Back in September, Carla Douglas published an article on the website “Publishing Perspectives” interviewing Merilyn Simonds on the state of publishing in Canada (A Leader in Canadian Writing Takes Stock of Self-Publishing). When I saw the title, I thought, “Cool, must read that.” Then I saw Simonds’ former job as chair of The Writers Union of Canada and thought, “Oh. Maybe not.”
I am not a giant fan of TWUC or their approaches to some issues. Like the Author’s Guild in the U.S., many of the members are sheep who think the publishing world is still flat and haven’t noticed that Amazon’s disruption was in giving authors the opportunity to bypass traditional publishing and go direct to readers, often with not only greater ease of access but also greater revenues. This of course is the 3rd sign of the Apocalypse for the Author’s Guild who surprisingly support the position of agents and publishers on issues almost 1:1. Considering those three groups have some issues that divide them pretty substantially for self-interest, the alignment is often puzzling at best or frustrating in the mild or infuriating in the worst.
So I almost didn’t read the article. Kind of a “yep, read that, got the narrow view t-shirt, thanks”. But I did read it, and was pleasantly surprised that she was more open about the two groups (indie and traditionally-published authors) learning from each other and the strong importance of small presses as an option. The article is worth reading for those aspects alone.
Which is not to say that it isn’t a bit off. She notes that TWUC opened up to self-publishing authors, which was controversial, but few joined. Her conclusion was that they were not interested in issues like copyright, contracts or rights. It is that view which would stop most from joining. Of course they are interested, they just don’t think TWUC has anything to offer them that will help with that. Particularly when most of the members have signed their rights over to large publishers for the next 100 years. If you see an organization whose members have traditionally been screwed repeatedly, you might not flock to them to ask for their advice on how to get the same treatment.
I completely disagree however with her that “Self-publishing puts your head in the marketplace, and that’s no place for a writer’s creative process. You need to separate being a writer and being published.”
That is one of the first failures of authors — treating themselves as “l’artiste”, embracing the muse, etc. No, they’re self-employed business people producing content for people to consume. If you lose sight of that, you’re likely to end up with lots of fun attending conferences, participating in small writing groups with friends, drinking wine, and never being published. It doesn’t mean you “write to the market” trying to capture the latest genre or marrying Harry Potter with 50 Shades of Gray, but it does mean you need to be thinking of the market as your eventual destination, not simply satisfying your desire to write drivel.
I do agree with her though that self-publishing is not necessarily a DIY affair, and that in most cases, hiring someone to do layout and cover design is highly worth it. I am of mixed mind on some types of external editing, as there are as many horror stories as there are success stories, with lots of “meh” in between. I like the idea of a professional substantive review for feedback and copyediting, but detailed revisions back and forth with an external editor can create the impetus for diminishing returns. I love reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s business blog, and the editing laments are often included as an aside — such as the editor who edits out voice, and substitutes their own.
However, I have absolutely no idea on what planet Simonds is living when it comes to digital — while she notes that indies should learn about contracts and rights, she then says “Ebook royalty rates are very low”. Umm, no, they’re not. The ebook rate through Amazon is better by far than authors see for print, and it is one of the best out there. If she is seeing low royalty rates, she’s looking at the wrong publishers (perhaps vanity ones or, gasp, traditional).
But I still liked the article. 🙂