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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ignorance is Bliss: More Self-Publishing Nonsense

It amazes me the things people say about the publishing industry. I often wonder if there's a magical world that some of these folks live in that I somehow missed the train to get to. It's almost like an anti-publishing psychosis that leads certain individuals to spout nonsense as if it's fact. I liken this sort of staunch, ignorant anti-traditional-publishing/pro-self-publishing-with-lies to FOX News and its continued claim that it's fair and balance, when clearly it's not (it's not really a news organization either, if you want to get right to it, but most of the T.V. news stations aren't about news anymore--FOX is just more loudmouthed about its inaccuracies).

So, when I saw this post about publishers being doomed and why it doesn't matter, I about choked on whatever I was drinking at the time. The post is full of so much nonsense it's like eating a Glenn Beck/Bill O'Reilly/Rachel Maddow/Keith Olbermann orgy sandwich. Case in point, I give you the following paragraphs (edited down to get rid of the fat):
Yeah? So what. So we lose publishers and book stores. Who cares? The key in Grisham’s statement is where he says, ‘…and though I’ll probably be alright.’ He means writers will be alright. The big scary fact of the matter is that we simply don’t give a tiny damn whether or not a publisher prints a book or an author does. Publishers read, accept, edit, design, print and promote books. At least they used to. I don’t care what anyone tells you, but we do not need the editors. Writers can do that. You write the book and you edit it and you’re done with it. Readers are getting used to reading writers without editors. That’s why blogs are so popular. No editors...No reader cares about Penguin.

There is absolutely no excuse for a writer to work hard on a story, hammering it into existence from nothing, polishing it and making it exactly what he or she wants it to be… and then sit around to wait for some agent or publisher to get back via the U.S. mail so that said writer can be allowed to move on and send out yet another plea for acceptance.
Can you see why I liken this to FOX News? There's so much wrong with this that the only way I can break it down and correct its inaccuracies is to take it to task, piece by piece.

Claim #1 -- Who cares about losing publishers and bookstores? (WRONG)
A lot of people do, including authors. Loss of bookstores means loss of sales. Loss of publishers means authors now have to fork out thousands and thousands of dollars to market their books to even make a reasonable living, while simultaneously fighting off the still legitimate stigma against self-publishing. How many writers do you know who can afford a twenty city book tour across the U.S.? Maybe a few dozen at best, all of them successful because of bookstores and publishers. There are no self-published authors who can meet the financial power of folks like Grisham. None.

Claim #2 -- Grisham means that all writers will be alright (WRONG)
No, Grisham means that he will be alright, which is why he said that he will be alright. Grisham is not a moron. The guy is filthy rich for writing stories that people want. That's reality. If nobody wanted his books, he wouldn't be filthy rich. And when he says he will be alright, he understands that the economy, the way books are being marketed, and the way the publishing industry is changing will ultimate change nothing at all for him. For everyone else that isn't on the same financial tier? They're probably going to suffer.

Claim #3 -- We don't give a damn who prints a book (author or publisher) (WRONG)
If the author actually knew the industry, he'd know this claim is a load of B.S. I don't know who the hell the "we" is, but consumers still care very much about who publishes a book. Authors care too. The assumption in the self-publishing world seems to be that because more people are SPing, that means traditional publishing is losing ground. The reality? The Internet has just made it easier to SP, so more people who might not have done it before because of the cost, are doing it now. That doesn't mean that self-publishing is magically better than it was before POD or the net, it just means that it's bigger because more people can do it. Consumers still pay attention to this and still give a crap about who publishes a book. Sales show this to be true. If this wasn't true, we'd see more self-published books getting the same play as folks like Grisham or Rowling or whomever. Since we don't, this claim is bogus.

Claim #4 -- Publishers don't read, accept, edit, design, print and promote books anymore (WRONG)
Publishers may not be promoting as many books as they have in the past, but they are still promoting books, a lot. In fact, you'd be surprised how many books do get marketing campaigns, however small, thanks to blogging and the like. I regular get emails about books that recently came out that have not be chucked out there like all the big boys. I read some of those books too. They promote books all over the place, but since consumers want more books than they ever did before (even if they don't read them), publishers have to pump out more volumes each year. I don't like it, but consumers do have a lot of power in the book industry.

