I’ve been depressed this week. I think it’s mainly due to the weather: too many cold, cloudy days. It’s time for me to head south. But more than the weather, I’ve been plagued by self-doubt and disappointment. A couple weeks ago I read a book that has been a finalist in many well-known contests, and I found so many flaws in the plot that I don’t understand how it was published, much less why it was in contention for those awards.
Sometimes I can convince myself that it’s the topic that sells a book and makes it a best seller, that editors and readers are willing to overlook poor writing and weak plots simply because the “time is right” for that particular book. But that excuse didn’t seem plausible with this particular book. This was a mishmash of a plot, and not particularly unique.
So has this book been nominated for awards because the writer is well liked by other writers? (She really is a wonderful person.) Is it selling well because she’s young (at least relatively young) and beautiful? (She certainly looks good when being interviewed.) Could it be the blurbs she received from other writers influenced readers and book buyers? Or is it because she knows how to use social media and has succeeded in creating a “Brand”?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it bothers me to think success may be determined by elements that have nothing to do with the story or writing. Most of us can’t (or don’t want to) change our looks or our age, and I would hope that prestigious awards are based on the product, not the producer’s popularity. (Yeah, I know, I’m naïve.) As for blurbs from other writers, I don’t pay any attention to them, but maybe that’s because I’m in the business. I know how often well-known writers are asked to blurb books, and how some writers will give a good comment simply because the writer is a friend.
Platform, nowadays, may be the most important aspect of selling a book. Once upon a time, publishing houses created the platform. They put out the ads, booked autographing sessions and interviews. They sent the galleys and advanced reading copies to reviewers, and created press releases. Their sales reps touted a writer’s new book and convinced book stores to purchase copies.
That was once upon a time. Now most of that is on the writer’s shoulders.
Yes, in a way that’s good. I can now write my own ads and press releases (and not give away an important plot point in the process), and I can choose the reviewers for my book. I can go on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and all of the other social media sites and push my book. I can gather fans clubs, run contests, go on blog tours, make trailers, put out newsletters, update my website, and…
The list can go on and on. And for many, all of the above is wonderful. It’s exciting. It’s fun. And best of all, it often sells books.
But I wonder (and I’m not thinking of myself here, but of others) how often writers get caught up in the platform and don’t find time for the writing. How many books might have been written that never will be written because the writer didn’t have the time or energy after devoting so much to the platform.
What is liberating can also be a trap.