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Trials and Tribulations of a Fantasy Reader

I love being a writer. I love allowing the fantasies in my mind free reign to enter the world via the page. It’s one of the greatest releases I have, and it’s the most profound thing I do.

But before I was a writer, I was a reader. This post isn’t about me as a writer. It’s about me as a reader, and the problems I face right now.

Too many of the times, I see posts that go into the problems writers have with Amazon or other online venues for books. There’s all sorts of strategies out there for how to market your book–indeed, the ability to market your book seems to be more important than the ability to write a good book these days.

You know what’s harder, though? Being a reader and finding a book I actually want to read.

You see, the more time an author spends on marketing strategies, the less time they have to spend on craft. And so the chance that the book on the first page of whereever I’m looking is actually a really good book is…shockingly low.

Back in the day, there were limited avenues through which one could receive a book. Books were only in paper–the ebook did not exist in my teenage days. Therefore, only the companies with the capital to put out a paper book did so. And because of the massive investment involved in a nationwide distribution of paper books, they were very careful about what they put out.

Somewhere, I like to imagine it as a small, enclosed space filled with manuscripts and the stink of sweat, there was a slush editor. The slush editor’s job was–still is, in some places–to sort through the incredible amount of dreck to find the one diamond, and send that diamond on. But 99.99% of the slush editor’s job was getting bad books out of the process.

Nowadays, though, most authors are self- or small-press-published. And hey, I’m running a small press here. But that means that anyone can skip the slushpile altogether and get their book up and selling.

In the beginning of the self-publishing revolution, this was heralded as a kind of freedom. And it is–but there’s a dark side to this freedom. One faced not by the writer, but by the reader.

Because as a reader…I now have to do my own slush editing. All of that dreck that the slush editor filtered out is now published, and it’s on me to find the diamond. Which means…I haven’t actually read a truly gripping epic fantasy since Wise Man’s Fear came out. I’ve read some stuff that’s…fun. It’s fine. But nothing that’s lit me up the way I felt the first time I read The Belgariad or when I first started down the path of The Song of Ice and Fire.

In this age of volume-based production, I despair if I’m ever going to find that work that’s been carefully, lovingly polished to perfection. Because that isn’t how one makes money as an author anymore. The fact is, if you slowly and carefully craft a story–like, say, Rothfuss did–you’re more likely to end up buried amongst the deluge and bloat of the current marketplace than you are to stand out.

The secret to being a successful author when I started out was always writing a good book. Nowadays, it’s gaming the Amazon algorithm, SEO, and well-placed advertisements. Those are the skills of the successful writer. And that’s not the fault of the writers–that’s just the marketplace we’re in now. As a publisher, I’m always going to want to put my books in front of you–and so does everyone else.

But as a reader…I don’t know where to turn to filter those books and find the good ones. And I don’t have time to do it myself. I’m beginning to despair a bit over the loss of the tastemakers, because right now I’m looking at Amazon like the slushpile I have to sort through.

That’s a problem. I’ve got no idea what the solution is. But whoever comes up with that solution is going to be who truly controls the market next.