Sunday, July 24, 2011
So I wrote a book, I made a cover for it, and I'm putting it up on Amazon and Smashwords.
I'm sure you're wondering WTF, right?
When you are a working writer, as I sometimes am, it gets easy to lose sight of what got you into this to begin with. Especially if what you're writing isn't being produced. Because we are the sellers and studios/agents/producers are the buyers, we need to please THEM. Not you, and not always us. Telling buyers that my art theft TeeVee show would totally be well received means absolutely nothing. It doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter if I'm right. The buyers ostensibly have a much better handle on the market. They will tell you what will sell. Entertainment goes through them. Sure, it would be nice if you could just get a buncha viewers to sign a petition, but sadly it doesn't work like that right now. So as a writer, much of your day is spent figuring out how to sell. It's a very valuable skill, I wish I were better at it, but it can really drain the creativity right out of you.
This isn't to say that buyers have no interest in anything that's good, or in a writer's voice or any of that. There is acknowledgement of how fucked this business can be. But it does get harder and harder to get your voice heard through the noise.
Writing a novel was, for me, a way to do something that was all about voice and not about the market. I know the market well enough to know what has a chance of being commercial and what doesn't, and there comes a time when you just gotta do what you gotta do. Hence, In Obscura. This is NOT a commercial book, not in the modern sense. Maybe it would have been, back before publishing died. Who knows?
But the advent of the e-book and the dominance of Amazon and Barnes & Noble's e-readers gives writers a forum through which to tell stories to an actual public that doesn't just include their moms. Also, my mom doesn't have an electronic reading device, so that wouldn't work anyway. So someone who's written an unfashionably uncommercial book (i.e., me) can actually format said book for the e-book market and sell it alongside Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer... 'alongside' meaning on the same website. Not necessarily right alongside. While this sounds egalitarian, it's driving some published writers and publishing professionals fucking batshit.
See, there's A LOT of shit up on Amazon's Kindle site. Just a ton of poorly written detritus to slog through in the hopes that you'll find something readable. And people don't want to slog. Who can blame them? Leveling the playing field has its advantages, but also its disadvantages. There's so much web chatter out there with all our competing social networking sites and blogs and whatnot that it's frequently impossible to find what you're looking for.
Publishing professionals maintain that actual published books have an advantage because they've already made it past the first circle of hell. They've been agented, properly edited, nicely formatted, have professionally done covers, are typeset, bound and marketed. Essentially, writers who make it through the publishing circus have paid their dues, and if you don't pay your dues, then you don't deserve to be published. I understand that viewpoint but we're not talking about a vanity press here. If I put my book up next to someone's published novel and my book sells more copies, then it means that more people wanted to read my book than the published book. And if not, well, then not. It's kind of simple.
The contention is that published books will be better than self-published books. And for the most part, this is likely true. However, a lot of bad writers get published. Likewise, a lot of good writers don't get published. And since one doesn't hurt the other, what's there to get upset about?
Before self-publishing became so easy, before self-published e-books could -- if properly done -- be indistinguishable from that Tor bestseller -- there was NO WAY a rejected author could sell a book. So publishing was safe from having to answer the hard question -- why the fuck did we turn that bestseller down? Now, however, that's a question that just may surface from time to time. So yeah, that's scary to some publishing folks.
This is simplistic, I know, and I'm not necessarily disagreeing that a book that's gone through its paces in order to be published isn't going to be better 99% of the time. But there have been several e-book successes, and it's pretty clear that publishing's a little scared. They're also scared because some published writers have decided to self-publish. Even though they don't have the weight of a publishing house's marketing department behind them, they do already have a fan base and the royalty rate for an author is MUCH better than the deal they get from their publisher. An author gives up the backing of a big publishing house for more control over their product. Some people are willing to do this. And some aren't.
Publishing is as stuck-in-the-past as the studios. They immerse themselves in social media and networking, but they don't really understand it. They don't know why some things go viral and others don't. They try to force it, and that just doesn't work. Studios and networks announce that movies and TeeVee shows are hits, but is it really possible that EVERY summer cable show is the highest-rated show of the summer? The math says no. It's as if the announcement becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But maybe the days of telling an audience what it wants, what it needs, are waning. It's cheaper to release an e-book or an app or do a two-minute comedy video in your living room than it is to make a TeeVee show or a movie. So I think that if the tide is going to turn, that's where it's going to start.
But let's be honest here. People who write books and then upload them to the Kindle in the hopes of striking it rich are fucking idiots. But then people who come to Hollywood in the hopes of getting rich writing movies are fucking idiots, too. If you don't love it, if you have no motivation other than money, then don't do it. Seriously. DON'T.
In Obscura is a book I started writing over a decade ago. I'd write, put it away, drag it out, change all the pop culture and technology, etc. It has a sprawling, ancient mythology that needed to be corralled. There's magic in it. But it doesn't feature a punkish, back-to-the-camera heroine covered in tramp stamps as she wields a sharpened weapon of some sort. It doesn't have the mainstream thriller fiction vibe either. It's not about a globe-trotting archaeologist, or a famous symbologist. There are no scenes of cardinals rending their garments at the Vatican. People, I DON'T EVEN MENTION OPUS DEI. The spine of this story is a secret history, created partly out of the inspiration I had when we were researching secret societies and black virgins and bloodlines on Millennium. And you can only fit so much ancient conspiracy into one hour of television.
I hope you take a look at it (hell, 20% of it is free anyway), and if you buy it, I hope it's worth your time and your two bucks.
This is a book that I think people would like to read. It's as simple as that. With all the hoops that have to be jumped through, all the preparation and positioning and marketing and pilot reading and what have you, it's a nice thing to be able to say, "Here's a book you may enjoy."
And here's a trailer that will hopefully whet your appetite: