Thursday, September 9, 2010

Whither The Author-Artiste? (Guest Post): Part 4 of Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think

I'd like to introduce a fabulous post I ran across a few weeks ago by self-publishing guru, April L. Hamilton. April has been kind enough to give me permission to re-post her words here. This post addresses a real issue. Those of us who appreciate literature at its finest should be aware of these issues and the possible solutions. Read on.

Seth Godin's announcement yesterday that his future works will not be traditionally published seems, to me anyway, to have finally knocked over the "Tipping Point" domino in a chain that's long been poised to open the floodgates of true acceptance and respectability for indie authorship. For authors like Godin, JA Konrath, Steven Covey, and lesser-known indies like me, this is a wonderful development. It's a clear signal that going indie can be a big step in the right direction for any author, established or aspiring, who's got an entrepreneurial spirit and commercial sensibilities. But what about all those other authors, published and aspiring, who are more in tune with art than commerce? How would a Flannery O'Connor, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Camus, Dostoevsky or Salinger fare in this brave new world of indie authorship? Not too well, I suspect.

These are authors of seminal literature which has inspired whole generations of writers, thinkers and artists, and their works will continue to inspire thought and action for generations to come. Yet somehow I doubt any of them would've been very excited about, or done very well with, something as worldly and mundane as author platform. And this begs the question: where, and how, is the important and challenging literature of tomorrow to be discovered and brought to the public's attention? Will it be lost to the ages for want of a Twitter account and Amazon Rush?

I'm not saying the rise of indie authorship has somehow created this problem. If anything, indie authorship has opened a door of opportunity for those few authors of literary fiction and philosophical or metaphysical nonfiction who are also web savvy and/or highly motivated to get their work out to the world. After all, it's not as if mainstream presses have been clamoring for more edgy, unclassifiable, non-commercial manuscripts. Trade publishing in the United States hasn't been primarily about enlarging the canon of quality American literature for quite some time.

While there have always been passionate and compassionate editors, agents and others willing to champion this or that "great" book, regardless of its apparent commercial potential, these have increasingly been diminished to the role of mere voices in the wilderness. Because the publishing business is, first and foremost, a business, and there's nothing wrong, illegal, or unethical about that. A book that doesn't look like a substantial moneymaker isn't likely to be picked up by a big, mainstream house. Small, independent presses can bridge the gap between art and commerce to some extent, but those presses have to turn a profit to survive too. Great reviews and a slew of doctoral theses based on a given book won't pay the rent.

I've turned this over in my head again and again, but there are no easy answers. Plenty of people have gone through the exercise of sending some literary classic or other to a mainstream house or agent under a different title just to get it rejected and then knowingly blog about the generalized cluelessness of trade publishing (and in so doing, entirely overlook the fact that publishers are engaged in a for-profit business), but this exercise barely pays lip service to the larger issue. If we agree as a culture that important, if non-commercial, literature deserves wide exposure, study and discussion, who's supposed to foot the bill for getting it out there in front of eyeballs?

Indie authors like me who've worked long and hard to master platform and publishing skills may feel some righteous indignation at the notion of our artier, less business-savvy counterparts getting somewhat of a free ride when it comes to the labor involved in indie authorship, but we should try to get past this tit-for-tat mentality and look at the big picture. I know all kinds of things about self-publishing, trade publishing, setting up and maintaining an author platform, and the business side of indie authorship, and I'm a pretty good writer of entertaining little novels and instructional nonfiction, too. But I'm no Salinger, O'Connor, Dostoevsky, Garcia Marquez or Camus, and I never will be.

Is it better for the culture at large if the only new authors to achieve any meaningful level of exposure or acclaim are like me, succeeding largely for reasons having at least as much (if not more) to do with our business and marketing skills than our writerly gifts? I'm thinking, no. I have come up with some ideas to address the problem, but it's a woefully short list. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments area.

