New York Times and Indie fiction

9 years ago | Letitia Coyne (Member)

New York Times is talking about I’net fiction.

The hard copy world is still judging quality by the success of a novel once it is in print, but this article indicates at least that the world outside is moving.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02FOB-medium-t.html

A month ago, I was just a few steps behind this journo, believing as we did [and I have for 25 years of playing out in the HC killing fields] that self publishing was an admission of defeat, and epublishing a bit under that.

My hope is now, after finding so much good fiction online, that ‘respected’ sources will take a closer look.

The judgment criteria problem is still clouding the waters. This article shows that ‘success’ is still gauged by someone in the editorial ivory tower. BUT, editors do, and always will, refuse work on grounds other than the standard of writing/structure/plot/characterization, good or bad.

They refuse work because it will not easily fit into their particular guidelines. Too long, too short, a collection [not popular unless you already have a name], too graphic, not graphic enough, too explicit, not explicit enough…the list goes on.

Online, anarchy is the great leveler. Anyone, anytime can find your work and decide for themselves if they want to take the time to follow your vision. Inmates and asylums etc.

“According to the self-published novelist David Carnoy at CNET, indie books are bad. Or rather: “less than 5 percent are decent, and less than 1 percent are really good.”

Comments like this show the cultural snobbery of HC is alive and well. How do you feel about that statistic?

So, what’s my point? I don’t know, what is my point… The world is moving, and web fiction will become as accepted as a medium as print, if it is educated and disciplined. There are three things an author needs: talent, perseverance and discipline. No two will suffice alone, and if there is no outside source to enforce standards, individuals have to learn to do that for themselves.

Go for it. Vive le Revolution.

Read responses...

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Responses

  1. Robert Rodgers (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    "Comments like this show the cultural snobbery of HC is alive and well. How do you feel about that statistic?"

    Well, less than five percent of *published* books are decent, and less than one percent are really good. So I'd say the statistic is probably accurate in some vague way.

  2. Letitia Coyne (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    How true. Half the Amazon rainforest is sitting around in clearance bins, and that might be the strongest argument of all in favour of electronic delivery.

    But that really is a harsh judgment. What percentage of fiction listed here, or on other reviewed sites, gets 4 stars and up?

    If the calibre of classic literature is held up against available efiction, and fares none-too-well, that suggests that the readership are very happy and very supportive of the standard of web published fiction.

  3. Robert Rodgers (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    "But that really is a harsh judgment. What percentage of fiction listed here, or on other reviewed sites, gets 4 stars and up?"

    I have reservations about using collective rating systems as a means by which to measure the quality of a given work; the world is flush with works that are popular but not very good and works that are good but not very popular. In the end, entertaining readers is the only true bottom line--but writers can accomplish this with greasy, cheap hamburgers or cuts of filet mignon. That is to say, quality and popularity are often confused for one another, and ratings are often a product of both.

    A few things to consider--efiction is mostly a staple of the internet. The internet is populated by young people. Generally, young people are less interested in classic literature and more interested in contemporary literature (which *all* efiction, by definition, is). So we're already in the green.

    Anyway, I'm getting off on a tangent: Publishers, editors, and the industry be damned--the only important question is this: Can you make a living off of ebooks? If the answer is yes, then classic systems of publishing will be largely displaced by its digital counterpart. Commerce goes where the profit is. If epublishing can turn a profit, then "ivory tower" inhabiting editors and publishers who insist that the old way is better than digital fiction won't matter anymore than those who insist that the wet photo-process is better than digital photography.

  4. Eli James (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Well now. Doesn't this sound familiar? ;-)

    http://www.novelr.com/2010/04/20/to-change-publishing-make-publishers-obsolete

    @Letitia: thanks for the link, by the way. I've been offline for the last couple of days, and it was a pleasant surprise coming online to find the NYT validating something we've been fighting for.

    @Robert: Can you make a living off of ebooks?

    I'm actually working to make this possible, or at least easier. =) But thus far - the answer is yes, you can.

  5. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Robert, I think it's worth asking if you can make a living off writing normal books, because for most writers (of genre fiction, anyway) the answer to that is no. SFWA's big hush-hush secret was always that most of the people qualified as "pros" were making part-time money or less. The few folks lucky enough to make what I believe to be a reasonable salary, one you could live off of, were very few.

    So I am skeptical of any inclination to use "make a living off of it" as some kind of useful definition. No one makes a living off 5 cents a word or $8000 an advance. The short fiction collections I've crowdfunded have made more money than I would have netted had I sold them to professional-rate magazines in genre.

