Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Self-Publishing

For some reason I have "Blame Canada" in my head this morning.

Also, finished the Dessen novel, and I really liked it. She's got a nice style of writing that's very engaging. And she manages to sneak in good advice without sounding school-marmish.

I would've handled the scene where the primaries (finally) get their first kiss a little differently. I mean, in my opinion, it was a bit wordy. I would've done more, "warm embrace, the world melted away, and it was just... perfect."

Something like that, but a little more polished. You know, give them their moment to savor, and then pick up with the bit about forever and all.

But that's just me. Otherwise, good stuff! I can totally see me reading another of her books.

So to self-publishing! Some people are curious as to why I don't like that option. I've been an editor for years. I've sent back many a bleeding manuscript. I even know how the printing process works. What's the big deal?

Well, one set of reasons is practical, the other is more philosophical.

First, let me say, I'm strictly talking about publishing books. Novels. Not cookbooks or family geneologies or things like that, which are intended for a specific group of people for a specific purpose. I'm talking about self-publishing my work of YA commercial fiction. (I.e., vanity press.)

On the practical side, publishing's expensive. There's also the problem of editing your work. Yes, I'm an editor, and I've even edited the works of tenured Ph.D.s, and guess what? EVERYBODY needs a good editor.

You just need an outsider to read your stuff and make sure all the thoughts that were in your head made it successfully into the story.

It really does take a full six-week break to be able to go back to something you've written and see that "Oh! I thought I explained that better." Or "Wow, I could've expanded on that a little more."

Second, you need a good copy-editor. You just do. Somebody's got to un-split all those infinitives.

Finally, the most important thing, Marketing. I was just telling someone that if I hadn't seen an aritcle in Entertainment Weekly about the "Twilight phenomenon"--this was back when Breaking Dawn was dropped--I would never have picked up a copy and read it. Why would I? I have no tween children. We were still reading Madeline every night.

But I did see that article, and so did a lot of my peers. And Stephanie Meyers thanks us all.

Maybe you don't care to be that successful. (What?) But even to get a little publicity--to get the word-of-mouth wheels turning--takes a lot of effort and time. At least with an actual publisher you get some help with that. I know, the amount varies and is reportedly shrinking.

Coming from a marketing background, that is just so counterintuitive...

As for the philisophical, well, it's about the joy of reading.

Now you've all heard me complain about how long this finding an agent process takes and then how long it's going to take after that to get through publishing and yadda yadda yadda.

But that's just part of it. And the complaining's primarily for laughs because I know that's just the nature of the business. I've also decided to get back into yoga.

It can be discouraging that a big part of one's success seems to hinge on the ability to write a superstar sales pitch that sums up a 300- to 500-page work of fiction in one titilating paragraph. (Angela: "I hate being titilated.")

I can only imagine the mountain of super-great books that are just never going to be published because of this whole query-letter test.

But I do think moving the slush pile out of a few publishing houses and into hundreds of agency offices actually gives more people a shot at being considered--or at least actually read once.

That just brings us back to quality control. I know that a big part of my learning came from the books I read growing up. I learned to communicate effectively, to use language, even some mechanical tricks. (But I was nerdy like that.)

Philosophicaly, there's a certain authority to a printed book. I know, there's a lot of bound garbage out there, but there's also a lot of bound good stuff. Interesting stuff. Fun stuff. Deep and meaningful stuff.

I don't know, it's frustrating and rejections are depressing, but I think authors should resist self-publishing. If everybody's doing it, then where's the value in actually getting it done?

Finally, in conclusion, when you're sick of waiting and you see that icon promising to get your book published for a few hundred dollars, stop. Think: What would Brian Boitano do?

And then send a query to Nathan Bransford.


bamamama said...

I feel your pain on the query letter. I took a class form Gothams Writers in NYC on freelance and the query- I stressed out and got reamed out over the query letter much more than the actual product. It was a helpful class but a bit brutal on the ego. Best of luck to you my friend- I want an autographed copy!!!

LTM said...

yeah, those queries are an artform unto themselves... just when I think I've got a good one, I hate it. :D
Hey, great article on you in the paper yesterday--yay!