I promise to get off my soapbox for the next post, but I’ve been thinking a bit about some of my writing heroes, wondering what they would make of the current publishing landscape. The Jazz Age writers discussed the difficulties of writing as a craft, leaving us lots of wonderful quotes about the virtues of working hard at writing. They didn’t talk as much about what happened after they did the writing, though insecurity was a common topic. So I’m led to believe that for the writers I’ve most admired, publication was not a foregone conclusion. They wrote because they needed to, had to; they wrote because they were writers.
What would Hemingway think of the publishing industry today? Would he stand with the old guard, defending traditional publishing though creating a bestseller often comes at the cost of an artist’s integrity? Would he be pleased to see that writers today have a modicum of control over what they create instead? In my mind, as long as the work is good — and that means that I’m not considering those writing simply to publish; those turning out commercial book after book and following a detailed plan that began with the market and ended with the writing only as an afterthought, or those who are putting out books that were not well formed enough to ever have been published traditionally — as long as the work is good then shouldn’t the writer be pleased to be able to deliver it to an eager readership him (or her) self? Shouldn’t we be happy to cut out the middleman and be able to take control of the fruits of our labors? I ask you – isn’t that what writing is about? The readers?
— Note: I am actually not disparaging those writers who are following a detailed marketing plan, turning out books on a schedule and offering reliable plot lines to an audience who turns to them expecting one thing and getting that one thing reliably. I think that’s a smart business and I’m disinclined to suggest that I might not try it at some point, too. After all, this is meant to be a living and if there is money to be made, I do not think less of those who have figured out how to make it. But that’s another post. Today I’m looking instead at those practicing a craft, an art. And yes, I think writers can do both. —
If traditional publishing offers statistics like these stating that most writers sell fewer than 500 books, I think I’ve chosen correctly. I’m not Stephen King or even Amanda Hocking… but I have had a steady 1 or 2 sales a day since I published my collection. No, it won’t make me rich. But I will tell you that it has made me astoundingly happy. And when the book was free through KDP? More than 1500 downloads. That’s a wider audience than I could have hoped for through traditional means, I believe.
Anyway, this all comes from my frustration at being barred from competing my short story collection in any of the literary awards competitions meant to reward a debut effort by a new writer. My book, bound and edited professionally as it is, full of stories that I beat myself up over for endless nights, is invisible to the lofty literati who control these awards. Until there is an allowance for self-published work to be regarded alongside (or at least judged against) traditionally published work, there will always be a divide between the two sides of publishing. And I believe that it’s this kind of exclusion that leads the more traditional thinkers to look down upon those of us who simply didn’t want to wait to offer our hearts to the world.
Perhaps the work should be allowed to stand on its own? Why not let us new kids try? The worst that can happen is that you find a new voice to applaud. Perhaps you’ll get to shake your heads sadly as you read self-published entrants to these competitions and say to yourselves, “We were right…” Wouldn’t that make you happy? Wouldn’t you feel such joy of vindication? Then you can write scholarly articles for each other about how right you were!
What do you think?