At a recent writers’ conference, I was in grand company. I met a lot of cool people. Almost all of them were traditionally published authors. I watched them ask questions of panels of publishers, agents and editors.
Here’s what I noticed:
1. They don’t want to change along with the rest of the publishing landscape. Inertia is powerful, even in broken systems. And why should they want to change? Things haven’t actually been good, but they didn’t have to worry about things they have to worry about now with the DIY route. It used to be that they were expected to write, mostly to the exclusion of all else. That was job #1 and everything else was supposed to be, in theory, someone else’s job. However, many authors have already felt this pressure change because more and more book promotion and publicity duties have been unloaded on them by publishers.
2. Some of them are excited to self-publish. Either they had bad experiences with agents and traditional publishers or they simply want more control of their books. Their out-of-print books and their unpublished books may have new life as self-published works. The digital revolution, to these authors, is an opportunity. (Also, some DIY authors see self-publishing as their way into legacy publishing.)
3. Some are still wringing their hands, aggressively…as if that will turn back time. Like the music industry, Blockbuster, milk men, buggy whips and enjoyable air travel, there was a lot of nostalgia in that room. But nostalgia isn’t an argument against the proliferation of ebooks. It’s sadness at loss and change. They mourn the loss of some of the perks. Though many authors complained about the six city book tour and hanging out in bookstores ignored and unnoticed, admit it: all those bookstore signings had cachet. Book signings were part of the dream of being published and it was nice to rely on the publisher to pay for the trip.
4. Some traditionally published authors denigrate indie authors. That’s understandable. I admit, many self-published books are, at the very least, utter crap. Not just to my taste! Crap! If careless authors call themselves authors, their old world club is no longer quite as special in the new world. However, blanket condemnations are pretty silly. Writers on either side of the divide are amorphous and as unified as a herd of cats. That’s part of our charm.
5. I found many authors I listened to weren’t angry at indies. They weren’t pointing fingers with nonsense “pay your dues like I did” rhetoric. Instead, they were worried that they themselves couldn’t adapt. Look at the demands on the self-published: write, revise, edit, review, format, upload, distribute, promote, market, repeat, improve and next time so it all faster. So much for self-publishing being the lazy way to get published. The mantra is, “When will I have time to write in this environment?” Indies worry about this, too. Though more books will be published digitally, somewhat fewer may be produced per author. As my self-published author friend Jeff Bennington observed recently, half of his time is spent writing and the other half is spent marketing. Somewhere in there, Jeff mixes in a job and probably eats and sleeps a little, too. There’s simply so much authors have to do to have a chance at getting noticed (and perhaps even getting their books bought.)
6. Some view digital publishing as part of the decline of literature. Hm. That’s an interesting one. The digital revolution propagates more books conveniently therefore there are many more books out there. If you are very concerned about the difference between low brow fiction and vaunted literature (say “literature” with a royal British accent), then go write some literature, you big baby. If it can’t be found amid the din, that doesn’t mean it’s not available. It’s means you can’t sell it. If the argument is that you don’t like the taste of the hoi polloi, that’s not digital publishing’s fault. That’s your fault. Or maybe it’s the educational system’s fault. Or the human brain isn’t as good as you’d like. You can blame readers, I suppose, but that’s a rather unprofessional stance. Most people who claim their stuff is good but out of step with their fellow humans are really just writing stuff that can’t connect. On the other hand, lots of people (well…English majors) will love you high-lit writers after you’re dead. So there’s that.
7. Some traditional authors are very concerned about the change in gatekeepers. It’s not a small group of editors anymore. The market is the gatekeeper. Democracy can be scary because the group may go where you don’t want it to go. There’s still a very strong market for vampire books and bodice-ripper romances and yes, even the Jersey Shore, for instance. If actual readers don’t want your fiction, there might still be a market for it with traditional publishing (which, by the way, isn’t disappearing completely) but traditional publishing is less adventurous the bigger the press. You’ll have better luck with a small press or DIY. It’s as if the kids who ran the chess club suddenly had to contend with a bunch of dumb jocks getting a voting membership…and the lunkheads want a kegger.
8. Authors want reassurance that bookstores will survive. What am I? A freaking miracle worker? You want a combination of Harry Potter and Merlin to fix it so more bookstores won’t die? Magicians are on film, TV and in books. Hey! I love bookstores, too! But that’s more nostalgia. (See point #3.)
9. Many authors will carry on with their traditional publishers. They got in early and they got in good and they’re going to ride that train right to the end of the line and hope the fuel doesn’t run out. Yes, they wonder about the pittance publishers are throwing them with regards to ebook royalties (or wonder how well those sales are recorded.) Yes, they’ve had spats with their agents. But a broken system isn’t a dead system and there is…eh, has been…much to recommend it.
10. Indies and the traditionally published agree: its about the writing. We all love good books. We may be dubious about how it’s delivered, but the core product is no less valued on either side of the divide. The concerns about the delivery and quality may vary, but we’re all writers and readers.
It used to take a powerful store of hope to be a self-published author. Now more faith is demanded of my traditionally published friends.
- To Self Pub or Not? (ridingwiththetopdown.wordpress.com)
- Writing Conference Cataclysm: Ebooks versus the Amish (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- Robert Chazz Chute: Literature hater & narcissistic bastard! (chazzwrites.wordpress.com)
- You: E-Book Revolution Upends a Publishing Course (nytimes.com)