Friday, November 18, 2011

With Enough Courage, You Don't Need a Reputation

The "Do Indies Need Editors?" post prompted an interesting conversation on Twitter between me and Jason Black (aka p2p_editor), who disagreed with my statement that the consequences of failure for the self-published author are next to nothing.

Black is an editor, but I don't think he was disagreeing on the basis of fear of unemployment -- whether indie authors as a class need editors or not, there's plenty of work for a good editor out there. (As I said, they are to be prized above rubies and chocolate and bacon.)

(Added Note: Didn't realize that this was the Jason Black who runs the Plot To Punctuation blog. A LOT of good material on that blog about craft. Sometimes more into the "editing" thing, but hey, he's an editor.)

What he specifically brought up was a fear that self-publishing has a bad name.

My first reaction to that was... and how is this a problem?

My second reaction though is to ask a question that gets more to the heart of this:

Self-publishing has a bad reputation among whom?

Hate to burst publishing's bubble... but only writers and publishing people care who published a book. Some readers who are publishing groupies will care, depending on what their specific heroes think.

Like it or not, "indie publishing" is not a brand. For that matter, publishing house brands are barely noticed by end readers either. Sure readers have heard of them, you will never hear a reader say "I'm gonna get me one of those books from MacMillan!" Or "I'm never going to read a Simon and Schuster Book again. They suck."

Readers look for genres and authors.

Sure, right now, with all the indie authors running around trying to turn "indie publishing" into a brand, there are a few small groups who think of indie publishing as a genre. But that's just growing pains. The solution to that is to stay away from those people. Try not to promote your books in the same venues, so that your books don't come up with only indies in the "also boughts." Stay away from tagging clubs and don't use promotional short cuts the way they do.

But most of all, quit worrying about your reputation.

Any reputation except the one you earn yourself is overrated. And even that is less important that people think: Somebody is going to sneer at you no matter what you do. It's just not worth the trouble.

And it distracts you from what you really need to do:

Be brave, be fair, do good work.

In the meantime I'd be happy to discuss with anybody the ins and outs and specific ideas and questions in the comments. (Discussing complex things on Twitter is tough.)

See you in the funny papers.


David Michael said...

"only writers and publishing people care who published a book."

Very much this.

Add to that the simple fact that if an author does release a bad book, unless it is so bizarrely bad that it manages to generate its own form of infamy and carves a niche for itself among "cult books", no one is even going to notice/remember it. In fact, being that bizarrely bad could be a marketing coup. But that's beside the point. I've read (or started to read and then dumped) a lot of bad books in my life. I don't remember the names of the books or even the names of the authors, so it's not like those bad books have biased me against the authors who wrote them. Or biased me against books published in the traditional manner and stocked by local library.

Who remembers publishers? Other than other publishers and writers?

I like being an indie author/publisher, but I certainly don't try to use it as a selling point to readers. That would just be silly. Readers just don't care.


The Daring Novelist said...

And this is true in traditional publishing as well. A bad writer has to be persistently and spectacularly bad to be remembered out of the slush pile. And even then, it is unlikely that the worst of it ever got read.

ModWitch said...

Hmmm - this turned into a bit of a tangent, but I'll post it anyhow :).

I think authors can be damaged by putting out a bad book. Or by putting out a good one that doesn't sell. It's hard to develop eyes for "good" - I'm just now starting to be able to tell the difference between my "good" stuff and my "fine" stuff with reliability. I was fortunate to have a lot of readers saying "it's good" until I got to this point. I'd be brave enough now to put out a book I thought was good, and (hopefully) not care how it did. But before this? It's hard to be new and brave.

The Daring Novelist said...

That an author can be damaged by a bad book is one of those myths Dean talks about.

Hard to be new and brave: yes exactly!

New writers don't have very many books under their belt, and can't imagine what it's like to have lots more. They haven't been at it very long, and so they can't imagine what happens over time.

As Dean never tires of pointing out, an author may never be able to figure out how to tell his best work from his worst.

IMHO, if you're going to use an outside measure of when you're ready to publishing, use simple volume of your writing. Write a set number of finished stories -- short, long, whatever -- and don't look back until you've hit that number. Then pick your best work, submit it, publish it, and move on.

And if, twenty books from now, you're embarrassed by your early publications, unpublish them.

ModWitch said...

When I say an author can be damaged by a bad book, I don't mean in the eyes of the world (we're just not that important!) - it's more an internal thing.

But I think we're wired to learn better from small successes than from failure. It's one thing to get a lot of rejections - that's kind of been defined as part of the learning curve. But putting a book out there and having readers call it awful dreck seems like it could be more damaging to a new writer's willingness to try again. Especially when a lot are flying without a support system and mentors.

Hard to be new and brave...! I find your blog wonderfully encouraging on that front, for what its' worth.

The Daring Novelist said...

I'm glad you find this blog encouraging. My goal is to display my own journey -- and even though I've been at it for a while, I hope that helps people wherever they are at.

You are right that a hurtful review -- since such reviews are usually written by amateurs, AND are in a public venue -- can do more damage than a form rejection.

And that's one of the places I'd like to see the more experienced community put their energy into in handling newbies. Not just to commiserate, but to help them get past it.

Having colleagues and mentors IS critical.