Can I just take a minute to discuss the statement that I often see that “it’s easier than ever to make a living as a writer”? I saw it pop up again this morning and am still mulling it over. Because, let’s be honest — nine times out of 10, that statement is referring to self-publishing. And I’m beyond a fan of self-publishing — I think it’s great — but to put it out there like, “Well, there’s self-pubbing, so you can just do that and make a living” is so very very flawed.
Self-publishing is awesome and has given a lot more writers the opportunity to write full time, but it is absolutely 100% not the solution for everyone please stop. Consider:
That not everyone writes in genres that thrive in self-publishing at the moment, which mostly favors adult markets with a lot of commercial flair
That not everyone can handle the entrepreneurial and marketing elements you need to manage to find success; in fact, for some that shit is a total muse-crusher and would result in them being mentally and emotionally worse off
That not everyone has the extra money in the bank that it takes to put out a decent quality book — by which I mean, some proofreading, a not totally shitty cover, etc.; I’m talking basics here. A lot of writers have budgets scraped so thin that even $50 upfront for their cousin’s friend to do a cover on MS Paint means less food in the pantry or no money for transportation
That not everyone even wants the self-publishing life and tossing this reasoning at them isn’t at all helpful because your goals are not their fucking goals
So while, yes, it might be easier than ever for you or your buddy Joe to put your super-awesome books out yourselves and make a living, before you throw that sentiment out at someone who’s talking about the difficulties of making ends meet as an author…just stop. Tuck this particular privilege back into your pocket and keep walking.
When I was a little, I had this picture in my head of what it meant to be a grown-up, full-time writer.
It involved a lot of cozy sweaters and turtlenecks, a lovely office with a big desk and giant windows that looked out over the mountains because, of course, it would be set in a lovely secluded cabin in the woods.
And in this image that my child-mind projected, my grown-up, full-time-writer self sat at her desk – poised, pulled-together – and simply typed her stories out, printed them off in pristine black-and-white beauty, and mailed them off to New York. (My child-mind did not account for leaps in digital technology, obviously.)
Basically, if you ever saw the film adaptation of Wonder Boys, it looked a lot like that scene of Michael Douglas at the veeeeeery end in his posh office with a black turtleneck on.
I have to confess to feeling a bit nostalgic lately for Little!Becca’s vision of what being an author would be like. Just write with confidence, send it away, get it back in book form. Simple, pure authorship.
Of course that’s a terribly naive image. It was never going to survive once I had a legitimate (or so I thought at the time) book under my belt and started looking into the actual industry just after college. With that exploration came the knowledge that, for the majority of authors, that vision is a fantasy. The reality is – these days more than ever, I feel like – an author has to be savvy and involved, an active participant in building a career that has the potential to bring in money. You can’t just know writing anymore; you have to know marketing and social media and networking and you sure as hell better understand your contracts. It’s a business and has to be understood like a business in case you’re already independently wealthy and just horsing around for funsies (which most of us aren’t).
For someone like me – let’s say, a writer on the verge – who hasn’t picked a publication path yet, you pile onto that the overwhelming volume of opinions and rhetoric regarding whether one should go with traditional publishing or indie/self-publishing.
Let’s be clear: I know and love people on both sides of the line. I respect agents and editors, and I have a great many traditionally published friends who are so fabulous I would never stop hugging them if it weren’t so damn awkward. On the flip side, I have boundless respect for my copy editing clients and every other independent author who decides to take their career into their own hands. I want to buy them all drinks and tell them that I adore them for being ballsy and talented as shit.
But having friends on both sides of the line means that, more often than not, articles on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing are exhausting as shit.
If I had a dollar for every article written on this topic that manages to tackle it without – subtly or blatantly – denigrating the other side, I would have…well, maybe about ten dollars. Generally, all I’m seeing is this: One side comes out with data or an argument. The other side responds by saying that argument is bullshit. The first side then responds saying that the argument against their argument is bullshit.
Repeat ad nauseum.
And I know the advice that’s coming: “Just stop reading about it. Forget about the industry and just write.”
But I’m sorry, that’s just not practical. It’s a lovely idea, but it drives me up the freaking wall because it’s just not possible. You’re too late. The Pandora’s box is already fucking open. I can’t write as if the industry isn’t there because it is and because I want to make a career in it. I want to make a knowledgeable, educated career in it, which means staying on top of developments and analysis of those developments. No matter what path I choose, being an author these days is a form of entrepreneurship, and you’d never tell an entrepreneur to start a business without researching the market.
I am trying to read them less, especially when my anxiety is already flaring up or when I’m drafting and just need to keep my head down. I am trying to stay in the present instead of projecting into the future all the time. I am trying to find this balance between knowing enough and knowing way too fucking much ohmygodeveryoneshutup.
But I guess what it comes down to is that, this week, I’m really just missing fifteen-year-old me scribbling ridiculous original stories and fanfiction in the back of her high school auditorium. She knew nothing of the industry; she only knew about the pure joy of writing, and she was a lot more free because of it.
So I kinda wasn’t planning on blogging anything till the new year – just letting this lovely little spot go on hiatus for a bit longer while I edited and copy edited and generally did the tap dance of life. But something crossed my Twitter feed last night just before bed, and I want to talk about it.
The new season of Sherlock starts soon, and there was an episode showing and panel this past weekend for fans. The cast was there for a panel, during which the moderator had the show’s stars – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman – read an excerpt from a Sherlock/Watson slash fic.
The moderator did NOT have the fanfic author’s permission to use her work like this.
It seems to have been done in jest but only succeeded in making the actors uncomfortable and humiliating the fanfic author, who never wished for her work to be exposed like this.
The author – who, judging by the excerpt, is quite good – has been a class act about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that what the moderator did was a jackass move. Whether or not she meant to denigrate fandoms and the creative output of fandoms, that’s exactly what she did, and it sucks.
So I’m breaking out my soapbox to say this: Fanfiction authors, I love you. Fanfiction authors, I am you.
I wrote (really, really terrible in hindsight) Newsies and Buffy/Angel and Harry Potter fanfiction. I begged my fandom friends for Spike/Buffy drabbles way before it became a canon pairing, and I have a Mal/Inara drabble that my friend Jess wrote me that was so freaking on point I still think it could’ve fit seamlessly into the show. It’s my favorite Mal/Inara moment, and it never existed on screen.
