What a freaking minefield!
Nope, not talking about the pre-holiday crush at the grocery store today. I'm talking about publishing. More specifically, self pubbing vs indie (yes, there is a difference) vs traditional, insult-slinging, "house slaves" and primates doing horrible, despicable things to amphibians. I have recently encountered a lot of crap that has nothing to do with bad storytelling, although there have been several points of common sense as well (Dear Author, Tobias Buckell and Chuck Wendig - look 'em up if you haven't already). I know, if there is epic WTF-ery on the internet it must be a day ending in "y" but I think I finally reached my quota for tolerating it. And if you think I'm being "too sensitive" please leave your name and book titles in the comments so that I can make sure I never read your book (just like I'll never buy anything from the two jackholes who brought us the Raping Monkey - and this is from someone who digs crude potty humor on occasion - some lines should NEVER be crossed).
I see this mostly because I have an interest in the publishing industry as a whole, and I get on Twitter, hover around Goodreads, and (when I feel like I have enough patience) go back to the Amazon forums, and through it all I wonder, who is the audience? For all the rants, the mudslinging, is it trying to get the traditionally pubbed writers to abandon their contracts to strike out on their own? Rallying the growing number of self-pubbed writers? Convincing media, reviewers, book bloggers to take a look at more self-pubbed works? Actually trying to get readers to give self-pubs a chance? Cause when I think about what is necessary for the viability of self publishing, those last two are a lot more important than arguing over which method is better.
Because deep down, at the heart of all of this muck, the real problem with self-publishing is shunted aside. Where are the good stories? Who are the writers that carefully hone their craft, utilizing professional editors and graphic artists on their own time and dime? And if you are one of the growing legion who believes that you don't need an experienced editor to examine your masterpiece, a copyeditor to fix your typos, that your words are golden from the first draft, please, leave your name and book titles in the comments. Nothing scares me off faster than reading that a writer has no use for an editor.
Now, you might want to educate me on how I've been brainwashed by the establishment, a writers words are sacrosanct, yada yada, blah, blah. Stop. I might not have published a novel, but I have made a living as a writer for many years. I know the frustration that comes with the editing process (who wants to deal with a sea of red ink? no one), but I also know the mind-bending terror when you are in a low budget operation and you have to release your work to the world without the benefit of a competent second pair of eyes. Also, being able to tell a good story and knowing the correct use of who vs whom are neither mutually inclusive nor exclusive. If your work (and by this I mean your ego) can't withstand the comments from an editor, then how in the world will you be able to cope with the first person who hates your book with a passion? The answer is you wont. We've all seen examples of that.
At the idealistic core of the self pubbing argument, everything sounds wonderful. All writers free to publish their stories. Readers can purchase them at a bargain price. Rainbows litter the sky and everyone has their own unicorn.
But then we get back to "all writers" and here is where the problem lies. There is the great, the good, the has-potential, the bad, the delusional, and of course the ever present bat-shit crazy. "But, you only have to pay a buck!" is not a good argument. To illustrate my feelings on this matter, let me back away from books for a moment. Years ago I found a deal at one of the bargain grocery store chains - apples for 20 cents a pound. Wow! Great deal! I bought a dollars worth. I was going to make pie, maybe try some homemade applesauce. I was quite happy with my "steal of a deal." Then I went home and tried to eat one. Sawdust. It was so damn nasty. So I tried another. Then another. All of them the worst apples I'd ever eaten. I still remember it. I threw up it tasted so bad. So my "bargain deal" went straight to the garbage. I went back to my regular store, pick up a smaller amount of apples for about $1.50 per pound, and guess what? I ate every single one. I wasted a dollar trying to be cheap that I could have put towards something I'd actually use.
I think that 99 cents is an excellent price for a short story. If your book is 99 cents, I should finish it and think "Damn, I got that for a steal. What else do they have?" not "Oh well, at least I just paid a buck." Because if it's the latter, I probably won't read anything by you again. And the more bucks I "waste" the less likely I am to try something else that hasn't been vetted by a friend or reviewer I trust. I am not the only reader who shares this frustration.
And if you are selling your book on Amazon when it is still in draft form (because you can learn from the reviews how to make it better), for the love of everything, STOP! Just don't do it. No. If it is not your finished, polished work it had better not be put up for sale. Do so and you are shooting yourself in the foot before you start the marathon.
Before anyone writes that I'm not giving self pubs a chance, back that train up now. I actually have. I have found self pubbed authors that I like and I buy (and I've even reviewed or plugged some here). Did I make a big show about how they were self pubs, no. I talked about how much I liked their work. Because at the end of the day, that's what I care about - finding good stories. And when I like a story, it's not because I gave it a "pass" because the writer didn't have an in-house editing team. That's bullshit. I liked it and I recommended it because for me the work stood on its own merits, and was worth more than the "bargain price."
"But, traditional publishers put out horrible books all the time" - I'll agree that I don't like everything that is published. Who does? But I have found a lot of books that I dearly love, and there is an expectation of a certain level of quality when a book comes out of a publishing house. Yes, there are times when you don't get that quality, and by all means, speak up, write your review (I do). However, if you are a self pubbed author trying to market your book, might I just give a tiny bit of advice: Don't try to make yourself look better by bashing the "quality" of trad pubbed books. Don't call me a sheep for liking my books polished, edited, and the best quality they can be. I happen to like, no, love, a lot of books that went the traditional route. Insulting my tastes doesn't make me run out and buy your book. [And seriously - I get you don't like Twilight and I don't have any intention of reading Snooki's book, but their success has nothing to do with you. Move on already.]
There is a lot of passion in the publishing community. Creative types are like that. Instead of the infighting, I'd rather see the self pub stalwarts working towards improving the overall quality of the work produced, not tearing down those who chose a different path (and yes, it goes both ways - I'm not a big fan of anyone who tries to denigrate others to make themselves look better, trad pubbed, self, indie, whatever). Maybe it's time to step back and admit that not all of the self pubbed work that is out there is good enough. That a new goal should include how to promote the authors who are producing quality work. How getting a book to market is about more than just putting words on a page. That there are many steps that need to be taken. That you need to understand the ins and outs of formatting your manuscript (be it printed on paper or converted to one of the many different eBook formats). How to market, what marketing steps work best, but more importantly, the ones you should avoid at all costs (let's all just step away from the driveby spamming on book forums). Realize that this is a marathon. You need to take your time, but more importantly, you need to prepare and train yourself before you start the race. You don't want to collapse two miles in because you weren't ready for the big event.
There's a lot of changes in publishing right now. It's uncertain, exciting, and overwhelming. It's also not done changing, so some flexibility is in order. But I'm still in for the ride.
OK, rant over. Damn, that's been simmering for awhile. I tried to make it coherent, but sometimes you just need to get it all out. Sometime later, I will do a blog post about self pubbed authors who I think do it right. But they deserve their own spotlight, so I'm not doing it in a ranty post.