I know I can get pretty passionate in rants, but please know there is a method to my madness. I feel that what is happening to the world of publishing is kind of a microcosm for society at large, and I desperately wish to change both.

Yes, I see that eyebrow raised! I know you’re baffled, how are these two things related? Here the problems I see are quickly explained: In publishing an old, guarded system left millions of people dissatisfied , and now technology has melted the walls and people are going nuts. Grossly oversimplified, but that’s the basic problem, leading to the old system terrified of losing profit, and all of us slow to adapt.

Now, when I mean society, I am not talking about governments, or economics. I am talking culture, the things happening in the U.S., China, India, Iceland, Bolivia, Poland, Nigeria, and Iran: all over the world, a common human experience. Old traditions have left us anywhere from pissed as hell to vaguely dissatisfied, and now everything has become exploitative, opportunities have exploded, and the old profit system is threatened, yet we are overwhelmed and apathetic and slow to change. 

The problem with this evolution is that least of us, the most marginalized, are falling behind. The gap between having a chance and being left behind can be filled with three things: information, drive, and support.

I would love to solve society’s problems. Who wouldn’t? Perhaps it is because I’m a U.S. citizen. Ever read, my fellow Americans, what our CIA does in other countries? Jesus H. Christ! We make Biblical plagues look like cute fairy tales. So I have a lot of guilt there, and I don’t think enough of us have it.

Take for instance, Bolivia. Mayans live there. For my fellow Americans who went through public school, yes…as in the Mayan Empire, and they still exist. And did you know back in the 1980’s the CIA helped try to ethnically cleanse them? And more recently the U.S. helped companies privatize their water? In terms you can understand IT’S THE MOTHERFUCKING PLOT OF AN ACTUAL BOND VILLAIN.

Now, we live in a brave new world. Information is anywhere from expedient to instant, and so is shipping. It’s February now, there are 14” of snow on the ground (about 35cm) and I can go to any of my local giant grocery stores and be eating South American fruit in an hour. The problem for Mayans is quinoa.

What is quinoa? A touted super-food grain. It’s also the main staple of the Mayans of Bolivia. So every time a jackass American decides to eat “healthy” and gets quinoa, makes a meal, and puts the photo on Instagram and Facebook, he or she is literally taking the food from the mouths of the poorest Bolivians.

For you conspiracy theorists you could see it this way: we tried to ethnically cleanse the Mayans, failed, but now we can starve them to death. For those of you with more reason, it’s a bunch of lazy people not thinking about the consequences of their actions, and a marginalized people are suffering as a result.

That is the curse of the 21st century. Does anyone really think about the consequences of their actions? Be honest here: do you ever really think about the food you eat? What it means to leave the light on in a room you’re not using? Buying that bottled water? Reading those Internet comments? Making those Internet comments? Or how about writing that book?

There are four questions everyone should ask themselves about the things they do:

Does this need to be said/done/consumed right now?
Does this need to be said/done/consumed by me?
Does this need to be said/done/consumed at all?
Could I say/do/consume something more beneficial?

This applies to books as everything in life. To diverge for a moment, there is a point you need to understand: humans are terrified of A.I. Think of all the sci-fi novels. Think of all the people laid off because of automation. Think of every person with a 2 digit IQ (half of all people) who think the sci-fi stories are real. Lastly, think of the idiot scientists: men and women brilliant enough to develop A.I. BUT THEY NEVER ASK THEMSELVES THOSE FOUR QUESTIONS.

Good news, human-like A.I. is not going to happen in our lifetimes. As Dr. Michio Kaku, a physicist, has said “Right now robots have the I.Q. of a cockroach. Of a retarded cockroach.”

But people project this fear onto technology, and sometimes rightly so. In a world where everything is going digital, the fact that in the western world there are fewer degrees for computer science, physics, biology, chemistry, and engineering given out each year fucking terrifies me. That means as technology grows, fewer of us know how to use it, create it, and understand it.

Turning back to publishing as a microcosm, the problem is that right now any asshole can publish a book. And every asshole is. Traditional or indie, this is true. One word to give you nightmares: Snooki.

One of the main problems can seem beyond our control: companies are driven solely by profit, publishers too. And when you are solely driven by profit you NEVER ASK YOURSELF THOSE FOUR QUESTIONS.

And therein lay a major problem of society: we feel we have so little control we begin to become apathetic, and apathy breeds sloth. As Bill Maher said in his stand up, of the videogame Rock Band, “Everyone wants to be a rock star, but nobody wants to learn the chords.”

So what can you do, as a reader or a writer, to change the status quo? How can we lessen the crap and boost the good? Doing this in terms of what you read and write can become a template for the rest of your life. Well, it won’t be easy.

