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Congratulations Again to Nick Earls (with further thoughts on indie quality)

In addition to winning Best Adult Fiction ebook for Wisdom Tree, I’ve just learned that the collection also won the gold eLit award for literary fiction.

The eLit awards are intended to “illuminate digital publishing excellence.” From the site, “The eighth annual eLit Awards are a global awards program committed to illuminating and honoring the very best of English language digital publishing entertainment.

The eLit Awards are an industry-wide, unaffiliated awards program open to all members of the electronic publishing industry.”

These are, in other words, digital-specific. Even the FAQs mentioned that if you absolutely must send a hard copy, you can, but . . .

Which I think is terrific. That’s what I intended Exciting Press to do. I honestly can’t remember the last time I read a print book; I used to say it’s been five or six years but I feel like I’ve been saying that for several besides. We’re a specifically digital publisher, and I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.

What’s more, though, is that I think it’s awesome for venues like this to recognize indie literary fiction. “Literary” is a weird genre, unlike most others. You know with fantasy that you’re getting fairies and with science fiction you’re getting spaceships and with crime you’re getting a dead body in the first chapter (and yes I just oversimplified all those genres but bear with me here), but what are you getting with “literary” fiction? I think a lot of people dismiss the idea of literary as a separate genre as snobbery, and perhaps that’s a response to a perceived condescension, because there’s a thought that writers who aim for literary would sniff at genre fiction as trashy, as “oh, I don’t read that. I prefer LITerachure.”

But I’ve said before I’m desperate for discussion of quality in the indie world. Far too often coverage of indie success stories is positioned as “Self-published author sells go-jillion copies, sells book to HarperCollins.” This is the lazy sort of narrative that lumps 50 Shades of Grey into the indie world (it wasn’t “self-published” — it was posted in fan-fiction forums before it was picked up by a small Australian publisher, who later sold it to RandomHouse).

I think I get why it happens. Because anybody can click that publishing button, there’s no longer an impedance, so the corporate publishing industry and those associated with it want to maintain an illusion that there’s a separation of wheat from chaff, if you will. That sure, anyone can put some chaff out there, but without that “refinement” it will never be wheat. And the indie world, meanwhile, still wants a seal of quality, a way of demonstrating legitimacy, perhaps,  and so it falls back on the only objective measurements it can — sales and Amazon rankings and a lot of numbers more related to algorithms than to stories or books.

My hope is that one day we’ll talk, simply, about great books. That one will be able to open the NY Times or Atlantic, or tune into NPR, and will hear a story about a great book, and when one goes to find that book, it’ll turn out to cost five dollars on Amazon and the author of that book will get 70% of those royalties when readers get it for their Kindles.

And you’ll notice never once do I hope that who published a book will be part of the discussion. And sure, one could try to argue it’s not now, that NPR never mentions X book was published by so-and-so, but often that’s because media venues are, by policy, closed to what they consider “self-published” titles. They don’t just not want to cover them — they outright don’t want even receive anything. Book blogs, lots of awards . . . “Sorry, we don’t accept self-published submissions.” They’re the ones who will write about indie success only when there are sales numbers behind them.

If you sense a frustration here, you’re right, but moreso I’ll argue this is my hope. This is why I founded Exciting Press. To bring great indie fiction — and not just titles we’re publishing — into a conversation about fiction and quality that may never even consider an algorithmic result or a moment-to-moment ranking on some list or other.

It’s also my hope that congratulating the others I’m working with on more accolades becomes something of a habit.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. And don’t take the eLit or Ippy awards for their word, either.

See for yourself how terrific Wisdom Tree is:

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Quality as Argument

Back when I was at the University of Southern California and learning how to teach composition and rhetoric, I learned about the Toulmin method of reasoning. It’s a system of claims, grounds, and warrants that, in the context of an essay, require an author to make a claim and then explain the grounds that warrant that claim. It was basically the foundation upon which the rubric by which we graded papers was based, because when you break it down, that’s what a thesis is. It’s an argument.

Not an argument in the internet sense of the word. Not an argument wherein you have two people who dislike each other vociferously talking across each other.

No, in this context, an argument is a position. A claim. When I was teaching my students how to craft an essay well, how to draft and refine a thesis, I always told them that a thesis is a statement with which any reasonable person can disagree.

That’s the nature of it. It has to be bold enough that it could be wrong. It can’t be fact; that would be boring. It used to be that would be easily disproven, but nowadays in an era of “fake news” and “alternative facts” as apparent misnomers we apply to any data with which we disagree, that’s less the case.

But I think that’s what makes quality and art interesting. They’re claims.

I’ve seen a lot of people claim that both are subjective. They’re opinions. Chalk them up to taste.

I propose that they’re more than that. When someone says that Casablanca is a great movie, it’s less an opinion than it is a claim.

If it’s a claim, that necessarily requires the grounds that warrant such a claim.

There are myriad.

If I were making the claim that Casablanca is a great movie, I’d point to a few easy wins. Bogart’s performance is, as his performances always were, pitch perfect. The dialogue is smart, witty, and to this day utterly quotable. Ingrid Bergman’s performance is wonderful in that it’s torn between her love of Bogey and her loyalty to Lazlo.

There’s a reason it’s in my top three favorite movies of all time. That’s subjective, for sure.

But that it is among the greatest movies of all time isn’t. That’s a claim, with the grounds that warrant it. Not only did I just build a compelling case for it in a paragraph, but over the years so too have myriad movie fans.