Friday, August 2, 2013

Is this The Golden Age of Publishing?

"... there are only two essential components to publishing in the digital era: the writer and the reader." David Gaughran

One of the pastors of my church has been working for at least the last two years on putting together a "handbook" for ministering to older adults. That manuscript is full of thoughtful, thought-provoking activities, humorous anecdotes, attractive clipart and we don't want to forget those old-timers' jokes!

Her husband and her children know that she's been working on this massive (over 600 pages as of the last time we spoke together about it) manuscript as well as her co-pastors. (I think she's also shared this project with a few of the "50+ Group" that she is in charge of ministering to.)

Her biggest concern is how to publish this monstrosity? 

I've tried to encourage her to "go the indie way," but she feels that she wants/needs the "security" of having that book officially vetted by at least one reputable Christian publisher. I've asked her why she feels the need to have her work approved by someone whose main concern is: "How will I make any money from this book?" If I were to ask any of the fine patrons of MFA 280 they would laugh at me for even asking such a thing!

And what is wrong with that? Shouldn't Christian publishers be allowed the freedom to be in business to not only season the market with uplifting and encouraging literature but to make a little scratch in the process?

As it is with many things in this amazing technological age we now reside in, the freedom to "get your thoughts out there" is as easy as uploading a doc-file to Amazon's Kindle Digital Publishing server (with a nazzy-looking cover or not!). (Or you could even use Draft2Digital?)

But has this enlightening digital age given "the common man" too much freedom? Or are we living in the Golden Age of Publishing?

Let's see what the fine writers who frequent The Writers' Cafe have to say about it!

"In the age of 'Indie,' the modern author is able to publish instantly. But is this a good thing? Take the box of manuscripts I have in the basement. Bad novels. I know they are bad. They should not see the light of day. Or should they? I believe you have to write badly for a long time before you write well and I wrote badly for a long time. I have probably written ten novels and maybe half have made it into print. There was no choice. No one would publish you so you just had to work on your craft. Rewriting that would go on for years. So the question is: If authors can put out their writing instantly are they using the readers as first line editors? And is this a good thing? Or is it just inevitable in the age of the internet where anyone can cut a CD or write a book?"

"Yeah, we get it. To traditionally published authors, we (indie authors) are the great unwashed. An irritant. We've been hearing this for years now. Do you actually think you're telling us something new? Thank you for pointing out that you're not part of the problem, since you've spent years honing your craft, and all of your bad writing is behind you.  While we, on the other hand, have the utter gall to fling our crap out there to unsuspecting readers."

"YES. It is a wonderful thing. It is the best thing to happen to book publishing since book publishing started. It is the best thing to happen for writers since Gutenberg got the press rolling. It is the best thing to happen for readers and culture since we first figured out how to write."

"This falls into the category, can a singer be fantastic if they are not attractive or  fully clothed in their videos? Or would a princess be considered beautiful if she did not have the wealth to make her have the clothes/shape and makeup? I'm not convinced a 'bestseller' is free of typos, read books which aren't. BUT, I do believe it's all about referrals - if one person likes you and refers you then a whole bunch of other people will follow. Interestingly someone told me the other day they do not buy books by searching but purely on recommendations, that could be emails from Amazon or friends."

"No doubt some people are doing this. Others realize their first effort isn't awesome and keep slogging away till they produce a book worth reading, either by revision or by writing new books. Part of publishing is learning that everything you write is not golden, and that it's wise to use an editor or a beta reader. Some people figure this out right away, and unfortunately some don't. But there's nothing you can do about the ones that publish crud... you have no control over anyone's work but your own."

"I would think most on here use an editor as a first line editor, not the public. I get your point though, I downloaded a short story from Amazon last week that looked like it had been immediately uploaded to KDP by a person using a spoon attached to their forehead to type without error checking/editing afterwards."

"I think the marketplace can sort this one out. Books that are inappropriately published don't get purchased, don't get reviewed, or get reviews that kill them off. There is a lot of complaining out there about low-quality authors dumping their garbage onto amazon in the hopes of big bucks. Well, they don't get big bucks, because their lack of professionalism gets them in the end. Those people don't worry me."

"I think that it's a good thing because sure, you 'know' they're bad because you personally don't like them. But maybe someone else does. Maybe someone else is going to read the novel you thought was bad and see beauty that will inspire them or make them think; that will change them for the better."

"I often wonder how many great works have been lost because the author did not love it enough to let others read it."

"I think the experience of self-publishing 
will do the job of weeding people out."

