Essay–Snobbery and Reality
I was at Balticon this Memorial Day weekend. What is Balticon? It’s a science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction convention for writers, podcasters, fans, scientists, gamers, and etc. It features a large number of tracks and panels regarding a variety of topics. As you might imagine, I’m mostly involved with the literary and podcast tracks. I’m a frequent panelist on those two tracks talking about podcasting, audiobooks, writing, editing, publishing, etc.
This year, something terrible happened. And I’m certain it’s not the first time, but the first time I’ve witnessed it in all its putrescent glory. Actually, it happened twice.
I attended a panel (not as a panelist) on Friday about editing. The panel was made up of three freelance editors who work for different publishing houses and a freelance editor who specializes in working with independent authors. During said panel, I had to listen to those three “pro” editors talk about how difficult “self-publishing” is and that you have to have an agent in order to break into publishing.
The good news is that there were really only two writers in the room and I was one of them. However, I was more than a little pissed. Instead of discussing the reasons why a writer “must” have an agent, it was tossed out there as an absolute, not an opinion.
The young writer in the room bought this hook, line, and sinker. Why wouldn’t she? The “gatekeepers” pulled out their swords and screamed their best “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” to her. And if you’re young and ignorant, it’s perfectly reasonable that you would buy into whatever these folks say. After all, they’re the “professionals” and industry shills, I mean experts.
Sue Baiman, the editor specializing in working with us indies, looked flabbergasted and completely unable to respond to it. I fear that even if she had, the other women on the panel would have told her she didn’t know what she was talking about. If that had happened, I would not only have said something but probably pulled one of my infamous, anti-social, misanthropic, impromptu rants. Trust me–it wouldn’t have been pretty. No blood was spilled and I didn’t get tossed out of the con for screaming profanities. All in all, that’s a good thing.
But now I feel like an asshole. I let that young writer walk out of that panel knowing even less than she thought she knew before. I allowed those folks to fill her head with absolute bullshit and I did nothing. I should have taken her aside after the panel. Explained who I was, what I do, and my successes in the indie/hybrid model and what she could do to help educate herself on the choices available to her. In all likelihood, she would have ignored me or decided that indie publishing was not what she wanted to do. And that’s fine. Writers must make the decision to chase the big 5, small presses, or bypass the gatekeepers and go the indie route. But to make an educated choice, ignorance and flat-out disinformation needs to be tossed out the window. And having “bona fide” industry folks spreading this bullshit ruins any chance for choice. Although one could argue you “choose” to be ignorant. Whatever. Doesn’t make me feel less of an asshole.
But what makes me truly angry about this episode was the, well, looks of horror and abject disgust the writer in question would even consider independent publishing. Folks? This is crap. And it has to stop.
Here’s the skinny. There’s a lot of truly terrible “self-published” books out there. The writer in question of those missives either didn’t have an editor, doesn’t understand simple grammar or story mechanics, or put together their book cover using microsoft paint without even first running a simple spell-check over their manuscript or cover matter.
These “writers” should not be considered the norm. They are the flotsam and jetsam cluttering Amazon, BN, Smashwords, and all the other ebook markets. If these books are read by a single person that doesn’t know the author, it’s a mystifying anomaly.
That said, however, if you go to your local bookstore, I guarantee you can find the same flotsam and jetsam haunting the racks. The publishing industry’s secret shame is there are some REALLY bad presses out there cranking out utter shit. Usually they have names like “Penguin,” “Random House,” or “Crown.” Okay, that was spiteful, but dammit, it felt good.
In all seriousness, there is some real drek on the shelves published by “real” publishing companies with “real” editors, and “real” cover designers. These tomes usually end up in the bin (where they belong, I might add). But in the digital market, their decaying words stink up the world for as long as there is an internet. And that means we, potential readers, are stuck with a ridiculous number of shitty titles clogging up their search results.
So the idea that going through the gatekeepers somehow guarantees quality is a load of horse hockey. Granted, one hopes a work would get proper editing and a cover design that doesn’t look like an 8th grader put it together with construction paper. One hopes.
The industry wants both readers and writers to believe that unless stories go through them, they’ll be absolute shit. What’s absolute shit is this argument.
Now that I am published by Severed Press and a have a book that made the bestseller list, I have some cred. Finally. And maybe I didn’t deserve any before. That’s fair. But I still have to fight to remind folks, including industry “professionals” and so-called insiders, that I have a better contract than the majority of the authors suffering the soulless, malaise of being a mid-lister for the big 5.
So what’s my point? When people feel threatened, they tend to distort facts. These boneheads will lie, cheat, steal, and do anything they can to protect their bread and butter. And can you blame them? Of course, it’s always possible that they’re just that ignorant of the business’ evolution. After all, if you don’t raise your head and take a look around, you’ll just sit in the echo chamber and believe the lies and distortions you’re told.
I’m an asshole for not raising my hand, for not calling bullshit, and not giving that writer a little knowledge. At least then, she’d have had a chance to make an informed choice. Snobbery doesn’t equal reality no matter how much you sugar coat it.
So next year, I’m making sure there’s a panel on being a hybrid author, courses on how to assemble a creative team, how to run your business, and how to get out there as an independent. Pros. Cons. The works. Because I don’t want another potential author to miss a chance at getting the proper information to make an informed choice.