Who Decides?

Who decides which manuscripts should be published?  From a purely technical standpoint, the current state of publishing is that a manuscript must first be picked up by an agent, then that agent must find a publisher to pick it up.  It’s a double gated system.  The manuscript must be decided upon at each gate in order to advance on to being published.  But, that’s all changing, isn’t it.

It used to be so much harder to go the self published route.  Anybody could write a book, and take it to a printer.  But, getting any sort of distribution was extremely difficult.  The author would have to take up the car salesman mantra and knock on every door of every bookstore they could reach in hopes that one or two of them might agree to find a bit of shelf space in the store for the authors book.  Now, it can be as simple as a bit of formatting and a few button clicks, and you’ve managed to upload your book onto the shelves of one of the largest bookstores in the world.  Shelf space is cheaper now.  Without the limits of a physical shelf, a bookstore can hold an unlimited number of digital books.  As a result, the barrier to entry has lowered.  Self publishing is, suddenly, very easy to do.

I, personally, am still on the fence.  I’m attracted to the lack of barrier that the self-publishing route has.  But, I’m also attracted to the gates of the agent/publishing house route.  Gates mean exclusivity.  If you can get through those gates, you join a limited group of people.  But, if you sell enough books, does it matter which route you went?  Not really.

I noticed a post by someone over at Bookends, LLC‘s blog.  It went like this:

Just because friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book doesn’t mean it’s a book that should be published.

As I read it, a part of me reached for my pitchfork.  My hackles went up.  And I clicked through to see how badly they’d been skewered in the comments.  And, it turns out, they weren’t.  A majority of the comments are positive.  There’s a few that took up the other side though.  And it’s those I agree with most.  Who are they to decide whether “it’s a book that should be published” or not?  Did I miss the memo that announced them as supreme deciders of publish-ability?

Yes, agents and publishers know a great deal more about the market that you or I do.  Yes, some of them are very, very good at their jobs.  But, I also think back to how many stories we’ve all heard about the manuscript that got rejected 30 or 40 times before someone took it and then it hit the bestseller list.  The real truth is that not everyone likes what everyone else does.  Thank goodness, or there wouldn’t be any market for certain authors.  I’ve personally read (or tried to read) two books this year alone that I thought were absolutely terrible.  These weren’t random books I picked out of the bargain bin on the Kindle store.  These were bestsellers.  Classics by some peoples standards.  I didn’t even finish one of them.  I thought they were that bad.  If I had been the agent that either had come to, or the publisher, I would have rejected them.

If agents and publishers can miss good books, and put bad books through, what right do they have determining which manuscripts go forward?

If your friends, family, and coworkers tell you to write a book, write it.  That’s first.  Just write it.  Then, take it and get an editor to look it over.  Get some beta readers to read it through.  Edit it.  Send it to an editor again.  Once you’re darn well sure it’s ready to go, decide whether you want to go through the traditional publishing route or not.  Send it to an agent, or not.  But, send it somewhere.

I said I was on the fence earlier in this post.  But, I’m leaning towards the self publishing side more and more each day.  Who decides whether a book is any good or not?  In the end, it’s the readers.  And, if the readers are the ones who decide, why are we wasting our time trying to get through gates instead of putting out the best book we can and letting the readers decide.


Elizabeth Gilbert on Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert, who you may know as the author of Eat, Pray, Love, has a wonderful talk being featured on the TEDtalks website about nurturing creativity.

It’s an incredibly interesting take on things.  Although there are some who have such goliath followerships that we fail to ever really see them fail (King and Patterson come to mind), there are many of us who will (or already have) had failings.  It’s just important to remember that, if you are doing what you are truly meant to do, we must overlook those failings and go on with our work.

Time to Look at Self Publishing Again?

The cycle seems to perpetually go around on this.  Every few months or years, we all start talking about self publishing and all the pros and cons that come with it.  The major difference this time around is that there’s been a pretty significant paradigm change in the publishing industry.  The rise in popularity of ebooks and ebook readers (like the Kindle and Nook) have made it easier than ever to get a book.  Even more important, it’s made it even easier to publish a book.

