I’ve been down on indie lately. The ‘us against them’ mentality that remains prevalent across the net lately can just do that.
But Indie as a publishing mechanism has been fraught with controversy and some interesting news only over the last week – and yesterday. Here are the links, should you not have caught up.
Donald Maass vs JA Konrath. On the Indie Class.
This comes on top of Chuck Wendig’s rant on how badly-written self-published books are pulling us all down. Wendig wants gatekeepers for quality. Maass writes as one gate-keeper (he is a literary agent, after all) and Konrath – well, he mentions lots of stuff against Maass’ capability as a gatekeeper, mostly.
Hugh Howey and Author Earnings.
Hugh Howey and AuthorEarnings.com statistical post, on the other hand, gives us something definable to consider. Since first publishing the below link, the rest of the world has woken to the news, and started talking about it. Jane Friedman does a great job of explaining some of the ins and outs of perhaps this defining moment in Indie.
- Chuck Wendig: Slushy Glut Slog: Why The Self-Publishing Shit Volcano Is A Problem. In which Chuck suggests the bad quality of self-published books is perilously bringing down the industry. And asks for a gatekeeper.
- Donald Maass: The New Class System. In which a traditional literary agent (and gatekeeper, I presume) puts down some controversial opinions on Indie or Selfpub. Resulting in…
- JA Konrath: Fisking Donald Maass. I’m not sure what a fisk is (call me old), but Konrath comes up with several reasons he thinks Maass is not a good gatekeeper including the old chest-beat of “I sell more books than you!”
- JA Konrath: Me, Hugh Howey, and Legacy John on AuthorEarnings.com. This happened overnight, and the site AuthorEarnings.com is still down from being blitzed by hits. Konrath copied over Howey’s full diatribe however, and put his own comments to the article. This is the first time an author (Howey) has come out with statistical data and analysis of traditional versus indie-published books, and the data is interesting to say the least.
- Jane Friedman: A call for Writers to Organize: Hugh Howey Interview. This post interprets Howey’s article on AuthorEarnings.com and suggests we may be entering a new era of openness, provided authors support each other.
Wendig’s rant makes a lot of good points. I’m not sure how many self-published or even traditionally published books Wendig, nor Konrath get to read nowadays – they are both prolific authors who know how to write and publish work often.
As a new writer still learning her work, one of my jobs is to keep reading. Like Wendig suggests – sometimes that’s hard going. My To-Read pile is ginormous. The ebook media gave me that.
But it is a gift, because when I strike a book I just can’t get into, or which grates on me, I stop reading it. There’s plenty more to occupy my mind and reading hands.
Where I do plough through on what I consider badly written fiction or even non-fiction, is when I’m reading a bestseller or highly recommended book. Once I’ve formed my opinion a hundred pages in or so, I mostly finish the book just as a study session – analysing what I would have personally done better, in my opinion.
My point? These aren’t just self-published books I struggle with. Many are bestsellers available front-table at the local indie book shop, or via the Top 5 (it is five now, right?) publishers. Many have passed through the hands of several agents, several editors and publishers. Who were meant to be gatekeepers for quality, I suspect we are all thinking, but then…
Coming out of the software development and quality check industry I know well that one man’s concept of quality is another one’s poncy literary novel that will never be touched. One man’s bliss, another man’s dirge.
In software there is a concept of “good enough” software that is equally relevant to books. At some point, sales and selling a book must take precedence over any quality gatekeeping effort we put to the development of the product, whether it’s a self-effort or done by someone else. And like software, books are products which are hand-crafted by a team of human beings, all prone to their own errors of judgement, lack of skills, and opinions on what they are creating.
Sometimes that works adds up to something flawed but incredibly brilliant.
Sadly, even the good enough concept has been blackened by concepts of this day. Do a search for the term on google and you are much more likely to find images telling us that “good enough is not enough”. Productivity and lifestyle gurus have even written books on the subject – books with titles like “Good Enough is the New Perfect“. We are forced to go back to some psychological roots and teach ourselves that “We are Enough”.
