Category Archives: traditional publishing

Whadda-ching bowie ding bada zingo!!!

Some readers of this blog may recall that, months and months ago, I related my determination to once again begin submitting stories for traditional publication, with an eye toward becoming one of that new breed of authors, the hybrid (trad and self-published). Partly, this is because SFWA membership is an item on my bucket list (and, yeah, I know SFWA will soon start accepting self-published authors, but I don’t meet the criteria for that option, either). While I was struggling with (or, depending on your point of view, despairing over) Princess of Fire, I didn’t feel as if I had the energy to launch this new effort. Now that I’m on the second draft, though, I feel I’m a little more at liberty to crank this puppy up and get it going.

So thinking, this past week I submitted three short pieces to an online venue (and, oh, brother, is that change from the days when the US Postal Service and I were on a first-name basis). I thought the pieces were pretty strong, although I admit that I am still shaky about my short, short fiction. These were basically my first over-the-transom submissions in perhaps ten years.

All three were rejected in less than forty-eight hours (another night-and-day change from the old days). Three neat little emails saying, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Rejections. Man, I’d kinda forgotten how much those little suckers sting. Makes a flu shot feel like a hickey.

Sigh. I’m okay. This is far, far from my first stroll down Rejection Lane. In fact, it’s more like numbers 102, 103 and 104, or thereabouts. I can’t be entirely accurate about those numbers, unfortunately– complete records are unavailable, partly because I didn’t keep some of my earliest rejections (the first of which date back to the 1970’s), and partly because some of my ‘rejections’ (particularly from agents) consist of resounding silences. The point is, however, that I will be all right.

And more than all right. I learned a long time ago how to take a rejection, shake it off (sometimes with the assistance of dark chocolate), and move on. This is, in fact, just the first step in what I anticipate will be a long campaign. And as someone once told me, persistence is one of the most important habits a writer can have. Too many novices get a rejection and wither away. If you can paper a wall with rejection slips and still keep going, you will succeed at some point. Or, to put it another way, if you quit, you will never know whether that next story would have hit the jackpot.

So, onward. I plan to review the SFWA qualifying markets list and pick another outlet for the stories. And longer stories are ready to go on the assembly line. I will keep everyone posted.


RAAANNNTT! Fifty Shades of Grey and the degradation of traditional publishing

(Arooogah! Incoming Rant!)

My local newspaper has a review of Fifty Shades of Grey in this morning’s edition that just about sums it up.

Moira MacDonald is one the funnier, and more dependable, film critics around. If I had known nothing about the book from which the movie is derived, I would be well-advised by her review to flee to the hills. And even if I had missed her review, a quick perusal of Google results for the book would have brought this assessment to my eyes–

“I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.” — Salman Rushdie

Oof. (“Torpedo amidships, Cap’n! She’s going doowwnn!”)

(Nothing off-color intended. Really).

It’s depressing to see this steaming pile of offal made into an actual film with an actual budget with actual actors (although, of course, Hollywood will do anything for a buck. No surprise there). The only thing more depressing is that the movie is based on a book that the publishing industry rushed to publish purely (there can be no other reason, least of all literary merit) because it had sold a ton of copies online. I am far from the first person to suggest that this one fact alone obliterates traditional publishing’s claim to be an arbiter of quality. Instead, it reveals trad publishing to be the soulless business it always has been.

Needless to say, I am not going to see the movie. I’ve got better things to spend the nine or ten or twelve bucks on. But inevitably I will be depressed for some time over the whole sorry business.

Of course, there’s always the chance that the Nostalgia Critic will review it. What a happy thought– maybe there’s hope yet….

The Writer’s Needful– Part Three– The Core of Persistence

In my previous post I talked about writers needing courage. This post is about persistence. I do believe for writers persistence and courage are linked, but I do not believe they are identical. Courage is about overcoming and surviving discouragement and disappointment; persistence is about the daily discipline that writing requires.

Persistence is actually a well-worn topic among writers and those who instruct others on how to write. Lewis Shiner once said that if someone can be at all discouraged from writing, then they should be. Bridget McKenna, years ago in a writing panel at Norwescon, told all of us eager young wannabe writers that getting published is 90% persistence (and if you can’t trust Bridget McKenna, damn it, who can you trust?). Google “writing persistence” and you’ll get a screenful of links to websites and videos on the topic.

