The self-publishing debate

June 30, 2010 Writing Comments (1) 83

I have a lot of people to thank for a rousing discussion of Friday’s post on self-publishing and print-on-demand.  This blog is normally quite starved for comments and the debate was just the boost my fragile little ego desired.  I liked it so much, in fact, I am going to give another plug to the person who kicked it off, literary agent, New Yorker, and fellow cat person Colleen Lindsay.

You can go read the whole thing from beginning to end if you like, but I thought I’d post a quick round-up here.  I was struck by the diversity of comments and perspectives.  For starters, most commenters were quick to remind me that not all self-published literature is bad.  I, too, have read some excellent self-published work, but it doesn’t change the fact that the vast majority is terrible, or that it’s almost impossible for a book or its author to stand out among the crowd.  As an example, every bit of self-published work I’ve read was pointed out to me by the author or another reader – I have never come across a piece of self-published literature in the market that I wanted to read.

Of course we had a couple of posts espousing the widely-held belief, to which I am totally opposed, that literary agents are elitist conspirators who cackle over martinis while pressing a heel into the face of every brilliant author who won’t jump through the right hoops.  Tracy, who did not link to a web site, advocated self-publishing as a way around these gatekeeper and their exclusive club.  A small part of me wishes more authors felt this way, because it might thin out the slush pile and move my work closer to the top.

More than one commenter drew a parallel I think is inaccurate between self-published writing and “indie” films and music.  I see those as parallel with small press writing, which brings a smaller investment and less marketing, but still draws support and financing from “gatekeepers” who have to approve the work before it goes to market.  Self-published writing is more analogous to posting music or video on YouTube – and we all know what kind of quality control to expect there.

If I am bold enough to identify a consensus, it was that self-publishing has its place, but that authors who go that route must either have a platform or perish.  Commenters pointed out successful self-published authors like Wil Wheaton and Karen McQuestion, who both went into self-publishing with a platform that helped them market their work.  Kristian Bland, an author who is currently self-publishing, reported that “So far, the response has been very positive – but I already had an audience before I started posting it.”

There was a fair amount of debate about means for self-published literature to reach an audience, a topic that deserves contemplation and one I will likely post about soon.  Some folks strongly advocate the “free market,” though I can’t help finding it ironic that most of those same folks also decry the “commercialization of literature” by agents and editors.  Kristian reminded us all that we need look no further than LOLcats and YouTube to see that the “cream” that rises to the top of the Internet is generally the most accessible material, not the highest quality or most artistic.

Author-illustrator Ryan Hipp contributed a few good comments, my favorite of which was the reminder that “if your book is good, it will sell” is a myth.  The correct motto would be “if your book is marketable, it will sell,” but as any reader of agent blogs can tell you (and if you want to be a published author, you should be reading agent blogs), a book’s marketability depends on much more than its quality.  Sometimes everything about the book is right except the timing – for instance, you’ve written a great YA teenage vampire abstinence parable, but it’s 2010 and agents are buried under YA teenage vampire abstinence parables.  To my mind, though, the right answer is not to toss it out on some Kindle or POD site where it will die a quiet death.  But it in a drawer and try again in ten years when it might make a splash – or revise it enough that it might sell.  Vampires, zombies, and werewolves are all done to death – perhaps a YA teenage ANDROID abstinence parable?  I think that’s a six-book deal waiting to happen.

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On Authors, Actors, and Agents

June 29, 2010 Personal, Writing Comments (0) 74

One of my best friends is an actor.  You’ve probably seen her in something, but you probably don’t know it.  She’s been prominently featured on Law and Order and a couple of its acronym-oriented spin-offs, Damages, White Collar, Rescue Me, Gossip Girl, Mercy, Kings, and other television programs, and been in in a few television commercials and several movies.  If you go see “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” or “The Smurfs,” you’re going to see her.  Yet she’s never had her name in the credits – because my friend mostly works as an extra (in industry jargon, “background,”) and she’s still trying to get a good agent.

Now and then we have a few beers and compare notes on searching for representation in different fields.

  • I have a bachelor’s degree in writing; she has one in musical theater.
  • I spent ten years writing, revising, polishing, and rewriting the novel I’ve been shopping around; she did years of summer stock theater, working as a chambermaid or making props by hand in between performances, to build up a marketable resume. Continue Reading

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Self-publish, or learn to fly?

June 24, 2010 Writing Comments (29) 652

Literary agent Colleen Lindsay this morning tweeted Laura Miller’s recent Salon article about how the future of literature will be shaped by e-book and on-demand print self-publishing services.  Miller observes that these services promote themselves as a means to circumvent the “elite literary gatekeepers,” and that their customers are really authors, not readers.  She points out, rightly, that the so-called gatekeepers provide a service to consumers, that removing them will drop the slush pile directly atop readers, and that this may have dramatic and unintended consequences.

For my part, I wonder whether these services won’t cost humanity more than one potentially-great book, when the author gives up on finding representation and self-publishes instead of going back for another polish.  See, personally I don’t view editors and literary agents as gatekeepers.  I see them as the laws of physics.

That may require further explanation.   Continue Reading

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