I’ve really got to start paying closer attention to what I put on this blog. It seems I’m forever writing things I don’t mean.
For instance, in my last wordy post, I wrote that I enjoy cozy mysteries, but nobody’s writing good ones these days. That’s just not true. I’ve got at least 4 on my Kindle right now I’m wrenching life in hopes of squeezing out enough time to read them. Some are written by tried-and-true writers published by the Big Six, and some are amazing new voices coming through the indie pipeline. But I’ve created a mess that doesn’t allow time for reading those excellent books I find so enjoyable.
That mess has come about because indie publishing is raising all holy hell for those of us who would rather read than breath. The Big Six houses are running scared, and scared people do dumb things, like keeping prices ridiculously high for eBooks. That really ticks me off, and it’s not going down well with other readers. Come on, there are no printing costs involved, there’s never too many books printed to sell, no guess work in judging a book’s success, and the ability to jump on an unexpected bestseller and run with it. And since they still maintain the best connections with the best outlets, those tempting goodies are always in our faces and making us want the book but reluctant to fork out the cash. That’s called cognitive dissonance, and humans don’t tolerate it very well. The Big Six houses are also facing another problem: Indie publishers are teaching the reading public how much they should pay for a book. Right now, it’s about $2.99, give or take a few bucks. I no longer care how much I enjoy some of my favorite writers, there’s just no way I’m going to hand over 10bucks+ when I’ve learned nicely packaged and formatted books can be had for less. This is the era of challenging the Big Boys, straight across the board, and like most people, I always suspect those Big Boys to be making more money than they should off the people working themselves silly proving product. In this case, it’s the writers. (I didn’t say this mess was rational.)
On the other side of reader’s hell is the indie publishing movement itself. Anybody and everybody with enough money to fund their hobby is screaming all over Facebook, Twitter, and every other social media to buy their book, buy their friend’s book, to buy, buy, buy, buy whatever they suggest, and a whole bunch of us are doing exactly that because they’re friends. Not just friends, but friend who write. OMG, I know an author, a real author.
I’d certainly buy a friends quilt if I knew they were struggling with finances and putting their crafts up for sale. The difference with a quilt is you can hide it in a closet if it’s really bad and only pull it out when the friend stops by, and you aren’t expected to give it a public rating. If they’re an excellent quilter, they’ll rise with minimum marketing and a whole bunch of word of mouth. Better yet, they’ll get picked up by QVC or some other outlet looking for a hot property to boost sales.
That’s not how it works in indie publishing. If you buy a friend’s book and don’t give it a rating on Amazon or B&N or goodreads, you just know they’re feeling bummed. And if you do rate it, well, there’s the feeling that you really want to help out a friend so you give it more stars than you’re comfortable giving, or you don’t want to piss them off and lose their friendship. Then you come across an indie book that blows you away, but your glowing review really doesn’t matter because you’ve already blown your credibility by tossing around too many stars.
And we have writing buddies giving reviews, sometimes two and three reviews of the same book, and the the multiple reviews glow in different ways. I don’t know why this practice isn’t stopped by the indie publishers, but I always look for multiple reviews when buying a book, even a free one. Take my money but don’t take my time. I can’t ever get my time back, no matter what a good little girl I’ve been.
Ah, yes, I’ve just tossed off the “f” word–free. Yeah, my Kindle is full of those free book offerings, too. I’m a stress spender, and nothing helps me keep that in check better than a “spending” spree done on Amazon.com, cruising and downloading free eBooks. That habit of “spending” is reinforced when Amazon sends me an invoice for my free purchase. I really feel as if I’ve bought something, so I do it over and over and over and over again. (Take note Big Six. If Amazon can send electronic invoices for free purchases, somewhere in my brain I’m computing the costs of commerce on the internet. It’s adding up to pennies, which means you’ve got to be robbing me blind and screwing your writers.)
I’ve been through this kind of upheaval before in a different area of the arts, which I’ll talk about later. So far, this upheaval has many things in common with the first one, and something I was told by a member of the Old Guard is holding true: Amidst the junk and lower prices, the bar has been raised.
Sure, I’ll satisfy my all-American need to spend by grabbing as many free substitutes as I can, but I won’t spend my time on anything that isn’t flawlessly awesome within the first five pages. And I won’t settle for cheap tricks. I used to because, hey, I spent my money on something that’s already passed through many gatekeepers, so there’s got to be something in there worth my money. Hang with it. The author has to kick into gear at some point. That feeling is evaporating in this brave new world where the books run fast and cheap. Even if the writer hasn’t hooked me nice and easy with a clean and enthralling beginning, I’ll still dump the book at the page of sloppy writing. I have to because there are too many others waiting in line.
I don’t think I’m alone in sating my need to “spend” on free or cheap books, and then dumping them at the first sign of trouble. Many indie authors post about their books hitting the top of the free charts with 5,000 downloads, and yet there are maybe five or six reviews given of those books.
Something’s not adding up in all this, and I’m steering clear.
If there’s anything extrodinary about me, it’s how ordinary I am. I’m not one of those linchpin leaders, I’m in the center of the herd and just happen to be a little taller and more visible.
It’s fairly safe to say if I’ve lost my patience with all this nonsense and beginning to withdraw, there’s a whole bunch of public thinking the same thing and taking the same actions.
I’ve been watching a lot of TV lately on Netflix, spending evenings I used to spend reading watching entire TV series, one episode after another. All the tensions I’m starting to feel when I cruise the books at WalMart or pick up my Kindle are absent as I sit back and enjoy the idiot box. It’s cheaper, and nothing’s expected of me, other than my enjoyment. If you can’t satisfy that need for relaxed engagement with story and character and the perfect blend of excitement and emotion, then I have plenty of other options I can switch to. Last month, a billion other people tuned in to Netflix, and I’m going to guess a lot of them turned off their Kindles to do so.
I’ll wait until this settles down and I can once again trust my time with books. A time when books will be written for me and not the author or the publisher’s pocket. It’s time to revisit the classics, the pulp fiction of the past already on the shelf, and buying just one book per month I know I can enjoy without having to work before, during, and after my leisure time.
Of course, there will always be exceptions to that rule. I’ll return, because I must, to those authors I trust, and maybe a few indie authors I trust. I have to hunt for that trust by never buying a book with less than 30 reviews and a rating no higher than 4.5 (a perfect score of 5 stars means the author either has a website and loyal readers, has self-promoted through the roof, or has a really, really big family). And I’ll always put out good money for a good non-fiction book with reviews from credible sources. I appreciate the research that goes into those books and gladly pay for the effort.
But other than those few exceptions, I’m staying out of the line of fire until this war has settled down and the cream has risen, cracking the Kindle open now and again to read those luscious cozy mysteries I know are waiting for me there. Oh, and some really good literary fiction I know is buried somewhere in my archives, and those thrilling police procedurals with off-beat characters I secretly want to be like in my fantasy world of reading.