Missed Opportunities

Today I was reminded of one of the benefits of self publishing – you do things on your own time and don’t have to feel like you missed an opportunity.

In this morning’s email sat a message from one of the publishers I follow, declaring that they were now accepting unsolicited manuscripts. I read the post two, three times, racking my brain for possible submissions and cursing myself for each one’s inadequacy.

One of the reasons I started this blog was to get myself out there and prove to myself that I didn’t have to be afraid to show others my work. It’s not that I think that the writing on my blog is a masterpiece or even necessarily publishable. But I did think I might get some feedback and encouragement. And at the same time I made a rookie mistake. I treated writing like it was a hobby, something casual to do when I had the time.

My hard drive is full of half-finished pieces, barely-started novels, outlines, character sketches and all the little things that mark the beginning of something. I don’t think I have anything that signifies the end – something that could be sent out as, say, an unsolicited manuscript.

It’s easy to say that I’ll finish it later, that I need more research, that I need to be in the right mood. But the reality is that writing is a test of fortitude. It’s easy to write the beginning of something, when the possibilities stretch out before you in all directions. It’s less easy to finish something. And then there’s the really hard part: going back and tweaking, untangling all the inconsistencies, turning it into something that a stranger could read an enjoy.

I’m trying to establish a writing regimen so that I actually get things done. I want to re-flesh some of the old skeletons buried in my hard drive, and turn them into submissions. Where I’d submit them, I have no idea, but even if I change my mind and take steps toward self-publishing, well, that would be an opportunity I created for myself.

My fellow writers, I salute you! Be steadfast, and good luck with your submissions, if that’s the kind of writing you go for.

The Experiment: Chapter One

A couple of weeks ago, I was about to dip my toe into the strange, self-publishing experiment Leanpub. The motto of Leanpub is, “publish early, publish often,” and the basic idea is that you publish a book as you write it, and people who buy the book can influence it in terms of what happens next and what changes you need to make to the existing manuscript.

I’m not going to recap my doubts and fears regarding this kind of assembly-line publishing. But I am going to discuss my thoughts regarding leanpub now that I have published the first chapter of Predestination.

1. User Friendly? What’s that? Leanpub seems built more for people who want to buy books than those who want to sell them. The site doesn’t have obvious tabs from which I can access my work in progress. If I go to the dashboard I can see my earnings, the books I’ve bought, and the books I’ve sold, among other things. At the moment, that means nothing to me – I haven’t even published my first chapter yet! Every time I’ve tried to access my work in progress, I’ve had to go through a maze of other tabs until I have finally stumbled upon the tab I want. In short, the website’s design is poorly thought out. It’s true, I’m slightly technologically illiterate, but let’s be honest: web sites should be made with the knowledge that idiots like me will be trying to navigate them.

2. All those text editors you’ve got? RUBBISH. Leanpub has put all its chips behind the text editing program Markdown. They claim that all other editors are insufficient. I have to say, I don’t think it’s very clever to back only one horse, and a horse that doesn’t seem too popular, at that. As far as I understand it, Markdown is intended to be a platform that helps people publish e-books in a way that means they don’t have to spend as much time formatting and messing around. Which brings us to the next point:

3. Our auto-formatting is AWESOME! No, wait…It’s not. After following the instructions on the leanpub page regarding the publishing of my first chapter, I previewed it. I ended up with three superfluous sections that I hadn’t asked for in my book. After tweaking it, I ended up with the content I wanted, but under the general heading ‘contents’ and an extra page that said, “CONTENTS” and nothing more. I finally got it to do what I wanted by copying my manuscript into Markdown – though of course, it didn’t format correctly and I had to go through it again to make paragraph changes.

4. Fiction is Fiction, Right? I was more than a little surprised to see that there are no subgenres of fiction. No romance, fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, thriller…As a reader, this seems like a really bad idea to me. It’s like handing someone a basket full of books and saying, ‘see what you want to pay for.’ If leanpub wants to cater to a large market, then they need to sort their fiction section so that we can look for what we want. It’s also annoying that they don’t list prices.

So far, to say that I am unimpressed is rather an understatement. I put Predestination up on Wattpad and it took me ten seconds. My suspicion is that leanpub, which sells a lot of books on navigating various computer languages, is striving for an audience that it doesn’t fully understand. If the company is going to make it with this novelty publishing method, then they’re going to have to make things easier on us. Otherwise, their writership will never grow.

Of course, I will love you forever if you go check it out – this is an experiment, after all. Or if you prefer, you can find it on wattpad.

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.

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.