Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hurry Up and Wait No More

by Pete Morin

I began my first novel around February of 2008 (one of the very firstand very crappydraft chapters is still posted at youwriteon). At that time, the “e-Reader” was an infant (the Kindle arrived late in 2007), digital publishing was still pretty much a novelty (Smashwords was born in May of 2008)(read a fascinating history of digital publishing here), and the Big Six held a de facto monopoly on an author’s access to readers. If you wanted to “self-publish,” you were pretty much committed to driving around with a trunk full of your books, peddling them to bookstores one-at-a-time.

By February of 2009 I thought I had a halfway decent product when Diary of a Small Fish finished in the top-5 one month on Authonomy and received a fairly complimentary review by a Harper Collins’ junior assistant editorial intern (heh). There might have been a modest number of pioneers out there, but self-publishing still carried that stigma—might be good but not good enough for a real publisher. No, you have to take a shot at the brass ring, right? A year of revising and editing ensued.

By February of 2010, well—I had an agent (and a damn fine one at that!)! The promise of acceptance (if not acclaim) was within grasp. So was the Kindle, for millions. And Nook and iPad and you-name it. By God, a revolution was in progress, and the Grand Dames of Mid-town Manhattan were on an extended cocktail hour. (A year—or ten—to respond to a manuscript submission?) Why, they actually had their noses in the air at this silly notion of a digital revolution. These apocryphal anecdotes of authors actually selling a previously self-published manuscript to one of them. The very idea!

Another year of revising and editing.

And here we are today. Hundreds and hundreds of damn fine novelists (and yeah, okay, thousands of crumby ones), impatient with the glacial pace of traditional publishing’s reaction to a new paradigm—uploading manuscripts by the thousands, selling millions of copies. The number of self-published authors being offered deals increases daily. Joe Konrath waves the flag, Barry Eisler joins him. Amanda Hocking sells one million eBooks in a year and wows the world with her multi-million dollar offer, an exclamatory statement that a writer can do it either way, and damn successfully. But she’s just the biggest and latest example of the trend sure to continue.

I was trying to think of an appropriate metaphor for the contrast between the self-publishing phenomenon and traditional publishing. I think I have it. The former is like a street bazaar, thousands of vendors and buyers jostling in the dusty streets.

The latter is like a Sotheby’s auction of rare coins.

Okay, I admit it. I still want to be like so many of you—a rare coin, minted by a name brand. I still want the spine of my novel to have the word “Penguin” (and not in the title). But above all, I want as many people as possible to read it and enjoy it, and I want them to read it before the beginning of the next decade. I haven’t got all goddamn day.


Darke Conteur said...

Lol! Here! Here! :D

Richard said...

The publishing world is changing and, sometimes, change is a good thing.

cherie said...

Loved the metaphor, Pete! lol :)

Karen Walker said...

Oh, I love this. I was one of those who tried to find an agent and gave up after a year or so and ended up self-publishing. Not sure it was the right decision, but it is what it is. I wish you much luck and success in your publishing quest.

petemorin said...

LOL, well, we're all sort of in the same boat here, no matter what the outcomes might be. If I do go self-pub on this one, it'll just be as a means of setting up the next one for the agent. All in all, this is just a high wire form of personal amusement for me. Expect nothing and you can't be disappointed!

dirtywhitecandy said...

Publishing is definitely changing, and faster than publishers think. I have two agents, one for adult and one for MG/YA fiction, and they report that editors are now little more than readers for marketing departments. And marketing departments want books that will sell to big bookshops and supermarkets. Who does that squeeze out? Writers of quality, original fiction who would have been published ten years ago. The people who keep the art moving forwards. I know many people who are being rejected with very good novels indeed.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post, Pete! I love the analogy & your last line totally cracked me up :)

It's interesting to watch the industry morph - it'll be interesting to see the next steps too!

greenwoman said...

Loving the last line! Great post, and a subject that I've been looking at with a lot of curiosity. I still wonder how publishing is going to change in the next decade.

Jeff Lee said...

Hi, Pete- I remember Small Fish. Loved the premise and your characters. I also remember the industry telling you that political satires were too hard a sell right then. As was anything that wasn't wrapped around a gender-questioning teenage vampire or werewolf, or a private school full of wanna-be adolescent wizards.

As far as the publishing industry's reaction to the revolution going on around them, I can only quote from Bob Dylan: "Something's happening and you don't know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones".

John Betcher said...

So spit it out. Are you gonna self-pub? :)

John Betcher said...

SMALL FISH is a great novel, BTW.



petemorin said...

Hey thanks all for chiming in.

Jeff, that was a long time ago, wunnit? Seems like it anyway.

John, we're being "flexible."