The perspective on DIY is the most difficult gap between writing and music for me to come to terms with. I’ve talked about this before, I’m sure I will again. The more I see on the publishing side of the fence the more the argument for the traditional process seems to come down to self-definition and ego.
“Real” writers are put out by traditional publishers, I empathize with that still, aspire to it still. But it’s changing. Established authors, fortunate enough to control their back catalog, are beginning to turn to self publishing ebooks because it gives them control and greater income potential.
The knock on self publishing has always been the amount of unedited, hackneyed garbage that clots the markets. However, the argument that having been vetted and validated by a traditional publisher makes self publishing acceptable now is gaining momentum. The wisdom of the gatekeepers is still looked at as wisdom, but there are exceptions.
Authors like nothing more than getting paid for their work, and as the landscape changes ebooks are becoming the field of play for getting paid. Here’s a little discussion from the Shocklines board about the decline in author advances to chew on.
There is no shortage of shitty stories that publishers have let through the gate. There is no shortage of horrible music everywhere you turn. The gatekeepers are searching for product they are not searching for art. A product does not have to be good, it merely has to appear good. With the diminished retail shelf life (and shelf space) of books, and companies forgoing marketing for hype, they don’t even need to appear good for very long. I have read a number of books on reputable imprints, that are frankly uninspired. Maybe its personal taste, some of these books have been very well received. But it doesn’t bolster my faith in the gatekeepers.
Mark Samuels has an eloquent take on “success” and publishing he recently re-posted from a diatribe written back in 2007.
My take with music and my record label was that those who were seeking the kind of thing I was releasing would find it. I did limited, targeted promotion and submissions for review but refrained from whoring about and flapping my arms to get people to buy the records. Word of mouth being the ideal mode of promotion, my hope was that thoughtful reviews and thoughtful listeners would generate interest.
Carlton Mellick III recently posted a great piece on his site about the evolution of word of mouth and the role that e-book sites, particularly Amazon, can play in drawing readers to little know writers.
It irritates me that I think about this stuff as much as I do. But as someone who is beginning to build a collection of writing and starting to submit, it feels like a necessary evil. If I am going to put my work into the world to be judged, and knowing it will be judged not only by the work but by the means of delivery, it is something I have to consider.
I self released the first Gruntsplatter material on Crionic Mind as split releases with other artists. This lead to getting signed to “real” record labels, and allowed me to release other artists on my label because my work was being handled by others. What started as a “vanity” label became a “real” record label. That was my plan from the get go and it worked out. I wanted to start a publishing arm to Crionic Mind for years, but at this point in my life I am kind of over that. I have spent enough time focusing on other people’s work and standing around at the Post Office.
So, when I look at the lean options for submitting work, the pay rates, and so forth. . . I have to wonder about the effectiveness of sending to an obscure magazine that might pay enough to go out to dinner or releasing a small collection as an e-book that offers the potential to generate more. I myself have never purchased self published an e-book from an author that hasn’t gone through traditional publishing route and I am apprehensive to do so. When looking at the Amazon sales charts, it’s clear that others do. J.A. Konrath’s blog makes a compelling argument for its potential.
After all of this, I still don’t have an answer. I will be trying traditional routes for the time being, but at a certain point I can see giving the self published e-book route a go. The definition of who is a writer, and who is an author is changing. I have to come to terms with that as well. Is it better to have a limited edition book of 300 or so that pays a little something and produces an artifact in the form of a book, or is it better to put out stories that can continue to generate income and interest in a format that has little prestige? How much of that self-definition and ego do I have a need for? And how much do I just hope I can write stories that mean something to me and have the ability to resonate with others? Put that way, it seems rather obvious.