Song of the Orange Moons, by Dallas Author Lori Ann Stephens, Just Topped Amazon's Best Seller List

Categories: Books, Q&A

Lori Stephens.png
Dallas writer Lori Ann Stephens.
This is not Lori Ann Stephens' first rodeo. Well, it is in the sense that it is her debut novel that suddenly shot to No. 1 on the Amazon Bestseller List for Top Free Literary Fiction over the Fourth of July. But that novel -- Song of the Orange Moons -- has existed in print since 2010 when it was picked up by Blooming Tree Press in Austin. Like so many small businesses in an unstable economy, the publishing house unexpectedly and abruptly closed. Stephens felt suspended, truncated, in literary purgatory.

And then came a plan. Stephens had already pursued an ebook publication with ASD Publishing online in an attempt to, as she puts it, "keep the book-child breathing," but despite the efforts, it "sat deathly still on the digital shelf." As an experiment, Stephens decided to run a three-day promotion, making the book downloadable for free for a set period. Though she loved and believed in the novel, no one was more surprised than Stephens when the proverbial stone was rolled away and the book began a meteoric ascension over those three days.

A lecturer in the English department at SMU (where I went to school), Stephens has already amassed a number of prestigious honors -- enough to be the envy of most any aspiring writer. But popular success, like Song of the Orange Moons' online reception, was never an immediate goal. We spoke with her this week on the changing face of publication and what that means for fiction writing and writers.

Do you think the burgeoning trend of self-publication has or will reasonably upset the idea of "literary" fiction?
Publishing houses are wary of investing in literary fiction and have been for some time. I think the sheer openness of the market has "upset the idea" of literary fiction, mainly because anyone can label his or her work now "literary fiction" and post it on Amazon or iBooks without even knowing what literary fiction is. The novel might be a romance or pot-boiler mystery, and those are flourishing genres for an avid market. But they're not literary fiction.

On the topic of quality, I don't see the market being flooded with great self-published fiction. Not yet. Yes, there are scads of self-published novels available online. Some are really good. The savvy Nathan Bransford wrote about the promising market of self-published literary fiction, calling out Marcel Proust, Ben Franklin, and other self-pubbers. But wade through the ratings of the more obviously self-published material on Amazon, and you notice a trend: Readers are grateful for the cheap (or free) selection, but they're often frustrated at the quality. As an author, I'm grateful that I had the Kindle platform to resuscitate the book from remainder hell. But as a reader, I'm frustrated that there are, frankly, so many bad books out there. And "bad" in self-publishing is so much more dreadful than "bad" in a traditional bookstore.

Do you worry that, as e-publication becomes more prevalent, it will necessarily flood the market with, well, Fifty Shades of Grey?
I haven't read Fifty Shades of Grey. I know that several of my son's friends' mothers have read it, and from the sales numbers, there's a clear demand for "soft porn for mommies." I get it.

But I've also heard from many sources how appalling the writing is. People who open Fifty Shades, I suspect, know that what they're jumping into isn't quality literature, but that's not what they're looking for. They're looking for a titillating story. We're all aware of the canon (e.g. Hemingway, Faulkner, Shakespeare), but are we going to give up reading To Kill a Mockingbird because of books like Fifty Shades? I don't think so.

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