1. Introductory self-publishing, author platform and publishing business courses should be added to the core curriculum of all creative writing degree programs; many students in such programs may have no intention of ever self-publishing, but these subject areas are so commonplace in the publishing world of today that to be ignorant of them is indicative of an incomplete education.

2. The National Endowment for the Arts has grants on offer each year, but admittedly, they're limited to pretty specific categories and putting together an acceptable grant proposal is scarcely easier than setting up and maintaining an author blog and Twitter account.

3. Anyone who's mastered a crucial publishing or author platform skill like podcasting, ebook creation, book cover design or the like should share the wealth of those skills by providing some free instruction to their fellow writers in the form of how-to videos, articles, or podcasts.

4. Any author or publishing pro who's in a position to give wider exposure to a deserving non-commercial manuscript, book or story should do whatever they can to lend a hand to the writer in need.

Remember: it was probably some classic of literature, not a NY Times Bestseller, that originally inspired you to become a writer in the first place. Let's all do what we can to give that same gift of meaning and inspiration to future generations of writers, thinkers and artists everywhere

April L. Hamilton is an author, blogger, Technorati BlogCritic, and a leading advocate and speaker for the indie author movement. She’s also the founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat, the premier online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints, and offers professional services to indie authors. She’s a frequent conference speaker on subjects related to self-publishing, and judge for self-published book competitions. In her popular self-published reference book, The IndieAuthor Guide, to be released in an updated and revised edition from Writer’s Digest Books in December of this year, she offers aspiring self-published authors a roadmap to success.

This post originally appeared on April's blog, Indie Author.

Why Self-Publishing Is Better Than You Think Series

Do You Want to Jump the Fence? - August 26th
The Vase - September 1st
What Going Indie Will Cost You - September 8th
Whither The Author-Artiste? - September 9th
Influences & Self-Publishing Might Just Stink For You - September 16th 
The Absolute Nightmare (or not!) of Formatting a Print Book - September 22nd
Cheaper Than Kinko's - September 23rd 
Don't Listen to Me - September 30th


  1. I must say that this is a issue that ways heavily on mind, whether it comes to self-publishing or the advice of so many web-savvy agents (who are admittedly mostly in a genre other than my own). I can build a platform. I can write. I don't think I have the capacity to do a great job at both. As I've resurrected my writing the past couple of years I have twice burned myself out by throwing too much energy into the platform thing. So for now I'm not worrying very much about that. I'm not sure where that leaves me in the contemporary publishing world.

  2. Nevets: Wow, this is a sadly unpopular post. That sinks my heart...

    So thanks for stopping by to comment! I think this is a huge issue, yes, and it is addressed here so well. It does seem like your publishing journey might be a hard one, but I think if you find the right niche you'll be successful, of course! It's a matter of knowing what you want and sticking with it. I have no doubt you'll do well.

    I'm not sure what to add to the suggestions in this post. I really do like the idea of authors sharing what they can to help others out. That's what I'm trying to do - to share my own experience and people can take from it what they like. My way is not what work for everyone, of course, but aspects of it might be.

  3. What I have to say on this doesn't deal with the post directly. It's a tangent. Lately, I've come to believe that there are two separate writing worlds, two separate writing cultures. One is the commercial, and one is the artistic. This probably won't come as a surprise to anyone, but I think the blur happens when the artists try to compete in the commercial world.

    I consider myself an artist. When I look at my prose style, for instance, I feel like it is more artistic than, say, Dan Brown. On the other hand, he might tell a more entertaining story--I can't say since I didn't finish any of his books. I don't think I'm mistaken when I say my prose is better than his, but I think my mistake is to compare myself to him. And that comparison applies also to the publication side of things. For me to feel like I need a platform or a web presence means that I'm trying to compete against commercial fiction. But, the group of writers I also need to compete with if I want to be an artist would be writers like Jhumpa Lahiri and Cormac McCarthy and Alice Munro. They don't have the same kinds of platform. Their platform is themselves. And, as hard as I've tried, I've yet to write anything that is better than what I've read from these writers. Sadly. So, I think for the literary writer, success will come from us writing better than the other great LITERARY writers. I don't think we need to worry about the marketing strategies of the commercial fiction writers. It's a different world. I have faith that if I write better than Cormac McCarthy that I will be recognized for it, either through self-publishing or through traditionally publishing, and readers will spread the word. For that, though, I have so very far to go.