A writer can now choose to go exclusively electronic and publish a novel as an ebook.  It’s easy to get them listed in marketplaces like Amazon or Barnes and Noble as well.  Of course, the same questions come around about quality.  Is the author really doing himself/herself any good by skipping the editing process that happens when going through a traditional publisher?

One person who has been an advocate for self publishing recently is J.A. Konrath.  At the end of December, he even came right out and said that you should self publish.  And, I have to admit, he makes a pretty good argument for it as well.  He’s published quite a few posts recently by himself and others who self publish that make an even stronger argument for self publishing.  Here’s one by Aaron Patterson on his experiences.

I still have somewhat mixed feelings about the whole thing.  I’ve argued before that there is a certain sense of acknowledgment that comes with getting the acceptance from an agent and then again when you sell a book.  However, I find myself wondering if that same sense couldn’t be achieved by having a book sell thousands of copies a month in ebook form?

There is no question that the quality issue will continue to come up.  But, I think that if you are planning on self publishing your novel, it’s your responsibility as the author to publish the best work you can.  Which should include at least one pass by a professional editor.  Sure, it’s going to cost you some money, but so will putting out sub-standard work.

I think this whole argument needs  a bit more thought before I can honestly say which way I would go, but recent changes and evidence seems to point to the self publishing ebook as the way of the future.  I’d still be curious to hear how these authors handle foreign rights (Konrath confirms having an agent for that), translating those same, and many of the other rights issues that come up that an agent would traditionally handle.  Or, perhaps if the book is popular enough to have those problems, the author then goes looking to hire an agent to do that part?

Update: Here’s a very good post by Jim C. Hines, whose opinion I deeply respect, on this whole thing.  I think he takes a much more level-headed approach to the whole thing.

Fiction Blueprint

I’ve heard plenty of people say that they simply must have an outline before they begin writing.  I’m not really one of those people, but I can certainly see why it could be beneficial.  I just don’t usually think that far ahead…

I’ve never heard of a blueprint really.  I guess, in a way, it’s simply a different style of outline.  Less structured towards time-line and more towards essential elements and knowing what they are.

Scalzi on Finding Time to Write

One of my biggest issues with writing is finding the motivation and time.  By which I mean finding the motivation to make the time instead of sitting down in front of the TV or reading.  Of course, most of the advice that you’ll find from established writers is that if you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write.  John Scalzi, a writer whose writing I admire, had some choice words for people like me today.

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

There’s plenty more in his post.  A bit of a tongue lashing reality check for aspiring writers everywhere.  A deserved one in most cases.  And goes back to one all important fact.  If you aren’t making time for something that you “want” to do, do you really want to do it?

It must be the day for this sort of advice too.  Tobias Buckell did a nice video on writing tools in which he says something along the same lines.

Checklist of Fiction Writing

Jessica Page Morrell has a blog!  In case the name doesn’t ring any bells, she “Between the Lines: Mastering the Subtle Elements of Fiction Writing“, which I deemed to be the best book on writing that I’ve ever read.

In any case, you really should probably subscribe to her blog, it’s got some tasty tidbits available.  For instance, she recently posted the Fiction Checklist.  It’s a checklist of some basic things that should exist in your fiction.  I don’t think it’s meant to be such a checklist where if you miss one or two that your writing is trash, and it certainly isn’t meant as an all-inclusive checklist, but it has some very nice points to make.

Books That Changed Your Life

I’ve seen several lists recently that usually have a title something like “10 books that will change your life”, or “5 must read books that will change your life”.  And invariably, they are chock full of non-fiction books on productivity, success, and life-living.  And I can’t help but wonder where the rule book is that says a book has to be non-fiction to change a persons life.  I’ve read many non-fiction books, and only one has ever really, truly, changed my life.  That would be the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey if you’re wondering.

