This is a guest post by Michael Bernhart.
POV: First person
That’s me on the right. Some kind folks at a new age festival captured my aura on their aura-cam. They gushed that it was an exceedingly auspicious aura, and they sounded sincere when they said it. They didn’t seem to be looking for money.
In truth, I was having a good day. Young women returned my smiles; small children did not retreat behind their nannies at my approach; I’d scored two free massages; and my significant other had found – to that point – comparatively little to criticize.
Maybe it was an auspicious aura.
Not every day is a good day for authors; most days our auras can be printed in monochrome, gradations of grey. Look at the odds: One million new novels are published annually in the US alone – 2,700/day. Half of these are self-published, and the average number of copies sold doesn’t reach 250. Writing a book is a losing proposition, financially and psychically. Why do we do it? Easy. We’re narcissists, shouting, “Look at me!” Those author photos, the subject oozing self-confidence and worldliness? Don’t be taken in.
Of those 1,000,000 books, almost all are bad. The ‘quality filter’ that traditional publishers boast of still allows James Patterson on the shelves. Insane, right? In fairness to James, he reportedly has distanced himself from the production end of the operation. That dreck is the work of his minions.
The only quality filter on self-published books is set by the author’s capacity for self-deception. Since this capacity appears boundless, the filter is usually inoperative but, self-published books do have one advantage: Thanks to permissive policies of CreateSpace, Nook, etc. an author can upload a revised/improved version daily and, through successive approximations, eventually grind out something readable. That assumes the author acts on constructive feedback. In contrast with the steadily improving indie book, the traditional publishers are stuck with the original, no matter how flawed, until the last remainders table has been cleared.
Despite the odds against finding a quality book, you should try to read. It’s good for you, and here’s the proof: Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health published their findings in Social Science & Medicine (a reputable journal) that people who read a book – not a periodical – for half an hour a day lived 23 months longer. We can all agree; that beats dieting and exercise.
To obtain those additional 23 months at the most agreeable price, here are some suggestions on how to avoid bad books:
1. Blogs, such as this one, provide one filter. The downside is that many bloggers are reluctant to stick it to an aspiring author and either pull their punches or don’t post a review of a book they didn’t like.
2. Avoid debut novels. Usually overwritten, ambitious, and precious. Mine is. I’ve been struggling for months to turn it into something that a majority of readers who start will finish.
3. Prize winners? Something has gone wrong with the Pulitzer. You should view a literary prize as fair warning that a few pretentious snobs in self-anointed centers of exceeding refinement have bestowed their grace upon a) an author most like themselves, or b) an author least like themselves (think third world, desperately poor, a gritty survivor).
4. Psychological thrillers. Avoid these too. I’m nominating this as the most promiscuously over-used genre of the decade. I studied psychology for a while (at Harvard! so you know it’s good stuff) and what authors dub as a psychological thriller is almost always short on both thrills and psychological insight. At best you’ll find a few groaningly lame stabs at the perp’s motives.
5. Authors who draw heavily on their profession are hit and miss. Yes, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are not dependent on Wikipedia for context and problem, but Jonathon Kellerman has shown us that a PhD in psych is not a guarantee of consistent quality or psychological insight.
But read. For openers, read the third and forth in my series. (Not the first and second; not yet. Still playing the successive approximations game.) Check out the evergreens, the heavyweights, the classics, the new stuff. If only one percent of the annual production of new novels is any good, that’s 200 quality books each week. Hey! You just learned you’ve added two years to your life of quiet desperation; you have plenty of time to read.
Get to it.
POV: Third person
Michael Bernhart is an award-winning author who has published extensively on international development and public health – primarily service quality. His credentials for this written outpouring are a PhD (from MIT!) and four decades of international work – currently 50 countries and counting.
The journey from writing funding proposals to writing pure fiction was short and easy. The result is the Max Brown tetralogy, which traces the arc (from age 10 through 66) of a smartass who earnestly wants to avoid trouble, but whose own behavior – or events – repeatedly drops him into it. Each of the four novels finds Max struggling with a new life-stage crisis – or crises – as he grows up in these trying times. Manhood used to be a birthright; now it seems to be an unending series of challenges. Each novel also finds Max confronting a new face of evil.
Dr. (why not use it?) Bernhart started this project before the internet could serve up virtual experiences to authors. The contextual information and situations come from service as a pilot in the USAF, living in Asia, Europe and Latin America, and inexplicable success at snaring women well out of his league. These remarkable similarities with the main character noted, he insists the work is not autobiographical. It’s wish fulfillment.
If the foregoing has sparked interest – or at least mild curiosity – the Max Brown tetralogy is available here.
Here is a website that describes the series – when not lavishing praise on the author.
Bernhart currently lives in a yurt on a mountaintop in northern Georgia with one ex-wife, two daughters, and three cats. He still flies his vintage plane, although more cautiously than before, and he’s unshakeable in his conviction that he’s God’s Gift to Aviation.
This is what he looks like to a portraitist.