Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The Indie Life: Who Defines Quality?
Last week, I announced that one of my books had won a "stamp of approval" from the Book Readers Appreciation Group. Ironically enough, the timing of the B.R.A.G. award for Lyon's Legacy came right around the time when an article about Awesome Indies was published on The Passive Voice blog. Some indie authors think that sites that give awards to indie-published work are becoming the new gatekeepers and think they're a bad idea, even if it's a way for writers to validate their work. (Personally, I see it as marketing.) The discussion on that post got so heated Passive Guy wound up deleting all the comments, which is a shame.
Why do we get so passionate about quality and who gets to define it? Perhaps because, according to Robert M. Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (one of my favorite books), Quality cannot be defined. However, when Pirsig teaches English composition to freshmen, he starts out by having them rank works by different students and found that the rankings were pretty consistent. He then had them look at various aspects of the work, such as organization. Even though this by itself is not Quality, it contributes Quality to the work. To paraphrase Pirsig (because I'm too lazy to look it up), "What started out as heresy turned into a beautiful introduction (to the class)."
Even if you don't accept Pirsig's statement that Quality cannot be defined, you can still agree that we all have different ideas about what makes a good book. Some people may focus on story craft, while other care about writing mechanics. People may disagree on how to begin a story, how much description to add, and what point of view works best. These ideas may change over time, both for the person and the overall culture. On the face of it, figuring out what makes a good book is hard.
I think in the end, each reader and writer has to decide for herself what makes a book good. As a writer, one should make one's work as good as possible given the skills and resources at hand. As a reader discussing books, it's helpful to explain what you liked and didn't like about a particular book. The more details you can provide, the more helpful your thoughts will be to others.
Pirsig quotes a line from Plato's Phaedrus: “And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good—
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?” I say both yes and no. As a writer, I do need to hear objective comments about my work because I'm too close to it to see it clearly. But as a reader, I have forty years experience reading, so I think I know by now what I love and admire, what makes me close a book prematurely, and what leaves me feeling so-so about a work. Self-publishing means any reader can make that decision about any work independently of someone letting that book slip through the system. Let's not take these readers for granted.
To find more Indie Life posts, check out the Linky List below:
Copy this linky code to include the linky in your Indie Life posts!