Friday, 28 October 2011

Good Enough

I think I speak for many writers when I say that the self-publishing boom has been a dream come true. For the first time, writers have an opportunity to publish what they want, the way they want. No more do we have to beg and plead publishers for a tiny fraction of our royalties. No longer do we have to change our fiction to suit the tastes of an editor or agent. Never again will we have to play the rejection game--which, as some of us know, can go on for years. There’s a spirit of “maybe I won’t have to work at my McJob for the next thirty years” in the air. I’m excited about these changes, and I’m glad to be on board.


There’s also a pitfall to this whole self-publishing game. No, it’s not the low book prices (I actually like the low prices). It’s not the hassle of finding a cover artist (a process I’m currently involved in). It’s not even the stink of ‘vanity press’ that still hovers over us.

It has to do with the fact that writing is hard. As Larry David (a writer) might say: It’s pretty hard. Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty hard.

Writing a novel can sometimes feel like you’re scaling Everest with a grand piano strapped to your back. It’s a long, tedious, sometimes maddening process. Robert Heinlein famously said that most people who attempt to write will eventually give it up.

But now that’s changed, because self-publishing is easy.

Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty easy.

With sites like Amazon, anyone can publish a novel. This ranges from the seasoned author, to the stay-at-home mom, to your cousin Bob who never wrote anything until last month when he got really high. You know the story I’m talking about--with the magical Cheetos and the wizard? That one.

With one click, he’s now an author.

So what’s the problem? Shouldnt Cousin Bob have the chance to publish his book? Sure it might suck, but what’s the harm?  
Actually, I’m not worried about Cousin Bob. I’m worried about the writers with real talent.

If Cousin Bob thinks ‘The Wizard of Munchie Mountain’ is good enough, fine. But what’s keeping a talented writer from doing the same? I think this is the potential tragedy of self-publishing. When the going gets tough, a talented writer could squander his/her talent in exchange for relief. Where the impossible odds of publishing pushed us forward in the past, the easy out of self-publishing could ruin a great many books before they reach their true potential.

So what’s the solution? You’re not going to like this. I didn’t like it either, but I see no other alternative:

Indie writers must strap on a second piano. We must make it harder for ourselves. A lot harder. If no one is going to raise the bar for us, we must raise it ourselves. We have to set an incredibly high standard and persevere until we reach it.

How do you know you’ve reached it? Believe me, you’ll know. It’s kinda like the ‘wall’ that marathon runners hit a few hours into the race. You’ll be exhausted. Your eyes will burn from staring at the screen. Your head will feel like a hollowed out coconut, and you’ll be so sick of your novel that you’ll never want to read it ever again. 

That’s when you’ll be ready to click the publish button.

But most writers won’t get this far. They’ll go as far as Heinlein predicted, and then call it a day. ‘Good enough’ will become the standard, and a new generation of “writers” will strut around with a first draft of nonsense for sale on-line.

This bothers me, not because millions of readers will be ripped-off, but because millions of writers will never experience the satisfaction of pushing themselves to the limit. We write for the journey, the exploration of our own humanity. How great is a journey of only a few steps? How far can you explore if you’re only willing to go skin deep?