When publishing is a button, pretty much the only thing you really need to buy for access to that button is a computer, and chances are you don’t even really need a great one at that.
I published my first book, a self-titled debut collection no longer available, in 2007 during my first full year studying writing at USC. Back then, I had a Hewlett-Packard laptop, and I wrote the entire collection and laid it out in Microsoft Word. I used Photoshop for the cover.
I’d already had experience publishing by then; for the three years before, I’d been assistant editor of two nursing journals. I’d used programs like Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign. Working knowledge of those two programs was not just helpful but integral to making that book back then.
That’s no longer true, because publishing has changed so much. Honestly, I can’t imagine why anyone would want a PDF for digital publishing, which means several of those programs are no longer useful (a PDF is arguably necessary for CreateSpace, which I think is the best POD service available).
Mark Coker’s Smashwords seems, ostensibly, a rather brilliant idea. It’s sort of the ebook equivalent of Amazon’s Author page; whereas Amazon’s page lists all the work an author has available on Amazon in one spot, Smashwords makes available a single title in myriad different digital formats, including the usual ePub and mobi formats (for pretty much all readers and for Kindle, respectively), as well as PDFs (people still read those?), html (for web viewing, I figure, whether by desktop, laptop, or tablet), Microsoft’s Word (er. For people who want to word process it?), and even text (for people who . . . I give up. You can tell me why people want text files).
I like the idea in theory. My job, as I see it, is to both write the story and make it accessible, and accessibility works on several levels. I want to make the story appeal to readers, but I also want it to be available in any way a reader wants. Even if I can’t imagine why a reader wants a certain story available in a certain way.
Nowadays, there are myriad ways for people to read stories. There are no fewer than four different Android tablets available right now, and that’s only Android. There’s also the iPad and now the new HP tablet running WebOS. In terms of ereaders, we’ve got Kindles and nooks, of course, but also Kobo and Sony’s efforts and several other somewhat generic readers all of which have e-ink displays and most of which display ePub files and etc.
So far as I can tell, Smashwords seeks to solve the actually legitimate problem of making one story available for every platform. Maybe that’s the reason for the txt file?
Amazon’s use of mobi (or, more specifically, AZW, which was Amazon’s proprietary version of mobi) was kind of like Apple’s use of AAC for iTunes. There were a couple of different formats vying for widespread adoption (Windows had their Windows Media Audio, WMA, format, for example), and while MP3 was most widely used, there seemed to be some hope that there was room for contest. Nowadays, pretty much everyone uses MP3. The digital reading situation is somewhat analogous, where the format equivalent to the MP3 is, arguably, ePub–every reading device besides Kindle recognizes the format, and most of the other formats are based on it.
If you want to use Barnes & Noble’s Pubit platform, chances are you submit an ePub for best results. The iBookstore is based on the ePub format. Sony Readers display ePub.
So Amazon’s the odd man out. But it’s a rather large man, considering it basically owns the ereader market.
But they’re adopting the ePub format is not the biggest change this week.
Seems like this week is always rather retrospective. Years in review, all that. Lots of sites running “Top Stories of 2010″ posts, as though what wouldn’t have been news again last week suddenly is solely by virtue of when it was news. It’s like the East Coast blizzard froze the whole world, which is stuck hoping for thaw to begin tomorrow.
I thought about doing some best-of posts. The decade-best lists are some of the most popular posts on this site. Yesterday, however, I glanced through a list of movies that came out in 2011 and found precisely two I thought were remarkable: How to Train Your Dragon and The Social Network. The former was a surprise; it had a lot of heart and was a lot of fun, and it managed that rare thing of being a movie aimed at a younger audience that appealed across a wider age range without using irreverent humor and other such innuendo-based means. With Shrek, one of the things that increased its appeal was jokes that kids wouldn’t have gotten; it worked on multiple levels; Dragon, on the other hand, stuck mainly consistent in just trying to tell its story, and I think it was a better movie for it.