  6. Letitia Coyne (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    The arts are not a cash driven resource because artists will, by their very nature, continue to create whether they can sell, trade or give away what they do. The hope of making money is nice. Having an income is nice. Being able to write full time is nice. But for most writers it is a dream set aside for ‘one day.’

    Of course there is a divide between popular and quality, also, the sky is blue. Pulp fiction is the bread and butter for the publishing industry – and they spend the profits lunching with the literati. But as the music industry learned, if the general public can go direct to source and save, they will. Many will simply take it for free.

    That is what recognition by the NYT augurs. [And the Novelr discussion covers]

    When ‘respected sources’ begin to draw attention to a phenomenon, like efiction, people sometimes begin to rethink their preconceptions. When influential people start to talk about it, others start to listen.

    Authors who want to ride the new wave of opportunity if and when it comes, will have to be ready. They will need an effective means of delivery that somehow protect the artists’ rights??? I leave that to the technically minded, and they need to develop the skills set provided by an editor for themselves.

    Unlike peer reviewers, editors generally make judgments and impose changes and restrictions based on a good solid literary education and understanding of the market [which they themselves manipulate]. For that reason, “Publishers, editors, and the industry *shouldn’t* be damned.” They’ll be a necessary evil for some time yet.

  7. Fiona Gregory (Moderator)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Well, I'm certain that a lot more than 5% of the listings on Web Fiction Guide are "decent", or even "good". Perhaps the chances of quality and originality are higher, when authors are writing for the joy of it, rather than churning out formulaic pulp fiction for a mass market.

  8. Letitia Coyne (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Well said.

  9. Robert Rodgers (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    "Robert, I think it's worth asking if you can make a living off writing normal books, because for most writers (of genre fiction, anyway) the answer to that is no. SFWA's big hush-hush secret was always that most of the people qualified as "pros" were making part-time money or less. The few folks lucky enough to make what I believe to be a reasonable salary, one you could live off of, were very few."

    Pardon, let me rephrase: The better question is: 'Can ebooks make a profit for *someone*?'. If the answer is yes, then that someone will turn a profit, and ebooks will thrive. Whether or not that person is the author is up to debate.

    "The arts are not a cash driven resource because artists will, by their very nature, continue to create whether they can sell, trade or give away what they do. The hope of making money is nice. Having an income is nice. Being able to write full time is nice. But for most writers it is a dream set aside for ‘one day.'"

    As I understand it, the arts are almost *completely* cash driven. Artists and authors are a near limitless resource; there's always someone with a story to tell, and it isn't incredibly hard to find a high quality one. Publishers have always been the masters and commanders of the literary sea, and they survive based purely on how much money they're making. If they're not making cash, they're not publishing artists. Artists who aren't published aren't seen. The internet's modified that a little bit, but not really--publishers still have means to manufacture widespread exposure, while artists only have themselves and whomever else they can rope into helping them push their book.

    The only thing that's really changing here is *who* the publishers are. If ebooks can turn an honest profit, then there are publishers who will take that opportunity--and make that profit. And should solid books become obsolete (something I doubt we'll see happen for at least another fifty years, mind you), those publishers who insist that they're superior to ebooks will be, again, as irrelevant as the photographers who insist that wet photo-processing is superior to digital photo-processing.

    I don't think we're going to see some sort of revolution where authors become both the writer and the publisher--regardless of how many tools the writer has in their laptop, a publishing company will always have the resources of an entire paid staff to outdo them with. I also don't think that the shift from hardcopy to digital is going to happen overnight--I'd expect it to take decades, at least. But it probably will happen, and when it does, the publishers and editors who refuse to adapt will stop making money--and will therefore perish.

    First rule of business--hell, first rule of the world: Adapt or die. (Also, pardon if I'm ranting)

    "Well, I'm certain that a lot more than 5% of the listings on Web Fiction Guide are "decent", or even "good". Perhaps the chances of quality and originality are higher, when authors are writing for the joy of it, rather than churning out formulaic pulp fiction for a mass market."

    As I understand it, Web Fiction guide already applies a filter--editors shoot down submissions they feel aren't qualified to show, right? Audiences online are also a lot more forgiving than editors in meatspace, I'd expect--you can break a lot more rules here without getting hammered over it, because the medium is so much more forgiving. A good question to ask, maybe--how many stories here, if reset in book-form, would make the grade for publication? I'd expect the number would be fairly small, for a variety of reasons.

