Monday, March 26, 2012

What is Your Author Talent Class?

Okay. So it's 4:00 a.m in the morning and I'm attempting to write a blog post. This may turn out to be a stupid idea, but it's Monday and this is the best day to publish a blog post so here I go.

I've been looking forward to this post for a few days. The topic is dear to my heart and was first initiated after reading John Locke's book on how he sold a million books. What he said really struck me. He was one of the first authors I've heard admit that he may not be the best, nor will he ever be the best writer.

Amazing. I love the humility and the honesty.

I got to thinking about that in a guest post I wrote the other day and wanted to expand on this concept of author talent class. And yes, I'm referring to talent in the same way we refer to social classes in economics. It is my belief that there are three author classes and I wanted to open this up for discussion. I wanted to bring this up because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was important to understand in order for me to move up the social, or talent ladder.

Here's what I think. As the founder of The Kindle Book Review, I have found, and correct me or add if needed, that there are essentially three talent classes: upper, middle, poverty. Are there classes in between? Yes. But I believe that indie authors in particular need to examine where they fit in this scale because your placement can have a huge impact not only in sales, but also in the perception that readers have of the rest of us. (Having said that, remember that if you see any typos, it is 4:22 a.m. ~ grace accepted).

The first class is The Upper Class Author ~ I don't mean to make this class sound uppity or snobbish. I did want to align them with a higher crust because that's what they are; skilled, and trained literary artisans. They have or soon will get the recognition they deserve. They have spent years writing, working with editors, studying the craft, writing books that they never published and have now broke into the indie author field. They are true professionals who have honed their craft. Most of us are not in this category. If you are a newer author, do not deceive yourself. These authors are few and far between.

The second tier is The Middle Class Author ~ The middle class author is the up and coming author. They are the authors who have put out a couple of books, taken their lumps, are learning from their mistakes and putting out creative and entertaining reads. They are growing their platform and their audience. But, they are not true masters. They are good, but not great, I include myself in this crowd. We are by far the largest group in the indie author talent pool, and we are the masses who are beginning to turn the heads of readers. With such large numbers, readers can't help to notice that indie authors are a force to be reckoned with. What's really encouraging is, many of us will move into the upper class over time. Some will make deals and step into the trad pub zone, and some will quit because life happens. But we are many and we are good, maybe better than good in some cases.

The third tier is The Poverty Class ~ This group is the group of authors who think they know how to write. They think they know how to structure a novel length story. they think they know how to create lovable characters and develop them. They think they can self-edit their work and put out a quality product when in fact, they cannot. This class is talent deficient and doing readers as well as the rest of their indie author peers great harm. This class is either delusional or deceptive in regards to the quality of the product they are selling. Can they grow? Can they change and move up the ranks? Can this class pick themselves up from their bootstraps? Yes. Many of them can. Some just may not be creative enough or have the determination to continue, but I believe anyone can be taught to at least step up to the middle class.

Anyway, I wanted to throw that out there and gather some opinions. Maybe I'm being to harsh? Maybe you are thinking about this for the first time. If so, that's good. What do you think?

Jeff Bennington is the best-selling author of Reunion, Twisted Vengeance, and The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe.

25 comments:

  1. You're not wrong, or harsh. The main problem with the analysis is that it's impossible for any writer to accurately place him- or herself into any of these classes. As my prof said in Journalism 101: there's no such thing as objectivity.

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  2. I agree with you regarding the fact that this is a talent class. The problem is, talent has absolutely nothing to do with getting published. I've seen someone in the poverty class in my opinion, get 7 figures on their first book deal.

    So it works if you just want to concentrate on the writing, problem is, people don't. Your writing is as good as your advance and the number of people that have read and loved your book.

