Last night, I attended an explosive game show-style panel at Owl’s Nest about the future of the publishing industry–Battle of the Publishing Paths: Traditional versus Indie (the organizers kept on referring to it as self, but self-publishing is what that path was called pre-2011; let’s move with the times).
The scrum featured an assortment of yyc authors and agitators, notably:
- Tyler Hellard, author of Searching for Terry Punchout (Invisible Press)
- Carrie Mumford, author of All But What’s Left, and Magpie (Self-published)
- Sarah L. Johnson, author of Suicide Stitch (EMP Publishing), and Infractus (Coffin Hop Press)
- Jim Jackson of Kouros Publications and author of How to Tell a Really Good Story, Stones in my Passway, and Kiss of the Cockroach Queen
- Rob Bose of Coffin Hop Press and author of Fishing with the Devil
- P.J. Vernon, author of When You Find Me (Crooked Lane Books)
- Laurie Zottmann, panel moderator/harrasser, and author of the someday-to-be-released Dark Little Critter
who delivered an informative but also really, really tense evening. Now, a caveat: I had to bail before round three, because there were hungry, unattended children waiting for me at home (don’t tell their grandparents), so it’s possible that after I left, the panel went to the place to which I hoped it would meander. And that is, simply, this:
THE FUTURE IS HYBRID.
All this trad versus indie stuff? Irrelevant. Just as readers don’t care whether you’re published by Harper Collins or the Random Penguin, they don’t care if you’re with one of the Big Five, a prestigious small press, a new press, or flying your own freak flag—so long as you tell them a good story.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in genre fiction, and in particular in romance, where the trad/indie lines are so blurred as to be almost indistinguishable (except at events hosted by traditional publishers, who still like to pretend indie’s a phase, but, as we all know, the Titanic cannot turn on a dime).
I’m a hybrid author myself, and I will continue to ride both horses as I build my career. I don’t deny that having a press behind a book and an author can be extremely helpful—if that press has money that it’s willing to spend on promoting you and the book. But—no contract is better than a bad contract. Trust me.
The indie revolution is still young enough that those of us who became readers and writers in the pre-Amazon era struggle with ego and legitimacy and all those things when we consider going indie. I totally get it. It didn’t occur to me to go indie with my first title. I needed someone else to tell me it was legitimate. I see that, frankly, as a failure of my ego. Was Tell Me not worth anything until Harper Collins’ Mischief offered on it? Of course not. Would I have dared to put Consequences into the market as an indie title unless Harper Collins offered on it? No. I actually shopped it to another publisher to make sure the Harper Collins offer wasn’t a fluke (they also said yes; showed me a bad contract). Maybe eventually, I might have found the courage within without that external validation. But—knowing that the book was “good enough” for one of the Big Five and one of the wanna-be-Big Five gave me courage.
But the book was good enough… before the offer. You know what I mean? And for the authors who know that their book is good enough, their story is worth telling and sharing without getting that external stamp of approval—for them, I have nothing but the utmost respect.
That inner courage, that intense belief in yourself? That is a beautiful thing.
If you’re firmly in the trad camp and you belittle that courage in your indie colleagues—take a moment to ponder what your derision tells you about your own courage. And ego.
Actually, if you engage in any type of derision towards people who are working their asses off to live their dharma—take a moment to ask yourself where that comes from.
I’m not getting holier-than-thou with you here. I work on this within myself, constantly. There is a lot of work produced in my genre that’s sub-standard—the standard being what I think is good, of course, because this is what any standard ultimately is. The sub-standard work in the genre is indie, and the sub-standard work in the genre is trad. But you see… the point is… the creator created, and the creator had the courage to put it in front of the audience. I may like it. I may think it is utter crap—in which case, I don’t have to read it or buy it. But I cannot, I WILL NOT deride the creator for making it.
Even if it is another “billionaire-with-baby-OMFG-why-is-there-a-market-for-this-type-of-story?” romance.
(There is a market for this type of story, btw, because the patriarchy is a cesspit that exhausts and chews up women, and they fantasize about a white knight in shining armour solving all their problems by offering protection, money, and love—and thus protecting them from its toxic structure. You want to eliminate the market for billionaire-with-baby romance? Smash the patriarchy. I’m planning that revolution, btw, come join me.)
My future is hybrid. I have another indie title coming out in December (Text Me, Cupid, pre-order now, she says slyly), an indie series in the pipe for 2020 (Fat Yoginis In Love—it’ll be brilliant, unless I fuck it up, OMG, courage, confidence, where are you?), I’ve got one in the pipe for a small press (although if the contract stays bad… really, I’m not yet sold on the upside), and I have another ms I’m prepared to take years to find the right trad house for. An assortment of short stories and anthology pieces spread between trad houses and indie efforts.
