One of the things that has been very striking during my publishing journey is the sheer volume of things. People writing books, books written by people, electrons coded by cube monkeys on Amazon’s monstrous site.
Talking about the odds of making it big is not a new subject, of course. There are over a million Kindle books alone, and while I don’t have exact figures, I would think that a great number of them are from the huge surge of indie authors that have found that digital publishing can be a smart way to go.
I’ve been a part of several different message boards, both for informational and promotional purposes. Most of them are authors seeking advice from other authors, or book lovers eager for recommendations. It’s a lot of fun, as a reader, to scroll through the pages and pages of posts, clicking on people’s links and reading their work. Some of it’s great. Some of it is garbage. But the odd and sort of wonderful thing is that there’s just so many of them. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone’s clamoring for a little bit of attention. It is, of course, a basic fact of the human condition, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting to contemplate once in a while.
And whether you like Amazon or not – some people are anti-mega corporation, which is understandable – it’s amazing what an excellent job they’ve done of bringing all these authors to one place. The technical complexity of it is simply staggering. Having worked on a web project in the past, and knowing just how much work and how many man-hours can go into even a fairly simple task, it’s sort of awesome to think of all those millions of books, and how it all works (more or less) seamlessly to get you what you want to read. That’s not even talking about all the other products they carry. All the little cogs in the great big machine, and some poor programmer’s entire claim to fame is the little pop-up notification that tells you why a listing hasn’t updated yet. All right, maybe that’s the software company employee in me speaking.
I get the same feeling of absolute insignificance when I think about history. Have you ever watched a documentary, or looked at an old photograph, and wondered what was going on in the heads of all those people? Not the famous ones, but the ones in the background. The thousands of immigrants pouring into Ellis Island. The African and Asian tribespeople that Europeans treated as curiosities, who were just trying to live their lives without being bothered too much. The mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters with their private lives history neglected to capture, because their triumphs and failures were on too small a scale. Billions of people. They all had thoughts and feelings in their heads. They all had grief and joy and pain. They were all cogs, too, in some vast, unknowable machine. And yet we reduce their worlds to a set of dates in a bored student’s notebook, and never really think twice about the millions upon millions of bored students that came before.
I don’t know if you get a similar sense of the immeasurable tininess of one human life as I do when I think about this stuff. It makes for a very odd worldview. I think that’s part of what I was trying to capture in Tev: how you just have to tune it all out and pretend that you’re important, because it’s so overwhelming when you think about it too long. It’s humbling, really. But it makes me think that my little successes, whatever they are, should be valued. They might not change the future of the human race, but they’re no less important to me than some ancient Chinese bureaucrat passing his civil service exams was to him. Sometimes not being all that special is a good thing.
I guess this is a timely lesson for the religious among you, it being an important holiday season for at least two of the major faiths. You can do your own Passover tie-in, if you choose. I think I’ve set the scene. Think about the meaning of life for a while. And then go eat some ice cream, because really, that seems to be a major part of it. I’ve done research. Then go buy some random book off Amazon and make someone’s day. It doesn’t even have to be mine. Really.