What makes a best-seller?

What makes a best-seller?

As a Chinese philosopher once said, may you not live in interesting times. This was meant as empathy, since “interesting” signified social chaos and a decline of objective standards. Well, we live in an age of declining standards, just look at how many colleges are abandoning the SAT as a qualifying entrance exam.

Part of this wider social decline is any standards for what constitute quality writing. Today’s writing mirrors today’s Hollywood movie-making, which is to say that popular fiction has become puerile, obsessed with sex and violence, formulaic, populated by off-the-shelf stock characters, and utterly boring and predictable. 

I just read a brief article which proclaimed that 99.999% of every book written today (meaning every novel), will sell no more than 100 copies in the author’s lifetime, and zero afterwards when sales to friends and family dry up, while only 5,000 sold would make it a “best-seller”. This is certainly true. Forty years ago, when this writer was an editor for a fiction publishing house, no more than 50,000 books were being published annually. Today, that number has hit 1,100,000. And is still expanding. It seems everyone who can type a word today is putting out a novel, expecting publication to follow. But it is harder than ever to get published, and is almost as likely as winning a lottery.

Yet some people do get published. After years of writing breath-taking prose and wonderfully inventive plots, with enough rejection letters to plaster a wall from publishers who never glanced at my manuscripts, this writer is now published by three publishers. I have not produced a “best-seller” (at least not yet), but here are my modest observations on how this works:

First, ask yourself which you would rather do: sell a lot of trash in the style of what the Beatles’ disdainfully labeled “paperback writers”, or write something enduring that will make your life worthwhile and potentially attract a modicum of attention after you are gone. In this writer’s humble opinion, you cannot do both. Let’s face it: trash is what sells. In regards to sci-fi, this is no longer 1960 when a generation obsessed with science and the race to the moon produced an explosion of first-rate science fiction. Books like that no longer sell and can rarely find a publisher. Today’s average reader is more concerned with social issues than with hard science, with political correctness on Earth than with alien life. And books now must compete with video games and Youtube.

The publisher I worked for forty years ago even then had formulas for what they wanted to publish. If none of the avalanche of unsolicited manuscripts that arrived daily fit the bill for what the publisher wanted, and none every did, then the publisher simply assigned the task to an in-house editor. For example, “Police stories are hot this year. Go write me a book about how what it’s like to be a policeman.” And that’s what the publisher published, with the editor using a pseudonym, all the unsolicited manuscripts going into the trash for a nice little bonfire in the parking lot, most of it unread.

Large publishers do the same thing today, except their criteria are much more stringent than 50 years ago. And if you expect them to put any money into advertising your book, their criteria will be precise down to the last period and what art is on the cover, and what message you are subliminally delivering. Best of all, if a movie is a blockbuster, then the publisher, which often will be owned by the same media corporation that produced the movie, will then write a book about the movie, on order from corporate HQ on-high. This is the best way to write a best-seller—fulfilling an order from a billionaire movie producer as part of their merch campaign.

But for mere mortals who are not writing on contract like a short-order cook, even if you are willing to share your minuscule portion of the profits with an agent, an editor, a proofreader, and even paying your own way to book-signings, your mss will still be rejected unless it checks off every box on the big media publisher’s list of prerequisites: no hard science; no strong male characters; a “rainbow” cast of good-gals (with one or two good-guys for “balance”); a dystopian collapse of civilization, zombies or vampires (preferably both, either separately or merged); the usual cast of evil white male villains who collapsed civilization, with either English or German or Southern White Trash accents; a horse-chase or a car-chase, or at least a rocket-in-space chase a la Star Wars; blue or green matriarchal peace-loving AmerIndian types who are “one with Nature” a la Avatar; and of course last but most important: a strong female lead who never holds a door open for anyone, most especially men, and who must be pictured on the cover holding a huge sword or futuristic gun (preferably both) and would never in a million parsecs be seen in the vicinity of babies or kids.

And if you actually do have aliens in your book, they had better be Just Like Us. Because today’s average reader doesn’t want her/his/xir’s moral Weltanschauung challenged by aliens who are actually alien any more than his/her/xir’s knowledge of science, since 2 + 2 = 4 is now a microaggression to the average reader of popular fiction. So hard science better not be in your manuscript. Oh, and the writer had better be something other than “a cis-gender male”, i.e., a normal man.

