Thoughts from a reader who is also a writer

Okay, I’m going to start off by saying this morning’s post is late because WP decided, much like FB, to “improve” things. That meant changing the entire frigging posting interface. Fortunately, I’m a stubborn woman and I kept checking various menus, options, etc., until I found the old interface. That is a big sigh, as at least a few of my fellow Mad Ones will agree. I really, really wish these platforms would quit changing things that basically work. Now, onto the post.

I’ve mentioned before that I was fortunate to grow up in a house where reading was encouraged and books valued. As I sit here typing this, I’m surrounded by books that span not just a few years but decades. Hell, if I’m honest, a couple are more than a century old. Over the years, I’ve added a few books to this particular collection but, for the most part, these are books my parents collected. My books are in another part of the house or on my Kindle or backed up to external storage devices.

These books cover pretty much any subject or genre you might want to find. That’s something else I give my parents credit for. They encouraged reading a wide range of topics by doing so themselves. So walk in here and you’ll find everything from a multi-volume series on Lincoln or Robert E. Lee to a first edition of Rand’s The Fountainhead to a first edition of Ferber’s Giant. Then there’s the Physician’s Desk Reference, religious books, self-help and so much more.

When I was a kid, each of these books was a place of escape for me. Just as the newer books I’ve added have been.

I wish I could say that about a number of the books coming out from traditional publishers these days. Maybe I’m jaded. Okay. I know I am. I’m old enough to be cynical and I hung around the edges of the profession long before I started publishing. Even if I hadn’t, I could see the change in much of what we get now compared to what used to come from trad publishers.

No, I’m not talking the sex or cussing or stuff like that. I’m talking about quality of storytelling, of taking a story and making it yours.

How often have you picked up a book published in the last 20 years and started reading it only to stop and wonder if you hadn’t already read it? Then you check the title and publication date and realize you couldn’t have because it just came out.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve done so. There are authors I no longer buy because all they are doing now is filing off the serial numbers of another book or series they wrote–and doing so badly. The names and places may have changed but the basic plot is still the same. I found myself knowing before the end of the first or second chapter who the bad guy was, how he would try to win the day and how he would be defeated. If romance was part of the plot, I’d even know who wound up with who and how the next book in the series would then go down.

You can fool me once or twice but after that, you aren’t going to get my money.

The fact publishers are not only encouraging writers to do this but demanding it in some instances shows they don’t care either. All they look at is what worked once. Then they will milk that twist or turn until it no longer sells. When that happens they are off to their next gimmick–we saw it with The Da Vinci Code and with Twilight, with 50 Shades and with Hunger Games.

Worse, we see it coming in the TV and movie industry as well.

Fox has a new cop show on that started a couple of weeks ago. It’s a “buddy” show. But there’s a twist: the cop buddies are women. No, not in the Cagney & Lacey mode but in the Lethal Weapon mode. In fact, if you think about it as you watch the first episode, it is close to a recasting of the Lethal Weapon TV series which ran, iirc, on Fox. The idea was old then. It is just bad now, especially since they are trying to have one of the leading female characters be more bad ass than Mel Gibson ever was.

Then, while I was trolling Youtube for something to play in the background while I worked the other day, I came across a trailer for The Witches.

I watched it and remembered another movie with the same name and same premise. Oh yeah, also based on the Roal Dahl story. That one starred, among others, Angelica Huston and Mai Zetterling.

And who can forget the retreads we’ve gotten from Hollywood like “Car 54, Where are you?”, the female version of Ghostbusters, just to name two that left many of us wondering where all the creativity has gone?

All that is a long-winded way of saying this is why I appreciate indie publishing as a reader. I can find books publishers won’t put out because they don’t fit the mold of whatever the trend of the day happens to be. Or because the author refused to use the mandated (okay, it’s an unofficial mandate) tickler system of who can write about what and write which characters, the types of characters you must have, etc. (Remember, the Oscars are now talking about mandating the makeup of not only the crew but the cast/characters of a movie for it to qualify for the awards.)

The small press and indie publishing movement has allowed writers like those of us here at MGC to write not only stories we like but stories that you guys want to read. They’ve let authors like Jean Rabe who did a guest post for us back in July write a series that publishes wouldn’t touch because she dared blur sub-genre lines in a way they hadn’t seen before.

I don’t know about you, but I would prefer publishers listen to their readers instead of trying to educate us about what they see as social causes, at least when it comes to fiction. I’d like them to pay attention to price points and quit treating us like we are too stupid to realize it doesn’t cost as much to produce and transmit an e-book as it does a print book. As a reader–not to mention as a writer–I want them to pay authors what that author is worth, not just pennies on the dollar. Gone are the days when publishers printed hundreds or thousands of copies of a book, hoping it would sell.

