Self-publishing: Have I changed my mind?

I have been reading a great deal about self publishing and self published authors recently. I don’t know why but I am taking it as a conspiracy of fates and posting some of my thoughts.

I’m not a self pubbed author. The closest I have come is chapter one of a piece of fun fan fiction on my blog serial 🙂 And while obviously that is brilliant and must be read by anyone who loves a good time – I wouldn’t feel comfortable with myself for charging. And that at the end of the day is what self pubbing is, isn’t it? Its not fan fiction, its not a saturday club, its a job. And even if you do elect to give away your books for free periodically, even if it is only 99p full price, you are asking the general public to respect your offering as a professional.

I’ve said before that I have reservations regarding self pubbing. I wrote a piece on it back when I first started my blog, raising those concerns and asking for honest (non trolling) feedback. At the time it seemed like there was a war brewing – self-pubbers on one side and the gatekeepers on the other. In fairness I saw no indication traditionally published authors were interested in getting into the mix. No, it was merely those storming the gates and those defending the gates. Of late, while self pubbers are still vocal in defending their approach I have heard less from the gatekeepers. Perhaps they aren’t feeling quite so threatened as they were initially?

A new term is emerging – the hybrid author. So even as the efforts to legitimise self publishing against all doubters continue, some of its biggest success stories are openly admitting to its limitations. Traditional publishers (and their gatekeeping pals, the Agents) still maintain a stranglehold on certain areas, namely print books, translations and film rights. They have in some ways become, much like the old Hollywood studios, less the gatekeepers of quality and more like distributors. Putting your book into bookstores, much like putting your film into theatres, is all but impossible without cutting them in.

But (you knew the but was coming..) seeing the two sides starting to reach a mutually agreeable solution isn’t filling me with the same enthusiasm as everyone else. I never had an issue with gatekeepers, even if those gatekeepers rejected me (and they did, daft bastards!) as long as they were led by a genuine love of books. Even if that love was underlined by a need to turn a profit, turning a profit was surely a measure of satisfaction in and of itself.

If gatekeepers aren’t threatened anymore, is it because they are in fact liking their new roles and the possibilities? Not to mention the reduced work load. I keep hearing reports from agents that suggest this shift to distributor is being whole heartedly embraced.

When I last attended an agent convention the question of whether a subbing author should hire an editor was raised. It was met with a shrug and ‘well it can’t hurt’ attitude. Now apparently its being advised as a must-do. Self publishing used to be seen as a sure fire way to scrub your book off any agents list, to the extent that writers were reluctant to post online in case it qualified as a form of self publishing. Now I can name a well respected imprint which has only previously self published titles on its list.

The main concern of course is still the bottom line, so a book already out there and read by only your mammy and aunty isn’t going to impress. You need mass downloads. In recent years we have seen the rise of the celebrity novel, the idea being that there is a ready made fan base. Is the self-pubbed success  story just another celebrity? A sure-fire hit rather than a must-read love?

I don’t know if you are noticing the common thread running through all of the above.. 

price points to maximise downloads

..gatekeepers basing decisions on current sales

… new business models to access all markets

When do we talk about the books?

I was rejected by the big six and while it stung I am – actually truly – glad I was. Because my book was not ready. I have no doubt there are great writers out there but if no one tells them the hard truths how many rush to publish long before they or their work is ready? What if like me they have no marketing skills? Rejection comes in that ultimate form – lack of sales. The writer ends up believing they have nothing to offer, while the author who knows how to get those free downloads moving and friends reviewing, prospers.

It used to be that to become a success the only option you had was to rewrite. Keep working on your book or your next book, now it seems more to do with working on your marketing. And the irony is, if you choose not to then it might well be a good bet that marketing is the problem. Good books get ignored, that’s a sad fact. Do we need to revisit the whole Van Gogh died penniless story to prove it? And there are more books out there than ever before, with absolutely nothing standing in the path of the slush.

