Friday, March 25, 2016

There's Room For Everyone On the Virtual Bookshelf

I've had it.

I mean it. I can't stand it anymore.

My tolerance for literary bulls**t has dipped to a critically low level.

The way I see it, traditionally published authors and indie authors are like two siblings in the backseat on a lengthy car ride to grandma's house.

Most of the time, they're sitting quietly and playing nice. Other times, they're slapping, screaming, biting and ripping each others hair out.

This last week, for instance, an author from the traditionally published camp wrote a narrow-viewed blog post expressing her belief that self-publishing is somehow a bad idea for a serious novelist who loves to write.

The post was met with scathing retorts from her peers (like this one), as well as tweets and posts of disgust and derision by nearly every indie author who read it.

It's time for this to stop. I'm pulling the car over and, in my best mom voice, I'm yelling, "I don't care who started this fight. I'm gonna finish it."

(Well, I probably won't finish it, but I'm going to do my best to sort out of a few things.)

Indie authors listen up

I'm a mom and, like all stereotypical moms, I have a personal anecdote about my experience with publishing.

*Cue sappy "Full House" resolve music*

At one time, I wanted more than anything to be traditionally published. I wanted an agent and a contract and an advance -- the whole ball of wax (or yarn or whatever other kinds of balls make you happy).

I read industry blogs, subscribed to magazines, entered contests and worked my tail off to write what I thought was the best novel ever.

When I finished what I believed was the next NYT best seller, I sent out queries and squealed with glee every time I got a request for a partial, especially when I received one from my dream agent, Rachelle Gardner.

I can't begin to express the devastation I felt when she later sent me a rejection letter.

I went through the five stages of rejection grief.

  1. Denial -- She must've mixed up my partial with a crappy one written by someone else. 
  2. Bitterness -- She wouldn't know a best seller if it bit her in the arm. I'll show her. I'm going to make her a character who's cursed with giant 80s hair and a perpetual girl mustache in my next story. 
  3. Depression -- Oh God, it is me. My writing sucks. My story sucks. My life sucks. 
  4. Self-Doubt -- I'm never going to be good enough. I'm giving up and taking up underwater basket-weaving instead. 
  5. Resolve -- So, maybe she was right. I mean, compared to authors she represents, there definitely are things I can improve. Maybe I should go back to the drawing board and see if I can make this better. 
Anyone who knows me or regularly reads this blog knows what eventually happened: Real life got in the way of my goals to be a traditionally published author, and I fell away from working on any sort of fiction for a long, long time. 

When I finally came back to it, I had a different idea of who I was, what I wanted out of life and the kind of story I needed to tell. I combined everything I learned from those industry blogs and articles with advice I had received from beta readers and used that knowledge to rewrite my novel in a manner I felt was worthy of traditional publication.

I did not, however, pursue traditional publication again. I didn't want to, and I didn't need to. I received an offer to be published in perhaps the most nontraditional way possible.  

But the point is I developed a set of standards based on people I respected in the publishing industry, and I didn't give myself the green light to publish until I felt those standards were met. I think most indie authors do this nowadays, but there are a few who don't, and those few bad apples are spoiling things for the rest of us. 

Unfortunately, we're going to have to deal with that until each and every writer who decides to self-publish knows how detrimental it is to the rest of us when they slap their name on crap and stick it on Amazon because they can.

We're on the right path. One of the best parts about being an indie is the support the indie writing community provides for one another.

Considering the vast improvement in the quality of self-published books over the past couple of years, I think great things are on the horizon.

But there's a lot of heat coming from the traditional camp.

It's not all of you. In fact, the majority of you traditionally published authors are fantastic and so are your books.

But you know that adage I slaughtered earlier -- one bad apple spoils the whole darn bunch

Well, there are a few trads and trad-wannabes out there who are giving you guys a bad name, too. It's not the quality of their writing or their need to further hone their craft that is creating a sour environment (although...); it's the judgmental, elitist attitude some of them exhibit when they dip their brush in poo and paint all self-published authors with the same broad stroke. It creates a sense of animosity in the literary world that doesn't need to exist.

I know it's not your fault, just like it's not my fault when a guy named Jack Hammer decides to self-publish the memoir he scribbled last week based on his experience going through life with a ridiculously ironic moniker.  (My apologies if there are any authors named Jack Hammer who've penned a memoir.)

The point is broad strokes expose narrow minds.

There are a ton of self-published authors out there shelling out loads of cash to pay for the services traditionally published authors receive from their publishing companies just so they can retain creative control, as well as pricing and marketing control of their books.

That doesn't make one better than the other. It simply means one chooses to do things differently. And there's room for everyone on the virtual bookshelf.

So in true author-mom fashion, all I can say is, "If you hellions don't knock it off, I'm turning this car around and NOBODY gets to go anywhere."

* * *

Kathryn Harris is an award-winning journalist whose debut novel "The Long Road to Heaven" was released in May 2015 and published as a serial on a daily newspaper website.


S.T. MArch said...

I'd like to share this with every author I know, trad and indie alike, and tell them, "Listen to your mother!" This is excellent.

Lissa Johnston said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lissa Johnston said...

Good response. I've scheduled this and the related articles for tweets soon. I hope others will read the Ros Barber article for context (and btw I hope he/she is getting the validation he/she clearly needs by not only getting the article published, but managing to lick trad publishing's boots in the process). Good writers know when the work is ready to publish and when it isn't. Good writers know how to budget their time so that neither the work nor the marketing suffers. Good writers know how to finesse their marketing efforts so that the rest of us don't suffer. I have no problem with writers who yearn for the stamp of approval from trad pub. I've been there. It's fun to open that acceptance letter. The trad pub argument makes sense as long as you don't visit any bookstores and see what junk is getting published, and how few marketing services are included, and how little money you make once everyone else has taken their cut. The only way it makes sense to me is getting a great deal after your self-pub book has proven itself, and in the process proved trad pub wrong, and they come knocking at your door hat in hand.

Terry Mominee said...

"...broad strokes expose narrow minds." Perfectly stated. Great posting on what needs to have been a subject that fell by the wayside years ago. Guess we're still waiting for many of us to reach adulthood.

Terry Mominee said...

"...broad strokes expose narrow minds." Perfectly stated. Great posting on what needs to have been a subject that fell by the wayside years ago. Guess we're still waiting for many of us to reach adulthood.