Saturday, May 20, 2006

More Papers, Please

Just to clarify, it's not that I don't don't think some self-published stuff isn't good. It's just that so little of it, judging from what I've seen, is. And as a reviewer and host of a web site, I've read a lot of fiction -- both traditionally and self-published). An AWFUL lot.

Glen wrote:

"The publishing houses don't always know what's going to sell, and just because something doesn't sell doesn't mean it isn't good. On your own site, you say Max Allan Collins is having trouble finding a publisher for his series. Is he any worse a writer than he was in 1976, 1986, or 1996?"

No, but he does get published fairly regularly. Now, if he were to self-publish a Nate Heller book (the series he's currently having trouble selling), I'd be one of the first to buy one. Because he's got a proven track record and the man can definitely write compelling and entertaining prose.

But just because someone can't get published doesn't automatically make them as good a writer as Max Allan Collins.

Hell, forget Max Collins. Most self-pubbed writers aren't even as good as Dick Collins.

And JD Rhoades asked:

"Kevin, how many illegals have you actually dealt with in real life?"

I live in Southern California and work with the public and am by nature pretty gregarious. I go to bars and cafes and malls and markets and use public transit. How many do you think?

Or is there a quota I have to reach before I'm allowed to comment?

By the way, I notice that your Jack Keller books (LOVED the first one, looking forward to the second) aren't self-published. Quality aside, why do you think you got a publisher and so many self-pubbies didn't?

To continue the analogy, many self-pubbies, like illegal immigrants, don't even try to go through traditional channels. Yes, the game may be rigged and the deck may be stacked and the odds are against you, but to trot out another cliche, you cannot win if you do not play.

I also possess a bit more first-hand info about the American immigration process than some of you might -- I'm an immigrant (and was fingerprinted four times by Homeland Security, which should make all of you feel much safer). For that matter, I've also self-published.

And Robert S.P. Lee said...

"I did the self-pub thing on a small level as more of a calling card. Like handing out a business card."

Which, if you ask me, is a far more realistic and useful view of things -- although it is one hell of an expensive way to do business cards.

Too bad far too many self-pubbers suffer from the delusion that they're going to do an end-run around the industry and become hot-shit best-sellers without ever going the traditional route.

It ain't gonna happen. No matter how many stars Harriet gives you ("you" here not necessarily being you, Robert)

You wanna play in the big league, eventually you're gonna have to lace up and get on the ice.


Blogger Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

The following comments are based on my decade of experience as a bookseller in rural Maine. Things may work differently for you city folks.

Almost without exception, self-published books don't sell. Like Kevin said, the authors are either people who could not get published through normal channels or simply decided they didn't want to share their "profits" with a rapacious publishing house.

I used to take in self-published books on consignment. I didn't pay the author anything unless the book sold. That way, I was not stuck with six copies of MY LIFE AND TIMES by Joe Nobody that I couldn't even give away.

The only time I could sell a few copies would be if the local paper did a little piece on the author (which in not all that unusual, this being a small town). Of course, most of these sales were to the writer's friends and family.

Aside from the cheesy production values of most self-published books, there is the fact that --on the whole-- the writing is piss poor. People with no writing experience, no time at all devoted to learning the craft, suddenly decide "Hey, I'm going to write a book."

The editorial process is noticeably lacking in most of these books. Typos and grammatical errors abound, as do many of the cliches we are taught to avoid in our very first creative writing class.

11:12 AM, May 20, 2006  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

Kevin: Thaks for the kind words about the books.

As to why I got published without self-pubbing, I never considered self publishing. I was, however, lucky enough to meet up with an agent who liked my work and understood what I was trying to do, and he knew an editor who felt the same way.

Finally, on the subject of your analogy, which I find rather flawed: I was just wondering where you got that illegals have a "sense of entitlement." I've met quie a few (and my wife did a six part series fo articels for the local paper on the Hispanic community, so she's better informed that I am). And not a single one had a sense of entitlement to be here. Desperation, maybe, gratitude at the good fortune of being here, more often a shrug and a "man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," but I never met a one that said he was here because he was entitled. Maybe your acquaintances vary.

12:29 PM, May 20, 2006  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Patrick's comments are right on, and I don't think it matters if you're in a city or a town or a cave -- self-published books, particularly novels, don't sell.

As not just a long-time reader but a former graphic designer, I'm shocked at times by the almost non-existent values of many self-pubbed books, particularly the output of those notorious crank-em-out POD vanity presses. Type's supposed to be black-on-white, not varying shades of gray-on-white, covers are not supposed to immediately curl up like leaf springs on an old Ford pickup, and the ignorance of the basic rules of typography and good book design on display in these tomes is just staggering.