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  3. And so what if it is?
    I mean, in every profession you're going to have people who are established, people who want to be established, and people who have no idea what they are doing but at least are doing something.
    Now is talent or a lack there of the only resistance that keeps a flood of people from reaching the top of the pyramid? I don't think so. There's luck, persistence, harmonizing with a readership, decent cover art, marketing, even more luck, skill (aka talent you have some kind of control over), the status quo, the Chinese Zodiac, a ton of different things. In the end, we work with what we can control and hope for the best. It's not all talent.

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  4. I would advocate for a fourth class: the aspiring author. By that I mean people who have put in the work and have even perhaps been told by professionals that they have talent, but haven't made it to the marketplace yet (for various reasons) to be judged. I don't think they can automatically be classified as poverty, because some people in this group really are talented, but they're not yet middle class either.

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  5. I really appreciate you putting this out there! I would put myself the Poverty or just the bottom rung of middle case. After 10 years of writing I have two finished books under my belt, a developed world and a decent feel for what I want. I will never quantify myself as an Upper Class author, ever. I have way too much respect for the real wordsmiths out there. I hope to some day be in the Louis L'amour level, but don't ever want my fantasy even remotely compaired to Tolkien. I know I'm not that. I think too many writers jump the gun instead of sharpening their craft. Let's hope your post helps someone to wait and learn before they just publish their first book. Thanks again!

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  6. @WrittenWords ~ That's is true. One man's trash is another man's treasure. Well put.

    @Rhiannon ~ Thank you. That is very true. I guess, as a writer I'm concerned with where I'm improving in my craft. I do realize that much of a writer's success comes from luck, timing and a slew of other elements. But ultimately, I can't depend on the issues out of my control. All I can do is improve where I am.

    @JDM ~ Thanks for commenting. I appreciate your thoughts. I'm not trying to offend anyone and I agree with you whole heartedly. There are many levels in all professions, trades, and occupations. As an author and manager of reviewers, I see a disproportionate amount of folks who are delusional in regards to their quality to the point that they get refuse to take advice. I know this is true because my reviewers occasionally forward me email correspondence they have with authors they cannot review because their book is so poorly written. I get to read their responses and sometimes, not always, I am deeply saddened by their gapping blind spot. This post was simply written to allow open minded writers a forum to consider where they are, not in terms os lucky or unlucky in sales, but in terms of where they see themselves in their craft. I know I had to face the truth one day. I thought I was a middle class, when in fact I was impoverished. Had I not discovered the truth, I would not have taken the steps I have taken and continue to take to improve.

    @Nicole ~ Hi Nicole. Feel free to add as many categories as you like. I'd call anyone who is writing, published, indie, or otherwise, aspiring, but only if they are actually laying down words. If they are, they are aspiring to be something they are not… traditionally published, selling, finding readers. Aspiring comes in all shapes and sizes and skill sets.

    @Worlds~ You are so humble. When I'm done posting this I'm going to find one of your books and buy it, so I can discover how "NON" poverty stricken you truly are. Thanks for commenting.

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    1. Jeff, thank you for your kind words. I really appreciate them. I hope you didn't look too hard for my work...since they aren't published yet. :) I have a Facebook, which you followed recently, a twitter where I'm known as AbigailTinuviel, and a blog, where I am sharing my 2nd novel as a weekly series. I'd love to have you check them out!

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    2. Hey, I'm laughing. I did check you out, but I think I stopped searching when I didn't see anything published. That's okay. Your posts are well written. Can't wait to see you on the Kindle trail some day!

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  7. I'm not an indie author yet, but I may be in the future if I decide to no longer pusue trad publishing. It's hard to assess one's own work, but I'd put myself somewhere between middle and upper, if it's not too arrogant to say so. I've written eight unpublished books, most of which I recognise weren't even worth trying to publish, but everyone of them has taught me something. I study extensively, work with two critique groups (over a number of years), and work with an editor. Without wanting to sound arrogant, I find it difficult to get reasonable feedback on my work because I've advanced beyond many of my peers. I don't profess to be an exceptional writer, but I have spent 20 long, hard years getting to where I am.

