C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

Write and publish with love and fury.

TOP TEN: The divide between the published and the self-published

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 Their out-of-print books and their unpublished books may have new life as self-published works.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.

Filed under: authors, DIY, e-reader, ebooks, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, Top Ten, Writing Conferences, , , , , ,

Writers: Choose choice, not ideology

Bertrand Russell's views on philosophy

Image via Wikipedia

Talking politics with someone the other day, they said a particular candidate was so stupid they didn’t know when a reporter was rude to them. I doubt that. Assuming the politician dressed himself that morning, he did know and instead of reacting to the rudeness, he stayed on topic. He was polite—or even too polite.

The guy I was talking to already didn’t like the politician, so he chose not just to disagree with him, but to assume he was an idiot.

People choose sides. Sometimes they don’t even know why, but they get heavily invested in one outcome, often before we have any facts. Sure, people like to think they’re logical, but in fact they’re often intuitive. They jump to their conclusion and the logic that’s recruited only feels like logic. It’s actually rationalization.

We’re hardwired to make quick decisions. It’s in our genes to choose a tribe, too. We stick with that tribe, even when the tribe doesn’t serve us. Even when it’s a bunch of  millionaire basketball players, fans think they’re somehow on the team. It’s a religious fervor to join, to believe, to be one with a larger whole.

And it gets goofy. Nationalism, for instance, is tribalism write large. If you own a Mac and extol its virtues, a bunch of disproportionately angry people will call you a wuss in some web forum or other. We take ownership of things we don’t own. We choose up sides to divide us and them where there is no us and them. Gay teens get ostracized and bullied, many to suicide. Liberals are too quick to write off all conservatives. People can’t seem to make a distinction between “supporting the troops” and “disagreeing with the mission.”

Or, for writers, watch traditionally published authors shit on self-publishing. But this post isn’t about traditional versus indie. I’m not talking today about which way is best (as if any one way is best for everyone.) This is not another one of those posts debating the use of terms, indie versus self-published and who gets to claim what (as if words are owned or static.)

This is a post that simply says: compared to all the big problems we have, traditional publishing versus the new publishing? Pretty trivial. (And it doesn’t have to be all one thing or the other thing, anyway.)

Lighten up. Choose your own path. If you’re shitting on somebody or telling others what to do, ease up on tribal tendencies and focus on you.

Man in the Mirror and all that.

You be you. I’ll be me.

Filed under: Books, ebooks, links, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, Writers, , , , , ,

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