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On the Shelf: Cory Doctorow on Self-Publishing, Jesse Ball on Bookworm, and King Arthur at the Round Table

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Cory Doctorow, author, blogger, and co-editor of the wildly popular pop culture website BoingBoing, is also a columnist for the science fiction magazine Locus. In his most recent article, Why Should Anyone Care?, he gives thought to his self-published short story collection With a Little Help that came out in December of 2010.

Over the past two years there’s been a steady increase in both talk about self-publishing and writers actually doing it. It’s quickly becoming easier to produce a book on one’s own and there have been a few successes—Amanda Hocking for one—that have helped create a sense of possibility. Both computers and the software needed to create a book are easier to use; print-on-demand websites like Lulu and Blurb are gaining popularity; the proliferation of e-readers makes it possible to test out a digital only version sparing the writer print costs; and the rise of social media culture encourages self-promotion and entrepreneurship—not to mention that a strong online can help sell the final product.

It’s easy to look at the few success stories and think, “why not?” Anyone who’s tried to get their work published traditionally knows it’s hard. Publishing houses rarely have time to pick through slush piles so more often than not you need an agent to pitch your book to editors; the editors need to like your book; and then the imprint’s publisher needs to see a place for it in the current market. The numerous steps, the limited resources of publishers, and a staggering number authors vying for the same coveted position can make the effort seem futile.

As with the rise in self-publishing, there has been, what seems to be, an endless supply of commentary on the subject—the encouragers, the detractors, and everyone else in between. It’s hard to make heads or tails of anything. Cory’s piece, however, is incredibly compelling and, for me, has stood out from all the rest. What makes it interesting is the realistic tone. As he’s said himself about his self-publishing project, he wanted to give unpublished writers thinking about going the self-publishing route a better idea of what they could expect. He experimented so others could see what the upper limit would look like.

Cory reached best-selling success with Little Brother published by Tor, a traditional publisher, he has a well-followed website to promote his work, a strong online following through social media, and enough of a name to interest newspapers and magazines.

Here are some of the highlights however, the article should be read in full:

“Publishers generally know what they’re doing, and they’ve got well-tuned, semi-automated systems for getting readers to pay attention to books. They’ve had a lot of practice.Writers, by and large, haven’t. Not successful, established writers, and certainly not brand new, fresh-out-of-the-wrapper writers. It doesn’t really matter how much time you spend hanging around bookstores or browsing online stores, until you’ve marketed a book, you don’t really know how to market a book.”

“. . . like everyone doing something complicated for the first time, I dramatically underestimated how much work this would be. It’s not impossible, and it’s not horrible work – it’s challenging, exciting stuff, but it’s incredibly time consuming and it can be tough (and expensive – sending out hundreds of review copies ain’t cheap, but it was worth it, if only for the major feature inThe Wall Street Journal this garnered me).”

“I get a lot of e-mail from writers starting out who want to know whether it’s worth trying to get published by major houses. The odds are poor – only a small fraction of books find a home in mainstream publishing – and the process can be slow and frustrating.”

“And we’ve all heard about writers who’ve met with modest – or stellar – success with self-publishing. So why not cut out the middleman and go direct to readers?

There’s not a thing wrong with that plan, provided that it is a plan. Mainstream publishers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars over decades learning and re-learning how to get people to care about the existence of books.”

“Getting people to care about the products of your imagination is a profound and infinitely complex task that will absorb as much attention as you give it.”

You can hear his interview about the process with Mur Lafferty on her podcast, I Should Be Writing (it starts at the 23 minute mark). You can find Cory online at his personal site and you can follow him on Twitter @doctorow.

Have you self-published a book? Have you thought about it? Do you work at a publishing house and have any insider insight for authors? Comments are open.

And now for what’s caught my eye this week.

The Curfew by Jesse Ball
Jesse Ball is both a novelist and poet, and incredibly eloquent when speaking about both: you should listen to his interview on KCRW’s Bookworm for proof. In The Curfew the government is overthrown one night while ordinary citizens sleep. The world they wake up to is frightening—there is war, secret police, and random violence. In the midst of all this, a mother is taken and it’s up to her husband and young daughter to carry on quietly, keeping their head down. That is, until the husband, urged on by an old friend who claims to have a lead, tries to find his wife.

Life with Mr. Dangerous by Paul Hornschemeier
Life with Mr. Dangerous is the story of 27-year-old Amy who’s a bit down on her luck. She hates her job, her not-so-great boyfriend just dumped her, and she can’t get a hold of her best friend so instead, she spends her time watching the cartoon show Mr. Dangerous. This graphic novel is a mixture of daydreams and reality.

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
Boneshaker is a steampunk novel set in an alternate 1880s America where an inventor, commissioned by Russians, came up with a machine that could mine through Arctic ice at the hopes of getting to the gold said to be below. Unfortunately, he destroyed downtown Seattle, unearthing a gas line that turned everyone who breathed the air into zombies. Fifteen years later, the late inventor’s son is determined to clear his father’s name. Earlier this year she spoke with the Functional Nerds podcast about urban fantasy, publishing, and writing.

Le Morte D’Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table by Thomas Malory
King Arthur “ is a legendary British leader of the late 5th and early 6th centuries, who, according to Medieval histories and romances, led the defence of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. The details of Arthur’s story are mainly composed of folklore and literary invention, and his historical existence is debated and disputed by modern historians.” (Wikipedia). It seems that many pop culture stories, whether they be in print or on the screen stem from Thomas Malory’s inventive tales. Sometimes it’s worth going to the source.

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Written by Gabrielle

September 8, 2011 at 5:57 am

One Response

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