A couple of days ago, the shit hit the fan on my Facebook feed, and for once it had nothing to do with Donald Trump or any of the other candidates in the upcoming election. This shit was about publishing.
If you haven't already read it, here's the article. It blipped on my radar when fellow DeadPixel Publications author Renee Miller wrote a response to it, then again when fellow Authors & Dragons player Rick Gualtieri also wrote a response to it.
I couldn't very well let those two fuckers have all the fun, could I? As one of the community of self-published authors who are under attack in this article, I feel compelled to weigh in, examining Ros Barber's seven points in the order that she lists them.
1. You have to forget writing for a living
In this entry, Ros Barber claims that self-published authors, on average, spend 10% of their time writing, and 90% of their time marketing. This is based on anecdotal evidence from one person who commented on her blog.
I've asked my favorite self-published author, thus doubling the statistical integrity of the survey, and he said that his own ratio of writing to marketing is nowhere even close to that.
But let's play Devil's Advocate for a moment, and assume that the random commenter on Ros Barber's blog post speaks for the entire community of self-published authors.
The title of Ros Barber's article starts with "For me, traditional publishing means poverty." It would seem to me, then, that she, too, can forget writing for a living. So I'm not exactly sure of the point she was trying to make in this entry.
2. Self-publishing can make you behave like a fool
This entry was just a rant about authors spamming their shit on Twitter. Guilty as charged, I guess. I'm on there every day, part of that circle jerk of authors spamming my own shit and spamming other authors' shit in reciprocation for spamming mine. As far as I'm concerned, that's all Twitter's good for. It's not a social media avenue that I personally enjoy, but I do appreciate its effectiveness.
Does that make me a fool? More so than a person who mocks me for doing it while her own books (according to her books' Amazon rankings) aren't selling for shit?
3. Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego
Here, Ros Barber makes an analogy comparing writing to cabinet making, which has little to do with ego, and really could have been combined with the following entry. It's a filler entry.
Here's the gist... You're a novice cabinet maker. You make a shitty cabinet and try to sell it to furniture stores, none of whom want your cabinet. The furniture stores, I assume, are analogous to Big 5 publishers.
I have a couple of issues with this entry.
1. The only gatekeepers that truly matter are the readers.
I'll admit that there are a whole lot of shitty self-published books out there. But those aren't the only ones that don't make it out of the slush piles of agents and big name publishing houses.
There are any number of reasons a publishing house might want nothing to do with your book. Maybe you wrote about a controversial subject. Maybe they feel your book will only appeal to too small a niche. Maybe you write books that are nothing but dick jokes and gratuitous swearing. Publishing is a business, and with all the submissions these big name houses get, they don't need to gamble on titles that might be problematic down the road. Safer bets are the way to go.
But self-publishers have nothing to lose. The readers keep those gates. Books that people actually want to read rise to the top. While there are some floaters here and there, most of the shit sinks.
2. If the furniture store buys your shitty cabinet, all you've really succeeded in doing is fucking over the furniture store.
Ros Barber claims to have gotten a £5,000 advance for her latest novel, Devotion. If its Amazon ranking is an accurate metric with which to judge it by, Oneworld Publications isn't really seeing a great return on its investment.
It would seem that neither Ros Barber nor her publisher was saved from Ros Barber's ego.
4. Good writers become good because they undertake an apprenticeship. Serving your apprenticeship is important
I mentioned above that entries 3 and 4 could have easily been combined (She even uses the same goddamn cabinet analogy in this one.). As I strive to be a less shitty writer than Ros Barber, I'll keep this brief.
This entry is only relevant to those self-published authors who publish the first shit they ever write. It should go without saying that the first shit you ever write will, in fact, be shit.
The comparison here, then, is not between competent writers who choose to self-publish and competent writers who need Random House to pat them on the back. The comparison is between godawful writers who rush to publish their own ass-wipings and (perhaps) competent writers who need Random House to pat them on the back.
Fuck this stupid shit. Next.
5. You can forget Hay festival and the Booker
This is advice you can take to the bank, because it comes from someone who has repeatedly won the Jack Shit award.
This is my favorite entry, because this is the one where Ros Barber takes off the gloves and goes into full-on pretentious asshole mode.
Traditional publishing is the only way to go for someone who writes literary fiction.
Literary fiction, as defined by Wikipedia, is "a term principally used for fictional works that hold literary merit, that is to say, they are works that offer deliberate social commentary or political criticism, or focus on the individual to explore some part of the human condition."
But let's be honest here. For 99.999% of those who claim to write "literary fiction" the term can be more accurately described as "pretentious bullshit which includes a safety net of being able to claim the lack of interest in it is a result of it being too intellectual for the average reader to appreciate".