    I would disagree with your categories to the extent my experience has been many indie authors are in the bottom category. Not many of the ones I know personally, but many I have randomly read. Too many are writers publishing their first ever book (bad idea...) without an editor (worse idea...). They can lift themselves to the middle category - but only after they recognise their work is not perfect, stop defending bad reviews with 'But I have 37 5-star reviews' and listen to the feedback they are receiving.

    @Rhiannon's comment is valid. I am of the opinion that a really good story will make up for bad writing. And 'good' doesn't mean technically good in this sense, it means something that captures readers' attention and imagination. Even I admit to being caught up in these. Once. I find them difficult to reread, though, because once I know what happens, I can't overlook the sloppy writing.

    And some brilliant, technical writers will never make it because their writing lacks passion, or emotion, or even 'voice'.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Ciara. Great points. We do see many GREAT READS from indie author's; probably more than trad publishing would like to admit. We have teachers, college professors, authors, and best-selling authors on our review team, so I trust their opinions. At this time, about 20% of our submissions are trashed. The rest receive 3-5 star ratings. We do not review books that we deem worthy of less than a 3-star rating. Overall, our reviews love reading indie books and they are very much avid readers. Changing times. Come back.

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  8. Great post that makes you think even if it may be a bit harsh regarding those in the Poverty Class. I'm not the greatest writer, but I pride myself on seeking to learn from my mistakes along the way and become a better writer. I don't think I'm in the Poverty Class, but then again I've seen other authors who most definitely are in the Poverty Class yet they had no idea they were. It's called being delusional.

    No matter what class you're in, there's always a chance of moving up if you apply yourself, just like in the real world. Here's to perfecting our craft.

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    1. Hi T.C ~ Excellent points. And yes, you are correct, anyone can move up. I know I did. trick is to always keep growing.

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  10. Everyone here has such valid points and observations. I guess I would 'rate' myself in between impoverished (1st)and middle class. I learned the hard way not to trust my own 'aptitude.' I humbled myself by self publishing too early and am now on the climb back out of my pit of pride. I have an editor who has taught me more about the way "I" write than any course I've ever taken. She has shown me the benefit of listening and then taking her advice ten steps further. It's a hard lesson but one I now know I needed, especially if I ever want to make the middle class. Now my dreams still drive me, but my head allows me to see my follies. Thank you for this post. You should write more often at 4 in the am!

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    1. Hi, Lisa. That's exactly right. Sometimes you can learn a whole lot more from working with an editor than you can from a text book. Thanks for your thoughts. Appreciated.

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  11. Jeff - I think your post is an extremely good way of viewing the situation. I also agree with Scott Bury's (Written Words) comment - objectivity is almost impossible to achieve about your own writing. It can go either way. I've read writers that really have no idea how good they are and others who are doing quite well on Amazon, but whose books were really difficult to get through (at least for me). The most hopeful thought here, for me, is that just as in real life, many of the middle-class reach down and help pull the promising impoverished to the next level.

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    1. Hi Red Mojo ~ That is excellent. You do have to be careful when you "help" authors, because they do not all want to be helped. Well, some may say they want help, but I've been burned by an author requesting help. I offered some advice, but I couldn't edit the persons work, so what did I get? I got a aweful review from that person and a hateful email. I stopped "helping" authors with their writing directly after that. That's what editors are for. Nice hearing from you.

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  12. I disagree with you completely. Writers talent doesn't directly correlate with how much money they are making and that's what you said here. Who a writer is, how good they are in various areas of writing (be they marketing, characterization, plotting, grammar/spelling, querying, editting, so on and so forth) is much more complicated than that. You grow in each area at different rates and no two writers make their careers in the same way...

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    1. Hi E.B ~ I don't really know what you are talking about. I don't recalling basing these classes on sales or money. One of the commenters above did say that an author is as talented as the size of their advance. However, I am pretty much talking about writing talent, and the author's self-perception of his or her talent. This is important to know, in my opinion.

