Monday, January 20, 2014

The Path To Publication

I've been asked, especially recently, why I chose the path of traditional publishing over trying one of the avenues of self-publication.  Frequently in the past, I was more or less told I was making the wrong choice. 

Once I was even told, "You just want to see your book in bookstores." 

I found this a fascinating rebuke.  Of course I want to see my books in bookstores.  That's where people buy books.  I mean, yes, the digital models have made the methods of distribution more diverse, but they haven't eradicated the old ones.  The old ones are still pretty vibrant.  The old ones are still how quite a few readers acquire their books.  Why would I want to deliberately exclude those readers?

Now, I won't say that self-publishing is wrong in a vacuum, in that every person's situation is unique. There can be really good reasons to do it.  However, I think there are also very wrong reasons to do it.  This is the sorts of argument I see:

"Unfortunately there are thousands of us out there who can't even get a publisher to look at our work so it's self-publish or nothing!"

I find this either/or look at it interesting.  "Self-publish or nothing!"  Why is "Try to write better" not a consideration?   I wonder how many of these people declared defeat before really trying.  They bought into the myth that it can't be done, so they didn't bother.

It isn't easy.  John Scalzi just recently compared it to playing in major league baseball, and I think that's pretty apt.  It's long, hard work, and it takes patience and perseverance.  

So over the next few entries, I'm going to talk about my path to this point.  As part of that, I'm going to include "If I had self-published at this point" along each step of the journey.  Because, as I said, I don't think self-publishing is definitively the wrong path to take... but it would have been the wrong path for me.


Unknown said...

Marshall, great blog post. This is an area writers should talk about and be open minded about options.

I'm surprised you've gotten flack for going the traditional route to publish. The psychology behind this type of critique is a little puzzling. It seems like an ugly kind of jealousy.

I don't think there is anything wrong with self-publishing, and I've read some excellent self-published books, but it's not for everyone. I've also found some self-published books that are so poorly written I can't read them.

I've been asked to review self-published books. I decline to review them more often than not because the quality of the writing is substandard. I can't justify putting a completely negative review on my blog--I'm not sure who would benefit from it. Plus, I don't have any desire to wade through a 400 page book I don't want to read.

Although the road to traditional publishing is difficult, there is something to be said for writers learning and practicing their craft. Read any writer's biography, and you'll quickly discover that most were rejected time and again, but they continued to write and improve their draft. I believe Ray Bradbury papered a wall with his rejections.

I'm sure you'll address this in future posts, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

Writing and storytelling are art forms, which I believe can be learned, but for most of us, it's hard work. Becoming a professional requires learning and mastering your craft. As with any apprenticeship, it take lots of practice to become a master.

Rob said...

Yes. I look forward, as always, to your blog posts. When I see that yellow shirt, I know I'm going to read it!

I spent about ten years and collected 500 rejects for 12 sales and have decided to go the self-pub route. I'd love to someday be hybrid as I think that would offer the literal (and literary?) best of both worlds [Cue Star Trek-Next Gen Theme music.] for authors.

Unknown said...

First, congratulations on your recent sale. That's quite an accomplishment, and you have every right to be proud of it.

I'm not sure that I agree with your assessment that all self-publishers choose that route due to inadequate comprehension of the quality of their writing. I will admit that many such individuals exists, but they are by no means everyone, and I suspect their is some truth to many self-publishers' assertion that some gatekeepers do a very bad job (they let bad writing through because the author is in good with them, and they reject quality writing because the author isn't a member of an elite social group whose members all write a certain way).

Somewhere between every individual pushing every bit of writing under the sun into a massive slush pile (Amazon) and a very small group of curators publishing only what they deem acceptable, there is a middle ground to be achieved.

I think the future is in growing a diverse community of small presses--professional and studied in their judgment of quality of writing, but a large number of them would be able maintain the diversity that is lost when publishers merge and get huge.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to agree with the person whose quote you provided, just maybe not in the way the speaker intended. By way of example, I happen to be working on novel that's equal parts love story, military sci-fi, and social philosophy. Oh, and all three main characters are gay. All initial feedback from beta readers has been highly positive. A few have called it my best work yet. Could I ever get a traditional publisher or agent to even look at this? I highly doubt it. However, it fits nicely into my own small press's niche. I think that's a victory, too.

Robert L. Slater said...

Here's my first Path to Indie Publishing link.

Thanks for the inspiration. Rob