Saturday, January 10, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Flights of Fantasy has a great post on vanity publishing.  I agree on all points too. 

I wish that writers would look at the publishing process this way--

Your manuscript needs to be utterly and totally ready for the public.  It can't just be interesting to you.  It has to really shine with a fairly wide audience to do well.  It definitely should stand out in the genre you're writing in.  But if it can't, if it's just a 'fun' read or whatever, great.  You can expect to have some sales and you can take pride in that.  Unfortunately, especially with a first novel, it's far, far more likely that you're not seeing the manuscript clearly.  If you're relying on feedback from readers who don't discriminate well, you may be in for some nasty shocks.

How will you feel when your book starts getting those first reviews? How awful would you feel if you got your dream and the publisher put your book in every book store, on big displays ... and critics made comments like 'amateurish, cliche', unsatisfying ending ...' That's the nicer ones.  Some may use you to get a laugh out of their readers with comments like 'my eyes my eyes, it burns, it burns!'  With lots of promotion, sure, you could probably sell a hundred thousand copies even if your book got panned.  That would be really, really nice.  You might be able to support yourself on that.   But then you get to hear folks at conventions say things like 'that author is a total hack. That book was (fill in the blank with your favorite slam.)' No one goes to your reading because they'd much rather hear vetted, experienced authors talk about where we're going with alternative energy.  People report that they couldn't get past the first chapter.

And, I think this is worst of all because you can at least go out of your way to avoid reading reviews and not put yourself in a position where readers will be discussing how bad your book is, five years down the road you pick up your book, read the opening chapter, and realize it doesn't just fail to represent you well, it's an embarrassment. Yes, we all improve as writers as we go along.  At least, you'd better!  But knowing you could do better is different than realizing that what you wrote wasn't just the result of a journeyman's errors, but beyond amateurish, would be hard to cope with.  Realizing the critics were right.  Some writers are forced to change their name, and that's no fun.  It makes me sad when they must do it for the sake of sales, especially if they disagree with the decision.  But in the case of the unready first novel, after those first reviews and ghastly return rate, I'd not only want to change my writing name, but change my entire identity and move.  Seriously.

I think some people get so caught up in the idea of writing a best seller, they don't look at the real public risk you take when you put your work out there.  May the gods help you if you get to live your dream, and it becomes a nightmare.


Pink Ink said...

Great thoughts. Saw you from Marian's blog.

I know agents aren't supposed to babysit authors, but why would they let someone make a fool of themselves in a big way?

Marian said...

I once read a defense of PublishAmerica that went something like, "Would you rather have your book printed, where readers could buy it, or sitting on your hard drive, where no one would read it?"

If the book in question is my very first novel, which featured unicorns, magical jewels and a princess, I can't bring myself to read it. The thought of someone else doing so makes me cringe. Not everything written is meant to be published.

If you were a famous artist, would you want your earliest stick-figure drawings to be featured in a gallery?

The only good thing about vanity presses is that relatively few people will get to read the novels that would have been better off on the hard drive, filed under "Learning Experiences".

Thanks for the post! It made an excellent point.

Kami said...

Thanks for your comments!

I think agents won't protect an author, but they won't be inclined to represent a book that's laughably bad because it won't make money. If the book doesn't sell, the agent will be eating cat food.

Yeah, my first novel ... well, it had its moments, and I'm using the ol' junk heap for parts. But I certainly wouldn't have wanted it on book shelves. Yikes! At the time I certainly, passionately did, and that makes me circumspect about what I'm writing now.