But, I’ve read several fiction books that I would say have changed my life.  And I would bet that you have too.  Maybe it doesn’t change your life in exactly the same way that a non-fiction book would, but when you’re done reading it, you are forever changed.  The way that you think about things is changed and the way you go about things is changed.  Of course, that’s the reason that most people claim a non-fiction book has changed their life as well.

I’d like to know what books (fiction or non-fiction) have changed your life.  In return, I’m going to give you the list of fiction books that have changed mine.

  1. The Saracen Blade by Frank Yerby.  I first read this book when I was somewhere around 12.  Just as I was discovering the world of an adult, came the first book I had read that really treated the world as an adult.  I hadn’t read much adult fiction up to that point, so the book created an amazing awakening to literature.
  2. IT by Stephen King.  Again, I read this somewhere in my early teens.  It changed my life, mostly, because it is my virginal King read.  The very first of his books to fly before my eyes.  I’ve read nearly every other one since then.
  3. Robot Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. Not a single book, although I could easily have listed each individually.  Or just listed Caves of Steel as it’s first.  I read this somewhere in my mid to late teens, but it’s more memorable to me as it kicked me into the Science Fiction genre.  And for that it has my thanks.
  4. The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay.  The first in the Fionavar Tapestry, I list it because it led me to other books by Kay.  Most notable, Tigana and The Sarantine Mosaic.

That’s my list.  I doubt that it’s truly complete, but those are the top of the list for sure.  I could go on and list several others, but each in decreasing effect.  Now, it’s your turn.

What’s Your Book Collecting Style?

Are you an extreme collector?  Admit it, you’ve kept every book you’ve ever read and could easily open up your own private library.  No?  Then what?

Personally, I’ve been debating.  I have this thing where I usually do what I can to buy only hardcover books.  It’s a fetish of sorts.  The problem with that is that I also tend to keep most every book I buy.  So, I’m quickly running out of space on my bookshelves and in my house.  So, then what?  Put some in boxes and store them?  Gasp!  Sell some? Gasp!  NO!  *quickly starts grabbing books from the desk around him*  “My Pretties…”

Seriously though.  There are some that I just won’t be rid of.  My Stephen King collection for instance.  No where near complete, but still expansive.  I’ve got a couple of collectibles in there as well.  A signed copy of American Gods (that I haven’t actually read), a history book from pre 1900, and several books from the mid 1900’s.  Those will stay.  But what of the rest?  I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really necessary to keep them ALL.  Chances are that I won’t reread 99% of them.  I very rarely do.

I do dream, however, of a home library.  A room that has it’s walls covered in bookshelves with comfy chairs and maybe even one of those cool wall ladders that you see occasionally that slide around from place to place.  Dark hardwoods, accented by a little bit of leather and a lot of old world flair.  And a few fantasy elements thrown in for eccentricity’s sake.  Ahh…

But, that is likely going to be way, way down the road or never.  So, with limited space and limited shelving, what’s a reader to do?

What does your book situation look like?  If you’ve got pics, feel free to link to them, but let us know.

My Alliteration Addiction

See.  I couldn’t even make it past the title of the post without getting my fix.  Now that I have you thinking about it, you’re likely noticing that the name of this blog is also a fine example of alliteration.

I can’t say for sure why I have a fondness for the pairing of similar sounding words.  But I do.  Whenever I try to name things, alliteration arises.  Perhaps it’s that deep down rhyming to it.  Which gets us to the real root of it all.  Nursery rhymes.  Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose.  Ooooh.  There it is again.  Seuss and Goose.  Between the two of them, they’ve made it a tradition among our childrens books to rhyme all the time.  And alliteration is often a rhyming mechanism.

I’m thinking that there must be some sort of psychological reason for it all.  Some button that similar sounds in words push that give a little tickle somewhere in the brain.

What are your literary addictions?  Obviously, alliteration isn’t my only one, but it is likely the most fun.