You know what I love? Books. Words. Stories. The pursuit of documenting the human experience—both fiction and non-fiction—by people who are brave enough to lay bare essential parts of who they are for public consumption. It isn’t a hobby of mine or a career path that I picked out of the classified ads. It’s a goddamn mission that I’ve felt compelled to follow since before I knew better. It isn’t about a paycheck or health insurance. It isn’t about “prestige” or “fame” or being a “gatekeeper.” If anything, it’s about kicking down the gate to make sure that the outliers and people on the fringes can not only have their voice heard, but their gospels pushed in the public square.
I am a zealot for words and stories. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they are sacred to me.
And I get my words from a lot of sources. Novels. Speeches. Religious texts. Memoirs. Protest songs. Love letters. I get immutable joy reading the stark poetry of box scores buried deep in the Sports section of the local paper.
My conviction isn’t to a job or an industry. It’s to the spread of words. So it took me by surprise a few months ago when I was at a writing conference and was asked if I was “scared” of the changes in publishing, especially as they relate to the indie author movement.
The answer, unequivocally, is no, I am not scared.
I offer no dismissive hand wave or condescending declaration of “Fools! All of them! What do they know?”
That’s not my bag.
If an author decides to self-publish (or any of the existing or forthcoming names given to the process like “go Indie” or “rebel style publishing” or “literary freedom fighter”), I’m good with it. Do your thing. But if you’re going to do your thing, I want you to promise me that you’ll do it right.
Because it’s only a button push away is not an excuse for disrespecting the legacy of the written word.
I’m not mad at people who opt to go around the old process. I don’t see them as the competition. My sleep is disrupted by plenty of things, but I’ve never woken up with a racing heart because anybody, anywhere has decided to self-publish a book. It isn’t money out of my pocket. And even if it was, even if every existing publishing company dried up tomorrow and I was left unemployed, I wouldn’t begrudge authors who opted to self-publish. There would be plenty of introspection and resulting evolution to follow, but I wouldn’t hold hate.
But I sure get pissed at people who create inferior products, make them available in the marketplace, and then cry when objective consumers find fault with the project. I’m removing the opinions of friends of the author, family of the author, and the ever present wannabe covert Literary Promotional Death Squads that spring up out of nowhere, squeeze off a few rounds from the Praise Gun, and attempt to suppress any negative conversation about a book. And, because I’m only focusing on words right now, I’ll eschew any discussion of cover design and formatting—two hugely important, not to be scrimped on details of what makes a book.
What you choose to write about is up to you. Present tense or past tense? First person or third person? Genre? Novel, novella, short story, flash fiction? All of those decisions are the writer’s. Based on their preferences, different readers will enjoy things differently. But a writer can always, in these matters, say this was my artistic choice, I was compelled to write like this.
Inconsistent head hopping? Typos? Random tense shifts? These things make Reader Bear weep and throw book across room. They are not artistic choices. They are the byproducts of sloppy work from people who know better or the unfortunately likely outcome of people who don’t.
Furthermore, Reader Bear doesn’t care if the writer hasn’t had the formal training of other writers or written ten previous novels, he isn’t reading books based on writer pedigree. He’s reading and judging books based on every other book he has read in his life. A writer’s ignorance of reader expectations isn’t a problem for anybody but the writer. This has nothing to do with LEGACY PUBLISHING STIFLED MY CREATIVITY~!
If you hired an Indie Contractor to build a house for you, and when Indie Contractor lifted the tarp off the thing there were nails and screws sticking out at 45 degree angles and the toilet was connected to the electrical system, you wouldn’t say, “Oh, cool, that’s your interpretation of how a house should be built.” You’d file a complaint. And you’d be right to do it.
Don’t mistake loose wires and uneven joists as a design choice. And don’t think those people who are familiar with how a house works because they have lived in one and visited a million others are going to accept shoddy work. Further, don’t mount the, Well, I was in another house built by ACME Builders and they had a crooked nail defense.
They shouldn’t have. Their negligence is not your opportunity to follow suit. And anyway, a crooked nail here or there, though unsightly and unprofessional is not the same as load bearing walls made solely from 1/8 inch sheet rock.
Writing and publishing—communicating your story to the world—is a practice and learned art. Because you’ve got a computer with a functioning keyboard and a word processing program makes you no more a writer than owning a 16 oz claw hammer and a pair of kneepads makes you a roofer.
If writing and publishing is new to you, I want you to know, I am not afraid of your brilliance. As a reader, I am also uninterested in excuses and unforgiving of sloppy work. Too many people have come before, holy work in hand, to show me the power of what can be done with words. It is what I’ve come to expect.
Need tips? There are all kinds of resources on the internet. One of your first steps might be over to Chuck Wendig and his blog Terrible Minds. He’s the kind of guy that asks the questions that will help you ask questions of yourself.