The Social Network demonstrates that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Panic Room were flukes from a guy who’s been getting better since the beginning, by which I mean that David Fincher had shown signs of improvement over his career and development as a director in years previous by making movies that were consistently better than the ones before. Se7en was fantastic after Alien3. The Game is underrated, and then there’s Fight Club, and then, just when you think that he’s got a style, signature shots, all that, Zodiac, which was the first time he just turned the camera on and followed the story (which isn’t to say his obvious style didn’t serve his other movies). And now The Social Network the rise and continued rise of Zuckerberg and Facebook, which was, on all levels, fantastic.
I read other movies people were raving about, but didn’t much like them when I sat down to check them out. Inception, in particular . . . just didn’t do it for me. Funny: I remember when The Matrix came out, and all the people who claimed not to “get it,” that it just never made sense to them, all that, and then watching Inception . . . my initial thought was “So it’s The Matrix but with dreams and less action?”
That thought never went away. It eventually became more negative, in fact, but one of my resolutions this year is to be more positive. Exciting is not about negativity, after all.
You should publish essays on your website, tweets to Twitter, status updates on Facebook. You should use your Kindle to share quotes from books everywhere. You should join online forums filled with people who have similar interests–Konrath mentions the KindleBoards and how great they are for writers but sort of neglects how amazing they are for readers.
Which we all are. And we’re active readers. We’re better readers. We’re exciting readers.
I thought, for a long time, that what was so game-changing, what was so paradigm-shifting, was that we’re all now creators. We’re all publishing all the time. We’re all contributing new information to the cloud and the world.
I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about that. All those things mostly hold true.
But then I got to thinking, that’s not really what’s changed. That’s a by-product of more activity on our parts.
The biggest companies in the world right now are Google and Facebook. The former is, I think, the more important because it signals a new service. It’s a search engine. It took away passive Internet browsing. No longer was the Internet a place of CD-ROMs and free subscriptions to AOL and “You’ve Got Mail.” What Google changed was our ability to seek new and more information (as well as our ability to sift through it). Remember before Google? Back when we had AltaVista and Hotbot and Metacrawler?
No longer do we wait for information. That’s pretty huge.
We Google things. I have a Google search function on my phone. We go on Wikipedia, though we know the information we find there might be erroneous, but maybe we do that because we know that even if the information is erroneous, we can find more information right away. We can find better information. We can find commentary on that information.
We can contribute to that information, and we can change it, and we can create it.
And the faster all that occurs, the less likely traditional modes of media can keep up with it all.
It used to be, in ways, that media created culture. Radio and television delivered sounds and images to our living rooms, and our only control over what we received came in the form of dials and switches; we could change the channel or turn off the set, but that was about it. If we wanted books, we had to wait to see what corporate publishers had deemed worthy of our attention two years before. Movies, too: from optioning of screenplays to delivery of celluloid, at least a year would pass.
The time it takes to create something worthwhile might not have changed (and continues to vary), but the time it takes to access and manipulate it has. Do any of us merely read when we come online anymore? Or do we all go to news sites we frequent, share posts on Twitter and Facebook, contribute to commentary?
When was the last time you got news from CNN or MSNBC? How about the last time you got it from Twitter?
It seems like we’re moving into times of cultural responsibility, and we’re taking such responsibilities away from the people who traditional took control of them as we notice that many of those institutions gave up their reins. One of the biggest arguments people tend to make against so-called “self-publishing” is that it’s not vetted, there’s no quality control, etc.
And then they buy and publish A Shore Thing by Snooki.
We’re the upstart crows. We’re the Johannes Factotums. We are the creators and contributors, channels of inspiration and information. And we’re not just living in exciting times.
Some new changes to coincide with all the other ones going around. Trying out a new theme, most obviously.
Also: Entrekin in the World replaces the old Reviews page. I like it so far but will probably tweak it as I go. It’s something I had included as an album on MySpace and was trying to figure out how to integrate it here. From the get-go, I’d asked people to photograph themselves with the book; Los Angeles Times best selling author Brad Listi was the very first.
