Storytelling is the creative skill du jour. It’s an increasingly common way for ordinary people to express their imagination 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 women and men with writing ambitions have taken to heart their friends’ starry-eyed advice and become writers.
Unimpeded by the gatekeepers of the publishing industry, anyone with an internet connection can create characters, tell their stories and manipulate the lives of others in an imaginary expression that can touch other real lives in the process. Self-publishing offers a YouTube analogue for the written word. Never before has it been possible to instantly reach a potential audience of millions with the musings of the individual. It has empowered an entire generation of people to speak, describe, create and invent, review, critique and soapbox; mostly you are a tinny, lone voice calling out into the ether but the potential exists to become a roar that spreads like a wave across entire continents.
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 suburban 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 on 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 TV talent shows. Dozens, if not hundreds queueing to be heard by a select group of savvy 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 result is that while the indie landscape appears as a benign and beautiful oasis, drawing you to its perfume and promising comfort and joy, in fact, it is a post-apocalyptic quagmire of the dead and the living. While the indie landscape traveller might find occasional green shoots of new growth here and there, perhaps only once in a day’s trek will they find a thriving, strong tree reaching to the loftier heights of permanence.
For the most part, it is beset with zombies, fighting for life and happy to suck the living brains from the unsuspecting. Meanwhile, the landscape itself is strewn with potholes and snares as the wreckage of the ugly and vile lurks all around, trying to trap the inattentive traveller in its fake, 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 fewer than 15% of overall sales. The average indie author’s earnings are $500 per book. Average. That’s taking into account the EL James or Andy Weir indie lightning strikes that nobody predicted.
It could be enough to put off the aspiring author who wants to write self-published books for a living. 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. Sometimes you’ll get that magic feedback by way of a positive review. And somewhere along the line, you will become somebody’s favourite author. Really.
But even if you don’t want all that – write anyway. Because you can. And like most creative processes within the beating heart of humanity, because you can, you should.