    Now, one can strive for both artistic integrity and commercial success. Obviously the writers I've mentioned above do that. But I think they weren't trying to do it the same way I have been trying to do it. And, I also think it makes it that much harder. I'm with Nevets when he said "I don't think I have the capacity to do a great job at both."

  4. Big D has pretty much said what I would've said had I been as bright as he is. Literary writers are not playing the same game as commercial writers. There's some audience overlap, but sales numbers will never be the same, and literary writers find their audiences through different means than do commercial authors. Where is A.S. Byatt's blog? Where are Peter Carey's tweets? Why doesn't Salman Rushdie or Jhumpa Lahiri or Nadine Gordimer have an active facebook page? Because they don't. Because they are looking at different audiences and different marketing and, frankly, all of their energy goes into writing. It's also likely true in most cases that literary authors aren't very good at social networking. I'm not. I have a fb page I almost never check and almost never post to, because I don't understand the point of fb. Same with mySpace and twitter. I don't get it. So my platform, if I ever have one, will be the novels I write. That's the best I can do.

    Like Domey says, my competition isn't Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyers or J.K. Rowling. My competition (though I don't believe we're actually competing for market share in the literary fiction world, but that's another post) are the Lahiris and the Chabons and the McCarthys. And the best way to join their ranks is to write as well as they do.

    So I don't know what this means to me in terms of routes to publication. Right now, I have an agent and he's looking for me to revise my book and give him something that's going to attract a major publisher. I hope I do. We'll see. The book I want to push at him after this one might be harder to sell, and I may try with an indie press or self-publishing it. I don't know. Frankly, I wish all the changes in the publishing world were NOT happening right now. It complicates my life and I don't like that.

  5. Davin and Scott: Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I agree with you completely. Literary and commercial is the biggest "argument" in the book - if it even IS an argument, and I believe they are two very separate things and should be treated as such. I think some writers, however, land in the middle. I think I land in the middle, and that makes it easier and harder for me on a lot of different levels. Sometimes I wonder if I should just pick a side, but then I wouldn't be writing exactly what I want and love to write.

    I do have an active Facebook page and Twitter account and who knows how many blogs and I'm constantly networking and I'm pretty sure that's the only reason I've sold what I've sold in the amount of time I have. Maybe I'm just commercial and not literary at all, I don't know. One day, maybe soon, I'll have a traditional publisher pegging me into a commercial hole. Maybe I'll see that and run far, far away.

    One of the reasons I love knowing you two is because you are extremely literary and it is what I've always wished for myself. Then I step back and wonder if that wish has been wishing for something I'm not. Either way, I just keep writing what I write and enjoying it. I know you two are, too, and that's what matters in the end.

  6. I wish that I didn't resonate so much of what was said here by Pee Domey, the nearly brilliant Mr. Bailey, and ...uh... Michelle.

    But I do.

    The frustrating position I find myself in is is that of writing things that really straddle both worlds. It's genre fiction with a literary style. Or literary fiction with a genre form. Or something.

    There is a place for that in psychological suspense. I really do look heavily towards the success that RJ Ellory has had across the pond writing what I think are excellent thrillers with a very literary approach.

    But it means I have a foot in both the artistic and the commercial side of things, which means ideally I need to be building a platform more aggressively while still living like an eccentric hermit with nothing but a pen and paper.


  7. It's entirely possible that what I actually write is commercial (or "up-market," as my agent calls it) fiction, and I'm just putting on airs when I make claims to literature. I have no way of knowing. All I really know is that I don't quite get the whole platform thing, and I don't enjoy the social network thing, and if that's going to be a barrier to sales, so be it. Perhaps that's why I'm willing to huddle in a corner and say, "Whatevs; I write literature and don't care a fig about best-seller status." I'm as capable of being self-deluded as the next person.

