I know several of the people reading this blog write and I know they have all experienced frustration at not being published. I used to write as well and maybe someday I will again. I too felt the sting of rejection, but I always told myself “If I can just get better…” I viewed publishers as the gatekeepers of literature that I needed approval from.
Then this hit:
And not only hit, the publisher threw all their weight into promoting it. It is one thing to put out a cheesy romance novel, they all have divisions that do that. It’s another thing to put so much focus on a bad book that it reshapes the literary landscape.
Then not only did the publisher throw all their weight into promoting it, the rest of the publishing world jumped on this bandwagon:
At the same time, I noticed that all the books I was buying had typos, grammatical errors, structural issues. I loved The Exodus Towers, but there was a vocabulary error in it. I did not note it in the review because it was an esoteric word, it did not affect the story and that sort of thing is so common these days. Publishers are no longer editing the novels they publish.
We all attend classes and workshops where we are told, vehemently, that the quality of our work matters, sometimes to the point that the instructor is stomping on our natural voices. I had one instructor who said flat out “I hate Science Fiction and I don’t want to see any of those stories in this class.” They often will mix in functional criticisms with stylistic, which is a matter of personal taste. We are told that our work has to be “deep” and “artistic” and fit certain expectations.
Then we watch the publishers we are sending our work to approve and support shallow, childishly-written drivel. Because despite what our instructors have told us, once a writer gets past the short story collection stage, it is not about quality. It is about marketability. Publishers are not looking for good novels. They do not care about putting out good novels. They are looking for the next trend.
For hundred years or more they have held a stranglehold on the literary art form and up until now they have used that power somewhat responsibly. But not anymore. The gatekeepers have relinquished their validity.
And with e-publishing, we now can take back the authority.
In a keynote address for the University for the Arts in 2012, Neil Gaiman, someone who would know, said, “We’re in a transitional world right now, if you’re in any kind of artistic field, because the nature of distribution is changing, the models by which creators got their work out into the world, and got to keep a roof over their heads and buy sandwiches while they did that, are all changing. I’ve talked to people at the top of the food chain in publishing, in bookselling, in all those areas, and nobody knows what the landscape will look like two years from now, let alone a decade away. The distribution channels that people had built over the last century or so are in flux for print, for visual artists, for musicians, for creative people of all kinds.”
(His truly inspirational and wise speech is here in text and video forms.)
This is something publishers are scared of. They don’t want to be cut out of the cash flow between the readers and the writers. This is why they published a popular fanfic: To cash in on the trends in e-publishing.
So fuck the publishers. Don’t bother writing for them because they are not interested. They only want to know what the next trend is that they can make money from and you can’t predict that. Write what you want. Write what fulfills you.
Who you should write for is your audience. The reason e-publishing is looked down on is because so many self-published authors put out shoddy work. It poorly written, it’s hastily written and it’s badly edited. It’s getting better, but not fast enough.
One reviewer pointed out to me that one of the things the SciFi/Fantasy genre did for a long time was to self-police. They were not taken seriously as a genre for decades, so in order to be taken seriously, they did not tolerate shoddy work. They loudly praised what was of quality and called out what was not. And eventually, people started to realize this was not “kids stuff” but smart literature.
People e-publishing have to take the same approach. They have to self-police. They don’t have to write for a publisher, but they do have to write for an audience. That does not mean they have to write the stories they think an audience wants, but they do have to turn in a quality product. Mickey Spillane once said, “I do not have readers, I have customers.” He was probably saying that in order to avoid pretension given his work was not exactly high art, but it makes a lot of sense to approach publishing your own work this way. You have customers and if you want them to come back and recommend your books to their friends, you have to give them a quality product. You have to give them the respect of giving them a quality book.
That is the first step. Any other marketing you do is useless without that first step.
Don’t be this person. People like her are not helping. If you put a piece of art out there for public consumption, not everyone is obligated to love it or shut up if they don’t love it. That is just the way the world is. Put your big girl panties on and deal. If you get a bad review, commiserate with your friends, cry in your beer, and after you let the hurt and ager fade, there might be something in that criticism that will make your next book better.
I know the temptation of wanting to rush to get a book out there, to get that instant feedback. Don’t do it. There are plenty of freelance editors out there. Make the investment to get one to go over your work to at least shake out the functional problems of typos, spelling, grammar and sentence structure. (If you can’t afford that, I bet if you went to a local college English department, you could find a student to do it for less. If nothing else, get your most persnickety grammar-nazi friend to go over it and buy them dinner.) Don’t just have friends and family read it. Get objective opinions of people who do not know you reading it cold, just like the people buying your book online. Have a workshop read it. Shift out what is personal taste and take constructive criticism that will make your work better.
Work on your story until it is a professional level book. For someone devoted to the craft, it is never going to be “perfect.” As someone once said, “Art is never completed, only abandoned.” But you can put out something better than what the publishing houses are putting out, and if you do, writers can take back control of their own art form.