An Outpost in the Infinite LibrarySee full issue for 2018 11-05
The ReviewerBrian L. Braden‘s website.
“It's amazing that a man who is dead can talk to people through these pages. As long as this books survives, his ideas live.” ― Christopher Paolini, Eragon
Seven years ago I helped start Underground Book Reviews with Amy Biddle and a few other writers. I needed a platform to sell my book, and I thought being part of a book review blog might help. As an author platform, it didn’t work out too well, but it was priceless as an education on writing and the publishing industry.
As submissions editor, dozens of books from just about every genre would pour into my inbox every week. My job was to initially screen them for basic quality before our reviewers got a look at them. If you submitted your book to us, then I read your pitch, sample, and sometimes I even glanced at your cover. If your book really caught my attention, I’d review it myself. In that time I learned some amazing lessons.
Underground Book Reviews taught me a great deal about authors. Authors don’t write books, they give birth to them. Sometimes they have lots of kids, and sometimes they only have one. Their stories are their kids, and people have kids for all sorts of reasons. Some writers just want the title “author.” Some writers have only one story to tell, and they must get it on paper before it drives them crazy. Some writers worship a genre, and spend all their energy creating books within its narrow confines. Other writers worship famous authors, and work to emulate their books. A few writers seek creative excellence, and study the art of creative writing with fervor as part of a lifelong pursuit. Many writers are voracious readers, and simply took the step of undertaking writing themselves. Some writers just want to get rich and famous. And, like parents, some authors get drunk one night, and wake up in the morning and realize they started a novel. When a parent sends their kid into the world they don’t want them to get lost, to be forgotten or to be called ugly. For seven years at Underground Book Reviews, we did our best to treat your “kids” with care and respect.
Underground Book Reviews taught me a lot about the literary market, namely that literature is a lot like food. Once I figured this out, predicting book sales suddenly became a lot easier. It got to the point where I could read the pitch, read the sample, take a quick look at the cover and publishing date and come up with a fairly accurate guess as to where it would be on the Amazon Kindle sales chart. Here’s what I mean: If people like burgers, they go to burger joints. If they like Italian food, they go to Italian restaurants. Everyone has a favorite food, and most (not all) would rather eat mediocre cuisine in their favorite category than take a chance on something new, or revisit a bad experience. Why? Food fulfills fundamental needs, both biological and emotional. Food also gives comfort. Books also fill fundamental human intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs. Books give comfort. Readers will select a mediocre, or even bad novel, in the genre they love before they ever pick up an excellent book in a genre they are not familiar with. If I want a steak, I’m going to drive around until I find a steak place. If I want a sci-fi novel, I’m going to browse until I find one. You may have written the best literary fiction novel in the world, but if most people want a YA love story, that’s what they’re going to buy. It takes a special book and a trusted recommendation for most readers to transcend genre. We began to realize this early at UBR, and strove to identify novels that not only excelled in their genres, but those that transcended genre. Let me put it another way, if I’m going to take you to your first Thai restaurant, it better be damn good Thai food. At UBR, we tried to find the good Thai food, so to speak.
Underground Book Reviews also taught me the indie book market is flooded and only getting more flooded. When we started in 2011, it was a rare thing to see a book over 1 million on the Kindle rankings. Now it’s not uncommon to see one over 4 or even 5 million. It seems like everyone is a writer. Some see that as a bad thing. I say that is a wonderful thing. Some call this the Digital Age. I say we live in the Creative Age. Simply put, it’s easier to create and share ideas than at any time in human history. Quality literature often doesn’t sell. Bad books sometimes do. That’s life and life isn’t fair, but that’s not important. What’s important is that our books will live on beyond us. If you are an author, your ideas, your stories, will influence those far beyond your physical reach. In the Creative Age, us average humans, we lowly mortals, can achieve a measure of immortality by publishing our indie novels. Yes, the market is flooded, but that’s only if you look at it as a market.
If you look at it as a library, the e-book revolution transforms into something breathtaking. Millions of ideas, stories, books, and compendiums floating like stars in an infinite sky. One merely has to reach out and pluck your story from the Infinite Library and you have changed a life. You made a difference and you will go on making a difference, maybe for as long a humans continue to read.
For a brief time, Underground Book Reviews was there, a small outpost in the Infinite Library, searching for literary diamonds. Thanks to you, our community of authors, we found so many diamonds!
Thank you, Amy Biddle, for being such a great partner on this literary journey. What a ride it’s been!
As for me, I now return to my own literary pursuits. God willing, I have a few more diamonds to polish, a few more stars to put on the shelves of the Infinite Library.
But first, I think I’m going to get some Thai food.
Brian L. Braden
Brian L. Braden‘s website.