A Self-Publishing Assembly Line

I am really, really bad at sticking to a schedule. When I first started writing this blog, I made it my goal to publish on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It was also going to be a fiction-only blog. Oh well.

But I have to put this out for discussion, because I read an article about it that kind of blew my mind.

This article, which was featured in the New Yorker’s Book Bench, outlined the idea put forth by the man who runs an online publishing company called Leanpub, and equates publishing in this day and age to a startup business.

The idea behind Leanpub is that while you’re in the process of writing your book, others can read it and influence the process. They presumably make constructive criticisms and suggestions which act as the ‘editorial’ phase and at the end of the day, the argument here is that you’ve got an entertaining book that you know people want to read because hey, you already tested it with a bunch of readers.

When I first saw this, I thought, “Assembly-Line Publishing. NO.”

Just think. You’re a fantasy author. You’ve got a great idea for an urban fantasy revolving around witches. You put up your first chapter and the comments roll in: “There should be vampires! They should SPARKLE. The two main characters should be in love but they can’t be together because he’s a werewolf or a warlock or blah blah blah…”

I’m using Twilight as the exemplary trend here, but you can take any book craze – Harry Potter, the Da Vinci Code, even Sweet Valley High (ugh). My immediate gut reaction to this publishing process was that people are going to start reading a book not with the interest in seeing how it finishes, but with an interest in manipulating the story themselves.

My second issue is that it supposedly makes the post of editor redundant. Um, what? As someone who’s been reading from age 5 and writing from age 6, I can tell you that while I can critique a piece, I am not qualified to edit it. It’s a skill set that I could have learned but never acquired, and I would argue that for many other writers, it’s the same. Just because you get 35 people to read your novel doesn’t mean that you don’t need an editor at the end of the day.

This experiment, however, is intriguing to me. I want to see how well it works and what it’s like. So I have decided to take the plunge. I’m going to try it.

I’m going to use one of the Nanowrimo ideas that I didn’t work with this year – Predestination, in case you’re interested. It’s an idea that I like but don’t love, and this provides me with the opportunity to improve my writing without really risking anything but a bit of wasted time.

I’ll be periodically blogging about the experience as I go. At the moment I’ve just signed up, so I don’t know much about the inner workings.

If you’re interested in taking a look at Leanpub to decide for yourself, you can always click here.

Nanowrimo: How about editing that novel?

One of the big criticisms that I heard about Nanowrimo last year was that it encouraged people to do mediocre work, which many sent on to agents and editors without the benefit of revision. As someone who greatly enjoys Nanowrimo, I’ll be the first to say that it’s not the program’s fault if some people don’t think before they click ‘send.’

But I have to say, I was always a fan of National Novel Edition Month (Nanoedmo) because it is the natural accompaniment to National Novel Writing month. In fact, we should have three or four Nanoedmos every year, right?

It’s natural that it’s not going to be as popular a program as Nanowrimo. First of all, a lot of the people who write a book in November (myself included) don’t think it’s worth editing by the time they’ve finished it. Second, it’s just not as fun. Instead of spontaneity and a race to reach a word goal, you have to be calculating, harshly critical, and unbiased. But it’s just as important as (or more important than) Nanowrimo.

It makes me kind of disappointed, then, that OLL is opening numerous Camp Nanowrimo programs, which again focus on the writing (this time with a set-it-yourself word goal for less stress). It’s not that the Camp Nano features aren’t cool, or that Camp Nano won’t be fun. In fact, it will probably be nearly as great as Nanowrimo. But all this emphasis to get people excited for Camp Nano is keeping Nanoedmo in obscurity. In fact, OLL doesn’t host or sponsor Nanoedmo. That event is hosted by an outside group of authors who understand that a work of quality is written and rewritten.

The creative process is the place where it all starts, so of course it gets most of the glory. But is it just me, or are the sponsors of Nanowrimo missing out on an important part of their job? All aspects of the process should be made explicit, so that we can stop propagating the myth that a first draft is all you need.

Information on National Novel Editing month can be found here.

What are we entitled to?

I want to start off this post with a disclaimer: there are many, MANY reasons to choose self-publishing over industry publishing, and a lot of authors go to great lengths to make sure that a self-published product has been revised, edited, re-edited, and polished to present a professional work.

Unfortunately, self-publishing still has a strong stigma attached. At this point I have only published short stories and poems, and have done so in literary magazines and e-zines. I’m working on a number of novels and, when I have finally written one that is good enough to be seen by a wide audience, the time will come for me to decide whether I want to start sending letters to agents, or to hire an editor and try to self publish. And whenever I speak to other writers (also unpublished) about the possibility of self-publishing, they wrinkle their noses and their eyes dart nervously from side to side.

They all have different ways of expressing their opinions, but at the end it comes down to ‘well, people who self-publish are the people who can’t sell their novel to a publishing house.’

This is untrue and grossly unfair (see the disclaimer above). This label might apply to some people who, upon getting a couple of rejection slips, decided to skip the process and publish their novels themselves. But it will never apply to everyone, and in pondering a way to make self-publishing a bit more acceptable to the wider eye, I started wondering what would happen were some kind of standard imposed – some kind of proof of editing, of care prior to obtaining an ISBN.

Firstly, I don’t know how plausible that would be. Probably completely impossible to enforce.

Secondly, it led me to think: are people entitled to publish their books? Is it something we all deserve to do, whether we can write or not?

One could superficially argue that the publishing industry says No. But it has become evident recently that publishing houses have to balance their books and an editor is as likely to choose something that is good as he or she is to choose something that is a more probable bestseller. Thus we have genre ripoffs (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, you name it) as well as good, original work.

At this point, the setup of the self-publishing industry implies that yes, everyone is entitled to publish. While writers who are serious about the craft and concerned for their reputations will do everything possible to make sure that their books are well-crafted and indistinguishable in quality from traditionally published books, I could theoretically put all of my blog posts into one manuscript, sans editing, and turn it into a ‘book.’

I would argue that everyone is entitled to write, if they want. Just like I’m entitled to sing in the shower, and to buy a little canvas and a set of paint brushes. But to what extent are we entitled to publish? If there is no quality control on self-publishing, isn’t there a danger that readers will lose the ability to distinguish bad from good? Will we perpetuate a downward spiral? And worst of all, will we use generalization to blacken the names of people who don’t deserve it?

Thoughts are always welcome.

…and we’re back

I handed in my Master’s Thesis on Monday, February 25th. It was definitely one of the more awesome days in recent years.

The original due date was February 12th, but my thesis adviser granted me a couple of extra weeks. Things are pretty relaxed at my university. And, since I’m probably the only Egyptology Master’s student to be graduating within the next six months, he wanted to make sure that I had a polished product that was a credit to our department.

Since Monday, I have been tasting the sweetness of freedom. Even though I have had a fair amount to keep me busy, there’s nothing hanging over my head. Except for the fact that I have to find a job, but I have a little time left on that.

I put off writing while I was finishing up my thesis, so I have nothing new to offer the world of fiction. Now’s my chance to change that, in that little hanging space between finishing my thesis and defending it, while I’m still a student, yet not quite a student anymore. Before I have to look for a real job, and renew my visa (again!).

I hope I’ll soon be back to my regular posting schedule, and with something real to fill up this empty space.

It is super awesome to be finished. I am so glad to be back.