How not to get published: cash prizes for readers

Paul Raven @ 21-05-2010

The rise of the internet has seen many frustrated aspiring authors turn to forms of self-publication and showy promotional gambits in the hope of catching the eye of someone with a cheque-book and a pile of blank contracts, but this is probably the most spectacularly desperate-sounding tactic I’ve heard of so far: offering US$3,000 in cash prizes to people who can answer questions based on a close reading of the novel in question [via PD_Smith].

Furthermore (as if the general public needed more encouragement to sneer at the genre), the guy’s a science fiction author…

Riley decided to post the novel online for free earlier this month, giving those who read it the chance to win a chunk of a $3,000 prize money pot if they answer questions about the book correctly.

“I’m hoping that publishing the book online and pretty well paying people to read it will get it noticed on the internet, and ultimately discovered by a legit publisher,” said Riley on his website. “Crass gimmick? You bet. But if it works, I won’t look back.

I’m 65 god-damned years old, this novel means more to me than anything in the world, and I’m desperate to get it published while I’m still alive. I know this may sound odd, but I feel western society needs this book. It’s a contribution I feel I must make.”

A quick scan of the first few pages suggests that Riley failed to sell his novel for the same reason that a lot of people fail to sell science fiction novels: he doesn’t appear to have read any that were published after 1975 or so, his infodumps make Asimov look like a minimalist poet, and the narrative mode he’s using is… well, let’s say “changeable”. In other words, I’m willing to bet that it’s just not very good, and even the prospect of winning a chunk of money isn’t enough to entice me to read any further.

However, Riley might end up with some degree of immortality from his experiment – if the Guiness Book of Records doesn’t have an entry for “biggest fee paid for an ultimately unsuccessful manuscript critique”, it’s high time they wrote one up. I honestly feel sorry for Riley – he obviously really wants to be a published author – but he’s about to find out, at great expense, that there aren’t any shortcuts.


Self-publish and be damned… or not?

Paul Raven @ 02-07-2009

There’s lots of discussion going on about self-publishing for authors at the moment. Over at Apex Online, Maurice Broaddus talks about why he’s resisted the temptations of self-publication:

I know the temptation of going the self-publishing route. I have a novel that I’ve shopped around, but have been rejected. I believe in the book, I want to see it in print, but I won’t self-publish it. The rejections have taught me that the book isn’t ready. Self-publishing would mean that I would have a bad (at worse) or prematurely released (at best) novel on my resume.

[…]

Self-publishing if fine if you’re a hobbyist and just want to see your name in print. It’s fine if you have a small niche you wish to reach. It’s also fine if you have a guaranteed audience that you can get product to. I know a few writers with dedicated fan bases for whom it made perfect sense to self-publish a project. It’s your career choice. Do your research.

The prevailing wisdom is that self-publication is a mistake for an aspiring author, though attitudes are relaxing in some quarters as times change. Here’s Jeff VanderMeer laying out the situations in which he thinks it can be beneficial:

I self-published my first fiction collection, The Book of Frog, and also The Surgeon’s Tale & Other Tales (with Cat Rambo)–the context for each consistent with my views on self-publishing as it exists today. If you can’t get traction in the publishing world with a first collection despite having had stories in good publications, I think it’s okay to self-publish. If you’ve got books out from major publishers and you want to do a less commercial project, I think it’s okay to self-publish. That said, within five to ten years, self-publishing in general will probably lose its stigma altogether and we’ll have a situation closer to what you find in indie music.

Self-publishing’s image is tarnished primarily because it gets used as a short-cut to publication for writers who – to be nice about it – simply aren’t yet up to writing a decent book. The obvious defence to that accusation is that not all unpublished writers are bad writers, and that’s certainly true… but I know from my editing work that the overwhelming majority certainly are.

So, as Jeff points out, things will be come much like the indie music circuit: the barriers to participation and distribution will be much lower, but it’ll be no easier to sell your work to people if you’re just not writing what people want to read (or writing it very well). Perhaps that will raise the profile of reliable reviewers and critics? A medium operating under the economics of abundance has a greater need for aggregators and gatekeepers to filter the infinity of choices, after all.

Any of you lot read any good self-published books that don’t deserve the stigma? And are there any self-published authors who’d like to share their experiences?