But hold on– many of these sites talk about persistence in the context of getting traditionally published. Keep submitting, keep sending out your work, that sort of thing. But this is the new, glorious age of self-publication. Does perseverance mean anything when a new writer can take their very first ever short story and publish it online within 24 hours?

Yes, because persistence in writing has more dimensions than simply getting published. And it always has.

First, for the overwhelming majority of writers, learning to write takes time. Lots of time, lots of words, lots of trunk novels and short stories. Most of us learn to write by writing. To become competent as a writer, most of us need to persist and persist, through bad draft after bad draft, lousy grammar, awkward sentences approximately the length of the Great Wall of China, failed short stories and novel. The cliche is that your first million words are crap. The only variant I have seen on that is that it’s actually your first two million words that are crap.

The new opportunities for self-publishing have not changed this reality. If anything, this is proven by the quite simply enormous (and growing) pile of terrible-to-poor self-published works out there. If a writer wants to be other than a sad joke, they still need to learn the craft of writing.

Persistence is also part of the daily- or as near to daily as you can manage– discipline of writing. This is one of the hardest things a writer has to internalize. Writing is not dependent on inspiration or mood– it is a task you take on and do, the same way you go to a job or brush your teeth every day (at least, I hope you brush your teeth daily….). It took me years to learn this lesson myself, which is largely why I didn’t start writing in a serious way until I was well into adulthood.

If you are pursuing traditional publication, persistence is, indeed, needed, and, given the state of trad publishing, more than ever. If it was hard to get published thirty or twenty years ago, it is orders of magnitude more difficult now, as the publishing world petrifies into a living fossil, stuck in the adaptive rut of doing the same thing over and over again because it sold last go-around. The inability of traditional publishing to break out of that rut is leading thousands of authors to abandon trad publishing for self-publishing. It is very much like a torrent of water, dammed in one direction, finding an outlet in another. Another way to think of it is to say that people’s patience with a log-jammed process is not infinite.

Self-publishing, though, is not a golden road. Getting your writing in order, formatting everything correctly and uploading your story to Kindle or Smashwords is, unfortunately, no guarantee of winning an audience. The dirty secret about self-publishing– which isn’t much of a secret– is that getting noticed in the ever-widening sea of self-published material is very, very difficult. There is no sure-fire way to publicize a self-published work, certainly no one way that works for everybody, and building an audience takes time and patience– in other words, persistence.

Part of that audience-building is creating a body of work, instead of publishing a single story and retiring. That means more writing, and probably re-writing (certainly it does in my case). And so we come full circle back to the need to keep writing and to keep on learning how to write, because hardly anybody ever completely perfects this craft. In other words, once you’ve signed on as a writer, it’s for life.

Personally, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Next topic: Study.


More ruminations on self-publishing– why?

I recently stumbled across another post outlining at length arguments against self-publishing–

I think the author makes a number of assertions about self-publishing, and, for that matter, about traditional publishing, that I find hard to square with my own experience and what I have heard from other authors. I am not, however, going to launch into a lengthy counter-diatribe. Anyone who is interested can read the post for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

It did get me to thinking about why I self-publish, though. It’s not for the money (my sales so far have been two hair-breadths above zero). It’s not because I am a literary genius. There was a time when I thought I was, but that conceit was beaten out me long ago. I am not really expecting to be famous or to appear on Letterman or have adoring groupies mail me their undies to be autographed. Particularly not the last. God, I can just see my wife opening that package….

The chief end of my choosing to go with self-publishing was, and is, my desire for an audience. Unable to get past the gatekeepers of traditional publishing, I finally did an end-run and now people are reading my stories. At this point my audience is small, but it’s more than I had five years ago, and I have every hope of growing it.

As for the quality of my writing, it is not perfect, and it is not Shakespeare (see “not a literary genius” above). But it’s better than a lot of stuff, self-published or traditionally published, so I don’t feel too guilty about putting it out for sale. And I am still learning.

I’m not sure, but it looks very much as if the only direction from here is up.


A word to traditional publishers and the self-published

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.