Thursday, April 11, 2013

The homestretch beard and the possible indie publishing bubble

The novel I began in November took longer than expected because it quickly became apparent it works better as a series rather than a stand-alone book. This was worrisome because the story was intended to be a one-off and I didn't want to cop-out and pull a "To Be Continued" at the end of the first book. Really, a book ought to stand on its own even if it is part of a bigger story, which means you need a definite conflict and a definite resolution, all in one story. So I worked on some short stories and a screenplay while I thought about ways to make the novel a little more independent. Then a seemingly minor character I had written about earlier in the story came back unexpectedly and, well, everything fits together nicely now.

It's a standalone story after all.

the homestretch beard

Right now I'm growing my homestretch beard. Whenever I've been working on a project for a month or more I tend to neglect shaving towards the end (and sometimes showering, but that's a different story). I figure I might as well make this an official custom. The beard won't be shaven until I finish the novel. There just isn't enough time for being a civilized human when you're finishing something that's been in your head the last four or five months. So...

Is indie publishing a bubble right now?

If you ask me the answer is "sort of," but I'm not an industry analyst and I don't really "get" economics. I am just a plumber, after all.

Yesterday my friend asked me what I plan on doing with the novel. That's a good question. My first instinct, upon completing anything, is it should really be published traditionally. My biggest issue with that is the time involved finding a publisher who actually wants to take a chance on my silly little book. Twenty publishers rejected Frank Herbert's Dune for crying out loud; what does that say about my chances of quick publication? My second biggest issue is this is supposed to be a series... so, uh, if the first one doesn't sell, who's to say they'll ever publish the second one?

Tip #1: Don't write a series until you're an established writer.

Not too long ago self-publishing fiction was considered the stamp of an amateur (and rightly so). That's changed in recent years, sure, but I feel a lot of that is because of ebook readers; the technology is still pretty new and apparently there are a lot of people hungry for as much cheap content as they can get for their new toys (we're talking 99 cents to $2.99, sometimes even free). But am I really the only person who considers the current generation of ebook readers to be the Atari 2600? There was a lot of thoughtless, cheap content pushed out for Atari and look how that turned out.

The problem is absolutely anybody can pretend to be a writer these days. I could write a piece of shit in a week or two, upload it to Amazon and other markets through Smashwords, then buy five-star reviews off of a website like Fiverr.com. A lot of people are doing just that. When you have delusions of grandeur you can justify being such a slimy weasel: "Hey, I am the shit! I just need to rig the results I know I deserve!"

I spend a lot of time lurking in writing forums. I discovered a lot of amateur writers are churning out a huge catalog of "books" (many of them are only a few pages long) in a matter of months. A lot of these men and women are reporting four-digit monthly incomes that are either growing or holding steady. Each of these masturbatory forum threads attract a lot of attention from other writers who are obviously interested in doing the same. One of these would-be power writers said, "Instead of being a needle in the haystack, the idea is to make so many needles that you have a needle-stack." Or something to that effect.

They make it sound so easy: get around fifty "books" out there on the market, use a different pseudonym for each genre so people don't get sick of any one pen name (I imagine readers are getting sick of this shit, anyway), and flood the market with your quickly produced garbage. Then: profit.

This trend just isn't going to last. The people who are doing it are fucking themselves in the ass and could potentially damage the entire indie publishing scene. Yeah, a lot of people are going to disagree with me, but listen to what I'm really saying: Only publish stuff that's worth people's time. Should that sentiment really be so controversial? Just because people are buying this shit now doesn't mean it's worth their time.

You may remember that a while ago I released my own independently published novel for free, but the difference was I worked on the sucker for over two years and I planned to sell it once I got enough input. I was also upfront with readers by telling them it was still a work in progress, an experiment. Since then I've lost interest in that piece (let's face it, it wasn't all that great), but a few hundred people read it and I learned a lot so I'm happy. I used to give short stories away for free, too, but you know what? When I sold my first short story I discovered I enjoyed having an editor and, more than that, I enjoyed getting paid.

No, it's not all about the money, but my first short story fully paid a utility bill I would have otherwise been late on. Yes, getting money for something you enjoy doing is awesome. That raises another point: people who focus on quantity over quality can't enjoy doing it, can they? Not only did they not deserve that money, it's not as satisfying as getting paid for something they enjoyed.

This has all been to say that, like a lot of writers, I really think that indie publishing is going to play a big part in the future. I just think we need to treat it with the respect it deserves. Maybe indie publishing isn't in a bubble in the traditional sense of the word, but again, all I'm saying is don't publish shit just because it's easier to do than ever before.

My plan is to continue publishing short stories the traditional way so I know I'm worth a shit. As for my next novel, I'll probably publish it myself through Smashwords and Lulu, but only after I've hired a professional editor, gotten a decent cover artist, and a ton of beta-reader input.

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