Since leaving MySpace and switching computers, I’ve misplaced a couple that I’d really like to include. So if you don’t see yourself there and you’ve got one you wouldn’t mind my putting up, send it to me via willentrekin at yahoo dot com.
Please. That’d be rad.
I left comments open over there, too. So if you’d like to put your own review there, be my guest. Especially if you, you know, liked it.
Finally, I mentioned I’d considered removing the collection from Lulu. I looked into hosting the file here, because I still like having it as a free .pdf, along with the “singles.” Problem is, the process of doing so is not nearly so straightforward as Lulu’s system, nor does it seem to track downloads/sales so well. Part of the reason I’d considered removing the book was its ‘community,’ but then again I wonder if those problems aren’t actually a function of the self-publishing community and not necessarily Lulu’s. Regardless, I’ve decided to continue using their printing services as the tool I had meant it to be, and I feel okay leaving it up.
Plus, the downloads just keep coming in, and, well, the whole point was to share it. I’d feel bad keeping the book from someone who wanted to read it.
I’d say to bear in mind that I’m still working out kinks all over the place, but I’ve realized that part of the interesting thing about blogs and the Internet (and, it seems, life in general lately) is that: well, yeah. It’s all evolution all the time, really.
Galleycat is the publishing industry news blog over at Mediabistro.com, which is one of the single most valuable resources for writers and people in the creative industry I have ever encountered. A membership in the AvantGuild costs, like, $80 for two years, but it gets you exclusive interviews with agents, editors, and various other industry gurus, as well as access to content regarding both jobs and freelance opportunities. I’ve been a member for a while.
It’s also worth pointing out that when I note “sales ain’t much,” I generally define “much” as go-jillions of copies. I’d be so bold as to call the actual sales robust, with an additional exciting to further downloads. To wit: so far, Entrekin has raised nearly $700 earmarked for the United Way NYC, which works out to a little bit more than a dollar for every book sold. In about a year and a half, I’m up to nearly fifteen hundred downloads overall, with a little more than a third of those accounted for by the collection itself and new downloads trickling in every day.
Which is, largely, why I called the sales “ain’t much.” Then again, I’ve made about as much so far as I probably would have had I tried to sell the stories to various magazines, journals, and ezines; readers seem to like it; and as I note in that interview, I’m proud of the experiment that is the final product.
One fun thing about it all?
Technically, I think Entrekin may be the bestselling e-book on the iPhone.
So, like I blogged about earlier, the American economy is basically in the toilet, and to quote Roger Clyne, “Everything’s going down, flowin’ counterclockwise.” Regardless of direction, the fact remains that, besides the bailouts of AIG, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, I’ve heard today that both Washington Mutual and Morgan Stanley are initiating sales of themselves (I know a couple of people who work for Morgan Stanley, and wish them the best).
New York/Manhattan is, obviously the epicenter of the financial industry. When the Dow sinks, it sank first in Manhattan.
Manhattan is also pretty much the epicenter of the publishing industry. And given that the financial climate is what it is, one would think that the publishing industry is every bit as concerned about its own welfare as financial sectors are concerned about their own.
And one might not be wrong.
For example, one of the regular publishing/agenting blogs I read is maintained by Lori Perkins, of the Lori Perkins Agency. Lori is extraordinarily well known in the publishing industry and has quite the agenting reputation. She is renowned and respected. This is her blog. I like reading her blog.
I’ve read a lot about all the people who are worried that CERN’s upcoming activation of the Large Hadron Collider on Wednesday is going to either:
a) destroy the world,
b) open up the gate to hell, which will destroy the world, or
c) create a microblackhole, which will suck the Earth through it, which will (you guessed it) destroy the world.
Obviously, all this speculation has a common denominator:
that, according to Brian Cox, a professor at Manchester University, anyone who believes any of it is a ‘twat.’
Which is awesome. I’m so tired of ignorant people who claim that both sides of any argument need to be given some attention. This is why the creation/evolution argument is still a debate; people want to be tolerant of other people’s views/beliefs, whether those beliefs are inherently ignorant or not (they are).
