Slow progress on the hard-copy edit of Princess of Shadows— it really seems as if everyday life is conspiring to drag me away from the book, hitting me with this, that, and the other thing at odd intervals. I am about a third of the way through. However, on the plus-side, I am cutting out some good-sized chunks of text.
Meanwhile, it seems that another firefight has flared up over self-publishing. A blogger identifying him/herself as “anonnymouse13” launched a tirade (again, with bad words) a couple of days ago against independently published writers–
Another blogger responded directly to anonnymouse13, taking the counter-position for indies–
I have no interest in chiming in on anonnymouse13’s blog; mishaburnett has already done so quite adequately. I do find the anger and disdain in anonnymouse13’s blog disturbing; are people associated with traditional publishing truly this alarmed? He’s not the first to use this kind of language– it seems many of them are painting indies with very broad brush-strokes as incompetent amateurs who shouldn’t be allowed out in public for fear we’ll make a mess on the floor.
I’ve previously posted at length on self-publishing, but reading this latest exchange, I have kind of come to a summarization my own thinking on the subject. Half of what I now have to say is for trad publishing, half for my fellow self-publishers.
Traditional publishers— take a deep breath, step back, and figure out where you can fit into the new normal. The new normal is that trad publishers no longer have control over what literature is available to the public. Because of the Internet and e-books and online self-publishing platforms you are no longer the sole gatekeepers of literary production in our culture– and over the next few years that erosion of your former power is only going to get worse. In a decade or less, book publishing in our society is going to look very different from what it does now, and radically different from what it looked like a generation ago.
Rage as you will, you cannot reverse this trend, for two simple reasons– 1. the Internet is not going away, short of human civilization blowing itself to kingdom come (an outcome that would adversely affect dead tree books, as well), and 2. people have a free speech right to publish their writings and thoughts, and as long as there are online platforms willing to accept their work, they will. You are powerless to stop them, and stamping your feet and frothing at the mouth about it only wastes your time and raises your blood-pressure.
It would be much better for you to follow the example of the music industry– embrace the independents and figure out how you can work with them. Work at helping to create and mold the new normal. If you try to cling to the vestiges of your former power and status, you will be left behind.
Self-publishers— The greatest and most glorious achievement of the new publishing world is that the decision to publish a work has been taken out of the hands of cultural elites (editors and publishers) and delivered into the hands of the authors themselves. This is occurring just as traditional publishing is petrifying into some sort of living fossil, incapable of changing its ways and frequently unable to recognize good writing, as it ardently pursues publishing the same sort of material that has sold before.
But every revolution has its downside. The downside of online self-publishing is that, with no gatekeepers at all, we are seeing a flood of badly written material being presented to the public. This is evident from any casual examination of the inventory of e-book vendors.
In their eagerness to see their name and the name of their book on an Amazon or Smashwords webpage, many thousands of people have launched their work into the ether without understanding a basic truth– learning to write well is, for most people, a long, long process involving a great deal of hard work and, frequently, a good deal of humiliation and frustration. There are no five easy steps to writing success. Most of us take years to learn this craft. Occasionally we will encounter some native genius who picks up a pen and writes something great right out of the gate. They are far more rare than big-time lottery winners. The new publishing paradigm has not changed the nature of the writing process, nor how this skill is learned and honed.
The irony is that the same free speech right that now allows an author to publish very nearly at will also makes no value judgments about what is published. There is no quality test for free speech– it protects both cogently written works and incoherent drivel. Neither I, nor any traditional publisher, nor Santa Claus, have any right to tell an author they can’t publish if they haven’t spent twenty years learning to write and can’t figure out how to format a manuscript so that it is readable. So there is no way to stop the flow of inadequately written material in the new self-published world.
There is, however, a countervailing force, at least on self-publishing platforms that offer some form of payment– the freedom of the consumer/reader/audience to judge your work and utterly ignore it if they find it wanting. It is the marketplace, red in tooth and claw, and it is unforgiving. This is actually a good and hopeful thing– it means that those who work hard and honestly strive to make their work better still have a chance rise above the sea of the bad and the hasty. With all the material that is out there now, and all that is to come, it will not be easy– but what that is worthwhile in this life is easy?
So, here is my final word to my brothers and sisters in self-publishing– if you do not want to be ignored, or worse, ridiculed (and, believe me, one-star reviews sting like the dickens), learn your craft. Take the time to do it right. You won’t regret it.
That’s all I have to say.