Monday, March 21, 2011

Restless Anchovies

Once again, Elle Strauss had this amazing video on her blog Friday (link, in case you missed it). This time it was Margaret Atwood talking about the evolution and future of publishing. She compared writers to anchovies growing restless in the new publishing waters.

She talked about the United Artists model where actors Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglass Fairbanks, etc., started their own production company to have more control over their careers and get a bigger percentage of the money for their work.

Atwood's point was, in this new world of electronic publishing, it doesn't make sense for authors to be paid less for an ebook than a paper book, and her implication was that authors could band together to produce and market their own books.

It sounds fantastic. And Atwood is a writer talking to an audience of writers. So there was a lot of love for this idea. Heck, I even loved the sound of this idea!

But reality check: this was Margaret Atwood talking about self-publishing. I'm sure if she and Stephen King and John Grisham all decided to start doing it themselves, they'd have a pretty easy time producing books and being profitable. I'm not so sure it would work for the real anchovies like you and me.

And I have to come clean about something else: I'm not a big fan of self-publishing.

Sure it's great for small projects for a set audience--like a family reunion book, or a book of recipes, or my mom's Bible studies--but in general for mass-market consumption, I think it has... control issues.

Most of you know I worked as an editor for more than a decade in the academic setting and most recently at a local magazine, so perhaps I have a bias. But publishers actually do do more than just make money off writers. At the very least, the editors do.

I edited manuscripts for Ph.D.s, non-Ph.D.'d smart people, experienced writers, very good writers, and I can tell you this: every writer needs a good editor. Even Margaret Atwood. Heck, even Stephen King. (Who's read Insomnia? I haven't, but JRM did...)

If you continue watching through to the Q&A portion of Atwood's lecture, she explains what a good editor does and why she still needs one. So that's the main reason I don't care for self-publishing.

But there's also the marketing side. Imagine having to spread the word all by yourself to the billions of readers out there. Going up against the billions of books already published, the free books, the ones being pushed by the establishment and/or hired publicists...

There's also a quality control element. Self-publishing opens the floodgates to all the garbage out there just waiting to be washed ashore. All the needles, plastic bags, condoms, oil. Remember that guy who wrote and self-published through Amazon the "how to" guide for pedophiles?

Think about it, people. All those inappropriate, unproofed, repetitive, plot-holed, earnest, and sometimes brilliant works of literature.

Yeah, I know, Is that really an argument? That stuff happens anyway, and what? Am I over here advocating the suppression of ideas? What is this? Hitler's Germany?


I don't know. Maybe it could work. As I already confessed, I really like the United Artists model. Mostly because I've got critique partners that include these guys (their names are links):
Every one of these ladies is a fantastic writer, and when they send me a MS to read, I send it back to them covered in notes on where something could be stronger or where they must rework a section or where they repeated themselves, where I got lost... but more importantly where I laughed, cried, punched JRM and a read a passage aloud to him it was just. that. brilliant.

And/or they do the same for me.

So maybe we could do it together. We could be editors for each other, help each other publicize...

And after Talli's successful ebook launch via social media, and Nathan B.'s heads up about Amanda Hocking and Kindle millionaires, maybe it could be profitable...

Sigh. I'm still skeptical. I'm not ready to declare a mutiny just yet. But at the same time, it really doesn't make sense to me that authors should get paid less for a cheaper medium.

What do you guys think about the United Artists model? Self-publishing? Editors, publishers and the future of publishing? Restless anchovies?

Personally I lament the loss of bookstores. Til Thursday, reader- and writer-friends~ <3


Laura Pauling said...

I think this will happen more and more with frustrated writers. And I think self publishing is losing a little bit of it's bad stereotype. I think there are a lot of readers out there and some readers only read self-published books on their ereader for the low price. I'm not going to say never, but I still think it will be an incredible amount of work, even more than usual.

Jessica Bell said...

This is such an amazing post. I too feel a little like you do about self-publishing. And I've VERY sceptical to read, let alone BUY a self-published book. But I have read a couple that are just brilliant. I'm actually reading one right now. But there are some naive little buggers who think they can just put a book out there after a couple of revisions. No way. Maybe there's some way to EDUCATE these people? And perhaps then Marg's idea would work better for the tiny anchovies. But I dunno. How do you reach out far enough to teach the tiny anchovies in teh first place?

