Saturday, December 31, 2016

An Insult to Self-Published Authors

     Longtime and long-suffering reader CC sent me this link last night knowing it would infuriate me. Sometimes I think he does this just to help keep me informed. Other times, I suspect he regards me as his trained monkey and delights in seeing me blow my top. Either way, any indie author reading this post needs to read, even if only out of morbid curiosity or self masochistic need, this incredibly arrogant, ignorant, nasty and mean-spirited screed by Laurie Gough, who's written three memoirs (meaning she likes to write about just herself). The following paragraphs are a somewhat altered version of the long letter I'd dashed off to CC, which did little if anything to alleviate my fury over this PuffHo piece, which I'm amazed got past the editorial board.
     I may have mentioned in previous posts (I know I have on Twitter) about this despicable prejudice against all self published authors in the publishing and book selling business. From top to bottom, side to side and inside and out, the zeitgeist is that all indie authors are sloppy, badly-informed hacks whose Kindle books aren't worth the paper they're written on.
     Literary agents generally won't touch self-published  books no matter how good they are (They Google every person and title they get in their slush pile like lonely spinsters investigating the guy they just met in a bar); Editors skeeve them, especially if the author decides to cut the middle man agent out of their protection racket that ought to be enforceable by the RICO statutes; Book critics and reviewers, especially in high and mighty publications such as USA Today and the New York Times, strenuously ignore the existence of self-published books. What few brick and mortar book stores that are left refuse to carry self published books (although Barnes & Noble is experimenting with carrying titles published by them, provided they meet a threshold of at least 5000 sales).
     Essentially, indie authors are beaten in the press like the proverbial red-headed stepchild. And Laurie Gough's "Self-Publishing: An Insult To The Written Word" is in my experience the most ignorant and vicious jeremiad against us that I have ever read (and I've read quite a few).
     Early in her scurrilous screed, she writes,
To get a book published in the traditional way, and for people to actually respect it and want to read it — you have to go through the gatekeepers of agents, publishers, editors, national and international reviewers. These gatekeepers are assessing whether or not your work is any good. Readers expect books to have passed through all the gates, to be vetted by professionals. This system doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s the best system we have.
     There's so much wrong with this paragraph, I literally don't even know where to begin. So I'll dive in willy nilly and start with some statistics that Gough unhelpfully fails to provide to back up her assertions:
     At least 80% of the tripe extruded through the publishing industry each year is bought through literary agents. As I've stated many times here and elsewhere, these morons fail at their jobs 90-95% of the time. Approximately 90% of all books fail to turn a profit and, like the last statistic, is an annual standard. The publishing business, like the film business, is basically propped up by a few bestsellers written by an anointed handful of writers regardless of their talent or execution or originality.
     This means, as with their literary agent buddies with whom they do lunch at the Four Seasons, publishers and acquisitions editors fail at their jobs 90% of the time. Yet, like the other parasites who have been used as primary gatekeepers, they usually get to keep their jobs despite a track record that, in the rest of the corporate sector, would result in heads rolling in the cubicle farms. So much for the unimpeachable wisdom and pragmatism of the gatekeepers of American literacy.
     Saying present-day publishing is "the best system we have" is like saying, "Our leper colony may not be the perfect health care system but it's the best system we have." Saying that the present system of book publishing being somewhat imperfect is the understatement of the year. What Gough is essentially saying is a very right wing sentiment (and to prove it, she even quotes right wing nut job Brad Thor, who actually floated to Glenn Beck recently the idea of assassinating the President): That publishing should not be democratized and should be restricted to elites anointed by other elites. In short, she's treating publishing the written word as a privilege, not a right, which flies in the face of the First Amendment itself.
     And if the notoriously slothful and unagile publishing industry wasn't so perennially dysfunctional on a multiplicity of levels, then evolution wouldn't have gotten its foot in the door. Part of that evolution is the technology of software that democratizes the publishing process. Kindle, Kobo, Lulu, Createspace, Smashwords, Nook and a whole host of other established and startup publishing companies have made it possible for John Q. Public to speak his piece while getting to keep most of the royalties, streamline the turnaround time and exert full creative control over everything from cover art to content to length (things that are denied even the most elite authors).
     In other words, there was a demand and several people stepped in to fill it. That's called Capitalism, to which I would think an elitist bitch like Gough would at least give a grudging nod.
     Indie authors, especially those who have been making the rounds of the shrinking pool of literary agencies who don't exclusively handle properties submitted through invitations and referrals (Good luck getting one of those from an elite author) can and will tell you it's the very delineation of Einstein's definition of insanity. These self-interested morons (keep in mind their perennial 90-95% failure rate), as with editors, sales people, booksellers, writers and even other readers have no better idea than anyone else what'll catch fire. And this pedestrian, layman's grasp of what's saleable or not is largely what accounts for the 90% mortality rate among all legacy-published books.
     In summation regarding this line of thought, indie authors got tired of being treated like shit by getting form letters from flunkies and doors slammed in our faces by both literary agencies and publishing houses.
     Elsewhere, Gough makes a shockingly clueless analogy:
Did you ever hear what Margaret Atwood said at a party to a brain surgeon? When the brain surgeon found out what she did for a living, he said, “Oh, you’re a writer! When I retire I’m going to write a book.” Margaret Atwood said, “Great! When I retire I’m going to be a brain surgeon!”
The irony is that now that brain surgeon really could dash off a “book” in a of couple months, click “publish” on amazon, and he’s off signing books at the bookstore. Just like Margaret Atwood, he’s a “published” author. Who cares if his book is something that his grade nine teacher might have wanted to crumple into the trash? It’s a “published” book.
     Uh, NO (And please learn to proofread, All Your Base Are Belong to Us).