In fairness I have never doubted that self published authors – those who make it a viable career certainly  – worked hard at it. Going into business for yourself is not a lazy man’s option. An entire support structure is growing around it, book covers, edits, marketing and much of it is incestuous. Many self pubbers are supplementing and supporting their work with work as editors, many others find they can trade with other self publishers to avoid editing costs. New collectives are being set up; from promotional twitter groups, to tit for tat reviews to platform websites, networking is a key part – perhaps the most crucial part – of the new process.

But working hard is not the same as working smart. A book without typos is not the same as a book without flaws. And some flaws no matter how good your grammar can carry a weight I’m not sure we can shrug off, a weight that might be putting the industry off kilter.

This isn’t an attack on those who choose to self publish, nor is it even necessarily an attack on those who rise to the top. No, I am putting a big fat question mark over the new paradigm itself; the widely touted revolution that is changing the whole industry and asking is it putting the emphasis where it shouldn’t be?

Every writer wants to be read, and now we are told every writer can be. But ereaders never fill up. How many free downloads gather dust in want-to-read lists? How many of us need to cross back over and be a reader again instead of a business owner?

As always I would love to hear others thoughts. Especially if you have experience of either side.

 

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Have we forgotten how to read?

fresheditededited‘ie’ produces ee, that ‘gh’ is all but silent, the verb noun relation, all this we get, like putting feet to pedals, it’s instinctive once learned, but there was always more to reading than that. It demanded something more of us – the internal balance between words and eyes and mind. It required submission and exertion. Have we forgotten how to maintain that balance?

I read little now for pleasure. Reading is my work; the unpaid kind. Reading is what I do with tired eyes after I have poured blood and soul onto the screen. I wonder if this is what students feel like, the ones that actually work; I wouldn’t know, I was a terrible student. It becomes more understandable why when you do have time to yourself you might chose a video game, bar or cinema over more written words. I do the same now too. But then I am reading stories, you’re memorising the life cycle of mice. And book sales are rising.

The balance for me has always been between reader and writer. For now, the writer is dominant, the reader subsumed by his critical eye. That’s okay. I love to write, but it feels a little like everyone loves to write, or shout, or tweet or pin. So are there any readers still out there?

Every word put out is meant to be read. And I love that it might touch you in some way, stir you, make you smile, make you stop and look at something familiar in a way you never have before. Isn’t every artist seeking a connection with their audience? Isn’t every human? And feedback can give us a tangible means of realising this. Self-published authors often comment on the public’s helpful (I may have added this..)  input on grammatical errors, even story and character ‘errors’, usually offered up through review sites. Stranger to stranger, producer to consumer. If I still remember your homophone in the third chapter, if I stopped mid read to make a neat little note, my pen and pad ready by my side…was I really reading?

I hear a great deal of talk within the writing community (which may currently be the world, minus my parents) of the role of social media. There’s twitter, telling people to read books; instagram, pictures of people reading books; google plus, people selling books; pinterest, pictures to help people selling books..   Maybe I am too tightly wrapped in my writers bubble, writing sites are dominated by eyes stuck on critical zoom. But there is wattpad, that’s actual books, free for the reader, the 21st century version. I have been there, I left quickly. Is that reading?

Agents do the book fair circuit, seminars and conferences with free lunch, offering their expert opinions. Pitch them in ten minutes, or better yet, hand them your book and they’ll tell you where they stopped reading. One stopped at the first line once – why? Because he didn’t like panama hats. That’s not a valid reason, it’s really not. Panama hats are cool.. REJECTED

The average is apparently 600 words, but that’s only if you got the letter right. If they don’t get the genre and word count on the first line – don’t waste their time with introductions – they’re unlikely to read further.

We’re buried under words, the writing is on the wall, and the screen, our phone, we text rather than call, pm rather than look up over the ipad and speak, but we’re not reading.