  8. And now that I've seen Michelle's last comment, I'll say that I think finding out as I have recently that you share my dilemma in some ways, Michelle, has been a huge encouragement to me.

  9. This might get me booed off the stage, but I think literary trumps all. I think, even if you are writing a particular genre, if you write it in the literary style (and in a good enough way) it automatically becomes literary and will be classified by people as such. Frankenstein comes to mind. The nice thing about being able to fall into two camps, though, is that if you're not better than say, Alice Munro, then you can play in a different playing field where your literary tendencies will probably make you stand out. I often market my work as multicultural because I feel like it makes people consider it when they wouldn't if I marketed it as "not as good as Munro".

  10. "Literary", "commercial" - I've no clear idea what those words mean anymore -- back in the day, where would folks like Hemingway or Steinback have fallen? Would they be successful today without social networking and "platforms"?

    I've no idea, but I suspect they'd do just fine, as do the authors I know who make a living at it with nothing more than a web site that someone else maintains, and the occasional book reading.

    I do know how I feel about writing vs selling -- I did the hardest work by writing the book, let someone else do the rest!

    Tangentially related: I completed a certificate program in Scientific Illustration a few years back, and we had a course in Business/Marketing taught by a well-respected wildlife artist who admitted he spent 70% of his time on business management and only 30% on creating art.

    The amount of stuff we needed to know/learn in that class was overwhelming, and I learned that I don't have an enterpreneurial bone in my body.

    It's pretty much a full-time job, doing both your own art (or own writing) and your own publishing and marketing, and I already have a full-time job.

    Even with my fantasy novel, I've done very little to promote it, despite my publisher's best efforts to get me to do more, because I'm not into social networking and I'm not into being a salesperson. The very idea of an author "platform" makes me feel like I'm in an auto showroom.

    I'm sure the "Indie Author" style works for some people. That's fine. It just wouldn't work for me.

  11. I definitely think that reader response can "elevate" (hate using that word) any work to literary status. But if we take this back to the art v. commercial question as it bears on your approach to market and platform (etc.), then you have to anticipate reader response.

    Or just not care and take your chances.

  12. Mizmak, the part that always concerns me in regards to my own writing is when I see all these agents on the web talking about how important author platform is even to get an agent or publisher. I'm putting myself out there some and slowly establishing myself as a brand (to put it in crass terms), but I have a management day job and a wife and what time doesn't go to them needs to heavily favor my writing, not my platforming.

    All of those agents, of course, love to add, "but a big platform is nothing without a good book," but that a good book with a weak platform is an uphill platform.

    Of course, I try to tell myself that those are the agents who are on the web with their own platforms so maybe it's a skewed demographic.

  13. Nevets: I'm glad I'm not alone feeling that I'm in the middle. I've been in the middle. I was the middle child. The middle to get married, the middle in school scores. I'm boringly average, and I can't tout that my work is extremely literary, although I try to make it so. I don't stand out except in small circles, and that's enough for me, really. I have a feeling you're in the same camp.

    Scott: I've liked to use the literary term to hide behind a lot of things. I need to stop doing that. but that's just me.

    Davin: I'm not booing you off the stage. Don't we have a reputation to keep up around here as being literary snobs? I like your comment about being able to play in different fields. That comes with it's costs, though.

    Mizmak: I think a lot of people feel like you do - and that's why they choose specific paths where others handle all of that. That's as it should be, I think. I happen to love all the networking. I sit at home every day with no car and a four-year-old bouncing off the walls wanting things every 5 minutes. I kind of need that social networking I get online. If I didn't have it I think I'd go insane.We're all different, and I think it's a wonderful thing!