My worst-selling book is my Harper Collins title. Take that for what it’s worth—my takeaway from that experience is that being with one of the Big Five out of the gate is not a panacea or guarantee of success. (My best-selling and juried award-winning book is my full-on indie, not externally validated by any trad publisher title Cherry Pie Cure. Meditate on that half a second, too.)
Also—my future is solvent.
It broke my heart—figuratively; literally it’s still in one piece (look, I don’t have an editor on the blog, so I can use an em-dash, a semicolon AND brackets in one subclause, take that, A.)—when the panelists, regardless of allegiance, kept on saying how none of us were writing to make money.
So let me declare myself here to you, publicly.
I am writing to make money.
I have been writing to make money since I’ve been 17; I have been supporting my family through my writing since I’ve been 26.
My novels make money, and they will make more money. Writing is my art form, yes. It is also my profession. Approaching it as a profession—and as a business—puts me in the fine camp of Shakespeare et al. To assume that the current model—of bankrupt presses, not-for-profit publishing houses, and virtually unpaid authors—is the way things should be is just as misguided as to assume that a toxic, homophobic, racist patriarchy is the way things should be.
Don’t buy into a model that doesn’t work.
Reject it. And build a new one.
That’s what the indie revolution started to do in 2011, and that’s what it continues to do today.
And that’s why—even though I’m a hybrid author, even though the future is hybrid—if you tell me I need to choose a side to argue for—I choose indie.
I write smut, I tell people in my more pretentious moments, to dismantle the patriarchy, one filthy woman-centric, feminist word-orgasm at a time.
I think indie authors are dismantling a publishing system that doesn’t work. One story at a time. One story, good or bad, that bypasses the gatekeepers.
The gatekeepers, you see, tend to be… white. Rich(er).* Educated. Straight. They are looking for stories that they believe will sell, and as their guide for this, they look at the sorts of stories that have sold before.
Therefore, they perpetuate what was. They bring us stories that they think we will like, because they gave us stories like that before. The cycle is so silly if you step outside of it.
They take a risk on something new, different, scary, revolutionary, game-changing. Occasionally.
But. Not too often.
They prefer other people to take the risks.
In my genre, the gatekeepers for years told African American romance authors, for example, that there was no market for their characters. They still do—the statistics for stories by people of colour about people of colour in the romance industry are appalling… if you look at trad houses.
If you look at indie titles… the story is entirely different. All the voices. All the colours. All the permutations of experience, and damn what the gatekeepers think will sell. (By the way—you can’t sell what you don’t bring to the market. Just saying.)
The end of the gatekeepers is, to me, the most powerful part of the indie revolution.
Yes, that means there are more and more and more books. And even more books.
Yes, that means there is more competition, and it’s even harder to break through (it never was easy), and there’s so much noise, and when you have more and more books, yes, you have more and more and more bad books.
So be it.
I will take storytelling democracy and an ocean of crap in which ALL the stories can float (I’m sorry—this is a terrible metaphor) over books adjudicated by the literary 1% for the pretentious 10%, you know?
So tell your stories. Write them down. Podcast them. Film them. Record them. Paint them. And bring them to market. With the help of the gatekeepers within the traditional system if you can break through.
And if you can’t break through?
The future is hybrid.
If your work speaks to me, if your story enthralls me, I don’t care what publishing path you followed.
PS Rich(er).* … “But no one in publishing is rich!” Honey. Honey. Do you know what poor is? If you’re able to afford an unpaid internship at a New York publishing house, if you can afford to work at a not-for-profit literary press… you’re not poor. But we can talk about privilege another day. Today—there is only one moral. The future is hybrid.
PS2 In gratitude to the pugnacious panelists who inspired this reflection in me. Find out more about them and the paths they took:
- Tyler Hellard, author of Searching for Terry Punchout (Invisible Press): Author Site
- Carrie Mumford, author of All But What’s Left, and Magpie (Self-published): Author Site
- Sarah L. Johnson, author of Suicide Stitch (EMP Publishing), and Infractus (Coffin Hop Press): Author Site
- Jim Jackson of Kouros Publications and author of How to Tell a Really Good Story, Stones in my Passway, and Kiss of the Cockroach Queen: Author/Resource Site
- Rob Bose of Coffin Hop Press and author of Fishing with the Devil: Author Site/Blog + Coffin Hop Press (small trad press) Website
- P.J. Vernon, author of When You Find Me (Crooked Lane Books): Author Site + You also want to follow pjvernonbooks on Twitter & if you’re in Calgary, there’s this killer launch party happening on November 12:
- Laurie Zottmann, panel moderator/harrasser, and author of the someday-to-be-released Dark Little Critter—until she decides on her publishing path, you can read her fabulous work at on the Dark Little Critter blog.You can also join her Advance Reader list here: http://darklittlecritter.com/critters-first-book-join-advanced-reader-team/
(One day soon, I will tell you why blogging is still THE most important medium the Internet has birthed.)
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