Serials are making waves once again. Long the preserve of times gone by, a cheap way of disseminating books to the poor classes, now they are being resurrected as a quick way of disseminating books to the time poor classes. Except I’m not sure we’re time poor, I think we’re attention poor. There’s too much, all demanding our eyes, we can only give our attention for a few seconds before something else is tugging on our interest. And worse, everyone knows what really matters isn’t what you read, it’s what you tell everyone you read. It’s what you are trending, and how high up the list you are; we’re reading just long enough to form an opinion. Truly we are the IMHO generation. Those serials – they’re up for sale. The characters, the twists, the ending. The writer is listening to the reader; they’re reading the reader. As one such site, Unbound, tag themselves, Books are now in your hands.

Maybe it’s my bubble, but its a very crowded bubble. And a very noisy one. All those voices.. Everyone wants to be heard; many amazon reviews can stand as works of literature in their own right (after all blogs have made the transition), and its usually the one-stars that truly revel in vitriolic flair..

But I do still believe past the hype and the trends and the salesmen, people still love to read. I do. I just wish we paulwould remember that the power of books lies in our surrender.  And since I am speaking from within a bubble I guess the people I am addressing are writers, agents, publishers.  Readers might love panama hats..

The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why I Still Believe Ignorance is Bliss..

Dunning-Kruger-EffectA friend of mine posted an article on this a while ago, a year or so maybe, and while I found it interesting I admit I was also puzzled. I’m the kind of person who stands in line at Tesco’s, breaking the monotony by imagining what it would be like to work there and promptly breaks out in cold sweats. Those tills look confusing, despite my university degree, and that beeping – one loud long beep, all eyes swivelling to me… I have nightmares about that.

So I was intrigued to understand more, but unfortunately I lost the original post, couldn’t remember the name and my friend couldn’t either. No one else had heard of it. As such I put it out my head.

All of a sudden it seems to be everywhere. The effect no one knew about is suddenly the effect everyone is posting about.

Cribbed from Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes

Or as Shakespeare put it.. The fool thinks himself wise while the wiseman knows himself to be a fool..

While it would be really easy to just accept this – by their reckoning I am a wiseman 🙂 – I think what the study reveals is a little more complex than the quote above indicates. I hope so anyway, even if that does seem to be what people have latched on to. The easy digestible truism.

What actually interests me more than the study itself is the interest generated by the study, specifically within writing circles, and the sheer delight some seem to feel as they post it, most it has to be said with the presumption that it doesn’t apply to them. Always interests me to see how differently the same thing can be interpreted.

One particular blogger used it to illustrate his post on how bad most new novels are. A man, let us be clear, who had never written a book, whose advice to the author consisted off.. can you guess? yip… remove adverbs, don’t repeat words too often..monkeytype

He’s not alone though. Most of those advising writers on how to do their job have not written a novel, certainly not a best seller. On #askagent on twitter, on personal blogs, agents are extremely vocal about what they want to see and I am not talking about genre preference, but sentence structure, word choice and a whole host of other basic elements. One quite famous agent blogger refuses to read sentences which open with dependent clauses. They are also vocal about the ‘cadence’ of good writing and individual voices. I wonder if they are aware of how contradictory their advice is?

Interesting when you consider these to be the conclusions of the study

1.tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
2.fail to recognize genuine skill in others;                                                  

3.fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
4.recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill. (this one seems a little obvious!)

They tested for humour.. How do you test for humour?? – Sorry, back to my point.. Everyone has also latched upon the second part of the truism – the idea that the wise underestimate themselves, however Dunning and Kruger actually identified this as an overestimation of other’s ability. So what does that mean for all those writers constantly correcting other’s grammar? I knew one wannabe, very educated by his own estimation, who loved to correct people on the distinction between its and it’s. Never once simply said, you missed an apostrophe. Another recently went into a rant after seeing then used in place of than. Again it never seemed to occur to him that it was a simple typo. None of these examples were even in books, just random posts on the net.