As for the other stuff: I don't think the author has ever worked for a publisher. I have, and still do. We read, accept/reject, edit, design, and print (well, in digital form) all kinds of books. I mostly do the reading and accepting/rejecting, but I know that someone edits the books and designs them for release. But, then, this whole complaint by the author of the post in question makes no sense when you get to the next section. Why the hell would he care if publishers edit books if he honestly doesn't believe writers need editors? Seems to me that if you don't care about editors, then you also don't care if publishers edit books or just shoot them out there willy nilly. Very contradictory!

Claim #5 -- Writers do not need editors (WRONG)
This statement is so wrong it actually hurts my brain. Writers don't need editors? Are you kidding me? This is like saying that humans don't need oxygen. The only way I can refute this is to show you examples of what is so horribly wrong with this statement. Below you'll see two examples. Any error you see actually exists in the text. If you really want to see the full (or preview) texts for these to confirm how horrible they are, the titles are links to places you can go to read from the source.

From The Patokofus Trilogy: Book One by Ashley Domenic Augustine
The Zoan sewers was a quiet smelly place.
It was filled with rats , alligators and more.
Rats were screeching as they were attacked by a young boy who wielded a bronze sword.
"25, 26, 27 , 28, 29, 30!!" he counted as the rats fell dead to the ground.
An eight year old boy walked in to the sewers.
"Jaden!!!, Jaden!!!" shouted the boy running.
The boy wielding his sword turned to the eight year old.
"Ben what are you doing here?" asked Jaden.
"List was looking for you, she says Ol, Jolly Dex has a job for you, so she sent me to find you she says to meet her at the shop" Ben replied.
"Okay I am done with training for the day" said Jaden as he stretched his arms.
From The New Mars by John L. Manning, Jr.
Tom and Amy get off the jet with their two kids,John and Kimberly, and go straight to the waiting area to wait for the Space Jet to Mars. This is Tom's first time in space, so he read all the pamphlets that were offered to him on the Karman Jet. His wife and kids took the sedatives they were offered at boarding and slept during the three-hour trip to the moon. Tom wanted to experience the flight into orbit that he enjoyed, even though he got sick and needed the bag that was under his seat. He was well informed about space and Mars by the time he got to the moon. When the jet landed at the moon base, Tom woke his wife and kids to a surprise that their feet tended to float. He helped his kids with their moon boots that were weighted books, so they wouldn't float away. Tom's wife Amy had a hard time getting used to the weightlessness of the moon, so she wasn't much help with the kids. Tom suggested that they would just wait in the food court until the space jet to Mars was read for boarding.
I rest my case.

Claim #6 -- Because readers don't care about editors, that is why blogs are so popular (NOT QUITE)
There is a difference between reading a blog and reading a book or a newspaper. Readers are not dumbasses. They know when a product is meant to be edited, and when a product is not. Readers read blogs with this information sitting in the back of their minds. They become more critical when they know that the product they are reading is supposed to be processed and edited in a professional fashion. Blogs are not, generally speaking, done this way, and since readers know that, they know what to expect from a blog.

Claim #7 -- Writers shouldn't work hard and wait on publishers (NOT QUITE)
The part of that statement that bugs me the most is where the author of this piece makes it seem as though you have to wait on a publisher to get permission to start something else. That couldn't be farther from the truth. Publishers actually want you to move on to something else. Why? Because if they buy your product, they probably will ask for first dibs on whatever you have coming next; having that next book started or finished by the time your first book gets published is a good way to keep ahead of the game.

But, to the statement itself: writers should always work hard, period, and waiting on publishers is just the way it works. There's a reason why people still go to publishers: it looks better, you get better products, and you get paid from the start. Rarely are these things not true. Publishers also offer exposure on a level that self-publishing cannot achieve without the author spending incredible amounts of money. Try getting your SPed book into a Barnes & Noble bookstore or Walmart. Not easy is it? Want to know why? Because consumers are not interested in potentially crappy products. They want guarantees. Publishers offer guarantees, and while they do not always deliver, they do have a great track record for keeping consumers happy; this is not true of SPing, and so most bookstores won't carry SPed books precisely because the professional quality is impossible to guarantee.