Self-publish and be damned? The modern writer’s dilemma

Paul Raven @ 24-03-2009

Damien G Walter has been thinking about self-publishing, reassessing the established wisdom that self-publication is de facto a bad thing.

To date, self publishing has been a bad idea. People without the necessary skills and experience full prey to vanity publishers. Writers with some talent but who are still learning can expose their work too soon. Excellent writing can find itself swamped among the dross that is self published every year and no one bothers to go looking for it. The general wisdom on self publishing for anyone who aspires to become a professional author has been… don’t.

Walter goes on to point out that the landscape has changed somewhat in recent years, with rising stars such as John Scalzi and Kelly Link owing some portion of their success to self-publication of one stripe or another, and with the publishing industry suffering at the hands of market forces.

The main argument against self-publication is that it usually results in work that will harm the author’s reputation: rip-off vanity press jobs, or simply work that isn’t ready for publication which would have benefited from more revision and/or editorial input. These problems apply more to the beginning author, though; the point has been made before that an author with the stature of Stephen King could probably self-publish with a great deal of success (not to mention a bigger profit margin). But the principle appeal of self-publishing for a new author with genuine skill is the opportunity to start building an audience and having readers engage with the work… and that’s not so easy a benefit to dismiss.

Walter concludes:

If the general wisdom about self publishing has been ‘don’t’, its likely that wisdom may change to ‘do – but with great caution’. There has always been a role for self publishing, but as that role grows, the provisos that accompany self publishing will grow all the more important. Authors will need to be aware that self publishing means more than just having a book printed. It means being an editor, a distributor and a marketer of your own work. It means investing in yourself in exactly the way a good publisher invests in their authors, whilst taking the risks a good publisher also takes. It means understanding the arc of your own career as a writer in the same depth that good editors and agents do. And most of all it means having an honest and accurate understanding of the quality of your own writing, maybe the hardest thing of all.

For most self publishing will continue to be a mistake, but for writers with enough talent and determination it is already becoming an important part of building a readership, one that for many writers it will be a mistake to simply dismiss.

For what it’s worth, my work as a music reviewer has exposed me to a similar evolution in the music business; it’s easier than it has ever been for a band or soloist to record their work and make it available to anyone. As with writing, many of them jump the gun and release before their work is up to a standard where it can survive against product recorded and promoted by the established labels… but there are the occasional success stories, be they out-of-nowhere newcomers or established acts turning their backs on an exploitative  system.

This contrasts with our recent post on comics self-publishing, where Jim Munroe pointed out that the stigma against self-published works in the comics field is minimal by comparison to the literary field, and suggests that it may be because it’s easier to discern the quality of comics ‘at a glance’.

Will we see a change in attitude toward self-publishing in years to come? I think it’s inevitable, though it will take time… and the sheer mass of terrible self-published work (much of which Futurismic receives email about on a daily basis, I might add) will do much to slow it.

But economics may provide an accelerating force; all bets are off on how things will look in five years’ time. So, writers in the audience – published or otherwise – have you self-published, or considered doing so? And what factors influenced your decision?


Comics Self-publishing 101… from a man who’s been there and done that

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2009

If you’ve ever considered setting yourself up as an independent comics publisher to push your own work, novelist and indie-creator Jim Munroe has got your back with a self-publishing primer.

One of the coolest thing about the comics world is that it doesn’t dismiss self-publishers the way the lit world does. Maybe because it’s a less pretentious field, or a newer one, or that drawing talent is more quickly discerned at a glance.

Pretentious? Us? Au contraire! Well, that’s a debate for another day… for now, let’s see what Munroe suggests as a start:

Someone wrote in another Xeric testimonial that you should not attempt self-publishing and all of this business unless you have no choice. This is really true. It’s a tonne of work, there’s no money in it, and trying to put comic books out there for public consumption is another full-time job on top of doing the actual (creative) work.

[…]

But the more of your own work you do the more focused you become, and the easier it gets, at least to be confident enough to start a project, to see it through, and to learn a thing or two about it and yourself in the process.

In other words, self-publishing shouldn’t be considered a short-cut to success for shoddy work… which is the one thing that the majority of self-published novelists seem to have utterly failed to realise. There’s lots of solid practical advice in Munroe’s post, so if you’re a comics writer or artist (or just interested in the business side of small-scale publishing) go take a look.

Will increasing ease of access to self-publishing tools make it more acceptable to self-publish novels, or less?


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