I’m talking to a writer friend last night. We’ve never met face-to-face, but I’ve read her work and it’s very good. Often raw and real. She is a poet, and a genuine poet. She was expressing to me her disappointment, and possible disillusionment, at this whole writing and storytelling world some of us find ourselves in, almost a quarter way into the twenty-first century.
I think many of us start writing to express an inner voice and to tackle some social issues, to talk about and examine the human condition, to tell stories and examine a talent we’ve been told we possess. I don’t know how many of us expected our first book to sell 10 million copies, and we’d end up writing in an oak lined den, wearing a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows, but I’m sure some of us did.
The reality is nothing like that, not even close. This writer friend of mine is a fiction writer, and she works in science fiction. Braver than me, I think I’d get lost writing science fiction and my work would be really bad. We discussed the fact that there’s so much absolute garbage fiction out there flooding the market today. There must be a million books published yearly about rabid, werewolf-zombie-vampires with bare chests. Male and or female nipples exposed for sales purposes. It’s embarrassing, and it’s disheartening. I’ve got no issue with nipples. Hell, I might even be a fan, but I don’t find zombie nipples attractive or thought provoking.
I think my biggest takeaway from my years in this writing business has been that you just have to write from your gut and if somebody likes it and they connect to it, then that’s good and if you sell a couple hundred books your book was a success by today’s standards. We’re drowning in a world of bad stuff being written and rehashed. Like things from 1960 and ‘70s TV shows. They just dug up and re-warmed Magnum PI, for Christ’s sake. Couldn’t anyone in the past fifty years do anything newer and more original than a marginally entertaining TV detective show from fifty years ago? They re-hashed Hawaii Five 0 a while back too. Book ‘em, Dano… Jesus, shoot me.
I’m going to continue to write about a recovering addict’s struggle with the third step, and the perceived need to subscribe to and handover your life to a God that you may or may not believe in. I’m going to continue to write about old mobsters, looking back on their lives with some remorse and regret, and maybe a little amusement, and con-men and racism and hate and fear and the real things I think we need to talk about. I’m going to continue to write about things that matter to me.
It is my hope my friend Lauren takes a step away and catches her breath and then keeps writing her truth. I think she was has thrown up her hands on marketing, and I get that completely. The creativity and imagination that’s called to write fiction is an entirely different form of creativity that’s required to write marketing hype. The publishing world has transformed over the past twenty-five years. It’s made being traditional published a nearly impossible goal—and if you get a traditional publisher to show an interest in your work they often ask: A) how big is your current subscriber list (10,000 subscribers seems to be their sweet spot) and B) what is your marketing plan… huh? I thought the publisher was my marketing plan…
Stressing sales figures and marketing is to me, anti-art, anti-creativity. It makes me sad. I think a lot of truly talented people have just stopped writing or stop publishing and producing because we’re becoming over washed with nonsense and in 2023 nonsense seems to be what sells. Then we have to figure out Twitter and Facebook ads, and how many hashtags to use on Instagram, and how to attract readers to our blog and email list, and is Pinterest worth the effort and who the Hell even knows how to use Pinterest anyway, and seriously, Snapchat?! WTF even is that? Then the soul searching to decide if we want to give all our personal information to China and TikTok. To be honest, I worry less about what the Chineses government knows about me than I do what the US Government knows about me, but I digress. For the record, I’d market to a Mexican cartel if it would sell some books and get some reviews…
I read a lot of Hemingway and Steinbeck and Faulkner, and those words that were penned a hundred years ago are as poignant and purposeful as anything that could be written today because we really don’t change. People, the problems and the foibles all stay the same and the human condition stays the same. I’m going to let somebody else write about the big titted rabid werewolf-zombie-vampires, and not think about it anymore. I hope my friend Lauren does the same.
And now we have AI generated books popping up on Amazon, like those persistent little flowers that would suddenly appear when we cleaned the barn and spread fresh shit on the fields.
I’m kind of looking forward to competing with AI. AI writing is soulless and shallow. There is no poetry in the prose, but maybe, just maybe, it will come up with something original.
Anyway, I hope my friend Lauren and the other good craftswomen—and craftsmen—and storytellers keep plugging along, working their art, and stop feeling defeated by book sales. Some days it’s like trying to nail jello to a tree, but every now and then you get an email or a message from a reader you realize you’ve made that connection and it’s a bit like magic.