I’ve been reading more stories, lately, about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, which is the European Organization for Nuclear Research (its acronym refers to the French Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire, which was its original provisional body before it became an organization in 1954). CERN is on the Franco-Swiss border in Geneva, and its reason for being is fundamental physics.
I’ve always been fascinated by physics, though in specific ways; I always sucked at math, and indeed nearly flunked physics in college, but I’ve always loved the study of black holes and relativity (at least, so nearly as I can understand them). When I was in high school, I read Leon Lederman’s The God Particle; I got through the first few chapters but then gave up when it started with its equations (which has always been where my brain shuts off. Numbers, fine, but I can’t handle letters if they’re not in writing and books).
The LHC is the latest in a series of 8 particle accelerators, which use electric fields to propel charged particles at high speeds. Basically, I think of it like if two bullets struck each other to explode and you studied the fragments, which is probably overly simplistic, but I’m no physicist. But the general idea, I think, is that, like, two protons or quarks or whathaveyou will collide to explode, thereby freeing the particles that make them up, and scientists are most excited about one theoretical particle in particular: the Higgs boson. It is, so far, theoretical, but it’s the only particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that hasn’t been observed; scientists hypothesize that it may be the particle behind the property of mass.
They are excited because, as it is the largest, most advanced, and most powerful accelerator ever, they believe that the LHC experiments might produce one.
Some, however, have speculated it’s not all the LHC might produce.
As with everything that very few people fully understand, one of the things I’ve been reading about the LHC is the catastrophic results that may or may not occur. Everything from some wild speculation that it might cause a microscopic blackhole that could, in turn, suck the planet through it to the wilder speculation that one of its explosions might release enough energy to cause a small tear in the fabric of spacetime that would actually be a doorway into Hell and allow Satan and his legions of demons through to initiate the endtimes. In his novel FlashForward, Robert Sawyer wrote a story in which, for 8 minutes, all of human consciousness flashed forward a certain amount of years (I’d link to it, but I ultimately thought it was pretty bad). Richard Cox explored the idea of the Higgs in his novel The God Particle, which is more of a technothriller (and, to my tastes, better [though not quite as good as Cox's other book, Rift]).
But the coolest, most awesome speculation I’ve heard?
I’ll give you a second to read that sentence again.
Z. O. M. G.
It’s one of the most exciting ideas I’ve ever heard in my life.
Of course, admittedly, the chances of its occurring are probably slim to none, and Slim just left. But even still, just the fact that a couple of major scientists (one from the University of Copenhagen, the other from Kyoto University, so it ain’t like they’re academic slouches, or anything) think it’s possible just blows my frickin’ mind.
I’ll admit I’m also excited for a rather selfish reason. You see, both the Higgs boson and CERN figure into The Prodigal Hour as major plot points. And yes, I tell you that to tease.
Today’s the big day for Firefox 3, which is, apparently, like a go-jillion times more awesome than Firefox 2 (which was pretty awesome in its own right). Mozilla is hoping for a world record of downloads today.
At the time of this writing, that download went live four minutes ago.
My advice is to wait a few hours; I have a feeling their server’s gonna fry for the next several, at least. Because I can’t even get to the site to link to it, because apparently the 1.7 million people who pledged to download it all decided to do so simultaneously and right away.
For those of you who don’t yet use Firefox; it’s more secure and generally a better experience than IE. It’s got thousands of support add-ons, extensions, and themes, and even better, it just works way better than its competition. Highly recommended.
Anyway, I’ll try to update later with a link. You can probably easily Google Firefox to find it, though.
You remember Pandora, right? If you’re not familiar, it’s like Internet radio but with a gimmick so cool it transcends gimmickry (no easy feat); you plug in songs or artists, and it analyzes the structures of the song for things like tempo and vocals and such and then plays you other songs you’ll probably like. It’s like Amazon’s recommendations, only more accurate. You get some misses, of course, but you also, more importantly, get not only a lot of songs by artists you like but also new music that probably works, too.