And that's that. There are other things wrong with the post in question, but it would take a whole series of posts to adequately deconstruct every single incorrect assumption placed there. For now, this should do reality justice.

If any of you have read the piece, please feel free to give me your opinion. The comments section is always open for thoughts!

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14 comments:

  1. Very true.

    The other thing that makes it hard to get a self-published book into bookstores (besides the bookstore and the consumer knowing that such books are usually lower quality) is that publishers can give better prices to bookstores and give back some of the money when books are reported destroyed by the store (or so I've heard). Thus it's cheaper for a bookstore to stock books from Daw or whatever than self-published ones.

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  2. This has a lot to do with sell-back rates. I don't know exactly how it works, but publishers have the finances to guarantee bookstores that they can "buy back" some of the copies that weren't sold. The books are typically "destroyed" at that point (covers are ripped off and mailed back to the publisher, while the book is discarded). This allows bookstores to keep circulating in new titles without losing loads of money; it's a feature that helps the big bookstores more so than the little guys, who don't have the luxury of circulating books in and out all the time.

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  3. Yeah, you can always tell when s**t like this is written by someone who has never, in fact, personally tried to Self-publish a book successfully (by which I mean FINANCIAL success). Those authors always have a) stories of what goes right and what goes wrong, tips on mistakes they made, on surprising concepts that made a positive impact, etc. b) a sincere lack of waxing jingoistic on the rah-rah'ing of SP'ing. They're living the REALITY. Which is always much more sobering.

    I'm a huge believer in SP'ing as a way to learn the ropes of the industry from a first-hand point of view (you'll never blame a publisher for publicity not working when YOU see first hand that the best laid plans don't always work). Also if you can work hard and achieve a certain small fan base, it's a great launching point for future works to get into the hands of larger and larger publishers. SP'ing, like blogging and any sort of digital publishing, is a modern tool, more than it is an absolute end result. Not that it CAN'T be an end result, but just like real publishing, this is only going to be the case for a select few.

    Anyone who says otherwise, hasn't even bothered to actually SP yet.

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  4. Dave: I think it's a good way to see why it is that publishers are so important, but SPers rarely come to that conclusion. They seem to go in one of two directions: 1) The industry is so jaded against all this and I can't get anywhere; 2) Even though I didn't get anywhere, SPing is the greatest thing in the world and has no flaws, unlike that evil traditional publishing with all its evil corporate schemes and evil-nesses.

    As a new "publisher," I can tell you that it's not so simple as printing out a book and expecting success. Sometimes you fail miserably. And everything you do is hard work...and there are loads of lessons to learn :P.

    And yes, if you do develop a small fanbase while SPing, it can lead to bigger deals, but SP people always gloss over that. They see that as a triumph for SPing, when actually it's just a triumph for traditional publishing...

    The difference between not a lot of folks making it in SP and the same in traditional publishing is that with rare exception, in traditional publishing the author is always getting paid. That's not always true of SPing. Sometimes an SPer ends up working at a loss, at least to those that are particularly stupid and go to places that charge to print your books...but you can work at a loss with Lulu or Createspace too!

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  5. Well, heavens, if I had known I was going to piss off a publisher person, I might have been the more gentle me when I posted my argument. I disagree with you on most points - not all - but I have had a great deal of fun reading your post. Doing battle is something that blogs are perfect for.

    But I would like to carve into point number 5, in which you give examples of self publishing writers who could use editors. No, those writers could not use editors. They stink from the basement on up to the spare bedroom. You can't use those examples. You must use very good writers who know what they are doing. Using gibberish is cheating to make your point. No editor worth his or her salary would even finish reading your examples. There aren't enough hours in a workday.

    But I think perhaps you are missing the joke, err... the point. The point is... well, I've forgotten... but essentially this: There is a very tight connection drawn between the artist and business in our time. The connection is so ingrained and unnoticed that you can only break it with a heavy hit... to jar things loose a bit. To make people stumble around and wonder why they are doing things the way people have told them to for decades. To question the very structure upon which one stands is the only true stance of the artist.

    I stand behind my post in its entirety. But I like your post too. Good work. Very few bloggers tear an argument to shreds point by point this way. You've got a new reader.

