Tag Archives: independent

Big Fucking Deal

It occurred to me at 3am last night when I was awake wondering where the rain was. I’ve been obsessed with the rain–or more accurately, the lack of rain. It’s been a distraction all summer. In our little corner of the shore, we’ve had exactly 3 days of rain since May. It’s depressing to me. Every beautiful, shiny day there is no rain to interrupt the tedium of shining beauty. I am suspicious of the beauty. It shouldn’t be. No one deserves this much perfect weather. So instead, I focus on the drying, wilting aspect of a rainless summer: the high water bills for keeping our little garden intact and the sunburns.

And that’s what occurred to me last night as I lay awake: I’ve displaced my expectations for a texturally interesting and climactically diverse summer with the feelings of melancholy for releasing my book with no fanfare.

None, whatsoever.

So I wrote the book, with all the effort that any author–independent or otherwise–writes and releases a book. And it’s out. And that’s it. Sure I’m promoting it, but not so much. I mean really, one can only beg reviewers to review it so much. And one can tout it only so much on Twitter without people getting sick of seeing your same 140 character description and link. And the blog, well, what else can you do on your own blog to promote your book but keep a sticky post with the info?

I grew weary of calling and visiting every indie bookstore in a 50 mile radius to carry the book on consignment, only for them to look at me like I have ten heads. I grew weary of begging cafes and bookstores to let me do a reading, because I got sick of getting the brushoff. No one really gives a shit, problematically, so fighting against the tide just isn’t in the cards for me right now.

I’m not hanging around Amazon, so forget that. I wrote to Bonnie Bernstein at ICM, Harvey Keitel’s agent, in the random hopes she’d pick up the email and call me back about the book. But my overnight energy to get the book made into a film was dashed when even my two friends in the film industry didn’t email me back.

Meh.

So I wrote and released a couple of books. Big fucking deal.

Now when’s it going to rain?

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Commodity or Magnum Opus?

Some people blow through a book in a day or two, while others take a couple of weeks or more. Many people just inhale them like a sweet breeze, one after the other, without stopping in between. I’m worse than that — I just forget the endings of books I enjoy. (Truth is, I don’t even finish books I don’t love.) To most avid readers, books are not only an unquestionable right, but they are taken for granted as a vital component of life.

It’s like when the tourists cruise through the Sistine Chapel, look up and say, “Look honey, Michelangelo’s painting, now let’s go get some spaghetti.”

But to a writer who may spend a year or more writing the damned thing, think about how we feel when we see a pile of books stacked up 5 feet high against the wall of a summer cabin and the proud readers saying, “We read all of these books this summer!” It’s an intractable dilemma. It’s not easy to write a book, and for some it’s extraordinarily difficult and a compelling feat. So when a reader zooms through it and moves on casually to the next one, how are we to reconcile this disparity?

Think of the planning, outlining, and writing. And writing. And writing. Then the editing, proofing, and rewriting. And rewriting. And editing some more. And then the synopsis. And for some who choose to submit their work for mainstream publishing, the sterilizing and demoralizing query process. Then the rejections. More queries. More rejections. Finally the agent, then the selling to the publisher. The reworking of some parts. The publisher meetings. The marketing meetings. The marketing. For the DIY writers, the layout–the horrible horrible layout process, then the pre-marketing, the blogging, the begging for interviews and reviews, the vetting of e-book/free-book websites, the setting up your website and trying to figure out the e-commerce plugins and CSS and HTML, the tweeting and more tweeting, the artwork, the printer or POD joint, the price gouging, the amazon threads that will make you gouge your eyes out, the paltry and late checks from your method of distribution.

And some asshole reads the thing in a weekend?

There it is, that’s the truth. We are at odds with the very mode of entertainment we choose to pursue. We can’t possibly ask or expect the reader to study and appreciate every word and page as we did; we don’t want them to know how we made the sausages, after all.

This supports my argument that short fiction, novellas, and experimental-length and format fiction should not only have more of a platform, especially with e-books, but that more authors ought to put out more of this type of work. ESPECIALLY with more e-books, because readers will devour even more of our work with this enhanced format, right? RIGHT? So all the better to fill up our tanks not with the predictably dull 80,000 word novels, but with interesting work that we can package with other media to deliver in the increasingly sophisticated (but still clunky) devices for reading.