And for you who think that for popular selling it really makes a big difference what you put on that blank screen that will go between the covers, provided you can check off the laundry list of PC prerequisites… As case in point: a male member of a local writers’ club recently wrote a detective story. The fellow is a lawyer by profession, which means he can’t write a coherent sentence if his life depends on it and this was his first book—not to insult him, he’s a great guy and a friend and deserves everything good. But following the “algorithm” approach to writing, which begins with the principle “If you write for men, you’ll go broke,” he decided to self-publish. Rejecting putting anything on paper, and not wanting to waste his time with traditional publishers, he went straight for Kindle. He wrote his book in about a week and it took another week to get his book on Kindle, giving particular attention to the cover. The cover had to have a picture of an adolescent girl, with angel-like wings, and a hint of down-and-dirt, in short, a cover aimed at sixteen year old female readers of .99c Kindles on cellphones. He then hired a team of middle-aged women who specialize in talking up Kindles on Facebook. Three months later he had made $53,000 in sales. My book, The Selk King, took me four years to write. It’s aimed at highly educated men who know both Conan and Plato. My top-seller, OTOH, a sci-fi pot-boiler titled “Frenzy”, took me only three weeks. It was great fun writing, but there’s no philosophy in Frenzy, just fun characters and lots of action.

Well, that about says it all. Physical book publishing today is big business, and large publishers are almost always owned by one of the big six Hollywood media monopolies and therefore push the Hollywood PC agenda, usually in conjunction with their other big media venues, which includes large teams that talk up their bad books on social media. If you are not part of the PC crowd, and write true books of quality that you hope will outlive you, and not crappy Kindles that will vanish with yesterday’s news, then avoid the cellophane corporate media publishers, or any publisher infected with the PC virus. The age of novel-writing as a gentleman’s occupation, with books published by small, part-time, non-profits run by retired gentlemen who just want good literature to see the light of day, is long gone, while the age of self-published junk is rising exponentially. But thankfully there are still a few publishers around who are not contributing, by marketing their trash, to making the present age more “interesting”.

My upcoming titles:

Arktos has bought the rights to two of my unpublished manuscripts. One is JIHAD BUBBA, the funniest sci-fi novel you will ever read about life in a “Woke” near-future. The other is SJWS & THE PC CULT, a sociological and historical analysis of “Wokeness”. Click here to keep up with the latest updates on both titles Arktos Publishing – Upcoming Titles. (scroll down)

Terror House Press has bought the rights to several other books. One is THE GLOW, a Stephen King type horrornovel, previously unpublished. The others are the entire 3-book series the ADVENTURES OF MAGGIE, THE RADIATED LESBIAN NUN. This is a semi-political, sociological, sci-fi satire. Click here: Terror House Press – Coming Soon then scroll down to “To Be Announced” where you will see all four of these novels listed.

Don’t forget my third publisher, TWB Press. QUANTUM MARLOWE is already available on their site, a novel about a quirky detective who gets caught up in multiple quantum universes as he investigates a murder. Click here to buy QUANTUM MARLOWE now: http://www.twbpress.com/ In many ways, I consider Quantum Marlowe the best book I have ever written.


JIHAD BUBBA is my latest fiction book. It will soon be published by Arktos. Click here to keep up with the latest updates on this upcoming title: Arktos Publishing Upcoming Titles. (scroll down)

Set in a future United States, go-along get-along Bubba tries to survive and take care of the people he loves, but somehow just can’t manage. Anything that can happen does. Finally, Bubba decides he’s Not Going To Take It Anymore. In his own way, Bubba goes Full Jihad, with unpredictable consequences for everyone.

You won’t stop laughing while reading this sci-fi novel about a futuristic Rainbow society with smart-alec robots and flying cars that is ruled by braless Social Justice Warriors, where voting is banned as an evil invention of white males, and where kitchen utensils are outlawed but bank robbers walk free.

Never before published anywhere, keep watching as the Arktos publication date of Jihad Bubba nears.

Are books dead?

Are books dead?

The above strip may give an idea of what kind of writing I like to do. Exotic, odd, detective and crime, alien invasion, satire, in short whatever is Just Plain Weird. But if one does not read, one can not write. And if one does not read widely and in depth, one can not write with originality or with deep meaning.

The strangest thing I have ever heard was when I recently overheard someone say “I was so bored I almost read a book.” My response: “This person must be the most boring person alive. He knows nothing at all.”

Failure to read is an illness that is spreading across the US. I heard a radio interview in which the speaker had the audacity to say: “There’s other ways of being smart than reading. As far as reading at any level, people are dependent on their phones, and that thing is going to be reading to you soon. within 15 months no one is going to be reading anymore, just like no one writes cursive anymore. It’s all block printing today. It’s all movies now.”

