John Scalzi on epubbing bingo.
I'm not opposed to e-publishing, and I'm certainly not opposed to publishing on demand. What I caution against, though, and stand a shade aghast at is the number of people who think that the smart way into publishing is to end-run the entire publishing industry itself, seize the means of production, and self publish. [insert glyph of glove-covered fist raised in defiance]
The desperation of some of the unpublished is both understandable and frightening. I've talked to writers who have been trying to be published for years without success. I've also talked to writers who have moaned about how tedious the process is because they've been trying to sell their novel for the last month, and they aren't a best seller yet.
Here's the real problem, I think. WAY more writers believe they are ready for publication than are actually ready. That has always been the case. The old system, though, where almost all publication was controlled by the traditional print sources, cut the unready out of the publishing mix. The unready who were persistent, kept working, polished their craft, and, if everything came together, joined the ranks of the published. The unready who were not persistent or who couldn't improve their craft to a publishable level, weren't published.
I know, I know, I know. As soon as I bring up this argument, someone evokes the ghost of John Kennedy Toole, whose posthumously published novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, won the Pulitzer Prize. Toole, after failing at repeated attempts to publish the book, committed suicide. His mother sold the novel, finally, several years later.
"Toole," the unpublished cry, "is proof that the traditional system is broken." They conclude then that they must self publish either through print on demand or they go straight to e-books.
I think Toole is a great example of an outlier. His story is not even close to typical. It is possible that an unpublished author has written their own version of A Confederacy of Dunces. It's also possible that I will will the lottery tomorrow. Many things are possible. It is way, way more likely that the unpublished author is not writing well enough yet, and/or hasn't found the right editor yet.
So, what would I do if I had an unpublished novel sitting at home? First, I would find people whose literary taste I trust to read it and respond. If someone reads it who I think has a reliable taste who likes it, then I would be encouraged to hunt down an agent to represent it.
What if all the agents I show it to don't like it? That may be a clue that it's not saleable. It may also be a clue that I need to find other agents, all the time being wary of scam agents.
If I meet an acquiring editor or publisher who says they would be willing to look at it, I'd let them see it too.
In the meantime, during the lengthy process of showing the book, I'd be writing another. After all, if someone does like the book, they're likely to ask if I have other projects. I want to be sure to say yes.
As long as I believe the book is worthy, I will keep showing it around. I don't think it is possible to completely run out of people to show it to. There is turnover in the industry: new agents, new editors and publishers, and new publishing lines.
I could, I suppose, even try something unusual, like, if I have a lot of readers on my blog, posting a chapter a week until the book is done, but I would only do that if all my chances were done, and I would do that with the expectation that the book will never be published any other way. I wouldn't expect that, like John Scalzi, the book on my web site would attract a legitimate publisher. I know, it might, but I might also score that Powerball ticket I've been pining for. Scalzi is an outlier (who not only had a popular blog site when he started his experiement, but also possessed years of successful writing behind him--he was no rookie).
I could also, I suppose, work up a cover for e-publishing or print on demand, but once again I would only do it if all my chances were done. I would be doing it for myself and for my friends. I would never, never be able to claim the title as a legitimate part of my bibliography. As far as legitimate publishers are concerned, I would still be unpublished.
So, why do I care if someone rushes to the easy self-publishing route of e-books or print on demand? I don't know. Maybe it doesn't matter. Smart writers figure out eventually what they need to be successful, and that's where they focus their energy. I'm not hurt when I run into someone who is proud of their self-published tomes that are languishing in obscurity.
Maybe it really doesn't matter
But it feels like it should.
ROFLMAO (and then I get serious)
John Scalzi on epubbing bingo.