Saturday 9 April 2011

A great blog and a fascinating post

Jenny Bent is a Literary Agent based in New York. I came across her excellent blog Bent on Books while following threads on the theme of traditional- vs  self-publishing. I had been reading another interesting blog- Rants and Ramblings by Literary Agent, Rachelle Gardner. Rachelle says:

Yes, publishing is undergoing a tectonic shift, nobody is denying that. But the shift cannot be accurately described as "dying."

And yes, self-publishing (or indie publishing or whatever designation you want to give it) is increasingly an attractive option for many people, which is a development I completely support.

She then goes on to challenge writers to say why they want to still go down the self publishing route.

Was she fishing for compliments? Probably not, but as well as some thoughtful and interesting comments there were a gozillion toadying ones, mostly by writers sitting up smartly with best bib and tucker, tongues hanging out, saying, in effect:

“yeth pleathe, I do want my book properly publithed- I like real bookth, not thothe nathty new-fangled computer thingth. And anyway, I’m only a writer, and not clever enough to do all that technical thtuff, so I want you to do it for me, pretty pleathe”

Some even thought that God would help them to be properly published! (God is now invoked to be “on our side” in a new battleground- what a hoot! If She exists, would She self-pub the Song of Songs, or would it be deemed saleable enough to be taken up by a big publisher?)

Jenny Bent has a very balanced and realistic view of the debate:

There's still an argument for why some authors need publishing houses, of course, which is that publishers can often be better at marketing and publicity and distribution than any individual author can be. Increasingly this is not always the case (although even Amanda Hocking has now decided to go the traditional route), but that's a discussion for a later time. Today, I am somewhat gleefully celebrating the fact that electronic publishing is really blowing apart the thinking that we in publishing somehow know better and have better taste than the average reader. Why this would be the case I'm not sure. Because some of us have Ivy League educations? Because we live in NYC and therefore somehow more sophisticated and urbane than most readers? Because we read The Paris Review and The New Yorker? Because we have chic haircuts and ironic sideburns and wear trendy little eyeglasses? (Full disclosure: I do not have ironic sideburns.)

She goes on to say:

Readers respond, in my mind, to sincerity, to emotional truth, not to hooks.

That really resonated with me when I read it, because, as well as the obvious qualities of beautiful writing , meticulous research and a tightly plotted story, Moon in Leo has emotional truth. Of course, that doesn't necessarily sell the thousands of copies mainstream publishers need to cover their huge costs- the main reason why they can't and won't take risks.
Both blogs and both sets of comments make fascinating reading for those of us at the sharp end of writing. My own take remains much the same as it was when I determined to form Trifolium Books UK:
I have seen some truly terrible self published books. On the other hand, I have also read some seriously badly written traditionally published books. There should be no need to equate self published and e-book. Many e-books are self published, but by no means all, and there are thousands of self-published physical books, many produced by well set up and expensive “subsidy” publishers, who produce something that looks good, but is rubbish never the less.
I understand the desire of a writer for external and disinterested validation, but it is with books, reading and publication as with everything else- we are grown up now, and can make our own judgement: just as I can now read Lady Chatterly's Lover and judge it to be a not very good book- in fact somewhat dull and over-written, certainly not DHL's best, so can we all judge each book, self published or traditionally published, on its merits. For Kindle e-books, you can and should always download a sample three chapters. You will at least find out if the author can write. Many print books also have a see inside option on Amazon too- this is more reliable than reviews as far as quality of writing goes. "Caveat emptor"- at least emptors now have a real choice, not one decided for us by nanny publishers!

Having written the above, I suggest every serious reader and writer reads The Kindle Swindle- a salutary warning.

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