The Joy of A Good Book

I’m 500 pages into The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and I’m absolutely loving it.  I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading a book this much.  I’ve read some good books recently, but this one just has whatever that unknown quality I look for in books is.  I can’t even define it.  Complexity, depth, characters you care about, a world that feels real…music.

Whatever it is, this book has it and I’ve put everything aside to read it.

And to think this was his debut novel…

That, as an aspiring writer, makes me want to cry because I realize how far I am from where I want to be with my writing.

(Go read the book now unless you want to hear my thoughts about the quality of writers and the length of books.)

I read a particular self-publishing forum on a daily basis and I regularly see individuals post something to the effect of “why aren’t I selling more books?”  And then they’ll list all the promotional efforts they’ve engaged in and the blog tours and the mailing list they have and the FB posts they make and the Twitter account they tweet from and…yada yada yada.

Funny, they never say “and I took five writing classes this last year” or “and I read ten writing craft books” or even “and I was trade published for twenty years so I know I can attract an audience.”  There’s never anything in those posts about the steps the writer took to improve their writing or storytelling ability.  It’s always about promoting the book.

And often I suspect “your writing just isn’t that good yet” is the real answer to why they aren’t selling that much.  (Said by someone who probably is not there yet themselves…)  Even if the Look Inside is clean, that doesn’t mean the story is good.

It’s hard to know as a writer when you’re actually good enough.  Sometimes we’re our own worst critics.  So there is some value in putting things out there either through submissions or through self-publishing to see if what you’ve written resonates with anyone.

But to assume that just because you wrote it and published it that others will like it is foolishness.

I can’t personally sit here and read a book of this caliber and pretend that what I write is close to being as good as this.

It’s a fallacy to assume that writers are interchangeable.  They’re not.  At all.

I paid $8.99 for the paperback of this book and had I known it was as good as it was, I’d have paid $30 for it, easily.  Because this book is worth more to me as a reader than ten other mediocre books priced at $2.99.

It’s interesting, too, because the book is long.  Seven hundred + pages in the version I have.  I’d been thinking lately about writing a post wondering if epic fantasy really needs to be long.  I mean, honestly, I got tired to death of the Robert Jordan series by the end.  The books were so damned long and I couldn’t remember from book to book who was who because so much time passed between each one and…ugh.

I have another author I used to read whose second series just isn’t as good as the first and I cannot bring myself to buy the third book in the series because the thing is huge and I just don’t want to spend that much of my reading time on something that probably won’t be rewarding to me.

So as a reader I was kind of done with long books.  I started to look at long books as a lack of refinement in writing.  You know how each book in a series gets longer and longer and you wonder if the author just stopped really striving to keep it as tight and strong as possible?  I had kind of sworn off anything over about 400 pages.

And then I picked up this book and all of that fell away.  I’m 500 pages in and not the least bit upset that the book has another 200 pages to go.  It’s that good.

That’s another thing that comes up often. This issue of length.  “Oh, you can’t publish that, it’s too short.”  Or “you can’t publish that, it’s too long.”  Bottom line: If it works, it works.

The real question that I think many beginning writers miss is: Does it work?  Because for a lot of us, we’re still struggling with how much to include, how much to exclude, what to develop, what to explain, etc.  And then there’s the word choice issues that sometimes drag down our writing and slow it down, too.  So, for many new writers, it doesn’t work yet at any length.  We haven’t mastered our craft enough.

Sorry for the ramble.

To sum it up:

  • A good author can pretty much charge anything for a well-written book because that book is one-of-a-kind and hard to replace with other choice (although they don’t because you also want to price in a range that people will give you a shot).
  • Length doesn’t matter if it’s well-written, but it matters a lot if it isn’t.
  • If you’re new and you aren’t selling, look to your writing quality as much as you look at marketing issues.  (If you’ve been around a while, look to the last thing you wrote even if it sold like a hot potato, because that’s probably the book that failed you.)
  • The Name of the Wind has made me feel like a completely incompetent, hack of a writer, but that’s okay because as a reader it made my year.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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