Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit!

02Jun11

Following the oft-inveighed advice to network and expand my platform, I participate in many social media-type forums. So many of them are really, really great.  Some of them are quite useless.

Yet, like the spectator of a horrific train accident, I am drawn back to them. Sometimes it is simply to marvel at the utter idiocy of some of the people who will follow their muse to the ends of the earth with no more clue when they get there than they have today. I know that sounds rather pompous of me – but I do not profess that I am less clueless. I just hide it better.

Seriously, though. Hanging around some of them will give you empathy for literary agents.

Anyway, aside from the schadenfreude, every day I join the thousands like me, trying to follow the lurching and jiving going on in the fiction publishing business. I posted about this a few months back, and even since then, earth quake changes have occurred – the most recent perhaps being Amazon’s rapid and aggressive entry into the publishing business with their own genre imprints.

These are heady days, of course, and I’ve heard it said so many times by agents, editors and writers alike that “there is no better time to be a writer.” Why? Because our dreams of publication, of readership, are not dependent on anyone but our artistic, entrepreneurial selves.

The gatekeepers are keeping gates, but you don’t have to go through them to get to the Promised Land. It’s like the scene in Blazing Saddles with the tollbooth in the desert. We don’t need a shitload of dimes any more.

Anyway, among the less useful venues I monitor are a half-dozen of the bazillion writing-related groups on LinkedIn. Here is a place where the most oblivious of aspirants gather to ask silly questions while a few others hold court and burnish their Big Brass Badges of Blovitus. With rare exception, I have succeeded in staying away from the discussions.

It is the rare exception about which I post here.

In one discussion, a self-published author posted the following:

Self-publishing kills your book??? A literary agent just told me he can’t pick up my series because I self-published the first book and publishers won’t take on pre-printed work even if the author still holds all the rights. Is that true?

In another, a fellow asked:

Can anybody help in FINDING A GOOD BOOK AGENT to sell a self published book ?

 Do you see where this is going? Along followed the responses:

Self-publishing is “the kiss of death.” No agent or publisher will touch your work or ever take you seriously.

 In order for you to be a “serious” author, you must be traditionally published (even if it’s some obscure publisher in a far off land).

 Self-published books are virtually always total crap written by rank amateurs, and most only sell a few dozen copies to polite family members.

There was a day (not long ago) when each of these statements was unqualifiedly true. But just like the warnings children used to receive about masturbation causing blindness, they are antiquated and wrong. (Well, okay, there is a lot of crap being self-published – but there’s a lot of crap being bought, too.)

Anyway, I couldn’t resist a good argument.

I pointed to Life After Self-publishing, Chuck Sambuchino’s September 2008 article in Writer’s Digest – even back then agents were looking at serious prospects in the self-published marketplace.

And Forbes Magazine’s October 2010 article, Literary Agents Open the Door to Self-published Writers, which refers to New York agent Jim Levine being “on the crest of a wave of agents beginning to represent authors who’ve self-published and are seeking mainstream commercial publication.”

Today? I can’t keep a straight face when you talk to me about the “stigma” of the self-published author. I know too many talented people, serious about their craft, who chose to self-publish because they lacked confidence in a demonstrably failing business model. They had written work that didn’t fit into little boxes. They split genres. They wrote about things that were too hard to “sell” or wouldn’t have a big enough audience. They tackled things that were “too controversial.”

And many other serious writers who – yeah – failed to attract the attention of traditional publishers and saw self-publishing as a way to get readers without them.

And they’re selling thousands and thousands of books. Stigma?  Get outta my face.

Back in the 1960’s, Frank Zappa had a little band called the Mothers of Invention. They wrote and performed music that was, shall we say, ahead of its time. Seeking his first record deal, Zappa was rejected by the suits at Dot Records because his music had “no commercial potential.” More than 30 years later, Zappa released his 34th album, a compilation of his work appropriately entitled Strictly Commercial.

Nobody can lay claim to knowing what sells, except maybe P.T. Barnum. And besides, who says sales volume is any indication of quality? I’ll take Junot Diaz over Stephanie Meyer any day.