Vicki Rocho said...

Hey woman! Long time no see (totally my fault, of course)! What a great post to come back to.

I'm all for self-publishing in THEORY. I like that we would have more control and pocket more of the profits. But until there is a reliable way to work out the editing / cover art / publicizing pieces, I won't be jumping on that bandwagon.

KM Nalle said...

As a new writer (and Kindle owner) this is an interesting topic to me. I used to be all up in arms about higher priced e-books until I read Nathan Bransford's post on pricing models. Opened my eyes right up.

I've read more than a few self published books that were *cough* less than ready.

I'm starting revisions so I get to stay out of the fray for a bit longer. See what happens in the meantime. :)

Matthew MacNish said...

I would never self publish. I know there are some people getting pretty rich off of it, but that's not why I write. I write to tell great stories, and IMHO traditional publishing is the best way to accomplish that. If I can't manage that, then I will try a independent small press, but never self.

walk2write said...

Personally, I'm not that concerned about it yet, but it's interesting to see how quickly things are changing in publishing. I've read here and there that there's some stigma involved with self-publishing, but maybe that attitude will fade.

Thanks for this post. It's turning some thought wheels for me.

Carolyn Abiad said...

All I know is that I need some way to afford my cheese sandwiches! ;)

Thanks for the shout out! I have a totally ridiculous, not-related-to-writing-at-all post up today about...stuffed cabbage. ;p Wednesday will be more interesting, I promise!

Tara said...

I'm with you for pretty much the same reasons. I especially worry about all the excess garbage that will be floating around the, uh, Kindlesphere?, in a few years.

I'm totally excited to head over to Carolyn's blog and see what she's got going on with stuffed cabbage now. No really. I love it and my MC even makes it. Yum.

JRichard said...

Ultimately even SK was frank about Insomnia. For what it's worth, there's a nice strong 350-page story buried in that 900-page behemoth.

My vicarious perception of your experience trying to break into the standard commercial fiction market, coupled with my own professional experience, leads me to somewhat reluctantly agree that there is aesthetic AND commercial benefit to the author-agent-editor process; or, at least to the author-editor process. I liken it to bringing a lawsuit: The best plaintiff-oriented lawyers I know spend most of their regular work days SCREENING AND TURNING DOWN cases. Why? Well, because not everyone who things s/he has a strong claim against someone or something else really does. And, probably, the best of the best wind up turning down cases that have merit because there is lower-hanging fruit, so to speak.

Now, I confess that while I like Margaret Atwood, I didn't view the link. My question is this: Is the problem with author-agent-editor model; with the author-editor model; or simply the "big publishing house motivated by profit and not content" model? Again, I agree that there is value to the author-editor model, and presumably that could be preserved in some form or fashion in an independent "writers collective." Electronic editing is as easy if not easier than electronic publishing. So are we really talking about squeezing out the agents? Because, again, my vicarious experience of your experience makes me suspicious of that part of the standard process. . .

LTM said...

@JRM: *sigh* I miss your brains when you're out of town working... :o\

You summed it up for me--a UA-style writer's collective which included a strong editing component (meaning honest as well as skilled) is the only way I could envision myself going the self-publishing route.

And with the right people, we could incorporate word of mouth to help each other with marketing.

Good stuff. Miss you~ <3

LTM said...

@Laura--sorry! didn't realize I couldn't email you back--I agree that the waters are going to get cloudy, and while self-publishing was growing in popularity when there was only a print option, I see it exploding now that ebooks are so easy to make.

As I said right up there, a UA-style model's the only way I'd consider it. And then I'd still want to have a few traditional books under my belt. At least for my personal need for credibility. :D <3 Thanks, girl~

Colene Murphy said...

Quality control is my biggest beef with self publishing. I mean, great writers do it, but so do terrible ones...As hard as getting published the agent, editor route, I firmly believe in the rhyme and reason behind it. But, yea, the way things are changing, is some big names got into the game that way, it could make a difference. Not small unpublished fishes, though.

Unknown said...

An interesting post. All writers need a good editor and that's what puts me off reading self-published books. There will be too much dross out there.

On the other hand, I have several author friends who've self-published books which were originally published traditionally and to which they now hold the rights. Who can blame them for self-publishing those books and cutting out publishers' and agents' percentages?

Old Kitty said...