I think that for me what it really illustrates is that most people don’t think of themselves as idiots, regardless of how much training they have had. They presume themselves to be good enough and that seems a good thing, no? None of those in the top percentile considered themselves fools, less than they were, slightly yes, but not fools. I reckon confidence is an evolutionary tool. If we think too long about how hard everything is or how low we might sit on the competence scale, we’d never do anything. I also exist as proof of this. Lastly, but not leastly, it shows that there is no substitute for experience. Maybe it should be mandatory for all critics to write a book before they get to pass judgement!

Why I say we should sweetly, fervently, gleefully and quite thoroughly screw the critics..

I’ve been looking for inspiration as I am struggling with my writing – or rather, my ego, which is what I always run up against. I get stuck in and the voices start up and they keep coming until they form a big fat lump. So now I am stuck and the internet, full of writers, can surely offer some support?

Instead I found criticism and stock tick lists of what you should do, which still all amount to what you shouldn’t do. And they are always the same. Get rid of the adverbs, count your it’s and your was’s and your that’s…yada yada yada. I’m pretty sure you have heard it all before. And I got angry. Like stamp my little feet, rant at the birds, pissed.

I’m really, really, really tired of this. The whole world knows exactly how to write the perfect novel. The agents, the publishers, the self publishers, the readers and starter outers, the bloggers and tweeters. So why is no one writing it?

Because it is the easiest thing in the world to tear a book down. Creating one is an altogether harder task. Creating one someone can’t tear apart – impossible.

One of these individuals, who so kindly sought to put us all right, managed to hit on my pet peeve. He translated literally. I heard a writer snap at fellow scribe once, ‘rocks cannot be merciless’. My immediate thought, ‘tell that to Mary’. Blasphemous little sod that I am. But can you imagine a world in which words are translated literally? That’s not italics, I’m just shuddering as I type. I would have to start a revolution. Maybe I am..

I know there is a potential hypocrisy here – I write a blog on writing. I have been vocal about what I don’t like, what I would like to see more of.

This is not a tirade against better writing. This is not a tirade against critical thought. I’ve said it before, will say it again, question everything, absorb everything; think, feel, live it from every perspective you can.

This is a tirade against poorly thought out criticism. This is a tirade against every two bit over-inflated ego on the web who thinks they can recycle someone else’s words and set themselves up as an expert. I refuse to believe that ANY of these individuals ever sat down with their favourite King, Koontz or Grisham before flinging it in despair across the room, dropping head into hands and moaning, ‘I just can’t take any more adverbs’.

More than anything though this is a tirade against hate. Putting yourself out there is hard. Too hard maybe for me. I am so envious of those who have given it a shot, but I wonder how many more are like me? I’ve been a victim of bullying. I’ve seen tin pot hitlers abuse their power in all sort of places, the office, relationships, even on the internet. The guy yelling obscenities and threatening dark deeds with power tools is easy to spot and tends to take the limelight. True bullying is insidious, self-righteous and persistent. It grinds you down and it always has an excuse, plausible, making you question your own sanity. Perhaps the greatest legacy of my own experience is I doubt everything.

I’m not saying what we are seeing is true bullying, but it has a distinct odour I recognise. The same message hammered over and over again, the derision and disgust aimed at those who dare stray, the way so many quickly fall in line, eager to make it clear that of course the naysayers are right, they understand, they wouldn’t dare disagree. It’s not a pleasant odour.

That word right above sums it up more than any other, naysayers. These people aren’t even trying to offer constructive help. They want originality from stock rules? They want voice from a severely limited vocabulary? They want you to ignore every writer, every work of art that has held you entranced and every classic that is loved long after its author has passed and, instead, listen to them. They have English Lit degrees and an internet connection. Many just the latter.

How many ideas have been lost for fear they were too out there? How many writers have put their manuscripts back in the bottom drawer, convinced that inspired by Peter Pan, no one will take their tale of magic woven into reality seriously? And how will we ever know what we lost? It’s been said before that those with the greatest talent and skill are the ones who question themselves the most. I don’t know if that’s true, but if we continue to create this sneering environment we will likely never find out.

