Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Self-Publishing: A Brave New World, Or The Same Old One?

I knew I had no business going on to and reading Laura Miller's article on the "brave new self-published world" especially since I have a particular sensitivity to the topic. Still, I like living dangerously, so I stepped right into the fray...and almost had my eyeballs pop out of my skull. The section that really stuck out in my mind, aka bugged me, was how writers see agents and editors as gatekeepers, thwarting their humble efforts for a little recognition, a little money. If the same agents and editors would just move out the way, a million adoring fans would snatch up all those great books. I'm paraphrasing here. God, I hate sweeping generalizations.

Please excuse me as I rant. Sorry, Laura Miller: FAIL. Who in the hell really thinks that way? Please, let's find such writers and clue them in. If you're a writer considering self-publishing because it will bring fame and fortune overnight, I'm going to tell you what Susan Powter used to tell people in her 90's infomercial: STOP THE MADNESS. I'm about to burst your little bubble of insanity - fame and fortune will never come just because you've self-published. Why? It doesn't often come to midlist, traditionally published authors, who actually have large publishing houses behind them with a marketing department. The fact that most of that marketing money seems to go to the big names is a topic for another blog post. Back on topic, no right-minded author really thinks that self-publishing is the key. Those of us who've done it have a variety of reasons for not going the traditional route, and often, it's not for lack of trying.  

The article suggests that instead of editors and agents separating the wheat from the chaff, or as I liked, finding the good stuff among the "really, really, really, really terrible...vast majority", now the readers will suffer that mind-numbing task, as they choose among the 700,000 (!) self-published books and God knows how many traditionally published ones. So, I have to ask (and I did in a comment on the article), how is that any different from what readers have always done? Readers have always chosen with their wallets and they will continue to do so. Books of merit will rise to the top (of the sale's ranking, that is), and the dregs will remain where they belong. Self-publishing hasn't muddied the mix, it's opened up the field for some, notice I wrote some, who haven't gotten the lucky break they may otherwise deserve.

Ok, rant over.

The article did raise a point I found particularly interesting: Why should extroversion be required of a great novelist? It's interesting for me, because at heart, I am an introvert. I can still count on both hands the number of true friends that have gotten to know me, the real me, over the years. When I decided that writing was more than a hobby, I also quickly figured out that in order to get people interested in my writing, the naturally shy, reserved me would have to go. After all, how could I get people to buy my books, if I avoided talking about them?

Geniuses who once lived in their own insular writing world are relics of the past, and in the competition for critical acclaim and those all important dollars, can't afford to stay silent .  If that means you tweet your little heart out on Twitter, friend a random stranger on Facebook, keep updating a website and blog, just get over it and do it.  Also, it might be helpful to keep a working email or comments form on your website where people can write to you.

Case in point, I recently came across a beautiful synopsis of a SELF-PUBLISHED medieval on an author's website. Since I LOVE medieval settings, particularly the early Norman period, I emailed the author expressing interest in a review copy for the Historical Novel reviews blog. What did I get in reply? A bounceback because the email account was no longer valid. No comments or contact form either, but that didn't deter me because this person must have a Facebook page. My mother has a Facebook page. Anyway, I thought luck was with me. Instead, I found "Author Name only shares some of her profile information with everyone. If you know...."  Maybe I'm being too judgmental, but if you don't list an active email on your website AND you put up obstacles, however minor, for people who may contact you, you've just made it that much harder on yourself to connect with readers in this brave new / same old world of publishing. 

P.S. Even Anne Rice agrees with me:


Catherine Delors said...

I read that piece and didn't like it either. I think you are spot on, Lisa!
By the way, speaking of social media, you should have Twitter and Facebook links on each of your posts so that readers can spread them. :)

Lisa Yarde said...

Thanks, Catherine. I'm having no luck with the FB and Twitter buttons; they're enabled in Blogger but not visible. Think it has something to do with my lovely template.

Anita Davison said...

Brilliant, Lisa, I agree completely. I like buying books online and I look at the blurb, the genre and even the cover - but I NEVER look to see who published it!

Anne Gilbert said...


My comment is not about the book, because I haven't read it, though it really sounds interesting! But I am going to congratulate you on pubilishing "On Falcon's Wings" on Kindle(now that you've finally done it), even if I don't yet have a Kindle. I will get around to reading it in the not too distant future, and from what I've read of your material, your writing has great potential, IMO.

Again, congratulations,
Anne G

Anne Gilbert said...

Well, I dunno. I think the author had a point, but I'm certainly not going to "knock" anybody who self publishes. Unfortunately, I've read at least two self published novels that were really awful! I'm not going to name the authors in order to protect the guilty, so to speak, but. . . one of them was full of historical errors of various kinds, and the other had an interesting presmise, though there were things like spelling errors and rather strange use of words in a sentence, and(though I can't quite recall), some errors of historical fact, as well. It would have been better, in the last case, if the author had written another draft, rather than rushed into print with it. OTOH, I've read some quite workmanlike, and even very good self published novels. It's basically a crapshoot out there, and an awful lot of people are just rushing into print with what I can only describe as "dreck". There's good, self-published stuff, but you have to sometimes work hard to find it.

Lisa Yarde said...

Hi Anne, thanks for stopping by the blog, and for the well wishes, I really appreciate it.

As for the Salon. com article, I don't dismiss it entirely - there's a reason the slush pile has that name. However, you've been in critique groups and seen the level of commitment most put into their stories. Yet, any author who strikes out on their own is automatically treated like a second class citizen, or worse a misguided fool who hasn't accepted that he / she can't write / sell. This has nothing to do with an assessment of a skill level, just a pre-conceived notion that is somehow applied as a catch all to self-published authors.

If anything, I objected to this generalizations in the article. The industry owes us absolutely nothing, and I don't know any author who actually believes they deserve or have a right to be published. But I do chafe at the idea that self-publishing should automatically be looked down upon as more rubbish - there are a fair share of traditional books that fit that bill. I'm all for the readers deciding with their wallets, as they've always done.

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