Thursday, May 23, 2013

Feelings on Self-Publishing

Yesterday, news hit Facebook that Amazon has purchased the rights to certain characters from various TV series (mostly female-oriented ones, from what I read), and will soon be allowing writers to self-publish fan-fiction based on those characters, for profit.  Reactions were all over the place, but among the writers I know, it was a universal grunt of disgust. 

However, a few people were downright enraged by the idea, and expressed their well-thought out grievances accordingly.  What it boiled down to was that this move on Amazon's part was a money-grab based on stroking the egos of wannabe writers who have not "paid their dues" in the publishing industry.  Admittedly, I was a bit hurt by this sentiment at first.  Until I got to thinking about it.

For me, self-publishing has been a journey.  A way to get my works out to potential readers, and get some feedback that will help me become a better writer.  If I can make a bit of change on the side, cool deal.  And although I would love to write a runaway success with millions of copies sold, that's really not the point.  To understand my view, you have to look at the publishing industry as a whole.

Right now, it's tough to get published.  I mean, I think it always has been, and if you get published by an established publisher, or even in a respectable magazine or anthology, that has always been generally viewed as you paying your dues.  You suffer numerous rejections, you work hard to please an editor who shows interest, you cater to their desires for your story, occasionally changing things you would rather not change; all for the sake of being published.  This is the way it has always been, and the way it still is, as far as I can tell.  In fact, I would wager that things are actually tougher today.

The heyday of print fiction magazines are long-gone.  And even their electronic successor, the e-zine, has seen better days.  There just aren't enough paying markets to support the growing number of people who wish to be published authors and writers.  Self-publishing in the pre-eReader age was minor, and relegated to "vanity presses" who didn't do much more than grant your technical wish of seeing your name in print, but for a steep price.  And even though those presses are still working, the eReader boom has probably curtailed some of their influence.

With places like Amazon and Smashwords, all you need is a story, a bit of knowledge about formatting, and a method for making a cover image, and BOOM!  You're a published author.  The problem is, these stories have no oversight.  no editor making changes, or pointing out mistakes and plot-holes, or shoring up crappy writing.  In essence, most self-published eFiction is nothing more than a rough first draft with a cover image slapped on it.

But, those of us who are smart recognize this, and take action accordingly.  Personally, I make sure I act as an editor as well as a writer.  My fiction is short, and it's not hard to see the plot holes, the bad writing passages, and the rough mistakes so common in writing fiction.  With short formats, I can go back and correct those easily, and publish a more-or-less polished product.  So far, it's worked, as my stuff has been generally well-received (I have yet to get less than 4 stars on any one of my stories at Amazon).

To me, this is just another way of "paying my dues."  I am learning how to write better stories, how to use different voices, how to work outside my previously-narrow comfort zones (such as dialogue and gender).  In short, I am learning my craft.  And one ideal I intend to stick to is that I will only self-publish short works.  Longer works will need a dedicated editor.  Someone with no personal investment in the story beyond making sure the best product is presented to the public.

So, to my writer friends who were outraged, be it known that I agree with you 100%.  Fan-fiction for profit has no place in the self-publishing industry.  But, that being said, let's hope that more people than we think will use this opportunity to grow in their craft, and not just use it as a place to find false-validation.


Charles Gramlich said...

I know several writers who started out doing fan fiction, particularly in the Star Trek universe. I never had the urge to do that, although I did consider writing a Conan story at one time, and I did write a pastiche of Sailor Steve Costigan.

Tom Doolan said...

I think it's the "for pay" part that bothers people. Traditionally, fan-fiction as been free, and usually worth the price.

Incidentally, one of the current writers of Mack Bolan books started out writing fan-fiction at :)