Monday, June 28, 2010

Self-published Nazism

The current HOT topic of the publishing industry these days is the upcoming (supposed) apocalypse that will hit us on the head just about anytime now. The Gods have spoken: the world of e-book will revolutionize publishing and authors will let go of the gatekeepers (agents) and self-publish all the way, hence realizing their dream. Evil agents who can't see real talent even if it'd hit them in the face will finally be punished for their shortsightedness, right? Allow me to administrate myself CPR before we continue.

There have been many discussions going on Twitter about what the role of agents will be, whether or not they will become obsolete and how they will survive if all authors go the self-publishing route. As a still unagented writer, I'd like to add my perspective to this whole debacle.

There have been many awesome posts about the agent's side of things. In my opinion, the question isn't what will happen to agents in a world where e-books and self-publishing rule them all--it's what will happen to the consumer in all this? We can't really forget the writers either, but we should also look at the motivation behind the excitement they have for this new way of doing things.

Every day, some writer proves he or she is too stupid/unprofessional to make it using official means (query, get agent, submit to editors, get published). Suffice to say, self-publishing isn't going to fix his problems. I certainly don't believe most writers are asshats, but there are a few out there. Jennifer Jackson, a very well known agent in the world of sci-fi and fantasy, recently blogged about how 52% of the queries she receives do not follow submission guidelines. According to her stats, that's anywhere from 90-100 people each week who send in queries and get an automatic form rejection because they couldn't follow simple guidelines. All she asks for are the first five pages and a short synopsis pasted in the body of the query, as many others do. Why is this so hard?

The most vocal ones are usually the complainers. Want to bet that a high percentage of those who so loudly complain will be part of that 52% who often get rejected because they can't be bothered to follow guidelines? That's already a huge part of the problem.

I'm pointing this out because a lot of the folks who are so pro self-publishing seem to be people who are irritated by the current process and frustrated by the amount of rejections that are piling up. I received five rejections in the last four days. My first request for a full came three days after I began querying, a second one a few days after, and since then... rejections, rejections, rejections. I know folks who got a rejection for both a partial and a full on the same day. It's a tormenting process for sure, but that's how it has been for decades. Is technology going to make it easier for everyone? Unlikely, because the medium isn't the part writers have a problem with.

Let's take all the other writers. Those who follow submission guidelines and have done their research, have written a good query and are hanging in there. (Apparently, we're not even the majority). I firmly believe no debut author will consider self-publishing without first trying the query approach... why? We're flimsy little fishes swimming in a tank full of sharks and piranhas, and we know it. Big fishes who will eat you alive if you don't know what you're doing. I once met a woman who overheard me saying I was writing a book while visiting my dad at the hospital... she explained how proud she was when she drove to NYC from Montréal to have a meeting with an editor... who charged her 1200$ for the 10 minute session and a 250 words manuscript critique that took months for her to receive.

Scammed? Yes. Was she even aware it was a scam? No. Did I tell her? I chose not to. She was sick and I overheard the doctor 15 minutes prior to my discussion with her as he delivered a bad prognosis. I didn't want to be the one to give her a heart attack by telling her someone had taken advantage of her time and money by playing on her dreams. How many have been played?

How many crooks will take advantage of the poor souls who want to be published so bad, have been rejected by over 100 agents, and who will turn to self-publishing? How will one navigate those waters without an ounce of experience? It will be a fucking mess. A bloody mess.

I was once "scammed" by Amazon when I bought a book covering a sexology topic. I was doing research for my sexology minor (which I never completed) both because I have an interest in sexology, sexuality and sex altogether and because it complimented my main studies well. That was years ago, I had no idea how the publishing industry worked. I based my purchases on reviews (both off and on Amazon) and that one book had over 70 five star reviews. The cover was horrible, but I thought, it has so many good reviews, let's give it a try and I shed the 20$ to buy it.

It was one big joke. The information was obviously not researched, unfounded, the backcover told blatant lies (you can't see a backcover on Amazon), there were a million typos and the formatting of the book was just amateur. It SCREAMED "self-published", but since I knew nothing about how books even get published, I did not know self-published books could be sold on Amazon and I trusted the system. I trusted a system I thought could be trusted and was royally screwed for it.

I wrote a review to expose the scam that the author was. I tried to find his contact info... I never could. He used a pen name and I could never find a way to contact anyone involved in the creation of this "book".

For some reason, Amazon removed my review. It contained no inappropriate vocabulary and was 100% objective. It took months and many exchanges with them before it finally appeared. I also started a discussion topic to alert buyers that the reviews were totally fake and that no single educated person would learn anything or benefit from the book. It was on this discussion topic I met others like me who had tried to warn the Amazon buyers and each time, their review was removed. I don't know what the fuck happened at the time, but if this is a shape of things to come, consumers should be TERRIFIED of a world where thousands of new self-published books will swarm in and appear beside "real" books. Especially in a world where reviews are so easily manipulated, and I'm not the only one to have noticed this.

Let us travel ten years forward, in a world where self-publishing has taken over.

What will it look like? Consumers will be exposed to the slush pile and after just a few bad experiences (like the one described above, which happened in 2006 by the way, long before people spoke of an e-book revolution) there will be an outcry. Consumers will feel scammed and ask for a way to identify the "real" books from the self-published ones. Will self-published books get a star beside their title to satisfy the angry customers? Are we going to see the rise of some kind of self-published/unagented Nazism, where debut and unrepresented authors will be forced to be publicly identified by the big sellers to alert the customer of the risk?

The idea sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? DOES IT? Really? I don't think so.

There is ALREADY a stigmata against self-publishing, but this one was brought on by the publishing professionals. That's what writers now say, anyway... what will happen when that same stigmata will be amplified to biblical proportions by angry customers? I'm willing to bet my air conditioned ass writers will scream bloody injustice and the shortsighted ones will no longer be the agents, but the customers, according to these same writers. Buyers will demand a way to identify the "real" books from the self-published ones, because reviews cannot be trusted. I'm sure new sites will pop out to help consumers identify the good ones the honest way, but not before some damage will be done.

We're all frustrated and tormented by the wait and rejections, my fellow auteurs. If you truly and really believe self-publishing and e-books will be the next best thing since sliced bread and open the gates to the millionaire league, I'd pace myself and try to see the big picture. Some authors are going this route, but these are writers with years of experience who already know the ins and outs of the industry.

Simply put, my unagented and unpublished writer opinion is that the world is not ready for the revolution that is suppose to come. A lot of people, customers and writers alike, will be swindled. Time will tell if more good than bad will come out of it at the very end.


Ted Cross said...

Hi Francis, I left an award for you on my blog.

Francis said...

Wow, thanks a lot Ted!!!

aspiring_x said...

nice one. i've thought this too! one of the things about so many options being available is the overwhelming swarm of it all! i hate the thought that we need someone out there to tell us what is a good story and what is a bad one. because, you know, thinking for yourself is a good thing. but you are completely right! i don't envy the agents in their daily battle against the slush! but that's what we'll all turn into. i can just picture us, up to our knees in it, hunched over, hands freezing, sleeves red from the cherry flavoring, as we dig and grasp and try to find our fallen comrades before they drown!!! great post FK7. subscribing now! :)