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  6. Editor: The problem is that the very things you say are going to destroy the publisher allow for those writers to flood the market. As much as we might assume that consumers are savvy enough to avoid them, they aren't, and consumers get very very very pissed off when their money is perpetually wasted. I'm not talking about wasting money on a book that just isn't good, but books that shouldn't have even been printed, with no attention to grammar or spelling. They need the kind of editor who accepts or rejects at a publishing house precisely because they are bad.

    So, yes, I can use those examples. The point is exactly what you said: no editor worth his/her name in gold would accept those works, and thus without the SP system in place, such people would not waste the time of the consumer. They need editors to tell them that they suck.

    The thing is, publishing is going to change, but if it does disappear, then so too does the living writer and the value of the written word as an art form. The field of writing will become a flood of any two-bit wannabe author trying to make a quick buck, and the consumers will be left wandering around in the dark trying to figure out who is worth their $10. The result will be that very few authors will gain respect from the market because consumers will cease to be interested in taking a risk, because there is no guarantee. You'll probably see folks like King or Grisham succeeding precisely because the consumer already trusts them, and that will all be due to the traditional model.

    As it stands right now, publishers are changing with technology, just slowly. When they get on top of their game, they'll dominate, as they always do.

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  7. I agreed with pretty much everything but Claim 3.
    Simply because I really don't care who published the book. For me its a matter of if the book sounds interesting or not, and the publisher/author really doesn't have much of anything to do with it.

    But yeah, good post all the same.

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  8. Mr. Fusspot: Yes, well, you've been wrong before, :P.

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  9. When was the last time I was wrong about a book?
    Was I wrong in picking up Leven Thumps book 4? No...
    Or in any of the three before? No...

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  10. One right choice does not make a sea of correctness, just one right choice in a sea of wrongs. You're a single fish in a wide ocean!

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  11. An example of a sea of product from artists who do not need the help of a 'publisher' or 'production company' can be seen in the world of animation. Thousands of animators are able to produce and show their work on the web at little to no cost, without the intervention of an editor or producer who might seek to make changes.

    And what do we end up with? The greatest explosion of animation in the history of the art form. Yes, there are thousands upon thousands of terrible animations and films in the growing pile. But there are so many good ones that rise to the top of the pile. I have not seen an animated film on television that can compare with many of the magnificent creations available on the web. I spend quite a bit of my own time seeking these out and publicizing them.

    These artists are more than happy to show their work and try to find their own way in making a living from their work. Most of them have little interest in answering to a producer.

    The publishing industry, in its worry and hostility toward the new, sounds to me a whole lot like the music industry sounded to me ten years ago. Scared.

    But there's nothing to fear. The good writers will always make the guy with gun and they will always find a way to make a living.

    Walt Whitman did it. Published his own book many times over. Had fun too.

    The ratio of good material to bad material will always stay the same: at least 90% of everything is crap. So what? With or without editors or publishers, 90% of everything will be crap. But that 10% is where it's at.

    If I ran Penguin or Random House, you know what I'd do immediately? I'd set up the best self publishing empire you've ever seen. I'd blow the doors of the industry and run the whole show. I'd build the YouTube of publishing. That's what I'd do. You know what I mean?

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  12. Editor: All your analogies run on false assumptions. It goes without saying that books are not remotely the same as music or videos. The fact that indie music worked does not mean that indie books will, because the models for consumption are and always will be different for the two mediums.

    So, as much as SP people want to latch onto the success of indie music (a mild success, actually), the reality is that consumers do not buy books the same way they buy music, nor do they consume them the same way, and, therefore, the industries will head down different paths, not analogous ones.

    The Walt Whitman example is also based on a false understanding of history, since Whitman's life coincided with the rise of mass production publishing on top of the already assumed "death" of the poet as valued artist. Whitman, being a poet, took a path that most poets take anyway, precisely because poetry has not been a profitable market for publishers in almost two-hundred years, if not more. If Whitman were a writer of novels, it would still be a false analogy, since his very existence in an emerging market constitutes a logical prevention of mass production of all products; since he was not a novelist, it goes without saying that his unwillingness or inability to take part of emergent mass production had more to do with a complete lack of interest in poetry as a consumable form, and not to do with any of the factors that have contributed to the creation of self-publishing as an industry (primarily an industry if lies and deceptions, the likes of which have only recently begun to be unfolded).

