When I was studying stage magic there was an observation that most of the best writers on the subject made. Magic tricks are separated into two general categories: Easy hard tricks, and hard easy tricks. What this means in explanation is; there are illusions that appear to the audience to be very hard to pull off, yet are so easy you could teach a chimpanzee to do them in about a half hour. There are also illusions that look easy to the audience which actually take months to master, if not years.
A nice bit of trivia, but what does this have to do with storytelling and writing? Quite a bit. Especially in today’s convoluted landscape of opportunity.
When I first attempted to make a career as a storyteller the opportunities were rather limited. An author attempting to enter the speculative fiction market was pretty much limited to short stories in magazines, or novels. The last assuming that you could land an agent and sell something to a publisher. Considering the immense number of potential authors out there, neither option was an easy break. Just as they are today.
Self-publishing was an option, but for the most part the vanity press, as it was known, was a dead end fraud. The vanity press made good money off of want-to-be authors who had a bit of cash to spend, but the author still remained an unknown. They also found themselves stuck with a few hundred unsalable books.
Then the digital revolution and e-books struck. Today anyone, and I do mean anyone, can publish a story; either electronically, or as a print on demand physical book. The cost, if any, is miniscule at best and well within the reach of nearly any aspiring author. But, just as with the easy hard tricks of the stage magician, it really isn’t as easy as it looks. This is particularly true if you are serious about being a author.
One of the down sides of the e-book revolution is that there is a lot of delusional crap flooding the market. This is brought about by the aspiring author who believes that they can write as well as anyone else, and after a series of failures they turn to e-publishing. Never mind that they rarely check their spelling, or that they never bothered to have anyone beyond their family and good friends read their ‘work’. They are a good wrighter an they knows it. Them other poeples just don’t have no taste. (See what I mean?)
The ‘writing is easy’ crowd aside, at first blush the e-book market does look like an easy alternative to traditional publishing for the aspiring professional. In truth, it is not. In fact it is actually the harder market when you consider what it will take for the serious author to garner a readership.
First, and foremost, you will lack the services of a good editor. Unless you have a few thousand dollars laying about, you are on your own in this particular spectrum of the writing business. Even if you do have the extra cash to spend for one, it’s still no guarantee anyone is going to notice you. The odds are; you just blew a couple of thousand bucks for a return of thirty, or forty bucks and about as many readers. No matter how you tally that, it isn’t a wise investment.
This means you are going to have to find a way to be your own editor. The problem there is you are too damn close to your own story. You are going to miss things like pacing, story flow, plot holes, and clumsy sentences that you thought were aerial lines of prose. Trust me, no matter how good you think you are, they weren’t.
One of the best remedies for this is to garner a few beta readers. Preferably other writers who are working for the same goal you are. Most writers are avid readers, and they will notice the things that you missed. A harder method is to enable yourself to look at your own work as if someone else wrote it. This is near to impossible for most aspiring authors. It requires a discipline that most of us lack. It also doesn’t take into consideration the fact that human beings are notorious for our ability to lie to ourselves.
But, if you are one of the few who is serious about your craft, then I do have good news for you. There is a way to develop those all important beta readers, and critiques. Join a writer’s critique group where you can make friends in the industry. AgentQuery Connect is one, Critters Writers Workshop is another. Although there are hundreds more on the web, these are the two best.
Oh, and before you get the wrong idea, allow me to give you one piece of advice. Neither of the two I have mentioned is a quick fix. Your going to have to put forth some effort. To gain a friend, you have to be a friend. So, don’t just run in and immediately start looking for people to help you out. That approach is both rude, and self-serving. You’ll be spotted in a moment.
Offer to help others out first. Make friends. Be a friend. Be ready to accept criticism, and take advice. Not all of it will fit you, but it’s better than trying to go it alone.
Since most of what I’m musing about here can’t be done in a single blog post, I’ll let things go and continue with the other aspects the ‘easy hard way’ will throw at you in future posts.
Perhaps between all of us we can find a better method for the serious author to get their work noticed. At the least, we can try.