Anyway, yesterday I was reading around on the toobs like I always do, and, via BoyGeniusReport, discovered a new-to-me site:
Basically, it’s a visual interface for Internet bookmarking. You know those bookmarks in Firefox? Yeah, it does that, except with graphics. And even better: it’s a website. Which means you can access it from anywhere.
Which is the part that knocks it out of the park for me. I’m using a laptop, right now, that I wasn’t using before, and so I don’t have access to my usual bookmarks; with only2clicks, I’ve got them again. It’s a bit of work, set-up-wise, admittedly, because you have to plug in all the sites you want there, but it’s a little extra effort for one of the most convenient services with one of the cleanest sites I’ve ever seen.
And what’s even better: you can share the url of your page.
I noted yesterday that I thought Nick Mamatas’ point was cogent; that, one day, the predominant business model might be Print-to-Inventory, so, basically, Barnes & Noble might actually stock all of a hundred or so books, mostly including the newest releases and the most popular sellers, and the rest of the inventory might be consigned to digital files that could be printed literally on demand. By “literally on demand,” I mean the sort of demand like a customer might walk in, approach a machine like an ATM, find a digital file, and print it perfect-bound while waiting for a cup of coffee and perusing the magazines. I’d say I like bookstores as much as the next guy, but I don’t know who the next guy is and wouldn’t wager he’d be as into reading as I am, and, really, from a business standpoint, the entire industry is cumbersome at best and actually borders on ridiculous at worst.
As just one example, I don’t think I’m aware of another industry that allows for returns. So a publisher might invest an unhealthy amount into a particular book, but booksellers might shelve it behind the tomes on kumquat botany, which no one reads, and then, when they receive the invoice for their order, rather than paying it, send the books back. Does BestBuy return DVDs it doesn’t sell? Does Wal-Mart return CDs its consumers don’t buy?
Which brings me to an interesting piece of news; Wal-Mart is no longer the nation’s largest distributor of music. Care to guess who is?
Which is a shame, because though Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp corporate machine was one of the reasons I left MySpace, the model the imprint’s new CEO, Robert S. Miller, describes makes a lot of sense. Perhaps part of the model is to slim down the advances the imprint will give its authors, but really, that might not be such a bad thing; selling an arseload of copies and participating in profits means that books don’t have to earn back their advances, which seems to me (and I could be wrong, as I’m only just now a young writer with a single book under my belt) as though it might take some long-term pressures of authors who don’t need it. One of the worst possibilities for second-time-out authors is for their books to underperform their debuts, which can bring their futures into question. Also, the two most popular modern publishing success stories (Brown and Rowling) weren’t really based on debuts; if I remember right, Harry Potter had some early buzz, certainly, but I don’t remember it hitting its stride, marketing- and sales-wise, until at least the second hardcover (and might have been the third), while The Da Vinci Code was Brown’s third or fourth novel.
All of which is to say that the combination of the two seems a pragmatic approach. One of the biggest problems with a debut hardcover is: who really wants to spend thirty bucks on an unknown writer, regardless of how much hype it’s gotten? I sure don’t; heck, I rarely spend more than ten bucks on any writer anymore. I rarely buy magazines; most of the ones I read are available online, with mostly free text available. I don’t read newspapers; I go to their websites. I probably read at least twenty blogs per day. Which is to say: I don’t read less–I just read differently than I used to. My attention span is really no shorter; I enjoy sitting down with a good novel (keyword: good).
One of Godin’s more cogent points regarding publishing and marketing was a division: some people read a lot and are aware of writers like Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace, while others don’t read much and are aware of writers like King, Brown, and Rowling. He mentioned there’s nothing wrong with either audience, but that one has to pick one or the other. Of that latter, I’m not all together certain, mostly because I’m one of the former who prefers the latter writers, but I realize, too, I think I’m an exception to a more pervasive, general thought about which Godin is correct.
The publishing model I described above might, in some ways, foster that division and make it even more marked, but I think the real benefit it is that, though it might cater to that divide, it still serves to the benefit of both types of customers.
