Saturday, May 21, 2011

Self-Publishing: the Same Arguments, Repeated

The apparent fight between the self-pub camps and the trad-pub camps shows no signs of abating. I think that's a shame, because there's no putting the self-publishing toothpaste back in the tube and the sooner people realize that, the sooner we can all go about the business of making both the e-publishing platform and the traditional publishing platform better for both writers and readers.

Jane Friedman's There Are No Rules blog had an interesting post: The Self-Pub is Crap Debate. The comments there are interesting and led to a follow-up post: 8 Things Readers Want From Self-Published Authors.   I also came across a nice little post by  by David Gaughran: The Biggest Mistakes Self-Publishers make. I have to say I'm pretty much in agreement with Jane that there is no winning side in this debate, and I still am sometimes amazed that the pro and con camps are so vehement.

The arguments go on. There's an interesting guest post on Konrath's blog by author Stephen Leather  in which Leather tells the old lie that anything with merit will eventually be published. No judgment on the rest of the post, some of which I agree with, but that is a sentence filled with breathtaking bullshit. (And bullshit almost always promulgated by people who have been successfully published.) Another interesting post by Konrath outlines move to boycott the new Amazon mystery imprint by indie bookstores.  Um, what?

One thing that I find undeniable is that there IS a ton of self-published crap. It's like having the entirety of a slush pile published. A) I don't think there's a way around that. B) I don't think it's going to kill self-publishing as a vibrant pathway for authors to publish.

As far as I can tell, the anti-self-publishing crowd is incensed at letting the hoi polloi into the secret circle. Apparently the riff-raff will soon be drinking out of the finger bowls and cleaning their ears with the seafood forks. They have made the mistake of believing that editors are the only arbiters of  "merit." As I have previously said, editors don't so much care about art as they do commerce. Given a choice between a fantastic book that's hard to market and a terrible book that'll make a mint, they'll pick the money EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Thankfully it's not usually that either/or choice, but really, kids, grow up. Publishing is now, more than ever, a bottom line business, not a happy little gated community where your gorgeous metaphor is going to let you sit at the grown-up's table.

Traditional publishing isn't dying, but it will change. It can't not change. Whatever truths you hold self-evident today will likely change drastically in the next 20 years. I'm not sure how, and anybody who tells you they know how is a two-bit con artist, but they will change. It behooves you to keep an open mind.

Now back to that nasty slush-pile of crap that storms through the un-kept self-publishing gates every day. Yes, probably 80%, if not more, of what gets published shouldn't be published. It's either not yet ready or it's produced by people who are totally delusional about their abilities. If you've spent any time in the publishing/writing business, been part of writer's group, critique groups, attended conferences and workshops, you know the delusional people. Sometimes you can see them a mile away, sometimes they look just like you and me. On the downside, it's hard to convince the delusional that they're delusional. On the upside, they tire easily.

For years and years, the delusional people have been relegated to frittering away their life's savings to vanity publishers or scrawling tear-stained missives to cruel editors who just can't see their genius. Now, everyone's got a free coupon to publish anything they want! Yay! Er, Boo! No, wait...

See, the thing is, you can't control what other people are going to do. In a perfect world people would be self-aware and reasonable and have self-restraint and good judgment. If you find that world, please leave a detailed map for the rest of us so we can visit there.

As a writer, you have one responsibility: don't be the one of the delusional people. Be self-aware and reasonable and show good judgment. Work at your craft. Don't take the easy way out. Work hard and be honest about your capabilities. Seek help when you need to. There is nothing that I or anyone else is going to say that is going to stop the delusional people from publishing their work right alongside yours. The fact that they're doing so should not stop you. The only thing you're ever going to be able to control is your own work. And that, kids, is the beauty of self-publishing.

One more thing: one thing I've heard a lot of whining about lately is the fact that what you see mostly on self-publishing blogs is chit-chat about mechanics and marketing and how to self-publish, and you rarely see people discussing improving the craft. There's lots of good reasons for that. Improving your craft is not something you should go looking through blog posts to do (unless of course, you're delusional). If you're reading people's blogs to learn how to write, best of luck. Rather than try to explain that, I'm going to be lazy and refer you to Evelyn LaFont at The Keyboard Hussy on This Is Why I Don't Read Your Writing Advice Posts.

Now go read a book.

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