Beware researching all this self-publishing stuff. It’s got a plot that thickens far more than any Agatha Christie novel – and I’ve got a feeling the ending will be just as much a surprise.
You see so many posts on forums, and in Google communities, and it’s a battle to figure which ones are worth giving credit. I don’t mean the blatant spam and scams. I’m talking about the posts that give you a true indication of what’s really happening – or not. I read something today that kind of worries me in a new way (as if I needed any more to worry about when it comes to a writing career).
On a writer’s forum a successful author outlined his sales, his success and how he did it, all for the benefit of other forum members. It was a genuine, selfless act that told us a lot. This guy is selling over 100,000 books a year. He writes fantasy and publishes around 6-7 books a year, and claims to write almost 70 hours a week to achieve this and there’s no reason to disbelieve him. He has effectively pushed through the barrier of becoming a full-time, successful author and reached the tipping point where his output, his books and sales are kind of self-perpetuating. The secret, by the way, is now his backlist – it’s the sheer amount of titles he has on sale.
The problem I’m having is that there’s a lot of evidence – a lot – that his books are fucking rubbish. There’s a disturbing trend in the Amazon reviews. Sure, he has literally hundreds of positive, 5 Star reviews, but the 40-50 1 Star reviews on some of his books have this ring of authenticity that’s hard to ignore. It isn’t childish trolling saying the books are crap, and so on. These have a recurring, informed theme that complains about the total lack of character development, awful dialogue, holes in a non-existent plot, constant and mindless sword fights, raping, pillaging and violence for the sake of violence. Attempts to clone the Game of Thrones franchise are all too obvious and poorly carried out.
So how is he selling so many books?
It looks like the slavish application of a genre formula has become even more successful than it ever was in traditional print publishing. People will apparently buy and read anything as long as it has the prerequisite magic sword, nasty wizard and naked damsel tied to a tree in the forest. A sort of “fantasy, sword fight porn” thing where the quality of the writing hardly matters at all for most fans. Something similar has happened in the romance/erotica genre – but at least they admit it’s a type of soft porn.
So I’m wondering if there truly is a market for good fiction in the self-publishing world? Or to look at the issue a different way, how good is the self-publishing market for quality writing, if you take all the genre-driven, formulaic writing out of the data that says self-publishing is working? At the moment self-publishing is looking like a golden goose just waiting to be plucked, but if you want to write outside of these narrow, formula genres are the opportunities still there?
Well, obviously the opportunities are there, but what about the perceived levels of success? Hmm… not sure. Anyone?