Wednesday, July 28, 2010

About the written and the writing

Powering up my computer this morning I find that that my German homepage has yet another story about the strange perception foreigners have of the country. There is, of course, a permanent undercurrent of Angst with regard to the view that outsiders have of the nation and its people.

Troubling, the story finds, is the picture of Germany painted by Cathy Dobson who has turned her experience of fifteen years as an ex-pat into an amusing book titled Planet Germany. It is, I think, an amusing read for other ex-pats who will recognize some of the stereotypes and enjoy the occasional smirk or smothered guffaw.

It should probably not be suggested to readers of the Daily Mail contemplating a first visit to the territory of the Teutons!

On Cathy's blog I found her report of an expedition to Bavaria delightful...

"Just when I thought I’d got used to the strange country that is Germany, I went to Bavaria. Bavaria is actually another country situated about 5 million miles away from the Federal Republic and has nothing whatsoever in common with it."

Be that as it may. But in another blog post Cathy writes about another issue which interests me... the predicament of the unpublished author. She has the usual well-meant advice but she also mentions the options represented by sites where manuscripts can be submitted by authors, a British one in particular.

"It’s not a bad place to showcase yourself, but you will need to do plenty of reciprocal reading/commenting/arselicking in order to get your book up the rankings and into prominence."

My own manuscript is buried under 2,300 others on that site but it is also on Slush Pile Reader, a site about which I am less cynical, minded to believe that here osculation of other writers' posteriors has a lesser role to play in the scheme of things.


My feeling is that Slush Pile Reader has a loyal core of 'heavy users' who respond to new submissions, finding some which please them and thereby generate some initial positive feedback. Quickly, however, the focus of these assiduous users is on newer submissions and one's own manuscript is... more or less lost. Lost, in the sense that
the casual visitor to the site faces a huge challenge when seeking a read corresponding to his or her tastes.

The issue is 'discoverability'. And it is one faced in many sectors of the internet.
Certainly metadata tagging is a help... But it in no way relates to the learned habits of people who love reading and most often select their books still in 'dead trees' format in a bricks-and-mortar store. In my favourite bookshop I do not have to wade through stacks of volumes falling into self-help, teenage vampire schlock, New Age, political obscurantist or other genres before finding the books published in the category I seek!

I wonder if the answer lies perhaps in the approach taken by the music service On this site I need only enter two or three of the bands or singers I already enjoy and the algorithms will get to work and will pull up not only tracks by my favourites but also other artists who I might enjoy.
To me this is a cooler solution than the Amazon recommendation engine and I am constantly surprised by the discoveries this cyber-serendipity facilitates.

Surely there is a step to made in the direction of 'genre-specific discoverability' on a site like Slush Pile Reader if authors are required at the submission stage to list established writers as affinity guidance... "If you enjoy reading X and Y and Z you might find my book to your liking!"

Such a relational search tool could be a big help. Entering Stephenie Meyer as an affinity hint would definitely preclude the discovery of my manuscript Golden Dawn!

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