Helicopter Parents & Self-Published eBooks: A Nation of Authors and Not Readers

Time magazine frequently describes the phenomenon of a  generation of helicopter parents and the impact they are having on their “children.” You’ve read the stories. These children, now in their 20s, have been told that whatever they do is terrific. They’re received awards for participation throughout their childhood no matter how pathetic their performance. Many of this generation are described as self-absorbed. After all, their parents have always told them that they are so terrific that EVERYTHING they do is wonderful and memorable.

That generation has started to write and self-publish their thoughts. After all, it’s just a logical extension of stretching out a series of tweets to book length. I’m a member of a number of author group websites, and I can’t tell you how many authors in their 20s chat about the S&M “romances” they write. I’m sure their parents think these books are terrific. How many good ideas could there be out there for new ways to write about zombies or women who like men with whips and handcuffs?

A world where people tweet their every thought and then self-publish eBooks for less than the cost of purchasing a single hardbound book is a world where everyone is writing and fewer and fewer people are reading. If you’re self-absorbed, why read other people’s books? One young woman in her 20s has already published six eBook romance novels. She’s much too busy writing to be reading anyone else’s works.

Because Amazon has killed just about all the major bookstores except Barnes & Noble, authors are told that they have to become social media magpies in order to publicize their books. I receive dozens of tweets a day from self-published or indie published authors who are “appearing” virtually on various book blogs to promote their books. I think of the song from the movie, Midnight Cowboy that begins “Everyone’s talking at me. I don’t hear the words they’re saying. Only the echoes of my mind.”

Volume has become as important as quality for some of these new eBook authors. They are told by eBook “coaches” that they need to give away some of their older books to attract readers who then will pay for their later books. They’re told to write several books in a series before publishing them so the later books in a series can benefit from readers who clamor to know what happens next.

There’s also another self-absorbed part of this writing food chain. Take Young Adult (YA) book blogs, for example, One website lists close to 1500 book bloggers who specialize in writing about the YA books they read. Go to any of these websites and you’ll read about these bloggers. Many complain about being overwhelmed by review requests from desperate self-published and indie published authors. So, they set down their review policies as well as their criteria. One blogger only likes books that have happy endings. Another only reads books about red-headed protagonists. A third gives bad reviews if she’s in a bad mood because of one of her high school tests. Yes, you guessed it, some of these reviewers who help decide the fate of a self-published author are not old enough to drive.

These bloggers think they’re important and doing important things, and they’re right. The refusal of most traditional outlets for review to review self-published and indie books means that these authors have only two choices: submit a book for review to a book blogger and hope she’s happy because Mr. Right just asked her to the Senior Prom or pay several hundred dollars to places like the Kirkus Review that now will only review self-published and indie authors for a fee. It places these reviews in a separate supplement that I doubt librarians spend much time scanning.

I said we’re moving to a world where everyone is writing and no one’s reading. What about the book bloggers? Incredibly, some list the hundreds of books they read and review in a single year despite working or raising a family. Some of these bloggers are very good at what they do and should be commended for their hard work. Others, though, provide little more than a plot summary and a few random thoughts. They probably spend almost as much time maintaining their blog as they do reading books.

The big publishers have created this mess by focusing their energies on just a few blockbuster books by major authors who are almost guaranteed to sell thousands of copies. They have little interest in new novelists. A couple of major publishers  have even set up a division that offers authors the chance to self-publish with them. The problem is that the terms are far worse than these authors would have if they self-published on Amazon AND these publishers don’t really spend any money on marketing except for maybe placing a book cover on their website.

Project out what’s happening a couple of decades from now. Self-published books will be rolling off the assembly line so fast that no one can keep up when it comes to reading these books. Book bloggers will probably give up manually reading the books and rely on artificial intelligence programs that will digest the gist of a book and then create a review much the way that teachers now can purchase report card software that prints out comments that can be crafted to fit a student.

Amazon reviews are highly prized by self-published and indie authors because many people buy books based on the reviews they read online. Recently I published a novel set in the world of Minecraft. The book is selling very well, and had all five star reviews, until someone  young enough to use a crayon because students don’t use pencils until third grade wrote a review filled with spelling errors urging readers not to buy the book because he didn’t agree with the way some item was crafted. So, now authors don’t just have to worry about high school book bloggers, they have to deal with self-absorbed seven-year olds who can determine the success or failure of a book.

In the not too distant future I can imagine a teacher assigning James Joyce’s Dubliners only to have students respond that they would rather write about what they did at Disneyland on their vacation than write about people they don’t care about living in Ireland that long ago. They might add that they KNOW that their parents would love to read about their summer vacation. Why wouldn’t the teacher? Besides, it’s easier to write than to have to plow through a book. In fact, their parents suggest they collect a few of their essays and self-publish them. After all, it doesn’t cost anything to do so and there’s a world of readers out there just waiting to read their every thought.

 

 

 

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