A soapbox rant on why it shouldn’t be THIS easy to get published

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!

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4 Comments

Filed under books, disasters, pointless griping, Writing

4 responses to “A soapbox rant on why it shouldn’t be THIS easy to get published

  1. I am part of a writers critique group and we often talk about the subject of self publishing. It is hard for us to come to a conclusion about the subject: some think that the negative connation attached to self publishing is shouted from the roof tops by the literary agents because it will put them out of a job.

    On the other hand, literary agents are there to sift through the manuscripts and find the one worth publishing. Will a masterpiece slip through? Perhaps, but this is how the literary agents make money so if they think that your book will sell, they will try and sell it.

    Having said that, on my search for publication I have come across and researched into self publication (to learn how it works, etc.). I’ve seen the sites that let you basically upload your pdf file and in a few clicks you are published- Chapters in Canada have a program like Barnes and Noble called iUniverse which is along similar lines.

    I have also submitted my manuscript to actual publishers who have offered me ebook deals, and theirs was the same as self publication, you send them a pdf file and they upload it on their site for you (they request it be edited and ready for publication when you send it to them.)

    When you receive offers like this from seemingly legitimate publishing houses (found in Literary Marketplace book), it makes you question why you wouldn’t publish through something like Barnes and Noble and get your full royalty.

    I did not take them up on their offer, as I didn’t feel it was in the best interest for myself or my manuscript, but maybe Barnes and Noble are just picking up the trend of small book publishers?

    • Emily, I definitely agree with your logic on this, esp. the part about how companies like B&N and Borders are really just tagging on to the coattails of the process like so many others. From a business standpoint, it’s really the smart thing to do, and for publishers like the one you spoke to to offer ebook deals right off certainly does make sense–there’s definitely a win-win factor about self-publishing where the author gets published a bit sooner, perhaps, than via hardcopy printing and it certainly seems to me that marketing an ebook may be easier than the actual books themselves.

      But I think your question on why not just go the pub.-house-publishing route and get full royalties is spot on. With all the options for publishing available now, they all do have a place for the right kind of writer with the right kind of book–not every kind is for everybody.

      It still makes me a little angry, though, at how easy they’re making it. 🙂 Shouldn’t writers have to work a little harder at this than just sending off a PDF? Is there any genuine work-integrity to be found in the iUniverse or Border Get Published way of publishing? Exercises like NaNoWriMo, which I love, show that you can brain vomit a novel out, given enough fortitude; but that definitely doesn’t ensure quality, and that’s kind of what I fear would be most popular to the few-clicks-and-you’re-published path.

  2. *shrug* Literary agents as a security gate between author and the public are only a recent development in history. Prior to that it was the rich publishers themselves who were the gatekeepers. Meaning men like Ben Franklin who owned a publishing house could publish whatever they wanted, including their own work whether it was truly brilliant or not. But publishers have never really, in my mind, had a benevolent outlook for humanity striving to publish that which will be brilliant and enrich humanity. No, they pretty much publish what they personally like and/*or* what is going to make them money. If the cost factors in publishing have gone down enough that they can make money even when publishing crap that nobody will want to read you can bet they will be all over it. It’s a business after all. In the same way it has become incredibly easy for anyone to self-publish an album and upload to itunes, or make unbelievably bad visual arts and hawk it to the masses on etsy, so too goes publishing.

    Really I’d think the more crap that is out there, the better decent writing looks in comparison so it’s a win for great writers. As for the readers yeah it sort of sucks b/c unlike crappy art or music you have to invest a little more time and money into it to discover how crappy it is and how you wished you hadn’t started taking it in.

    • I dunno. I don’t think the “flood them with trash to make the jewels shine better” approach is particularly helpful to showcasing good works, though I understand your point. And yeah, though agents haven’t always been around, the gatekeeper has LARGELY been there, whether it was the self-owned publishers or someone else. But that’s really the benefit to having your own publishing company, I’d say–you made/inherited the money so you should get to play with it how you like. And that’s not necessarily changed, since celebrities get their crap memoirs published ALL THE TIME based on the money they can throw and the sell-ability of their name.

      But while publishing is definitely a business (and, I think, should be), that’s not quite the angle I’m focusing on with the Borders Get Published travesty. I think the business side of publishing is precisely why self-publishing should be considered a “legitimate” way to get published, b/c there’s a hella ton of work to make it profitable. But from the WRITER’S angle (which, in hindsight, I don’t think I made clear in my post that I was railing from), it’s ridiculous. You should have to work to get your stuff out. It’s one form of literary Darwinism and I think it’s important. Is it hard to write a novel? Yes. Is it harder to get it to/accepted by an agent? Of course! And does getting published (in any fashion) guarantee you beaucoup bucks? Of course not–plenty of good writers get bypassed once their book’s out due to various factors. But that shouldn’t mean we make the publishing path easier to accomodate the slag.

      I’ve read infinitely more bad writers than I have good, and while I’ll agree that their bad writing has helped me identify the good/bad elements of my OWN work, others’ good writing is going to be self-apparent, even if it’s the only book on the shelf–you know what writing resonates with you, even if you haven’t read much junk. I’ve also read plenty of fabulous writers while digging through the slush pile while on the literary journal staff at my University. But there have been so many more people in my creative writing program who were trying to get published who just made you cringe on the first page. And these were people who had to pass SOME kind of writing standard to even be accepted into the program at all. So how many other terrible writers exist out there who now have free reign to get their horror of a story into the world? Not everybody should be able to do every thing–either by natural talent or some kind of safe guard, myself included. The crap writers have just as much an opportunity to get published as the good ones when they go through a publishing house, so the OPPORTUNITY is there already. Why give everyone a gold star, though, if they haven’t had to sweat through the challenges to get it?

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