  14. Michelle, except that I was a first-born son, I definitely identify with the rest of that. Too smart for the dumb kids, too dumb for the smart kids. If I can paraphrase. hahaha

    (I actually wrote a really gruesome story about that that I eventually need to get a couple people to read. But that's neither here nor there.)

    And yeah I definitely only stand out in small groups, and I'm definitely okay with that. I don't want to move out west because of the big crowds I'll find there... Even my aspiration for publication. I would never complain about being a bestseller, but my goal is just to be able to earn a living.

    Which is sort of in between artsy and commercial.

  15. Mizmak: But you will be at your own reading/signing next Friday, won't you? Because we'll miss you if you're not there!

    Nevets: I don't know about anticipating the audience response. I figure it'll either be

    "Wow! This is the shit!"


    "Man, I can't plow throgh this shit."

    I assume that general readers will think the second one, but that readers of lit fic will think the first, if I can get it into their hands.

    I think you're right about how some agents simply think the web etc. is important to authors, mostly because it's important to them as individuals. My agent doesn't blog/FB/mySpace/etc. When I queried him, I wasn't doing the blog/FB/mySpace/twitter thing. My "platform" was a few short story pub credits and the first five pages of my MS. My agent didn't tell me I needed to blog/FB/mySpace/twitter. He just asked me to work on my book some more and think about which fabulous authors would like to blurb it.

    @Domey Tolstoy: Literary does trump all! The popular novels of the past that have become part of the Western Canon are not part of the Canon because they were popular in their day, but because they are literary works that were popular. The old saw that "Dickens was the Stephen King of his day" is not true. Because that would mean that Stephen King is the Charles Dickens of the present, and I'll be damned if I accept that idea.

  16. Nevets: see, that's a new thing to me, since I was querying agents back when the only "web" I knew of was made by spiders. Not that I ever got one, btw -- I sold my novel without an agent, to a small Canadian press.

    Scott: I'll try to be at my reading, which is not next week, but on the 24th. If you come on the 17th, I probably won't be there.

    "Literary trumps all" -- well, it probably does here on the "Literary Lab." For me, the ability to keep me entertained while on my bus commute trumps all.

  17. Mizmak, what I mean by the trumping phrase is that I think if a reader who knows about genre labels were to read something that was very literary and also of another genre, they would probably categorize it in their mind as literary. It may still be totally entertaining, and this doesn't value literary over other types of writing. I may be wrong, but that's how I feel. And I think that's what has happened in the past.

  18. Let me put in a word for genre hacks. J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer didn't become famous because they built their platform first and then wrote something. The guys who wrote Chicken Soup for the Soul, sure but not those women. On the contrary, they toiled in obscurity on their first books, just like the rest of us, and the platform came later.

    Also, don't be naive and think that literary writers don't schmooze. They do. Tolstoy? What a schmoozer! Virgina Woolfe. Oh, yes she did. And don't get me started on vainglorious fellows like Hemingway or Kerouac. Please. They would have lived their whole lives on Twitter if they'd had it.

    As Nevets said, not trying to make this a genre v literary question. It's a question of how much you stay in your hole writing, and how much you socialize. I was fine, personally, until socializing became a written form. I can't resist writing comments such as this on blogs, for instance, when I should be writing introductions for my short story collection. Agh.

  19. Mizmak: Oh, the Friday after next Friday. Well, we'll be there on the 24th, then!

    I find literary fiction to be the most entertaining, both during my commute and at other times. That's why it's my favorite genre!

  20. @Tara: Maybe with Tolstoy and Woolf. Hemingway, I think, would rather have been in a bar than Twittering; he didn't seem to enjoy being interviewed, at least. Have you read the "Paris Review" interview with Plimpton? "That's not a very interesting question, George." What a card. Kerouac I can't discuss because, well, I just don't consider his books to be literature.

    So what's the real take-away here? That a compelling book is the best platform, no matter your genre?

    I'm totally with Mizmak, though: writing the book is the real work; let someone else sell it.

