How to Encourage a Renaissance?

The discussion around yesterday’s post, Where is the Renaissance?, got me to thinking. Not that this is a new subject for me. And it doesn’t entirely revolve around self-publishing, though that’s what this post is about.

The first thing to get out of the way: What’s good or bad is just a matter of taste. Discussions of quality in writing almost always get sidetracked by this argument.  tmso said : “Ah, but, just because you think it is crap doesn’t mean it is crap to the next person…” That’s the point I want to work with. Quality can’t be judged by one person’s taste — not mine, not yours. Quality is about value over time. The extravagantly expensive hammer that will last a lifetime vs the cheap one that falls apart after a few uses. The art that rides the crest of a fad or a work that impresses after centuries. The book that entertains and is thrown away or the one that people still read after 100 years, or even more.

I’m sure such books are still being written, but it’s become a lot harder to find them. The good thing about the traditional publishers functioning as gatekeepers was that they did the job (sometimes) of getting those writers published and available. The bad thing was that it was a very narrow gate. The good thing about self-publishing is that nobody has to wait for a gatekeeper’s judgment. The bad thing is that is extremely difficult to be noticed at all.

There are already many attempts to solve the problem of visibility: book blogs that do reviews, sites that aggregate authors for self-promotion, sites where authors can post their work, authors’ personal blogs and websites, social networking on the big sites like Facebook and Google+. Most of these barely scratch the problem of visibility, while others just contribute to it. I’m not deluded enough to think there’s one single answer to the problem. But narrowing it down makes it easier to consider possibilities.

Keeping in mind that this is about encouraging quality, my choice for the most effective outreach would be a review site. Nothing new there, of course. There are sites that review practically any kind of fiction, others that specialize. Those that specialize do it on the basis of genre: romance, LGBT, male/male, erotica, historical, YA  . . . If there are sites that select books purely on the basis of lasting quality rather than fads or potential best-sellerdom, I’m not aware of them. But to be perfectly honest, I’ve given up on reading review sites, so if there are such sites, I’d love to see them posted here, in the comments.

My first thought about such a review site was that certain categories of fiction would not be considered, simply because they’re the ones least likely to birth books of lasting value. Zombies, anyone? This is actually a tough problem, because awesome talent can show up in any genre. But there have to be practical limits.

The site would have to have more than one reviewer. The reviewers would have to know how to write a literate, balanced review, that isn’t just a plot summary. At least two reviewers would have to agree on the value of a book before one or more reviews would appear on the site.

A lot of details would have to be worked out. Submissions or recommendations? Full or partial submission? How often to update? And the basics like the design and format, and whether to take advertising.

This is just first thoughts. What are yours? It’s possible, impossible, useless? Offer suggestions, criticize, expand, whatever.





9 thoughts on “How to Encourage a Renaissance?

  1. Sounds possible. Also sounds like a lot of long-term hard work (as is the case with virtually every worthwhile endeavor). Are you considering starting this review site? My prediction is sooner or later something like this will pop up, and several times over.

    1. Let’s say I’m thinking about it. How seriously? Not very, at this point. It would take a lot of input from others and the promise of committed support. It isn’t a one-person project, even if I had more energy and didn’t have my own writing as top priority.

  2. This is a very interesting concept, and as put by CMStewart, would require a lot of work. However, there’s definitely a place for it in the blogging world to allow people to find good, original novels.

    I think there would have to be very strict criteria on the books posted. As you mentioned, personal taste is an overriding fact in whether people like works or not. Therefore, I think a careful guide to what would make the grade and what wouldn’t would need to be put in place from the outset.

    Great idea though 🙂

    1. Definitely, a set of standards to be met. Mechanics, for sure. Word usage, etc. If those are subpar, there’s no point going further. It’s one of the things that ticks me off about some of the review sites I’ve looked at. If the story and characters appeal to the reviewer, they’ll completely overlook the quality of the writing.

  3. If there are sites that select books purely on the basis of lasting quality rather than fads or potential best-sellerdom, I’m not aware of them.

    I hope that the indieebook review site is doing some of what you talk about. Of course, proving ‘lasting quality’ over time is difficult in the here and now, but I agree with you that quality is beyond ‘taste’. That’s why our site operates a peer review system of professional writers. The reviews are conducted without fear or favour (no money or backhanders) and using professionals with many years of writing experience (so that weeding out poor quality work is possible) Of course there’s an element of taste – and we only review work that our reviewers feel has value (no one wants to waste their time reading or reviewing things they hate) because our aim is to showcase good quality self published ebooks. Of course as several of your comments show, this is a ‘lot of work’ by a team of reviewers and we have our own ‘strict criteria’ You can’t please everyone of course and we do not set ourselves up to be proscriptive, but we aim to give readers confidence in our judgement and enough information to go and make informed choices about ebooks – finding many which otherwise might not see the light of day because they are not within the mainstream or promoted by those with profit as a motive. Time will tell how successful we are but we have at least ‘popped up’ (it felt a bit more laborious than that!) and are here offering something which may appeal to readers looking for that elusive ‘quality’ ebook…. the site is and we review Tuesday through Thursday each week.

  4. My only quibble with your comment, and with your review site, Callie, is about the “professional” aspect. I recognize the virtues of professionalism, both in reviewers and in writers (since the site implies (maybe more, somewhere that I missed) that writers who submit their work for review should also be professionals.

    For writers — the point is to find writers who aren’t professionals, but whose work has sufficient value that it deserves to be recognized.

    For reviewers — the demand for professional credentials of some sort leaves out all those potential reviewers whose own writing shows that they’re capable of offering educated opinions.

    it’s easier to man the gates with credentials, but if there’s to be a renaissance, the gates must be opened wider, not to lower the standards for quality, but to enable those who aren’t professionals to be seen and heard and judged on their basis of their worth, not their CVs.

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