Madame Slushpile Rides Again

This long Salon article by Laura Miller covers the battle at Goodreads between readers and self-published authors. High Priestess Miller once again bemoans the democratization of authorship, which in her view is marked by

average readers, who, now that agents and editors can be bypassed, would be exposed to the horrors of the slush pile for the first time

Mercy! Ah do declare, Miss Laura, what will all those poor lil’ readers do when they encounter that big bad horrible slush pile!?

Oh… that horrible slushpile…

Um, perhaps they might take their lead from a professional book reviewer such as Miller? Seriously, has she no confidence in her and her colleagues’ ability to help readers figure out what’s worth reading? Why does she think she’s writing those reviews? To impress people with how much she’s read? How in the know she is? Who does she think she’s writing for, anyway? Authors? Publishers? (Don’t answer that.) 

Note to Ms. Miller: You help people make choices about which books to read. That is what you do. 

One of her colleagues (who to me sounds “reasonable” and “possessed of common sense” but to Miller is a “techno-utopian”) points out that people will find ways to figure out which books merit their attention, perhaps using bloggers, other experts, or “the crowd” (in forums and sites like Goodreads) in order to help them figure out what to read. Miller’s condescension slowly ascends (“I’m sure he had plenty of company in that hopeful sentiment” she snarks) before reaching its peak:

Gatekeepers of some kind are necessary simply because there are way too many books chasing far too few readers, and people have to choose among them somehow. But it’s unrealistic to expect professional behavior from people who not only aren’t professionals but are not even aspiring to professionalism and have no obligation to accountability. The whole point of a hobby is to do as you please.

Argh, where to begin with this? I am not strong enough. I will retire to my fainting couch and hope that some publishing professional comes along to tell me what to think about it.

(Waiting…)

(Still waiting…)

In fairness to Miller, she seems to recognize that this “Goodreads flame war” is “just one corner of the shifting landscape between authors and readers,” which makes me hold out hope that her coming articles will look at the positives (higher author royalties? a good thing!). Why not look at Joanna Penn or Denise Grover Smith or Kristine Kathryn Rusch or any of the other positive examples of self-published authors finding their readers, to the benefit of all (except perhaps the professional bank accounts of the professional gatekeepers, whose professional services apparently were not professionally needed).

Miller goes on to declare “there could not be a better illustration of that old adage: Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.” Is she referring to a wish that changes in the publishing world will make insufferable snobs harder to hear? Because in that case, let’s hope she’s right.

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The Author as Publisher (Dream? Or Nightmare?)

Another fascinating and informative post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This time about the use of contract addendums to grab the rights of authors.

Are you ready to stand on your own and keep the publishers and agents out of the equation?

Here’s a litmus test.

Which of the following best describes you and your feelings about personal finances?

a) You are comfortable hiring a financial planner to handle things for you (or would be if you had enough money for it to make sense to do so). You’re reassured by the idea that the planner is a professional who knows more than you do about the subject, and you trust that any conflicts of interest that may be inherent within the relationship will generally be resolved to the benefit of you and your interests.

b) Although you aren’t naive about your own ability to beat the market, the thought of having a third party trying to beat the market with your money (and taking a cut either way) doesn’t seem like the right way to go. You’d rather invest the money yourself (i.e., in low-cost mutual funds), learning what you need to know to make practical if safe investments, and ultimately maintain control over what happens to your money without paying someone else to be involved.

If you answered a), you may be temperamentally suited toward trusting publishers and agents. If you’re fortunate enough to have a choice between traditional publishing and indie publishing, you should still check to see whether the publishing contracts are in your best interests, but you might be fine with giving them the benefit of the doubt and expecting things to work out for the best.

But if you answered b) (or, as in my case, “b, b, b, hell yes b!”) you’ll probably look forward to not being involved with the whole mess.

The Mindset of Independent Publishing

Another great post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who writes:

After thirty years of living like this, it’s really hard to understand that the first three weeks of an indie-published book mean nothing more than three weeks five years after the book’s initial publication. Every week is the same. I still struggle with that mindset. It’s hard to undo years and years of training.

There are some great business-savvy authors out there, including those who transitioned from successful traditional careers to indie publishing or have found a blend to be the best option. But there’s no getting around it: most of them have come from non-fiction writing or genre fiction. Casting oneself as an entrepreneur of literary fiction has its own set of challenges, which I’ll be writing about later. In the meantime, let me say that I’m thankful for good advice no matter where it comes from.

A side note: I tried to find a picture of Kristine to add to this post. Not sure if this is actually her (the Internet says it is, but who knows if that’s right?), but if it is, am I the only one who think she looks like Betsy Brandt from Breaking Bad?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Betsy Brandt (aka Marie Schrader)