The Time Is Now

Independent writers have the opportunity of a lifetime. We are on the cusp of a revolution in breaking open the audience for our work this holiday season. The day after tomorrow will be Independent Publishing 2.0. Millions of e-readers will be opened under the tree, and all of us writers are standing on the sidelines watching and hoping and wringing our hands that our work will be chosen to be downloaded.

And we need our shit to be good. Really fucking good. Like so good, that grandma may actually break her 40-year streak in reading crime novels and read your anthology of shorts. We have this opportunity to kill the conventional publishing machine (no, it’s not dead yet, don’t get so comfortable). It belongs to us. This revolution was made for us. Now. What are you doing about it?

We  can take convention and turn it on its ass. But only if we know entirely what we’re doing.

I’m all for breaking down the walls. But until we are experts in our writing abilities, we should not experiment too broadly.

(*I’m not making an empirical judgment though: there are a few writers who are so brilliant from the start that they can make and break the conventions all they want.)

(** And I am also not talking about the mode of publishing their work, either. This essay strictly addresses the style of experimental writing rather than the approach to marketing and publishing the work.)

If a writer is not flexible or creative enough to be able to learn the craft expertly before he begins to experiment, he may likely run into trouble. I did that a few times. I thought I was so stylie and I go back and read that stuff from back when, and it was not good. I was all into doing things differently, but I had no anchor. And I am not as intrinsically talented as some other writers who can do the most innovative things a compelling piece of art.

I don’t think that the independent writing community can afford to fall into line with conventional, mainstream publishing, however. There is a cultural need for innovation and creativity and we need to feed that. But we need to feed it with quality work, not off-the-cuff weird shit that just doesn’t have any compelling reason to exist because it just isn’t good.

Then this begs the question of what experimental work is good…and I’m not looking for a debate down that road. When I say something isn’t good, it generally isn’t original, or it isn’t compelling. But worst, an experimental work that isn’t good is generally contrived.

  • Writing with funky fonts and calling yourself a non-linear writer is just incongruent.
  • Writing a Twitter novel has been done, and so it is no longer necessarily unconventional.
  • Jumping on a bandwagon genre trend is not experimental.

There are so many brilliant and interesting ways of breaking the rules and creating compelling work. But I contend that unconventional work is compelling in its integrity. And excellent writers have the breadth of experience to approach experimentation seamlessly–rookies should stick to learning the craft of writing first.

We cannot afford to have independent authorship appear to be too disjointed, with inconsistent quality. I welcome work that comes from out of left field–but the body of work we produce is now out of the shadows and under much more public scrutiny. If all those folks who receive e-readers from the xmas stork encounter download after download of shitty work or dubious quality, we are all–as a community–wasting an opportunity to introduce independent publishing to millions of new readers.

The time is NOW. Let’s get our shit together. Let’s be more careful about what we put out there. I count myself in that group as well–I’ve been guilty of putting shit quality short stories out there and I am going to stop doing that. I only want the absolute best of the best of freaky, bizarre, or even conventional storytelling with my name on it floating around the interwebz.

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2 Comments

Filed under commentary, essay

2 responses to “The Time Is Now

  1. I agree that anything an author publishes should be the absolute best the writer can do at that moment in time. If a writer knows there are things they can do to improve a work, then by definition it’s not ready for publication. That’s the test. (And by publication I don’t necessarily mean retail sale, but also public display on a website.)

    The problem, of course, is that a writer may not know their work isn’t ready. The solution, just as obviously, is to workshop the piece or ask for feedback from trusted readers. That’s the way the pros do it, whether they’re writing commercial works or literary works or experimental works.

    Experimentation in itself isn’t a problem for me, but I’m not convinced that experimentation profits from being in a retail pipeline. If you belong to a group of writers who are workshopping each other’s work, that’s a great place to try experimental storytelling, although the same requirement holds: it needs to be the absolute best you can do at the time.

    One thing I am sure of is that experimental writers shouldn’t demand that people respect their work, or have any expectation that the mainstream reading public will suddenly embrace experimental writing. Fiction profits from transparency in the same way that film does: the less a medium draws attention to itself, and the more it relies on conventional techniques, the easier it is for the audience to suspend disbelief. By definition, experimental fiction shatters this mental state in preference of intellectual and artistic challenges to convention — and most people are never going to enjoy that kind of writing.

    I agree with you about the opportunity before us. Exploiting that opportunity is partly chance, given that it relies on feedback (sales) from the marketplace. Success in that sense is out of any author’s control — but writers can still make sure that their work is the best they can do.

  2. You hit it, as always, on the head. Interestingly I’m going to expand on this:
    “a writer may not know their work isn’t ready.”

    Being a writer is an ongoing process. I’ve noticed at least in the past 18 months or so I’ve been active in the online writer community, Year Zero, Twitter, blogging, etc, that there are many writers who have written their magnum opus, and have since dropped off the radar.

    I love writing. I can’t stop. (Well, ok, the past few months I’ve been in this funk and my writing has suffered, but I’ll work that out shortly.) So if I were crazy enough to put all my efforts into one single work and put it out into the world and expect reciprocation, well, I’d be crazy. So it is hard for me to gauge what other writers feel and expect.

    But I find your comment most important:
    “experimental writers shouldn’t demand that people respect their work”
    Wow, that’s a poignant statement. I will live with that for a while.

    Thanks, Mark, as always.

    len

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