Tuesday, February 8, 2011

21st Century Digital Boy

Yesterday I was amped for a rant (of sorts). Actually, it was more of an airing of my dirty laundry, past mistakes and present failures...

Once upon a time I was a writer who doubted myself too much. Note the phrase "too much". Any good writer should doubt a portion of his/her work because, let's be honest, no one does it right every time. No one writes a perfect story on the first draft. No one. (Although Harlan Ellison has come close...check out "Flop Sweat"...he wrote it in one day to be read on air that night. Chilling as today's temperature: 3 degrees Fahrenheit--I won't even convert to Celsius...yow.)

I still doubt myself. But I've moved on. Sort of.

And I'm thankful for the 21st century. I'm thankful for the ability to do certain things* for myself in the future. I'm thankful a 21st century storyteller can reach out and find an audience, even a small audience, without having to prostate himself to the whims of the big meat grinder.

I'd rather have a small, honest audience than a huge audience to which I lie so somebody else can reap the benefits. Don't know what I'm talking about? For the latest example, read: "E-Book Royalty Math: The House Always Wins" (thanks for the link to Robert Swartwood)

Look, no publisher which intends to stay in business can have only an author's best interests in mind. Publishers are in business to make money, and there are plenty of want-to-be writers lined up waiting to take an author's place if that author doesn't pay the bills. Didn't make a profit for the publisher? Next...next...next...

I've had dealings with three small presses--Belfire Press, Virtual Tales, and Aqueous Press. Jodi Lee and company at Belfire have been great. I have certain reservations about the author agreements I've signed with the other two, although Virtual Tales has been top-notch with artwork, promotion, and other "intangibles". Certain things remain to be seen with Aqueous. I'm not excited at all with recent developments (which have nothing to do with my book) because of the "guilt by association" factor involved. Again, I'll refer you to Mr. Swartwood for the scoop. One thing I appreciate about Robert is his unflinching honesty. I'm too much of a chicken-shit most of the time.

So why did I sign on? Once upon a time I was a writer who doubted myself too much. Doubt leads to fear. Fear leads to decisions founded in sand.

I've come to the conclusion that an author's best interests are handled best by that author unless you are a machine (e.g., Stephen King, John Grisham, etc.). An agent can be great in looking out for an author's interests but only as far as it serves the agent (i.e., makes the agent money). No, it's not sour grapes; it's business, and I don't fault any agent for seeking only those clients which will make him/her the most money. That is an agent's job. Many have kids to feed.** But I haven't bothered to query an agent in almost two years. It just doesn't seem like the right time for me.

So for me, small time author, right now it's best to do what I can for myself. The 21st century has laid the tools in my lap.*

At least, this way, when mistakes are made, they're all mine.***

One final note: thanks to everyone who has purchased, promoted, or talked about 52 Stitches. Jamie was family, and it does my sometimes bitter and jaded heart good to see the power of my extended internet family.

*cover art, e-publishing, promotion, etc.
**I do. Let me tell you, having a family changes perspective on a lot of things.
***Selfish much?


Belinda said...

Excellent post and my sentiments exactly. I, too, have had my fill trying to please agents. I want readers and I write because I love it. I like the control of Indie publishing and for better or worse, I'm my own product. Lots of luck to you in your ventures. Community is a powerful thing and I, for one, am dedicating myself to reading good Indie instead of lining less honest pockets.

Aaron Polson said...

A writer has always been his/her own product, for better or worse. Technology has finally caught up with this truism.

onipar... said...

I've long been anti-mainstream (in all different avenues). I don't like authority, I don't like big corporations, you get the idea.

So at heart, I tend to agree with what your saying. And yet, I'll admit to having been pretty well brainwashed about the "right" way to go about this whole publishing business.

Thankfully, things are changing, and quickly. Some changes for the better, some not.

It's funny. "Indie" in almost every other medium is usually thought of as a good thing. I think writing might be one of the only places it's not.

But again, that's finally changing.

Daniel W. Powell said...

Woot! Great post, Aaron. You are doing a fine job of building an excellent fanbase, and I'm sure you'll pour the same energies into putting together quality books. The tables *have* turned in favor of the author, and the future looks bright for those wililng to step into it.