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Anti-Bookshelving Movement

Ok, it’s not really a movement, it’s just me, to my knowledge. But I’ve been harboring feelings of anti-bookshelves for a while and wanted to get my thoughts out in the open. Thanks to Indiependent books’ post (http://www.indiependentbooks.com/blog/2010/07/home-libraries/) inquiring about readers’ bookshelving processes, I offered a contrarian opinion (go figure). Here it is.

when i released my first book, i released it for free online and in all electronic versions, and priced it at a very cute, ironic price in print, and event that was still a little steep for a first time author releasing an independent book that was uncategorizable (read: not a genre novel). so all i asked as i started giving it away to everyone on the street i could find who would take a copy was that their payment was to pass it on to someone else to read.

i cringe every time i hear someone say that my book is sitting on their coffee table, or on their nightstand, or proudly in their stack of unread or read books. I DON’T WANT MY BOOK TO SIT ANYWHERE. i want it to be read and read and read again. why would i have written a book, then, to have it sit on a shelf somewhere?

and that’s when i realized that all of the books i own and sit on my own shelves have authors, too, who have poured their guts and passion into writing them and want the same for their own works. so i’ve started to pass on my books on the condition that people do the same.

books should be an ever revolving product that can be used and re-used and re-re-used. ban bookshelves. bookshelves should be re-named thingshelves, so that they don’t carry books. they should be re-sized so that they can’t carry books. they should be a deterrent to holding books. books should have timers and alarms on them to remind the owner to pass it on.

the problem with book pricing is that when someone pays $24.95 plus tax and shipping, you want to get some bang for your buck. so you read it, you gingerly protect the cover, and you place it proudly on your shelf for all to see.

ew. we must get away from that mentality and pass books around because it faciliates more discussion about the book itself when you suggest someone read it and then you actually give them the thing. it makes recommendations real and that is what all authors want. and i do suppose readers do, too.

thanks.
lovelenox.

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Are You Scrooge McDuck?

Scrooge McDuck couldn’t get enough of what he thought he wanted.

He was never happy with what he had.

No matter how much money and things he collected, he always wanted more.

Sound familiar?

Even if you’re not a materialistic, greedy bastard, you want more from your writing career. But what’s so bad about that? It’s ambitious, right? For some, we want our writing to be our career, and so ambition and wanting more is a catalyst for that success we envision.

Writing makes me happy. I am likely not talented enough to see my writing rise above most other independent writers’ work and so I must accept that the term career does not signify the end of my day job. So logically, my objective then is to write for my own sanity, and when I choose to make it public, the bonus feature is to receive accolades and critique from other trusted peers–writers, friends, strangers–who take the time to read my work.

So that should be enough, right? RIGHT?

Sometimes I feel like Scrooge McDuck, who always wants more out of the words I put on paper. I struggle as the victim of the competitive spirit of the little industrious writing community, even despite my fiercely independent status. I want to earn more fans and readers. I want people to love my work and discuss it. I want Focus Features to come knocking to make films of my stories.

And then I feel shame. I should be pleased and content with having the ability to write what I can.

Oh fuck that.

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Attention

What kind of attention do you want, as a writer?

Your first instinct, if you’re someone I hang around with, is to say you’d like any and all attention, just to get your writing some visibility. You are so confident in your work (hopefully) that you are anxious, eager, and bursting at the seams to get more eyeballs on your work.

You are willing to throw it all in for that attention. You’ve blogged exhaustively. You’ve been nice to people you don’t know and don’t so much care about all over the internet. Your Twitter life is overtaking your own, all for the sake of gaining fans, followers, readers.

You are reading every piece of shit and every mark of brilliance you can get your hands on so that you can raise your own bar for your work product. The book review process is painful for you, with little feedback or responses. You feel like you’ve built the only platform you can, but…

You admittedly whore yourself all over the blogosphere, commenting everywhere and trying tactfully to get your plug in wherever you can.

You hang on opportunities to get a  reading, or a mention on some notorious blog.

You study those stats, analyze the analytics, and query to death your traffic. You’re doing everything you can, in between your day  job, your kids, your mortgage, your in-laws, and the goddamned lawn that needs to be mowed. Fuck.

So here comes an opportunity, you think, to really blow yourself out of the water. To really shine. You need something because everyone around you is raising that bar, doing video book trailers and podcasts, and selling just a few more through the Amazon threads (or so they say), than you are.

And you are better. You know what will bring attention to you. You didn’t want to talk about politics, or religion, or baby-killers, whatever the hell it will take to bring attention to yourself, just to get more eyes on your work. But then all of a sudden, you think, maybe being shameless isn’t as shameless as it may seem. Everyone else is doing their thing, why are you keeping to the book and maintaining all of the integrity that you feel may be the one thing holding you back?

