Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Musing

This past week I've been following the interviews about epublishing over at Spinetingler dropped on top of that was this essay by Joelle Charbonneau and I wonder if the whole publishing world is going crazy.

We've got established writers telling us we should jump on the bandwagon but only if we're good. So who in hell decides who's good and who's not? Every writer who puts a pen to paper believes they've written the greatest novel ever.

Then we've got Joe Konrath, who ten years ago was telling us all we should not self-publish. and now, after he's got all these stupid writers out here jumping up and down on bandwagons and slapping brands on their asses he says, he was wrong. Self-publishing is where the money is and he's bragging up his $$$$ like we're all going to hit the freaking lottery if we follow his example. And I wonder what he'll think is the right way to go in another ten years. The Pied Piper route isn't always the road to travel. And if all you're in it for is the money, get a job, that's a guaranteed paycheck every week.

Do I know what the best options are for writers? Hell, no. I've thought of putting together a collection of my shorts but how do I know if they're any good? Sure they've been published but are they worth the time and money it will take to put them together, hire an editor and cover designer? I, for sure know that I'm not going to be pulling down the big bucks. For one, I'm not famous and two, I'm not that good and I'm willing to admit that.

And I think that's one of the problems with all this self-publishing. Writers believing they're the best there is, instead on acknowledging that no matter how good they are, there's always someone better. And the truth is, no one can predict who the public will choose to embrace.

As far as I can see, this new self-publishing is pretty much like the gold rush. There's a few people who are going to make a lot of money and a lot more who are going to walk away with nothing to show for their hard work. Sure there's no upfront money like the vanity presses but a writer still has their time into the work. Kindle and all the others will collect their share by doing nothing but provide a platform. Add to that the editors who will be setting up shop (and we already know the scams that have been running rampant over the years in that pool of sharks) and then, there are the folks who will want their cut for covers and formatting and the writer's share gets smaller and smaller.

There is no easy answer, no sure fire way of getting your work noticed. If you want to write, go ahead and write. Learn your craft, be the best you can be, but watch your back and your pocketbook as you wade into that publishing pool. There be sharks and pirates waiting for you, no matter if you self-publish or go the traditional route.


David Cranmer said...

I'm reminded of those Paul McCartney lyrics that go:

Too many people preaching practices
Don't let them tell you what you wanna be

Of course that has nothing to do with writing but it jumped to mind. Good post, Sandra.

sandra seamans said...

I love it, David!

Chris said...

I too think it's a little out of control. Thing is, if, as a writer, you feel you want to put something out so it can be read, then I say go for it. I'd certainly read a collection if you put it out. We aren't all necessarily looking at what we put out as some huge marketing thing calculated to bring the greatest return. There is plenty of "legitimately" published stuff that I think is friggin' awful, whether it is the cover, the writing, or the editing.

sandra seamans said...

I think what's been bothering me most in all this discussion is the talk about "gatekeepers", Chris. Readers all have different tastes in their reading material. Will you have Cozy readers demanding we get rid of noir or vice versa? When you open the floodgates like this there's bound to be a lot of trash, but then you have that old saying, "One man's garbage is another man's treasure."

The published have always looked down their noses at the self-published and let's face it the best sellers tend to sneer at the mid-list writers. So who's going to be in charge of deciding what should and shouldn't be published?

If the writers themselves start closing the doors, they're no different than the traditional publishing houses.

Michael Bracken said...

Sandra, don't conflate the discussion about the potential low-quality of self-published material with a discussion of differences in taste.

Until you've spent some time reading slush piles you may have no idea how god-awful many would-be writers actually are.

Slush piles are filled with manuscripts from writers who can't spell, can't punctuate, don't comprehend grammar, haven't a clue what constitutes a logical plot, don't know characterization from a box of nuts, and can't format a manuscript to make it readable.

Unfortunately, some of these people don't realize how bad they are. And, sadly, some of these people will and do self-publish.

It is not a case of one man's trash being another man's treasure. That's a matter of taste.

Crap is crap, and no amount of sugar-coating will make it palatable. That's the downside of making self-publishing easy. We risk having to wallow through crap to find those treasures.

sandra seamans said...