Where do I start since my head exploded… For one thing, programmers must program the phones, and they have to read to make that happen. As for movies, that is an inferior method of learning, in fact video format actually inhibits learning because it triggers emotions and shuts down contemplation and rationality. Thus our society of “triggered” SJWs who were raised on movies rather than print.

As for print, I write cursive not only in English but in Russian. How can one appreciate novels in Russian, or in other languages, if one only watches movies? There are millions of books in dozens of languages that will never be made into movies or ebooks. They will remain ink on paper until that paper disintegrates in the distant future. That knowledge will then disappear. People who do not read books that (thankfully) will never be made into Hollywood movies are destined to remain victims of Hollywood’s propaganda, unaware of the extent of their ignorance and social conditioning as they wander like zombies looking for something to get triggered about. Failure to read is so widespread that 13 high schools in Baltimore are now graduating their students at a third-grade reading level. And don’t ask about math. That requirement is gone entirely.

I am currently reading about 10 books. I am always reading about 10 books. I listed the current crop in a previous newsletter, so I won’t list them here, tho the list of course has changed as I finish some and begin others. One that I didn’t list is the Quran.

The Quran is very interesting. Not to those who only read English, of course, because I understand that it is quite boring if one tries to read the Quran in that language. But for those who read Arabic and know something about history and Islamic affairs, the Quran is fascinating. In Arabic, it is high poetry and rhythmic liturgy. Traditional Muslims regard it as revealed by God, uncreated, its protected Platonic form existing in the mind of God before the creation of the world.

Yet it has peculiarities. Such as a verse rebuking people who make too much noise near Muhammad’s rooms, or entering without announcing themselves, or well-wishers bothering his wives. One verse condemns to eternal perdition an uncle and his wife who supposedly put obstacles in Muhammad’s path. Other verses seem to be magical incantations such as one might recite for protection in the presence of an evil jinn, or before embarking on a hazardous journey, recitations that perhaps long precede the advent of Islam or the appearance of the Quran.

I am reading the surah entitled al-Fath, or The Opening or The Victory. It was allegedly revealed in 628 A.D. after Muhammad failed in his first attempt to enter Mecca, when he instead concluded the Treaty of Hudaybiyah with the uncooperative Meccans. This surah is interesting because it mentions for the first time (if we believe the standard line on the chronology of the surahs) the Sakinah, the Torah, the Christian Gospel, the name of Muhammad, and the Masjid al-Haram. The Sakinah is translated as “tranquility”, but the Arabic word is similar to the Christian Holy Spirit, suggesting that Allah may have a dual nature. The name Muhammad is rare in the Quran and there is reason to suppose it may be an honorific title not attached to a specific person. The Masjid al-Haram is supposedly the Kaaba, which Muslims today circumambulate. But in ancient times it may have been something quite different, and maybe not located in today’s Mecca, but elsewhere. In fact the entire Quran may have nothing at all to do with today’s Mecca, but may have been composed in Jordan or Syria. I am reading it with this possibility in mind. I cannot say at this time whether the Quran is fiction or revealed truth. But I will report more on this in future newsletters.

I said in past newsletters that I would report the details of the sale of my novels to publishers. The publication of my latest novel, JIHAD BUBBA, has been announced by the publisher Arktos. Click here https://arktos.com/ to visit Arktos Publishing and scroll to the very bottom of the page where its says “Other Upcoming Titles”. You will see JIHAD BUBBA by Glenn Lazar Roberts. Arktos also bought from Equus the rights to SJWS & THE PC CULT. You can see that title also is coming out soon.

Terror House Press bought the rights to several more of my books. One is THE GLOW, a Stephen King type horror novel. The others are the entire 3-book series the ADVENTURES OF MAGGIE, THE RADIATED LESBIAN NUN. This is a semi-political, sociological, sci-fi satire. The head honcho of Terror House grabbed the books quickly as he “could not stop laughing” as he read them. Click here: https://terrorhousepress.com/c… and scroll down to “To Be Announced” where you will see all four of these novels listed.

Don’t forget my third publisher, TWB Press. QUANTUM MARLOWE is already available on their site, a novel about a quirky detective who gets caught up in multiple quantum universes as he investigates a murder. Click here to buy QUANTUM MARLOWE now: http://www.twbpress.com/ In many ways, I consider Quantum Marlowe the best book I have ever written. One reviewer wrote at the end of a long effusive review: “Recommended for die-hard fans of exceptional avant-garde fantasy sci-fi prose.” Another reviewer, commenting on my writing in general: ““Glenn Lazar Roberts is one of the finest writers of unconventional prose in contemporary fiction. His wonderfully inventive plots and mastery of the language place him in the company of Calvino, Burges, Gass…” I don’t know who the heck those writers are, but I assume they are good. Buy QUANTUM MARLOWE for the finest in sci-fi murder mystery, and put on your calendar the publishing dates for my upcoming novels from Arktos and Terror House.

