Ed’s Casual Friday: On Hero Worship

Super HeroesBy the title, you might think that this is going to be a post about heroic characters in books, particularly as I myself write mainly in the Epic (or at least, really long) Fantasy genre. But that is not what this is.

Instead, these are my ruminations on a question that’s been rolling around in my head over the last eleven months or so, in the time since I first uploaded a book to KDP and discovered I had become something called an “Indie.” The question presented itself after wandering around threads in various places with names like “How to avoid Indie books,” and in the wake of the unabashed joy some expressed on the Kindle Forums when all “spamming” writers were herded off to the “Meet Our Authors” enclosure (smallpox-laced blankets now available). The question, basically, goes something like this:

Why do some readers seem to absolutely loathe writers?

Now, I am not talking about readers who are just rightly fed up with being constantly spammed upon, nor those who have happened to read any of the legion of “books” by Indies which are, let’s face it, not ready for prime time. The beauty of Indie World is that anybody can offer anything for sale, and of course that’s the horror of Indie World, too. Most complaints I have seen readers make are because A.) there is a lot of garbage out there, and B.) someone is shrilly trying to sell it to them every two seconds.

But it seems to me that within some of those totally warranted complaints, without looking very hard, you can often find a strain of something else.  There is, to put it mildly, real anger and invective being hurled around about the very gall of anyone daring to call themself a “writer,” just because they wrote a book.

It would be easy, and maybe comforting, to turn up a pretentious nose and think that the (few) readers getting totally bent out of shape about all Indies as a species are just frustrated writers themselves. Or that the publishing house they work for is gasping and wheezing in its death throes. But I doubt that’s the case. I’m not pretending to have any definitive answers, but what I’ve come up with after cogitating for a few months is that it has something to do with how “Writers” (capitalized) are sometimes viewed. It has, in short, something to do with Hero Worship.

Let’s face it. As writers, we all have some favorite practitioners of the craft. Somebody who would make us, if we spotted them in a grocery store, plow our cart into a display of Fritos. Point and sputter and shriek, then chase them out into the parking lot waving our arms and sobbing. Or something like that. Because really, they are that important to us, those authors who have touched us deeply. They do seem, those favorites of ours, to be something special and magical and magnificent. Somehow, superhuman. Heroic, even.

And this is despite the fact that we, as writers, know that this whole process is more hard work than mystical power. There may be moments of inexplicable magic and inspiration while hunched over a notebook or squinting at a monitor at 2 AM, but really the process of writing is mostly a slog. Pushing words around like we’re folding laundry or digging a ditch. We know that any writer – bad, decent, good, or great – is a laborer more than a magician. And yet there are a few for whom we’d still fall all over ourselves.

So what I posit is this: That the virulent, apoplectic hatred one sometimes sees expressed by the occasional reader in a forum somewhere is just the result of what that particular reader happens to feel about writers in general. If the reader has lionized “Authors” as some superhuman subset of the Elect and the Gifted and the borderline Holy, then yes. Any schmo off the street who says “I write books, too,” is going to be met with derision, and anger, and even “How-dare-you?” rage. Again, I am not saying this is at all common among a large number of readers, and I feel that a lot of complaining about sloppy work and egregious spamming is fully warranted. But there are moments when the Hate seems so out of bounds, that it really must have something to do with Love. Must it not?

———————–

As always in closing, an excerpt from an authentic one-star
review by a real, live reader:

“He kept saying Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan. Quit saying his name over and over again on repeat! Couldn’t he have shortened it to Robert or simply Jordan? Naturally he couldn’t help that it is the same name of a fantasy writer I didn’t particularly like but Holy Crabcakes did he have to keep mentioning it?” – Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls

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M. Edward McNally is the author of the Norothian Cycle books: The Sable City, Death of a Kingdom, and The Wind from Miilark. He has been writing for twenty of the last thirty years and does not recommend the ten year spell of writer’s block in the middle. Ed is a contributor at Indies Unlimited and tilts at his own windmills over at http://sablecity.wordpress.com/   [subscribe2]

Author: M. Edward McNally

Epic fantasy author M. Edward McNally is a North Carolinian of Irish/Mexican extraction. He has a Masters in English Lit from ISU and Russian/East European History from ASU. He grew up mostly in the Midwest along I-35 northbound (KS, IA, MN), and now resides in the scrub brush surrounding Phoenix AZ, where the scorpions and javelinas play. Learn more about Ed at his blog, and his Amazon author page.