Sure, as technology advances, the production quality, if not the editorial or design quality, is getting slightly better, but even so most people still don't want to spend money on an over-priced product by an unknown writer (and make no mistake -- POD books are more expensive than comparable-sized books by traditional houses. It's a simple matter of economy of scale -- big press runs means cheaper per unit price. Printing on demand costs.).

Worse, though, by far, is the lack of editing. I've read some potentially great self-pubbed books (I've never said they ALL suck) that were ruined by truly sloppy (or possibly non-existent) editing.

I'm not just talking spelling mistakes or minor grammatical errors which, granted, are annoying enough, but gaping plot holes, glaring narrative inconsistencies, pointless digressions, ridiculous plot twists and syntax so indecipherable it belongs in an Amazon review.

And for this they charge three, four, five bucks more?

Yikes! It would be like sneaking into a country and expecting to be rewarded for it.

12:32 PM, May 20, 2006  
Blogger glen davis said...

Most of the authors you describe remind me of those college professors who write their own textbooks and then require students in their classes to buy them.

I agree that self published books don't sell. Distribution problems alone almost guarantee it. Plus most of the self published books I've encountered are books on very local history and biographies of old time B western movie stars. The market for these is extremely tiny. I don't blame the big publishing houses for not publishing them, but as a consumer, I'm glad the books exist.

But as to production values of the physical product...there's no arguing that. They are vastly inferior in most cases.

3:59 PM, May 20, 2006  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Oh, and Patrick wrote:

"I was just wondering where you got that illegals have a "sense of entitlement." I've met quie a few (and my wife did a six part series fo articels for the local paper on the Hispanic community, so she's better informed that I am). And not a single one had a sense of entitlement to be here... but I never met a one that said he was here because he was entitled. Maybe your acquaintances vary."

You're in North Carolina, I'm in Southern California, so yeah, they sure do vary. Fortunately, most of the illegal Hispanic immigrants I've chatted with are like that, but it's hard to ignore the small but increasingly vocal minority of them here who DO show that sense of entitlement; those who march in demonstrations while flying American flags upside down, sneer at the laws of the country they want to live in and demand they be given special treatment just because a few centuries ago some of their long-gone distant relatives may have lived here.

Evidently waiting in line, following procedures and paying taxes and silly stuff like that are for OTHER immigrants, not them.

9:20 PM, May 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's the difference between self-published writers and illegal immigrants? There's a demand for illegal immigrants.

The premise is that we self-published writers are like illegal immigrants who sneak in without bothering to learn the language, waiting in line, following procedures, only there for the benefits we can get. Those benefits are publication and distribution. Benefits we illegals have gained without earning full citizenship.

To follow that premise is to accept that the publishing industry is an authoritarian government that grants "citizenship" to writers, and to bypass that process is to be an illegal with a sense of entitlement who isn't willing to earn his citizenship the old fashioned way. My sense of entitlement is way too massive for that. Being a self-published writer is more like starting your own country.

Today there is more than one way to do things. That means more independence for everyone. That is not a bad thing, that's a good thing, right?

1:26 AM, May 25, 2006  
Blogger Kevin Burton Smith said...

Sure, start your own country. But don't do it in someone else's backyard and then expect to be treated like a special guest.

And yes, today there is more than one way to do things. But that doesn't necessarily mean that old-school values like talent and hard-work and learning to write well don't count any more. If anything, with so much crap out there, wouldn't they matter more?

The self-publishing revolution may be a boon for writers who might never have been published in the old days (many for very good reasons), but it hasn't necessarily been good for most readers. Certainly the number of good new crime novels in print hasn't risen dramatically, although the number of unedited unpolished over-priced sub-standard books rushed prematurely to print certainly has.

Okay, it's not a bad thing, maybe, because nobody really reads them, but does that make it a good thing?

After all, beyond vanity presses and the desperate, impatient authors willing to pay them to see their name on a book cover, has anyone truly benefitted from the self-publishing boom?

In fact, come to think of it, maybe self-publishing is a bad thing for new writers, as well. In looking back over some of the self-pubbed books I've read over the last few years which were clearly not as polished as they could have (and should have) been, I'm beginning to think that the POD vanity press option has prevented many beginning writers from truly developing their skills and reaching a larger audience.

I mean, why bother re-writing when you can just publish NOW?

3:25 PM, May 25, 2006  
Blogger Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Oh, and Patrick wrote:

"I was just wondering where you got that illegals have a "sense of entitlement."


I never actually said anything about illegals. I think that comment you quoted came from Dusty.

5:41 AM, May 27, 2006  

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