     First off, that brain surgeon would literally be likelier to get a Trump Cabinet post than a book signing if he's self published a book (especially if he published on Nook or Kindle). Secondly, medical school requires six years of rigorous study and dedication, plus a residency afterward. We're talking about a highly-trained skill set in medicine versus creative writing, which doesn't require such stringent standards, checks and balances. It's comparing apples to surgical sponges. (Plus, other doctors have successfully made a foray in the written word such as the late Michael Crichton [Who, by the way, self published his first book], Robin Cook and, going further back in time, William Carlos Williams and John Keats).
     And as if that horrid analogy didn't teach her a lesson, she then makes this stunning one:
I’m a horrible singer. But I like singing so let’s say I decide to take some singing lessons. A month later I go to my neighbor’s basement because he has recording equipment. I screech into his microphone and he cuts me a CD. I hire a designer to make a stylish CD cover. Voilà. I have a CD and am now just like all the other musicians with CDs.
Except I’m not. Everyone knows I’m a tuneless clod but something about that CD validates me as a musician. It’s the same with writers who self-publish.
     Uh, again, NO.
     Singing and musical ability are not universal skill sets such as literacy. Literacy can be both artistic and utilitarian. Music is strictly artistic. While everyone in America can be reasonably expected to be literate, not everyone can be expected to sing or play the piano well. As one person wrote in the comment section, "I saw someone performing music on the street. How dare they call themselves a musician without having a recording contact?"
      And, to go back to Gough's third paragraph, where she said writers have to earn their way to the trust of readers by going through gatekeepers (who, again, plainly don't know their asses from their elbows), she obviously didn't read this report from February this year: Self-published electronic books now sell better than legacy-published ones, which is a huge inversion. One estimate stated overall that indie authors accounted for a full 23% of all book sales in the US. That's right. Nearly a quarter of all books sold were written by slipshod hacks like us.
     No wonder the Powers That Be are scared shitless we're stealing their thunder. We're being treated the same way political bloggers were 10-12 years ago by the media and political elite. Then what happened when we wouldn't go away? Have you ever heard of the adage, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em"?
     And if the publishing business was so up front and above board, then explain the growing number of hybrid authors. Those are self published authors whose book sales had been impressive enough to entice predatory publishers and literary agents into signing them to print deals but who had decided not to sell the electronic rights. A quick look at the numbers explains why:
     An indie author can earn a royalty rate between 35-70% on Kindle. A legacy publisher that purchases your erights gets to keep 52.5% of your money. With Amazon taking a hefty 30% distribution fee for performing a service involving zero overhead, that means the author gets a measly 17.5% royalty rate, or literally half what they would get with just a 35% rate. To any indie or hybrid author with a kickass marketing platform, that's a no brainer.
     Finally, there's this old trope that authors aren't interested in learning the rudiments of grammar, effective storytelling or even doing their research:
I have nothing against people who want to self-publish, especially if they’re elderly. Perhaps they want to write their life story and have no time to learn how to write well enough to be published traditionally. It makes a great gift for their grandchildren. But self-publishing needs to be labelled as such. The only similarity between published and self-published books is they each have words on pages inside a cover. The similarities end there. And every single self-published book I’ve tried to read has shown me exactly why the person had to resort to self-publishing. These people haven’t taken the decade, or in many cases even six months, to learn the very basics of writing, such as ‘show, don’t tell,’ or how to create a scene, or that clichés not only kill writing but bludgeon it with a sledgehammer. Sometimes they don’t even know grammar.
      Oh really, "could dash off a “book” in a of couple months"?
     Yeah, sure she has nothing against people who want to self publish. That's why she wrote this spittle-flecked literary version of road rage. Her overarching assumption is not only are self published authors ignorant and lazy but that some of us even in our old age never learned the basics of literary composition, that we'd never committed words to paper before our nefarious "insult of the written word."
     Well, let me tell you something, you stupid bitch: I've been writing novels for going on 23 years. That's a lot of trial and error, a lot of honing of my craft. For 17 years before that, I wrote, and published, poetry and satire. That's 40 years I've dedicated to the written word. That goes back to 1977 when I was 18 years old. In other words, for the last four decades of my life, writing has been my sole constant.
     Your assumption that we don't care about craft is simply bigoted, irrational and prejudicial. We don't do our research, you say? Well, let me tell you (assuming you've read every single self published book and vetted every single historical and technical reference):
      When I was writing and researching my novel Tatterdemalion, I had to bone up on
1) The Ripper murders, including much political and social context of the 1888 East End of London.
2) The earliest days of photography, especially moving picture photography, which began that same year.
3) The life of Buffalo Bill Cody and his Wild West Show.
4) The life of Annie Oakley.
5) The life of Sitting Bull.
6) The life of Arthur Conan Doyle.
7) The life of Jacob Riis.
8) Nitroglyercine.
9) The various carriages that were used in that era.
10) Antique firearms that were used in that era.
11) Law enforcement and the Ripper investigation's principles, including Fred Abberline.
12) The geography of the East and West Ends of 1888 London, including the Strand in central London, which involved consulting period maps.
13) Nomenclature that would've been in existence in 1888.
14) Research into Kent/Gravesend.
15) The basics of Freud's theory of the tripartite mind.
     Then I began other historical novels and short stories that also required research and as much as I take pride in my literary abilities, I also pride myself on my historical scholarship.
     What this smarmy bitch is saying is,"Write a good book and you'll get a publishing contract." Seriously?!
     Yeah, tell that to John Kennedy Toole, who committed suicide in 1969 because the publishing poobahs back in the 60's treated A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES like they have every single one of my books.
     Yes, a lot of self published novelists are slipshod no talent bums. However, I again refer you to the 90% mortality rate of the productions of those in legacy publishing to whose wisdom Gough shamelessly, and ignorantly, genuflects.


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