Yet we don’t apply the same faith to our products (and sometimes our children). Perfection costs. In our society, and in the industries that supply it. But we must draw for ourselves a line where we accept some good enough books and products into our lives, and enjoy them, while understanding our own terms or gates towards what is not acceptable.
I, for instance, could never get into 50 Shades of Grey. At my age and marital state, I would have thought myself a prime target for a bit of risque. But I couldn’t get through more than a couple of pages.
Another series I just couldn’t continue to read – The Twilight Saga. On the other hand, despite having problems with some of the writing of The Hunger Games trilogy and the last book in particular, I ploughed through because I enjoyed the premise and genre.
And don’t get me started on the implausibilities and basic problems with some of Dan Brown’s books. They irritated me immensely, yet I still picked up the latest Brown at the airport flying out for a family holiday.
Name most authors and I could probably come up with a few issues that in my opinion as a reader, have taught me what to try not to do as a writer. Including Shakespeare, no less.
That’s just me. But what if some gatekeeper decided that The Hunger Games just wasn’t good enough? Certainly we wouldn’t have such a mire of post-apocalyptic type fantasy like we do now. What if we hadn’t discovered Hugh Howey because some gatekeeper thought he wrote too shallowly, too deeply, with no characterisation, or…?
But movie rights are bought, trends move on, and success doesn’t appear to come just because of what is perceived as quality.
All up, the gatekeepers are already out there. They’re the readers.
Wendig has a point however, when the readers can’t find your work because of the sheer volume of self-published books in the marketplaces.
Yet, my tiny local bookstore has hundreds of books on the shelves, most of which I won’t pass a glance at. So does my library. But I was forced to buy two books in a popular series my daughter is reading currently in ebook form because the bookstores (all of them, we looked) had run out of stock.
The latest stats hitting the waves are gruesome – the majority of authors out there are making less than $1000 a year for all their time spent writing. Yet, we still do it.
Readers are having difficulty finding the books they want to read. Yet, they still do it.
It’s not that self-publishing needs gatekeepers in my opinion – though god knows, all those literary agents out there need to think about how to maintain their roles in a changing industry that needs them less and less.
If we were to somehow apply gatekeeping and so-called quality control to one part of the book publishing industry, we would have to also look at what is slipping through via publishers. Or indeed, why some questionably poor quality books are selected and arriving on local bookstores? Or why we have reader reviews online, yet don’t trust them?
That’s a mighty big ask.
Where we question the general lack of imaginative or world-changing storytelling, or the hundreds of thousands of boring formula fiction with bad covers (gotta have bad to recognise the truly good), we must also question why similar stuff is sitting on my local bookstore’s shelves. Why we think that stuff shouldn’t be selling, when it must be?
Am I the GateKeeper? Or the KeyMaster?
Yes. And No.
As a reader I am my own gatekeeper when reading. I prefer it that way.
And for writing – I hope to utilize as many other eyes as possible on my work before publishing live. The key is to seek our own quality.
Technically we are both gate and key. Certainly we are master of our own domains (where-ever they are).
The GateKeeper / KeyMaster was my favourite scene from Ghostbusters, if not because it was the whole Beauty and the Geek thing done decades before the reality T.V. competition.
Summary – Making it Quick
Those are just my opinions. You are welcome and encouraged to have your own, share your own, blog your own, comment your own.
At the least, I hope that all of these blog posts – from big names like Wendig, Konrath and Maass, to no-names like me, all offer something to think about on how we see being a writer is like today.
I don’t enjoy the us against them mentality still going on. Nor do I really like the evangelism that some writers feel the need for regarding their choice of publishing medium. But these types of discussions will always be around. And any data like that of Howey’s (we can only hope we are as successful at finding our own readership) is always helpful when considering options.
And now we move on…
This post took place in the #IndieLife blog challenge, held at The Indelibles every second Wednesday of the month.