There is so much we can learn from one another. Think of the Bloomsbury lot. Writers across continents reaching out to one another should create the most exciting discourse history has ever known. Instead we’re all counting our adverbs. What would Virginia Woolf say?

We can rewrite the world. We can write pulpy erotic vampire nonsense and we can do it entirely in adverbs.. WE CAN…. Now the only thing any of us has to do is decide what we want to stick at the end of that sentence.

Truth, Ego and the Unholy Editor..

Criticism feels like the black abyss which is forever trying to suck me into oblivion – or nine to five, semi-detached existence with a cat and husband who compulsively smoothes his tie and makes jokes about how many shoes I own.

couple

I don’t own a lot of shoes. I want to live on my own island when I grow up and cats are only cute as long as they belong to other people. All my current cats do.

To explain in case I’m being as obscure as usual, I’m afraid of criticism. I’m afraid it will demolish what little ego I have left. I’m afraid no one will understand what I am trying to do – but mostly I am afraid because its kind of essential, isn’t it? Monsters you can avoid are never as terrifying as the ones you have to pass on the way home.

I know a fellow writer about to self publish. They have recently gone ten rounds with a professional editor to knock their book into shape and I was really interested to see the results. They claim that the process has transformed their writing, the manuscript has been torn to pieces and built back up piece by painstaking piece. They should call themselves book whisperers. I’ll be honest I had problems with the book from day one, but given everything the author was now claiming they had done to it, I was really hopeful when I read the new first chapter.

I still have problems with the book. Exactly the same problems.

As much as I struggle with receiving criticism I struggle with giving it more. I don’t want to be the one telling you, you suck. Which, however well dressed, is what I feel I’m doing. Moreover what gives me the right? Opinion is always subjective. I know plenty who claim they would laugh poor, rich, old Dan Brown out of the bookstore. The only question is, do you sincerely believe your opinion can help?

Take my soon-to-self-publish friend – they have far too much confusing exposition opening the book. I don’t see why you can’t start with backstory or world setting, if it is compelling, drawing us into the story, creating a visceral atmosphere. This functions like a list of facts, far too many of them completely irrelevant at this stage, in fact they serve to confuse more than clarify matters. It feels as though they are still separating out the strands of story building – exposition, character development, world setting, action.. so on, yet I would say an author at the ready-to-publish stage should know that all these elements need to be woven together so that the joins don’t show. Exposition later on will feel natural because it answers the questions you have set up, after you have immersed us in your story.

Surely an Editor should have flagged this up?

Editor’s roles are changing with the advent of self publishing. Within the context of traditional publishing it involves telling an author when they don’t feel they have anything they can work with. The new independent editor relies on independent commissions to make money, and I have to wonder how this affects how they approach work. I suppose there have always been independent services, but they are becoming much more central and yet they remain uninvested. In the old paradigm your failure is their failure.

I admit with this particular author it would be a thanks but no, if I were the one they submitted too. And not just because I think they need more time to germinate, their voice and story don’t engage me on any level. If they were paying me, much like when I beta read, I would try to divorce my personal feelings from the work and consider what it is that I think they are trying to achieve. I have read enough across different genres that I feel I can do this to a reasonable extent, and good writing does transcend boundaries.

An editor should be able to do this far better than I. It is always possible they made recommendations and the writer chose to ignore them, but I didn’t get that impression. Significant changes have been made, just not the right ones. My opinion – but I genuinely believe they are not minor issues. Nor are they overly complex. So if the author was compliant, knowing they are accredited (if that is the right word) by the Alliance of Independent Authors, why did these basic issues not get addressed? Did they honestly not see them, did they see them and simply not mention them? And if so why? For fear of being too harsh and losing a commission? Was it too much work? Did they not know how to solve the issue and felt it would be expected of them?