That’s all for now. Keep reading! And visit www.equuspublishing.com for more info.

Glenn Lazar Roberts

Happenings at Equus

I have been away from this blog for a good while but much has been happening in the background. Equus Publishing has always been mostly a vehicle for publishing my own works so I have usually declined to publish other people’s works while I waited to attract attention from entities that have more marketing capacity than I possess. In short, I have been waiting to be discovered, confident (hoping?) that good writing and great stories have not yet completely disappeared from modernity. I have had little time to devote to this endeavor. Writing and self-publishing on Equus from the beginning has always been a very part-time activity as I spend most of my time translating Russian and Arabic texts, and helping out my kids, who, thankfully, are now grown and need little assistance.

Now the raw meat. Several months ago a sizable publisher took an interest in my books and a few weeks ago this publisher purchased the rights and signed contracts to re-publish the following novels:

The Glow

The entire 3-book series of the Adventures of Maggie, the Radiated Lesbian Nun:

Judge Crater Takes a Powder (Book 1)
Cross-Dressers From Pluto (Book 2)
The Warriors (Book 3)

I do not yet know the particulars of the re-publishing, whether the new books will be issued under the original format or as second editions. I am confident, tho, that the original covers, designed by Yours Truly, will be discarded. I liked them, but I am the first to admit that the covers were amateurish and not suitable for commercial works.

Meantime, a second publisher has also expressed an interest and a couple of weeks ago I signed more contracts with this other publisher. The first publisher focuses on literature, tho perhaps ‘literature’ is not the best term to describe zany sci-fi works such as Adventures of the Radiated Lesbian Nun. The second publisher prefers more politically oriented works and they will publish my latest manuscript, Jihad Bubba. Jihad Bubba has never been published before anywhere.

Pursuant to both sets of contracts, I am in the process of removing all current venues where the above books are offered for sale. These books should no longer be available for purchase anywhere, in any format, including the Equus website.

The Equus Publishing website will continue in operation—made easier by my switching to a subscriber service for the newsletter, which I hope will make sharing news with subscribers easier than when I was sending newsletters directly from the Equus website, which caused no end of IP issues.

The following books are still for sale from this website: Maalstrom; The Selk King; Frenzy; and my children’s story, The Handwalkers. These have not (yet?) been purchased for re-publication. The pages for my other books will forward the reader to the appropriate publisher for purchase. Quantum Marlowe, in some ways the best book I have ever written, continues to be sold by a third publisher.

As details of these publications, and re-publications, come available, I will enter them on this blog, and send them out via the Equus Newsletter. This blog will no longer send alerts to subscribers when I post here. Blog alerts were too much trouble and sent out too many alerts. I am not a techie and did not always handle alerts correctly. So, looking forward, interested readers should sign up in the new Subscriber box to get my Newsletters with the latest news, or check back to this blog manually.

My college theses also continue to be available for purchase: Sharia Law & the Arab Oil Bust; Islamic Human Rights & International Law; and Commissar & Mullah: Soviet-Muslim Policy From 1917 to 1924. If I am spared the years, I may eventually see one or more of these theses updated and published by a university press. Please note: these are graduate academic works and contain many, many footnotes, sometimes very dense. These works are not for casual reading or the faint of heart. If you are intimidated by footnotes, don’t buy them.

Glenn Lazar Roberts

Maggie Kindles Updated

Maggie Kindles Updated

All Kindle versions of Equus / Dark Lotus Books have been updated with prices lowered to match current market conditions for eccentric works that are Just Plain Weird. All three books in my series the Adventures of Maggie the Radiated Lesbian Nun are now available in Kindles for $1.99. This a dollar more expensive than the Epubs currently available for purchase on Smashwords, but Kindles are easier to deal with and read than simple epubs.

I still think the RLN covers need updating as well. I had great fun designing them myself, but maybe they’re just too corny for most. Maybe soon.

The Warriors is a parody of the 1979 cult movie classic of the same name, ‘The Warriors’, but set within the broader 3-book plot of brainy but gloriously incompetent aliens from the planet Bogland seeking to flood the Earth with global warming to make it suitable for their frog-like species. Only Social Justice Warrior Maggie P. Squatch, illiterate queen of the Los Angeles roller derby, can stop them.

The Warriors is expected to be available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions by Sunday.