So you go ahead and make that post or you label yourself in such a way that, well, labels you. You lay it all out.

Have you LOST YOUR FUCKING MIND?

Not necessarily, but you’ve lost yourself. You lost your objective. What is your objective? You are an independent writer. You need to be proud of your work and the few readers who do appreciate your writing and art. Not that you shouldn’t aim higher because you always should. But just leave it at that, will you?

Indie writers are surrounded by exponentially-expanding ranks of competition for a diminishing group of readers. There are enormous opportunities, but you have to love what you’re doing because you love writing and talking about writing and reading about writing and arguing about writing to feel any glory. Or else you really have lost your integrity.

And so then what the fuck are you doing if you have no integrity?

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The Legacy of Publishing’s Ownership of Work

There are a couple of things here that you may think are unrelated but I’ll try to bridge the gap and make a coherent argument in support of my thesis. I contend that the history and very institution of publishing has lent itself to a culture of a lack of ownership by authors and artists, resulting in today’s hysterical clamoring on privacy issues.

You all have a better sense of the publishing industry since Gutenberg than I do, so there’s no need to retread. So just think about how difficult it is to turn that Titanic of a beast around in just a few short years. I’m no industry apologist–I think that’s been made clear–and I’m not saying that we should give it some time. I’m asking that we reconsider how we are framing the debate around the breakdown of the traditional publishing industry; the rise of the independent author; the risks and opportunities of technology to serve readers, established authors, and independent writers; and the implications of copyright, privacy, and ownership on all of the above. Here are some of the areas through which we have to change our perspective in order to offer thriving solutions:

Agents. While agents have no doubt played a pivotal role in mediating the publishing industry’s desire for total control of a text and an author’s rightful assertion of ownership, they have also perpetuated that very dispute. How? They haven’t fought on behalf of writers for their fundamental rights, because that is not their role, traditionally. Sure, a good agent has fought for more money, bigger marketing budget, a favorable contract that matches the author’s strengths. However, agents have supported the passive-aggressive nature of the publishing industry in recent decades by fighting within the publishing companies’ own rules.

See, what I mean by that is this issue of framing our own perception of things. We have to work outside what we know as the traditional boundaries. Isn’t that what successful technology innovators do? Next:

Ownership, Privacy and Copyright. I never thought I would get hung upon this, but every day we are seeing some outrageous assertions of ownership, and not by the authors. Where the hell are our writer-brethren taking to the proverbial streets and proclaiming their ownership of their works? Because we are seeing press releases and contract clauses and Terms of Services stating proudly that the content deliverer retains at least some aspect of the rights to the work in perpetuity, or some godforsaken thing. Come on, y’all, that’s just ridiculous.

What I’m trying to get at here is that writers have been utterly de-fanged over the years of publishing industry beatdowns, reinforced by agents. We need more Stephen King and less, well, of everybody else. (Which is to say, we need more writers who tell the industry paper-pushers to fuck off. See Hunter S. Thompson’s comment to this effect.)

It’s not rocket science. It just means operating outside the “Terms of Service” and when enough of us do so, and if we create a strong enough demand in the marketplace for our work, miraculously those terms of service will derive from our side of the dispute, not the publishers’.

Now I’m not talking about bunnies and unicorns: this is going require a tremendous amount of discipline. Which brings me to my next point:

Desperation. This is the reason why the industry as we know it has perpetuated. Writers in general are desperate for exposure and that potential big gain from a publishing contract. So what do they do? Give it all up. That’s right, they give up their e-book rights and derivative marketing rights to a marketing department full of 22 year old interns with no budget who foil that author’s attempt at success because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. But the writer is ok with this, because they know that the risk they’ve put on the table is worth the possible reward. Wait, not it’s not. The rewards of signing with a major publishing company suck, and the chances of a $1 million book contract are nil, so why not publish yourself and instead play the lottery each week for a better chance to win? BECAUSE WRITERS ARE SO FUCKING DESPERATE THEY ARE BLIND.

I guess we could consider what it is that has made writers so desperate. Maybe it is in our personalities: we create something and put it out there and hope for accolades, because that piece of writing is an extension of ourselves. Maybe writers are just talented people who didn’t get enough love and so this is what they do. Except I’m not a shrink and couldn’t possibly assert any truth there. All I know is that when there is a mass population (there are a shitload of writers) who require such enormous public accolades, with a finite number of readers (and by extension a finite amount of money you can earn from selling your work which is in effect a measure of that public love), there are bound to be disappointments. Lots of disappointment.

