catvalenteAuthor Cat Valente has a guest post over on Charles Stross’s blog. She’s been writing a series of posts on writing and publishing, and this one looks at the current “us vs. them” mentality when it comes to self- or traditional publishing.

Valente points out that there’s no self-publishing magic wand that will make your books an instant success—but that while all the self-publishing boosters pay lip service to the idea that it’s going to take a lot of hard work to make it in self-publishing, there’s always this subtext that there really is some sort of magical secret, and lately it seems the secret is Amazon.

Of course, if traditional publishing really was so useless, Valente notes, Amazon wouldn’t be doing its level best to set up as one itself—doing everything that traditional publishing catches flak for while at the same time trying to replace the entire publishing and bookselling industries with itself.

Honestly, it’s not so much that they do these things–that’s what corporations do, and getting mad at them for acting like robber barons is like getting mad at rain. What continually frustrates me is the geek insistence that they are our friends, not only friends but savior and great democratizer, that they are more fair than other publishers despite their propensity for pulling books and the fact that the juicy royalty rate can change at any time and most probably will given that this is how robber barons work: lower prices and operate at a loss until no one else can compete with your deep pockets, then jack them up again when you’ve clear cut your industry and left only yourself standing. I mean, it’s a classic.

She writes that she is frustrated by the way conversations about publishing these days seem invariably to turn to Amazon, and discussing the actual process of writing and publishing itself gets lost.

Valente writes that she is frequently asked what she did to make her book The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Boat of Her Own Making such a success, and that the answer isn’t one that people want to hear—hard work, time and effort. She also points out that there is no way to tell ahead of time what thing you do will take off.

I had no idea that the serial novel I put on my website in 2009 to pay my rent would become my breakout book. I had no idea my deeply strange surrealist sex novel would get me my first Hugo nomination–I wouldn’t have bet a dollar on that. Is "the secret" to publish with Tor or Orbit or Bantam or DAW? Is it to put a children’s book on your website and not even bother to list it in the Kindle marketplace because that’s a lot of work (actual reason for Fairyland not serializing on the Kindle)? Is it to publish with WSFA? No, because those were all very specific circumstances, and if you ask any writer, you will find that very specific circumstances, impossible to manufacture, predict, and often repeat, govern just about every success story. And I’ve easily had as many failures as successes, all governed by equally specific and unrepeatable circumstances.

Since there’s no way to know what you do will take off and what won’t, Valente writes, you might as well write what you love and then do everything you can to make it successful. Start with larger presses, try smaller presses, consider getting an agent, and if that doesn’t work do it yourself—but hire an editor, cover artist, designer, etc. to make your work the best you possibly can, because if you expect people to pay for what you write you’re going to need to make it as professional and polished as possible.

Valente has experience in both professional and self-publishing, and she certainly seems to know what she’s talking about from that side of things. As to whether Amazon is going to turn out to be a robber baron after all, we’ll probably have to wait and see what comes to pass. Hopefully it won’t be too late by the time we do find out.

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TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.


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