Half asleep this morning, I sat bleary eyed looking at my computer and a strange thing happened. It seems that for a certain amount of time everyone was talking about the same thing. Margaret Atwood at the Tools of Change for Publishing. (Hashtag #toccon.)
It sounds like it was really interesting. Apparently there was a slide show that included hand drawings. I’ve never gone to a writer’s convention, and I doubt I really ever plan on it, but that sounds like it was something to see and hear.
It seems one of the topics she touched on were self publishing, and as she’s an author who has been in the business for a very long time, I would have loved to hear her thoughts on it. The tweets going around are taken completely out of context and probably don’t help put her point of view into perspective at all. Some of the tweets (unattributed because they were all retweets of retweets anyway, everyone was quoting the same thing):
- “Do you want lots of ppl reading your book, or do you want a cheese sandwich?” @margaretatwood #toccon
- Margaret Atwood: The quality of literary output has always been questionable. #toccon
- “Only 10% of authors make their living writing full time,” per @margaretatwood “You have to work hard.” #toccon
- “E-devices are increasing reading, but not increasing author’s profits,” says @margaretatwood #toccon
- Atwood is pro-choice: “I want both options, ebook and paper.” Love her. #toccon
That first one- ouch! Though there was talk of an Atwood t-shirt with a cheese sandwich going on for a while between tweets. That would be awesome.
The next couple of ones make me curious about her point because it sounds like a general point that is often made about indie/self publishing. That there’s a lot of crap out there. Yes, it’s true. With anyone being able to publish, there is a lot of crap out there. That’s why book review sites are super important and other sites like Goodreads. Book bloggers probably will be our gate keepers. (See my friend Laura’s idealist post here, which I think is a great idea.)
And I’m okay with book bloggers being the gate keepers. Because they’re readers. Another blog I read made the point that when writers market, they usually hop onto twitter and market to other writers so they’re hitting up the same 300 people or so. And frankly, if I’m honest, other writers scare me in the same way other girls scare me. They’re just scary. (Sorry other writers who I haven’t met yet.) Writers are much pickier than readers and they read things much differently than a reader will.
On the e-devises increasing reader but not increasing profits, well I can only assume that’s coming from an author of the publishing world because e-devises are SO increasing profits– but only if you go it alone. Alone, you can make an e-book relatively cheaply (and it doesn’t have to look cheap contrary to popular belief), and you get 50% or more of the profits. But if you’re part of a publishing house, well they still shell out the exact same amount of money they would if they were producing a physical book, and so the profit a published author gets will be very small.
But there are things to consider with e-books. For one, I can’t buy e-books used. If I want an e-book by Margaret Atwood, I’m going to have to shell out to get it. (And I probably will.) Since I’m buying more e-books these days, that means my money will be going to her and her publishing house. In times past, if I wanted a book by Margaret Atwood, did I go to a major book store and buy it new? No way. I went to a used book store and bought it second hand, which meant she and her publishers were getting nothing from me.
As for the last point, yes, I want the choice too. That’s why I love the Print on Demand model of printing. If I loved a book enough, I would indeed buy the physical copy. (Two books I have considered buying a physical copy of just to flip through the pages? A.M. Hart’s Hungry for You and Joseph Robert Lewis’ Heirs of Mars.)
What’s my point here? Well, what do you lose by trying? This all comes back to the question of “why?” Why are you doing what you’re doing? Are you doing it because a famous author tells you this is the way it’s supposed to be done or are you doing it because you honestly feel you’ve found the right path for you? That’s what it should all come down to.
It’s a completely new era. Things are falling apart and rearranging themselves, so it’s a scary time for everyone, writers to be and writers who are, published and want-to-be-published. So the best thing to do is pick a road that fits and walk it the best you can.
Mondays are great for assessment. It’s the start of my week generally, which means it’s always the coldest starkest morning compared to the others of the week. I really feel that I can take a fresh, clear and realistic view of myself on Mondays.
So this morning, let me point out that I’ve changed the name of the blog. I’m horrible at thinking up names for things. (Another sign of issues as an author.) Last week, a friend of mine gave me this mug I thought was just adorable and touching. She happened across it and knew she had to get it for me as a gift for my birthday. It’s completely white, except for this small design:
It took me a week. First I didn’t touch it because I didn’t want to mess it up. But then I had a hankering for pretend coffee (that’s hot cocoa to normal people) and it happened to be the last clean mug. (Very important to drink pretend coffee out of a mug or throw away cup you get from a coffee house otherwise what is the point?)
Then just last night, I realized I could use that as my blog title. It’s perfect, really. A quick search didn’t find any ties to any other sites of blogs or anything else. And it fits my main message.
People do a lot of lists of the “10 things you must do” or “11 things you must not do.” Everything sounds very authoritative, especially coming from the mouths of people who have more experience than I do. Honestly, there are times I feel like an impostor trying to slip into a world I don’t belong and I do get a little embarrassed about it.
But this is my story. It isn’t going to work out exactly the same as someone else’s, and what they do isn’t necessarily going to work for me. It might not even work. I am prepared for that. I harbor no illusions– well except for the stray ones I do feed out the back door when no one’s looking, but those don’t count because I definitely don’t let them inside… all the time.