Is it social Darwinism of writing? I don’t accept that because it assumes a framework from which to judge good or bad writing and assigning it a successful or unsuccessful stamp. But clearly our expectations must change or else we are all headed for continued disappointment.

Democratizing the world of reading and writing will help everyone, I’m sure of it. No more hardcover books, sold at ridiculous prices–there’s just no need. No bottlenecks and gatekeepers needed any longer, you are relieved of duty. The internetz can enable this democratization of the book and content marketplace, but let’s just keep aware of the vultures who prey on writers’ naiveté  or their unwillingness to blaze their own trail, instead of following the trail of peanuts right back to the monsters that ripped out their teeth.

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Gang Raped By Technology and Affiliate Marketers

This theme has been brewing with me for a while, and I’m not sure I’m equipped to broach it yet, but enough is enough and it’s time to start the dialogue. Harsh title? Hey, it’s my artistic license. Fuck you.  And if that doesn’t sit with you well, you’re probably a marketer.

I argue that the gap between marketing and technology, and the writing/artistic community is so wide now that the relationship is no longer parasitic (oh come on, it never was equal before either), but nearly irreconcilable. As we stroll further down the technology route in delivering content to readers, writers have less and less control over our work. I’m not talking strictly about copyright, I’m talking about how our work looks and how it is displayed on the variety of devices meant for reading. Ever try to upload a book to Smashwords? Fucking impossible. Ok, not impossible, but painstakingly annoying so much so that my eyeballs are still bleeding. But Smashwords must retain a standardized process because they are dealing with thousands of different formats and content types, so technologically it is the only possible way to do it. Right? RIGHT? Is that right? It’s not just Smashwords, and I don’t want Mark Coker to get mad at me again, so I’m not picking on Smashwords, which has been incredibly amazing to hundreds of writers and thousands of readers.

I’m picking on the very idea that writers are bending over and spreading our cheeks for any number of ways to have our work violated and repurposed. Knowingly so. Yes–we know the risks, we post our shit everywhere. Oh sure, some of you go to Creative Commons, blah blah blah, but have you actually read the terms of service for digital uploads at Amazon, Scribd, and other services?

Two things struck me recently:

  1. Mike Cane’s iPad Test posted two incredibly thoughtful and well-researched pieces about terms of service and writer’s rights to their work once posted on just about any number of the “free” online services to “help” writers gain visibility and “publish” their work. We all use these services. They are generally helpful.

“We,” the independent writing community (which functions without any governance, as most independent communities do) won’t revolt against this and even if we do, “They” won’t give a shit either way. Why? Because “We” are so fucking desperate for exposure and visibility we are knowingly taking the risks of our shit being stolen, in any number of ways.

“We” are kind of pathetic. The mainstream publishing system isn’t dead, yet, unfortunately, and the indies are an itty-bitty fly in the muck of it all.

One by one we can deconstruct the wasteland that is being built up around the fragile publishing industry to support independents. Because it isn’t really supporting us so much as it is exploiting the hell out of us. But who’s making money and benefiting? No one, there’s not enough volume of independent releases for a scribd or amazon or smashwords or bookbuzzer or whateverthefuck cutesy name is out there to exist parasitically off our work. We need them.

“We” writers and artists need to build the right infrastructure that supports our need for visibility while protecting our artistic license. If we leave it up to technologists and affiliate marketers, we’re going to get the gang rape we deserve.

2.  A post on metadata, by P. Bradley Robb on Publishr . What the hell would set me off about that? I’ll tell you what. There’s nothing more frustrating as a writer to read about a technologist’s analysis of the work in terms of fucking metadata. Just that word is enough to make me fall on a knife. It’s not that this discussion isn’t a timely, astute, and necessary one to have: it is, of course. But as I said, it totally underscores the Grand Canyon that is increasingly growing between those who wish to publish and help others publish, and those who just wish to write and have people read our stuff.

And there it is, a fundamental worldview in binary opposition: as technology continues to gain in our daily lives in new, inspiring, and innovative ways, writers remain mainly static. No one is at fault here. Sure I can make the argument that writers need to wise up to technology and content delivery mechanisms (huh?); or I can blast technologists and marketers for developing infrastructure for writers that just doesn’t mesh with our continuing need for artistic license.

The need to classify and Search (yes, I meant that with a capital S) is a key imperative, hence the good argument for that metadata post I so dreaded,  for writers’ future. Writers are most often lacking in this foresight. We need to get our shit together and stop letting other people codify our work. I don’t really know what I mean by that, but we need to take some of that responsibility back into our own hands instead of leaving it to the Bowkers of the world. Really now.

What’s the solution, when we both need each other?

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