I’m in a bit of a funk, a tizzy, a doldrum (take your pick) about writing at the moment. Call it Scribe’s Melancholia.
I’m having to seriously consider ignoring my book-marketing, because it’s so time-consuming and takes me away from what I’m really supposed to be doing–writing (Hello). Back to old-school, where writers were sequestered in a dark room with a candle and their muses, and never had to actually market themselves as a product, nor deal with their creations after they were delivered to the publisher.
Further, it’s impossible to predict what people will buy anymore. And as far as readers–I am also just about settled on the idea of ignoring the readers, too. Like, not even caring if I’m writing something anyone wants to read. It’s just too difficult to pinpoint the fickle and often inexplicable tastes of the readers in mainstream (whether mainstream hetero or mainstream lesbian). It’s hard not to be bitter when you’ve spent your entire life honing your craft, and have (like me) cranked out 30-something books, only to discover that most readers will only read in a narrow genre, and seem fearful to expand their horizons. I no more want to read in one genre, than I want to WRITE in one genre. I’d be bored out of my mind if I had to keep repeating the same formulas. Although, I have to stress here, that I try really hard to avoid a formula, no matter what I’m writing. But it seems, this is the problem. There aren’t a great many readers who wish to stray from formulas. It’s like some literary pacifier; some placating pabulum.
From sales of my own books, I can see that while I get 4 and 5 star reviews most of the time, and the
AKA Investigations series enjoyed a surge of sales after I put out books #3 and 4 simultaneously, the surge ebbed away. I thought this might garner secondary sales of my other work–like the three new novellas I released around the same time–Somewhere Else, Quintessence, and Curse of Cache La Poudre–but they did not enjoy a comparable surge. I don’t know about other readers, but when I find an author I like, I will read everything they produce, because I know they will be satisfying and enjoyable, and I don’t much care which genre they are in. But the majority of the reading public apparently does not share my interest in a variety of reading matter. I see this as indicative of the larger issue of literacy and intelligence in, at least, the U.S.
The average I.Q is between 80-120, (some sources say it’s 85-115) with 100 being the average — The rest of the population falls to either side of that spectrum–with about 20% higher than that, and 20% lower. And a whopping 95% of scores fall between the standard deviations of 70 and 130; meaning, only 5% of the population has an I.Q higher than 130.  Other schools of thought insist that there are multiple intelligences, (according to developmental psychologist Howard Gardner, these are spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic). So fear not, if you suck at math like I do, but have high verbal scores. My math scores land somewhere in the vicinity of a cactus. (Only a slight exaggeration). And apparently, no matter how much I’d like to claim high spatial intelligence, I score pretty low on that too. I am directionally challenged and my visual cortex will only give me quick snapshots, not video feeds. So it’s hard to pull up the visuals that go with spatial intelligence.
The point to be had, here, is that many people do not try to expand their minds, learn new things, and because they don’t do that, they often don’t have the mental capacity to understand that they do need to do that. It’s a paradox that vexes me to no end. Certainly, these statistical facts are reflected in reading choices. And while I suppose one could argue that it’s fortunate people read AT ALL, it is cold comfort for me, as a writer, as well as for me, as a member of the human species.
This lack of discernment as reflected in literary preferences can be found in bestsellers which are not at all indicative of cognitive superiority. Sometimes, that’s because people like to read garbage for fun, and sometimes it’s because they don’t know it’s garbage.
Perhaps one scintillating example of this resides within the huge popularity of the mommy-porn novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. It is currently at #102 in fiction/erotica on Amazon. (At first blush, this doesn’t seem to be so popular, so I had to know what #1 might be, and looked that up. What I found was that the actual numbers change as frequently as a vixen’s underwear. Hard to say what is actually number one, because they are based on many parameters; like paperback, hardback, digital, genre, and according to certain sources like Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. The best way to characterize it is it is “A” bestselling book.)
