Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thoughts on The Craft -- c.anne.gardner

You must read, you must persevere, you must sit up nights, you must inquire, and exert the utmost power of your mind. If one way does not lead to the desired meaning, take another; if obstacles arise, then still another; until, if your strength holds out, you will find that clear which at first looked dark. -- Giovanni Boccaccio

In my time on this blog -- in the self publishing arena in general -- if there is one thing that I have noticed about serious self-published authors is that they don’t lack perseverance. Notice I used the word “serious.” Just take a walk around the Lulu forums and you will see what I mean by not serious. Serious = Successful. There is a lot to deal with for a self-published author: they know the stakes and the stigma going in. They know it’s not just about working on your manuscript and slapping it up over on Lulu with a stock cover and then getting your friends and family to write reviews for you on Amazon. Being a successful self-published author is about more than paying a subsidiary press to do all the work for you, as well. A successful self-published author is not a stat monger either, nor is it about book sales or reviews or anything like that. A successful self-published author might even be a little nutty in the ole noggin. Why you ask, and what on earth does that have to do with being successful? Well, in my eyes, no matter the obstacles involved, the successful self-published author always seems genuinely happy with what they are doing and how they are doing it. Not in a trying to prove something to somebody sort of way, or a prove something to themselves sort of way, but a happy because they love what they are doing way. They’ll say it’s satisfying on whatever masochistic level you rate these things and that they are truly happy.

Being a successful self-published author is about more than a passion for the art. It’s about passion for the business model. It takes an ungodly amount of perseverance and it also takes an anarchist’s entrepreneurial spirit. It takes thick skin and broad shoulders, and more importantly, it takes humility, not vanity. Delusion doesn’t work, and the combative nature of arrogance doesn’t work well either. The writers I have reviewed on this site might think deeply and appear generally affected most of the time, but when you manage to wrench them away from their muse long enough to get a smile out of them, you know instantly where their heart is and why. It’s on the craft and anything that directly affects them. Anything that helps better their approach or get their art into the world is acknowledged and accounted for with style and grace.

I have met many such authors. Yes, you will rarely see a bad review from me on this site. I’ll be honest and say I don’t like wasting my time writing bad reviews, and I don’t like wasting the blog reader’s time either. The reason I don’t like writing them is that I am a hard-ass reviewer. I don’t have time to read crap, slapped together, poorly edited, poorly written and executed self-published work. I am not talking about a typo or two, those get by no matter what. What I look for in a self-published book is high concept and a command of the language. I want fearless, edgy, not necessarily overt, though I don’t mind explicit content. I want to think when I read. I don’t want to read a mass-market action-film styled book or some tarted up cliché romantic comedy or anything even remotely like *Twilight*. They might be good, but I am just not into them. I think Indie art is about being different than the mainstream, in subject matter and in narrative style and voice. That of course is just my opinion. I am sure there are Indies who write mainstream and do it well. It’s just not my thang. I am more of a drama gal, and I like books that dig deeply into the socio-political psyche of humanity: Think American Psycho or Fight Club and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I like. I like gritty, satirical, overtly sexual, statement making books. I like ugly unsympathetic characters too, and I love high philosophy with the romantic leanings of an existentialist. I don’t need a catchy opening line, I don't need the characters' motivations drilled into my head, and I don't need a plot driven manifesto. I just need to feel that the author had command over and an appreciation of their concept, and I can tell that from the first couple of pages. During my tenure as a Peep, I have been lucky that most of the books I have read and reviewed have fit that dictate -- tall order that it is.

The reason why most of the books I have reviewed here fit is because the authors who wrote them are serious, and I selected them because I am a serious reader. These Authors are well read. They have a deep respect for the language and the craft, and they are savvy when it comes to the industry. A serious self-published author is always asking questions and looking for new ways to express their concept. They have tenacity and a willingness to walk down the less travelled path. They are also willing to make course corrections along the way.

With the ebook pricing war in full swing, Indie authors are in the best possible position when it comes to filling the market’s need for content at a reasonable price. Reading habits are changing; purchasing habits are changing, and I feel a short fiction revival coming on. Once Smashwords gets their distribution kinks worked out, they will be the premier Digital Distribution source for Indie Authors. Serious Indie authors are nimble enough and open-minded enough to seize the opportunities that the changing marketplace is offering. And they’ve certainly got the chutzpah to do it too.

Cheryl Anne Gardner

The Art this week is “Sisyphus” by Franz Von Stuck 1920


Zoe Winters said...

I'd been thinking that the other day about a short fiction revival. I've thought about what lengths I might want to publish things in and where I might draw my price lines. Like short story: a buck? novella $2.99, novel $3.99? Not sure yet. But it's something I've definitely been thinking about.

