Saturday, February 14, 2009

POD Publishing: why do it? And ... why not?

Writing has been likened to bashing your head against a wall -- with one exception: it's not so great when you stop. I guess this is because writing is in your blood, something you do because it's ... what you do; and the fact is, you'll do it whether anyone is reading what you write, or paying you, or not! Writing is a vocation, like religion, medicine, the law.

Publishing is a different can o' worms (or kettle of fish, if you prefer). Publishing is like jabbing yourself in the foot with a sharp stick. In terms of the pain and anguish you're inflicting upon your anatomy, it's about the same ... but it can actually do you more physical damage! Let's face it, if you give your head a good enough bash on the wall the first time out, you're going to knock yourself right out -- and I ought to know! I did this last week! (See also Gay novelist, battered and fried.) Technically, you could jab yourself with a sharp stick enough times to do a whole lot more damage --

Which is where the publishing analogy becomes utterly perfect. Publishers are gluttons for punishment, especially the self-marketing variety. They could stop anytime. But, do they? No. We go on, bashing our heads (and jabbing our feet) when we know that every single day we're going to be up against unutterable rubbish like this:

Six reasons that self-publishing is the scourge of the book world.

...and I cannot tell you the degree to which this article is wrong in its sweeping statements. The blood boils. Consider this:

1. No one vetts self-published books, allowing even the most puerile piles of crap to adopt the guise of polished, professional prose.

Point one: Mr. Tom Barlow, you must stop generalizing on this first line. All self-published works are not the same, and some are vetted to destruction point. Some will be proofread many more times, by more pairs of eyeballs, than could plausibly be assigned to them by "small" publishing houses who can't afford a large enough editorial staff to do a proper job. (Point two: drop the alliteration. It makes you sound like an over-inflated idiot.)

2. Self-publishing kills the drive for writers to improve their craft. The artificial, undeserved success they will achieve will trap them in mediocrity.

This is such utter piffle, I was speechless for a moment. Mr. Barlow, who told you this? You were sold a priceless line of BS. The drive to improve one's craft is born in a writer, and continues to flow in his or her veins irrespective of whether they're published (slim chance) or not.

Editors do little to inspire writers to improve, because the process of editing any but the bestselling author is so robotized, so impersonal. You mail your manuscript in; a year later you get the galleys back, and a few days to read through them. You have no real idea of what was done to the work, or why, you just check it for errors and mail it back as fast as humanly possible.

And what gremlin whispered into Tom Barlow's naive ear, that a self-publishing author of a "puerile pile of crap" is going to achieve any kind of success whatsoever? Does he think books sell themselves? Does he honestly believe readers will buy a book without having read at least 10% of it as a free download, seen the cover at full-size, and read numerous reviews, either online or in the print media?

Any copes sold, anywhere, any time, are the result of massive amounts of hard marketing work by the author, and before it could start, said author had to have a real, solid work to go out there and sell. The rubbish he's describing exists -- by the wagonload -- on Amazon, on Lulu, and "wherever books are sold." The point he's missing is this: "puerile piles of crap" DO NOT SELL COPIES. Their authors do not enjoy success, artificial or otherwise, and what traps them in mediocrity is their own -- mediocrity.

3. Self-publishing demeans the accomplishments of successful authors.

Wrong, Mr. Barlow, on so many levels, I barely know where to begin to take this to pieces. I was a highly successful niche author with a swag of fully professional credits. I was a very successful author with a swag of credits to my name -- until my publisher disappeared in a triple business merger which made the paperback list vanish into the mist. I was stranded without a publisher, and was far from alone in having a full-professional backlist, and a suitcase of current works which are better-edited and better-prepared than they have ever been -- and not a damned thing to do with them, unless they are issued POD. Several other writers were caught in the same business deal, and ten years on, we're all still picking ourselves up, driving forward, and making something positive of ourselves, our skills, and our intellectual properties.

What constitutes a "successful writer" in your canon, Mr. Barlow? A bestseller? They represent the top few percent of the writing community, and the rest of us look with skepticism upon them, sharing the serious suspicion that bestsellers are manufactured by hype and advertising. Some such books are "puerile piles of crap," while gems of literature are found languishing on the dung heaps of remainder tables.

If bestselling authors choose to poise on their soapboxes and view the rest of us with the lofty disdain Mr. Barlow intimates, when he states as a fact that the small victories we enjoy as the result of backbreaking hard work "demean the accomplishments" of million-copy sellers, then I have only one desire: to see a flock of pigeons fly over and, mistaking the figure on the soapbox for a statue, do their pigeon thing before they continue on their way.

There's more -- Barlow's driveling feature article goes on for some time -- but I'm done commenting, with one exception:

He can't count, either. His ridiculous piece is called Six reasons that self-publishing is the scourge of the book world. However, he rounds up on FIVE reasons, after having missed #3 completely and numbering his list 1,2,4,5,6.

With such great attention to detail, he should be an editor.

Okay --

Rant over for today.

But sometimes, really, somebody has to say something, or this kind of nonsense will take on the aspect of rational, reasonable journalism. Perish the thought.

I'll leave you with a couple of links here:

The Valentine's Day segment of LEGENDS is up;
As through a glass... is my post to Digital Kosmos today.

Happy Valentines to all Aussies and Kiwis!



Jude said...

You missed #3 because it was in the same paragraph with #2.

3. Self-published authors are the bane of bookstore managers everywhere.

Loved your blog though! :)

Ben said...

Good call. Targeting any specific group competing for a voice for negative commentary is also known as bigotry.

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