And if anyone knows of a really great Stargate Jack O’Neill/Samantha Carter fanfic out there? I’m all ears.
You know my favorite part about the word “fanfiction”? Fan. As in, someone who so loves a creative endeavor that they want it – they need it – to continue on and expand even after the original creator has moved on. Someone whose enthusiasm takes them past the bounds of absorption and turns passive into active.
Fanfiction is so often demoted to the shadowy corners of the writing world, seen as less, seen as not good enough. And I will grant you that the line between fanfiction and pull-to-publish borderline plagiarism has gotten a tad blurrier of late. But that’s such a small fraction of the fandom world. 99% of fanfiction authors aren’t writing because they want to make a profit. We do it because we just fucking love our fandom so much that we want a chance to play in it.
We’re writing the alternate universes or the off-screen moments or the pairings-that’ll-never-happen-but-dammit-they-should-because-reasons. We’re penning extra adventures for the characters purely for the enjoyment of other fans, in the hopes that we make just one person’s day when a new chapter gets posted. We’re exploring and analyzing and building on the universe someone else started, and by doing that, the fandom itself breathes and grows.
And yes, sometimes fans be crazy and shipping wars explode and everyone’s bickering, but hell, sometimes my big, noisy family is crazy and I still love them fiercely.
So here’s to you, fanfiction authors. Thank you for all of it – the weird pairings, the songfics, the fluff and the PWP. For slash fics and canon ships. I think you’re fucking awesome.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I don’t like NaNoWriMo for me. Just for me.
I think it’s awesome and works super-well for lots of other writers for tons of other reasons, but some people might in the same boat I’m in so I felt like I ought to write up a post about it.
(My first opinionated blog post in…months. Wow, where’d I disappear to?)
Okay, so National Novel Writing Month for me is kind of like pitch contests. If a pitch contest pops up, it doesn’t matter if I have nothing done or if all of the agents represent humorous nonfiction instead of scifi/fantasy, there’s part of me that wants to jump in. Submit. Be involved. Tap into that collective emotion of writers striving and hoping together.
I do the same thing with NaNoWriMo. Every. Damn. Year.
I tell myself I’m not interested, I’m not signing up, and then the buzz starts to build. People start logging in, creating their profiles, talking about their outlines or lackthereof, tagging each other with excitement and anticipation. And because I love writers and I love this community, I get swept up in it. I want to be a part of it, to fill that thrill of togetherness, and I forget NaNos past. I tell myself it’s all good, that I know I can draft 1667 words a day. Hell, I NaNo-ed mid-August to mid-September to finish my scifi project. No sweat, right?
Except…every November I rediscover that I’m not the type of writer who thrives in NaNoWriMo.
The daily updates; the trade and comparison of word counts; the drive to get there… It doesn’t inspire me. It doesn’t give me a lasting jump-start. It doesn’t help me keep my head down and draft harder. I wish it did because I want so badly to mix it up with the other NaNo warriors, but I usually get one or two days in and then just…balk.
I’m a contrary person, really. If you tell me I ought to do something, it suddenly becomes the least desirable thing on the planet. It’s hardly a unique quality; a lot of people hate being told what to do. But I often feel like NaNoWriMo is just that – some Vague Authority on High telling me what to do. It doesn’t matter that I know it’s not. It feels that way.
As soon as I came to this realization yesterday, I wish I had remembered before November 1st how incompatible my writing personality is with this task. Because now my negative feelings for NaNoWriMo are all tied up and intermixed with my feelings about my current project, so I have to set the whole tangle aside and give it space to breathe. To see if it’s got a life of its own still, outside of my conflicted relationship with this month.
I love NaNoWriMo. I love how first-timers and veterans alike can use it to get over that hump and get a draft down. But if there’s one thing I always have – and always will – advocate, it’s that every writer’s style is different. Drafting style, revising style, publishing style – we can only do what works for us, and we should never feel bad about that.
Me, for example – I’ll be letting go of my NaNo profile tomorrow. I will make that choice for me and my current and future stories, and (after a deep breath and some extra coffee) I won’t feel bad about it.
Instead, I will keep cheering for all of you out there – NaNo warrior or not. I will continue to fling spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks and figure out the type of writer I am.
And I will get this blog post title tattooed on my damn arm to help me keep my head next year when the anticipation starts building again.
I have a lot of thoughts running around for this particular topic, and it’s been a bit of a challenge trying to figure out how to cobble them together into a coherent post. Here’s my best shot.
It seems to me there are three groups in publishing right now:
The ones who are hardcore traditional publishing
The ones who are hardcore indie publishing
The ones in between – either in practice or mentality – who we’ll just categorize as “hybrids”
For the sake of this post, hybrids doesn’t just mean those who have published books both traditionally and independently. It means those who recognize that both forms are viable, that both forms offer different risks and benefits, and that it entirely depends on the book and the author.
More and more people are drifting into the hybrid area every day, and I’m fucking ecstatic about it. I think this is publishing’s future. Not the epic, crumbling downfall of the Big 5. Not the book industry collapsing under the weight of “all that self-published crap.” But an open-minded mindset that embraces the possibilities of both avenues and stays flexible.
What frustrates me is when I see the hardcore groups lashing out, refusing to admit that the other side is doing anything right. Because they are, guys. Each side is doing something right.
Hardcore traditionals: Can we step up and recognize that indie publishing has the pace and flexibility to keep up with the new marketplace? That they’re being nimble and adaptive in a way that’s making you look like a dinosaur? That the more control you take away from the author, the more you’re hurting yourselves?
Hardcore indies: Can we step up and recognize that traditional still does some great things? Like pulling in people with different skill sets to help make the book better? Like taking a little bit of time to plan, invest, gear up marketing strategies and build buzz?
The fact of the matter is that the authors who are willing and able to learn from BOTH sides of the industry are the ones who I believe are going to rise to the top. Yes, traditional publishing needs to break out of its old models, but indie publishing can learn a thing or two about promotion and quality.
When Amazon initially kickstarted the indie craze, you could get by with throwing a book out there with very little prep, a cheap cover, maybe editing but probably not, and yeah – sometimes those books still sell. And no, I don’t think indies need to dedicate two years to producing and marketing one book at a time – like I said, the nimbleness of this path is one of the best things about it.
