Friday, August 26, 2005

Tomayto, Tomahto

Every morning, I read Making Light and then I read Paperback Writer. So I did a bit of a double-take when the posts I read this morning back to back referred to the same article about writers and found two rather different takes on it. Of course, Making Light is the blog of the Nielsen Haydens, Tor's big shot editors, and Paperback Writer is the blog of Sheila Kelly, multi-genre novelist (and check out her latest S.L. Viehl titles!). This will naturally give you two different points of view on the matter of writers and the publishing industry. But while the editors cheered the author on--though admitting that he had just been proven wrong by their own company--and seemed to think it a great idea to beat would-be writers with the idea that their "novel within" does not an immediate classic make, Sheila found much to snark at. Reading both POVs, I found myself nodding in agreement with both.

I agreed with the editors' POV because of that phenomenon that doesn't seem to want to go away: vanity publishers. This is where amateur writers crank out their novels, maybe run it through spellcheck, know it will be a multi-million bestseller because it poured forth from his very fingertips and it's his amazing life story and how hard is it to write anyway cuz I been done speekin and rightin since I been yung, get one form letter rejection, decide the traditional publishers are just morons in a cartel slaving away to the Grishams and Clancys, and find that for a few measly dollars they can get their masterwork in print and on the shelves where it will take off in seconds and earn out the money put in. So I'm thinking that this Clare guy is talking about a much-needed shout-out to that lot and the folks who run vanity presses. And I can get behind that. Definitely.

Then I read Sheila's comments and realize that the author could have been--and most likely was?--being snooty and condescending to all those whom he's just beaten out in the publishing race and deciding he can now Tell It Like It Is and get some of his former competitors to give up so he has a better shot of making it to Book 2. He derides the notion that publishing is a game of "who do you know", yet also blames the problems of the industry for taking chances on the unknown (or maybe just taking expensive chances on the unknown, instead of offering reasonable advances). So does this mean he kinda knew someone and got a modest advance as a quasi-unknown and THAT'S the way to get published? Or is he telling publishers to stop accepting any work from unknowns and become much more cartel-like in the hopes that the writers of bad, bad slush will slink off into oblivion?

I dunno, maybe Brit publishing houses are really stupid and routinely crank out $50,000+ advances to first-time writers who then never amount to anything. Maybe Brit editors also have no sense of how to hone a writer into "ripeness" and so books that needed more work get out on the market all to feed the publisher's need to pass something on to posterity. Maybe Brit editors are so starry-eyed and idealistic that they ignore good business principles and throw good money after the merest hint of a potential Next Big Thing. But it doesn't seem to translate to this side of the pond, not from my experience with publishing houses and agents.

And, really, do we need another article deriding both authors AND publishing houses? Wouldn't an article talking about how to revise that novel "stirring within loins" into a decent book be better? Or something otherwise useful?


Joel said...

Huh. Sounds interesting. I'll have to look into the articles after I get a first draft done.

Andi said...

Useful? Come on, Kellie, when has anyone in this world done something useful? If it makes sense, it's guaranteed that no one will do it.

I had the same reaction to both posts - a little agreement, and a little disagreement. Maybe that is the best one can do, though: it might stop and make people think carefully about writing the Great American Novel. If people stop and think...well, maybe I'm being a little too optimistic there.