By Porter Anderson | @Porter_Anderson
From June 14, 2012
Part of my series of columns on publishing, Writing on the Ether, appearing Thursdays at the invitation of Jane Friedman at JaneFriedman.com
Perfect Skin: A Novel by Nick Earls
A finalist in the 2003 Australian Comedy Awards and adapted into a feature film in Italy (Solo un Padre, Warner Brothers/Cattleya)
“Readers should enjoy this amiable, well-crafted and genuinely romantic book.”
What if self-publishing is only a stepping stone?
What made me crabby – no, furious – was the theme in several of the sessions.
You don’t want to make Victoria Noe crabby. Let alone furious.
“Be a success at self-publishing and you will be rewarded with an agent and a traditional publishing deal!”
When she signed on for uPublishU self-publishing conference at BEA, “traditional publishing deal!” is not the gist of the message she expected.
The first time I heard it, I thought I was just under-caffeinated. But by lunch, I confirmed that others heard it, too.
After all the bombast we’ve encountered from born-again authors about how DIY shall save the huddled masses yearning to be free of traditional publishers — and wear your sunglasses when you call it “indie” — Noe heard something else. And she has questions:
- I mean, what else should you think when successful self-publishing authors all talk about getting discovered for their great, new, traditional deals?
- What else should you think when agents say they won’t take on someone who self-publishes only?
- What else should you think when speakers tell you how to get noticed by traditional publishers as well as prospective readers?
Noe went to her Facebook author page on the matter. There, she calls into question a good many organizational drawbacks of the cute-named confab. For example:
I don’t think it’s too much to ask that for $150 you shouldn’t have to wait 3 hours to get a glass of water.
But her main concern is that a lot of the uPublishU presentations seemed to assume that self-publishers — at least those attending — are really trying to pull off a Hocking Switch, whereby Amanda Hocking managed to parlay her self-published “vampyre” oeuvre into a deal with St. Martin’s.
Note that the Hocking Switch may be, absolutely, what some authors are going for.
On the other hand, I get what Noe is saying. If you ride into a conference that specifically come-hithers authors who want to self-publish — only to sense when you get there that there’s an assumption you’re trying to claw your way into traditional publication — your horse has just turned another color right under you.
There were some strong people on the uPublishU agenda, too, including the Copyright Clearance Center’s Christopher Kenneally; Smashwords’ Mark Coker; Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher; Publishers Weekly’s Jim Milliot; Amazon’s Jon P. Fine; Kobo’s Mark Leslie Lefebvre; agents Steven Axelrod, Marilyn Allen, Laurie McLean and Marcella Smith; Wattpad’s Allen Lau: and more — some of whom we’d see the next day at Publishers Launch BEA. (More on that one below.)
So this was hardly a lightweight program tossed together for “the kids who write.”
And I don’t know the organizers of uPublishU. It would be great to hear from them if they’d like to give us their response on this. Was the tone intentional? Click to comment
I’d also like to hear from agents on the panel, since Noe felt she heard them say they wouldn’t take on purely self-publishing authors. This is interesting, and not what I hear from some other agents — not that they all work the same way, of course.
That panel’s title, by the way, was pretty cute, all by itself (not the agents’ fault): “THE X FACTOR: The Role of Agents in YOU Publishing.” I’m struck by how much cuteness seems to afflict event names (and some startups) in publishing. It gets cloying, doesn’t it?
For the rest of us, Noe’s observation gives us a chance to consider some things that may too frequently be taken for granted.
- Is it the goal of most self-publishing writers to attract the favor of a traditional publisher and get that contract?
- Do such organizations as Orna Ross’ new Alliance of Independent Authors work purposefully with two camps of self-publishing authors? — those who see their future in self-publishing and those who see it as that stepping stone to traditional contracts? Jane Friedman, host of the Ether and hashtag unto herself, talks this week with Ross, as a matter of fact, in this video, about how some authors find they really want a publisher to handle the administration of their marketing. The alliance must see diversity in what its members want, surely.
- And if self-publishing isn’t fully vested by most of its proponents as a potentially career-long strategy, then is it being accorded a disproportionate amount of attention?
I want to be published, and I’m enough of an impatient control freak to embrace self-publishing. That does NOT mean I’m skipping the universal need for editing, nor am I doing my own cover design. I know my limitations. I will pay for those services, and others, to support the level of professionalism that I expect in myself and others.
And she has a few words for those uPublishU organizers:
If you still believe that the goal of self-publishing is to land a big, traditional book deal, at least be upfront about that. Then people like me, who don’t have that goal, can spend their money and time elsewhere.