But continuing to encourage writers to rush books onto the scene, books that aren’t ready? To throw together a “decent” book with a “decent” cover and call it good enough?
Seriously? Fuck decent. Decent is limp. Decent is passive. We’re worth more than decent.
Yes, I believe the best indie authors are those who release books often. No, I don’t believe that you should just put all your book-eggs in one book-basket. But I also believe you can stay flexible without shortchanging yourselves and your readers on things like editing, editing, editing – oh, and also packaging and maybe even a little bit of promotion. You can be prolific without totally sacrificing quality.
If indie publishing wants respect, it has to fucking earn it first.
And in case you think I’m just bagging on indies here – hardcore traditionals? It would help if, instead of throwing away all indies away as “self-published crap,” you could get your noses out of the air and recognize that a lot of indies are working their asses off and producing killer stories.
We’re starting to filter to the middle – hybrids are slowly becoming the name of the game – but there are still so many people drawing dividing lines where lines don’t need to be. We all want to give readers great stories.
And the best way to do that is to learn from both sides and move forward.
I seen a lot of tweets today about the Random House digital-only imprints – specifically Hydra. Right on the heels of the Writer Beware post that revealed details about the contract they seem to be offering writers came SFWA’s announcement that they will not consider Hydra as a viable publishing credit for entry into the association. If you want more explanation as to why not, John Scalzi explains things with his usual efficacy.
I think, at this point, it’s pretty obvious who Random House was trying to snag with these digital imprints: unagented writers who are:
Hungry for publication
Frustrated with the traditional process
Considering indie publishing
Yet still are somewhat attached to the idea of traditional validity and the desire for a “Big 6” label
In other words, writers like me.
I remember hearing about the launch of these imprints back in November. I remember staring at the Hydra page and thinking, “Oh my god, this is it. This could be my in. My way to be published by freaking RANDOM HOUSE.”
I didn’t have anything ready to send to them at that point, and this has turned out to be a good thing. But for those who did and who signed that contract… Well, Hydra, the word “predatory” comes to mind. But when you pair this with news items like Pearson/Penguin Group purchasing the notorious Author Solutions, then it just drives home one, clear message:
The best advocate you have is you.
Even if you have an agent. Even if you have a GREAT agent. Your writing career is 100% yours and the only one you have. There is no one else who depends on the success of your work quite like you do. And it is work. It’s a business. Which means anytime you partner with anyone, you should investigate the shit out of that person or company.
You’ve heard “no agent is better than a bad agent”? Well, that’s true. Trust me when I say that it’s fun being able to tell everyone you have a literary agent, but it loses its luster if you end up knee-deep in a mess of incompetency or extortion or worse.*
Y’know what else is true? No publisher is better than a bad publisher. It seems strange and a bit sacrilegious to say that, but for reals, people. It’s not worth signing on the dotted line just to get your work out there if they’re going to bend you over a table in the long run. Not these days; not when we have other options – direct-to-consumer options – available to us.
Which, speaking of, if you go indie, it’s the same shit, different day. It’s your book, your product, so don’t just hire any ol’ person to help you put it out there. No cover designer is better than a bad cover designer. No editor is better than a bad editor. Repeat it to yourself. Do your due diligence. Make sure they’re going to help you put out something quality, something you’re proud of.
I’m not trying to be self-righteous. I’m an impulsive person, and if I had submitted to Hydra back in November and gotten a contract in December, I probably would’ve signed it. Because I want my books out there and because I would’ve trusted Random House.
I would’ve trusted them, and they would’ve screwed me. Not because they hate me personally but because they’re a business trying to get a slice of the sweet self-publishing pie. Because their goal is to advocate for themselves. It’s their job.
And our only defense against the predators is to advocate for ourselves just as hard.
*Note: Just to make it clear: I adore literary agents. I would love to have one of my very own someday. But not everyone who calls themselves a literary agent is one or is a good one, so make sure you don’t just like the agent personally. They also need to be an effective business partner.
I’m going into this post fully aware that this is not a black-and-white issue. The question of what an author is or is not responsible for when it comes to reader interpretations of his or her book is a much-debated gray area. So while this is my position on the matter, your mileage may definitely vary, and you’re welcome to comment and disagree with me.
For the record, I definitely don’t think authors should be held accountable for every individual interpretation. I don’t blame J.D. Salinger for Mark David Chapman shooting John Lennon or for the fact that a few messed-up dudes in the past few decades have had an affection for Holden Caulfield and killing people. That’s not Salinger’s problem.
At the same time, I don’t believe we can entirely wash our hands of what we create once it goes out to an audience. Nor can we simply let intention become a blanket excuse for shrugging off responsibility.
For example: There’s a prominent author who is known for blocking any Twitter user who mentions that the central relationship in his/her book could be viewed as domestic abuse. We’re not just talking about blocking one or two trolls – we’re talking about blocking loads of people, many of whom are being rationale and not combative.
As a private individual, it’s this person’s right to block who they want. As a professional author, I think it shows a certain lack of authorial responsibility.
The given reasoning seems to be that the author freaks out when their book is linked to domestic abuse because he/she did not intend to depict the relationship as abusive. That the people making this accusation just aren’t reading it correctly, therefore it’s okay for the author to close his/her ears and drown them out.
What we intend to write and what actually comes across in the writing are two very different things. We don’t always have the necessary distance from our own work to be able to see what’s conveyed on the page, which is why we have CPs and beta readers, agents and editors who can read it go, “Did you mean it to sound this way?”
Here’s where we get down to the crux of my position on the matter: If what we intend to depict does not come across to readers, it is our fault as an author – not the fault of the readers.
Simply going, “Well, I didn’t mean it like that, so you must be looking at it wrong” is a bullshit response. It’s an infuriating response.
Telling stories is our thing, it’s what we do, and words are the tools we use. It is our responsibility to make sure that the characters and scenes and plots we craft are displaying the tone and message we want them to display. If a few people people don’t get it, that’s one thing, but if dozens, hundreds, thousands don’t…well, then you might have a problem.
For the record, I’m not saying that you have a responsibility to only write happy things or make sure the good guys always winor not promote drugs or sex or blahblahblah. I’m just saying that whatever you’re trying to convey, you have a responsibility to your readers to do everything you can to ensure you are conveying it well and effectively.