Now they do the initial print run based on pre-orders plus a certain percent of that number. Everything else can–and probably is–basically a print on demand issue, not that they will admit that to the author. I don’t have solid proof of it but there is plenty of anecdotal proof out there. How else do you explain the number of authors who see their so-called sales figures and then the publisher says there are x-number of books still in the warehouse from the first printing–which, if you add the two numbers up total something much more than the contract called for in the first printing?

In other words, as a reader, I’m tired of being taken for granted by publishers (and by movie and TV producers). Give me a good indie book any day of the week. As for video, well, there’s plenty of older work out there I’d rather watch than almost anything on the screen today.

End rant.

Oh, and here is where I shill for myself. If you haven’t checked out A Magical Portent yet, please consider doing so:

Storm clouds gather. An unknown danger nears, one that may spell the end of Mossy Creek, TX, and all those who live there.

Dr. Jax Powell and her best friends, her sisters from other misters, are determined to do whatever it takes to protect their town and loved ones. Each of them, once considered the town’s wayward children, have returned home. All but one: Magdalena “Maddy” Reyes. She’s not refused to return to Mossy Creek, but she appears to have dropped off the face of the Earth—or at least from the streets of Dublin.

Can they find Maddy and save their town or is it already too late?

Also, Cat’s Paw is available for pre-order and will be released later this month:

Five years after the world learned shapeshifters are real, Mackenzie Santos is at a crossroads. Her responsibilities to the local pride and the Tribunal are taking more and more of her time. As the Dallas Police Department’s official liaison with the federal government on all things dealing with shapeshifters, she often finds herself on the road. That means she is away from her daughter, who is growing up much too quickly. Something has to give, and it might just be the job she loves.

But walking away isn’t going to be easy. Someone out there is determined to prove monsters do walk the face of the Earth and that they are the top of the proverbial food chain. They don’t care how many lives are lost or how many innocents are hurt. This is war and Mac and those she loves are in the middle of ground zero.

Leaving the DPD may no longer be an option. Yet the restrictions placed on her as a cop may prevent her from stopping the carnage, especially since she doesn’t know where the danger comes from or where it will strike next.

Featured Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay.

20 comments

  1. Now, I confess that I *am* looking forward to the Ghostbusters SEQUEL (which was supposed to come out this spring/summer, but of course didn’t because covid, sigh.) New story, same universe, looks fun.

    But yeah, the growing whining from Hollywood that “Movie theaters are going to DIE” is not upsetting me overmuch. I have to drive an hour and a half just to get to the nearest good theater (an hour to an okay theater, with only 3 screens). So I only see movies I really, REALLY want to see, and which I think would be more fun to see on the big screen. There are fewer and fewer of those. Even the Wonder Woman sequel, which again has been delayed, I find myself thinking “Eh, I don’t need to see it on the big screen, it would be more comfy to do it at home.”

    Netflix has been cancelled permanently. Hulu and Prime are remaining for now, although Prime’s latest “original movie!” about how all the white folks in the US are oppressing the vote or something annoyed me (I only watched the trailer, so possibly I’m wrong, but somehow I doubt it) and their original series seem to be growing increasingly more vile (though again, I generally don’t watch those.) And Prime, now that they no longer do “two day shipping” is growing increasingly less valuable to me. (But I still love Kindle Unlimited, so even if I ditch Prime, that will stay.)

  2. What a lot to unpack here!
    I see all those hugely annoying updates as a way for the programmers to justify their salaries as well as fix earlier errors. My workflow hasn’t been improved by having to learn all this new (*^&*^. My computer chokes on the upgrades because it wasn’t designed to have zero operating space left after the bells and whistles get doubled in volume. And underlying all these ‘improvements’ is what the computer industry is always trying to say to us:

    Buy a new one, you cheapskate.

    Which I don’t want to do.

    As for the writing all becoming the same; boy is it ever. It’s getting harder and harder to find new books that are traditionally published that aren’t the same old thing that I’ve read before. I believe it’s not just the publishing industry running scared, but authors who’ve had all the imagination sanded out of them by writing programs. Any idiosyncrasies are removed, leaving behind only blandness and whatever is currently fashionable.

    God knows that my doorstops of hugely complicated family sagas would never be published today even though they used to be.

    Remember John Jakes and his mega-series that spanned generations? Only in indie today.

  3. Audible is turning into a streaming service. Good for people who listen to a lot of books in a month, but bad for people who suddenly find books going away forever before they can finish them. It also makes people spend more money every month if they want credits to buy audiobooks and keep them; and it also means that if they don’t buy credits, they’ll be stuck with previous good versions of audiobooks going way forever, to be replaced by bad narrators. (Or vice versa, in some cases.) So on YouTube, you keep finding audiobook channels surfacing and disappearing, and often they are using older versions of audiobooks with preferred narrators whose license has gone away.