I think, too, that the more these new technologies are used, the more blurry the actual idea of “publishing” is going to become. By founding McSweeney’s, Eggers blurred the line between traditional models of publishing and self-publishing, and I think, in years to come, the distinction is going to become even less clear.
So long as readers are satisfied, I’m okay with that.
I’ve started reading Seth Godin’s blog because, through my business course, I’ve learned enough to realize I don’t yet understand everything about marketing.
I caught this entry, and I don’t mean to come off as a chest-pounding proponent of revolution, but bear with me a moment.
According to above post, Borders discovered that, by displaying books with their covers out (rather than their spines), they increased their sales by 9%.
(of course, 9% in terms of the publishing industry is next to nothing, but that’s beside the point)
The Espresso machine is built to print a book in five minutes, flat. Consider that all that shelf space might instead be devoted to revolving banner advertisements with a limited number of books on hand, all of which can be previewed via the Espresso machines, as well as every other title in existence. Whatever you want, bookstores’ll have it.
And yes, certainly, some people browse books in the store, but I think the majority of perusal applies to magazines. So keep a periodicals section, while you devote all that glorious shelf space to 100 Espresso machines.
Certainly, it’d take a bit to get the venture started, but I have a feeling that’s how most bookstores are going to look in ten years. The fucker is pretty much a book vending machine:
This thing will take up less than five cubic feet, which, as many publishers know, is about the size of the remaindered rack in your average Borders or Barnes & Noble bookstore. What’s going to have to change, unfortunately, is how much publishers make via booksales. Because at this point, publishers are the equivalent of primaries; they’re in place so you know who’s good enough to buy books from, just like the primaries let you know who’s good enough to vote for president.
I’d say, in the future, it’s going to be more difficult to find the quality, but hey, you got to this blog, didn’t you? Just goes to show, somehow, it works out.
The other day, in “Because I want to,” I mentioned John Scalzi and his Whatever blog. Always cogent and frequently awesome, Scalzi covers all manner of things, plus, he’s won all sorts of awards and even initiated a successful write-in campaign for president of the Science Fiction Writers’ Association (by “successful,” I do not mean he won; rather, I mean that he did not but people still talk about it, and he certainly had a shot at winning. Unlike, say, Ralph Nader).
Today, after I got home from a long day that included a normative grading session and a class full of students fresh out of the linguistics lecture that takes place immediately before my class, I began to skim blogs. The first I check is always Neil Gaiman’s, because he’s been my favorite writer for many years. That he had a novel basically free on the Web for a month was enough to make me mention it straightaway. I didn’t pass go.
After I did pass go, I started to check out the other blogs. Scalzi’s is second in my bookmarks.
When I got to Scalzi’s, I got sad.
The first post I saw had to do with his cat. Or one of them. Scalzi has a few, and talks about them, and sometimes tapes bacon to them.
(that last sentence is fun. And true, on all clauses)
The second mentioned a feature he’s run for a while, called The Big Idea. Basically, he spotlights writers and their newly released books, specifically some big idea or other about it. Scalzi’s spotlight is bright, intense, and probably rather hot. Scalzi’s spotlight is arguably the kind of spotlight people on stage look up at and think, “Okay, I’m done on this side,” mainly because Whatever gets, like, 40,000 hits per day (and again, deservedly so, because, again, it’s frequently awesome).
So when he mentioned that he was looking for authors who weren’t specifically sci-fi/fantasy, I thought, hey, that’s pretty rad. Maybe I should drop Mr. Scalzi a line.
But his first guideline was simple. I’ll quote:
First, authors must not be self-published, or solely electronically published, or published by a publishing house that offers $1 advances and/or can’t get distribution into bookstores. Yes, I know. I suck. But this is the line in the sand. Deal with it.
