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Okay, important stuff first. SciFiChick is giving away a free copy of Misspelled, an anthology of humorous fantasy, edited by Julie Czerneda. I wrote one of the stories in this one, and I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest. So go forth and enter the contest.

Now, on to the rant of the week.
Dear Internet Authors,

If you don't know something, that's okay. Please stop trying to fake it.

If you have limited knowledge of something, feel free to offer your experiences and opinions, but please stop presenting them as gospel.

Thanks bunches,
Maybe I've been spending too much time on the Amazon forums. Maybe it's one too many mailing lists. Maybe it's too many people who have self-published a book through Lulu and now want to be the knowledgeable pros, advising the newbies. But it's getting tiresome.

It's not just the Internet, either. I've had in-person conversations about how someone's cousin's friend was screwed over by a commercial publisher, and therefore we should all self-publish. Because extrapolating from a sample size of one is a great way to get reliable data, right?

I understand ego, and wanting to appear like we know what we're talking about. I also recognize that giving advice is sometimes motivated at least in part by the desire to self-promote. (I'm the author of the hilarious book Goblin Farts, and if I can impress you with my knowledgification, maybe you'll buy my book!) And like many people, I believe very strongly in helping newer writers and paying it forward.

But I also believe in knowing what the hell you're talking about.

Trying to follow my own advice, I'm going to acknowledge that the following might be wrong. I certainly don't know everything about this business. However, I've been working as a writer - writing, submitting, and selling my work - for 12 years. I've been under contract with a major publisher for 2, and I spend a lot of time reading about the experiences and opinions of people who have been far more successful than I at publishing everything from award-winning short fiction to New York Times bestsellers. Based on all of this, I've concluded that:
  1. Commercially published authors don't generally hate their publishers, and aren't planning the self-publishing revolution.

  2. E-books are evolving, and are probably an important part of the future of publishing. However, they are not poised on the brink, ready to drive print books and commercial publishers into extinction. (Also, there's a big difference bewteen an e-book from the Baen Library and the Yahoo web site where you posted your latest novel.)

  3. You the author really aren't as good at art, marketing, editing, typesetting, and distribution as a trained professional. (And neither is your BFF Jill who offered to edit your book if you sprang for the pizza.)

  4. Until you have written several successful* novels, you the author are not the best judge of whether your book is just as good as any of that commercially published stuff. Neither is your mom. Or your high school English teacher, for that matter. (Unless you're fortunate enough to have jimvanpelt as a teacher.)

  5. You're only a revolutionary because you're new enough that you don't realize how many thousands of struggling authors have posted the same screeds. To the rest of us, you're starting to get a wee bit boring.
The last and most important thing I've realized is that it's harder to be a new author today than it was even ten years ago. When I started, there were a few online sources for information about publishing, and they were generally reputable. Today, there's been an explosion of such "resources," and it can be harder to judge which advice to follow. Between the proliferation of scammers, the upswell of misguided revolutionaries, and the surge in commercial authors with online presences, you can hardly browse a blog without getting smacked with some sort of writing advice.

So be careful which advice you choose to follow. Check the source -- have you heard of them? Can you find their books on the shelves, if that's important to you? Do they come across as reasonable and helpful, or desperate and pushy? Is there a vested interest in convincing you that they're right? (I.e., a self-publishing site or vanity press that tells everyone that self-publishing and vanity presses are the wave of the future.) Do they seem to be a real, legitimate author, the kind you want to be, or are they one of those hacks writing crap about goblins and nose-picking injuries?

Thus endeth the rant.

*"Successful" is a loaded term, I know. Let's just say I had to write 5 or 6 books, several of them published by DAW, before I started being able to judge whether my manuscripts were ready to be published or not.



Mar. 25th, 2008 03:48 pm (UTC)
Tangentially, I'm amused by any self-published writer who gives any kind of writing advice beyond the "capitalize appropriately, use punctuation" variety. It's one of the reasons, I think, that as neo a neo-pro I am (and man is it hard to get more neo), if I ever wind up discussing writing, I try to refer to the advice I've found helpful, rather than pontificating on my own. Which is some advice that I did hear way back in the way back--until you've established a track record, chances are people won't know enough about your work to tell if your advice is worthwhile or not. Unfortunately, I can't reference the advice, but it seemed fairly sound, and I don't think I've gone wrong with it yet.
Mar. 25th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC)
Ironically, I think that's a pretty good piece of meta-advice right there.

And I do think there's a lot you can learn from self-published authors. Personally, I've picked up a fair amount about marketing, what works and what doesn't. My single-copy experiment on Lulu taught me a lot about the whole process of turning a manuscript into a physical book, and left me with a lot more respect for the process.

I think the key is that if you self-publish, you're probably in a good place to give advice about self-publishing, but you might not be the best person to make sweeping proclamations about the state of commercial publishers.
Mar. 25th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)
In the Marines we called that "staying in your lane," which became incredibly important following 9/11 as hometown newspapers were hunting up anyone in uniform to ask questions and try to get a sense of the big picture. Unfortunately for the average grunt, like myself, we rarely have an idea of what the big picture is, and it was easy for Marines to speculate to a reporter and have their speculation reported as policy by the otherwise-uninformed. What I generally knew was what I was training on at a given point in time, but I got my big picture information from the news, same as most people.

So yeah, a lot of people seem to have that problem in other areas, and I think self-publishing is one of those areas that breeds it more than others. I wonder if musicians feel the same way about the folks who only post their music to MySpace, or if that's a whole 'nother culture.


Jim C. Hines

My Books


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