It really is a great time to be a writer. It’s a great time to be a musician. An artist. To be involved in any of the expressive arts that can be conveyed in gigabytes with crystal clarity to every nook and cranny of the globe that is served by a satellite.  If traditional publishers don’t get the message and start using the self-pub market as their own sort of farm team, they’ll be watching from the cheap seats while the show goes on.

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22 Responses to “Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit!”

  1. Great post, Pete.

    I can only add that since I Ieft my publisher, fired my agent and e-published my entire backlist and three new ones, I am now (a year later) earning about five times more than when I was a published author with a three book deal. I am also in direct contact with my readers and now working on a sequel to one of my books as a result of requests. It’s infinitely more satisfying, not only financially but also creatively. i have a lot more readers across the globe too,which is wonderful. This is a result of the e-book revolution, of course.

  2. Oh, I loved this, Pete. So well written and so germaine.

  3. 5 Rebecca

    Thumbs up.

    I remember the Mothers of Invention well. I had their albums. Now what the heck happened to those? I’ll tell you what. Somebody stole em from me!

    Big Brass Badges of Blovitus!

    • 6 Pete

      Sounds like one of the numbers from 200 Motels, eh?

      My favorite song on that album is “A Nun’s Suit Painted On Some Old Boxes.”

  4. 7 toby

    Pete, you’re plainspoken for a lawyer and I love that about you. Also, I couldn’t help feeling a warm fuzzy when I saw my name on your “writer friends” list… warmed the cockles and all that. And truer words were never spoken as my agent tries to sell my book in a mean-ass market of hidebound publishers… I’m giving it six more months before I pull the plug and go find a small press myself, or just fly solo.
    Keep tellin’ it like it is.
    Toby

    • 8 Pete

      A greater compliment I’ve not received, Toby. And I’m on the 5th of my 6 month deadline too.

  5. Pete, you always have, when you have them, the most interesting post. Finally I gave in, after being turned down by every agent I submitted to, 163, as went the self-pub route for my full.
    I’ve gone the small pub route and wasn’t happy but as I say that I just sent of a contract to a self publisher that understands and likes my writing. Oh, I did have the contract read over by a lawyer so you and Jeff can relax.
    Anyway, we have to each seek and find what’s best for us-traditional or indie or, as in my case, a pleasing mix of both.
    BTW-Love MOI. They rocked and still do

    • 10 Pete

      Lindsay – watch out where the huskies go.

      • Huskies-what do I know about them unless you’re taking about UCONN. Now collies, that’s the dog. The best. The brightest.

  6. Excellen post, my friend. No truer words were spoken.

  7. Thank you, Pete. I have lately been in a funk, partly endogenous and partly based on feeling that I will never be let into “the club.” I appreciate this well documented reminder that the club may soon be gone and I’m actually hanging out with the new cool clique.

    • 15 Pete

      Mar – embrace the words of Groucho Marx. And watch what happens when you hit 5000.

  8. Not that I was surprised to read Pete talking sense, this one had even more of it than other posts. Brilliant.

  9. Pete,

    This is an excellent post, and identifies the benefits presented by the “digital revolution” in publishing as well as other fields.

    Your analysis reminded me of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine (and also the name of his blog), who describes how Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix, with their almost unlimited selections, have created markets for authors, recording artists, etc., that didn’t exist even a short time ago. And Anderson published his book before Amazon decided to become the 800-pound gorilla in the world of digital publishing.

    Anyway, great post, and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on writing and publishing. Take care.

    Jeff

    • 19 Pete

      Hey Jeff, thanks for the nice compliment. My daughter was just telling me I should be reading Wired.

  10. 21 Malc

    “Following the oft-inveighed advice to network and expand my platform, I participate in many social media-type forums. So many of them are really, really great. Some of them are quite useless.”

    (Oft-inveighed? That advice sounds like Belgium or Poland.)

    Regarding those social media-type forums. Seriously, Pete? I’d have supposed the ‘so many’ to be quite useless, and the ‘some’ to be really, really great? Just between pals, can you give me your top three?

    That bit about empathy for agents made me smile. Pitiable indeed. Consider it, endlessly fending off self-absorbed babblers, legions of them — pursuing a mythic muse — following a deluded dream — inspecting a collective navel………..

    I bet agents share a shit-list. Beware so-and-so, they email their colleagues, coming your way soon.

    Great post. Rock on.


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