If we fuck it up, if we put out something that was meant in one way but comes across entirely different to a significant portion of our readers, then we need to learn, respond and try to fix it in future work. Not stick our fingers in our ears and scream LALALALALA until we can’t hear them anymore.
Like I said at the beginning, this is just my opinion in the matter, but I do think it’s part of our job as writers. Every job has fun parts and difficult parts; this is our difficult parts. We should step up to the challenge and not shy away.
Okay, I meant this to be somewhat educational, but it basically turned into a full-out rant, so…brace yourselves.
Yesterday, it was announced that the sitcom How I Met Your Mother was renewed for its ninth and final season, and something one of the creators said just about made me want to light my head on fire.
First, a little background for the uninitiated:
How I Met Your Mother‘s basic premise is that the main character, Ted Mosby, is looking back on his 20s/30s and telling his teenage kids how he met their mother through a series of stories about him and his friends, Lily, Marshall, Barney and Robin. So the ENTIRE series is based off of this idea that all the episodes are leading up to him meeting the woman he will marry and start a family with.
Okay? Okay. Now, let’s aside the fact that – no matter how clever the show is – that is an extremely limited premise. There is only so long you can drag it out before fans – which includes me, for the record – start throwing up their hands. And since it’s been on for so long, you can imagine that there were *ahem* several red herring women thrown into Ted’s path. We KNOW they’re red herrings because Older!Ted basically VOs all the time, “I started dating this one chick who wasn’t your mother.”
But there is one in particular – the ULTIMATE RED HERRING. An idea for a couple that the show writers are SO in love with that they won’t let it die.
In episode one – the freaking pilot – Ted tells the story about this beautiful woman he met, how they locked eyes across the bar and it was kismet blah blah blah. And the oh-so-clever twist at the end is he tells his kids, “And that’s how I met…your Aunt Robin.”
Right. So, if you’re someone like me, I’m already over this pairing. I know, for a fact, that Ted and Robin don’t end up together, so I’m not really invested in it. There’s no reason to be. She’s not the mother – they’re obviously going to split up sooner or later. I’m only interested insofar as their relationship becomes a jumping off point to her becoming part of the group of friends.
Which is why I started getting frustrated when the Ted/Robin storyline stretched from one season, to two, to three… Every time I thought they were about to let it go, the writers dragged that shit up again.
Jump forward to now. I haven’t had cable in awhile so I haven’t watched the current seasons, but I follow along anyway, out of curiosity. I hear about Barney/Robin and the proposal and the plans for the May finale to be their wedding, which is all very encouraging because – I think – they’ve finally let the Ted/Robin pairing go off to die in a back alley like it ought to have seasons ago because we already know it’s going nowhere.
4) Ted isn’t entirely over Robin.
Even though Ted had some closure on the issue of Robin in recent episodes, Thomas says the door is definitely not closed on that issue. “I don’t want to say how or when, but yeah,” he says, “it’s so built into the DNA of the show and, we’re heading toward this huge finish of this series. Whether sooner or later, there’s a big culminating ending coming in the near future of the show, of course, that dynamic has to be addressed again.”
NO, HIMYM. NO. BAD TV SHOW. VERY BAD.
I mean, they set up this context of Ted telling his kids how he met their mother, and we’ve had nine – NINE – seasons of him telling them how in love he’s been with their Aunt Robin. It’s gross. It’s beyond gross. If I were the kids at this point, I’d be having a serious talk with my mom about why she married this douchebag.
This is the perfect example of a never-ending plot. Something that could have – SHOULD HAVE – had a natural conclusion a long, long time ago, but because the creators are so in love with it and so obsessed with it, they keep drawing it out. They create faux-endings that they then renege, they introduce ridiculous new reasons to resurrect it, and they hogtie characters into place in order to keep their pet plot project alive. It’s “built into the DNA of the show” because they fucking built it there. That’s it. At this point, it’s just long-ass wankery that’s being called a television show.
You’re doing a disservice to yourself, your characters and your fans to cling to this storyline long after it should be over. It takes the concentrated awesome of the early seasons and keeps spinning it out and adding more gross until it’s not even fun to watch anymore.
HIMYM is, by no means, the only series (in any form of media) that is guilty of this crime, but it’s one of the worst perpetrators I’ve seen in awhile. Which makes it a good example to use when I say:
Don’t be HIMYM. Don’t be That Guy. Put an expiration date on your plots and stick to them. Fans will thank you.
It’s a few days from New Year’s and, therefore, a perfect opportunity to look back on what’s past before we turn our eyes forward to 2013. I’ve spent over a year now back in the writing world, building this blog, meeting awesome people both here and on Twitter, struggling, falling, helping (hopefully), and climbing back up again.
2012 was a big year. A great year. A memorable year. A lot of changes, a lot of ridiculously awesome moments (including one whole day in particular), some heartbreak, a few regrets. I’m ready for 2013, although I’m not sure what I think of it yet. It seems like it ought to be quieter – smaller changes, more blah-blah-the-usual – but I suspect it’s just planning on being sneakier. That I just can’t see the changes coming. I see you over there, 2013 – I’m onto your shenanigans. *EPIC SIDE EYE*
One thing with 2012 is that I finally found my voice with this blog and garnered some decently solid traffic, so I thought I might do a recap of the most successful entries to-date. Here are Peculiar Light’s top 12 posts of 2012:
#TheWritersVoice: Building Your Twitter Pitch #WVTP
From way back in May, I offered up a consolidated list of advice on how to trim your book’s plot into a 140-character pitch for the Twitter party and then let everyone use the comment thread to trade pitches and give advice. This one got a HUGE traffic boost after Vickie Motter linked to it in her blog (at which point I freaked out and felt like kind of a big deal for a few short moments).
Here’s the Thing: All Vaginas Are Not the Same
Once upon a time, a really stupid article made some really stupid assumption about Chicks and The Chick Stuff That Chicks Like. And I got mad. So mad that a Twitter rant wasn’t enough, and I had to tell Hollywood and all media outlets just what I thought of their unendingly stupid analyses of women.
Everything I Know About Writing I Learned from Buffy
The title is fairly self-explanatory on this one: Buffy has been a major influence on me, the stories I like and my writing. So I penned this tribute, complete with reasons why it was – and still is – so fucking awesome.
