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Posts Tagged ‘self-publishing’

This is King Louis VVI during the French Revolution. I don't think that, at this moment, he was worried whether or not "his subjects" were calling him "you majesty."

This is King Louis XVI during the French Revolution. I don’t think that, at this moment, he was too concerned whether or not “his subjects” were calling him “your majesty.”

The Daily Progress hit us with this pointless whopper on Saturday: Literary Agents Discuss Publishing Industry.

I should have known two paragraphs in that it would be a useless, somewhat sad exercise in denial. I expected, at the very least, there would be some sort of real acknowledgement that, hey, it’s getting a little scary out there for agents and publishers, particularly when the article started out with “In an age of overwhelming digital saturation…” But, no.

In an age of overwhelming digital saturation, personal insight is essential to commanding the attention and interest of book agents and publishers. A lack of tact is an oversight — or slight — that can doom a novel.

“You wouldn’t believe how many submissions we get from people who don’t address us by name,” said Howard Yoon, of Ross Yoon Literary Agency in Washington, D.C. “People aren’t doing their research.”

This is like the upper class twits sitting in a London bomb shelter complaining that their German valet can’t seem to locate their favorite tea.

Okay, so, first, in “an age of overwhelming digital saturation” (read: the tools to publish your own work are right there, right at your fingertips), why would a writer give two shits about “commanding the attention and interest of book agents and publishers?” And second, seriously, if agents think writers not addressing them by name (oh noes!) gives them their biggest sad face, then I suppose we should all just stop worrying about book agents and let them just blindly, blissfully get blown to smithereens. So long as they have their tea. Their favorite tea. That they love. It’s their favorite tea, for Pete’s sake.

So, not addressing the agent (or editor) by name is the problem (despite that we all sort of know that, mostly, these people aren’t the first at the pile, their assistants are). An oversight in tact. Because that’s important. Like this post is clearly an oversight in tact (oops). Because I’m about to point out the obvious…

If I was a literary agent working in today’s publishing climate, I would at least make some effort to pull my ass down from my self-constructed pedestal long enough to hopefully realize that part of the reason why writers can’t be bothered to learn my name is because I am quickly becoming irrelevant. Perhaps writers are spending less of “their research” time on agent/editor ass-kissing and more of that precious time educating themselves on how to get their book in front of readers without having to jump through these meaningless hoops.

If they’re not, they certainly should be.

So, anyway, I’m reading, expecting that any word now the obvious is going to swing up and take a bite, but, again, no.

Overall, the panel said the book publishing industry in good health, but with some caveats.

Oh yeah?

“Things are actually very healthy in terms of readers and in terms of authors,” Patrick said. “What’s sick is the business model of publishing and that’s what I’m finding is so depressing.”

Yes, and yes. And yes. Go on…

Well, the next few paragraphs basically say the following without so much saying the following, because the following just sounds bad:

The resulting problem from the actual problem with the current publishing model, which we won’t actually directly address, is that, hey, I’s gots to make some $$. What Yoon basically says is that publishers don’t want to bother with anything that won’t turn out to be a bestseller, because the money they spend on pushing a “mediocre book” (make note of that: Not a Bestseller = mediocre book) is considered a waste. Not writing the next Harry Potter book? Your book sucks. Not crapping out Fifty Shades of Shit? Your book sucks. And agents see it that way, too, because they work on commission.

“Our business is commission based … we don’t take on projects that we don’t think we’re going to sell. We can’t afford to,” Yoon said.

No, you can’t afford to. You know what else you can’t afford? You can’t afford to do what you’ve been doing for decades, Mr./Mrs. Literary Agent, and that’s feeling so comfortable and superior in your little safe room that you think even addressing that writers don’t know your name in public is a good, not at all vapid and narcissistic idea. Maybe you ought to stretch some long-atrophied muscles and do a little research yourself. Perhaps you ought to figure out a way to survive the massive changes overtaking a stagnant publishing industry. Books aren’t going to disappear, but you just might, because the relationship between authors and readers is changing.