I have nothing against erotica–I write it myself in differing forms. In fact, I have written some pretty hardcore erotica under another name which will not be uttered here. This was a market-experiment, and results are still pending.
Honestly, after the bad press on the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey, I decided I would not spend my precious time reading it. It was, after all, in the romance genre, and I have written extensively here about my disgust with formula fiction–especially the cheesy, predictable, quixotic variety. But finally, in an effort to understand its popularity, I downloaded the sample of the E.L. James phenomenon on my Nook and read that–66 pages, I think it was–and was surprised that I actually read that much of it without the inclination to throw it across the room (not as innocuous an act as it once was, since I’d be essentially throwing a thousand books across the room and damaging the device that stores them. A bit of restraint is called for).
Granted, the book, in its first 60-something pages, seems quite formulaic in that a woman meets a rakish man who is controlling and charming and strangely alluring, involvement with whom is against her better judgment, though she can’t understand why she responds to him the way she does. Pretty common in that genre. But I didn’t find any glaring errors or particularly bad writing in it, and in fact, it was hard to tell the difference between this and say, a Nora Roberts book. Perhaps, the earlier opinions of it were memed before the author had a proper publisher and editor, and those mistakes were since corrected. I’m not sure. I do know that had it been awful, I would have been first in line to say it sucks. I HATE bad writing. It makes me want to peel my skin off. Or rather, the skin of the author who wrote it.
I suspect also that some of the negative comments about Fifty Shades of Grey are merely sour grapes…(And you know how sour grapes sound when they talk. A bit puckered.) I mean, Fifty Shades has now surpassed Harry Potter in sales. That’s got to be a thorn in J.K. Rowling’s side, and believe me, I feel her pain, in a lesser, Indie-writer sort of manner.
I cannot yet speak to the overall quality of the book because I only have the sample. But I am thinking I might read the whole thing, just so I can speak with some credibility about it. (I hated it when one of my nonfiction books got criticized soundly when the reviewer HAD NOT READ IT).
Back to the point: I will read just about anything if it’s rendered well, interesting and enlightening or entertaining. I do not limit my reading choices to a particular genre, as there are far too many books out there that would be a delicious indulgence, if I just had enough years in my life to read them all. This is why I am continually stumped by this tendency for many readers to limit their reading experiences.
By way of illustration, (and feel free to speed-read through this list) I usually look through Huffington Post everyday, and not just the front page, but sections such as Science, Green, TEDscience Weekends, Gay Voices, Women, Denver, HuffPost 50, Comedy, Entertainment, Arts & Culture, Food, Books, TV, Media, Politics, Education, Weird News, Good News, Home….
And on any given day, I will be reading magazines like Scientific American, Scientific American Mind, articles on Science Daily, Mental Floss, The Writer, and even Reader’s Digest.
As for books, most recently, I’ve read a Nelson DeMille novel, Plum Island (police procedural/mystery), Gone Girl (Contemporary thriller), Shatter by Michael Robotham (mystery-crime-psychological thriller), JA Jance’s Devil’s Claw, and before that, Jeffrey Deaver’s Devil’s Teardrop (totally coincidental…Mmm. Just noticed that). Before that, I enjoyed Michael Stark’s The Island series (Suspense/Horror) and Daddy’s Little Killer by L.S. Sygnet (police procedural/mystery), both Indie Authors.
