Crossfire: Blooks Are Low Quality Anyway

rubbish.jpgIt was only a matter of time before we started asking questions. Blooks are low quality, are new, are amateurish.

James over at Progression writes on the appalling lack of quality in the Blooker prize nominees – despite it being the benchmark in the industry: ‘our’ Booker prize. Betsy then comments in her blog and adds the following story:

A philosophy professor I’d had for a few classes came into the Writing Center where I was working, and asked me whether I was doing a thesis, so I summarized what I was doing. He asked, “Are any of these blogs any good?” Well, no, I answered him …

It somewhat mirrors a debate I had a couple of months back: in it we talked about how the Blooker winners can never qualify for the Booker. I argued that the Blooker represents the best of what is currently on offer on the Internet – which isn’t much at the moment. And I even contacted Paul Jones (chair of the judges for this year’s Blooker) for his thoughts on the issue.

But now I’m having second thoughts. And I believe this to be a good time for me to take a step back and evaluate objectively that thorny issue of quality that blooking has.

Why do people blook?

  1. To improve their writing
  2. To gain recognition
  3. As an experiment
  4. To get published

1 means the blogosphere gets littered by slush-pile works – only worthy of reading if you want to torture yourself.

2 is better – authors who want to gain recognition would have to put up stories worth reading … but I believe this is tied to 4, getting published (or discovered).

And as for 3 … well. I believe blooking needs more of these kind of people. People who are already established authors, or who have a good story to tell and the means to tell it. Now all they need to do is to set up a blog, flex their fingers and start typing – something terribly easy to do considering the two minutes it takes to set up a new blog at Blogger.

This post doesn’t answer anything, really, but I’m trying to force myself to think – and this I ask of you, too.

How can literature on the net be improved?

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Category: Writing Web Fiction
  • Richard

    Hm. This is obviously a tricky subject to broach without potentially upsetting some people. However, several things strike me.

    Firstly, I’m not sure that it’s necessarily possible or desirable to improve online fiction. To do that you’d really need some sort of editorial procedure and some means of weeding out the chaff while leaving the wheat. The problem with that is that it smacks of elitism and it could become as hard for someone to have his or her voice heard online as in print.

    Secondly, while I’ve found both Progression and Betsy’s Phoney Bologna to be fascinating blogs, I do question whether either blogger is really interested in starting a discussion on this matter: I’ve tried to engage them in the comments sections to their posts but they’ve yet to reply. I get the impression that neither feels invested enough to actually want to improve the situation.

    Thirdly, I’m not sure its the reason someone blooks that matters. Rather, I think it’s the quality of the writer’s voice. Someone writing for the aim of 2 or 4 could just be a poor wannabe; someone writing for the aim of 3 could be a pretentious pseud. On the other hand, someone writing for the aim of 1 could be someone with a lot of raw talent in need of flexing his or her muscles.

    I think that if we wanted to do something about sorting out the chaff from the wheat, it would need to be done quite far down the line. Take political bloggers, for instance: they have a community, and the ‘better’ bloggers are those that get referenced more by the others. So quite rapidly, you have a grassroots mechanism in place where certain blogs are highlighted.

    This isn’t quite possible with fiction blogs because they don’t reference each other in the same way. To do something similar you’d probably have to set up an independent site where you could vote for and review your favourite fiction blogs. At least, that’s all I can think of that might do the job.

  • Eli James

    Gosh, Richard – that’s something to think about.

    Thirdly, I’m not sure its the reason someone blooks that matters.

    Hrmm. I believe it does – how else can we determine what draws new blookers into the medium, and the quality of said blookers?

    But you’ve hit gold on two points, I believe: the first being that separating the wheat from the chaff would reek of elitism – but let’s not dismiss that idea of editorial process in blooking just yet.

    The other thing you said that opened my eyes was in your last two paragraphs. By golly you’re right – fiction blogs aren’t made to reference each other, making it harder to highlight good content.

    Thank you for the insight – I’ll have to mull this over for a few days before putting up something about it. I’ll email you soon.

  • Lee

    I can only guess what draws others to blog or blook their fiction, though I suspect most people are hoping for commercial publication, and preferably a J.K. Rowling income. My reason is precisely the opposite: I prefer not to have agent or editor. I’m not convinced that the editorial process necessarily yields a better work of fiction, though of course it may. It is absolutely essential that writers learn to self-edit. Am I there yet? Hell no. But I intend to be, given another decade or so.

  • Eli James

    Good luck Lee. I believe self editing to be important, but there are certain people I give my manuscripts to who would give constructive analysis of what works and what doesn’t.

    I think of it as conjuring up a block of marble, and then whittling it down with various sets of chisels. Each chisel is a person. Only problem with this is that too many chisels lop off a nose, and then it’s no longer mine.

  • Cheryl Hagedorn

    I had to double-check the date of your post because I couldn’t believe that Baghdad Burning, a blook, wasn’t mentioned – as the exception, if nothing else! The blook was nominated for the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize and eventually made the shortlist. Not bad for one of those low quality competitiors in the Lulu Blooker Prize contest.

  • Eli James

    Early on when Novelr first started I had an interesting debate with a blogger called ed-infinitum. We were debating on whether blooks can win the Booker prize.

    We concluded that, no, they can’t – not yet. But I argued that the Blooker helps lift the quality of blooks, while ed argued that it doesn’t. The points are convoluted and the arguments long winded.

    I contacted Paul Jones and he acknowledged that even the best of blooks are amateur work, but ‘so what’?

    And there I rest my case. Blooks cannot yet be like novels: the medium through which novelists act as ‘society’s moral historians’.

    We are obscure. We are not wildly read. Our sole ‘literary’ prize is sponsored by a company with vested interest in selling blooks.

    We have a long way to go before we can regard blooks with respect, on par with Tolstoy or Nabokov or Golding.

  • Lee

    Who is Paul Jones?

    I’m not interested in the amateur/professional distinction, since this implies that art is a commodity. As far as I’m concerned, there is only good fiction, bad fiction, and everything in between. And I’m not the only one who intends to prove that high quality novels – literary novels, even – can be published online.

  • Eli James


    It also implies elitism. I don’t like it, but I’m defenseless when pitted up against ed – there simply isn’t enough quality at the moment. And of course we’re working towards high quality, though I’m starting to think it might come out differently – not necessarily good writing alone but creativity in combining the unique presentation elements of the web – pictures, comments, feeds; words, sounds, images.

    Your work Mortal Ghost is a good example: already you have podcasts. So quality online fiction, especially in the case of Mortal Ghost, isn’t limited to the written word.

    Paul Jones
    is the director of and was the chair of judges for last year’s Blooker. I thought it would be interesting to see his defense of the award. Sorry, Lee, I shouldn’t have name dropped like that.

  • Lee

    Oh no, Eli, Mortal Ghost is very flawed. It will take me years even to approach literary quality: but is my goal.

  • Eli James

    Then I’ll very much like to watch that adventure.

    Good luck, Lee.

  • Cheryl Hagedorn

    I keep forgetting that your primary interest is fiction. Baghdad Burning was non-fiction. “The Samuel Johnson Prize aims to reward the UK’s best non-fiction, from biography, travel and history to the arts and current affairs.”

  • Eli James

    Glad for that clarification, Cheryl.