I used to think I was a decent writer.
That was back before the Internet, when I was pecking out my stories on an IBM Selectric that used a print cartridge and a wheel that kept breaking the E key. Those suckers were expensive, and I eventually calculated it was costing me about 20 cents a page to print out my stories. But that was okay, because my first-ever fiction check was for $10, so that…hey, wait a minute. That was pretty dumb.
But at least I was happy, because all I had to compare myself to was Stephen King, Lawrence Block, James Herbert, Shirley Jackson, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Raymond Chandler, James Lee Burke…you know, people who were so good that I never had to worry about catching up to them.
Even after I got a New York book deal, I still lived somewhat in a vacuum, because all I had to compare myself to were all the other moderately published midlist writers around, and few of us were breaking big.
Then this Internet thing and the Kindle revolution and the indie fad hit, and suddenly I realized there weren’t just a handful of peers who were as “good” or better than I was, there were tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. I say “good” as a vague quantitative measure, because I used to believe I got book deals because I was good instead of merely lucky.
And now all those other writers are putting it out there, finding their audiences, and expanding the sum of reading potential. In some ways, it’s competition, because even the most ardent reader will be lucky to read three books per week and there are currently nearly six million available just at Amazon.
In other ways, each new voice is expanding opportunity for me, because each writer may be bringing one more person back into the fold of readers. And all the poor niche readers with a narrow range of taste now see they actually do have people writing what they want, it was just the market created an artificial scarcity because of distribution limitations.
So now we have the Internet, the Kindle, and easy means of publication, and all these good writers popping up—John O’Dowd, Debbi Mack, Vicky Tyley, L.J. Sellers—who had been mute before, engaged in the waste of agent searches and query letters instead of writing for their audiences. And readers aren’t limited to just my books and whatever happened to be on the store shelves in any given month.
Okay, so maybe I’m not as “good” as I used to be, but the world is a far, far better place. And that’s fine by me.