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  13. I guess I'm curious as to why we keep wanting to assess or categorize writers of this new age. Assuming that we could, what would be gained? Would we not be taking ourselves right back to the very problems traditional publishing cursed us with? Meaning someone would determine, not who gets published now, but perhaps who gets promoted. Has that moved us anywhere for the better? An then comes the exceedingly difficult job of finding a way to properly assess art, in this case writing. I remember when teaching years ago, those of us who wanted the teachers we deemed poorer to pull up their socks, tried to find a way to evaluate teaching. At least we were open enough to realize it was an impossible task. No matter which way you turned, some of it improved the profession; some of it limited the profession. I think we would quickly find the same problem attempting to assess writing. I believe what will evolve will be entrepreneurs that sort on various criteria to assist readers/buyers. I tend toward E.B.Blacks view, art is a dynamic, fluid medium whose very strengths come from its capacity to reflect so many different aspects of life and culture at any given time. What do we think will happen, as a result of this great influx of writers, which we think will be prevented or cured by categorization?

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    1. Hi Christina, Great points. I'm not really trying to categorize for the reading public's sake, but for the authors sake. Had I but known that my writing sucked a few years ago, I probably wouldn't have published. But I. like some of the authors that submit to The Kindle Book Review, remind me of where I was back then. I only hope to stir thoughts in the writer who in reality, need to study up a bit more. It took someone to tell me that my writing sucked before I decided (or even knew to) study the craft. Still learning.

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  14. I like this way of thinking, it’s clear, concise and a true reflection of many people's abilities. I fit Nicole's addition of an 'Aspiring Author class' almost exactly at this point in time. I've written 4 complete 100K plus manuscripts, although at present I'm acutely aware I'm not very good at editing, not yet anyway. I've developed a clear understanding of what I need to do to improve my product into a book.

    The first few years I fell very much in the Poverty Class, although I believe a better description for this would be Ignorant Class. Ignorant of what is needed to sell / package a book and the difference between a reasonably entertaining read and a marketable product capable of appealing to publisher and readers.

    Writing a book is very different to trying to sell it. Ignorant people send out first drafts because I think there's a trap for new writers. When you finish a book (even your first - eek) there is an emotional rush a sense of achievement with a desire to spread it around and gain feedback. If feedback is mostly positive people think why not send it to publishers / agents or better yet throw it online? Maybe make some money - wow, cool, kudos etc.

    There are no barriers anymore, no guiding path to follow for the ignorant and hopeful. It’s sad in a way, how many people are going to give up when their e-book bombs whereas if they had some guidance and a true understanding of the longevity of writing as a business, they could learn to be patient and develop genuine skills in the middle and upper class categories...

    Jeff, I cant believe you wrote that at 4 am... well done. Very interesting.

    Nuff said.

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    1. Hey, Jason. Thank you. You get me. Nuff said.

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  15. Because I am reading your 4 am post at 1:30 am, I find myself going, "Oh crap. What if I am amongst the delusional masses of writers who will never become authors because I am so much more in love with my own writing than anyone else on the planet ever will be?" So, thanks for that ;)
    But yes, I agree there are different classes of writers. There are also different classes of readers. Many readers, myself included, crave something different to read at different times. Sometimes I want a Tolkien, sometimes I want a Meyer. What is incredible is that I can find a nutritious, healthy meal OR a good old fashioned hot fudge sundae when I want them, so I guess it's a really good thing we don't all write at the same level!

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    1. EXCELLENT point, wishywashy. Thank you for that. I never looked at this like that. Sure would be great if all writers could find the readers in their class. Most of my reviews are 4 and 5 stars. I think the 2 stars are the uppity readers… thing is, I do want to appeal to them one day. Practice, practice, practice. Thanks for dropping in.

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