Whether self publishing or submitting, the general advice for every writer is get feedback but it’s a minefield, one infested as much by other people’s ego’s as your own. With advice, I like to know who is giving it and why. I’ve received feedback which, while disappointing, didn’t sting, because the minute I heard it I thought, aye that’s true, I knew that wasn’t working. I’ve also had feedback that I still can’t make head nor tails of, unless the person was on drugs. I’ve seen embittered individuals rip holes in work based on sterling advice that any novice could offer after reading a couple of one star reviews on amazon. Sadly the good stuff is very hard to come by while the bad is prolific and I fear the damage it can do, especially on mass. Some of the best of mine came from my mammy.. including be more normal.. I’m trying. But this is generally the number one no-no, while paid editorial services and fellow writers are held up as the holy grail.

So… To return to my fellow writer about to self publish. They want to build a career, but right now I cannot see it happening. If I believe I can help, should I? Or, as they are about to publish, is it too late? Can I or anyone do anything except pour acid on their excitement? And will they even listen to me telling them what a supposed professional didn’t?

Why ‘commercial’ is not a dirty word

For me, it comes down to one simple matter: Why do you write?

There is one major dividing line, of worth, within literature, that which lies between art and commerce. Some automatically hear the word commercial and assume, mindless, shallow, silly, and a million other derogatory terms which amount to the really puzzling phrase, ‘worthless entertainment designed only to make as much money as possible’. Words sometimes assume new meanings which really bewilder me and seem in most ways a reduction of their original intent.

When did commercial evolve to mean crap? When did entertainment evolve to mean mindless?

To entertain : to engage and hold the attention; to amuse; to interest.

Where does the mindless come in? Surely it is an adjective that must be added, yet it has become an inbuilt presumption.

As for commercial, it simply doesn’t make sense to me that we save our worst for the public. In no other arena except for art would this be so blithely accepted as the truth. Can you imagine sitting around talking about your new upright hoover, you know the far poorer cousin to the brilliantly effective Hoosit, but it’s so easy to get seduced by the crap… If I burn the toast I scrape the worst off, if I am working in a hotel serving breakfast I throw it in the bin. Knowing that others will read what you write should make you strive to be the very best you can be, knowing they will pay you for the privilege should keep you up at night.. at least now and again anyway..

Certainly commerce is not the natural forum of risk. The work has been tested, tried, like your hoover, (vaccum cleaner if American) and proven to do its job. But what is the job of literature? Entertainment? Certainly to engage and hold your attention would seem to be the only way by which it will work. Unlike a film, a book will not play without your willing and active participation. Perhaps that is why I have no inbuilt prejudice against the paradigm of publishers and agent as gatekeepers. As long as they are functioning under the premise of, does this do its job? Did it engage, did it hold my attention? They are the testing ground and it was, perhaps still is, common to employ readers specifically for this purpose.

I have – honest! – no issue with the label of  art laid against literature. Likewise I am not against experimental fiction; some would say a subset of lit-fic, I would say the only valid form of lit-fic I have ever come across and am thus willing to accept. And equally, as befits my entire point, to say commercial fiction is bereft of artistic merit is ridiculous. The difference lies not in quality, an entirely subjective measure, but in intent. Why do you write?

The artist, the experimenter,  people who break down walls, headbutt them into oblivion, write their entire manuscript with their toes, are as necessary in this field as they are in any. Most of today’s conventions are yesterday’s innovations. Don’t know why the toe thing never took off.. And much of what drives an artist – self expression, intellectual curiosity, emotional catharsis –  is also present and vital in commercial literature.  The difference, the crucial difference, is that art has the needs of the writer at its heart, while commerce considers the needs of the reader.

The artist has no interest in mass consumption, making money or amassing fans. They publish, yes, because this is their classroom, their laboratory. They put it out there so that others can see it, absorb, ponder and contribute to the discourse, even if in doing so they take it out of the classroom and put it onto our shelves, it is still not commercial.

