Sunday, July 28, 2013

Is Jealousy a Bad Thing for a Writer?

I'm about to make an admission many writers are afraid to make. I am envious of other writers' works. Even jealous, coveting. When it comes to other people's literature, I must be breaking  the Ninth and Tenth Commandments at least.

When I read an awesome work by another writer, I go through several phases.

  1. Awe – I am captured by the story and especially the main character.  I read it continuously and even when I have put it down for the moment, I'm still thinking about it.
  2. Jealousy – I think to myself  'I wish could write that well'.
  3. Depression – I'm down because I don't think I'll ever be able to write that well.
  4. Evaluation – I look at the story in detail to try and figure out why that story was so successful.
  5. Improvement – Everything I write from this point on is better because of what I have learned from studying this author's work.

As an example, I'm reading the YA Dystopian novel Divergent.  Many people think the plot is a little absurd, but I can easily see how it became a #1 seller.  The main character's narration is awesome. She jumps right out of the book and talks to the reader. 

I spent yesterday in the jealousy and depression phases as a result of what I read. I envied the writer's ability to make a character jump out of the book like that and was feeling down I could not to it that well.  However, today I was able to analyze and evaluate why I as a reader relate so well to the narrator. And, as I worked on the finishing touches of my novel Bear Dreamer, I was able to make my main character's voice stand out just a little more. So, I guess it was worth dancing with the Devil for a couple songs.

Yes, some of my emotions look pretty bad on the surface. However, as a result of these negative feelings my next work will be better. It's a lot like a weight lifter who works out until his arms are sore.  When he gets over the soreness, he is able to lift more weight.

I really don't think jealousy in this instance is an evil thing as long as it does not drive you to wish bad things on the author.  If disciplined properly, it can be a force to help you improve.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Book Promotion Has Gone Cuckoo

The big story this week has been the jumping of The Cuckoo's Calling from obscurity to number one on Amazon soon as it was revealed it was actually written by J.K. Rowling.  As with most news stories, there are several angles. Let me present mine.

This situation is about as close to a controlled experiment as we are likely to see in the publishing world. A well-run experiment has three types of variables.  Controlled variables are things that are kept the same. Independent variables are things that are changed by the researcher. Dependent variables are the results of the experiment, which are determined by how the researcher manipulates the independent variables.

In this case, the controlled variable is the story, which remains constant throughout.  The independent variable is the familiarity of the author, which is changed from an unknown (Robert Galbraith) to the best known (J.K. Rowling). The dependent variable is the amount of book sales.  By now, everyone knows the results of this experiment.

 The conclusion is no matter how well you can write if no one knows who you are you will probably not sell many books.  In an ideal world, the sales of a particular book are a direct result of how well-written it is and nothing else.   We do not live in an ideal world.

Today's authors must be promoters of books as well as writers of books. A mediocre book that is promoted well will almost always sell a lot more copies than a well-written book that is promoted poorly. It may not be right or fair that a writer must learn to promote himself and his works, but that's the reality we are stuck with. Otherwise, you could be as talented as J. K. Rowling and still not sell many books.