I can’t prove it, partly because for the last year I’ve been in an endless spin-cycle of Jane Austen Fanfic (with occasional pokes above the spin, and reading non JAFF for a week or two) but for the last several years, I’ve had the growing suspicion that people never went away from pulp. Publishers did.
Don’t judge me on the Austen fanfic. There is some magnificent JAFF, some of it the easy equivalent of other romance or fantasy books, or even mystery. (No, they are not all primarily romance, thought the usual pairings are accomplished.) And there’s some truly, spectacularly, awful JAFF. But the important thing, when in a state of semi-depression is that the books are utterly predictable. Which frankly is what I need when not quite functioning. (Semi-depression, because when utterly depressed what I actually read is Dinosaur-intensive non fiction. No, I have no idea why. Except it’s hard to have demands on your emotions when reading about extinct critters.)
So even though I’ve read endless indie-published series of everything from fantasy to mystery, I can’t prove it, because I can’t remember names and titles. (Mostly because I read these on Kindle Unlimited otherwise my habit is hard to afford.)
To be fair, I have a lousy memory for names of authors and titles, which makes it very hard to figure out when something new comes out on a series I enjoyed. The Amazon tracker — for me at least — is hit or miss. And most newsletters don’t even get delivered. (We’ve been talking about an app for this stuff. We’ll see.)
But having fallen into various indie series, this is the impression I came away with — feel free to b*tch slap me with a dead mackerel if I’m utterly wrong —
1- Books have gotten shorter.
I don’t precisely have an issue with it. Heck, I have paid $4,99 — knowingly — for a book that was about 60k words. It’s not a bad price, and the book was decent.
The idea that a book had to be 100k words, later revised to 80k words, was a creation of trad pub and I’m not sure when it started but it is relatively recent, Because books were essentially sold on consignment, and because of the costs of paper, printing and shipping, I guess it didn’t make sense to print smaller books.
However, after we learned to count words on a printed book, my husband went through our bookshelves, and most Rex Stout books were under 60k. As were most of Simak’s. Heck, a couple of them were about 20k.
The length of the book doesn’t count, but the enjoyment between the pages. And for that, the story should be as long as it needs to be. I’d rather read a fast-paced perfectly constructed 30k word novel than a plodder where someone went through that novel and added uneeded description and basically two unrelated short stories in the middle.
Now, of course, I will not charge 6.99 for 20k words, because people will consume 20k words in a couple of hours, and they should get more enjoyment our of nearly $7. (On the other hand movies charge at least that much, but bah. Different standards.)
2- While novels will contain character development (most of the time. There’s a type of action novel that doesn’t call for it) that development will be over the series, while each “episode” will concentrate on a minuscule fashion.
Of course, the weird thing is I’ve read oh, um mystery series because I wanted to know if the girl would end up with the detective. So, you know, characters are still important and should be appealing, but you can space them.
3- A lot less attempted “commentary” on contemporary problems or politics. Oh, some authors still do it. But there isn’t an attempt to dress up a genre story as something more “significant.”
That is actually a lot more revolutionary than you might think, since publishers used to want the book to feel “like more” before they gave it even a modicum of push.
4- Series. Series. Series.
One interesting thing at least for mysteries and romances, is that writers have taken to releasing a set of books as a “season” at least for purposes of packaging and selling.
Publishers, though often lying, mind you, liked to say they wanted the books to be “unpredictable”. They wanted the ending to surprise them.
Which is how we arrived at a place where romances try to surprise people by not having a happily ever after, and mysteries reveal that the good guy is in fact worse than the villain. Or something. Indie is remarkably free of this illusion which means that their books are more predicable, which frankly real readers in general don’t mind, provided the journey is entertaining.
So, am I imagining it? Because if I am not imagining it, then the way to do well in indie is to go back to the plots/pacing and general habits of pulp. I know there are writers who are convinced of this, and who sell several pulp-formulas.
I honestly don’t know if this will turn out to be true or not. Heck, I’m not sure the readers collectively and individually know that yet. Because you know, things are changing so fast they might have trouble telling you exactly what they like and why (I understand in 2020 Won, for instance, escapist literature has done a whole lot better.)
BUT if it’s true, then traditional publishing sold themselves, and us, a pot of message, at the expense of turning off a lot of readers and destroying enjoyment in fiction reading.
I guess time will tell.
For now, I’m THIS close to finishing the cursed book, so I’m going to go off and do that.