Any book can be both, of course, some would say, and I would likely agree with them, that the best work is always where the two merge. As a writer I try always to be my own reader. It is my one piece advice (the rest of this is simply theorizing), the only one I would even consider laying ‘should’ before. The writer in me could play with words forever, the reader wants to know what happens next..

Advertisers figured this out a long time ago. Don’t tell people, Buy this great hoover, show them the happy housewife saying, I love this hoover, its made my life so much easier… The problem arises not in understanding how to reach people, but when people stop being honest. Those words, it would seem, are easily bought, clever marketing mistaken as passion. I truly believe that those writers so often dismissed as sell outs, the Meyers and Browns, are writing the books they genuinely would like to read. Whatever you make of their skills as either storytellers or writers (though I struggle with the distinction myself), they are passionate about what they do. The Da Vinci Code is an easy sell, a controversial arrow shot straight through the heart of the worlds largest religion, but it was in fact Dan Brown’s fourth novel and followed the very same formula he’d clearly already fallen in love with, as had, I would presume given their relatively poor sales, his publisher and agent.

When we stop asking, what do readers want, answering in the only true way we can, with what the reader in us is looking for, and start asking instead, how can we make them part with their money? That’s when we’re in trouble.

I think we’re in trouble.

This is not commerce, its a con. The trailer is better than the film. Books are being selected and sold on the basis of their blurb. The tagline matters more than the product. A writer is told to be a commodity, be aware of the market, know the genre your work fits into, and genre, more than ever before, more than I have ever been aware of, is all. They have become ruts, checkout lines designed for speed and ease, sales pitches for the unimaginative.

Writers should be writers. Good writers, productive writers, driven by the desire to be the best they can be. They should be readers, avid, passionate and willing, but they should not ever be salesmen. This is not commerce. It does not entertain. But it is most definitely mindless and crap.

 

 

If you could change the world, would you?

Perhaps I should have called this, You can change the world, will you? Theoretically – I am sure science will back me up – we can all change the world. We all do – philosophers will back me up on this one – every day.

Or maybe I should have called it FREE X-BOX IF YOU CLICK LIKE AND SEND TO FIVE FRIENDS..

Any wannabe writer starts with the rules, the must-do’s, can’t avoids and suck it ups. Very few of them have much to do with grammar, not losing sleep over that, but they also have very little to do with storytelling and everything to do with marketing.

I don’t want to be a marketer. I don’t even like the word.

If I self-publish I am my own everything. If I traditionally publish, I am my own everything.. .. no, apparently if I make it far enough they will handle the film rights. Ignoring the slight over exaggeration, which I like for the rhetoric, it still feels that how you market yourself matters more than how well you write. The query, the genre, the timing, the platform..

Getting picked up by a publisher is at least partly out of your hands, but a self-published author can theoretically suit themselves, cross genres, break conventions; a very good reason to self-publish.  Can you however suit yourself when it comes to marketing?

A recent article recently claimed that the huge outpouring of new self- published novels has so completely flooded the market that the vast majority were greeted by resounding silence; a thought that haunted me. All those books, piles upon piles of books stacking up, stretching out into the dim and infinite recesses of the internet, where only the dry echo of dust shifting is ever heard; a line that leads straight to purgatory, it might be purgatory… ( I try to stick to the facts I do.. but I can’t help looking for the story.  Geography class was a nightmare –  all those exotic locations and we were supposed to concentrate on population growth… )

But it doesn’t feel dim or distant. It feels close enough to scratch my eyes. Not just because I know writers who are already in this situation, but because the option is sitting there waiting to be taken; it could be me.

I don’t want to be a marketer. I don’t want to be your marketer; I don’t want to be mine. There is no doubt it is easier for some than it is for me… or others like me. A good friend of mine works in marketing; her job mostly involves going on free holidays. I still don’t want to be a marketer. Then there are those that think on the outside. They would sell you their left over frosties, a subscription to their gym (that they’ve never been to) and some tealights – you can never have too many tealights – all before breakfast and probably not even know they were doing it.