    The thing about Sturgeon's law is that editors are intentionally placed in a position to determined where that 10% is. That's what they are trying to do: find the 10% and put it in print. Self-publishing cannot do that job for the consumer, and, in fact, a lot of SPers seem completely against any sort of quality control system to make it easy for consumers to find products that are worth their money. The only way for SPing to become the dominant form of publishing new material is for it to make consumers happy with logical purchasing structures that leave them with little risk.

    The fact that you find most books printed today to be of crap quality is not indicative of the publishing industry as it stands (traditional, that is) is failing to do its job, or failing to find good works, just that what they publish isn't what you like, for the most part. Consumers, however, as a whole structure, as a mass, have continually told publishers that they are giving them what they want, and so publishers keep putting that out. Sales show this. In fact, sales have been steadily increasing, relatively speaking, and more particularly in certain markets than others, for the last few years in traditional publishing alone. Clearly they are doing something right, and losing one person like yourself who doesn't like what they're selling is of no concern to them. The consumer has spoken; the publisher has provided.

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  13. No. You are thinking like you want to be a businessman. Books are exactly like music and movies. Exactly. They are all information. The information is the only relevant issue. Forget the cardboard book cover. Forget the paper. Forget the celluloid. Forget the CD. Forget the MP3 file. What is important is the information. You can deliver movie, music and book information in exactly the same way. Trust me, I know this because I do it professionally. I am in fact, a publisher's worst nightmare. But that aside, you no longer need a printing press or a movie projector, or a phonograph.

    Sure, things don't flip overnight. These changes come on gradually. But the change has started. I own thousands of books. I love those books. But they are simply crude mechanisms for holding information. They will sooner than later be rather quaint specialty items for collectors. Just like vinyl LPs are now.

    I don't really care that much about self publishing. What I'm mainly focused on is the fact that there is nothing inherently necessary about a publisher or an editor. They are delivery and refinement mechanisms constructed around the central matter which is the expression from the artist; less so in the world of journalism where fact-checking is another problem altogether.

    Sure, editors are helpful in our current system. I've known some brilliant editors. I love them. But the world changes and it is currently throwing its focus back toward the creators. Some creators can write without any external intervention at all.

    And your argument about editors being in position to find the top 10% quality so that people can find it is faulty. It does not match the data. Put 1,000 books or films in big pile online and I will guarantee that the top 10% will be found within 24 hours without an editor. Absolute guarantee. Works every time. You may think that what is picked for the top is crap, but it will have been found and picked and the selection cannot be argued with if you are saying that editors are there to present the good stuff to readers. If the crowd picks, where's the room for the editor or the publisher?

    Editors, by the businessman's logic, are really there to find the 10% that will sell to the public. But the public can do that on its own also.

    I am open to both worlds, however. If publishers experience massive growth and editors raise their salaries, I will be happy because I have nothing but respect for them.

    But if they begin to whither and have less influence on the production of ideas and literature, I will not care too much because I am firmly planted in the reality of change and I enjoy it.

    Jobless publishers will be smart people and will be able to find other jobs rather easily... maybe I'm winking... maybe not.

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  14. Editor: There's just so much wrong with everything you've written here it's impossible to pair it down to direct arguments. Everything you've said here tells me that you have no idea how consumer culture actually works, and that you have no understanding of what a book actually entails. That second one is the one that bothers me the most, because it's the most obvious thing. You do not consume a book like you consume an mp3. That's incontrovertible fact. They are entirely different. You can say they are the same until you're blue in the face, but like Republicans, screaming it over and over doesn't make it true, and the relative success of indie music does not apply to a medium that cannot be tasted without excessive effort on the part of the consumer. This is the problem with everything you're saying. What consumers should or can do is not what they actually do. All evidence runs contrary to everything you are saying. You're arguing in the same way that the folks who think we lived with dinosaurs do, and the result is a mess of illogical, factually insufficient nonsense that is contradicted on almost every single point by reality.

    So, to take you to task again for all that is wrong with this newest comment would be, quite literally, a waste of time. It's wrong from the very first word.

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