Thursday, December 07, 2006

More Ranting About Fiction & Self-Publishing

I found this blog post interesting: How Self-Publishing Is Ruining A Generation of Black Writers

I found it especially interesting after having recently reviewed (and posted about) a dreadful self-published novel I happened upon at One published by AuthorHouse.

I found it particuarly interesting in light of a news article touting a 13 year old "author" of speculative fiction, without mentioning that the great "success" was published via a vanity publisher (yes, AuthorHouse). Let me translate: The 13 year-old's family paid to have her book self-published.

So much for a great success. Any kid with a word processor and parents with the bucks can have this "success." (If the article is gone from the Long Island Press site (and archived), it's also here.

Now, let me say that any young kid who's got the drive to sit and write a whole novel gets a big, big thumbs up from The Mir. However, to then go to book-signings and make it sound like a great literary triumph has occurred in our midst is a bit much. (And the journalist is incompetent for not clarifying that the book was self-published. The article's entirety gives the impression of a "real" book sale.)

I hope she keeps writing and ends up writing a lovely and readable book one day, many lovely and skilled books, and finds great joy and success--for real. But let's not pretend that vanity publishing is any indicator of literary achievement--at any age. It's not much different from printing it out on your computer printer and slapping a pretty image on the front.

The terrible thing that might happen--as described in the blog entry first mentioned at the start of this entry, the one about self-publishing and black writers--is that folks who go the vanity publishing route are concentrating on the business end and may be tempted to slack off on the craft end. After all, hey, there's the book, the investment. Get it sold. Push it. Promote it. Become the "salesman." And while many, if not most, authors have to deal with the icky business part--wouldn't we just rather focus on metaphors and internal struggles and fine points of dialogue?--it's not the business part that makes you grow. It's realizing you're not there, maybe through reams of rejections and editorial feedback of the critical sort. It's the struggle to shape words and situations and characters in order to tell better and more gripping stories. It's figuring out where commas go and why this verb is the right word that that one isn't. It's getting your voice out there in a diction and rhythm and with colors that are yours, recognizably yours.

We're apprentices at a tough job and tougher art.

The real job of writing is writing--and writing better and better. It's not about just cranking out books via POD and pushing them on anyone you can get to shell out the bucks.

Will this young girl get side-tracked?

Go read the teen's "free preview." of her novel. I think what's clear is that this child has imagination and a burning desire, but she's a long, long, long way from being a real writer. She's not at the level even of Paolini (one of her idols) when he first came to public attention. And you know what? It's what I'd expect from a story-loving young teen at her age. She shouldn't be great. She should be rough. She should be apprenticing. She's 13, for pete's sake! Having the drive and imagination is wonderful, but it's the just the start of her journey.

However, if mom and dad make her think she's a real "author" by footing the bill for vanity publishing, and by making the book seem legit, couldn't that sidetrack her? If they arrange for booksignings and appearances and promotional websites, aren't they treating this as a real sale? If they cooperate with journalists and don't clarify the situation by explaining, "We paid to have this book published. It's not like, you know, a real publisher came calling," so that misleading articles show up local papers--well, I fear that this teen will think she really has ALREADY written something good enough to be legitimately published by a Scholastic of a Knopf, publishers she mentions as ones she'd like to offer her contracts on her next books.

And that's scary to me.

The girl may become the next Paolini or Rowling (another idol of hers). But she's not there yet. I'd hate for all this attention to make her think she's got it down, as is, now, and is a real "author."

I hope self-publishing doesn't ruin a whole generation of VERY YOUNG writers, black or white or Latino or whatever.


Jane Lebak said...

Every so often, I think of the novel I wrote at age 13, and I shudder. Thank heaven no one else will ever read it. :-)

But at the time--at the time, I knew it was a great work of art and deserved publication. Thank heaven there was no POD around back then.

Mirtika said...

I no longer have anything from my youth (or hey, even my thirties) around here. I barely have one year's stuff. (I never remember to back up a hard drive fully before changing to a new ocmputer. I'm a idjit.)

But I'm sure I'd be cringing and spasming at what I once deemed magnificent.