If genre fiction is chart music, literary fiction is opera
But maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe Ros Barber really has the chops to weave an opera of words. For someone whose passions include "reveling in language", this leaves something to be desired:
The chance of a self-published novelist getting their book reviewed in the mainstream press is the same as the chance of my dog not eating a sausage.
I don't claim to know how frequently Ros Barber's dog eats sausages, but I'm willing to bet it's not perpetually. In fact, I'd go so far as to wager that her dog, even as I write this sentence, is not eating a sausage. With the money Ros Barber makes from her shitty books, she simply can't afford to feed the dog that many sausages. They're probably splitting a bowl of store brand dog food.
But of course, that's not what she meant. I'm only speculating here, but I would imagine the meaning she was going for was more along the lines of "The chance of a self-published novelist getting their book reviewed in the mainstream press is the same as the chance of my dog, upon being offered a sausage, not eating it."
Or if she wanted to flex her vocabulary muscles, she might say, "The chance of a self-published novelist getting their book reviewed in the mainstream press is the same as the chance of my dog, upon being offered a sausage, refusing it."
If she really wanted to get fancy, cutting extraneous words, she might even say, "The chance of a self-published novelist getting their book reviewed in the mainstream press is the same as that of my dog refusing a sausage."
Don't worry, Ros. You'll pick up these tricks as you come closer to being a real writer.
6. You risk looking like an amateur
Good writers need even better editors. They need brilliant cover designers. They need imaginative marketers and well-connected publicists.
I can't judge the editors that Ros Barber's publishers employ, because their cover designers, marketers, and publicists have fallen short in their task of making me, along with the overwhelming majority of the world's population, the least bit interested in reading her literary drivel.
I'll admit that my own covers are nothing if not amateurish, and I'm perfectly okay with that. The purpose of a cover is to catch a potential customer's attention and make them stop to take a closer look at what you have to offer. I've had many readers tell me that they checked out my first book, Critical Failures, because of the big-ass d20 pictured on the cover.
Making a simple, yet effective cover doesn't have to be as complicated or expensive as the "professionals" would have you believe it is. Same goes for editing and marketing. Diving in and experimenting, building on what works and cutting what doesn't, is a great way to learn some of the ins and outs of the industry.
Honestly, if you're a self-published author making a sale a week, your book probably has a higher ranking than any of Ros Barber's. That means you're out-designing her "brilliant" cover designers, out-marketing her "imaginative" marketers, and out-publicizing her "well-connected" publicists. Way to go, amateur!
7. 70% of nothing is nothing
I did a bit of number crunching on a post I wrote last May, in which I tweaked the above equation a bit, and discovered some interesting results.
But there might be some validity in this argument if it were coming from a traditionally published author whose books were making money. Instead, it's coming from Ros Barber.
Just like in entry 1, she supports her claim with anecdotal evidence from a single author. Unfortunately, according to her books' Amazon rankings, the quoted author is somehow managing the impressive feat of selling even fewer books than Ros Barber.
I'm not sure Ms Barber understands how arguments work. Let me give you a tip, Ros. You want to offer evidence which supports your position, rather than evidence which contradicts it. And when presenting your argument in a list format, it's often a good idea to end with your strongest point.
In this article, you appear to be trying to make the argument that traditional publishing is superior to self-publishing. If I may quote the beginning of your final entry:
My final caveat is fiscal. You can put all of that effort in, do all that marketing, and still not make a living.
Good point, Ros. Counterpoint, YOU AREN'T MAKING A FUCKING LIVING AT THIS!!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, YOU CRAZY BITCH???
In conclusion, I'd like to respond to Ros Barber's concluding paragraph.
Self-publishing? It generates a lot of noise on social media. It results in many flashy-looking websites from authorpreneurs keen to sell success secrets to other aspiring authorpreneurs. With Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace as the major outlets, it continues to put money in the coffers of the company largely responsible for destroying author incomes in the first place. But it isn’t a route to financial security. For those who prefer orchestrated backing to blowing their own trumpet, who’d privilege running a narrative scenario over running a small business, who’d rather write adventures than adverts, self-publishing is not the answer.
Whose author incomes is Amazon destroying? Not Ros Barber's. She's never had one. Certainly not mine. Thanks to Amazon, I've been able to quit my day job and write full time.
Two little gems shine from that paragraph for me. "But it isn't a route to self financial security" and "self-publishing is not the answer". No "probablys" or "usuallys" thrown in there. Just straight up 'Self-publishing is absolutely always a direct path to failure.'
Maybe she's right. What do I know? I'm just a guy making a living by self-publishing awesome books.