Grisham's story has always inspired me. He hand-sold his books out of the trunk of his car, peddling them at libraries all over the South. Wynwood only did a 5,000 book first printing of A Time To Kill, still one of the great popular books of the late twentieth century. His is the kind of story of perseverance we all need to keep our asses in the chair every day.

Like you, it would take a very good offer, and a hell of a lot of assurances, for me to fork over rights nowadays...

Barry Napier said...

Well said.

I think this also sort of gets into branding. You have no idea how much internal discussion went on in my head before releasing A Mouth for Picket Fences. As you well know, it wasn't 100% horror, yet that was the audience I was catering to. I feared that I'd no longer be considered an "aspiring writer" but a "wanna-be poet." And let's face it, if writing stories is now a poor man's game, writing poetry is somewhere down there with eating in the gutters. Still, I forged ahead and put it out there. Same with self publishing...I stopped caring what the stigma might be and am in the process of doing that, too.

In the end, yes, it IS about doing what you can for yourself. It takes a special sort of madness to submit work to The Kenyon Review AND Necrotic Tissue in the same week (raises hand) but if I want to cover all the bases, it IS about what I can do for myself in terms of getting my work out there with the hopes of doing this writing thing for a living one day.

Damn, sorry so long...

Aaron Polson said...

Anthony - One must ask who would want "indie" to be a negative label for writers. I think we know the answer.

Daniel - I'm sure I've heard the Grisham story before, but it's always nice to read. In large part, the "lack of assurances" is what forces my hand. Why not go it alone, then?

Barry - And we love you for that special sort of madness.

Cate Gardner said...

Ah, doubt. I keep trying to shake that beast off my back, but his fingernails are so sharp. :D

I can't deny, I'd snoopy dance if I snagged an agent and a book deal with a major publisher and I'm going to keep trying until my fingers crumble to dust but...I am happy to spend forever in the small press. I just need to make sure they are the 'right' small presses. I don't think I've fallen for too many monsters yet.

And the folk (although they number only one) at Strange Publications are awesome.

Aaron Polson said...

Cate - The world would spin off its axis if you stopped trying. It's the trying which makes us better. I'll keep trying to land a story in F & SF, Clarkesworld, and all those other impossible venues because it makes me better as a writer.

Laurita said...

Excellent post, Aaron. It's something I've been thinking about lately, and it's good to see another writer's thoughts on the subject. You've layed it all out quite nicely.

Katey said...

Really great post, Aaron. I think the only important thing for a writer is knowing for whom they want to write--that's what maturity is to me. You've got it, and it's so honest even those who don't agree must at least respect it.

I, of course, agree wholeheartedly.

Kara McElhinny said...

This is a great post Aaron, and that is all I have to say!

Have a great night!
Happy publishing!


Aaron Polson said...

Thanks, Laurita. Power to the people.

Katey - I'm writing for a kid in Cleveland who hasn't discovered me yet. Hey kid! Wake up! But seriously, thanks.

You have a great night, too, Kara.

Katey said...

In Cleveland--ugh, probably one of my cousins. I'll give em a kick next time I'm up on Erie :D

Gabe said...

It's nice to find others of like mind.

I, too, will soon be stepping out to self publish. I was like a lot of writers. I couldn't shake the old formula of novel, agent, publisher, book deal.

But now that I've finally decided to take the plunge, the term "indie" writer suits me just fine.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter. It helps me feel that I'm making the right decision.

Tyhitia Green said...

Most of the best writers have doubt at some point. ;-)

You've brought up some excellent points, Aaron. Thanks for expressing them.

Danielle Ferries said...

I hear you. Will be subbing agents in the not too distant future and will see how that goes. I can't see myself not submitting to small press though. Could it be possible that there could be a happy medium out there somewhere? :)

Natalie L. Sin said...

If my small loyal band of fans could be 50% naked Asian men, that would be great ; )

Aaron Polson said...

Thanks, Katey!

Gabe - I keep telling myself the only wrong decision is no decision.

Tyhitia - I don't claim to have the answers, just a point of view. Thanks for reading.

Danielle - Best of luck with the agent hunt. I might have turned out differently had I started with short fiction and not queried that first novel...such is life.

Natalie - You got it.

Rabid Fox said...

Well said. Read through that "house always wins" article too. Yikes.

Aaron Polson said...

Yikes, indeed. Why do some dudes gamble on the street? Because the house always wins...