I've been trying not too, Michael, and I know that there's a LOT of crap out there, but...When people start talking about who can and can't publish it isn't only going to be about the quality of the work. There's a great deal of wonderful work that gets rejected every day because it doesn't fit into someone's notion of what will sell.

Look at how many writers hate the "The DaVinci Code". From what I'm reading, that book wouldn't be allowed to be self-published. Is it therefore crap because writers didn't like it? And if it's crap are readers stupid for reading and enjoying the story?

This whole new way of publishing is SO confusing. What scares me, is wondering who is going to decide what is going to be available for me to read (if I ever buy a Kindle) I know that there has to be some kind of measure in place but for the life of me, I don't know what it should be and what will work.

One thing for sure, the people who are doing the bean counting aren't going to have a say in what's published, only the writers and readers.

If I sound confused, it's because I am. So many writers were hurt by small press POD publishers when they first started out and I'm hoping that this won't be another case of jumping into the pool only to find yourself drowning.

Anonymous said...

Michael, So what if it is trash? No one needs to buy it. Correct? What's the big deal? (Art)

sandra seamans said...

Not Michael, but if there's too much trash out there, Art, readers will stop looking and buying. Being able to publish your work doesn't mean you should. Writers have to realize that not everything they write is golden. I've got tons of stories that will never see the light of day, but each one was a step forward in the learning process.

Michael Bracken said...

Sandra, by mentioning "The DaVinci Code" you conflate two separate issues again. I've never read the novel and have no idea if it matches my taste in reading material.

But, if you have a copy, open it to any random page. Are the vast majority of words spelled correctly? Is punctuation used properly? Do the sentences demonstrate some understanding of basic grammar? Do the paragraphs begin and end in logical places?

Chances are you can answer yes to all of these question and thus, even if you do not enjoy the book, it isn't crap.

Now, imagine encountering that same page only many of the words are misspelled, punctuation is shotgunned on the page, there is no evidence that the author comprehends basic grammar, and paragraphs begin and end randomly.

That would be crap.

Yes, publishing is changing rapidly. But the same advice applies today as it did ten years ago or fifty years ago: Don't jump in the deep end of the pool of you don't know how to swim.

Learn how to write. Then learn about publishing. Understand why things are the way they are so that you can make informed career decisions.

That way, no matter what choices you make--to stick with conventional publishing or to self-published, to write for print publications or write for electronic publications, etc.--you know that you've made the best career decisions possible based on having a solid understanding of the options.

If you jump in the deep end without learning how to swim the odds of getting out alive are going to be slim.

And, Art, the big deal isn't whether or not trash gets published and actually sells. The big deal is the nature of the conversation we're having about what gets published and what gets self-published. Some people having the conversation don't realize there's a legitimate difference between a dialog about differing tastes and a dialog about absolute crap vs. something that meets some minimum level of literary competence.

sandra seamans said...

When they're talking about using "gatekeepers", I don't think they're talking about just grammer and punctuation, Michael, and that's my concern.

I've read professionally published books that were in dire need of a good editor. The DaVinci Code didn't have the kind of mistakes you're talking about, but it suffered from an over-abundance of telling that should have been caught by a good editor. I read one of Nora Roberts' books and her storytelling ability is amazing but when you see pages and pages of sentences starting with It and That, you wonder where her editor was.

I totally agree that writers should learn their craft first, but many new writers don't realize how much they don't know about writing. According to Lee Goldberg, Amazon is starting to take an active hand in making writers clean up their stories or remove them. The problem is, there are a lot of writers who get all that right and still can't tell a story. Getting the basics right doesn't necessarily make you a capable storyteller. So we're left with the problem of who should or shouldn't be published and who gets to make that final decision.

What I don't know about publishing just staggers me and asking questions is the only way I know to learn. I know I don't have the technical ability to self-pub on the Kindle so I will refrain from taking that route myself, at least until I've learned more, both about writing and publishing.

Chris said...

I guess the question I ultimately arrive at is this: who cares if people are self publishing bad writing? Is that any worse than having all of this stuff clogging up the slush piles of legitimate publishing houses? Personally, I find the latter to be more disturbing, as that has a direct correlation between whether something I submit may or may not be read. I'd rather have those folks frustrated and self publishing than continuing to submit.

