Their Way, Or Not At All: Professionalism, Indie Writers And Differing Career Goals

Warning: some swearing.

Disclaimer: Also, this is a rant as disclaimed here. If I put this disclaimer and you get offended by what I say, that’s totally your fault for reading and being offended. It can’t possibly be my fault and I am then justified for mocking you and essentially calling you a crybaby in the article. Moreover, this behaviour of mine is extremely professional, as I claim I aspire to be.

If writing is your profession, act professional.

Here’s What I Know by Joe Konrath

I’ve been reading blogs about self-publishing and the rise of ebooks for years now, since back before it was cool. In that time, I’ve witnessed a huge shift in the way self-publishing is talked about by those who practice it and one of those changes really gets my goat.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some authors are tasteful about it, the above quoted Joe being one of them, while he advocates acting professionally and publishing to a professional standard, he does so within the context of those who are – or are aspiring to be – professional full-time writers.

Others are less restrained and start frothing at the mouth and blaming other self-published authors for the perception that self-published books are the dregs of the industry and have the according quality. These authors argue that customers aren’t buying indie books because they think that their books are being buried under what they call ‘the crap’. They argue that their wonderful books aren’t being noticed because they’re drowned out by the books that aren’t up to their standard.

And, you know what? They’re probably right.

The problem is that they then don’t go and ask the next question: So. Freaking. What?

I am an indie author. I am a self-published author.

I am not a professional author, nor have I ever claimed to be.

Chuck Wendig says that indie publishing isn’t a hobby. Well, actually Chuck, for me it is. I have a job which I enjoy and which pays me very well. As much as I enjoy getting these stories out of my head, I wouldn’t want to give up that job at this time. When I publish, it’s for those people who might be interested in reading it. Another article took it even further, blaming other indie authors for such things as “poisoning entire price points” and sabotaging other indie authors.

This vitriol is inevitably accompanied by claims that we’re not being professional. The underlying assumption to everyone telling us that writing is a business is that we better fucking want to make a career out of it. Because writing quality is important, other indies have the right to do the blogging equivalent of ranting at us on the street. They all seem unable to comprehend the idea that other writers might not have the same career goals as them or, if they do acknowledge this, they see this as a legitimate reason to decide that we’re not allowed to self-publish, that we have less of a right to put our work in front of readers and let the readers decide than they do.

I actually think that this goes back to the traditional publishing culture, where you better love writing a whole damn lot because you would be slaving away for a pitance (and hold a day job) for years if not decades before you made it, if you ever did. In that context, there was no hobby publishing, which largely excluded those of us who just wanted to write and maybe recoup some of the time and effort we put in, rather than make a living at it. Publishers wanted writers who were going to make a career out of it and write book after book. In other words, they didn’t want to waste time branding one-book authors.

This concept of ‘career authors only’ has spread to indie publishing and if, like me, you don’t buy into it, well, haven’t you heard?

I’m selfish.

I’m selfish because I didn’t pay for my covers. I’m selfish because I did minimal editing, and did it all myself. I’m selfish because I don’t want to be a professional author and never have.

Me? I’m just hanging out in my corner of Amazon. If anyone wants to give my work a try, that’s cool. If not, no drama. I wrote it for myself and I put it up on Amazon to maybe re-coup part of the cost of electricity to run my laptop and the cost of hot chocolates to have a seat at a cafe. Still, if no one buys them, I don’t mind.

But there are indie authors out there who tell me that I’m selfish.

These authors demand that I pay for a cover. They demand that I spend my hard-earned money to pay for editing. They demand that I spend what little free time I have being ‘a professional author’.

They demand that I have the same career goals as them.

And, if I don’t, they I shouldn’t publish.

I shouldn’t publish because I’m making it look like indies publish crap just for the money, even though I’m not doing it for the money. I’m presenting indie authors as being unprofessional when I have no aspirations to being a professional author. I’m making indie books look cheap because I won’t spend large amounts of money on my hobby.

And mostly, I shopuldn’t publish because, by hanging out in that tiny corner of my own on Amazon with my self-edited writing, I’m cutting into their bottom line.

Oh yeah, and I’m the selfish one.

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Wriye Blogging Circle: Character Relationships

This post was written for the February topic of the Wriye blogging circle.

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I’m not a huge fan of romantic relationships between characters. I mean, I know that they happen and even have my favorite ships for all the fandoms I enjoy but I’ve always thought that there is far too much importance attached to them. That said, if you’re going to do something, then you better do it right, so I have developed a process for creating relationships between characters.

