Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Write and Publish VS. Write or Publish

The Writer's Friend
So you want to be a writer. Nothing is stopping you. Sit down and just do it. But in reality there is a great gulf between writing and publishing. A different set of skills is required for each. Skills that are admirable and learnable but very, very much at odds with each other. In fact, if many of the publishers were like Nike they could sell their writers with trite and irrelevant phrases like: Just Write!, or The pen is mightier than the sword!, or even Write, it’s all in your hands! I can see them now in the New York Times book section.

So when an author decides out of frustration, ignorance, ego, or impatience that the outside world just has to read their work they jump from the dark reaches of writing into the arcane and bizarre world of self-publishing. Writing can cost you nothing except a box of #2 Ticonderogas and a couple of spiral notebooks (of course you can load up on Apple products but that’s just a more expensive version of a pen and paper) and “Just Write.” In a few months you may have The Great Gatsby in your hands or just pages of junk – but it is your junk. Fifty spiral notebooks later you may even be a writer, two hundred books more and you might even be very good and may have Jack Reacher or Travis Magee hiding in amongst the pages. Then again you may not. You will not know until you try and try a lot. Such is writing. For a few pennies you can roil the world with the likes of the Federalist Papers or Fifty Shades of Grey. But self-publishing will cost you thousands and thousands of dollars and the ROI (return on investment) is impossible to guess.

But great works need an audience. I am sure locked in drawers or stacked on shelves are manuscripts easily as good as anything Joyce Carol Oates, Hemingway or even E.L. James (see Fifty above) wrote. And please don’t comment about my placement of those three authors in one sentence, I am already doing my own mea culpas. Publishers need manuscripts, without them they die, and writers needs a publishers like the daisies need rain (ouch). 

I can show you a stack of books on my shelf that list publishers, agents, vanity presses, and even pay to print operations. Each can get your manuscript to an audience. It might be the simple goal to give your book to friends and family, or even business associates. In fact I have a few well written autobiographies by clients who just had to tell their stories (some had help and were ghost written), others were labors of persistence. But they told great stories. I understand these men more because of their books. So write your manuscript and, for a fair price, you can get it to your audience. But if you want a bigger stage then be prepared to compromise.

Self-publishing is easy or so I thought. I used to have a vineyard and made wine from my grapes. For ten years I pruned, watered, nurtured, and then picked my vines. The good Lord made wine making simple, natural yeasts convert the grape sugars to alcohol (wine). But as I have told friends why I pulled out the 150 vines after years of work, “Making wine is easy, making good wine is hard.” I grew tired of making wine. The same can be said about converting your scribblings to printed words.

The effort to bring good writing to the marketplace is collaborative and involves far more than just the author. This is why there is a publishing industry. There is the agent, the editor (maybe more than one), there is marketing, and there is distribution and storage. There is cover design, interior design, formatting (whether ebook or pbook), composition, and printing. And there are legal rights, copyrights, and attorneys for the agents and the publishers. And then there are the foreign rights, movie rights, audio book rights, and a plethora of other rights that can’t even be mentioned (at least in polite company). And so much more.

To be a publisher and writer is difficult at best, impossible for most. The best decision by the writer is determine a path and try and follow it. My goal is to not just make wine, but to make good wine. Self-publishing is a means to an end; what that end is I'm still not sure.

More later . . . .

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