Personally if I'm serious about my writing I would definitely choose the more traditional one of finding an agent and being accepted by a well established publishing company able to spend editorial time and marketing money and artwork expenses on my book. I would love a hardback edition before a paperback one! LOL! I would love a decent e-book price too! I would love for my novel to be sold internationally. I would like to think that my novel is worth that much at least!

But this is just my dream!! Good luck to y'all doing the self-publishing route - you are hardier more determined more focused souls than me!!! Take care

LTM said...

Hi, Shirley! Yep, that's how I feel exactly, and I don't blame your friends. Although, that's slightly different from straight self-publishing as their books have already been through "the process." Yes?

Good stuff. And thanks for visiting~ :o) <3

Lydia Kang said...

I'm still in the traditional route game for now. I can see the allure of self pubbing, but right now, for all those reasons you stated, not for me right now.

Stina said...

I saw an article today about a best selling thriller author who turned down a $500 000 deal so he could self publish his next novel. All I could think was: "What? Did no one edit your previous novels?"

I don't buy self published novels. No need to. My shelves are overflowing with traditonally published books as it is. No way am I taking my chances with something that hasn't gone through the standard riggers of publishing. ;)

Unknown said...

I like how you tried on both sides. Sometimes I like the idea of just going ahead and doing things myself. It would feel good to just finally DO something, instead of the seemingly incessant wait for traditional publishing.

On the other hand, I've witnessed too many self-publishing efforts that just did NOT get enough editing done. I think of my own projects, how I'd considered self-publishing a couple years ago, and so glad I didn't just because my work has gone through so much editing since then. It was nowhere near ready to be published, even though at the time, I thought it was. I'm afraid this might be the experience of more than a few self-publishers.

Thanks for the great post and good food for thought!

Tracy said...

I feel the same about the self-publishing. It's not that I think NO ONE can produce a well-done self-pubbed book. But I'm skeptical because of all the junk that washes ashore, as you put it. And while publishing part of self-pubbing might be easier than the traditional route, getting people to give your story a chance and take you seriously is likely an infinitely harder task!

I love this post, and I didn't even talk about the United Artists model.

Patti said...

I've talked to self published authors and a lot of them want to get into traditional publishing, because they realize how much work the marketing is.

But I just read a blog today about a famous author (name escapes me right now) that just turned down 500k to self publish, so I think it's already happening.

PK HREZO said...

I love the idea. I would be on board with a group like this... writers/editors who are self-motivated and ready to roll. I, for one, love the alternative self-pubbing offers. We are talking about readers here... readers who don't notice or look for the same things agents look for. Sure, the readers have to go thru their own slush now with eBooks, but that's their choice and the stories are at their disposal to pick and choose from. There are some brilliant stories that'll never get pubbed traditionally because it wasn't what agents were looking for at the time. But the readers out there may just fall in love with it. I much prefer going the traditional route, but let's face it, it may not be an option. Hasn't been yet, and where Ive had beta readers who loved a story, agents didn't. SO why wait? I haven't decided to do it yet, but I love that it's an option for me.

Unknown said...

Sorry it took me so long to comment! I wanted to set aside time to watch Ms. Atwood's presentation in full.

First of all, how adorable is she? She is smart as a tack.

Also, thank you for the shout out! You are an amazing editor. The world needs you times 7 billion. (everyone could use a little editing)

I completely agree with you and if you choose to branch off and form your own united writers league, I'm in.

So many thoughts on this one, I think it deserves its own blog post. Tomorrow...

Talli Roland said...

These are great points, Leigh! I've been hearing a lot of ideas lately about writer co-ops, where self-pubbed writer would band together to help provide the all-important quality control. Is that the answer? I don't know.

As a writer with a small press, I do see the benefit to having an editor and professionals around you to guide you. But I do see why writers would want to strike out on their own. They can hire an editor, a cover designer, etc AND take home all the profits. Self-pubbed does not automatically mean poor quality.

I've rambled on a bit now with no clear answer and I guess what I'm saying is... I really don't know!

Thanks for the shout-out! :)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

gah! I thought I commented on this one already. I must have read it and then got distracted ro something. lol. ANYway, I agree with you regarding self publishing. It's essential to get an editor -- a real editor -- not a writing friend doing a favour.

