iPad saving us all? Maybe, but not yet.

Jon Gibbs has an interesting poll/discussion comparing self-publishing to a demo tape. As in, it's a perfectly legitimate way to put yourself out there.

I think I side with the folks who say the real "demo tape" of a novel is the ms that goes to the agent or editor, not something released to the general public.

I've had my ear tugged about six times by now from people swearing that I need to self-pub on the iPad right now because that's the wave of the future. And as I've tried to explain, it very well may be. I couldn't say otherwise when none of us in traditional or new media can say what the state of our industries will be tomorrow.

But as long as the publishing world considers self-publishing just this side of selling yourself on a street corner, I won't be doing it. Oh, I'll sell PDFs of short stories I'm not subbing to raise money for Relay. But I'm not self-pubbing a novel just to give myself something to sell, because it's hard enough as it is to be taken seriously.

I must have answered the question sixty times at the last convention - no, I'm not self-published. This question keeps popping up this year - haven't I put this to bed yet? Yes, we small-pressers still have to sell our own stuff, and we have to set up our own book tours and approach reviewers and publicity outlets ourselves, because that's the way of the world.

Frankly, I just can't bring myself to hit up any more bookstores for a while, because it just takes so much to get past the self-publishing defense wall... they'll interrupt me before I even get started with, "Does it have an ISBN?" Code for: Did you do this yourself, or did someone pay you to do it? I'm this close to hiring somebody just to make the phone calls for me, because if it isn't the author herself calling, they might take it more frigging seriously.

Look, Apple is already putting out the call for authors who want to self-publish for the iPad: ebookquery@apple.com. Yeah, I've got it. I got it from three different people. And I'm flattered that y'all want me on iPad. I even forwarded it to my publisher, in case they want to start negotiating with Apple for us to be available there. If any of you have stuff that is out of print, be my guest.

As I argued incessantly last weekend on panels, I want my stuff available in every possible format. I never want to have a reader ask me if my book is available in their chosen format, and have to respond, "No." I don't want to tell a Sony user that it's only available in Kindle, or a Nook user that you can only get it on the iPad. Which one gets to be Betamax? I don't know, and I can't afford to play that shell game. As far as I'm concerned, let my stuff be available in all formats, so you can get it the way you want it. Democracy in action.

But set it aside, because the one thing nobody seems to get is that it doesn't matter if I sold a bazillion copies of YELLOW ROSES on the iPad. I could outsell J.K. Rowling on the damn thing and there would still be an asterisk next to my name, if there's no publisher backing me on the project. Hell, I was labeled an "aspiring author" after my paperbacks were on the shelves at Borders just because my first two books were ebooks before they were in print. And I won't tell you how much shit I continue to get about having written paranormal romance. You know what it's like trying to get on the serious postapocalypse panels when they think all you write is Twilighters sucking each others' necks?

Not that I'm bitter.

I'm not adding the terminal stigma of self-publishing to my resume, thanks. Maybe they're right, and iPad will sweep in like iTunes and change everything. Maybe five years from now nobody will care whether you put your book out there yourself or a publisher paid you to do it. But given the glacial rate of change in publishing, I'd bet more on twenty years.

And then I'd still want an edit.

Comments

  1. "Which one gets to be Betamax? I don't know, and I can't afford to play that shell game. As far as I'm concerned, let my stuff be available in all formats, so you can get it the way you want it. Democracy in action."

    It seems to me that if you want your stuff out there in as many formats as possible, then you shouldn't reject the iPad outright. It sounds as though you're going to reject it even if it means getting your stuff out to a few more people. Democracy doesn't work if you don't get yourself on as many ballots as possible.

    "I'm not adding the terminal stigma of self-publishing to my resume, thanks. Maybe they're right, and iPad will sweep in like iTunes and change everything. Maybe five years from now nobody will care whether you put your book out there yourself or a publisher paid you to do it. But given the glacial rate of change in publishing, I'd bet more on twenty years. "

    As for this, I still say that you are neglecting the fact that if your work is out there somewhere you can sell more copies than if it isn't out there anywhere. I've heard you complain about not getting accepted at specific publishers. You can't argue that some bands make it big precisely because they put their mix tape out on the market. And while the iPad is FAR from a crappy dubbed cassette sold on street corners by some smelly kid out of the back of a van, it's still getting your work out in front of people.

    Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Beatrix Potter, John Grisham (who got so tired of "A Time to Kill" being rejected he published it himself), David Chilton all self published. Hell, "The Bridges of Madison County", "The Celestine Prophecy", "The Elements of Style by William Stunk, Jr." for crying out loud, "When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple", and even "Robert's Rules of Order" are self published books. I could go on listing authors who self published, who weren't big when they put their stuff out there to hell with what others said.

    In the end Elizabeth, you have to decide something. You have to decide if you are an author for the money, or for the sheer exuberance of writing. Do you write, or are you a writer?

    For if you are one who writes for the money, then this entire conversation is purely academic. You will only make a move when it is safe and lucrative in the moment. Yet, if you are one who writes because you can't stop any more than you can stop breathing, then you have only to write. Just put pen to paper, fingers to keys. This part you know, Stephen King said it himself, a writer writes. That's it. Just keep writing and putting it out there wherever you can. Print it off and hand out stapled copies outside the bookstore, mail them to random people. Just put the ideas onto media and put the media out into the world.

    Elizabeth, you can give me a thousand and one different reasons for why you refuse to consider this NOW. You can't give me any reasons to try it. If you only want to make money from this little hobby of writing then fine, do what you will. Refuse risk.

    But I know that you don't want to "just make money" and I also know this isn't "just a hobby". The two plays that Aardvark Productions put on were actually talked about in the community for a little while after they closed. That ain't bad for a self-produced play.

    I leave you with two quotes by men much better than I:

    MARK TWAIN:
    Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.

    ROBERT F. KENNEDY:
    Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have an idea. The Literary Underworld needs to set up each other's signings!

    We swap around our schedules, where we want to sign and when, and make the calls for each other.

    "Good afternoon. I'm Angelia Sparrow, Elizabeth Donald's publicist. I'm arranging a signing for her at your fine bookstore. We have several dates, which will work best for you?"

    Or "Good morning. I'm Elizabeth Donald, publicist for author Sara Harvey."

    And round and round it goes.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Angelia has a really fantastic idea here. You could exchange promotional materials with each other, write up some basic letters of introduction, and maintain a database of bookstores and their managers/PR folk. Network like crazy at cons and other events to get numbers, and then when you know you'll be near a bookstore with stock, give them a ring.
    One piece of advice, if you go this route: call well in advance of your date. If you only give a few weeks' notice, you will more than likely be rejected. If you know you'll be in Atlanta in November, start contacting the bookstores in August. Seriously. The longer you wait, the more likely the calendar will fill up, and the easier it is for the bookstore to say no. Having multiple open dates will also help immensely.

    Also... if we're looking at alternative outlets for your work, consider doing events at comic book stores, or answering calls for authors to appear at bookseller trade shows and book festivals (SEBA, GLBA, or MBA might be places to start- they do lots of events in the summer and fall). Does St. Louis or Springfield have a book festival you could appear at? Something to think about...

    ReplyDelete
  4. Andy,

    Thanks. I'd add two things--you're only as legitimate as you believe yourself to be, and self-publication is the only way to have true creative control. Edits are great, but I'll pass if it means I have to submit to a terrible cover! :D

    ReplyDelete

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