I’m not being entirely selfish though. What’s so wrong with the right people in the right job? Writers writing, marketers marketing. I don’t expect my friend to whip up a nice sci-fi dystopia on her lunch break. And if she did, a woman who needed the Adjustment Bureau explained to her, would that book be read because of her undoubted storytelling genius or because she shouted the loudest in those dim recesses?

You could put your book out. Let it stand, let it fall, just let it be, whatever it is, to be discovered by those who are looking, those few like you, searching for the right words, able to hear them for what they are, even if they are almost silent. On Amazon there are currently 288, 890 titles listed under contemporary fiction, 227, 856 under crime, 138,730 under fantasy…

If you can change the world, should you? If you don’t like the way things work are you obligated to make a stand or for forever hold your wheesht?

When does selling out become giving up?

When does not selling out become giving up?

Self publishing: frontline of the Revolution?

I have issues with self- publishing. Natural issues, I would have thought, and issues most certainly don’t mean I have made my mind up one way or another; a constant flux that seems quite fitting to self- publishing in general.

The numbers who are choosing this route are increasing it seems at the rate viruses do on apocalyptic movies.. Almost everyone on the writing community I belong to has chosen this option, the rest it seems certain will surely follow. Yet at the same time, their books are still posted, they are still seeking critiques, editing help and retain the option to submit to the big boys. So what exactly is self -publishing and what does it mean to me, the writer and me, the reader?

Is it what it always was, a simple act of vanity? Has it evolved to become the cheat’s route to the golden egg, which remains oddly a traditional publishing deal? Or a genuine attempt to break the moulds of convention and speak direct to the reader?

Certainly it has everyone talking as though a major shift has occurred. It has the backing, a hundred percent, of the biggest online retailer of books which commands a world -wide audience and takes most of the literary pie.  It is reported that ebooks command up to 20% of the market, peaking in genres such as romance and crime. Seven titles by self pubbed authors have made it onto the ebook best sellers list this year, outselling giants such as Piccoult and Grisham. Interestingly all seven are romance/erotica. The point, most effectively made by Hugh Howey and E.L James, is that it can be done. Rare yes, but so is the success it may be argued by Grisham and Picoult, the ones being outsold.

So as a writer, who need no longer submit to the gatekeepers, stick two fingers up at the agents and Vive la revolution! Oui?

Mmm. A revolution? Why does it feel that this revolution is not so much reader as it is writer driven? We seem first and foremost to be serving our own needs, regardless of how we use the new option. Is this of benefit to readers, are the books of greater quality, is there more diversity, catering to those neglected less profitable margins? As someone who reads on those margins, I’m not feeling satisfied.

This feels like the literary equivalent of a couple of middle class revolutionaries rising up on behalf of the poor. We have 90% more dying slowly of starvation, 90% more dying in battle, which leaves around two orphans still alive to say, ha ha suck on this royal dicks! As the dictator commanded…

Whenever I read anything which questions its value or place, a clear divide appears, with the self published masses crying foul and the voice of the opposition –  not always, it should be noted, a gatekeeper –  shouted down as nothing more than a troll, baiting the hard working author for the sake of a few cheap page views. Interestingly, apparently the favourite way to stick it to the naysayers is to correct their grammar, as if in doing so they are  proving categorically that they have the know-how and thus the right to do this.

I take no one’s right away from them. If you can buy yourself a book, then by all means do so. Typos, while annoying, happen to even the most anal, apostrophes, god bless the little buggers, are as easily overlooked as me at a Betty Boop convention. My concern is not that you tried, I understand that pride when the first book is finally complete, but rather that everyone tried and thus, that perhaps no one is really trying at all anymore.  Imagine, technology finally made something easier 🙂

I am going to continue to watch and question, to ask what it means as whole for literature. And yes, as a reader, a story lover, a bookworm, I am very interested in that most abstract of issues. I am, as always, eager to hear other opinions, but, as always, please note the NO TROLLS ALLOWED sign.