His first guideline, of course, is what made me sad. I’ll be the first to admit it. To a degree, it offended me, and made me grumpy. So I took a nap, defiance in my head, but then realized that sometimes the things that offend us most are the things that strike closest to the truth (I’ll also note part of my first reaction was remembering the old Warner Brothers cartoons with my grandfather, because we all know what you do when you come to a line in the sand is, don’t we? That’s right: you cross it, because it’s a line in the sand. Ain’t like it’s a wall or something. Just step right over).
If you’re reading this, you probably know why it struck close to the truth, because you’ve probably seen my Lulu page; you may have even purchased, from it, my debut collection of fiction, essays, and poetry (and if you have, thank you. You’re awesome. I hope you loved it). Which means two things.
The first is that I am, technically, a self-published author. It’s not a label I prefer, but then, as my buddy once said, “fuckin’ labels’ll get you every time.” I say that because: who thinks in labels? When people ask Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi what they do for a living, I doubt either says “I’m a traditionally published author” or “I’m a commercially published author” or “I’m an author published by a major, conglomerated publishing company based in New York.” I’d wager both men, when asked what they do, would have a simple answer: “I’m a writer.”
No labels, no qualifications, no credentials. Simple.
When asked further, I’m sure they might reveal either who published them (when talking shop) or where someone might buy their books (to a new acquaintance interested), but how the stories and the words get out there is usually dead last among writers’ priorities. The big ones are truth and honesty in storytelling. The big ones are whether our characters are believable and this plot works and this ending is satisfying.
With them I share that in common, mostly. Actually, I must qualify that, because when people ask me what I do, I generally tell them I teach writing at the University of Southern California, where I’m finishing my master’s in writing. But still, I am a writer.
And the other thing that having a book on Lulu, available for sale, which people have bought, means is that I’m a professional writer, to boot. Does writing pay my rent? No, it doesn’t, but then, for how many writers does it, actually? I know of lots of writers (and am friends with several) who’ve published several novels who still haven’t given up their day jobs.
I generally understand the stigma against self-publishing; it is, by and large, an endeavour generally undertaken by amateurs, some of whom write decently but haven’t studied the finer points of actually publishing. Publishing is not just about putting a book in someone’s hands; it’s about carefully editing that book, designing it as a physical product people will read, and understanding subtle points of marketing. Companies like Lulu and PublishAmerica, to whom I think Scalzi is alluding when he mentions the $1 advances, mean just about anyone can publish; that just about anyone can doesn’t mean everyone should, of course, and self-publishing is full of a glut of crappy books.
But here’s the thing: publishing in general is full of a glut of crappy books. Theodore Sturgeon, a noted science fiction author in his own right, once coined the law that “90% of science fiction is crap, but 90% of everything is crap.” Which is probably true, but the inverse would seem to mean that 10% is not crap, and, moreover, that final 10% is subjective to the whims and predilections of the culture at large.
What I ultimately mean is that a lot of people think self-published novels are crap, but I know lots of people who think The DaVinci Code is crap. Rarely does everyone tend to agree on one book’s quality, and even when we manage, as a culture, to, we sometimes overlook flaws. The Great Gatsby is obviously a classic, and is, in fact, one of my favorite novels, but read it and try to figure out the chronology of it.
Scalzi’s feature is called The Big Idea, but I think a big idea is that distribution into bookstores, in the age of iPods/iPhones/Amazon, means very little. A big idea is that readers don’t care how they get their stories, so long as they get them. A big idea is that big news in publishing today is that one of my favorite author’s best novels is available online completely free. A big idea is that Steve Jobs thinks nobody is reading anymore, and so doesn’t really see the viability of an e-book reader, but still, somehow, despite that nobody’s reading and it’s not viable, still my collection became the first e-book on the iPhone just a week after the device came out.
I think a big idea is that in a few days I’m writing a check to the United Way New York City, to fulfill the promise that I’d donate $1 dollar from the sale of every copy, as well as every digital download of “What I saw that Day (September 11th, 2001).”
I think a big idea is that one day writing might be judged not by the means by which it is distributed but rather by the content of its ideas and the quality of its prose. That one day books might be judged not by where their covers appear but rather by what appears between them.