Okay at first I wasn’t going to say anything regarding the latest Let’s Bash Self-Publishing rant over at HuffPo, but (like all “real” writers) I am in the business of serving my audience—YOU—what you want to hear and after about the tenth person who sent me Laurie Gough’s Self-Publishing—An Insult to the Written Word, I figured y’all might want my take 😉 .
For another angle on this controversy, I strongly recommend Fisking the HuffPo’s Snooty Rant About Self-Publishing.
Consider the Source
First of all, am I the only one to see the laughable hypocrisy of anyone who writes for Huffington Post lecturing anyone about real writing? Huffington Post is a predatory business, a literary parasite that has made hundreds of millions of dollars by paying writers in “exposure dollars.” And, by doing so, has contributed to obliterating traditional journalism.
One doesn’t need credentials or to submit queries to editors and hope one day this “news” agency will publish said article for actual money. Nope. If a writer has demonstrated an ability to cultivate readers, then Huff has slots available. They truck in wagons of cash and the contributor is paid in clicks and feel-goods.
Additionally, Huffington is run by geniuses who say crap like this…
Did I mention that Huffington Post sold for over $300 MILLION?
Yeah, how about an article, Huffington Post—An Insult to the Written Word.
Wait, I did that already.
So apparently Gough believes real writing is only real when it has passed querying, editors, and a long list of “gatekeepers” but that apparently doesn’t apply to journalism which hasn’t been devalued at ALL.
One of the reasons that self-published authors continue to take a lot of flack is that they refuse to play by the rules and that always pisses off those who like rules and those whom the rules have served.
Many of us started out playing by the rules then decided the rules sucked and so we decided to make our own rules. We found ourselves in a no-win situation and decided we no longer liked that game and decided to do things differently.
That is what entrepreneurs do. Entrepreneurs look at the market and what has sold, what is likely to sell, what they as consumers might like but does not yet exist and they act.
When I was an author starting out, anyone with one eye and half sense knew that social media was the next evolutionary step in human communication. I wanted to learn from experts. I bought all kinds of fledgling social media books and none of it applied to me as an emerging writer. I didn’t want to be in high-pressure sales. I didn’t like spam, so why would I serve it? I didn’t want to fundamentally alter my personality to have success. There HAD to be a compromise.
But in the existing literature? There wasn’t. Every book available was great for a business, but lousy for a writer who still had to have time to write books, probably work a day job and take care of a family.
I didn’t see what I wanted (and what I believed other writers wanted as well) so I created it.
But according to Ms. Gough I am not a “real” writer and I should have patiently waited until my work was blessed by
Mount Olympus NYC Publishing instead of acting and filling a necessary and ignored need. Good thing I ignored that crap because Rise of the Machines has helped countless authors build platforms that have sold millions and millions of books.
The Long and Short of Publishing
The elites who love to bash self-publishing are (to me) shockingly uninformed about the history of their own industry.
For years, traditional (legacy) publishers were the sole gatekeepers and this had a lot of disadvantages for authors and readers.
Because traditional publishing was taking on a large financial risk and had to also maintain high overhead, they obviously had to be picky about what works to publish (and still do). These works had to bring in a certain amount of ROI (return on investment). This devastated the literary landscape and drove many works to the brink of extinction.
For instance, in the 70s and 80s long epic works were all the rage. Readers actually liked a book so long you could take out a burglar with it. I mean, Clan of the Cave Bear could have been registered as a deadly weapon. But the thing is, paper is heavy so it is expensive to ship. It costs a lot more to print a long book (Duh).
Additionally, big thick paperbacks? Only fitting a few of those suckers on a shelf. Why sell three books for $9.99 when you can sell ten books for $7.99?
So, the trend became to cut works off after a certain word count. Many agents would take one look at a query and if the work was over 110,000 words? Forget it. It didn’t matter that it was the next Lord of the Rings.
They weren’t being mean, they simply knew that publishers were wanting shorter works because they could sell more of them and enjoy a higher profit.
But what if a story needed to be that long?
The other side also suffered. Short works.
Pulp fiction got its start with the much-esteemed Charles Dickens and this form of storytelling really picked up traction in the early part of the 20th century. This type of fiction gave the general public access the larger-than-life stories with exotic and sexy characters. Pulp authors also made a really good living, some becoming among the richest people in the country.
We can thank pulp fiction for some of the greatest literary geniuses of our culture. Edgar Rice Burroughs almost single-handedly laid the foundation for today’s science fiction. Then we have Max Brand, H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Ray Bradbury.
