Back almost a decade ago, I came to a point where I was extremely frustrated about mysteries and mystery authors. I had been downtown to the main branch of my local library, which had then as now has a huge mystery collection. Faced with shelf-upon-shelf of books, most of them by authors I regret to say I’d never heard of, I threw up my hands and exclaimed, “Someone must have a clue who all these people are!Fortunately, I soon discovered half a dozen mystery discussion lists, and they were my salvation as a new writer. Lists circa 2001 were, outside of occasional flame wars, wonderful places to be. The discussions were akin to a daily shot of intellectual caffeine.
Alas today, lists are hardly ever interesting. For a week, I tracked what I call the Q/Q ratio. Quality over quantity. On the lists that I visit routinely—keep in mind that I’m referring only to lists, not blogs, web sites, Facebook or Twitter—the Q/Q ratio for that week was 62%. Only 62% of the messages had meaningful content. Actually, I was surprised that the ratio was that high. It was raised no doubt by an interesting and unusual discussion taking place on one list to which people contributed tons of thoughtful comments. Just like old times.
The remaining 38% of the postings were essentially advertisements: visit my blog, web site, photo gallery or review; agreement messages where entire previous e-mails were quoted, with a phrase such as, “I agree” or “Me, too.” added at the top; or well-wishes. I think it’s great to congratulate someone or express encouragement to “feel better soon” or “hang in there.” I suspect that those personal messages would be equally appreciated sent as private e-mails. Is it essential that the other 435 member of the list know that person A wants person B to get well soon?
What I could use today as desperately as I needed lists in 2001 is a electronic clearing house. One or two major questions up for discussion each week. Yes, I know that in any given week your blog and ten others might be about the pros and cons of writing series versus stand-alones, and that someone’s web site, somewhere, has a dynamite essay on the same topic, and the same topic has come up on your Facebook page, and so on and so on. What we need is a way to bring this all together so that we increase the quality over the quantity.
Here’s what my dream clearing house to unite us all might look like. Now all we need is someone to really create it.
Quote for the week
The good dancer owns the stage, but the great dancer owns the audience.
~Sheri Gaia Chapin, mystery writer