Print versus digital. “Self-publishing” versus “traditional publishing.” “Plotters” versus “pantsers.”
Everything in publishing seems so binary lately and has a “debate,” and it’s starting to drive me crazy.
There seems to be this notion that everything is an argument. With a “right answer.”
It’s like believing that “good” means something, objectively, and to everyone.
It’s a fallacy, and while it may not be a dangerous one, it certainly seems to be tripping a lot of people up.
It seems like many people seem to think that people’s preferences are an affront to their own. Like, people who prefer reading ebooks on gadgets think that people who prefer paper are somehow holding them back, or something, while people who prefer paper think that people who prefer ebooks want to, like, abolish paper, or something.
It’s a strange mindset to me. Even though I taught it.
When I taught composition at USC, one of the very first things I discussed with my students was the idea of theses. We would define the term and then describe its characteristics: what is a thesis? What does it do?
For every class I had, we came up with a different definition, which makes sense, because just like there’s no one true anything, there’s no one correct definition: definitions are fluid, as must theses be.
We generally agreed that theses should be one sentence, at least for the purposes of a five-page paper. We also tended to think it served as a sort of guide for the paper. It demonstrated control and function, and in a clear, precise manner summed up the position of the paper.
Which was important. All papers had an argument. USC ensured that all writing prompts facilitated discussion, and so the papers took positions and argued it.
One of the very first things we noted about theses, then, was that a good thesis was some statement of a position with which any reasonable person could disagree.
Maybe that’s the crux of the matter, here.
“Digital publishing is great,” is a statement with which any reasonable person could disagree (probably beginning with, “Er. Define ‘great.’”).
Every day brings new options for just about everything. Milk or sugar? Stevia or high fructose corn syrup? Paper or plastic? AT&T or Verizon? iOS or Android?
Maybe all the choices with which we are constantly bombarded are making us believe that, for every choice we encounter, only one is correct.
Earlier this week, I encountered the term “panster,” which I was surprised to discover doesn’t mean yanking someone’s pants down. That’s what getting pantsed used to mean when I was in school. Especially gym class. I survived a Catholic education without ever once getting pantsed.
Apparently, “pansters” are people who write “by the seat of their pants.” As opposed to “plotters,” who outline and plan.
Neither way is “correct.” Both are useful. Both accomplish different things.
Lately, people have been discussing this “self-publishing” versus “traditional publishing” debate. Besides that the terms themselves are imprecise (technically, “independent publishing” and “corporate publishing” are arguably more accurate); the more important point, here, is that neither is “correct.” Both have certain advantages and disadvantages, and neither is strong enough in any given way as to render the other less useful.
Which is a statement that wouldn’t work as a thesis, because really, one couldn’t disagree.
Unfortunately, a lot of the writers who are writing about “self-publishing” and “traditional publishing” aren’t really taking a reasoned approach. A few of the loudest come out swinging, loudly proclaiming whichever side they’re on as a “right” side. The correct way to do things. The best way to do things.
It’s not growing tedious. It’s already there and back again. I’ve read people lament that they’re tired of the debate, but I don’t think they are: I think they’re tired of unwarranted claims that attempt to use volume to make up for their lack of support. They’re tired of each side spouting nonsense about how any one way is globally better than any other, usually while calling any dissidents names like “house slaves” or “untalented wannabes.”
The sad thing is, if only people moved past the idea of a debate and stopped flailing at each other, we might actually get some really great things accomplished. The more people argue about whether pantsing is more pure than plotting or digital smells better than paper, the less we spend actually creating great plots by the seats of our pants or finding great books amid all the myriad options available.
If only we could acknowledge that there’s really no debate about publishing, we could start really helping readers find new writers, and vice-versa, and really, isn’t that what books are really all about, anyway?