Other samples I have read, but haven’t purchased yet: one or two remaining Maximum Ride series novels by James Patterson (Young Adult), To The Power of Three by Laura Lippman (and want to read the whole thing, now, since I was hooked–she’s an engaging and masterful writer from what I read so far);
In the genre of science fiction, a couple of Robert A. Heinlein books I never got to, and Daughters of a Coral Dawn by Katherine V. Forrest (a popular lesbian writer), Several David Sedaris books (who along with Nora Ephron, are two of my favorite humor writers), Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends (memoir), Why People Believe Weird Things by Michael Shermer (psychology), Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), Two books by John Brockman: This Explains Everything: 150 Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (Educational/Science/Physics), and This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future (Social Science & Technology), UnSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation (Communication & Media Studies), Life After Death by Damien Echols (memoir of a man perhaps wrongly incarcerated for murder), 50 Popular Beliefs People Think Are True (Social Science/Psychology), How We Know What Isn’t So (Social Psychology & Interactions/Logic & Language), Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions (Particle Physics / Cosmology), as well as several samples of other lesbian authors who enjoy seemingly wide popularity, but I felt wrote very poorly (this is an ongoing complaint with me–how many lesbian authors are publishing when they probably shouldn’t, until they have mastered things like spelling, mechanics, grammar, story arc, tension, plotting, dialogue, etc…I suspect the same might be true for many Indie authors in other genres, but I am particularly incensed about this genre because it’s the one *I* mostly write in, and it’s reflecting poorly on lesbian writers who have spent so many years honing their craft).
I have a whole shelf of samples I haven’t gotten to yet, like several Carl Sagan Books (I love Sagan), and many more by Humanist/ secular/science authors like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Michael Shermer, etc….
In fiction, several books by Preston & Child, Lisa Scottoline, Roger Stelljes, James Rollins, a few apocalyptic-genre novels, a collection of social psychology books, and the most recent humorous book by Ellen Degeneres, the memoir, Happy Accidents by Jane Lynch, Survivor Wisdom & Know How, Free Will and The Moral Landscape, both by Sam Harris, The Tin Collectors by Stephen J. Cannel, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, which I always meant to read, but haven’t yet, the last several publications of Christopher Hitchens (R.I.P.–probably one of the greatest minds of our generation), and even Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition….Would that I could invent a mechanism that stops time while I read.
Anyway, as you can see, I read widely in many genres and through many styles, and I feel that this eclectic interest has been instrumental in expanding my mind, my knowledge, and YES, my I.Q. (Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t increase your own I.Q. I increased mine by 29 points since I was in my early 20’s, and this places me in that 5% of the population I spoke of earlier. So what’s a discerning, intelligent reader and writer to do?
Perhaps the answer to that is indeed to write whatever strikes my fancy and to hell with who likes it. But then, don’t we, as writers write because we want as many people to read us as possible? This is a conundrum of epic proportions and I am not confident I have found a satisfactory solution.
At least, I wrote this blog about it. No wonder writers throughout history were depressed and suicidal.
Now, where did I put those razor blades?
 Truch, Steve (1993). The WISC-III Companion: A Guide to Interpretation and Educational Intervention. Austin (TX): Pro-Ed. p. 35. ISBN 0-89079-585-1. “An IQ score is not an equal-interval score, as is evident in Table A.4 in the WISC-III manual.”
^ Bartholomew, David J. (2004). Measuring Intelligence: Facts and Fallacies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-521-54478-8. Lay summary (27 July 2010). “When we come to quantities like IQ or g, as we are presently able to measure them, we shall see later that we have an even lower level of measurement—an ordinal level. This means that the numbers we assign to individuals can only be used to rank them—the number tells us where the individual comes in the rank order and nothing else.”
^ Mackintosh, N. J. (1998). IQ and Human Intelligence. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 0-19-852367-X. “In the jargon of psychological measurement theory, IQ is an ordinal scale, where we are simply rank-ordering people. . . . It is not even appropriate to claim that the 10-point difference between IQ scores of 110 and 100 is the same as the 10-point difference between IQs of 160 and 150”
^ Naglieri, J. A.; Bornstein, B. T. (2003). “Intelligence and Achievement: Just how Correlated are they?”. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment 21 (3): 244–260. doi:10.1177/073428290302100302. edit
http://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences/ “Intelligence is the capacity to do something useful in the society in which we live. Intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to new situations and the capacity to learn from one’s past experiences.”
—Dr. Howard Gardner, author, Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice
Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed his theory of multiple intelligences twenty years ago. Simply put, Dr. Gardner posits that people employ several different types of intelligence, rather than one general type. (LiteracyWorks.org).