RaShelle Workman said...

lEIGH - I can't get over how it seems everyone is talking about self-publishing lately. I went that route, sold several hundred books, but as you said, I needed a good editor. The novel would've been much better. So, I guess if a bunch of great writers banded together and helped each other out, we'd probably do okay.

The other big problem is marketing. Oye, what a headache.

Great post, girl!

Ellie Garratt said...

Tough questions that need a lot time and thought, as I work towards finishing my first novel. The biggest concern for me about self-publishing is quality. You can self-publish and be successful, but you do need critique partners, beta-readers and the services of an excellent editor. Ignore all those stages at your peril!

LTM said...

@PK--The model you described is exactly the thing that could work, if it's done right. It would be an interesting alternative, and I wonder how it would change the game.

It would take a LOT of self discipline, however. It's tough holding your own feet to the fire w/revisions, and if you read those Hocking posts, you see how much time she spends "not writing."

I guess we'll see, yes? :o) <3

Creepy Query Girl said...

I think its a useful tool. I also think it works for some, but not for others and I also think that if you're a writer who is unable to go the normal route for whatever reason- its great to be able to publish that way. I was thinking about publishing one of my earlier books via epublishing because I need the motivation to whip it into shape. I don't think it's the book that will snag me an agent or a traditional publisher but I DO think its a worthy enough book to be read, kwim?

Jennie Bailey said...

I'm with you on Team Skeptical. I have a great Critique Group but I'm not sure that the four of us can get each other's manuscripts ready for the world. I would feel more comfortable with that last line of defense before it hits the shelves. My girls are great, but it's possible to miss things when you get caught up in a story. It's nice when one of us catches something that the other three missed, but the hubster read through and caught a few things we all missed! I will not believe that there will be a day without bookstores until there is one. Too many of us still love to hold the actual book. We have collections that the Kindle doesn't add to.

And for the record, not big on anchovies. Unless they're swimming in the sea...

M Pax said...

I agree on the quality control issue. I think writers will take more revenue out of the mouth of the traditional publishing models as time goes on.

There's the in between with the smaller houses.

Angela said...

I think if I ever go the self publishing route that I will need to have a heck of a lot more time for self-promotion than I do now. :)

DEZMOND said...

I'm also not a fan of self-publishing, unless you are a millionaire writer who has his/hers own publishing house :)
Self-published books usually are quite bad, not always, but most usually.

Ella said...

I think a team needs to be behind a book, to editor and tweak and make the story, book, work into a tighter, more precise art form. I know not all of these works are, but they can't come close with self-publishing. But in reality, I don't know, just feel it is a process.
One can't be a great model without her team of experts, one can't play great a great ball game without their team...! I do like the idea of bouncing ideas off others who know, whose feet are in the door! Sounds amazing~xXx

SweetMarie83 said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It's always interesting to hear new ideas and get people's perspective on matters like self-publishing.

I think self-publishing CAN be great. I think it has the potential to be great and I know there are quite a few successful indie authors out there right now, selling books by the thousands and making really good money. I also think there's a lot of crap out there, but that doesn't mean there's not a lot of crap in the bookstores either. I've been thinking more and more lately about e-publishing, not because it's the easy route and not because I don't think I could be traditionally published if I tried, but because I want my work read and it doesn't matter to me how that happens. Yes, I want to make a living, but being traditionally published doesn't guarantee that anymore than being self-published means I won't be able to make a living.

I think that with social media and the number of book bloggers out there (I'm just now realizing the insane number of book bloggers there are), it's possible for really good self-published authors to make a name for themselves. I have a couple of people willing to look my work over and proofread and edit but I wish I had people like you and the friends you talked about who will actually critique and give feedback and criticism. If every self-published author did that (or every author in general), maybe we could eliminate a lot of the crap out there!

LTM said...

@SM83--so glad you stopped by and joined in! I do agree that SP can work, too. The problem I think is that many folks who go this route can't accept that their babies need more work. That's a tough one!

Also, those fantastic editors I keep talking about? Well, they've got mouths to feed as well. So while critters are your first line of defense, they're not the same. They CAN be, but typically you gotta pay for that. :o)

In other news: Girl! Get yourself in there and get you a group of Crit Partners! There are plenty of writers out there looking, and I know if you start asking, you'll find a good group. Start in your genre--or! There's a blog now for it... can't remember the name. :o\ Perfect match, maybe?

All the best of luck to you~ <3

TL said...

New Video link:

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