"There is a cream rises to the top element in writing and publishing and certainly this is the function of reviews and people talking about books. The good books get passed on."

"I've been going through all my old novels recently. I wouldn't even think of publishing any without a major rewrite, but some have good stories despite the bad writing ... there's no reason not to give them that major rewrite and then publish them."

"As to having a trunk full of bad manuscripts, you have to figure out what to do with these ugly babies.  You can either kill them and bury then in the backyard, give them up for adoption (i.e. publish under a pen name), put them in their Sunday best and show them around like a proud parent, or do a little plastic surgery. Assuming there's some redeeming value to them, I'd go with the last option.  (And if I remember correctly, John Locke said his work was terrible at first, but there were some jewels sparkling in the muck, so he plucked those and retooled everything, resulting in the Donovan Creed novels.)"

"I would assume that your old 'bad' novels followed the rules of the English language, and that the plot held together, and that characters acted in a believable fashion. If all of the above are true, then what magical power do you have that allows you to decide if a book is good or bad? The only thing that makes any art bad is poor craft. If the artist is competent in craft, then the decision on whether it is good art or bad art is totally subjective. The arguments you are making are elitist and would deny an audience access to valid cultural product simply because it did not suit your taste. The gap between King and Rushdie is entirely in their demographics. Both write well, both explore the prevailing social and cultural climate, and both have massive and dedicated audience. To say that Rushdie writes literature while King writes popular schlock is to totally misunderstand the role and value of art in a society."

"Rushdie is a brilliant writer but his work is difficult. King is a brilliant writer who has written both masterworks and failures. Both his good work and his weak work is easy to read. Both Rushdie and King are artists. The line between artist and craftsman is not so clearly defined, and despite what people have said in the past, genre does not divide artistry from schlock. Schlock for me is that which lacks mastery of craft. I went to graduate school with a lot of literary writers and took some flack for writing genre fiction occasionally (such as fantasy and magical realism, which I sprinkled in with the standard literary workshop fiction). Now I am writing and publishing fiction and my classmates, regardless of talent, don't seem to be doing it. They all became editors or vanished. Trying to be literary is a trap. Literary writers fall into a few main categories. There are the celebrated ones no one reads; there are good ones with modest followings; and there are mediocre ones whom nobody reads but who get published by their friends; and there are bad ones who never achieve anything at all. Best just to write well."

"How many readers does a book have to make smile in order to be considered a success? My count is one. If a book available for sale is purchased and makes ONE reader think it's a 5-star book, then in my opinion, it needed to be out there, available. Our world is short on smiles. Sure you could make a counter point about the people who frowned, but that's why you can return ebooks within 7 days. I know my personal feelings of where a book made me feel good were much, much more important than the slight inconvenience I had of reading an ebook sample I didn't like. It's as simple as pressing the cover, holding it down, and selecting Remove from Device. I've watched too many times with our sampler promotions and now our ARC program the EXACT SAME book make one reader go 'OMG, I loved it because I could totally relate....' and another reader go 'UGH, I hated the grammar mistakes and poor editing and the characterization was whiny.' The exact same book. You tell me, which reader is wrong? Which is right? I think they both are, and it's better in my opinion for the reader who didn't like the book to just avoid it and the author in the future so the reader who loved it can have a treasured tale in their collection."

"Most of the books that are like this do sink to the bottom pretty quickly, but it can muddy the waters. An acquaintance of mine who is trade published is horrified at the pace the indie world seems to operate at. He's dumbfounded someone thinks a book is as good as it can possibly be in the space of a couple months as he takes over a year sometimes to just write a project, not counting edits and rewrites."

"I've been saying it for a while: 
The best thing about self-publishing is anyone can do it.
The worst thing about self-publishing is anyone can do it."

"The question that must be asked is: What gives you the right to judge whether your earlier novels are good or not? What qualifies you to make that decision? What you could do is start a secret secret pen name, straighten out the grammar etc., and publish them and let the audience decide. Only readers are qualified to judge your books and even then, only as a collective. An individual, even if that individual is the author, brings far too much subjectivity to the equation, as do small cliques or groups within the overall audience. Online publishing has democratized written literature and, like in any true democracy, it is the voice of the collective that holds sway."