  21. Tara Maya,
    I didn't make my point well. I think both types literary or not require networking, but not necessarily in the same arenas. What inspired my line of thinking was the post arguing that literary work couldn't do as well in the self-publishing market. I think the agents that are promoting platform or the importance of a query letter, for instance, aren't the same agents that are promoting Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy's promotion is being done by people with a different mindset, but the promotion is still being done. I don't think, for example, that anything I've written will sell 150 copies if I were to take Michelle's approach to marketing. Honestly, I don't think my style of writing is the preferred style for most of the people I have met in the blog world, with few exceptions (including, I'd guess you, but that's a guess). I'm still being sloppy here, and I'll say that I'm also not 100% understanding the blog post. But, I think literary writing needs a different marketing strategy than other genre writing. And, like I said, I did not explain this well the first time.

  22. Davin: I like your clarifications on that, although I do think your first post was clear enough. I think you're right about different genres needing different types of marketing. If you took my approach to marketing Rooster like I've marketed Cinders it would fail big-time, I'm afraid. I've hit up the YA market because that's what seems to be prevalent here in blog-land and Cinders, happily, can fall into the genre in many ways. It's also adult and literary, in my opinion, and I think I could market it even more differently than I have - although I'm not sure how to go about that yet.

  23. I assume that most of my future readers never have looked and never will look at my blog. As Big D says, the marketing seems to be different for literary fiction than for other types of fiction. Certainly I knew about Peter Carey's latest before it hit the shops, but not because Peter Carey blogs or tweets or sends me email. So there's promotion going on, but it's of a different sort. The published lit fic authors I know are pretty much unanimous in their claims that blogging and social networking had very little effect on actual sales. Media like radio and TV and established book blogs helped. Co-op helped some. Being interviewed on NPR was a massive boost to many of them. Winning awards helped too, of course. Though I know one author who is a tireless promoter of his own work, and his opinion (and he's likely correct) is that his first book would've died an obscure death and he'd never have gotten a second book deal if he hadn't told every single person he met for a year and a half that he'd written a book he thought they should read. And he's got a bazillion FB and mySpace friends, and had a bunch of them before his first book pubbed.

  24. Domey: When I read Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", I didn't think "Gee, for the fantasy genre, that's really quite literary." I just thought, "This story is captivating me", and that's generally all I ever think about a book. I hate labels, I hate that there even *are* genre labels, and I wish they would just go away. My publisher keeps wanting to label my novel "GBLT" for marketing reasons, and I just want to shout, "Hey, it's a NOVEL which features bisexual characters. It's not a BISEXUAL novel." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Scott: My morning commute entertainment for today was Love At All Ages by Angela Thirkell. And yes, the 24th, please. I just hope the books will actually arrive from the printers by then.

    Also, I'm with Scott on the take-away -- a compelling book is the best "platform" (hideous term), regardless of genre. Captivate me, that's all I ask. Could be Dickens, could be Verne. (Aside to Scott: Stephen King would more likely be the Jules Verne of his day, so do not fret!)

  25. Domey, the thing is, I think that literary writers are actually the ones who invented social networking. Because they are the ones who write books that cannot simply be sold like soda in a can, with a simple label. But you will read it if someone presses it into your hand and says, "You MUST read this. It is weird and hard and makes you think, but read it anyway."

    So I completely disagree that social networking can't work for literary. I think that's ass backwards.

    The cool thing about social networking is that it is not a case of "one network fits all." You create your own unique web of friends. My brother just friended my pen name on Facebook, and he was so outraged, he called me and shouted, "How did YOU get 800 friends? You?!"

    Well, I friended writers, publishers, agents and fans of fantasy, sf, and romance. I didn't friend people whose chief interests are bar hopping and ice hockey, and haven't read a book in twenty years. (I imply no correlation). I don't know if any of them will buy my book when it comes out, but I have certainly found a lot of good books this way.

