Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Publishing. Old, New, Self, Indie



          Traditional  publishing is still undergoing a sea change, a departure from many of the old models. It is a painful, wrenching///exciting, amazing new phase for storytellers and story sellers. The big-6  publishers are downsizing staff and have been for years. They are looking for new ways to be efficient and still create and sell great books. They are experimenting with incredible multimedia projects, and are sizing up the oncoming waves of reading devices and other story-vehicles. They still support great print books while releasing great ebooks. People who work at publishing houses are generally smart, dedicated to their work, and love a good story. They are also innovators who know how to adapt or morph.

          It’s an echo of how itunes wiped the slate and gutted the album format. The big music studios said there would be a gazillion garage bands with 30 fans each. They turned out to be almost right. Even the TV mega talent shows rarely seem to launch careers the way the studios once did. On the other hand, the indie bands are thriving and I love the idea of artists of all kinds finding their audience, mega, big, small, global or local.  Art belongs to everyone.

          For now, at least, the publishers still offer writers what they always offered us: a long, steep learning curve that will eventually qualify some of us for access to incredible editors with critical reading skills and DEEP story experience--as well as informed and energetic marketing staffs.  If a writer can captivate someone who has spent years reading and developing books....it's a good sign that lots of readers will find the work compelling, too. A sign, not a guarantee. There are none. There never have been.

          Almost every career writer I know asks writing-friends to beta-read their raw work. I do.  I often spend time on rewrites before my editors see it. I spent my learning-curve years in writing classes, reading a hundred or more books about writing, studying literature, reading, reading, reading, writing, writing, writing, and going to endless writer's conferences. I took notes while famous authors, incredible editors, artists, and agents shared what they had learned along the way. I still go to conferences. I get to speak now, but when I am not speaking, I am listening and I still take notes. I did all of this and more because no easier way was offered to me—or anyone else. There was no other way to enter into the career I wanted more than anything. I assumed a 5-10 year craft learning curve because that's what we were all told by the writers we listened to.  

          And now we are living in the golden age of self/indie-publishing. It is fascinating to me.  2.7 million indie books were released in 2010. Wow. I just clicked in “self publishing” and there were about 10,200,000 hits. Wow again. It’s an industry.

*(and as of 4 28, 2012....one click brings up about 49,200.000)*

*(and as of  June 5, 2013 it's 174,000,000)*

          A very few indie publishers have done really well. Some of these writers already had traditional careers and preferred to run their own show. Others are very good writers and marketers who came prepared and have worked hard. I admire indie authors.  I want to try indie pub for some of my stranger/odder works next year. I can only applaud the time, energy, and money indie writers have poured into their work.  The people who have done well have earned it!  I am cheering for anyone who has even modest success on their own. I know they are doing ten jobs, all at once. I just want to say this:

          Almost no one expects musicians to get good on an instrument without years of lessons, books, years of practice. There is a similar learning curve for writing. Mine was longer than I thought it would be. Traditional publishing used to give writers a free way to test readiness. I have a pile of rejections. Now writers are told to query agents first. They offer the same readiness test. If you get a positive response to your query, you send the manuscript or part of it and get more feedback, sometimes detailed, sometimes painful. For absolutely no fee at all, agents will let you know where your stand because if they take you on, they will have a stake in your success. Ditto old-school publishers. They put up the money and pay and train the staff that will help you polish the work. Then the pour more money into marketing. They literally invested in your success.

          Indie and self/publishers do not offer that kind of service. It is almost certain that no craft/art/market specialists will be reading your work with that kind of careful, invested  attention. It will get published anyway.  

          Without mentors and teachers and beta readers, learning to write is like deciding to knit, buying yarn and needles, then sitting in your room alone, waving them around and hoping for a sweater.  

          Storytelling is as old as humanity and as common as rainy days. Many people are interested in getting good at it. If you don’t have critique partners, consider finding some.  Take classes, read the kind of books you want to write.  Read books about writing. Your library probably has a stack of them. Ask librarians and independent booksellers what is flying off their shelves. Assume they will have different answers in a few months. Save up for conferences and if they offer critique staff, sign up to have your work evaluated. Take notes. Sift all the comments carefully. It’s your work, shape it. Experiment with guided revisions. Learn. Get good. Then publish any way you want to. There can never be enough good books.  

If you write for kids and YA, consider  http://www.scbwi.org/





21 comments:

Marcia said...

Beautifully said. I completely agree, and you've stated it with respect for all.

Vivi said...

