As a writer, writing with the intent to someday get something of my own published, I like to keep up-to-date on the current events of the world of publishing houses and trends in that field. Couldn’t care less about current events elsewhere, like the bombs in North Russia (or was it Korea…? Those James Bond movies have me all confused about who the bad guy is these days…), but you stick a book-related issue in there and I’m all over it. And one of the topics in publishing that really brings out the snark in just about everybody is the idea of self-publishing: is it good, bad, very ugly; how does it affect literary agents, publishers, bookstore sales; who should do it and under what circumstances… A very long list of questions that surround it. Truthfully, I don’t really have much of an issue with it on the good/bad scale, since I think it certainly does have its place with certain types of writers. But I’m not going to go into the details of when/where that place may be because I’m currently pissed off at Borders and I don’t want to lose my steam by being rational and informative.
Or, more to the point, why start now?
I got a promotional email from Borders yesterday, which normally make me very happy. That store makes me happy in the pants because I have always had a love affair with books. And Borders is a place where books live. It’s a place where I can go and pay the fee for little book slaves to entertain my imagination as long as I wish. And if Borders wants to let me know ways to free those book slaves for a lower price than normal, I’m all about it. But this time, my promotional email informed me about a new abomination in the self-publishing world: Borders Get Published™ tool.
It’s software wherein you drop in your manuscript text, format it and add pictures as you like, and then it creates an e-book for you. Then, after you buy a self-publishing package, it assigns an ISBN to the book and distributes it for you to online booksellers. According to the site, “All that’s needed are your words and a passion to get published!” There was more to the email, but at that point I barfed on the keyboard and couldn’t read anymore due to the need to clean-up.
It’s like someone wandered through a bookstore and went, “You know, there really aren’t enough poorly-written, badly-edited books in the world.” Or maybe they were just upset at the idea that only semi-talented people who could afford an editor were getting published (and even THAT’s a stretch of a statement, particularly if you’ve read the Twilight series…), and were like, “I wish the publishing world didn’t have all these ‘rules’ and hoops to jump through. I wish it was more like the internet, where anybody can make a webpage or a blog and become famous overnight….….WAIT A SECOND! *rushes off to the Borders R&D dept.*.”
In an interview, Flannery O’Connor once said, ““Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.” And while this comment makes me snicker when coupled with the memories of getting my MFA, I think this statement is still accurate if you substituted “agents” for “the university.” One of the key functions of an agent is to sift through the crap to find the jewels. Their job, as I understand it, sucks. And it does so precisely because they’re finding that needle and hopefully not getting pricked by picking it up and selling the crap out of it. This is largely how self-publishing has become such a more prominent path, since some people get too many rejections by these human filters (or get overlooked by them entirely) but still feel their stuff is valid enough for public consumption. And while I still hold to my earlier statement that self-publishing has its purpose, even then, you still have a fair amount of hoops to jump through to get your work published that way. But both paths have safeguards of sorts in place that make it intentionally too tough for just ANYBODY to do it—you have to be 2,000% determined to wade through all the rejections long enough to get published via an agent or publishing house. You have to be about 70% determined to have suffered through that, given up, and decided to do it your own damn self—in my opinion, a much lower-quality field since I believe strongly in the positive screening power of professional agents, but still worth big credit since you’re doing all the footwork yourself: the publishing, the promotion, the potential tours/signings to get your name out…lots and lots of work to do by your lonesome if you want to make any money off it.
And now any idiot who can work a keyboard can get their stuff out there, junking up the listings for other authors who might actually have done the hard work and had the talent to get their stuff LEGITIMATELY published, even as nothing more than an e-book. This is insulting as much for the other authors out there as for the agents who (I imagine), when they saw Borders’s latest idiocy, collectively screamed, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” and left at 10:30am to get a head start at the bar up the block.
Like with so many other industries/institutions, let’s just lower the bar so EVERYBODY gets a piece of cake. So we can all be special. Because we ARE all special. Even the ones with too much time on their hands and not enough talent to make it through the industry’s often-purposeful screening process. And who don’t want to even go to the trouble of “normal” self-publishing routes because they don’t want to work hard enough to promote their own trashy novella that they never would’ve finished without the help of the auto-correct in MS Word. (God help the ones who inevitably will be using Notebook because “I have really good ideas! And that means people must know about them!”…)
Standards are mean!