One of the things that came up, as we were discussing Charlie’s guest post, Timshel was that some people think people going indie or small press are just “impatient.”
I confess to having thought that myself, but it was six or seven years ago, and in a different world. And even then I was probably wrong at least about ALL the people who went indie or small press. Some, are, of course, impatient and also so enthralled of the fact that they finished a WHOLE novel that it never occurs to them it shouldn’t see the light of day. I’ve talked about those before and about the sheer pain of seeing someone with unbounded talent get stuck in a very-beginner phase through thinking publishing themselves is enough and it means they’re good enough now.
But that, as I said was in another world. It’s changed so much since then, that if it were a person, its own mother wouldn’t recognize it.
Will there still be people who publish only one story and never again? Oh, yes, of course. Will there be people who think their one novel is perfect because it’s up on Amazon? Of course. Will there be those who don’t GROW? Of course.
But in the end it means nothing whether they’re going indie or trad. There were enough people published in traditional presses who never grew. You know them. I know them. They came in at “good enough” and at the height of some wave that carried all before it. Say, gothic romance, or horror, or cold war thriller, or urban fantasy – the type of wave where an addicted public will buy anything that’s vaguely reminiscent of the genre. And then the subgenre collapsed, and they crashed. Hard. And they never wrote again. Because they hadn’t grown.
And also, it could be argued the directions in which traditional publishing made you grow were not the ones in which you wanted to go, or rather, they weren’t the ones that would get you the readership you want.
For instance, I have a tendency towards what could only be called intellectual snobbery. Blame my dad who read Roman poetry to me in my cradle. Blame it on the other people in the family who would drag home “classics” and “improving books” – often because they were the cheapest you could get at the used book stores where were shopped and because printed matter was printed matter. I got in real trouble at elementary school for having Thus Spake Zarathrusta under my history book, and it took me years (YEARS) to realize how funny the situation was. In our family it was just “normal.” (And I’m not going to lay down any great claim to genius. It’s just what I had around, so I read it. Some of the stuff I read made no sense till years later. Some still makes no sense. We once were talking to our pediatrician over the possibility of adopting – something still not wholly off the table, (says the woman who mourns everytime they find the remains of a newborn and wishes the mother had left the kid on our front porch, instead) – and I explained that we’re an akwardly intellectual family and what if we adopt a little kid who doesn’t GET us and is terribly unhappy. The pediatrician snorted and said “I wouldn’t worry. Any kid raised in your house will have a good vocabulary and at least the appearance of intelligence, and people adapt to what they know.”) It took no intelligence on my part to become an intellectual snob. It was inevitable, given what I was surrounded with (I can sort of see an alternate world where I don’t read at all and probably do carpentry for a living. There is an attraction in that too.)
So, why do I say it is a vice? It’s a vice because most people weren’t raised as I was. Therefore most people view anything that requires them to google a name or look up a word as “work” and so it’s a bad thing for a writer who aims to entertain and to sell widely. (I have a friend whom I’d like to note for the record is worse than I am in this – you know you are — and who reads my blog and periodically chides me when I slip into French or (bad, mind you) Latin. He says it’s off-putting to the reader. And he’s probably right.)
BUT that tendency to intellectual snobbery and abstruse philosophical chasing of my own tail is precisely what the publishing establishment (do I need to say not Baen? And no, Baen is NOT intellectually shallow. It’s just confident enough it doesn’t need to show its erudition. It enlightens while entertaining – when it chooses to enlighten) encouraged in me, so that I became more and more caught up in my own mind.
Did that make for better books? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’d stack Darkship Thieves which is almost (not quite, but almost) free of it against my Shakespeare series, and happily. But the latter would be considered better than the first a priori by what we’ll call “the publishing/critical complex.”
So the sixteen years I spent working towards publication were mostly spent working away from popular/plot oriented stories and towards intellectual snobbery. While I’ll never totally free myself of the later, I don’t think it’s good for my commercial success. In fact, I’ve found that indie, the stories that sell better were the ones I couldn’t sell before. (Mostly unabashed space opera.)
Did it take patience? Of course it did. And a series of kicks in the teeth as each of my “babies” got killed. But was it good for me? Doubtful.
I’ll add I’m not denying the possibility of growth or the possibility of intrinsic literary value. Right now my “popcorn reading” – you know what I mean. One after the other, very fast – has swung away from regency (yay) and towards historical mystery. I’ve been alternating two series, both bestsellers. One of them is NOTABLY lighter than the other, in the sense that it leaves less impression in the mind. The emotions evoked are superficial and by the numbers. To me, the other series is “better” and shows both more talent and more depth. BUT let me note right now that they’re BOTH bestselling series, and also that I’m reading them both – in fact, usually two books at once, because I default to the lighter when I’m tired.
Let me also say that there is such a thing as “incompetence” in writing. We’ve all seen it. Plots that go nowhere. Meandering arguments where there is no story. BUT some of these still sell quite well.
And the ones that don’t? Where do we go in the era of indie? How will people know if they have to learn? Who will administer those kicks in the teeth that publishers were so apt at doing?
READERS. Trust me. I was talking to a fellow pro who told me most “kids” going indie think they only have to put stuff up and it will sell like crazy and support them for life. I too know people like that and they fall into two camps:
If you put stuff up and it doesn’t sell, about half (perhaps more) of the people will get upset and sad, and try to find other reasons, and/or turn completely against indie publishing.
But the rest will continue trying, and working harder, and reading what sells in the kind of thing they wish to write, and they will try to write more like that. More importantly they will write more and more which – I hate to say it – is the greatest way of improving your writing. And eventually they will sell. Will they sell thousands of one thing? Probably not, but there is a very good chance they’ll sell enough in aggregate to support themselves. (If they work hard enough.)
So – if you’re impatient and aren’t also incredibly lucky, indie and small press is not for you. And the same quality of persistence that would have allowed you to eventually break into publishing will eventually make you an indie success. Don’t give up and keep at it. You have the consolation of not having to unlearn bad habits that put the general public off.
And for my colleagues who came in the old way and think the new way means everything will go to h*ll in a hand basket: don’t worry. The kids are all right.