Monthly Archives: May 2012
From legit complaint to exaggeration to fiction

I enjoy working as an independent author.

I mean that.

By choosing this path, I don’t have to wait for overworked, underpaid, over-the-transom acquisitions assistants to recognize the value of my writing and convince his superior to at least look at it. Or wait for that process to repeat up the editorial chain of command until someone finally says, “Maybe we should tell the writer this thing doesn’t completely stink. It’s postmarked 2005, so he’s probably wondering.”

Instead, I can come directly to the reading public and present something for their consumption. They might like it; they might not. But it’s out there.

When I first came into the world of eBooks, the most common bit of advice being tossed around was, “Give your story two years to be published the traditional way. If it’s not picked up by that point, then go ahead and ePublish it.”

Less than two years later, the advice given has almost reversed itself. “Put it out there as an eBook. It might draw the attention of an agent or publisher if it does okay.”

Regardless, the publishing world has seen a seismic shift in the past couple years, and not all the rules are the same. Good authors who struggled to get anything in print are now able to draw an audience and make at least a meager income. Better writers can even achieve a semblance of earning a living from their writing.

And is there a lot of junk out there, too? Yes, but that’s what innovations like Look Inside and downloadable previews are for. The bad stuff sticks out like a sore thumb.

I strive to be a writer of quality fiction.

It’s a popular misconception that all independent writers are publishing substandard stuff. In fact, some of the best writers in history were self-published. For example, who do you think told Benjamin Franklin that Poor Richard’s Almanac was “ready for an audience,” hmm? Gentle Ben himself, that’s who.

And what about one of the best-loved stories of all time, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? Yup, Sir Charles did that one on his own, too.

It’s not so uncommon as people think, going the indie route. Even in recent times, folks like John Grisham got their start by hawking their own wares, only to get their books in front of the eyes of the right people and catch on with a traditional publisher.

To step outside of pure book analogies, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of the long-running Comedy Central animated hit, South Park, got their start by self-producing and self-distributing an animated short entitled The Spirit of Christmas, which eventually evolved and morphed into the cartoon we know today.

The point is, going the independent route has a bad reputation lately, but it is by no means a guarantee of subpar material, nor is it an indicator of a lazy creator willing to put out bad content for a pure ego rush. There may be dross out there, but there are nuggets of gold as well.

Whenever I prepare a book I’ve written for release, I do all I can to ensure my readers are buying a professional-level product. I have professionals handle my book covers and edit my books. I’m just as thorough on revisions and using the tools of the trade to make sure I have a properly-written and developed story, as I would be if I were submitting it to a traditional publisher. More, even. Prior to release, I run my fiction past the eyes of test readers and revise based on their feedback.

What it comes down to is this: Are some independent authors putting out subpar stuff and being lazy? Sure. But that’s true of traditionally-published stuff as well, and the line of demarcation often comes down to personal drive, the desire to create something of quality.

A writer either wants to make a quick buck, or they want to create a lasting and worthwhile piece of entertainment that will attract to them a more sustainable level of success. I count myself among the latter. Whether I should be will ultimately be up to readers to decide.

A few laughs and a shiver

My latest effort at achieving these goals as been unleashed. Under Contract: A Tale of Horror and Satire will offer up some biting satire, a few giggles, and hopefully a shiver or two.

The most common question authors are asked, aside from “Who are you, again?” is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

In this case, my inspiration came from my fellow indie authors as a whole. When this whole subculture developed, some who chose the independent route had never been published before, while others had been. Understandably, some of them had tales to tell about their experiences being published by traditional book publishers.

At first, there were the legit complaints, such as writers whose books were scuttled off shelves without a big push when they failed to sell well immediately; or whose second or third books were not accepted after first breaking through as a published author. Gripes about poor copy-editing, improper covers, and editorial changes became commonplace.

But somewhere along the line, former trad-pubbed authors became a little, shall we say, bitter? Their tales grew alongside their dissatisfaction with their prior experiences being traditionally published.

Some of their complaints grew to the point of exaggerations, such as conspiratorially suggesting that their publisher worked to impede, rather than encourage, their books’ sales figures. Even to outright kill their books off and ruin their career.

Claims that, as they grew in paranoia, became harder and harder to believe.

The point has now been reached where a formerly trad-pubbed author can make their previous experience sound like a country song; as their story progresses, they lose more and more, from their authorial rights to their house to their car to their wife to their dog, until they have nothing left but the blues.

And even though the exaggerations become increasingly transparent, some folks take such claims seriously and offer condolences.

Such is the fodder of good fiction

Being a creative type, and with a mind that sometimes explores the dark side of imagination, the proverbial light bulb went off inside my head. All these stories amounted to an admission of fear; fear of being published by a traditional publisher, fear of one’s work being mishandled, fear of losing one’s career due to machinations beyond their personal control.

We read in the popular news media all the time about the evils of Big Tobacco or Big Fast Food or Big Banking. Basically, if it’s big, it’s bad. Evil. Corrupt.

And so, the idea of Big Publishing as a source of malevolence began to grow in my mind.

What if the evils of Big Publishing were far bigger than even the most paranoid author had ever imagined?

What if all of publishing was a lie, a front, a PR machine that ate talented young writers up and spit them out?

What if most of the writers we know today as “brands” were actually just front-men, while underpaid and maltreated nobodies were actually tasked with the real work of producing the next big blockbusters?

What if?

That very question is the genesis of most good story ideas. Those two words are “where we get our stories.” Ask any author, and if they’ve thought about it at all, “What if?” is the actual source of all creative storytelling.

So, out of the complaints and exaggerations of real writers, my latest tale was born. I have a few others like it percolating in the back of my brain, too, wherein I could further explore this theme.

For now, however, start with Under Contract: A Tale of Horror and Satire. It’s not a long read. You can probably finish it in a half hour or so; a nice little escape that will whet your appetite for something more.

Besides, what’s $0.99 between friends?