What The Vampire Diaries Has Taught Me About Plotting
The Man and I started to watch the fast-paced, addictive-like-crack drama of The Vampire Diaries, and before we’d finished the first season, I’d learned a thing or two from the ballsy writers penning the show – things about plotting, pacing and not holding back.
Here’s the Thing: I Just Want to Read Some Great F—ing Stories
Since the self-publishing surge started, it’s really felt like you had to pick a side: either you were with traditional publishing and traditionally published authors – or you were one of the “those people” who supported self-publishing. I refuse to pick a side. Not now, not ever. I just want to read good fucking books.
Here’s the Thing: Contests Aren’t Really About the Agents
In the middle of contest mania this past fall, it felt like some of the real, tangible important benefits of contests were getting lost. You might not get an agent out of contest – in fact, odds are you probably won’t – but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth entering.
Spotlight with Author Trisha Leigh + The Last Year Giveaway
Did you know that author Trisha Leigh is awesome? Because she is. And talented to boot. I fell in love with The Last Year series – Whispers in Autumn, Winter Omens and Betrayals in Spring, so far – and Trisha was nice enough to submit to an interview and provide some awesome answers to my nosy questions.
So considering my soapbox post on Monday and my Twitter rant on Wednesday, now seems as good a time as any to straight-up lay out what my thought processes have been regarding my own authorial career.
Fact #1: I am working on book project with Brenda that will be subbed out and go through the traditional publishing process once it’s ready.
Fact #2: Despite this and despite all the wonderful people in the industry, when it comes to my own works, I am pretty much planning on going the indie/self-publishing route.
I hate to say “will” or “definitely” because I have a lot of work to do yet and life likes to throw curve balls when we least expect them, but honestly, this has been under serious consideration for awhile. Pretty much since I first got back into writing by taking up PECULIAR DARK again over a year ago. I’ve gone back and forth, struggled with it, discussed it extensively with The Man and with other writers, read every article and perspective on the matter I could possibly get my hands on, had a thousand different pro/con sessions with my CPs and other writers.
I keep coming back to self-publishing.
And it’s not because I hate traditional publishing and legacy house. I’m still a big fan and excited to help other writers pursue that path if that’s their dream. It’s not because I’m “giving up” or just don’t want to receive anymore rejections from agents/editors. Anyone who thinks getting an agent and/or editor is the end to getting negative feedback on your book is crazypants.
It breaks down like this: Self-publishing is scary – you’re putting your work out there for everyone to see and you’ve got to know how to market yourself and your books in order to succeed.
On the other hand, traditional publishing is scary – you’re putting your work out there for everyone to see and you’ve got to know how to market yourself and your books in order to succeed.
Did you catch that?
Either way, it’s terrifying, and unless you make it big-time, you’re going to have to do some hard-ass work to promote your books, promote yourself, and make sales happen. The days of hermit authors in turtlenecks hiding up in cabins, banging away at a typewriter, mailing off the pages to their editor and that’s it are totally fucking finito. They have been for a long while. Sorry.
So the question becomes whether you want the agent-editor-house backing or not. As someone smarter than me put it: do you want the canoe or the kayak?
I can totally understand why people love the traditional route, want the traditional route, and there’s a part of me that still craves it just a little. The validation of it, the glamour, the idea of hardbacks in Barnes & Noble stores and being able to say, “My book is being published by [insert uber-famous house here].”
But more and more, I’m finding the idea of putting out my own product my own way really appealing. It sounds like such an exciting challenge. Picking my own publishing team of editors, designers, etc.; electing the cover and marketing materials; setting up my own strategy based off my own research; having only myself to answer to about my public persona, how I come across, what project I should work on next. I have ideas all over the board – an adult scifi, an epic contemporary fantasy, maybe a YA contemporary and an MG adventure. I’m a potential marketing nightmare for a publishing house, but if I’m the boss of my own writing career…
Yeah, I could fail. I could fall flat on my face and only sell three books – all of them to my mom – because my work is crap and I just can’t see it. And if I pursue traditional publishing…I could fail. I could fall flat on my face and only sell three books – all of them to my mom – because my work is crap and I just can’t see it.
Yup. I’m a one-trick pony today.
I’m just saying – there are no guarantees when you put a book out there, no matter how you put it out there. I’m going to make my decision based on what’s best for me and my work. Ya’ll go out there, look at your amazing options, and make the decision for your work, and I promise to 100% back you for whichever path you choose. With chocolate. And pom poms. And cute animal pictures.
Because canoe or kayak – it doesn’t matter. We’re just trying to make it down the river.
This past Thursday, I had a rough night. I was emotional for various reasons, snapped at The Man who was being nothing but sweet, and decided early on that I was going to forgo the evening intrawebz activities in favor of reading and early bedtime.
It turned out to be a good move as it was the same night that a geo-glitch on Amazon caused the Buy buttons to disappear on many of the pages for Big 5 books. Panic ensued. People declared that Amazon was out to sabotage the legacy publishers once and for all. The usual Twitter insanity.
I’m glad I missed it. After such a contentious week with all of the hate between the Republicans and Democrats, I really didn’t need more us vs. them negativity. And from what I’ve been told, the bad mouthing didn’t end with Amazon – it turned against self-published authors as well.
Which…really, guys? Really?
Look, 2012 is a very different kind of publishing world. There are options. A lot of options. More than my brain can handle sometimes – I mean, it’s kind of awesome. There’s traditional, indie, small press, self (sometimes known as “indie” in which case it’s also known as “don’t you dare call it indie OMG”).
Point is, there is no one way for novels to come into the world anymore, and I have zero problems with this. As long as you pour out a great story, work with professionals to polish it to a high-fucking-shine, and put out a quality product, I couldn’t give two shits.
I don’t want to hear the self-pub vs. trad-pub argument anymore. I’m sick of it. Sick to tears. Sick like this:
I’m sick of the corner of self-publishing that gets their hackles up at anything related to the traditional houses because trads are the Big Bads trying to keep everyone down, and if you don’t storm the Bastille and join la Revolucion, then you’re just not doing it right.
I’m sick of the corner of traditional publishing that looks down their nose at anyone who chooses to produce their book themselves because they assume that it must not be very good, the poor dears, to have to resort to such measures because if you’re not being published by a properly vetted publishing house, then you’re just not doing it right.
