Publishing in E-minor
First off, I’d like to propose a minute’s silence in memoriam of the Macho Man Randy Savage. Only through his heroic sacrifice in battle vs Zombie Jesus was the rapture averted. Oooh yeaaaaaaaaaahhh.
Alrighty, I have a long running “debate” (drunken arguement) with a couple of folks about the whole “Traditional Publishing” vs “E-Publishing” thang, so in order to prevent the staggering drop off in readership my posts experience when I blog about happy stuff like the end of the world, I thought I’d try to jolly it up a bit today and write about, you know, WRITING.
So in the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of self-published authors, the most famous of whom is probably Amanda Hocking, who during April-December of 2010 sold a metric fuck-tonne of e-books (note: a fuck-tonne is roughly 200% of a shit-tonne) and instantly became the poster child for the entire e-pub movement. A couple of my droogies have asked why I chose to go the traditional publishing route when you can make squintillions and become ultra-mega-famous and buy your own socks by self-publishing. So, thinking about it (and bear in mind these are only my opinions, and I’m only one fellow), here are my thoughts on why I went the old-fashioned route:
Time – I work full time. I’m not fortunate enough to have wealthy parents or a wife who earns a bomb and is willing to support me pursuing a career in which the likelihood of success is somewhere up there with the chances of you making it through the Star Wars drinking game alive if you draw Luke Skywalker. My job is cool, and it’s not the kind I take home. However, it realistically only affords me a few hours every day to do my own thing. If I had to do editing, typesetting, cover design, marketing, publicity, etc, I’d have no time to, you know, WRITE. (Incidentally, this was Ms Hocking’s #1 reason for signing her $2 mil deal with my publisher, St Martin’s recently)
Quality Control – When I finished STORMDANCER, I thought it was perfect. Every word was gold. It wasn’t until I had professional publishing people look it over that I saw the flaws. The truth is, it could have been better. And now, having gone through my agent, his assistant and my two awesome editors, it IS better. About 100% better than it was when I first stuck a fork in and declared it done. The thing about people in the publishing industry? They do it for a living. They have experience and insight that I don’t. My guys edit Nebula and Hugo winners. World famous authors. In short, they know their stuff. And they work to help my stuff get better. When you self-pub, it’s just you and your pet cat Mr Snuggles. And while you might totally trust Mr Snuggles when he declares your opus will be the next Harry Potter, you do realize that you’re mad don’t you, he’s a fucking cat.
Standing Out – The awesome thing about the rise of self-publishing is that anyone who wants to can now put out a book. The worst thing about self-publishing is that anyone who wants to can now put out a book. Because (and this is an awful truth) just like most people can’t play in the NBA or become brain surgeons, most people can’t write. Writing a book is like playing the guitar. People see a Green Day clip, say “WTF, I can play three chords” and start a rock band. And 99% of them
suck aren’t very good. People read Twilight, say “WTF, I can write better than this” and fire up the word processor. And 99% of them blow goat are less than superlative. But now they still get published. Eeeeee-published! And your self-published book is going to be sitting right there alongside these books on the e-shelves, struggling to get noticed in a steaming sea of adverbs and bad love triangles. And sure, there’s the theory that “blood will out” – that good books will get good reviews and rise above and sell millions. Maybe that’s true. But it seems like a longer shot to me.
After signing to St Martins and TorUK, STORMDANCER has a tiny little bit of cred. The theory is that it’s got to be somewhere better than bad, because traditional publishing is in the doldrums, and any book that gets sold at auction in this day and age needs to have SOMETHING special about it. I dunno if this theory is true. I’d like to think it is. But perhaps I never recovered from that acid trip I took in 1997, and all this is going on in my head while I stare at a blank wall and say “wibble”.
Affirmation – Your friends might say your book is awesome. Your wife/husband/real doll might say it too. Mr Snuggles might spasm into paroxysms of bliss when he stares at your pages. But honestly? If your friends are anything like mine, they can’t be trusted. Your real doll? She can’t even talk. And Mr Snuggles, as previously mentioned, is a goddamn cat. Agents work on commission. When an agent signs you, they’re saying “I believe in this manuscript so much, I’m willing to spend a lot of hours working with it ON FAITH. Because I BELIEVE it will sell.” When a publisher signs you, they’re saying “We believe you’re going to sell at least X copies (X being a factor of your advance). We believe it so much, we’re going to get this hulking machine of a publishing house rolling, dozens of people spending hundreds of hours that we’re paying for ON FAITH. Because we BELIEVE it will sell.”
And hell, sometimes they’re wrong. Lots of books don’t sell. But when you see this machine start to roll, and it’s all for you, you can’t help feeling “Yeah, maybe I actually don’t completely suck as a writer”. And that’s the feeling you take into your next book. And sure, it might be insecure to need that affirmation. But show me a slush-pile author who isn’t insecure, and I’ll show you an author who talks to their bloody cat.
Self-publishing strikes me as an easier path – I’m not saying it’s easy to be successful in e-publishing. HELL NO. And I’m not saying it’s easy to write a book. It’s not. Writing is hard. Being successful at it is near impossible. But I suspect that many people look at e-publishing after they’ve failed via traditional routes, because they can’t face the fact that their stuff just isn’t good enough yet.
I have almost 100 rejections under my belt (and I consider this a relatively small amount). My first book took 18 months to write, and I couldn’t find an agent willing to represent it, let alone a house to publish it. And right then I could have said “Well, what do you know, all you people who make your livings in the publishing industry? I’m going to self-publish.” Instead I listened to criticism. I realized I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. That I didn’t know everything (still don’t). And I went back to the drawing board and started again. Took all those rejections and channelled all that frustration and wrote another book. And it was better. Ten times better. And it sold. At auction. Rejection made me a better writer. It made me push myself and write well outside my comfort zone. Everyone needs a good kicking now and then.
You need an ego to be in a creative field. You absolutely MUST believe in your own talent. But when everyone who pays their rent through the publishing industry tells you “This won’t sell”, they might be onto something. Yes, you might the one in a million shot where everyone called it wrong. It’s absolutely possible. But it’s more probable that they’re right – that you’re not ready yet. There’s a fine line between ego and madness. A lunatic is a minority of one.
There’s lots of valid points about why the e-publishing route is sound. I find it easier to dismiss the arguments of a guy like J.A.Konrath, because everything he says is written from the PoV of a guy who had already established a brand through traditional publishing channels. The Hocking case is compelling, until you realize she just sold her next four books to a major house (amidst the gnashing of teeth and deafening cries of “sell ouuuuut”). Given the choice, she’d rather be a traditionalist. But still, there’s a case to be made, and many good points within it. Creative control. Greater royalties (Although 100% of 0 is still zero). Rights ownership. It all makes sense.
So in the end, in my mind, it comes down to this. A question. For all the slush-pile peeps out there declaring the death of publishing and the rise of the e-beast from the highest virtual rooftops, I ask you this:
If a major house offered you a seven figure deal to publish your first novel, would you still risk slinging it over at Smashwords?
If the answer is yes, then go forth young man/woman/tentacle beast. I commend your boldness, and in all sincerity, I wish you brilliant, staggering success.
If the answer is no, get back to writing the book that’ll get you that seven-figure deal, my droogies.