You probably think this is going to be a big ole rant about texting, hashtags, emojis, etc. It isn’t. Yes, those things have changed how we communicate with each other, but I don’t think more casual in our casual conversation is a bad thing. And I don’t think they are really changing writing as in writing for others in book-length form. But other technology is changing writing, and I personally don’t think it is for the better.
I have been expanding my developmental editing business. When determining if a new client and I are a good fit, I offer a two page critique for free, just to see how/if we will work well together. Recently I have noticed an increase in repetition. A lot of repetition, especially of key words. Now, as a fiction writer, you probably know that repetition of words can become distracting and well, just obnoxious. You are taught not to repeat the same word or phrase over and over, except in very specific circumstances/when going for specific goals of emphasis. Even then the rule of three is a good one. (After three repetitions, stop.)
However, if you are writing for the web, you are in a great deal, writing for search engines and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the rule. Search engines, like Google, want to know that the article it is linking you to is a good fit for whatever search term you have entered. This means the search engine wants to see that term being used… a lot. And it doesn’t want you hiding it with white text or any other tricks that people used to use. It wants the term to be used in context and visible.
How do you do that?
You write some repetitive stuff. There is really no way around it. You have to use the term you want to place for in search engine results in your copy and you have to use it a number of times. More times than makes for the smoothest (in my opinion) of reads. This honestly can be a bit of a challenge when blogging about writing because, duh, you want to write something that is well written, but you must also make that essential sacrifice to the god of SEO.
Yeah, but so what? That is for blog posts.
I agree, except in my editing persona I am seeing more and more of what appears to be SEO repetition in what the writer presents as a book. And, honestly? If the book is going to be an online read and is a non-fiction topic, using SEO is probably the way to go, because without it, no one is going to find it to read anyway. But for books? For the art of storytelling? Just… no… please… no. Keep the two separate.
Is that it? Sadly, no.
I wish the problem was concentrated on bloggers gone wild, but sadly, it isn’t. Authors have a much bigger technology demon… or god… depending on your outlook, which may change daily.
More specifically the Amazon algorithms which, much like SEO, determine if your book will be seen by 1 person in a day or 100,000 people in a day. Amazon algorithms change frequently. You will usually know because some group of authors or another will start screaming in outrage while another group screams with joy.
Amazon currently seems to like book series with frequent releases. There are book series, written by one author (or at least one author’s name is on the cover) with over 50 books and growing. Because the beast must be fed, these books are shorter than books used to be. They also, aren’t (in many cases, not all) getting the same attention from the author (or publisher) that books used to get. The emphasis has gone to speed of release in whatever genre/subject is “hot” right now over all else.
Please don’t read the above as an insult. I am not slamming these authors. Honestly, I’m jealous. I wish I could open my brain and let the words flow with the ease they can, but it is a change in writing and a kind of big one.
Before self-publishing, you were lucky to get a slot a year with a publishing houses. Series lines like Harlequin publishes, authors got more… maybe three releases in one line a year… but those writers and were also looked down on by others. (I wrote for a Harlequin series line, so I know that firsthand.)
But the majority of authors I knew had a goal of a book a year. Some took multiple years to write a book. And they could. There weren’t slots for more books by them anyway, and maybe that book would be a big one. They were able to take at least some time writing that next book. The emphasis was on the next book, not the speed at which the next book would appear. Release schedule was out of their hands anyway, and if the previous book had done well, they would, even a year later, get a contract to write the next one.
Now though, with how Amazon and its algorithms look at the world, that one book a year (or less often) that you labored over and wrote and rewrote? You get it published and Amazon is already looking for what else you have. Nothing? Off writing another book… okay… moving on.
Wait a year?
Who are you again?
So Amazon is, probably without even realizing it, changing how we write books. And that makes me a little sad. But writers are responsible too. We wanted freedom. We got it… kind of.
Small side note: I blame technology for this, but it is really technology-driven marketing. And, honestly, marketing has been affecting which books are offered to readers and how those books are presented for a very long time. So… we probably have just exchanged new demons/gods for the old ones. Is one better or worse for authors and readers? It probably depends on who you ask.
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check our her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.