I suppose some people do, but it's hard for me to imagine just randomly buying something self published on Amazon. I usually only find stuff because I'm looking for it, either as the result of a review, a recommendation, word of mouth, etc. Even then, a synopsis that is horribly written probably will make me stay away, assuming the prose will be equally bad.

As someone who likely WILL self publish at some point, whether it is a collection of stories or even a novel, I realize that friends and word of mouth is about the only way it will get noticed. I'm fine with that. Doesn't matter one bit to me, and I don't care if it is a "risk" to my career. There are plenty of pitfalls in being published traditionally as well. It's nice to be recognized as having written well by someone else, but that approval isn't going to make or break whether I put stuff out for people to read when that time comes.

David Cranmer said...

My thoughts exactly, Chris.

G. B. Miller said...

A lot of good points were raised here for both pro and con of self-pubbing.

As one who tried self-pubbing (twice) I can safely say it was indeed a humbling (and slightly) expensive learning experience.

As a few commenters have pointedly stated, garbarge is garbarge. Because whether or not you choose to self-pub, you should always make sure that your work is the best it can be.

If you write garbage, and you self-pub that garbage, it will take you years to undo the damage to whatever rep you're trying to develop because you choose to self-pub a crappy manuscript.

I'm steadily learning everything that everyone is talking about when it comes to creating a good manuscript, and in the end, that's what is important to me.

I may return to self-pubbing someday, but in the meantime, it definitely would be in my best interests to be the best I can be, even if it means that I need to work out the kinks on a public forum, like a blog, before I start submitting my stuff.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

Michael said:

"But, if you have a copy, open it to any random page. Are the vast majority of words spelled correctly? Is punctuation used properly? Do the sentences demonstrate some understanding of basic grammar? Do the paragraphs begin and end in logical places?

Chances are you can answer yes to all of these question and thus, even if you do not enjoy the book, it isn't crap.

Now, imagine encountering that same page only many of the words are misspelled, punctuation is shotgunned on the page, there is no evidence that the author comprehends basic grammar, and paragraphs begin and end randomly.

That would be crap."

See this review:

Brian Lindenmuth said...

In case that link is cut off here is a shortened version

sandra seamans said...

Yes, I think in the end it will all boil down to what the writer wants for themself, Chris and G. Each writer has to decide to self-pub or hold out for that traditional publisher.

I don't know where all of this will lead in the future. I think right now, it's moving so fast that no one has a clue how to handle it.

The doors have been flung open, there's people yelling we're making fortune and that will bring people out of the woodwork who should never put a pen to paper, who don't care if they've got it right or not. All they want is the chance to grab the cash.

And let's face it, this is nothing new. Open any issue of Writer's Digest and you'll be met with stories about beginning writers who got three book deals or sold their book for millions. We don't hear about the ones who work their way up and barely make a living, we only hear about the great money making authors. We're sold a dream that many will never achieve. And that's the sad part about all of this this.

sandra seamans said...

Thanks for the link, Brain!

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I didn't see this post until just today - I've been totaly behind on my blog reading. I think the worst part of the new self-publishing for me is hearing authors talk about all the big money they will make cutting out the middleman. They write as fast as they can and slap it up on Amazon so they can make the money other authors told them they would make. I'm not saying all self-publishing is bad. My point was more that writing is about more than selling. It is about the learning process which is easiest to ignore when you can become "published" by just uploading your manuscript to Amazon and Smashwords.

I totally agree with you that this is the gold rush all over again. A couple of authors will make big money (most of those are ones that already have a fan base through traditional publishing) and the rest will be stuck in the muck. It makes me sad.

The biggest point I was making was that no one should skip the important steps in order to cash in...if for no other reason that I think the cashing in will result in disappointment.

I don't think I have the right to say who deserves to be published. But I do think that anyone who skips the steps to make their work look professional takes the shine off the e-publshing word for everyone else.

sandra seamans said...

It's a confusing time, Joelle, almost a rebellion against the big publishing companies. I agree that writers need to study and do the work before they're published professionally, but we're an "immediate gratification" society and I don't think anything will hold back the tide of bad novels that's coming.

I just wish, like you, that all the chatter about the huge amounts of money to made could be tempered with the reality that most writers will face. That they won't become rich overnight, and that in all reality they'll probably just break even.