NOTE: this whole process only matters if the relationship isn’t natural chemistry. If the characters are muddling alone fine all on their own, this isn’t needed. It can also be used to codify a relationship, make it evolve to what I want it to be.

—–

STEP 1:

Pick at least one character that will be in the relationship. If you decide to pick just the one, then you can cast about in the next steps for the other person in the relationship, the one that fits the best. Alternatively, you can pick two people you want to share a relationship. Remember, despite what the romance genre tells you, not all relationships are good ones, or even sensible. The two people you pick don’t have to go well together.

STEP 2:

Find a song that exemplifies the type of relationship you want to write. You can do this either by searching for something specific or by browsing, trusting that you will know what you want when you hear it.

STEP 3:

Put the song on repeat every time you write a scene where the relationship is a major element. After a bit, it might be worth looking for other songs to add a little bit of nuance, but that’s optional.

STEP 4:

Re-edit those scenes with the same song playing to unify the tone.

—–

These steps may seem easy – and they are – but I’ve also found that they make a huge difference in how smoothly a relationship flows from my mind onto the page. Certainly, I do sometimes have relationships that are created simply in the course of writing rather than being planned but, as I find that there is an overemphasis in literature on romantic relationships, they are few and far between. I’m far more comfortable writing a close friendship than a relationship.

My favorite relationship that I’ve written so far actually hasn’t been published yet because its part of a series that I’m working on out of order for plot reasons, though the female character is in my currently published The Last Empire series. In order not to spoil the book (which is a prequel) I won’t say the name of the female character but the male character is called Mark. The song that I chose for them was The Devil Within by the Digital Daggers because…

Seriously, I can’t explain any of my reasoning without spoiling not only what’s been published in the series but also what hasn’t been yet. Basically, they get together because of a school project that exposes the vulnerability that they hide from the world and they discover that they compliment each other.  What makes their relationship so beautiful is the fact that it could never work because their loyalty is conflicting in ways that can’t be reconciled, no matter how much they might wish to.

Urgh, I give up. I’d rather not give as much information as I could than spoil that far in advance. Suffice to say, that was the time where the music I chose not only pushed me through the relationship with it stay consistent, that was actually the fastest I ever wrote.

Well worth the time it took to find exactly the right song.

——

Liked what you read? Emilie’s The Last Empire series is a politically-focused dystopia featuring a cast of tough but morally dubious characters you will love and love to hate. If you want to read a dystopia where the characters are real enough to be forever scarred by what they have seen and done, try  Episode 1×01: Subjugation from The Last Empire for only $0.99 (non Amazon US links can be found here).

Also, subscribing to the blog, following Emilie on twitter and adding her on Google+ are surefire ways to keep uptodate on the latest The Last Empire news.

The “New” Class System: Donald Maass, Traditional Publishing Bias And Self-Publishing

Once again, someone has written a controversial blog post that has the online writing community at each other’s throats. Frankly, I find it particularly telling that, in the past few years, the posts that are considered controversial have gone from the ones espousing self-publishing to the ones that put it down. And, frankly, as far as putting down indie publishing, Donald Maass’ post does it with a spectacular amount of condescension.

Frankly, when these posts come up, I tend to just ignore them, maybe make one or two small comments but I’m afraid I have a bit more to say about this little bit of mud-slinging. Honestly, Mr Maass, if you’re going to try to stir up controversy and put down the indies, can you at least do it well?

So, before I really get into this post, let’s lay out some groundwork about me, because everything so far and for the rest of this post is inevitably tinted by my own circumstances. I am:

  • self-published
  • not even close to successful
  • not interested in making writing my full-time job
  • not in it for the money

Again, everything from here on out is said with these things in mind. So strap yourselves in, folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

—-

There are three major inconsistencies in Maass’ post which make it impossible to take it seriously. These have been pointed out many times in comments around the internet, but here they are again, for the sake of clarity.

  1. His description of the class system, the whole point of the post, applies equally to traditionally published authors and is therefor not new
  2. He puts down indie authors but then claims that the good ones are then “easy pickings” for publishers
  3. He talks of how ebooks are the “gravy” of publishing compared to the “expensive and difficult” business of print books but even print-only contracts with successful self-publishers aren’t losses, they’re “easy pickings and effortless profit”

Each  of these problems with his line of reasoning is self-evident, but still worth going into in more detail.

His description of the class system, the whole point of the post, applies equally to traditionally published authors and is therefor not new

While I won’t give Maass’ “new” class system the credit of breaking it down here, suffice to say it is based upon the idea that publishing is, in his words, a meritocracy and that the best books sell the best. I’m not sure that I agree with this but it is, anyway, an issue for another time. The fact remains that “his” class system is basically bad books, okay books, great books.

