Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Ten Things About Modern Novels I Like

I thought I would try being positive this time. Sure there are a lot of reasons to dislike modern novels, but what about the good side? There is a good side, right? Of course there is.

While my other two lists were more negative, I'll try to make this one a bit more positive. After all, it's not like the writing world is in as big of a pit as the music industry or as predictable as the movie industry. In fact, there's quite a lot of good stuff out there.

So here we are, a list of ten things about the modern novel I like, which can translated as things I think the industry is doing well. This was a bit harder to put together as I tend to be pessimistic when it comes to sectors of the entertainment industry, but the positives really are positive. If you asked me to put one through for any other medium, I would probably be eternally stuck at two list entries. There just isn't a lot to say about them as there is for the writing world.

Without further ado, here it is:

#1 - Cut Fat

Because there are so many people out there with stories to publish and submit these days, publishers are much more strict with their standards for what is publishable. This means editors have to be sharper and more ruthless when it comes to editing, making sure the book is the best it can be before it is sent out to retailers.

Now, of course, this isn't always the case when the author is very popular and "above being edited" (which is why so many popular authors write thick paperweights that could have used a hard trimming because they figure people will buy them regardless), but for newer authors this is uniformly a good thing. So while you may complain about how difficult it is to find something original from the big houses, at the very least their product will be well made.

#2 - Genre Madness

There is a book out there being published for anyone. If not, you can search indies and self-published books and you'll most likely find one somewhere. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Western, genre mix-ups,  and even literary works of all shapes and sizes.

In other words, there are far more options than there ever have been before. Chances are if you're looking for something odd, someone is probably writing something similar to what you want.

As far as options go, there has never been nearly as many as there is right now.

#3 - Prices & Formats

Books are pretty cheap. They also come in multiple formats such as hardcover, paperback, and the old reliable of mass market paperback. Compared to where it was even 100 years ago, its not even an argument that it's better now.

Like large print? Small print? Have a liking to certain page sizes? Chances are there's a format for you. And chances are it will be at an affordable price.

For instance, I wanted a copy of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton without the now-famous logo with a more manageable font size and I found it. For a couple of bucks. Even ten years ago, there's a good chance I wouldn't have been able to find that copy. This also dovetails into a later entry, so I'll leave it here. The options we have now are great.

#4 - Tougher Standards

Unless you're self-publishing, getting a book published, despite how many more options there are now, is probably harder than ever before. The competition only means that the best of the best will compete and material that isn't up to snuff will either need heavy editing or an overhaul to be on the same level (self-published or not), which means that the chuff falls away pretty fast.

This might seem harsh, but on the other hand . . .

#5 - Laxer Standards

Editing for content is more flexible than it used to be. Of course not every publisher will agree with everything you do, but chances are there is a publisher who will not cut content simply because they don't agree with it. After all, who can be sure they won't sell anyway? Not every publisher is good about this, but chances are there are some who will release a book close to the author's original vision with cuts centering more on form and structure than the story itself.

#6 - More For Your Money

I can buy a 1000 page book for $16 (Canadian)* less than it costs to go to the movies. I'm fairly certain I didn't have that option even a decade ago. The flipside of this is that I can't spend like two buck and pick up a nifty novella for a single read, which would be nice, but at least the larger options are covered.

It's a shame that so many bookstores are going belly-up when they're currently offering more than they ever had and for really good prices. Too bad so many people are missing out, but there are other options out there these days which leads me to:

*The book was Empire of Man by David Weber & John Ringo, an omnibus of the novels March Upcountry and March to the Stars. Look it up if you want a fun science fiction adventure.

#7 - Electronic Readers & Stores

Buying online has really changed everything. Both in options and in sheer scope. Not only that, but electronic readers have given writers new options to expand their storytelling and distribution as well as give readers an even cheaper option to buy.

I have bought books that have been out of print for 50 years for a pocket of change. I didn't have to go searching all over downtown and across the country to find it, it was right there waiting for me to be packed and shipped. Conversely, many out of print or copyright expired works without a publisher are available free for e-readers. There is no way this can be considered a negative.

The online revolution really changed books for the better. Just don't buy anyone trying to sell you on the idea that books will be dead and replaced with readers. It's not gonna happen.

#8 - Indie Publishers

Let's be honest, some people write stories the big guys simply aren't interested in. At the same time, some people just don't have the chops, time, or money, to go through the self-published route. What exactly are their options?

Well, back when John Kennedy Toole wrote A Confederacy of Dunces, he only really had few options despite the book being so different. Nowadays, he would have more options than he would have known what to do with. Indie publishing gives the obscure author a chance to reach wide audiences they might not otherwise have a chance to even brush.

Not even ten years ago would he have had nearly the options he would have now, God rest his soul. The point is, these publishers are essential to giving an outlet for those who can't quite get their story seen by the major companies. They're probably the future of traditional publishing, honestly.

#9 - Self-publishing

This was simply never really a viable option before online purchasing came into the picture. Vanity publishing aside (which I'm not talking about), self-publishing was essentially dooming your work to the local area which might or might not be interested in what you put out there. That's no longer the case.

Sure, self-published works still don't usually sell in high numbers, aside from freak occurrences, but they're more viable now and much more liable to allow writers to get their foot in the door of the writing world and reach audiences they might never reach. While, of course, this leads to a lot of garbage out there (I'm not sure my work doesn't qualify for this) it does allow those with stranger ideas an outlet for their stories.

All in all, there's no real debate unless you're pedantic or believe in some fabled "limited shelf-space" which doesn't really exist any more than it used to. Self-publishing is uniformly a good thing.

#10 - Online References

Those of us fresh into the writing world are fairly clueless. It's like we're flailing around in the dark looking for some clue how to turn a light switch on. We might find a good book or two on writing, but how can you know if the book is giving you the right advice? Short of lucking out and finding the right person in your small town to help you, improving your writing is rather difficult.

Now, because of the online world, references can be found everywhere from how to improve your story and make it more engaging, to how to construct chapters or find the right word to use at the right moment. As it is, anyone can write a good novel now, because anyone can find these same references and apply them to the story. Potentially, there can be more stories out there worth your time than ever before.

Of all the things the internet has offered writers AND readers, this has been by far the most invaluable. I'd like to thank anyone who offers these services, you are doing an upstanding job.

That one wasn't as long as the last list, I know, but that's because I assume this is more common knowledge. Modern novels and advancements aren't all useless, there are quite a few good points to them and I saw no reason to not mention them here.

With all these options for readers and writers alike, I can only hope that things will only improve in the future as the subjects of these lists grow more prevalent.

But who knows? Maybe they'll take after the movie and music industry and fall into formula to the exclusion of anything else? After all, there is no predicting how these things work. Tomorrow can really hold anything.

Let us simply hope for the best.

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