First ask yourself the four questions:

Does this need to be read/written right now?
Does this need to be read/written by me?
Does this need to be read/written at all?
Could I read/write something more beneficial?

First, to writers. Feel free to write the things that please you. I have dozens of stories I’ve written just for me. I know they won’t appeal to others, so you’ll never see them, they are just for me. But when I write for others, I try to write something I feel the world needs.

Too few mysteries have female leads, and when they do they’re rarely hardboiled. So I wrote the Marly Jackson series. In urban fantasy romance, werewolves get the shaft. So I wrote Wolf Tales Volume I. In erotic romance women are too often written as passive. So I wrote Hidden Magic and The Dryad. 

Now I am working on an urban fantasy. Here’s the four questions, put to myself:

Does this need to be written right now?
- Yes. The urban fantasy series featuring strong, independent women have largely ended and we’re left with romance urban fantasy

Does this need to be written by me?
- Yes. I specialize in strong women and I am a huge fan of horror and urban fantasy and feel I can create the right product

Does this need to be written at all?
- Yes. I feel the tendency to pigeonhole female writers into traditional romance, even in urban fantasy, sets a bad example for female readers and is inherently misogynistic

Could I write something more beneficial?
- I probably could write a collection of feminist essays, but since my talent is in fiction and not non-fiction I don’t think I could do it justice

Second, to readers. Why are you looking to read a book? Just to escape into fantasy? Why not to learn something, to expand your mind? Why not both?

It’s best if you look for both. How can this be done more easily? How can you dins books that feed your soul and mind? LEAVE FUCKING FEEDBACK. I’ve sold 200+ copies of Wolf Tales Volume I and I have 1 comment. That’s .05% feedback rates. That is a common problem for Indie authors in this brave new world, and how is anyone going to know if it is good or bad without feedback?

How many times have you looked at a book you were interested in, online, but with no feedback you passed it over? Have you ever thought of what treasures you might have missed?

Ratings and feedback separate the wheat from the chaff. There are crappy novels out there, we have to let them fall by the wayside. But the good ones have to stand out. I don’t even know of Wolf Tales Volume I is considered good or not, maybe it’s crap, but there’s no usable feedback.

How can I grow as an artist without feedback? I have the second volume plotted out. I haven’t written it because I won’t unless I know the world wants and needs it. So for you one hundred and ninety-nine plus readers who never commented, if you want to see more, I need a little quid pro quo.

Please understand, as consumers you’ve been conditioned to think your money speaks for itself. It doesn’t. Not for indie authors. We have no sales data to compare it to. Sales ranks mean nothing. I sell far more on Smashwords than I do on Amazon. I sell more Marly Jackson on Amazon than nook, and more Wolf Tales Volume 1 on Nook than Amazon. Just by sales data, to try and piece together an actual estimate of the quality of my book I’d have to invent a new mathematical formula. I could, I took calculus all the way, for fun, in high school and college, but creating formulas like that just doesn’t call to me.

Feedback cuts right through that dilemma. For Pete’s sake, my library is about one thousand volumes. Every book that is still in print and is listed I have left a rating on Amazon, Nook, Powell’s, or Goodreads. It takes five minutes, and other readers and writers need to know if the book is shit or gold.

Writers, you have to ask yourself the four questions and try to write the best product you can. The Internet is amazing! There are free writing courses everywhere, even I offer one, based off a curriculum I designed that is currently used in a Canadian trade school. 

You can learn how to critically read a book online. You can learn grammar. You can learn math, programming, history. The Internet is truly amazing, when used correctly.

Now, fixing writing starts with the four questions, reading or writing. The next step is to commit yourself to the best craft you can. Trial and error, getting critiques and feedback, studying your craft is how you build a solid product.

Lastly, you have to understand that because of technology, you must be as much a business person as an artist. You have to make financial decisions, have to learn marketing, have to network. Gone are the days of the Algonquin Round Table, gone are the days of the Paris set. No longer can you merely get published by hanging around other writers and hoping osmosis ain’t just for water.

Empathy is the key here. In publishing, publishers, editors, writers, marketing directors, readers, critics all have to understand the needs of the others. The best relationships come from mutually satisfying needs, but remember you only get what you give.

So stop eating quinoa, quit buying disposable cleaning products, turn off the lights when you leave a room, write responsibly to add to the collective consciousness of the world, and read to learn and grow as well as be entertained.

And lastly, learn as much as you can about your interests on the Internet for free. Many early titans of industry in America were self-made men who literally read encyclopedias at night and then wrote to the living figures described in them to learn more. The Internet gives that to you.

And while you’re there, try learning about what happens when standards fall in publishing, learn why it fucks the world up to eat food from another country, and try to figure out just how you affect the world.