Storytelling is now a creative skill du jour, an increasingly common way for the ordinary people of the industrialised West to express themselves and their imaginations to the world at large. The rise of self-publishing and its tyrannical champion, Amazon, has given an unprecedented platform to those who want to express themselves through writing. Having cut their literary teeth on the digital exchanges of social media, thousands of literate and ambitious men and women have taken to heart their friends’ starry-eyed advice and “become a writer.” Suddenly anyone can create characters, project personas and manipulate the lives of others in an imaginary expression that can touch other real lives in the process.
Never before has it been possible to instantly reach a potential audience of millions with the musings and expressions of the individual. It has enabled and empowered an entire generation of people to speak, describe, create and invent, review, critique and soapbox; mostly it is a tinny, lone voice calling out into the ether but it holds the potential to become a roar that spreads like a wave across entire continents.
This property of electronic publishing is extremely compelling and has attracted millions of entries from the English-speaking world (its biggest linguistic constituency in terms of global reach) in a glut of content (ugh, I use that abhorrent word in its context). The sheer volume of ‘content’ has necessitated the hacking of this literary monolith into manageable, understandable chunks, known and loathed by us all as genres.
Back in the day, genre was pretty simple. Crime, Romance, Thrillers, and Fiction. But owing to the flood of new titles every single hour of every day, newly released on Amazon, we find micro-genres of practically every kind: a quick look on Amazon yields such treasures as Western & Frontier Christian Romance (presumably written by St Louis L’Amour); Non-Romantic Paranormal Urban Fantasy (The Unicorn Rainbow At The End Of The Sewer); or even Romantic Supernatural Thrillers: Werewolves And Shifters (FBI X-Chronicles Book 4: How I Met Your Mothman Mother).
Simply put – the variety is stifling. Whatever your persuasion or preference, there is probably not just a book but an entire genre devoted to it on Amazon. The dazzling array of titles is surely a testament to the ingenuity and creativity that has been struggling to emerge from the housebound young mothers of suburbia, the frustrated bank employees of the city or the aspiring fast-food servers of the strip malls.
But there is a dark side. To an employee on a fixed salary plus tips or bonuses, the attraction of writing that bestseller is strong. A successful author has no ceiling to their potential earnings. A book or, preferably, series with a movie deal, could take our frustrated author literally from the gutter to the stratosphere.
This attraction results in something not unlike the early rounds of Britain’s Got Talent. Dozens, if not hundreds queueing to be heard by a select group of judges, who will pronounce upon their efforts with a detached, critical eye for possibly the first time. The familial echoes of praise fall to the floor like cracked brown leaves in the face of the cold east wind of critical appraisal. The indie landscape is a post-apocalyptic mess of the benign and beautiful, drawing you to its perfume and promising comfort and joy, while the wreckage of the ugly and vile lurks all around, trying to trip and ensnare the inattentive traveller in its false, nasty clutches.
For unlike talent shows, the indie landscape remains littered with the abandoned detritus of the failed effort. Of the millions of titles on Amazon, an extraordinary 75% of the listed e-books account for less than 15% of overall sales.
The indie landscape traveller might find occasional green shoots of new growth here and there, and perhaps only once in a day’s trek through the treacherous potholes of literary horrors, they might find a thriving, strong tree reaching to the loftier heights of permanence.
Well, screw all that, indie author. Write your stories. Publish them, because you can. Promote, market and push them, because ultimately somebody will read your stories. Someone will like them. And sometimes you’ll get that magic feedback by way of a positive review.
But even if you don’t – write anyway. Because you can. And like most creative processes within the beating heart of humanity, because you can, you should.