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.