Friday, June 17, 2011

Self-Published Authors: We're A Smaller Group Than You Think

As a relative newcomer to the fiction writing community, and self-publishing fiction writing community at that, I have made a startling observation: we're small potatoes. That's right. There aren't thousands and thousands of us seeking "professional" author status through self-publishing. By my count, there are probably a few hundred "self-published" blogs/"author platforms" out there and we're all linked together. Even me with my paltry 10 followers. 

Remember that game we played on car trips or to drink more alcohol? The Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Self-publishing is like the two or three degrees of J.A. Konrath/Dean Wesley Smith/Amanda Hocking/ and the other big names. Our blogs are linked. We spend time commenting and linking to each other's blogs. Of course the big names don't really have as much time to comment on others' without running the risk of ticking off other followers for not commenting on their blogs. However, I was pleasantly shocked and honored when Lucy Kevin commented on mine ;)

And I am SO tired of reading that only crap is self-published. That's ridiculous. You want to know what I think is crap? William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Most of the Hemingway crap I had to read. Cold Sassy Tree. And so on, and so on. Then there is crap I changed my mind on. 17-year-old me forced to read Pride and Prejudice? Didn't relate to any of the characters, couldn't really understand or respect the time period. Hated it. Labeled Jane Austen as crap for many, many years. Want to know what changed my mind? Maturity. Oh, and watching the 2005 movie. Yep, THAT one loathed by Colin Firth lovers everywhere. Once I saw the nuts and bolts of the storyline, I was able to read with pleasure every one of Austen's words. 

And you know what, speaking of Austen's times and much earlier, self-publishing is NOT new. First people to invest in a Gutenberg? Pretty sure they didn't have agents. I'm not excusing work that isn't given even a cursory edit. However, I'm not 100% convinced every book I've bought, especially lately, is given a thorough look-through. I'm not talking about typos, but clunky descriptions, characters I can't stand, and pages and pages full of bleh. Yes, bleh is a technical literary critique term ;) 

At the risk of naming names, I am a huge Sophie Kinsella/Madeleine Wickham fan. Even her cheating Lexi in Remember Me? However, one book I couldn't believe was published by her was Twenties Girl. I am even such a die-hard Kinsella fan, I pre-ordered it back when it came out. A few months ago, it was donated to Goodwill. I thought it was slow. So slow, I couldn't even finish it. I tried five different times to read it, but couldn't find anything remotely redeeming about the characters, ghost or no. 

But I'm not Sophie Kinsella's editor or publisher. I am also in the minority of the review opinions for that book. But what if I WAS her editor or publisher and said "Sophie, this isn't going to work. You're going to alienate your readers and jeopardize your illustrious career." My goodness, that would have been horrible for the hundreds and hundreds of people who loved that book! People who maybe had cranky, overbearing relatives that made Sadie endearing to them (I lack such relatives).  

Thank goodness Sophie Kinsella didn't stop writing. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Mini-Shopaholic. I mean, I laughed so many times my husband asked me to go read upstairs! Maybe it was because I HAVE a 2-year-old. Thank goodness she doesn't say "Mine" yet, but she knows how to grab candy and put it on the conveyor belt at the grocery store when I'm not looking. And she has grabbed my credit card out of my hand to be the one to swipe it through! They learn so fast...

Here's the point. We can't make blanket statements about self-publishing vs. traditional publishing and the quality of work both produce. It's at the individual work level that critiques should be made. I have read horrible self-published works, and horrible works that were published through other means, including commercial outlets. I've played fantastic independently published video games, and seen commercially sold games riddled with spelling mistakes, bugs, and graphical catastrophes. Are we such a corporate-ocracy that we only believe quality exists when it has a company selling it? If so, then I have a Sham-wow to sell you. It's great, because it's made in Germany.... 

G. P. Ching recently talked about the literary bullying that goes on all the time on her blog So Write. The sad part is everyone has had someone come before them. Even those with contracts to scrutinize and a "marketing department at their disposal," had other writers that acted as inspirations or role model. We should be encouraging each other, not tearing each other down. Together, indie published, self-published, or Big 6 published, all of us are fighting to increase readership of books, period. We're competing against TV, video games, and other forms of entertainment. Not each other. And the sooner we realize that the more books in a given genre there are for a fan of that genre, the longer the reader will stay reading and not doing other leisure activities, the better off we'll be.

"CANCELLED" arriving Late Summer 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.

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