Monday, April 9, 2012

Anatomy of a Writer's Rant

This morning I read a blog rant from an acquaintance named Aaron Patterson, an author and the publisher of StoneHouse Ink. I met Aaron last summer at the International Thriller Writers conference. His enthusiasm and his business savvy impressed me.
Last month Aaron sold nearly 20,000 copies of his ebooks. In some respects, he is running circles around much bigger publishers, and he’s only been in the business for three years. In his rant, he compares most authors to casino goers: “Authors from everywhere are all on the plane whooping it up, drinking and full of visions of the money filled pools of their future. But on the airplane ride back, sad faces and hung over looks cover the silent air like a wet dream crushing blanket.”
Now, this is a sentence that began with great promise and then devolved into an awkward mixed metaphor. If you’re turned off by the writing of his post (which clearly was just spit out, typos and all, in a fit of frustration bordering on rage), you might be inclined to dismiss Aaron. In that case, you’d be the poorer, because he’s right. Hope is not a strategy. The business point of being published (self or otherwise) is not to acquire a lottery ticket but to build a brand of some kind.

I have never read any of Aaron’s fiction. Therefore I can’t say whether it’s any “good,” but I know that it sells and that he’s a shrewd marketer. (Don’t believe me? Search James Patterson on Amazon and see what other author’s books show up in the top five.)
What’s interesting is that in Aaron's rant he notes that reviewers whom he suspects are embittered authors have gone on Amazon and ripped him with bad reviews. He may be right about their motives; I don’t know. But I do know this: in my experience the authors whose books don’t sell complain about a system that undervalues their work while authors whose books do sell are happy to be pitched like a can of beans if it puts money in their pockets.
If you pay attention at all to book publishing, you know that some awful reads sit on bestsellers lists while many great reads languish. Of course, it’s always been thus. The difference today seems to be that — due to the Internet and ebooks — the playing field for marketers is more level than it ever has been.
In their day — as has been well documented — Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were master marketers. There were other great publishing salesmen of that era, no doubt, whose works are long forgotten. Contemporary critics don’t get to decide what’s literature (Melville’s Moby Dick got panned, remember); posterity does. Meanwhile, we writers have to feed ourselves, and there are only a few options: get a day job, get lucky or market yourself like hell.