Anyway, the point is that everyone has to take the path with which they feel most comfortable. And this is my path.
Today I hate writing and I haven’t even looked at it yet.
These things seem to come on a weekly basis rather than daily for me. Is that a sign that I’m improving? Last week I totally loved writing. I wrote stuff that surprised me and I had that good gut feeling that I get when she’s all blissed out and relaxed after a job well done. Still, I only added about 1,500 words all week to my main manuscript.
The week before that I was having a freak out. I was sure that I would never be good enough for anyone to take seriously. Though I suppose that’s not new, I’m never sure I’m good enough to be taken seriously. Word count added the week before last? About 1,500 words.
These weekly mood swings drive me nuts. It’s hard to write when I’m too much one way or another. I’ve been trying to think of tricks that’ll help me move forward no matter what I’m feeling. And I think it’s sort of working out as a troubleshooting manual.
Problem: I don’t want to write. I have the ideas, but there’s so much to do.
Causes: I’m lazy.
Solution: Just write. Write about writing or write thoughts down about characters until you get in the groove.
Problem: I’m freaking out. I can’t write. No one is going to buy this shit.
Causes: Lack of confidence
Solution: Ignore yourself and just write.
Problem: I love writing. SO. MUCH.
Solution: Go with it man! Just remember to stay focused and write, don’t get lost thinking about writing.
Problem: I’m burnt out. I can’t look at this anymore.
Causes: You work too damn much and think about it too often!
Solution: Take a break. Work on another project or take a weekend off. Or even better, self, take every weekend off. Thinking about the project is cool, but don’t bother looking at it or trying to add onto it.
This is probably pretty obvious for people who’ve been at this a while, but this is new for me. Writing has always been my escape, but that was when I needed an escape. Now I need writing to be something else for me, and so I have to learn of new ways to deal with it so that I can keep going forward.
I’m thinking about this seriously. So it’s a good question: Why self publishing?
I’ve been giving this some thought over the past couple of months or so. Right now, I am thinking that I will self publish rather than traditional publish. The fact that I’m thinking of publishing at all is a miracle. Maybe I should be asking myself why I’m even contemplating publishing, but that’s probably more fit for a different post.
Self publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. Publishing is not a get rich quick sort of deal no matter what you do. You have to work to make connections and promote yourself. What is the real difference between traditional publishing and self publishing? In both you have to work hard and there’s very little guarantee of payoff.
Personally, I can’t afford to quit my day job. In my household, I’m the steady income earner. I’m the one most willing to do whatever is necessary to bring home the money. When we felt that my boyfriend was close to getting laid off almost two years ago, I was the one who put my prior experience to work to find myself a better job. In this case better job didn’t mean higher paying, it simply meant one that would keep a roof over our heads and money for bills and food.
So I don’t expect anything to come easy, and I don’t expect that I will make enough money off my writing that I can quit my day job. So I don’t believe that I’m any good to a proper publishing company. I can’t travel. I have a book idea I’m working on now, but I don’t know that I will ever be consistent when it comes to writing. I spend six hours a day in an office with no internet connection, and then I spend two hours after that just farting around while we prepare dinner. My time is limited, and I don’t think I’d be a good bet for any traditional publishers.
But I can do things my way. I can see what I need to get done and how. And I know I can get it done in my time frame, but that means it will crawl along and results will not be immediate. But the only person counting on me is me, and so I’ll have no one else to blame but myself.
So I’ve been thinking about this a bit. In my head formulas are always bad in writing. I hate picking up a book by an author and realizing they’re pretty much just doing the same thing with a small twist.
But I’m quite guilty of it myself. I fear it. My thing is taking people not in power and having them look and sometimes deal with a situation where they are limited in what they can do. I work very hard to hide this fact when I’m writing, but I’m also very aware this is a strength of mine and it’s something I have a lot of fun writing about. Plus, it seems that for the most part my readers enjoy reading about it. (Though I have learned some lessons about what I need to watch out for with these story lines.)
Is it reasonable to fear formulas so much though? I fear them to the point that I want to not write what I’m good at. When I have an idea to start writing something, I find myself frozen for a bit as my mental editor worries about formulas and my inner gut (she wears a beret; it’s really quite silly) says that I need to just write it down and worry about it later.
There is a comfort in some formulas though. Some readers really do enjoy picking up a work by an author and knowing that they’re going to already be familiar with it. They’ve liked it before, they’ll most likely like it again. They trust this author to redeliver something that was good the first time. But that doesn’t mean it has to be the exact same story with elements swapped out. The average reader is smarter than that.
So here’s what I ultimately think: Formulas aren’t necessarily bad. It really depends on what you’re delivering. If your formula is always the same story, then I think some people will eventually get bored. You as the writer might get bored. But if your formula is more steeped in the type of story (I happen to have a dystopia thing going on), then you’ll probably be okay. It’s good to find your hook, and go with it. (My hook happens to be people as the story.)
Ultimately, it always comes down to me doing exactly what I enjoy. I honestly do believe that if I do that, I’ll find my place.