in the series and it also did very well. That’s when Simon and Schuster noticed it and bought the rights and made plans to re-release the first two. They had already hired an actor for the audio books. Zach was working on the third one when he died.

    Zach was a good friend of mine. I saw him go through the process.

    Each person has their own journey. Just because your journey isn’t the same as someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

    Write a great book. That should be any writer’s first objective.

    I wish you much continued success with your work.

  • R.J. Keller

    There are so many opportunities out there today. People are foolish not to take advantage of them, but it’s also wise not to get too cocky because you have reached this step or that step.

    Ugh…yeah, I’ve encountered that cockiness from writers on both sides. It’s frustrating. I try to stay out of the fray by now avoiding #writechat, for example, and other similiar threads. There’s such a thing as honest discussion, and then there’s contentiousness for no purpose.

    Each person has their own journey. Just because your journey isn’t the same as someone else’s doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

    Exactly! Each writer’s needs and goals are different.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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