Yoon is identified as saying, “the publishing model is widening the gap between the winners and losers.” The old publishing model is indeed widening that gap, if you read “winners” as “authors and readers” and “losers” as “agents and editors.” The new publishing model is actually narrowing the gap between authors and readers, which is leaving little wiggle room for agents and editors to feel it’s important to whinge on about how little tact we heathen writers have nowadays. I feel that’s worth thinking about.

Bethanne Kelly Patrick finally states the obvious: “I think you’ll find people doing a lot more guerilla [sic] everything.” But it stops there. It either stopped there in the discussion, or the article’s author just really decided to avoid moving into any sort of boat-rocking, complicated areas of thought. Don’t screw up the narrative that says the publishing model is fine just as it is. No worries. We’re not sinking!

It ends with this blinding ray of brilliance:

For fiction writers unsure if their work will be a page-turner, Yoon suggested a simple test.

“You have to think, there are other people in the world who are doing this … [so] take your plot, take your characters and ask ‘How many people would realistically read what I’m writing?’”

Really. Maybe this little nugget of advice seemed non-insultingly applicable…when? the 60s, the 70s? Maybe. I suppose. At this point, though, it does feel a little face-slappish. First, don’t most writer’s ask themselves that, you know, after they’ve written what came from their gut? After they’ve been true to their soul as a writer, they might leaf through their manuscript and say, “Hmmm, who’s going to read this?” Oh, or are we supposed to ask that first, what needs to be released from our guts be damned? Second, considering that you’ve basically just told us that it’s not worth writing if millions of people aren’t going to pay to read it, isn’t the answer to this question regarding most writers’ books a floppingly deflated, “zero; no one?” Because in the publishing model that is still trying desperately to disparage self-pubbing, your book—the one that came from your gut—is worthless. If it’s not going to make everyone but you rich, agents and editors can’t be bothered, so neither should you.

Writers, I suggest that after you’ve asked yourself the question they insist will tell you whether or not “your work is a page-turner,” you then ask yourself “What exactly would I be getting out of the relationship if I signed up with an agent and/or publisher, compared to just doing the work and publishing/marketing it myself?”

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RLSDogNY1

Today, I’ll quote Stevenson:

The best things in life are nearest: Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you. Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.

I’ve got the breath and the light; the flowers at my feet are working on it (my first veggies seeds for the garden did sprout yesterday; I’ve got a million duties at my hand, and I do believe the path of right is just before me. The daily bread might have to wait.

The duties never end. The key is checking everything from your list and doing them in some semblance of order. In self-publishing, that seem particularly important. When I brought books through the process for a traditional publisher, I had a checklist. For everything, from shaking hands on the deal to putting the physical book in the writer’s hand. It’s been a little while since I’ve worked from that particular list, so I think I’m going to have to sit down and reconstruct it, only editing it to cover all those extra-special self-pubbing things, like: “Learn how to format your manuscript for electronic sales.”

On one hand, it seems a little overwhelming, but I guess it’s like anything else. You get to the end when you get there. There are wolves at my door, though. I will point out one great reason not to self-publish and why you should leave it to a publisher: This stuff takes time, effort, and a certain amount of non-creative brain-power that pulls you out of writing mode. And right now, the wolf at my door is the next story. It’s a-scratchin’, but I can’t quite open the door and let it in yet.

The path, though, is right. And if I work at it every day, I’ll get to the place where I can relax for a minute and go play with the wolves. I don’t think Stevenson had a quote about playing with wolves, though he did say :

You think those dogs will not be in heaven! I tell you they will be there long before any of us.

Certainly, rolling around on the floor with the writing wolves is closer to heaven than line-editing and formatting, but they’ll wait for us. They might be too hungry to play right away, but once they’re fed, fun will ensue.

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Friday, I revealed my big, exciting self-publishing plans, and I said I might just tell you about the book today. So, I will.

Last October, the day after a best friend’s raucous wedding, I got a call that my aunt was sick and needed help. My aunt lived in Canada, which, from where I am, is about a five-to-six-hour drive. For the next two weeks, I drove back and forth and helped out as I could. In the end, the diagnosis was what we all thought: cancer. And she was gone by November 10th.

