For the Love of It

24Aug11

Over in that previously mentioned Forum That Shall Not Be Named, the  debate about traditional versus self-publishing continues. One of the stalwart defenders of TP submits that pursuing a traditional publishing deal needn’t be “for the money” but rather “for the love of it.”

For the love of what, I wonder. To be able to say “I’ve arrived!” “They like me!” “I was traditionally published!” Who’s “they?” Why do “they” matter?

My perspective is this:

Whether traditional published, indie published or self-published, the only objective worth pursuing as a writer is to have your work read by as many readers as you can reach.

Readers will tell me all I need to know. The proof of the pudding and all that. The love of it, for me, is being read, and knowing that my stories resonate with people, push their buttons, evoke their emotions, show them something about the human condition in a way that is memorable.

Many excellent writers pursue SP today because they’ve lost confidence that (a) traditional publishers are interested in picking quality fiction, and know how to do it, and (b) once they pick it, can bring it to the marketplace promptly and in a fashion that will reach readers, and today, (c) can do it more effectively than the writers themselves can. Is there some cynicism at play? I suspect so, and in many cases, well deserved. (There are, of course, other independent writers who simply eschew the traditional model because that’s just who they are – and we love them deeply for that!)

Unlike the golden days, now traditional publishers are owned by multinational media corporations that are interested (as they need be) in only one thing. Making money. The editors might care about quality, but the buying teams keep or lose their jobs over whether they can sell the book, not whether it’s any good. There is no such thing as a “higher calling” when shareholder value is in the picture.

A while ago, I self-published a collection of short stories, Uneasy Living. (I did so with the emphatic support of my agent, who works like hell to sell my novels.) The reader reviews of those stories mean more to me than some editor in Midtown saying “These are good, but this is literary fiction. There’s no market for it.”

This is the kind of stuff that keeps a writer working:

“Each of these stories evokes empathy, emotion, and identification. There is much humanity in this short volume; I suspect that for me, memories of these characters will linger forever…That many of my own personal convictions, convictions that took years to build, were revealed here by an author I have never met, was startling.”

“It is rare to see someone move so fluently between moods and ambiences, creating believable worlds in few words and letting the story proceed at its own pace.”

THAT’s for the love of it.

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8 Responses to “For the Love of It”

  1. Pete, comments like that make the whole thing worthwhile. You touch on the dreaded “v” word without mentioning it, but it really does bewilder me that many of the people who shake their heads about how publishers are losing it still give their primary reason for pursuing a traditional contract as validation. There’s forked-tongue-ism there. Either peopple don’t dislike the publishers as much as they make out – in whcih case they need a little more honesty – or they really do want the approval of people they disrespect more than that of readers – in which case as their manuscript continues to gather slush they will continue to have the readership figure they deserve.

    The very best with Uneasy Living.

  2. Spot on again, Pete. Readers, not money, are the driving force. It always feels strange to say it since today money seems to be the goal of evolution itself, but if we just wanted money we’d be imaginative forgers.

  3. Your reason is the same as mine for SP. I’m not stupid. I have no delusions of getting rich over this, but if I can create a story that is entertaining and that people like, then my job is done. That is how I define my sucess. 🙂 Excellent post!

  4. I admit that I’m still driven to find that elusive agent and traditional publishing deal. However, I do recall the days of yore on that Forum That Shall Not Be Named, when, over the course of three months, more than 500 people read at least a chapter or a few chapters of my novel and said really wonderful things about it. I also received excellent tips, advice, and suggestions for improvements.

    Having that many people read and comment on something I’d written was beyond anything I’d experienced before. Previously, perhaps six or seven people in my writers’ group had read it, plus a couple of family members. Knowing something I had written had been read by so many people, and positively received, was an amazing feeling. There are traditionally published novels that don’t get 500 readers.

    That really brought it home to me that reaching readers, touching readers’ lives or hearts in some way, is the real reward. I guess I’m still stuck in the 20th century model of traditional publishing as the best way to reach a few thousand or hundred thousand readers. I’m sure I’ll get over that eventually.

  5. Pete,

    I write because I want to be read. I want my words to somehow touch the lives of my readers in some small way. If I could ever garner honest feedback such as you have received on your short anthology, I would consider my time well spent regardless of how those words reached my audience.

    Nice post.

  6. Hi Pete,
    For some obsessive-compulsive reason, I spent the day wading through the forum which you do not name and found yours to be a voice of reason…and subtle devilry 😉 Nice. I’ll probably buy your book.

    I’m sitting on the self-publishing fence and the irrationality of that TP defender’s arguments did more to push me over than all of The Passive Guy’s facts and figures.

  7. There is far too much written in various forums, good writing is good, bad is bad and there is lots inbetween both traditionally and elsewhere… I like yoru site! :0)


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