You know what? Knock it off. Everyone, just knock it off. Quit trashing the other side’s sandbox. There’s no need for it! You have your own! In fact, everyone can have their own, painted in their favorite colors – isn’t that awesome? Let’s be excited about that instead of niggling at that guy over there for putting sea green and orange flowers on his.
I really don’t get why there has to be this controversy. I mean, I get why there’s controversy between, like, Amazon and the Big 5. Sure, I get that. Business competition, etc. It’s when it trickles down to the authors that it really bothers me. It’s when you see traditional or self-published authors disparaging the other side, undermining how the other side conducts their publishing business, that I get angry and sad. Haven’t we said over and over again that authors aren’t in competition with each other? That writing isn’t a zero sum game and the goal is just to get people to read books? Why, then, should that be any different when we’re talking about traditional vs. self?
So here’s me, standing up on my soapbox, laying down some hot truth for ya’ll:
I don’t care how you put your book out into the world. I just want to read some great fucking stories.
Three of the best books I’ve read in the past few months were produced and published by the authors. And in between those have been some gag-worthy ones put out by prime, Big 5 houses with all the stops pulled out. And you can reverse those statements, too. Some terrible self-pubbed novels have hit my Kindle, followed by some brilliant traditional books.
It doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care if there’s a Random Penguin emblem on the spine or not. I want the contents to be awesome, and that is fucking it. That is all I require.
That’s all that matters.
Let’s not do this. Let’s not encourage this division. Let’s diffuse it. Let’s support one another no matter which path a writer chooses.
Did you raise your eyebrows with that? Did you that combination snort-scoff thing? Or roll your eyes? (You didn’t think I saw, but I totally did.)
I’m not budging. I stand by my statement. If you’re slapping your logline into contests entry slots for agent attention alone, you’re doing it wrong.
Are there author-agent match-ups that rise, phoenix-like, from the fires of contests? Absolutely! I know of several, including one of my (long-suffering) CPs K.T. Hanna. It happens all the time, and if it happens for you, slap a gold star sticker on your forehead because you just received the Ultimate Contest Participant Bonus Prize.
But for every contest success story, there are a dozen others that end in duds. Maybe you get a few requests, but they don’t end in yeses. Maybe the agent that you were really aiming for doesn’t even give your entry a passing nod. Maybe you get no requests at all. Nobody wants to think about it or talk about it or even look at it directly, but it totally happens. Agents are elusive, unicorn-esque creatures that may or may not appear where you want them, and no matter how polished your entry, it might not ring any of their bells.
“So…what?” you say. “Should I just not enter contests? I seem to recall you being involved with quite a few, Little Miss Hypocrite?”
No, you should totally enter contests. I’m a huge, HUGE proponent.
Why? Because of the other writers.
That’s where the goldmine is, people. Thrown together by a shared, high-stress situation; huddled on whatever the contest hashtag is; joined by the biting of nails, the ripping of hair, the rending of garments…this is how great writer bonds can begin. Take the movie Speed, for instance. The only way you get a world in which Sandra Bullock swaps spit with Keanu Reeves is if you throw them in a blender with a bus and a bomb. Contests are our bus and bomb. The agony, anxiety and elation is a fucking insta-crucible. Shit melts together. Writers melt together. Maybe you’re not besties for life, but I bet you’ve got a lot more people to share wins and woes with.
This won’t happen all on its own, though. That gold ain’t gonna mine itself. You have to be active in the contest – not just with the hosts or the agents, but with your fellow participants. Get on the hashtag and talk with people. If possible, take time and read the other pitches. If you see one that rocks, tell that person they rock. Stay positive on the hashtag even if the contest isn’t going great for you. It’s not going to be easy, especially if pitches you hate are getting lots of agent-love, but put on your big kid panties and keep your cheer on anyway. After all, someday you’re going to want people to cheer for you.
An agent may be your end goal, but you’re not doing yourself any favors by strapping blinders to your head and tramping toward them without making connections along the way. Connections are awesome. Connections help keep you going when you can’t find your way out on your own.
Don’t do contests just for the agents. Do it to be part of the community, or you might find yourself missing out.
Tracey: When you can’t run, you crawl, and when you can’t crawl – when you can’t do that… Zoë: You find someone to carry you.
For the record: I have not seen “Asylum of the Daleks.” The Man and I don’t have cable – we just do everything through Netflix, so unless we resort to less-than-legal methods, it’ll be awhile before I get to see season 7.
However, I’ve of course been paying attention to the hype and promotion building up to the premiere over Labor Day weekend, and there’s something that’s been bothering me. Every time I saw it, I felt a little squicky, but I thought, “Oh, you’re just being silly.” The more I think about it and see some of the reactions coming in, though, the stronger I feel about saying my piece.
I’m talking about this image right here:
Disclaimer: Ten is my Doctor. And coming off the AWESOMENESS that was Donna, the Ponds have not been my favorite companions. I’m ready for them to move on and see what comes next. And while Eleven will never be my Doctor, I do kind of like what Matt Smith does with the character.
My problem with the image above is wrapped up a lot with my feelings toward the changes in the show since Russell T. Davies left and Moffat took over as showrunner. Moffat wrote some of the most brilliant episode under Davies’ reign – of course he seemed like a natural choice to take over for season 5. However, unchecked, his storytelling abilities are starting to cannibalize themselves. He has evolved the show from its origins to a sexy, blockbuster-ish series where everything is HUGE and people RUN AWAY FROM EXPLOSIONS IN SLOW MOTION.
I mean – seriously. Look at that photo up there. I mean, it’s cool and everything, but…that’s not the Doctor I know. That’s nothing of the Doctor Who I love.
And that right there? That’s not a companion worth giving a damn about.
Being carried from the wreckage like a Fainty McFainterson.Swooning in the Doctor’s arms. That tells you everything you need to know about how Moffat has been writing his primary female in the show for the past few years.
Let’s do a quick comparison by taking a look at Davies’ three companions.
Rose: Whether you like her or not, woman took charge. Season 1? She became the TARDIS. Season 2, she risked herself alongside the Doctor to save the world. Then she crawled her way back across space and time to get to his side and stood against a Dalek invasion.
Martha: I’m not even a huge Martha fan, but this woman is badass. She grew from doctor-running-away-with-a-crush to a soldier who took charge of her own life. She crossed a ravaged and occupied planet on foot for a year to save the Doctor’s ass and everyone else’s, too.