24 thoughts on “Ed’s Casual Friday: On Hero Worship”

  1. Great point…hatred is on the flip side of the love coin. I don't have a favorite writer that would make me sputter and go all teen girl on them….but one of my dear friends is the most amazing writer I know, and the hours we've spent together discussing the world and everything in it has taught me that even those I hold in the highest esteem are just another person trying to get through life.

  2. I think that it's threatening to some people because it really calls into question the future of the publishing industry. No one wants to publish your book? Do it yourself. There's really no true rejection now.

    I've read more than a few horrible indie books, but I sincerely love that this is our reality. I've got 2 or 3…or 4 authors that have climbed my charts of favorite authors to push Stephen King and John Saul out of my top ranking. I never would have read them without their ability to push it themselves.

    So, haters will always be there, but who cares…bring on the books!

  3. Excellent post, Ed. I would only chase Dean Koontz out of the grocery store (or Tom Selleck) but I am an old, desperate woman. Seriously, I have great respect for the Indie authors because they all work really hard and for the most part, turn out great books. I am far from being an author, I just jot down things that I think are funny and put them in a book.

    I self-published a Bible study several years ago and after it came out, I was so proud – then I read it and realized, I no longer believed some of the stuff I wrote and it was in print – no way to change that without spending a fortune. I love being and Indie "writer" for that reason, if you make a mistake, you can upload a new copy and you're good to go again. I am off subject as usual.

    You Indies keep writing, there are people out there who really love you!

    1. That's the thing though, Margaret, you ARE a writer too, by virtue of having written. 🙂 democratization of the process can lead to demystification of the profession, and in my mind that's all good.

  4. Ed, when I'd first heard you'd written an article about hero worship, I thought you were not-so-subtly trying to tell me to quit calling you at three am and to stop leaving dead roses on your doorstep. Whew! I almost plowed my cart into a display of Fritos.

  5. Good post. I haven't come across too much of the hate–yet…after just recently coming back to writing after a 3 year, uhm…lapse. It took me a little while to find out what all this 'indie' stuff was about, but, I agree, there is a ton of spamming taking place. However, it seems to me that indie publishing has made more writers approachable-at least in my mind. That they were looked at from afar, in awe, but now seem closer. Does that make sense? Well, you got me to thinking a bit earlier than normal this morning, lol. I love the direction the publishing world is going.

  6. Great article Ed (as usual).

    A couple of points to mention:

    * When the Indie music scene first hit, people absolutely fell in love with the bands. Why? Because the music industry had really reached the point where it had no idea what to do next and that it was totally screwing the artists. There was a glut of the same old song and dance and the indie artists really kicked some life into the old machine.

    * The publishing industry is in the same position, only the fans are reacting quite the opposite as did the music fans. Why? Could this be a new class of elitism we are experiencing? The music fan and the book fan are two very different beasts. But the book fan should really take a lesson from the music fan and enjoy the new world order that is the publishing industry.

    * There are so many new and wonderful books, authors, and even genres out there. That is NOT thanks to the traditional publishers.

    Ultimately, the only real difference between indie authors and traditionally published authors is a contract. But some traditionally published authors wound up with contracts they didn't deserve.

    And remember, the only reason there might be more crap coming from indies is that there are simply more indie writers than there are traditional writers. If that were reversed, the ratio of crap:non-crap would also be reversed.

    Thanks again Ed for making us all think.

    1. There does seem to be a separate level of "fandom" among readers at play, too. Those appearing on "Indie Hate" threads are already a subset of "Readers who participate in forums," and then "Readers who talk about publishing," etc., etc. I still think the average "reader" of any kind has never heard of the "Big Six," probably couldn't name one publishing house on a bet, and honestly could care less where a book came from, if it's a good book to them. 😉

  7. Even if I do not encounter hate, exactly, I do run into disbelief. It seems if they haven't heard your name coupled with 'winner of' and 'best selling' in the popular media they don't believe you can actually write. You are just a pretender.

  8. Excellent post, Ed. Relating to hero worship, I think some readers misunderstand their role. Reading involves imaginative collaboration — it is an active not a passive act. Readers are supposed to do their part; in fact, they NEED to do their part.

  9. I think there may be some resentment going on. An impression that we're all riding some sort of gravy train and becoming rich in the process (which we all know is wonderfully lolworthy). And if someone has this impression, the next leap they make is to question whether it's even a "proper job", which they answer in the negative, because how hard can it be sitting in a chair all day making stuff up? And it's only then that envy takes over, a misplaced envy as we know, but it's an emotion that can make people say and do some pretty ugly things.

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