“So many writers still want that traditional “validation.” They want someone else to take control of their career. They want someone else to praise their book and make it a bestseller.
They want to put their entire artistic and creative future into a machine that’s designed to chew people up and spit them out—even if those people aren’t on some blacklist.
I see writer after writer after writer who wants to sell their books to traditional publishers or who want to go into Hollywood with a “free” option or who willingly give away the rights to something just for “the opportunity” to play in this shark tank.
The film industry hasn’t yet gone through the full-fledged transition that book publishing and comics are going through right now. It’s not easy to make a film without big money backing and get it distributed worldwide. It is possible to write a book and get it distributed worldwide now.
That self-published book just won’t get the attention that a handful of books got thirty and forty years ago. But that 2018 book will stay on the virtual shelves while the older books rarely stayed on any shelf.
There’s a lot of upside to indie. A bit of downside too, which we’ll be discussing in the next few weeks. But the biggest upside to me is that we are not subject to the whims of someone who will only spend money to market a book on a writer because she’s pretty or because she meets the current cultural norm.
(I just got offered a big quick turn-around tie-in novel this past month, for which I would have been paid in the low six-figures. When I said I wasn’t interested and offered to give the person a list of writers who might have the time to write this project, she asked if any of them were female. I said no, none of them were. [I wasn’t looking at gender; I was looking at availability for a rush job.] Well, to be honest, she said, we only picked you because you were the most visible female tie-in author we could find. We don’t want men at all. Again, that flash of disappointment rose in me. I was chosen, not because my work is good, but because I’m female. I understand the corrective urge in the marketplace, but jeez, that comment felt as insulting as having my book marketed because I was considered pretty 25 years ago.)
Writers who choose to take their novels and their nonfiction books into traditional publishing are choosing to give their careers to the “tastemakers” who sometimes make their decisions based on their prejudices, their “understanding” of a marketplace that (in reality) does not exist, and who will do their best to destroy anyone who questions them.
Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. I’ve been through my share of whisper campaigns too, including one that went on for nearly thirty years—from the moment that guy lost a big prestigious job to me until the day he died.
I used to tell writers that you need a tough skin to be in this business. And you still do. Although not a scaly hide that nothing can penetrate. These days, if you’re going indie, you need to be tough enough to handle the ups and downs of owning your own business. You need to be tough enough to weather bad reviews and low sales. You need to be strong enough to keep moving forward in the face of disappointment.
If you’re going traditional, you need to be made of alligator skin. You need a hide so thick that nothing can pierce it, or if something does, you need to have a system to deal with the pain so you can get up and move forward again.
Just because we’re having these conversations in the culture right now doesn’t mean that everything has changed for the better. This kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how it feels.
Remember, the news cycle is on overdrive right now, and what might seem too big and important to ignore might vanish in the wake of yet another scandal or large catastrophe that we can’t even imagine right now.
I’m hoping this kind of change we’re seeing is not a bubble. But I’ve been through enough bubbles to know that’s a risk.
Is becoming a traditionally published author so important to you that you’re willing to succeed on any terms? Is becoming a traditionally published author so important to you that you’re willing to put your career (and your copyrights) in the hands of people who still haven’t figured out that diversity means more than publishing a few books about discrimination?
And if your answer is yes, then do this: Use your imagination.”
In that old book of criticism, Lewis was justifying the fiction that he wrote. He didn’t like the terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” fiction, choosing instead to label readers “unliterary” or “literary” depending on the kind of attention they pay to the texts in front of them. (If the reader read solely for pleasure, and did not reread books, they were generally unliterary.)