That’s hardly revolutionary and one really must wonder if Maass pays any attention at all to the publishing world he is attempting to talk so authoritatively about if he believes that this is revolutionary. While quality doesn’t always translate to good sales (as bestselling author Courtney Milan argues in this post), there is nonetheless the same hierarchy of quality in traditional publishing.

Maass seems to think that cutting out a large portion of writers makes traditional publishing immune to amateurish writing, discoverability problems and character stereotypes. Indeed, given his lament on the lack of literary flourishes and cross-genre works, one gets the sense that Maass is disdainful of all commercial fiction and would much prefer it everyone wrote and therefor had to read literary fiction.

More importantly, at no point does Maass ever produce any evidence that “his” class system differs from the realities of traditional publishing.

He puts down indie authors but then claims that the good ones are then “easy pickings” for publishers

As many commentators have pointed out, there is a rather condescending tone to Maass’ post with regards to indie authors. “No, no,” one can imagine him saying, “of course self-publishing helps the publishing industry, darling. It keeps people reading you see, by not pricing books so high that most people will not buy them, even if they could afford to read as much as they wanted.”

More than his quite insulting comparison of indie authors of cattle, which I shan’t go into but had been discussed at length on Passive Voice (linked to both at the start and end of this post), he contradicts himself by saying that the good ones are the “easy pickings” for the publishing industry, with no justification.

At no point does he provide any justification beyond linking to a survey that apparently proves that 70% of all books bought are printed books. He then continues on as though being a large market share means that it would be stupid for an indie author not to gratefully accept an offer that a publisher deigns to make. It makes no mention of the stipulations that such contract often make, such as non-compete clauses (which bestselling hybrid author Hugh Howey is not impressed with in this post), nor the comparatively more generous royalties. There is no mention of the loss of control these deals mean, nor to the loss of responsiveness to the market on the part of the author.

These are but some of the issues that have been covered ad nauseum on the blogs of self-published authors and on writing forums. The fact that these aren’t even touched upon with regards to his “easy pickings” comment lends further credence to the possibility that Maass has isolated himself from the indie and self-publishing scenes and is, largely, talking our of his ass. It might shock him to learn, then, that print deals and large advances are not sure-fire means of convincing indies to sign publishing deals.

He talks of how ebooks are the “gravy” of publishing compared to the “expensive and difficult” business of print books but even print-only contracts with successful self-publishers aren’t losses, they’re “easy pickings and effortless profit”

The third major problem of this post differs considerably from the first two in that it’s not a problem, of lack of understanding of the market but rather that Maass contradicts himself in the very post. It’s all very self-explanatory, really. His first point goes on about how ebooks area joy to sell compared to paper books. Then, in his second point, he claims that ” Even print-only distribution deals with a handful of successful e-published authors are terrific: easy pickings and effortless profit.”

At no point does he try to reconcile the descriptions of “expensive and difficult” with “easy pickings and endless profit”. One could argue, of course, that the distinction is that the author is already successful and has a huge following, but that would contradict the sense he gives that indie publishing is poor cousin of traditional publishing.

I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that those with a vested interest in the traditional publishing industry can no longer keep their head in the sand (despite their best efforts) and ignore the fact that an increasing number of authors are doing very well out of self-publishing.

These high profile cases mean that post such as this can’t even get away with completely dismissing indie publishing altogether, so they put up such pathetic attacks as this one. The need to acknowledge and attempt to dismiss the examples of its successes introduces contradictions that expose the flaws of arguments such as this one.

—–

For those who are interested, there are some interesting discussions on this going around at Kboards and Passive Voice. It;’s also interesting to note that while there are plenty of people scornful of his post on both those forums, there’s not a single negative comment on the original post (and, indeed, one commentator on Kboards mentions that her negative comment on the post was “awaiting moderation”. Make of that what you will).

In short, what I’ve been dancing around for the last 1300 words is this: Mr Maass’ post is wrong. It has blinkers, demonstrates the bias of those with vested interests and is a poor excuse of argumentation.

But then again, I’m only a self-published author in cattle class. What would I know?

——

Liked what you read? Emilie’s The Last Empire series is a politically-focused dystopia featuring a cast of tough but morally dubious characters you will love and love to hate. If you want to read a dystopia where the characters are real enough to be forever scarred by what they have seen and done, try  Episode 1×01: Subjugation from The Last Empire for only $0.99 (non Amazon US links can be found here).

Also, subscribing to the blog, following Emilie on twitter and adding her on Google+ are surefire ways to keep uptodate on the latest The Last Empire news.

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