Donna: Oh, Donna. My favorite. She always felt not quite good enough, but more than any of the others, she was the heart that kept the Doctor grounded. More clever than she knew, always softer than she let on. When the shit hit the fan, she absorbed Time Lordiness and moved planets alongside her best friend.
Now let’s take a look at our wilting flower up there. Amy has:
Remembered the Doctor
Had a baby that’s a ridiculous vixen stereotype
Squabbled with her husband
In all fairness to Moffat, let’s take a look at his other lady – his “strong woman” River Song, who has:
Sexually harassed and nagged at the Doctor in a sex-kitten-as-wife role
Become what the Doctor said she was just because the Doctor said it
Ruined the whole world so that the Doctor had to clean it up
Generally degraded in intelligence and natural confidence since we met her character in season 4
Now I must ask myself, which of those groups of women would I want my little sister looking up to? The Well-Rounded Women’s Club who consistently stand alongside the Doctor and help him save the world? Or Sex Kittens Anonymous who have to be carried from the chaos and are mainly valued for how they look in a miniskirt?
Look, Who is Who. I’m going to keep watching and hoping (probably in vain) that Moffat turns around and makes new companion Clara a strong, layered character (and not just his definition of strong, which seems to only consist of “is sassy”). But I do miss the focus and humanity of the past seasons and regret a bit what it’s becoming.
That image? It’s a very accurate depiction of the new Who. It’s just not quite my Who.
I’m about to get all up in your business about A Cause. If this offends you, if you get irritated when some random person on the Internet that you follow for funsies talks about Serious Business Stuff, this is your opportunity to exit. I won’t judge you. That Back button is your right damnit.
Those of you still here: I am not a very political person. I am a registered independent, and I don’t talk about Democrats or Republicans or anything like that usually because politics make my head and soul ache.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have causes I feel passionately about. For example, I am passionate about gay marriage rights. I am passionate about my gender having freedom over their own bodies. I am passionate about equality and connecting and anything that promotes human beings reaching out to other human beings to make good ripples in their lives and improve the world just a little bit.
I’m also passionate about this:
In case you don’t want to watch the video, it goes a little something like this: There is an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota that is the most sacred place to the Lakota people. It is in their creation tale. It is where their ancestors have always gone to pray. To them, it is not something that can be owned, but when we came to this country, we took it. We made it a possession, and we traded it among people to whom it was just some hills and grass. The family who owns it now is auctioning it to the highest bidder, and unless the Great Sioux Nation can raise enough money to buy back their Center, their heart, their Mecca, it will likely go to developers. They will build a highway through it and cover it with strip malls. Where the Lakota people have worshipped, there will be a SuperTarget.
Just pretend for a second that I’m not talking about untouched land. Say I’m talking about a Christian church or a Jewish temple. Not Vatican City or Jerusalem – just a regular church or temple. If you want, we can pretend it’s about a hundred years old, so it’s logged some decent history. Can you imagine this being allowed in either of those cases? I mean, seriously? One phone call to Fox News about a God-fearing CHURCH being steamrolled, and it would be over quicker than Bill O’Reilly can scowl.
But because it’s the Lakota, because it’s “just land” and, good Lord, why leave it there when we can stick a parking lot on it, this is in danger of actually happening. After all the damage that’s been done to the native tribes, we have – apparently – yet more heartbreak to inflict on them. And it makes me want to cry.
Money’s tight. I know a lot of people don’t have cash to spare, and that’s okay. Spread the word instead. Sign the petition. Make some noise because noise can do great things. Noise can rise up. Noise can fill ears and force the mouths to stop talking. Noise can shake boulders and bring down mountains.
And there are, in my opinion, quite a few unfair mountains in our world that could use some leveling.
UPDATE: TRIBES OF THE GREAT SIOUX NATION AND LASTREALINDIANS, INC. WILLCONTINUE EFFORT TO SECURE PE’ SLA
Pe Sla has been taken off the auction block. However, the property is publicly listed. The Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation are moving forward on their own behalf with Lastrealindians, Inc. in continuing to raise money to ensure Pe’ Sla will be protected as a sacred site, forever.
Updates will continue as more information becomes available.
Please continue to give, sign, shake things up. This land may not be for auction, but it still belongs in the hands of the people to whom it is most sacred.
Okay, look, I’m probably not the first one to have this talk with you – I know eleventy thousand or so people probably mentioned it when 50 Shades of Gray picked up a contract – but on the heels of this shenanigans, maybe it bears repeating.
It does not reflect well on you when you pay out the ass for published fanfiction.
It’s entirely likely that you’re not even really listening at this point because you have those giant cartoon dollar signs in your eyeballs going “CA-CHING! CA-CHING! CA-CHING!” God knows it’s hard to hear above that kind of racket. Still, I’m going to push forward and hope that this message gets through.
Look, people have been saying some bad shit about you. That you screw over authors these days. That you don’t care about good stories anymore. That you’re only interested in republishing the same formula ad naseum despite your claims that you want “new, fresh voices.” Hey, don’t scowl at me – I didn’t say it. I just heard about it. My point is that stories like this aren’t really helping your case here.
The truth is, a good chunk of the aspiring authors out there probably have a fanfic they could edit – and by “edit,” I do mean “run find/replace on character names” – and publish. Remember when I considered it last month for half a minute? And I sat down and opened it up on ye olde word processor and went, “What is that icky feeling that’s crawling all over my skin?”
That was a little bit of my integrity dying. And when I recognized that, I promptly put it away.
Because here’s the thing1: If you write a fanfic, even if you’re writing an AU, you’re not starting from a blank creative slate. You’re taking a network of characters and ideas from an existing universe and playing around in it as you choose. You may bend it a LOT; you may choose unusual romantic pairings2 or put them in – oh, say – a university setting instead of small town Washington. But none of it is really yours. That’s why fanfic writers put that disclaimer at the beginning or end of all of their stories that says, “Dear God, don’t sue me! I’m just messing around for funsies!” Because no matter how crazily you position the action figures you borrowed or how long you play with them, they are not your toys.
With me so far? Are we all in agreement? Excellent.