I love this post. I am a relatively new writer, working as hard as I can to hone my craft and educate myself on the ins and outs of writing. I am a supporter of ebooks, but there are so many who jump out and publish without being truly ready (and critiqued) and end up with a published book full of basic grammatical errors and plot mistakes that could've been avoided. These mistakes give the ebook business a bad rap, unfortunately, and make it harder for the fantastic and clean stories to get noticed.

Kendra said...

Great post, Kathleen. As tempting it is to send the manuscript out into the world immediately, there's something to be said for the struggle and the time spent learning. Beta partners are invaluable, and all writers--even indie--can use a great editor.

Walter's Theatre Blog said...

As always, you are cogent and kind!

Joseph Ramirez said...

This rings true to me. You've made me feel quite a bit better about the whole thing - thank you.

Renee Gian said...

Bravo. Well said.

christine fonseca said...

I love this post - so beautifully written. And...so so true! Thank you!!!

Sue Cowing said...

Fine, clear, straight-to-the-point thoughts as always, Kathleen. This was just what I needed to read on a scattered day. I love, love the sweater-knitting analogy!

Sherry said...

I tell my students exactly the same thing. No one expects to pick up a guitar and play Liona Boyd's music. No one picks up a brush and expects to be the next Monet. But with writing, people think they know how because we've all had to write things since we were little. So we expect more instant results. But it is still a craft with a learning curve. Great stuff!

sunihali said...

Bravo, Kathleen!

Janie Emaus said...

A fabulous post!

Nicky Schmidt said...

Great post, Kathleen, really well said! Did you see the post about the ten bold predictions for the bookworld for 2012? Takes a similar vein and well worth a read. http://bit.ly/svl4AI

kathleen duey said...

Over 550 people have read this blog now. Thanks to everyone commenting. Please feel free to say anything about any of this. Nicky's rec is worth a read and there are many other articles and blogs online. Everyone is trying to see into the future of books/ebooks/multimedia/etc...

I am writing like crazy, wrenching and flying and stumbling my way toward the ending of this trilogy that I love so much.

I am weighing three different "Nexties" and adding notes to their files when I can.

The only thing about publishing that I know won't change is this: people need stories. Good ones.

Bonny Becker said...

Well said, Kathleen. Everyone I know is trying to negotiate this new publishing world. I love the idea of "old school" being a free way to see where you are along the path. I know I don't have the temperament or energy to indie publish, but I agree we all need to at least understand it and accept it as part of the mix.

Happy Holidays to you! (And get that third book out!!)

Bonny

Anonymous said...

Bethany Hagen said...
Well said! Sometimes, when I consider the writing degree and the critique sessions and the trunk novels...I feel a bit like I've just been treading water. But thinking about it like a learning curve makes it seem a little better :)

By the way, I was the lady on Twitter who stared at the wall after I read Sacred Scars. So did my husband--and he reads like one book per year, and generally those are of the Star Wars persuasion. So it's high praise that he blasted through Skin Hunger and Sacred Scars in only a couple of days!

Sacred Scars blew my mind, really. You know how there's movies where literally thousands of people die, and the viewer has no empathy? The ending of Sacred Scars was one of the most terrifying, wrenching things I've experienced.

Sorry to fangirl ramble. Please keep Hahp safe :)

9:45 PM

kathleen duey said...

Bethany...THANKS so much for the kind words about my books. I love knowing your husband likes them. The fan mail from adult men is really amazing me. Forgive me for redacting your post a little bit...it was beautifully written and made me very happy, but I don't want to spoil Sacred Scars for other readers.

all best,
kathleen

Kara said...

THIS "...learning to write is like deciding to knit, buying yarn and needles, then sitting in your room alone, waving them around and hoping for a sweater." This made me laugh out loud. I have committed it to memory and intend to pull it from my pocket and use it each time I am given the "how hard can it be" speech. That was beautifully said!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Beautifully said. This is such a hot topic and some have taken sides, which isn't helpful. The important thing always is to tell a story so it captivates readers and that is no easy task.

Patricia Cruzan said...

As you pointed out, a wordsmith must read, practice, and revise their work. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Theresa Milstein said...

This post is more relevant than ever. I've been toiling to go the traditional route for a long time. Even as each manuscript gets better, I still have so much more to learn. So I go to conferences, read books, send my work to beta readers, and so on. As you point out, that's how we improve.

Virtually every writer I know self publishes now. Few make much $. All say if it weren't for Amazon, they wouldn't make any $ at all. My feeling is that I don't want my work out there unless it's been deemed worthy by a publisher. And so I keep at it.

kathleen duey said...

Theresa,


The people who continue to learn are the ones with the best chance of making it work. Writing isn't easy. It just isn't!!