"Actually, writing manuscripts, having them rejected, and putting them in a drawer was one way of learning writing. There was also writing stuff and sending it off to someplace less well paying, but desperate enough to publish it. I am not a great writer, but I think I can tell a passable dirty story, particularly if there's some fetishy stuff tossed in. Loads of writers learned to write while paying the bills, or at least some of them, by grinding out similar stuff and selling it in markets ranging from porno mags, to trashy true confessions, to pulp paperbacks. In fact, the genres favored in pulp paperbacks are the very same genres where indies flourish today. If someone buys a "bad book," enjoys it, and you can go out to dinner or pay your cable bill on the royalties, I don't see this as anything but a win for everyone. The worst book I've read in 20 years sold about a squillion copies last year. I devoured it. I could not put it down. I went on to buy the two others in the series and devoured them. Is EL James supposed to be ashamed because the book is bad from the standpoint of ze artiste or happy that millions of us loved it and she's wearing money hats?"

"Yeah, this. Except the worst book I read last year was an over-written, over-edited trade published romance novel that I DNF at the 40% mark. It was awful in a far worse way than 50 Shades was - it wasn't entertaining, not even a little bit."

"You are assuming that your previous work is bad based on your own judgments, and that of publishers/editors/agents that were not interested in them. Other than yourself, none of the others are accepting or rejecting your work based solely on it's quality, but rather than the hope that they could turn a profit on it. In the end, they were making nothing more than a (supposedly) educated guess at what the public would like two years in the future when the work would likely make it to market. If an artist who uses paint and canvas as their medium creates something, they are free to put it up in their front yard with a 'for sale' sign on it. If someone likes it and buys it, does that make it art? If someone who owns an art gallery sees it and asks to display it in their gallery, does that make it art? If an art critic sees it and raves about it in their column, does that make it art? I think the answer to all of these is 'no'. It was art the moment the artist created it. Digital self-publishing, with all it's flaws, opens the reader up to a multitude of work, both good and bad. (Just like those paintings.) This explosion of available works can only be a good thing. The market will decide what they like, which is the very basis of capitalism, and should be the very basis in determining 'what' is art. It is supposed to be in the eye of the beholder, not the distributor."

"I'm all for readers deciding what gets read, but artists have to trust their instincts. It comes down to what you are passionate about and why you write. Chasing fads or throwing stuff at the wall hoping it gets some tractions is a turn off. I'd rather read the stuff that excites an author. That energy usually translates into a better story. Money grabs tend to look like money grabs. If your instincts say the book isn't good, then you'd be a fool to ignore them. I have a few failed novels that I think I might rescue, and rereading them is like thinking about ex-girlfriends. I have to ask my younger self, 'What the hell were you thinking?' When I was younger I filled pages with chatty dialogue, and I struggle to read it now because it's just filler. It doesn't advance the story at all. If I were honest, and tried to rescue them, I'd have to cut 80-90% and start over. The subplot lack structure, the ending is weak and takes too long to reach. There's a lot of reasons I found it easier to start a new project than fix the predictable boring character at the center of one of them. Recently, I had to trust my gut about starting a new book. I've got a dozen book ideas in development. I had to make a choice, and the one I chose was ready to become a manuscript. They are all decent ideas, but my instincts were to continue a series rather than start a new one. Again, it comes to passion and why I write. It was the right book to start next."

"I think each writer has to decide for himself if his work is good enough to publish, but he can't decide for anyone else. And for every reader/writer who thinks a story is crap, there's another who thinks it's brilliant. Look at some of the so-called classics, they've got a ton of reviews complaining about the bad grammar, the boring story and the fact that the writer can't write. Are the stories people hate art or not? I say yes, they are. It's just a matter of deciding if it's art you want to read. On the subject of craft...we can't all be special snowflakes or at the top of our genre etc. Each of us brings to the table different talents and skills. And craft is an ongoing process. Even if we all learn the same writing techniques, we will each execute them differently and at various levels.  That in mind, I don't think a writer has to be perfect or brilliant before publishing. By the way, how do rejection letters improve your writing? So many people say this but I just don't see how it could improve your writing unless the letters include a detailed critique."

"Having been a slush-pile manuscript reader, yes, traditional publishers do a LOT of rejecting bad manuscripts (like paragraphs without verbs in the sentences, chapters of unending exposition, books without a plot, plots with holes big enough to sink the Titanic, books without a main character, books written entirely in the passive voice).  At a typical slush-pile reading we would go through 200-300 manuscripts in a day and reject them all. Rarely we would find one we liked enough to send up to the head editor for a second read, and 9 out of 10 times, it got rejected. Do they sometimes let a stinker through? Yes, because office politics is office politics (what you think is a bad novel someone else thinks is great). Do great novels sometimes get rejected? ABSOLUTELY! Look at how may publishers rejected the first Harry Potter book."

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