  10. Robert Rodgers (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Mayhaps a better way for me to put this (and more simply):

    Should it succeed, I don't see e-fiction as significantly changing the dynamic between artists and publishers; I only see it as changing just who the publishers are (obviously, it'll be the publishers willing to take a chance on e-fiction). I don't think that the role publishers serve (promoting books--creating and controlling the market for them--serving as a filter for bad books) will disappear.

  11. Letitia Coyne (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Of course! You're right. I don't know how I didn't see it before.

    I'm not sure you're right about the point I made, but heck. You're right.

  12. S. D. Youngren (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    I would be more impressed if the New York Times article were about people reading Web-published books rather than publishing them. "But times have changed, and radically. Last year, according to the Bowker bibliographic company, 764,448 titles were produced by self-publishers and so-called microniche publishers. (A microniche, I imagine, is a shade bigger than a self.)" I don't see much in this piece to suggest that readership is booming as well . . . or general acceptance either.

    Here's another quote: "And self-published books are not just winning in terms of numbers but also making up ground in cachet. As has happened with other media in this heyday of user-generated content, last century’s logic has been turned on its head: small and crafty can beat big and branded. As IndieReader, an online source for self-published books, puts it, `Think of these books like handmade goods, produced in small numbers, instead of the mass-marketed stuff you’d find at a superstore.'”

    Huh? The self-published books I've seen don't look any better than the books I buy in bookstores (yes, I buy books in bookstores). I reread the article looking for some support to the cachet remark, but couldn't actually find it. The closest I came was an assurance below the actual article that some self-published books have become best-sellers. I followed the links, but none of the three books (so far as I could tell) started on the Web, and one of them (Still Alice) seems to have received notice mainly after it was picked up by a conventional publisher (Pocket Books).

    There's definitely a "community" (for want of a better word) which finds independent publishing attractive, but on the whole we're a society of "name-brand" consumers. And the conventional book review pages (like that of the Times) have big publishers clamoring to get their books reviewed--why would the reviewers bypass them all to review some "obscure" book on the Web that doesn't have a big publisher to vouch for it, let alone buy ad space?

    I'll close with another quote, this one from early in the Times article:

    "I’m a sitting duck for crackpots. Maybe that’s why I like the Web."

    She was really talking about (supposed) nonfiction there. But still.

    --Shelley

    Rowena's Page: http://sdy.org/rowena/ — "This is my life, Mom. Not a Jane Austen novel."
  13. M.C.A. Hogarth (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    It is crazy-hard to get reviewers to look at self-published work, even when it's crowdfunded. Very frustrating.

  14. Letitia Coyne (Member)

    Posted 9 years ago

    Hi Shelly.

    The old joke used to be that you could pick a self-published novel; it was in a box of 100 in the author’s garage. And it’s true that the figures for titles published have no true bearing on the numbers bought or read. Either for the publishing houses or independents.

    But surely being talked about is better than not being talked about, especially by the NYT. The superciliousness is reserved for, well, anyone who isn’t on their best seller list, but they aren’t completely ignoring other forms. And there is no suggestion that Times reviews for web published or self published work is coming anytime soon. They are still assuming self published equals print.

    It’s just that I see two separate and distinct communities. There has to be some overlap, I know, but it is not huge.

    The community outside the monitor has 600 years of establishment, hierarchies and protocols that carry with them the sense of superiority and immortality. Their readership carries a [steadily declining] expectation in terms of quality. Literacy levels themselves are declining. Their belief, though wrong, is that fiction online is rubbish.

    The community inside the monitor, so far, has a small but dedicated audience, and a Utopian freedom to write and read whatever they like. It is not bad, it is not, so far, cash driven, but it is undisciplined. Sorry I keep coming back to that, I can’t help it, it’s ingrained.

    I hope the community outside begins to reconsider their preconceptions.

    No one, including the big publishing houses, foresaw the popularity of handheld devices, iPods etc, and they are where, I think, the wall between the two communities will eventually fail. I think the great unwashed masses will accept digital publishing quickly once it is widely available and in all genres. Even if it takes an entire generation, and that has not been the case with other electronic advances, that is only 25 years.

    MCA it is crazy hard to get anything reviewed. As an alien anthropologist, you will know that it is fundamental to human nature to invent a superior place, then run and stand inside it and stop everyone else from trying to get in. People can’t be ‘in’, if they don’t keep the plebs ‘out’.

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