    Your network has some overlap with mine, but for the most part will be different. I will certainly buy your book when it comes out. I understand why you think I might not like your kind of writing, but actually I LOVE your writing and hope to read more of it. I do also enjoy Jhumpa Lahiri (who is on FB -- I just 'Liked' her), and I think you write as well as she does, although of course you write like you and she writes like she. She also has a nice website.

    I think we shall soon see more literary authors going indie. We'll see. It's interesting that those leading the charge into ebooks are the genres with the highest book turnover rates -- romances, which some readers go through at a rate of one a day, or dozens a month. They are always on the lookout for cheap, quick reads. Other genres are following, where the readers are slower to finish a book, so buy less, but are comfortable with tech, like sf. I think literary readers might be slow to the game mainly because I think a lot of those readers are in the "I hate ebooks on principle camp." But I think they would still be open to POD printed indie books sold through Amazon or hand sold at indie bookstores or other artistic venues.

  26. Tara, I don't think Davin's saying social networking doesn't work for literary writers. I think he may mean that certain types of social networking arenas aren't right for literary, and that's pretty much what you're saying here. For instance, I don't think Davin's book, Rooster, would do well in the arena I've put Cinders in. Arenas do overlap, though, and some are smaller and more concentrated than others.

    This is a really great discussion and it's got me thinking about a lot of things. Thanks, everyone!

  27. Some networks and arenas are not only less appropriate for some authors, but may also be less available.

    Most of my initial contacts when I started mingling on the blogosphere were in YA. I have met some terrific writers there, learned from them, and benefited from some of their support and encouragement. But a YA-heavy base will never, ever be appropriate as a platform for most of what I write.

    As I honed in on my own genre (the literary end of psychological suspense), I began to realize that there was a dearth of folks to connect with on the web. There are a handful of authors. There are some definite fans. But nothing like the hundreds and thousands you get with YA.

    Does that mean I have abandoned internet networking? Obviously not. Am I building a platform? Maybe a little. Is it the sort of platform that would ever impress an agent who were looking for platform? Not even close.

    There are a few more things I can do, and I still look around and connect with new people, but the demographics just aren't the same.

  28. I feel a bit like a fish out of water here considering my work is about as far from literary as it gets, but I'll pretend I can swim anyways. ;-)

    I used to read a lot of "literary" work. The key being "used to" - the reason I rarely do anymore is an issue that is far larger than the publishing industry, I think...and that is, it takes attention, and focus to really delve in and enjoy a literary novel. Once I got caught up in the daily grind that most of us have to do in order to pay the bills, the last thing I wanted to do was come home and sit down with something that would take deep, conscientious thought to enjoy. I've always read "mass market" fiction (since I was very young), and I freely admit that I don't read much real "literature" anymore because when I have time to read, my brain wants a rest. It wants to escape. I write what I write to enable others to escape from their lives for awhile too.

    So I don't think that "marketing" or "social media" or "platform" or even the method of publishing is going to solve this particular problem, though social media could be a good place to start. I think before we as a society can begin to enjoy true literary works again, we need to learn how to *stop* the constant rush rush rush that has become our lives. Perhaps then we'll have the energy to enjoy a higher style of writing again.

    I should mention (and I've told Michelle this), but Cinders straddling the fence as it does sort of "redeemed" literary work for me. It's accessible, but still in the beautiful literary style I used to enjoy. Books such as hers and Nevets' could be the "gateway" that leads people back to the literary genre, IMO.

    As for what inspired me to write (the post question) - I'm afraid it wasn't high literature or a classic. It was a spectacularly bad romance novel that I did, indeed, throw against the wall, and said to myself, "I can do better than that." ;-)

  29. Jamie, the idea of writing gateway drugs for literature appeals directly to the positive reinforcement centers of my brain.

    Which is to say that's an awesome way of looking at it.

  30. Tara Maya, I feel like we are saying the same thing.

  31. Oh, and Tara Maya, I don't know why I can't let this go, but I don't think I'm as good as Lahiri. I can maybe maintain a high standard for very short stories, but nothing long. I'm working on it! Thanks very much for the compliment.

