Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Skeptical of Self Publishing and E-Publishing: Why I'm Not Convinced

This is going to be one of those rare opinionated posts.  I don't write many.  Mostly because I'm not a person of strong opinions.  Notice, I didn't say a person not of strong convictions.  I just don't hold strong opinions I feel important enough to share with others.  Also, I know very well who I am.  A guy who's had a few short stories and a novella published in the small press.  That's it.  There's no reason for anyone to listen to what  I have to say or accept my voice as any kind of authority.

However, this blog has increasingly become a vehicle of self-expression and a pressure relief valve.  When something is boiling inside and needs release; when I see something or remember something and it makes me think about or feel something, I blog about it.  So, this post comes more from a need for release, rather than my desire to convince people to support my position. 

That having been said, read this L. A. Times Article.

Now, I'll be the first to admit I've got a blind spot in general when it comes to e-publishing.  While I'm fan of my work being available in MULTIPLE formats, I'm not a fan of the ebook itself.  I don't plan on ever buying one, or a reader device.  This is not a logical objection; I'm aware of that. 

But as far as I'm concerned, an ebook is not a book.  It's a bundle of electrons. That's all.  Let's not get into it, because you're not gonna convince me otherwise, and I'm well aware I'm not being practical but stubborn.  We'll just let this particular dog lie, and you can shake your head and think me eccentric, and I'll be just fine with that.

Here's the thing that's been digging under my craw lately. For the last year or so, seems like lots of people are making big deals about abandoning traditional publishing - New York in particular - and striking out alone on the self-publishing path, particularly in ebook format.  

And granted, there have been plenty of BIG names doing it, enough to start changing the stigma that comes with self-publishing.  It's become much easier to produce nice graphic arts for a cover, and formatting programs for a book's interior design have become much more user friendly.  In fact, in light of the recent Leisure Fiction Crash and Burn, I'm totally in support of writers like Brian Keene  - who have been screwed - getting the rights to their work back and self-publishing their backlist, even experimenting with a few self-published titles.

The thing that's kinda rubbed me the wrong way, though, is the pronouncement from - again - scores of big names that traditional publishing is dead or on the way out, that they've been screwed by New York, and their assertion that self-publishing is the wave of the future, that it gives writers more options and a greater share of the royalties.    And here's the thing: for them, that may very well be true, but it seems to me as if they're leaving something pretty huge out of the equation.

They're names.  Proven writers.  With fan bases built up through several dozen novels.  Of course self-publishing is a better option for them, because their fans are going to leap to and buy their work and spread the word.  I'm sure they'll get new readers - and, I should point out I've done no research, so maybe I'm completely wrong about this - but my gut tells me there's a big difference between some of these writers announcing to their readerships and the media and their colleagues that they're going to self-publish, and ME or some of my colleagues announcing we're going to self-publishing something. 

If "Insert Name Here" author, former New York Times Bestseller, previously published through a New York House announces their new self-published novel, people will care and buy.

Pardon the strong language, but if I announce MY new self-published novel: who the hell cares?

But it's not like I want people to care.  People shouldn't care.  I haven't proven myself yet.  I've written a few okay things, but I have no reader base because I haven't done anything yet worthy of a reader base.  And I guess here's what I'm getting at:  I don't care that some big names, experienced and skilled writers are pioneering on the self-publishing trail.  More power to them.  As long as their work is affordable - and in print - I'll probably support them with my patronage.

But I'm tired of this repeated drum beating about the future of publishing, by folks who can afford to take these kind of risks.  There should be a note of caution: just because the big boys (and gals, sorry women writers for the gender stereotyping) are quitting traditional publishing, doesn't mean everyone should.  So what if I can release a collection of my short stories on Smashwords? Maybe I'll make a buck or two.

But that doesn't mean I'll have produced anything of worth.  More like I sold some junk at a garage sale, and that's all.  Which is not to say that I need a lot of money to prove I'm a writer.  But this idea that we no longer need publishers and editors as gatekeepers? 

I'm not convinced.  Maybe the big writers who are proven hits don't feel like they need an editor, but I sure as hell do, and not just a PROOF-READER or beta reader to grammar check.  I mean an  editor who knows the market, who challenges story ideas and pushes writers (who are obviously too close to their own work) to new territory.   I sure as hell know I need one of those.

In the next week or so, I'll be sending off my very first New York House pitch.  I feel  really good about the story and it's first three chapters.  So good that if this house passes, I'm totally okay with that.  Why do I have this confidence in my story?

Because in my phone conversation with the senior acquisitions editor, my original story - which sucked, by the way - was challenged.  Torn up a little. Poked and prodded.  Its deficiencies and short comings pointed out. And now, because of the rewriting this caused: it's a damn fine story, all because this editor did THEIR JOB.

As a gatekeeper.


I for one am not ready to do without.