I’ve had some
time to mull over the response that the post previous to this one received, including some comments that I thought raised new points, so I thought I’d add a couple of additional ideas that had occurred to me since posting it.
Mark Welker raised two important issues in his comment: the perceived negative effect that self-publishing is having on the furtherance of new creative discussions, and the necessity in separating writer and publicist. With regards to the former, Mark says:
But I wonder why there’s so much focus on the product over the process. Seems like we’re falling over ourselves to get people to buy and read our words – and not as much concerned with whether what we are writing is actually contributing to some creative discussion. There seems so many echoes of the same impulse.
This is a difficult one to assess on a purely quantitative level, and I’m not sure how much it has to do with self-publishing. The way I see it, new writers almost always imitate the writing that has gone before them to some extent. And in fact, it could be said that editors of journals and publishing firms alike encourage this, what with needing to pander to a kind of literary fashion in order to sell units. Truly new writing is a rare thing, and it often takes either a work of pure genius or a very brave editor to see it through to the publication stage. If we assume that a lot of self-publication is coming from emerging or recently-emerged writers, this would account for the common perception that a lot of what is being released is trying to reinvent the wheel; whether that wheel is popular-genre-shaped, GAN-shaped, or otherwise. But along with enabling these legions of imitators, self-publication also enables truly new writing to bypass the (again, perceived) timidity of market-ruled editors and be released into the wild far faster than it might have in the traditional cycle of literary fashion. When viewed as a method of disseminating new ideas and ways of writing rather than making a buck, self-publishing suddenly becomes a whole lot more important. Of course, an experimental novel or collection still faces the same problems getting noticed as outlined in my initial post, so whether we’ll see any noticeable acceleration in literary movement occurrence remains to be seen.
Moving onto the separation of writer and publicist. There’s a bit of a divide when considering this question, but in my opinion if you are going it alone, you need to separate your writer-self and your publicist-self. At least during the act of creation. A writer-publicist is not the same thing as singer-songwriter; there’s no synergy between the two. My justification for this is that the constant reference to some imagined press-release will stifle your writing and lead your stories down the path of remaining pleasing to an imagined audience. While I do think that stories should be written for an audience — even if that audience is yourself — I don’t think that writing for an advertisement is a healthy thing (and I’ve blogged about this previously). Some gurus will tell you otherwise, insisting that the only stories worth writing are ones that can be sold, but that’s their prerogative. And this is my blog, so bugger them. Once your story is written, edited, and polished to a high shine, then you can think of ways to push it on the public. Until then, write the story the way it wants to be written.
Another thing that I missed out on discussing was a point raised in the previously-linked blog by Alan Baxter:
There’s one simple difference – all the fiction I’ve made available to read here is previously published somewhere (with a couple of exceptions that I’ll talk about in a minute). Some of it is older stuff published in non-paying markets, but it’s still stuff I’m proud of. Other stories are published in better markets and the links here are directly to sites where the story can be found. The point is that it made it past an editor, so I’ve got unbiased, third party confirmation that it’s worth a read.
Essentially, Alan is using publication in journals and e-zines as a way of filtering what writing he shows to readers. By showing that the writing he is putting up has been vetted by an external third party, it adds a legitimacy to the writing which might encourage visitors to his website to spend a bit of time reading his fiction. This is a relatively common way to go about things, used by a whole bunch of indie and emerging writers all over the place, including my meagre offerings at my ‘About’ page. But in terms of self-publishing, it offers yet another method of getting quality work out there.
In my experience, most publications only claim first publication rights, whether electronic or print, and possibly the right to reprint in a future anthology. So there’s nothing stopping you from gathering up the stories that you have had previously published and binding them together in a collection, with the tag-line of ‘Published stories: 20XX – 20XY’. In other words, use the taste and reputation of editors to provide a filter to the very best examples of your work. They use you to fill pages, so why not use them to select pieces? Obviously this whole argument operates on the assumption that you have a collection of stories that have appeared in journals whose previous content/editors you respect. Obtaining such a portfolio of work can be a years-long endeavour. But it absolutely guarantees that you have a bunch of tight stories ready to bind up and sell.
Anyway, I’m going to wrap it up there, as I’d like to avoid this site turning into one of those ubiquitous writer’s advice blogs. I’ll be back to more regular (read: boring personal crap) content next time, I swear. As always, feel free to chime in with any reactions.