  32. Yes, but look how many comments we took to say it. Doesn't that make the post feel less lonely?

  33. Mizmak, This is not a rebuttal to your comment. You make a fine point.

    Just wanted to add that I was talking about the gay thing with a friend last night at dinner, about how having gay characters suddenly made it a gay story. That is really frustrating. I told my friend my solution was that I made one of my gay characters a cannibal, which someone made the gay part less of a issue. :)

  34. Domey: Your gay cannibal made me laugh out loud at work. Now my coworkers are asking why. Hm. Thanks, I think....

  35. If I make one of my cannibals gay, maybe booksellers will stop trying restrict it to the cannibal section of the bookstore.

  36. Domester: It works best if your gay cannibals are sparkly.

    Seriously, though, and this is maybe grist for a different post, why does having a gay character suddenly make a book "gay fiction," whatever that is? I ask because a book I'll be revising over the winter has a gay protagonist and I have been told that makes it a harder sell because it suddenly has limited appeal. I anticipate pressure to straighten out my protagonist.

    Mizmak, did your publisher have any qualms about this with your book?

  37. Scott: Oh, the whole gay characters make a gay novel could definitely be its own post, 'cause I could write volumes about it. Though shouldn't they be vampires as well as sparkly cannibals?

    My current publisher never even mentioned it until their publicist got hold of it and started pestering me about my alleged (and pretty much nonexistent) "contacts in the GBLT communities".

    BUT, an editor at a much bigger publisher to whom I sent it to some years back asked if I could change the sex of one of the main characters so it would be het romance instead. While I would have liked to sell it to a major house, I did not do this.

    The reason I didn't do it, though, had nothing to do with sexual orientation. There are two main reasons both main characters are men -- one, I happen to like writing about guys who like each other. But more critical to this particular story was the fact that there were historical episodes which simply did not work with a male/female duo. Not romantic episodes, mind. Action/adventure scenes that just didn't work with a woman character in, say, the 16th century.

    Essentially, I didn't intend to write a "gay novel". I intended to write a serio-comic fantasy adventure about love, death, friendship, memory, and immortality.

    It just happened to feature two male characters who have a very long, and occasionally a romantic, relationship. It's not about gay people. It's about people.

    And now I've already gone on too long about something that's off-topic...hey, Scott, wanna start a new topic?

  38. Gay romance is wildly popular among female het readers. You should tell your editor, "Two words. Brokeback Mountain."

    That was not aimed at gay people. If gay folk enjoyed it, they were just along for the ride. Pun intended.

  39. Scott, I'll say having a gay character doesn't make it gay fiction. But I think a large portion of our current society would read it that way. It also happens with my characters being Thai. Often I've written about non-Thai related things with Thai characters playing them out, and all people criticized were that the names were strange. The names weren't strange, they were just not what the readers were used to. To them, my "regular" story became a "Thai" story, and I didn't know how to deal with that. The names were so distracting that people didn't see the rest of the story. I think that can change, but it will take time, and in the mean time I'd have to be okay with this constant criticism. Let's make this it's own post!

  40. It can only be Thai fiction if it has kick-boxing, elephants, or durian. Them's the rules.

  41. Sorry I've been absent on here, everyone! Got a little busy today. glad there was a good discussion. :)

  42. There's cockfighting, Buddhist wats, and italicized Thai desserts like foi tong. And, there are elephants!

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  44. I'm with Tara Maya both on this:
    "It's a question of how much you stay in your hole writing, and how much you socialize. I was fine, personally, until socializing became a written form. I can't resist writing comments such as this on blogs, for instance, when I should be writing introductions for my short story collection. Agh."
    and her "Two words, Brokeback Mountain".
    I'm a straight woman, but I like reading about two men who like each other... so where do I find those books with gay protagonists? ;-)
    I've written my own, but only shared them with a few selected (female) friends... maybe I should try to put them out there too?
    We'll see... :-D
    Happy writing everyone!


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