It’s sad and I’m sorry about that, but it’s the exposition.

While I was there, we had taken her into the hospital for tests, and during that trip, as I was waiting, I found this book in the hospital’s gift shop, used for four bucks. I had been in such a rush to get up to my aunt that I had neglected to bring anything to read, so I snagged it. For the next few weeks, I was reading this pretty great biography of Robert Louis Stevenson (which thankfully took my mind of some pretty heavy stuff).

RLS, taken in 1879, a year after his travels through the Cevennes.

RLS, taken in 1879, a year after his travels through the Cevennes.

As far as Stevenson goes, I’d read the usual suspects—The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, The Body Snatcher, etc. And I knew a little about his life, but not a ton. However, I had just the previous summer visited the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh, and as bothered as I was that they made no mention of James Hogg (really?), they do have a wonderful Stevenson exhibit in the basement level. The more I read, the more fascinated I became of this person, whose writing I came to better appreciate through his real-life trials and adventures.

How can anyone not just love RLS? Answer: They can’t. Not molecularly possible. To not totally dig RLS would, I think, suggest some sort of inner deformity. But that’s just my opinion…

When I finished the biography, I didn’t end up diving into more of his fiction, like I thought I would. Instead—apparently now on a non-fiction kick—I started in on his travel essays and books. And I can only assume that whatever it was that finally burst from me like an alien thing had started germinating sometime during the biography phase. Because as I turned to his Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, I hadn’t even gotten to the text proper and had only just finished the introduction before a fairly fully formed concept popped into my head. I started writing about five minutes later.

I pretty much knew how I was going to go about it, but then not two days later, I’d managed to plug up one major narrative gap with a little research and a little luck. In the end, this is what I came up with:

Antoine killing the Wolf of Chazes, 18th-century engraving.

Antoine killing the Wolf of Chazes, 18th-century engraving.

When RLS was 28 years old, heartbroken by certain complications with his great love, Fanny (fated someday to be his wife), he embarked upon a walking journey through the highlands of southern France to clear his head, but also to gather notes for a planned travel book. Just him and his donkey, Modestine. It just so happened that the region through which he traveled was the very same region famous, not only for its religious suppression and resistance, but also for its wolves. Specifically, La Bête du Gévaudan! Two wolf-like beasts had been hunted and killed during the 18th century after having slaughtered up to two hundred French folks.

So far, everything is true. Even La Bête. As a matter of fact, Stevenson mentions La Bête specifically in his journal and it winds up in the ultimate MS that originally went to press.

What does this have to do with a sickly Scotchman traveling through France with his ass in the 19th century? Well, you’d have to read it to find out, but I can tell you this: there are monsters, of varying sorts. Monster-monsters and human monsters. There are peasants and monks, socialites and priests. There is lovely scenery. And there is, of course, Stevenson and his irascible, loveable donkey, Modestine.

Though I’ve done a fair amount of historical horror fiction, I had never written a werewolf story. It only took about a month and a half to squeeze out a first draft. I am now working toward a final draft, which I expect to have finished before the end of April. The best part: I can see doing this again, because, although he died young, rather tragically, at age 44, his life did not end after France. Nor did his travels and adventures. And, frankly, I had a lot of fun writing this.

If you like Robert Louis Stevenson, and you like fictionalized accounts of the lives of famous folks, and most importantly, if you like mystery and werewolves (and perhaps a little of the red stuff)…then this book is for you. Yes, you. So, stay tuned! Watch me finish this guy up, prepare promo materials, and navigate the world of self-publishing! It’ll be fun, or horrifying. Or both. For you and for me. Good times.

P.S. My aunt would have liked this book, and despite her wacky tastes (or maybe because of), she knew what was what.

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printing-press-1024x782As I stated in an earlier post, I have—somewhat unexpectedly—a novel on my hands. It’s pretty exciting. And, as I also mentioned in that  post, I have to figure out what I’m going to do with it.

Well, I’ve decided.

After much thought and consideration, I’ve decided to go ahead and self-publish.

