Howdy, all! Sorry for the blog silence, but I had a busy weekend that involved 40 middle school students and their first ever visit to a college campus. We took our group of students to the city of Austin to visit the University of Texas, one of the most progressive (I shan't use the word 'liberal') university/city combos in the nation. Such a cool experience for students who still view a college education as something akin to climbing Everest. It was great fun, but exhausting all the same. I've been struggling with trying to get caught up ...
At any rate, I have a bit of fun news to share. Have you ever wondered what motivates my tiny brain to write? (You haven't, but just play along.) Here's a hint: It has a soundtrack! I did my first ever 'guest post' on Chris Phillips' blog to the 'tune' of naming three musical selections that inspire my writing. (See what I did there?) Head over and we can talk tunes! You can check it--AND Chris' excellent blog--HERE.
Now to the meat and taters ...
Those who've followed my blog for any length of time know that one of my favorite topics is that of ePublishing and the general impact that technology is having on the publishing industry. As an aspiring author, history tutor and a student of human nature I find it endlessly fascinating on multiple levels.
To be perfectly clear, as of yet I have no horse in this race. I've not published anything (outside of grants) traditionally, nor have I have joined the Indie Army and uploaded my work to Amazon, et al. I've definitely expressed that I support the ePub trend, but in general I like to think that I'm a neutral observer. A scientist, if you will, who is simply going to allow nature to run its course and document my findings. I've generally had the attitude of:
If the hyaenas eat the lion cub, I'm just going to point my camera in the general direction and try not to get all queazy on my new Timberlands.
Still, as the topic has now grown into a full-sized bull elephant that has taken up residence in the one bedroom efficiency apartment that is publishing, I've come to realize that I cannot claim complete neutrality. I do have a side. Specifically, I have two sides. I'm for authors, and I'm for readers. I think that's why I'm so disturbed by what I've been reading ...
I'm seeing a lot of discourse between traditionally published authors, and authors who have gone the indie route. In fact, I recently took part in a two week debate on a fairly prominent writing forum that had both sides practically tearing at each other's throats. At one point, a pro-traditional publishing person referred to all self-published writing as "crap".
See, that's kind of where I draw a line.
Writing is art. (Yes, even those vampire stories!) As such, it will always be the domaine of subjectivity. We can't label the creative expressions of others as unfit, because it's like saying a color is ugly or that a number is unlucky. Maybe to you it is, but there might be 50 other people who disagree. Or perhaps only two other people, but that still doesn't change the fact that your opinion is just that, an opinion. It governs you and no one else.
Do you know how many people I know think Picasso is crap? TONS. Does everybody dig the Beatles? NO. Was Twilight for everyone? NOT HARDLY. Does that change the scope or importance of the work? Not in the slightest.
Don't get me wrong, there are certainly levels of refinement involved, and there is certainly a 'style' factor. But that variance is precisely what makes all writing unique. Furthermore, we're talking about something (DIY publishing) that allows consumers complete control over the value. If the writing isn't polished to a degree and skillfully done, people aren't going to buy it. No one is getting hoodwinked.
So why then is there suddenly a need to label one type of writing versus another, particularly among those who are creating it?
As a fan of YA material, I can tell you that YA authors have faced similar attacks on their credibility over the years. Many think writing for children is a 'dumbing down' of literature. That serious writers wouldn't think of doing it. Don't believe me? Recently lit fiction author, Martin Amis, said that only, "If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children's book--I would never write about someone that forced me to write at a lower register than I can write."
I bring this up, because I view the criticism slanted at indie authors as a pebble in the same pond, so to speak. As such, I was really disheartened to read one of my favorite YA authors take negative stance against his fellow writers. Rick Riordan, of Percy Jackson fame, posted the following on his blog:
"I don’t talk about books that I didn’t like, but I must mention that I read a very hyped e-book on my Kindle – or tried to read it. About a hundred pages in, I started wondering why it seemed so poorly written. How did this get past an editor? Then I looked at the Kindle site and realized it was published straight to e-book. Ah, it didn’t get past an editor because apparently it never had one. I will be more careful in the future to check the provenance of e-books. Don’t get me wrong. While I still buy a huge quantity of physical books, I love my Kindle and my iPad, too. They are great for travel especially. But publishers and editors do serve a vital role in shaping manuscripts and making sure they are ready for prime time. It’s possible to circumvent this process with the advent of e-reading, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for readers. Caveat emptor."
There are several flaws to Mr. Riordan's line of thought, most notably the fact that he has--through gross generalization--thrown thousands of authors into a one-size-fits-all bag. Not all indie books are poorly written, and many of the authors are hiring independent editors. That brings me to the second thing I'd have to disagree with, which is the presumption that only publishers (and the editors who work for them) are capable of creating a "consumer worthy" book. Lots of English majors in the world, and lots of people with the composition chops to put together a solid read, and they don't all work for Random House. The final area of my disagreement is the idea that every book that graces the shelf of your local Barnes & Noble has somehow passed a gold standard test of quality assurance. Have you ever purchased a paper/traditionally published book with typos, plot holes, one dimensional characters, etc.? I sure have. Is there a greater likelihood of finding poorly written indie books? I just don't have the numbers to say one way or the other. (Alas, I don't read one indie for every traditional book, nor have I even touched the surface of reading a small majority of all books that have been traditionally or indie published. When I do, I'll check back in. :-)
I guess I was so upset by Riordan's comment because as an author who has made his fortune writing in an area that so many people ignore, disregard or otherwise downgrade, I think he should know better. Pigeonholing is for marketing gurus, media and fools--not artists. Anyone who enjoys the freedom of expression, not to mention survives off of it, should avoid this kind of broad evaluation.
Authors have to get away from tearing each other down. If a writer can self-publish and make a living doing it, support that. Furthermore, don't denigrate their desire to get their writing in front of readers simply because they're trying a different path. Traditional publishing cannot logistically make certain that all worthwhile stories get published.
Conversely, don't hate J.K. Rowling or Steph Meyer for being successful, even if you don't enjoy their writing. In fact, if you're an indie, you should go out of your way to support traditional folks. Their popularity and presence are essential to fueling reader awareness for every type of writing.
The bottom line: Now more than ever we need champions of literature at every level, and we're not going to get it by destroying each other.