I think what I write, being paranormal romance, is somewhat in the mainstream, but thank you for the lovely review you gave me here.

While I do think that being indie means I can write it how *I* want to write it, and there are a couple of expectations I break, like I don't write the florid or overly graphic sex most have come to expect in romance novels, I also think it means just freedom in general no matter what you write.

I'm writing what I want to write, not what I think is "marketable." What I write DOES happen to be "marketable." I could probably sell it to a publisher who publishes paranormal romance without them having to wonder how to market it or where it's going to fit on their list, but independently producing what I write is important to me.

While I respect the idea of "something different" from indies, I think we shouldn't shut out indies who are writing things more mainstream, because they are every bit as much an indie.

And yes, I love doing what I do... BUT... I am watching my bottom line and my sales stats, because I want financial success with it as well. And yes, I also DO have something to prove. I do love what I'm doing, but I'm also making a statement. And the statement is that "yes, self-publishing can be a viable business model, let me show you it" (insert LOLcat here).

It's kind of funny, I might be a little rebellious even for an indie, LOL. Cause most indies are downplaying the money, and I'm counting and calculating. :P I always gotta be contrary that way.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

Jeremy Robinson wrote mainstream as an indie, but his goal was to eventually get noticed, and he did everything he had to do to make that happen, and it did happen and so he went Trad as soon as he was offered a deal. Nothing wrong with that either.

I didn't say we should shut anyone out. I just said mainstream was not my thang, and I also said that there are Indies who write mainstream fiction and do it well, like Mr. Robinson.

By being different, I meant exactly what you affirmed: writing it the way you want to. What you want, when you want, and how you want, unconstrained from industry standards. Thinking outside of the current popular publishing box whether that be subject matter or production model.

And in my article, I chose to point out that success should not automatically be associated with monetary gain. That was the whole point. Success is about so much more than that, and it varies from writer to writer. Now, those like you who want to be a career writer and make a living at it also have levels of success, but it doesn't mean the same thing.

There is Independent Publishing and then there is Indie Art. Both mean functioning independently from the mainstream, but one is about a business model and the other is about artistic anarchy. Some Indie writers are both and some are not. Neither is mutually exclusive, so success to each will mean something completely different. I was more coming at this from an artist's mindset, as I always do, cause that's my POV. I try to stick with the art, cause I have no use for the business end of it. I leave that to Henry Baum and Mick Rooney.

So Indies who write mainstream fiction should not be harrassed for not cutting the edge, and Indies who don't sell a lot of books or check their stats everyday should not be labelled less successful.

And I don't meet a lot of mainstream genre Indies. And most I have met along the way have jumped on the Trad contract as soon as they got the opportunity, so it sort of defeats the Anarchist spirit. :-)

And I am sooooo hoping ebooks bring back the short forms. I know a lot of short fic authors, and it would be nice if we didn't feel like the bastard step-children because we don't write novels.

Oh and there is cutting edge outside of the box stuff in Trad publishing as well, it's just a harder sell, but Ellis and Palahniuk managed to sell quite a bit of artistic anarchy to mainstream readers, and that's saying something, because the days of Bukowski, Burroughs, and Miller are long over.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I guess in all that wordiness I was trying to say that Indie writers define success and happiness on their own. They don't let anyone else define it for them.

Zoe Winters said...

Totally agree that indie writers define their own success and happiness. :D My goal is to NOT get a traditional contract. I get sick and tired of hearing in reference to self-publishing: "Well (insert originally self-published author) only succeeded because XYZ publisher picked them up."

I guess I have a little too much personal pride to ever want a major conglomerate to take credit for all MY hard work. Now granted if I succeeded well enough as an indie, I would be willing to sell subsidiary rights like special book club editions or foreign language editions, cause I'm not able to monetize those rights otherwise on my own.

But as for full rights? I highly HIGHLY doubt that will ever happen. I realize everybody's got a price, but mine is so obscenely high that if I ever got successful enough on my own to command such a price, I'd already be in a position to expand my distribution and success on my own.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

That's why I think Trad authors should negotiate the digital editions seperate from their main print contracts and use licensing versus exclusive rights on the e-content. The Random House issue with digital edition rights only shows that publishers can't be that stupid, and authors should be able to leverage where they can.

If a publisher is able to tie up the digital rights to an author's work in perpetuity after the book has technically gone out of print, that would be so bad for the author. You know publishers are looking closely at the language here, specifically the reversion of rights once a title is deemed not profitable for print runs anymore.

I have no pride. I am a slave to my addiction: that being the word.