    Plus Audible does that thing where every audiobook is sped up, and you have to slow them down artificially to the original reading speed. Again, it’s good for those who enjoy listening to audiobooks at high speed, for information, but annoying to people who like an immersive experience with a fine voice actor. Also, they changed the color of wish list buttons and so forth, which is apparently very confusing to most users.

    And yes, over the last few years, the featured choices of the Audible editors and the recommendations of the algorithms have gone from practically psychic to ridiculously unappealing. Even the most politically liberal people have disliked having BLM-centric materials shoved down their throats, and I think the lack of sales of desired audiobooks is part of why Audible is now pushing streaming.

    It just seems suicidal to implement large scale changes like this, for the benefit of a few people who like them. Experiments in widened features are one thing, but messing up your satisfied customers and discouraging them is counterproductive.

    1. I haven’t noticed a big change in Audible–but then, I only do the subscription, and have only been operating off my wishlist for spending credits, so that’s likely why.

      I haven’t noticed any speeding up, either–I wonder if that’s a feature of the streaming end of things, or no? Eh.

      But I *definitely* noticed the stupidity of their recommendations. Kindle was doing it too, though it’s eased off a bit in the last month or so (y’know, when they realized that most people are actually pissed off about the rioting…)

      I’ve found their monthly freebie to be largely unuseable, though, because most of the audible “originals” suck and are too woke and/or depressing for words. At least the Kindle Firsts have a fairly wide selection, and so I can usually find something I want to read.

      So long as they LEAVE MY LIBRARY ALONE, I’m more or less content. Though their reasoning why they don’t offer my preferred plan as part of the standard plans anymore was stupid. (I like the 2 credit per month one, and all they offer–should I cancel my sub and come back–is 1 credit or all 12 at one go, unless I reach out to customer service and say “WTH gimme my plan back.” Their reason, such as it was, was “Well, we got so many rejected credit cards…” Which makes NO sense at all, because it’s STILL A MONTHLY PLAN.)

  4. I’ve essentially given up on broadcast TV as of a good few years ago, because – sick to death of incessant, constant commercials, every ten minutes! It made it hell to follow the story, breaking away for two or three minutes (or longer!) and because more and more I could see the denouement coming within the first ten minutes – because I had seen the whole plot twist over and over in other shows.
    So – on to streaming video, and a lot of foreign TV series. As someone at AoS HQ remarked a couple of days ago, if you want to watch original and quirky content, learn to read subtitles…

    1. Our tv broke in 1996 and we didn’t replace it and I didn’t miss it. Eventually, ten years later, we finally accepted a replacement from a concerned relative but we didn’t connect to the outside world. It plays DVD’s and games and that’s it. It forces everyone to make a conscious choice to select something and turn the beast on (using the power-strip because I don’t like feeding vampire electrical devices).

      Foreign movies are great! I can’t see the plot mechanism from a mile away.
      We get almost everything we want from the library for free (already paid by my taxes).
      When I have to watch broadcast tv, the constant commercials are maddening.
      I’ve saved thousands of $$$$ by cutting that cord decades ago.

  5. I made the mistake of skimming the “YA Books of the Year!!!!!” table and B&N. Apparently teens are only supposed to read about gay minority teens this year (paranormal, urban fantasy, high fantasy, general fiction, and so on). Then they complain because teens don’t read? The kids at Day Job are reading Brandon Sanderson, Tolkien, _A Wrinkle in Time_, and that sort of thing. None of which (aside from Sanderson) are new. Oh, and the Dresden Files. They read in print, because we are a No Phone Zone, and they don’t seem to bring e-readers with them.

    1. If you look at the Hugo winners and the majority of books toted on TOR.com, so are adults. 😉

      What I see reading people on the commute is Abercrombie, Martin, Bakker, Rothfuss and Erikson.

    2. Probably for most them, their phones ARE their e-readers. I still have my kindle paperwhite (it’s on my bookshelf, in its nifty book-like cover), but given how much smaller, lighter, and how much MORE storage space my phone has for me e-books…

      And yeah. I’m having a hard time with the ‘gay for the sake of a check-box’ trend. I’m seeing indications of it probably going to happen in an otherwise really good Harry Potter fanfic I’ve been reading, and I know it’s probably gonna annoy me to the extent I give up on the fanfic. (Explain to me WHY Harry ending up in Slytherin also apparently makes him gay? These people keep insisting on one hand that homosexuality is encoded in the genes, while also apparently seeing nothing inconsistent in a character–yeah, I know, a fictional character, but STILL–who is interested in girls in canon suddenly flipping a switch and being gay? It’s their insane approach to the whole thing that annoys me, far more than gay characters. Gay characters are fine–if it’s part of who they are, and no someone checking a box, sigh. Same with minorities.)

