Musings on the Craft of Writing

►Self-publishing, or “Revolutions do smell bad”

Over the past couple of years the talk of the “Self-publishing revolution” has spread into all corners of the Interwebs.  Writers are Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuplecelebrating that we are now no longer at the mercy of literary agents or publishing houses (who sometimes seem to make their publishing choices by shaking a Magic 8 Ball).  We also know that nepotism, cronyism and all kinds of other unfair –isms are pushing people up into the “legitimately” published sphere.  The traditional publishing houses used to be indispensable, unless you happened to have a spare $100K lying around to publish and market your book.  Even in the Internet’s early days, the “Vanity publishers” realized that they could buy book-pressers and print for desperate authors.  And now the internet is so powerful that the traditional marketing they used is stuck in the back seat (if not the trunk).  The monopoly is broken.

But here comes the other side…  Any 12 year old can now be “published” since it’s as easy as uploading files to websites.  Any drivel that we keystroke into our docs and then upload to Amazon, we can then call a “published book”—no professional proofing, no arc-analysis, no knowledgeable editing.  And this means that the world is now getting pounded by a deluge of horrible books.  There have always been crap books out there, some become best-sellers.  But now that the self-publishing tools are in full swing, the numbers of these books will continue to grow geometrically until the next publishing revolution and, just playing the odds, the vast majority will be crap.

So here is my take on the new publishing revolution: We have happily accepted the deconstruction of the ultimate power of traditional publishing houses.  They had a monopoly of power over authors, and they’re no longer essential for getting our art out there.  But we should simultaneously deconstruct the other side of it: Being “published authors.”

Writing is our dream; it’s what many of us live for.  The fantasy of being a “published author” is as powerful as the fictions we create for our novels.  The picture we have in our heads of getting our work “out there” (in whichever format) is the end-game for the thousands of hours of work and stress.  This is all natural and good.  However, when we race along, fueled by the adrenaline of being “an author” we are easily blind to the fact that we’re not ready to be one.

“Anyone can say ‘I do’ at the altar; being a good spouse is the hard part.”  And that’s where we are.  Once upon a time… merit got you published (well, sometimes, perhaps).  But now that’s certainly not the case.

Anyone who races forward lacking in patience, preparation and expertise is doing themselves a major disservice, all for the fantasy status of being “published.”  Producing a quality novel requires both arduous work and education from established professionals.  This doesn’t necessarily require doing an MFA in writing (but if it’s feasible for you, why not?); there are scores of excellent books out there on the craft (and hundreds more that aren’t worth a damn).

Don’t listen to your family and friends you have who tell you that your book is “perfect” (unless they happen to be critically-minded readers and/or professional writers).  Spend the time and money to get real feedback from those who know the craft of writing.  Get ripped to shreds, get told that your ideas are trite and tired.  Then start over.  Get knocked on your ass, get up, try again… and repeat.  That is what being a writer is about.

I’m happy that the paradigm has shifted: the traditional houses are no longer the overlords of publishing.  But we must shift with it: we’re not suddenly, magically free to produce high school gibberish and then declare ourselves on the same playing field as [insert your favorite author here].  You’re just you, and I’m just me–“fame” and “glamor” should be deconstructed.  We either work to become experts at the craft of writing, or we are merely tossing more turds onto the self-publishing dung heap.

Opine away.










12 responses

  1. An interesting post, Daniel. I sometimes think that we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. I hope that eventually we’ll find a middle ground: this may happen once the ‘get rich quick’ crowd realise that, in general, there’s little chance of becoming rich by writing, and also when the kudos associated with being a ‘published author’ (something anyone can feasibly aspire to these days) fades a little.

    Writing is, as you say, not purely or even primarily about fun-filled creativity. It’s about hard work, determination, endurance, criticism and rejection. Why would you even want to put yourself through that, if it weren’t for the sheer love of your craft?

    November 20, 2013 at 10:16 am

  2. This is a great topic, Daniel! I think we will find with time, because self-publishing is one click away now, that authors who properly brand themselves and take the time to research the book-production process and how to become their own publisher / imprint will rise to the top of the market. It’s hard to say what sort of communities and badges of recognition will evolve, but I definitely believe that a good book is a good book if the writer makes sure it’s as good as it can be – self-published or not.

    November 21, 2013 at 12:58 am

  3. Delilah

    You have no idea how happy this post just made me. The comparison you made to marriage is spot on. The same could be said for having children. Any idiot can produce a child, but it takes work to be a parent. There is nothing worse than downloading or purchasing a book, a supposed best-seller even to find out it’s poorly written. If I have to hear about one more sparkly damn vampire or fifty shades of garbage I might snap. I crave the good stuff.

    November 21, 2013 at 10:45 am

    • Ha. I wholly agree, Delilah. I love vampyre stories, and so I hate the “Sprakle-Puffs” ©. I long for authors who deserve that title.
      Your blog is entertaining.

      November 21, 2013 at 11:04 am

      • Delilah

        Daniel, you’re killing me…sparkle-puffs! That’s freakin amazeballs right there. Thanks so much for the compliment. I have enjoyed yours as well.

        November 21, 2013 at 11:14 am

      • Delilah

        By the way, what’s your favorite ‘vampyre’ story?

        November 21, 2013 at 11:15 am

  4. I think that my favorite remains Salem’s Lot. I love (what I call) “true” horror tales (contra the teeny-bopper masturbatorial fantasies that misuse the genre) and the old vampyres (a la, vamps akin to the Nosferatu).

    November 21, 2013 at 11:28 am

  5. Pingback: There Has Been Progress!!!! | Black Bird: A Writer's Tail

  6. elletodd

    Very nicely put!

    December 4, 2013 at 9:37 pm

  7. jodiellewellyn

    To be honest, I have no real interest in self-publishing. I’m happy to write a million books until one is finally accepted by an agent and publisher to be traditionally published.

    December 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm

  8. Pingback: [Reblog]- Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Authors | Daniel Ionson

  9. Good post and discussion–very thought-provoking. You’re spot-on with the fantastical nature of our publishing dreams. I think what I struggle to understand is how the crap books can make it big–how the glampires manage to prevail, and in my most cynical moments, this makes me fear deeply for the human race.

    January 4, 2014 at 9:09 pm

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