Dare to be Unmarketable

men-311308_640While trying to put together the new short story collection, juggling the article gig at GeekDad, reading through the first round of critique reviews for First Song, and doing my best to keep Crimson Son in the public eye, I’ve run across a few things on the web which I intended to blab about here and never did.

The first was a post on a blog I follow which talked about getting over self-criticism and not letting it hold you back. The second was an article that a former MFA Lit professor posted with advice (or bitter grumbling, YMMV) for future writers. Yes, this is yet another post about writing – I suck at following even my own rules – but mostly it’s about how this whole crazy process affects what gets into the hands of readers.

The self-criticism post was built on the mantra of “fuck pre-rejection” to which I happily added “fuck rejection.” This comment however, didn’t go over as well. It was assumed I was anti-traditional pub and another of the unwashed masses who walked away from the gates and back into the woods to build their own house. Live like a savage.

There is a righteous anger about badly edited works and the ever-growing slush pile at Amazon and elsewhere where readers are asked to sift through the dregs to find anything of quality. The Gatekeepers, we are told, save us from such misery. To which I say, bullshit.

Keeping in mind that quality is an entirely subjective thing, the writing in traditionally published works can easily be mediocre to terri-bad. Yes, all the commas may be in the right places. The spellcheck run and the covers may be oh so pretty, but some of the crap they unleash is plain awful. What sells is often based on marketing efforts and just how much money they are willing to plow into it.

I’m not sure what is worse – asking a reader to decide on their own whether a book is worth the price or convincing an audience a steaming turd is, in fact, pate and serving it to them on a plate.

True, trad publishers do a great deal of quality control and if we were to compare success rates, they bury self-pub efforts. The safer bet is definitely in browsing their shelves. But is it the most interesting?

Self and indie pubbers have the luxury of taking risks. At some point, a publishing house gets “too big to fail” syndrome. Taking a risk on a new author is an expensive proposition. Printing something other than what happens to be hot at the time becomes dangerous. Profit margins are too thin or the risk associated isn’t worth the time and effort. Being marketable is much more important than quality.

For the self published and indie presses, that’s where we live – that thin, raggedy edge where we don’t fit neatly on the pre-designated shelves.

Of all the advice in the second article I mentioned, the thing that stuck out the most was this: “Anyone who claims to have useful information about the publishing industry is lying to you, because nobody knows what the hell is happening.”

And that’s oh so true.

What I can tell you though is that eBooks are gaining ground. That the early adopters appear to be on board and while sales of readers have leveled out, all it will take is a big push to get things rolling again. A trad pub figuring out that all the steps involved with paper printing/distribution are destroying their profits or a big retailer like Amazon figuring out their Kindles are simply content delivery prices and giving them away so they can make money on that content.

I can also tell you that those unmarketable works are riding high on bestseller lists. People are discovering stories they like outside the electrified gates and concertina wire. So, fuck rejection.

At the same time, more indie writers do need to understand why they might be getting rejected. If it’s the prose, work on it, tirelessly. If it’s the plotting or the the ability to tell a compelling story or any other thing that you OWE TO YOUR READER TO KICK ASS ON, then go back to the drawing board and do it again. And again.

Once that’s all polished and as perfect as you can get it then make that leap. Write something that is just far enough off-center that people can’t easily label it or define perfect audiences for it or that breaks all the expected tropes. Join me in the unwashed masses. Dare to be unmarketable.

At the same time, readers, check out more self published works. Yes, there’s no media machine feeding you what’s “good” so you might have to get your hands dirty. But browse digital shelves. Check out the sample pages. Talk to your friends and find out if they read self published books. Check here as I try to review new self and indie books. No, I don’t use handy stars but what I can do is tell you the good and the bad and let you decide. And when you find a good one tell everyone you know.

Readers, tell me about your experience with finding self-published works. Do you have a preference between trad and self? Does it even matter?

Writers, tell me how your work is unmarketable. Did you skip the romantic interest? Write about a normal kid who has no special powers or isn’t the chosen one? Tried to bring realism and a mature style to a stereotypically YA subject? What did you do?

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4 replies

  1. Love this post. 🙂 Finding indie authors is hard, but I think it’s getting easier. I’ve read a lot of first chapters of crapola, but then didn’t waste more time. I stumbled on a good indie author and plowed through one series. Book bub has brought some more to my attention as well, and of course, Word of Mouth.

    • Yep, it’s a new and challenging landscape and there are places like BookBub that are helping readers with the navigation. For me, I always check the sample pages of any book – self pub or not, before I buy so I don’t get the snobbery which I sometimes encounter. Good to hear about word of mouth in the self / indie side of things as well. So important that we get the word out!

  2. I’m still at work on my first novel, so I have not published indie or traditionally. But I relish the idea that I am going to fail or succeed on my own merits, not based on whether or not some agent’s assistant refuses to rescue my book from the slush pile. It makes me furious when I consider the number of really good books that never saw the light of day over the last fifteen years because the book’s author never mastered the art of the query or the book wasn’t able to immediately be pigeonholed in on genre or another. In twenty years authors are going to say to one another in amazement “Can you believe they used to let THE AGENTS decide what books were going to be published?”

    • I have to agree. I think we’re still at the beginning of a new era in publishing and the traditional methods and the digital self-pub methods will slowly meet somewhere in the middle. There is still value in the trad pub method – their distribution and marketing can’t be matched – but I see more avenues opening to self pubbers everyday (like the recent decision from SFWA to start accepting self pub authors). Interesting times ahead!

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