Month: January 2014

Putting your ass out in public

Chuck Wendig wrote a post yesterday in which he basically said that self-publishers need to stop half-assing things. Then he followed up today by saying it’s not the readers’ job to be the new gatekeepers.

I read them, and had the little argument in my head like I normally do with articles that happen to trigger my bullshit detector. Normally, that’s enough, and the effort to type out a response doesn’t seem like it’s worth it. But what the hell.

To quote his own summary of his first post: “blah, blah, blah.” It’s not that there’s anything revolutionary in there, it’s that it’s such painfully bland advice that it seems hardly worth stating except to get the usual crowds to shout, “Rah! Rah! That self-published shit on Amazon needs to get its act together!”

Right. There are lots of crappy self-published books on Amazon. They should try harder. Art harder, as Wendig himself said so well. Get a good cover, learn to sling a sentence, fix the fucking typos, and stop acting like it’s goddamn amateur hour.

I hate to break it to you, Chuck, but these poor slobs think they’re playing in the majors. They think their book is pretty damn good and they love that cover they threw together in a half hour with PowerPoint.

Nobody sets out to make a shitty book. Somehow, most people manage to. Some of those people manage to get their shitty books published by The Big However-Many-Are-Left. Some of those people slap their shitty book up on Amazon like a toddler discovering that their poop makes good paint. Most people shove their shitty books in the drawer and never do anything with them.

I celebrate all the shitty books being published on Amazon. Because some of them aren’t. Maybe a few of them are good. Their authors probably can’t tell the difference–hopefully they get some input that can guide them toward writing better before they press the publish button. But let’s be honest–the books that pass through agents and editors on their way to the publishing houses often suck, too. It’s a magical and mysterious process that cannot be simplified into a formula or Hollywood movies would be better than they are. Some of those who are edited to hell and back will still not end up with a very good book, and sometimes a writer will create a classic with little to no editing.

So more is better. More self-publishing means that the crappy books will proliferate, but so will the good ones. The authors who publish crap will probably not know, and they may never get any better. Look at auditions for shows like American Idol. The poor saps who come in and think they are sirens but sound more like frogs should have had someone to tell them how bad they were before they stood before nationally broadcast cameras. But even if they’d been told they sucked, they still probably would have thought they were good. The other thing you notice in such competitions is how often the talented people cannot believe it. This is because incompetent people overrate their competence, and the highly competent underrate their own. Science!

The signal to noise ratio is terrible, but then it always has been. Hundreds of thousands of books are published a year and there are some 130 million books ever published. Most readers will never venture beyond what they are recommended by their friends and see on the bestseller lists. Those brave souls who delve into the depths of the hundreds of thousands of self- and pro- published books will have to develop thick skins. They will either laugh or weep and gnash their teeth at the dreck they find. And there will be many self-published books that will never be discovered. I have one on Amazon at the moment. I think it’s alright. But it’s not burning up any charts.

Most readers are much better “editors” than the traditional gatekeepers give them credit for. If they read the back cover and the first page or two, and don’t like it, they won’t buy it. Once or twice getting burned with giving a self-published book a try will teach them to judge them just as harshly as they would a traditionally published book. I just hope they don’t think that all self-published books are bad because of one bad experience. I hope instead they learn the proper lesson: don’t dish out your money unless you think you will like the book, or someone has recommended it to you: the same common sense judgment we apply to every other source of media.

(And I have a whole other thing about how the self-publishing argument has devolved into a discussion of money, but that’s another rant for another time.)

So yeah, I don’t exactly celebrate mediocrity or half-assing things, as the person Wendig quotes (Emily Cantore) says. If you are writing a book: Try your best. Try not to write shit. Ask other people what they think of your writing. If you have trouble with grammar or typos, get it fixed. If you think your book is good, and want it to get noticed, give it a good cover. I hope this is all self-evident. Sometimes these things aren’t. If you’ve never written much before, and this stuff sounds like Greek, study up on it before you press “publish”: Don’t be like those people who think they are more competent than they are.

But don’t wait forever, either. Because maybe it’s time. If you’ve covered all the basic steps, and you’ve researched all the stuff you need to know to put your best effort out there, then maybe you should pull the trigger.

I don’t celebrate half-assing it, but I do celebrate all of the people putting their asses out in public. Because it’s not easy for some of us, and sometimes you will get it handed back to you. I celebrate taking a chance on yourself.