Now, let’s say a writer is so happy with the Lego castle she built for those action figures that she thinks, “I don’t want to give these toys back … They’re kind of mine now anyway. The owner never built them a castle just like this or played with them in the same way I did. If I just call them Captain America and Black Widow instead of Superman and Catwoman, they’re totally different, and then they’re mine!”
So here you are, publishing houses, buying up another book starring a pale, brunette, naive, pretty-but-doesn’t-think-so, literature-loving, strategically-clumsy heroine. And whatever name you slap on her, the truth is she is Bella Swan. And your gorgeous, older, rich, protective, self-loathing hero is Edward Cullen. Don’t kid yourselves. Don’t try to pretend that these books are anything other than stolen toys in a new Lego castle. It doesn’t matter how many names you change in that fanfic, the ghosts of the original work remain. The ties between the characters (e.g., 50 Shades has a blatant Charlie and Rene), the key personality traits (oh, your tortured hero also plays the piano? That’s strange!) … little things like that always show through, always exist as reminders that the writer took action figures that didn’t belong to her and simply appropriated them instead of building her own.
The only way to erase those ghosts completely is to erase the fanfic completely and start at square one. But it doesn’t seem like anyone is willing to do that.
Is it plagiarism? Not enough to sue you for, so pat yourself on the back for eeking by on a technicality. Is it still kind of squicky? Yeah. Does it make everyone who’s trying to do things the right way feel like shit? Yeah.
I get it. Ya’ll are businesses, and bottom lines are to businesses what black holes are to space, so you go looking for sure things to keep you out of the red. Still, as a friend, I’d be remiss if I didn’t step up and say something. If I didn’t mention that this makes you look cheap(er) and stupid(er)3. If I didn’t mutter that this sets a bad example and sigh at the huge wave of fanfic writers who are now going to pull their stuff and try to profit from it. If I didn’t add one last casual aside about the very real possibility that the blurred line this shit is creating could ruin fanfiction for everyone if authors get fed up and start taking an Anne-Rice type of approach to things.
I’m writing to you in good faith here. Just think it over. And tell your mom and dad I said hi.
All the best, Becks
1.) For anyone who’s wondering, “here’s the thing” is one of The Man’s favorite phrases and always precedes opinionated declarations regarding the workings of the world and/or how to fix them. It’s so prevalent that I have absorbed the saying into my own vocabulary, and it seemed only right to use it as a tag for my most opinionated posts. 🙂
2.) Who else recalls the Golden Days of Harry Potter fandom when there was even a good ship for characters being paired with the squid? Seriously! The freaking squid! Oh, Potter fandom. Such an epic heyday.
3.) The modifiers have been parenthetically added for those who wish to take it a step further.
Given who the publisher of this article is, I should have known not to go read it, but so help me when it comes to nerd stuff, I just can’t help myself. And in the course of my reading, I found this analysis of why so many women went to go see Spider-Man:
The story of young love helped lure female viewers, who made up 42 percent of the audience, according to Sony. Seventy-three percent of reviews compiled on website Rotten Tomatoes recommended the movie.
“This is a film that had something for women,” said Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Emphasis mine. Already I was irritated enough to post my thoughts on Twitter, but when I read on, I found something else – another searing analysis of why the movie TED attracted an audience of 44 percent women:
“I know its about a drug using, foul-mouthed bear, but when all is said and done it’s a romance with a lot of heart,” said Nikki Rocco, UniversalPictures’ president of domestic distribution. “I don’t know too many women who didn’t feel something when that bear was lying dead on that coffee table with the stuffing pulled out of it.”
Allow me to take one second here to make a disclaimer: I don’t have a problem with romance. You don’t choose to buy the collected works of Jane Austen if you hate romance. I quite like it, actually.
What I have a problem with here is the ridiculous and automatic assumption that women are going to see these movies only because there is romance included. Because romance, obviously, is silly girl stuff. And action and adult humor is for boys.
I find this quite shocking. I thought all the women I knew were going to Spider-Man because it looked like a good adaptation of a superhero origin story paired with some bad ass special effects, not because Andrew Garfield swaps spit with Emma Stone.
And I thought I bought Bridesmaidsand Role Modelsthe day they came out on DVD because I thought they were hilarious, not because Kristen Wiig and Chris O’Dowd make a cute couple or Paul Rudd sings to Elizabeth Banks.
I thought Die Hard was one of my favorite movies EVER because I like snarky heroes who blow shit up.
According to Sony and Universal, though, that’s not the case. Maybe they know something I don’t. Maybe I’m not a woman. (I’d better go break the news to The Man…)
In all seriousness, though, assumptions like these are just symptoms of ridiculous his-and-hers cultural generalizations we already have in place. We color-code toys so that girls and boys know what they “ought” to be playing with. Boys get green dinosaurs; girls get pink dolls. Boys get blocks; girls get kitchen sets. And we’re not supposed to let them swap.
It doesn’t stop when we’re older, either. We stick big, hot pink labels on the “girl stuff” so that boys know to avoid it so they don’t get cooties. We have “chick flicks” and “chick lit” that is now slightly less derogatory “women’s fiction.” But we still feel the need to create a whole separate category for female writers who write stories about women dealing with non-paranormal issues. If a dude had written it or if a man was the main character, then it would just be “fiction.” But add an extra vagina to the mix, and all of the sudden it goes over there…y’know…where the women sit. It’s a practice that subtly undermines and devalues the lives, interests and issues of half the fucking population.
Why exactly does a book or story by and/or featuring women need to be cordoned off? Because, like it or not, the moment we do that, those generalizations come into play. This movie, this book, is only for girls. If you’re a boy who reads or watches it, you will be subject to speculation and possibly ridicule.
It’s preposterous. And infuriating. So allow me to stand on my soapbox and make a declaration.
Dear Hollywood – actually, dear Media Everywhere:
I am a woman. You see me as a simple sum of my parts – boobs, vagina, hair – and want to distill me down to a common denominator, but you do not define me. I have a Master Chief action figure on my desk next to Bath & Body Works lotion. I like to bake as much as I like to mow the lawn. I watch HGTV and Bravo about the same amount that I watch the ScyFy Channel and sports. I have a wide variety of interests that cross all of your imaginary gender and age boundaries, and I am ashamed of none of them. I choose what I like and what I don’t like based on my own, individual interests and desires. You do not know me. And I would be pleased as punch if you would stop pretending that you did.