Wind / Sails / The Removal Thereof

Nausicaa – H. Miyazaki

A little context.

1. I’ve been working on my very first novel. [QUIVER. CLENCH. ANXIETY-NINJAS IN MY STOMACH.] I started working in September, and completed the very, very rough draft in April.

2. I’m coming around the bend on my first round of editing. Soon I will let a few Alpha Readers take a long look, before they solemnly set fire to my manuscript and without breaking eye contact — dial the authorities.

3. While I try to stay focused on the craft itself of working on the book, I have noodled around a bit on The Next Step. The world of traditional publishing is contracting, and it’s never been known for being an easy assault for new talent — so, most of my thoughts have been centered around Self-Publishing.  With resources like CreateSpace via Amazon it’s childishly simple to do, and I could have the most basic unit of my goals with a modicum of time and effort — i.e. a paper book that I slap in my mom’s hands.

4. I heart Pat Rothfuss. Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear are excellent books. Wise Man’s Fear is one of the only books I can ever recall finishing …then immediately starting to read again. Slowly, languorously. I went on to read other things, but I would circle back like a honey-drunk bee to take another sip. I read that cat’s blog religious — and all of this novel nonsense is so I can send him a copy [right after my mom] and then he’ll read it and think I”m awesome and that we should be best friends and then he’ll come to my birthday party.  THIS WOULD CLEARLY BE HIS REACTION TO MY WORK.

So, contextualized?

Today I read an interview he gave, linked into his own blog.

I was chuckling at his wry humor, and stroking my chin at the interesting bits — when I came to this section:

Full interview: Toonari Post

TP: Were you ever tempted to self-publish?

PR: Not really. Because, as I mentioned, I wanted people to read my books.

I know there’s a lot of talk about self-publishing right now. Everyone’s giddy with the possibilities. And I’ll admit that it looks good on paper: sell your books directly and keep a bigger chunk of the profit for yourself. No rejection letters. No hassle with agents. Sounds good, right?

Except nobody knows who you are. And nobody really cares. And your book is mostly crap because you haven’t had a substance-level editor give you feedback and make you revise it a couple of times. And your book is full of typos because you didn’t have a copy-editor read it. And the layout is ugly because you don’t know anything about layout…I’m sure you get the picture.

It’s like the query letter problem that I just mentioned, magnified a hundredfold. You might be good at telling a story, but that doesn’t mean you know anything about marketing. Or layout. Or editing. Or publicity. Or selling your books for foreign markets.

Even if you’re surprisingly good at one of those things, you’re still not going to be as good as a professional. You don’t know the tricks of the trade. You don’t know the right people to call. You don’t know what mistakes to avoid….

Everyone can point to a few examples of people that have done very well for themselves self-publishing. But honestly, those folks are lucky as lottery winners. They’re statistical anomalies. You want to publish with a publisher because a publisher knows how to publish a book. And you don’t. You really don’t.

Woof.

Dang.

Now, first and foremost, this isn’t about how Pat Rothfuss broke my heart, or what a big meanie-face he is, etc. etc. His beard is made of laughter and moonbeams, people.  From my EXTENSIVE PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE [aka reading his blog.] he is clearly not a malicious person in any way. He was speaking from his own experience, trying to give helpful and clear advice.

It was a bit stern, and absolutist — but then, I remembered — Nerd/DM High Speech. Nerds speak in absolutes, with unwavering knowledge about whatever topic is in our demesne.  It probably comes from being the smartest kid in the class, or years with our finger pointing at the small print in the Player’s Handbook. We all delight in pronouncing This is how it is. This is how it works. No, you cannot gain access to 6th level spells, just because you have a magical ability that increases your effective caster level, Carbunkle.

No, this post is about my reaction. I felt foolish.

Here is a writer and person that I respect telling me that I’m functionally wasting my time. I will self-publish my novel and it will be garbage. It will not be discovered, it will not be read. I am doing a disservice to myself and to the work itself by going this route. Pat Rothfuss told me I was an idiot.

This is not how my fanfiction plays out AT ALL.

I don’t think he’s wrong. I don’t think he’s right either.

For the vast majority of people self-publishing, he’s absolutely right. We all need to hear the stark truth like that. A wake-up call that if your goal is financial success then you are setting yourself up for failure. You are not some maverick Hemingway blazing across the firmament while thumbing your nose at traditional publishing. If you got into this gig to be the next 50 Shades of BLAHBLAHBLAH, then you are in it for the wrong reasons. Take a glance at the amount of self-published drivel on the Amazon Kindle alone. His metaphor of winning the lottery is apt. Every writer can benefit tangibly from a trained editor, copy-editor — and the inarguable expertise in marketing and layout that a publishing house can bring to bear.

But, I’m special. SCREAMED THE SPECK OF DUST IN A TRANSPARENT ALLUSION TO THAT CALVIN AND HOBBES STRIP.

YOU KNOW, THIS ONE. [I miss Bill Watterson.]
And beyond that, I do believe that traditional paper publishing is in its dotage. We’re caught in the weird wilderness between traditional and digital publishing, and all the old dinosaurs are late to the game. The tools are all laying around [editing, design, computers with blinky buttons] — what’s to stop us from selling and promoting our own work digitally direct to our audience? John Scalzi almost pioneered this concept, releasing his work chapter by chapter on the web, then backed into traditional publishing after he had already built a readership. And he’s the president of the freaking Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, now!

There are more options now  then ever, so more people than ever are going to chase the dream their own way. So, yeah, me too basically.

I have taken his thoughts to heart.  I’ve always considered self-publishing the book as a first step, a tool to one day get picked up by a publishing house. The first book is a resume for the new job I want to have.

I hear you, Pat. I really do. But I am mercurial at best — I just can’t stay motivated with the idea of finishing the book THEN enduring two years or more of frustrating query letters, and standing like a beggar outside the big publishing houses wearing an adorable Dickensian top hat.

Well, maybe the top hat.

So, I’m sticking to my guns. Alpha Readers in July. More and more editing after that, and then when I say done I will use this fancy InterWebamaphone to put my book into people’s hands and on their fancy e-readers.

And I’m still sending you a copy, Pat. I’ll save you some cake, and a brightly colored hat.

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