It’s kind of a big deal. I mean, after six years in the academic system and being involuntary inundated with the various elitist ideals of the literarati within (don’t try to pretend it doesn’t exist), the decision comes with some stress. Upon really having to think about this, I came to realize that I had been conditioned to think of self-publishing as this terrible thing. And maybe, not so very long ago, it was. There’s no quality control! some cry. Anyone can do it! others lament. I have said those things myself. And it’s not like these concerns aren’t still concerns. They are. But the industry is changing, and I know that if we don’t change with it, some of us are going to have a very sad time.

The other concern, obviously, is prestige. There’s no prestige in self-publishing. Meaning, none of the cool kids will justify and validate your work. Universe forbid you validate yourself, because the Universe knows, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

Except, I’ve come to realize…I do know what I’m talking about. I’ve gotten myself into a tremendous amount of student debt to know what I’m talking about. And I’ve had enough professional experience to know what I’m talking about. This might have been the real clincher in my decision to self-publish. How many writing graduates are out there with a publishing concentration? Probably quite a few, me included. You have two paths, I think, as a writer with a degree in, well, writing. You can teach, or you can go to work for the publishing industry. Writing, as everyone knows, really just turns into the hobby. That thing you do on the side, heaping hope upon hope that some kind soul within the industry will validate you.

I thought about that, and then I thought, if I was a plumber—I mean, if that’s how I earned my living—would I pay someone else to come fix my pipes? Somehow, I just don’t think I would. So, if I’m trained to edit and publish, why on earth would I pay someone else to do it for me? Except the writing/publishing situation is even more ridiculous in that, imagine you are a plumber and you’ve got some leaky pipes at home. Now, imagine you’re showing your leaky pipes to everyone in town hoping some other professional plumber will take a liking to them and fix them for you. If no one likes your pipes (for any of a thousand arbitrary reasons), tough turds for you, my friend. So, you’re left with this choice: don’t fix your pipes, or fix them your own damn self. Or, better yet: skip the whole part about asking another plumber to help you and just go straight to fixing your own pipes.

But then, who’s going to tell you whether or not your book is good enough to publish? you ask. Totally valid question, because there’s a lot of crap out there (no, really, it’s true). Answer: I am.

I know, I know…how incredibly big-headed of me. Oh, la-tee-da, look at her with her big, fat head. Well, you know what…I’m okay saying that, dangit, this book is good. We all have things we’ve written that are crap; we’ve all written things we can be proud of. I’ve decided that this is something I can put out there, have people read it, and be proud of it. It also helps that I’ve been on the other side of the slush pile.

And besides, I’m not so stupid as to write in a vacuum. I have readers who aren’t afraid to tell me that something’s not working, or that something just downright sucks. Smart, well-read people with good tastes and instincts that I trust. Boy, doesn’t that help? I’m also smart enough to, say, hire a designer and that sort of thing. Some things I can do myself. Others I can recognize that I can’t. My head isn’t so big that I don’t recognize that I can’t do everything and therefore must farm out that work. This, I like to call: I Am Not Stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, by the way. I love publishers. I do. Particularly the small, fiery ones. Not everyone who writes also knows how to publish. And I might become one of the other kinds of writers who, despite knowing how to publish, simply don’t have the time to, because at this stage in their careers, they’re too busy writing. Those folks certainly need publishers, and it sure sounds heavenly to be in that position. Sorry, don’t have time to deal with that stuff…I’m writing. Absolutely, publishers and presses are totally necessary. Just not for me, right now, at this time.

My final reason for choosing to self-publish—and this is the most personal one—is that, at this point in my life, I am more comfortable and probably function best working from the outside. The inside, in almost every circumstance, feels like eels under my skin. I can’t say why; it just does. And everyone knows I’m not supposed to be there, me most of all. I’m okay with this. Experience tells me that this is not the instance to try the inside route one more time. Better do this the way I know how so I can do it right.

Monday, I’ll tell you a little bit about what it is that I have written. I think, maybe, you’ll like it. I hope you will. Because I do.

self-publish-cartoon

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