  6. I don’t agree with the racial quotas requirement for Oscar nomination, but I’m mildly impressed that they noticed the off-screen crew loophole and decided to close it. I’ll even approve of it, as what better way to hasten the destruction of Pedowood than to further restrict the ability of moviemakers to be true to the stories they’re telling? (Because if the natural logic of the story doesn’t fit the quota system, it’ll be bent to do so, to its detriment.)

    -Albert

    1. Heh. I’m enjoying the schadenfreude of the Hollywood folks trying to get the gov to bail out movie theaters. Now, I enjoy seeing a movie I’ve really anticipated (mostly Marvel films, the last decade-plus) on the REALLY BIG screen, but…if they started making it so I could watch them at home (and NOT at the ridiculous prices currently on offer–I’m not paying 20 bucks to “rent” a movie, or even to buy a movie I’m not 100% sure I want to own bc I haven’t seen it. You charge me the average for a movie ticket to rent said “new release” and I’m likely to still give them my money.)

      Even if they don’t, however, I can live without movie theaters. I can live without Netflix. Hell, my personal movie collection is such that even if all the streaming services went as insane as Netflix tomorrow, I could cancel them without shedding a tear. It’s convenient, and it’s nice for watching old stuff I haven’t seen but want to. Most of the new stuff I give a pass to, because it’s ‘meh’ at best. (I do love Stranger Things. I’m gonna miss Stranger Things, but Netflix really pissed me off.)

  7. > all they are doing now is filing off the serial numbers of another book or series they wrote

    I used to think that. Now I suspect they’re handed an outline and told to follow it.

    There are authors – or whoever is writing under their name – with decades of experience, who have proven themselves competent, who are now making Stupid Newbie Mistakes, not to mention horrendous continuity problems, major and unexplained changes in continuing characters, etc.

      1. Maybe they are using ghosts.

        Lord knows both newspaper comics and the fashion industry do. The original artists are long dead on a lot of strips, yet someone keeps drawing them. I wonder what those artists and writers could do if the newspaper industry chose to print comics that are new instead of zombie strips.

        And the fashion industry! Christian Dior has been dead since 1957. There have many extremely talented designers since then at Dior (Yves Saint Laurent at the top of the list) but they weren’t Christian Dior. They were themselves, unique and visionary.

  8. > where all the creativity has gone?

    I used to joke, “what’s next, they’re going to remake ‘The Mod Squad’?”

    And then they *did*…

    1. And heck, they did that, what, twenty years ago? It’s just sad, mostly.

      I’ve found a few exceptions where I’ve actually either really enjoyed the remake, or even liked it a bit better than the original. So far, that’s mostly been a handful of the recent Disney “live action” remakes: specifically, Cinderella (I never liked the animated version, but really liked the live on), Beauty and the Beast (filled several plot holes, made her father not an incompetent parent), and Aladdin (because damn that was a fun one). The others…bleh.

  9. I watched a Jackie Chan movie (Steel Blood maybe?) the other day. It was fun because the plot made no sense; all my expectations were violated. It was dubbed into English, but was clearly NOT an American movie.
    Subtitles drive me crazy. I see no point in ‘watching’ a movie if I spend all my time reading and don’t see any of it. I have attention focus disorder. My eyes can read or they can see; they can’t do both at the same time. I couldn’t type this with YouTube playing. Or perhaps I need to train myself.

    1. We watch all our movies with subtitles (because I can’t hear the actors clearly, especially if they mumble) and you get used to it. But it does take time.

      1. I started using subtitles because I was watching tv late at night, and acoustics were such that unless I turned the tv down REALLY low, it kept my housemates awake. And yeah, it was irritating at first, but I quickly got used to it and now watch most things with the subtitles on. I don’t have bad hearing, but I do have a touch of hearing loss (left ear, for some reason) that I attribute to spending most of my childhood/teen years around power tools and not wearing ear protection. (And I still forget to, alas.)

        It’s quite nice, now. I occasionally find one that has so many typos/errors that I turn OFF the subtitles because otherwise I spend the entire episode annoyed (and I know just enough about stenography/captioning to know that, on the captioning front, I’m not sure there’s an excuse for that). But otherwise I don’t have to turn things up so loud, and still catch what’s going on.

        Like Teresa said, though, you do have to be willing to put up with the initial annoyance until you get used to being able to kind of ‘read-at-a-glance’ and still catch the action on screen.

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