With WWII we experienced paper rationing and the pulp magazine fell into decline as publishers opted for longer works with…a greater ROI.
Notice how these changes really don’t have much to do with the skill of the writer and have more to do with paper costs, shipping costs and ROI (PROFIT).
As publishing became bigger and bigger business, it had less to do with the story and the quality of the writing and more to do with, “Can we sell this?”
Oh, but maybe I am misguided and Snooki’s—It’s a Shore Thing is great literature I’ve overlooked. But hey, I am a troglodyte.
Again, this is simply wise business. A publisher might love a vampire book…but unfortunately they already had taken on three other vampire books and filled that quota for the year.
The beauty of the new publishing model is we are seeing a MAJOR resurgence of works that were all but lost. According to Ms. Gough traditional publishing is some great champion of literature, but I would challenge her to query a poetry book and see how far she gets.
Death by Elitism
Every time I run across one of these articles kicking self-published authors what stands out to me is the almost repugnant level of elitism. It’s like they all hang out in places with finger sandwiches to feed their own BS echo chamber.
Elitism is a big reason that legacy publishing is suffering. Instead of working with the changes in technology and what audiences want, they have spent an exorbitant amount of time propping up a dying business model (probably with pinkies extended 😉 ). They continue to do business in a way where authors are paid the last and the least and where only the 1%ers truly benefit.
And sure, if you want evidence to support a theory that all self-published authors are hacks, there is plenty to be found. But, to assert that all self-published authors are drunken monkeys banging on a typewriter is myopic and completely ignores that some of the greatest works of our time are NOT coming out of NY. This assertion ignores how business-minded authors have changed the rules and created a game that works in their favor.
Remember, traditional publishing didn’t consider erotica a real genre until 50 Shades sold a gazillion copies 😉 .
Author Animal Farm
Content creators hold no allegiance to any business that no longer serves their needs. But often what happens, is that these entities have created an idea that they have our best interests in mind, and to question that is some form of subversion. That if we don’t do things their way we lack talent, ability and legitimacy.
In the book Animal Farm the animals take the farm from the human owner by force believing they can run the farm in a way that serves the animals’ needs better, and at first? All is wonderful. The animals are quick to create a foundational ideology to support this move and the mantra, Four legs goooood, two legs baaaaaad is readily adopted.
A hierarchy soon emerges and the farm is eventually run by the pigs and, as the story progresses, conditions for the animals working the farm grow worse and worse and worse. The animals contributing all the labor fail to ever really look at the evidence and ask the hard questions, and all (but the pigs) pay dearly. The pigs have created a system that works really well for them and any animal that doesn’t toe the line is considered an enemy to all.
There is a similar ideology that has formed around legacy publishing.
Legacy books gooood. Self-published baaaaad.
Many emerging writers are afraid to really look and see for themselves if this is actually true, or whether they are afraid of exercising agency. Structure is comfortable, free will is not. And any writer who wants to strike out and do things differently is no more an enemy to other writers or publishing than animals who questioned the soundness of working seven days a week for almost no food were enemies of their fellow beasts.
In the End
All writers have to do business the exact same way, regardless of the publishing path. We need to:
- Create something people want to buy.
- Find those people.
So be careful buying into the mantra, especially when those chanting it don’t even buy their own BS. If Gough really believed what she’s preaching, then why publish this article on Huffington? Why didn’t she query a regular print magazine?
She is doing the exact same thing she is blasting countless other writers for doing. She created an article and believed she could get readers. She is using new technology and new ways of reaching readers and all in a nontraditional way that I am pretty sure pisses off more than a few old school journalists.
She is aware of her market—that more people are reading blogs than print resources. She acted accordingly. She didn’t wait to be printed on shiny copy, she acted and went around more than a few traditional gatekeepers. She met the audience where they were with the kind of content they wanted and in the format they desired.
Um, hypocrite much?
Sure, there is a lot of crap that gets self-published but the genie is out of the bottle. What are you going to do?
It isn’t like we have some UNDO button to make it go back to 1999.
Legacy publishing has a lot of advantages but they are not a One-Size-Fits-All. Same with self-pub. In both, if we write crap we get ignored. Plain and simple. We just get to choose where we are ignored, in some agent’s slush pile or at #300,745,321 on the Amazon list. So to the elitists? This is the hand that history has dealt us so get to work on your own stuff and stop worrying whether or not I am “real.”
Because my opinion….
WHO CARES? Just pick the path that works for you and what you are writing and I say, “GOD SPEED! And BE BLESSED!”
What are your thoughts?
I love hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
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