Okay, it’s confession time. I’m a snob, an elitist, and worse. I believe that my many years as a university teacher of rhetoric, and my equal amount of time as a writer of several novels, poetry, essays, and more, qualify me as a specialist in those areas. In addition, my broad and deep background in the liberal arts has taught me what constitutes good and bad writing/thinking. I don’t claim to be the final arbiter of taste, but I do believe we can learn to recognize when fiction (or any other kind of writing) doesn’t measure up.
A parallel: If we love food and have eaten at better restaurants, it doesn’t take long to recognize the difference between high-level cuisine and what is mediocre. Similarly, for those of us that love wine, a more costly bottle usually tastes better than two-buck chuck. Isn’t this how we develop more discriminating palates? And shouldn’t this refinement apply to literature and other arts? Or has widespread popular education, prevalent communications systems, and what is often called ‘mass society’ totally eroded these differences?
I believe it did for me. Early this year, I joined an on-line group that billed itself as a writers’ book club. Its mission is to profile, promote, and propel indie authors, an undertaking I applauded at the time since my novels have—and will be—published by smaller presses. I paid my membership fee, willing to take a risk and also hoping that this association would help me find more readers for my work. A constant learner, I also thought I might pick up something new from my fellow writers.
But once I became a member, I discovered that most other subscribers had self-published. Their work lacked the depth and quality I was hoping to find. I don’t want to get into a discussion here of the pros and cons of self-publishing, though I think it’s a viable option in some cases, especially if the writers are professional and seek expert editing before they release their books. Yet in this case, there clearly was a difference between the self-published writers (for the most part) and those who had work released through traditional presses.
Unfortunately, one of the organization’s requirements is for each member to purchase, read, and give an ‘honest’ review of another member’s book for a total of four a year. In general, the books I purchase are mainly literary, and I had difficulty finding any in that category among my fellow writers there. Though I had agreed to this membership rule, I found it difficult to do because there was so little of quality to choose from. I also felt exploited by the requirement. While so far I’ve read and reviewed three books for the group, I haven’t had the favor returned.
Realizing I made a mistake to involve myself in this pledging enterprise, I’ve finally decided to quit, but my experience with it has forced me to be more discriminating. In the future I’ll remember that, yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus, and yes, Lily, not all Internet sites are created equal.
The Internet offers many opportunities for authors to network and market themselves. But I need to chuck my egalitarian instincts and not get involved in situations that consume my time without any payback. A valuable lesson.