Instant Gratification

Friday, January 14, 2011

When you start the journey toward commercial publication, you discover the true meaning of glacial. That's the industry's chosen speed, unless you happen to submit the new "it" property at precisely the right time and things go into overdrive.

You wait weeks or months for a response from your queries. Then you wait weeks or months to get a response to whatever materials you send in after that first request. It's arduous and painful and makes you want to cut your hair short so it's not actually long enough to pull out. Then, assuming you actually get published, it's another stretch of YEARS before the book hits shelves.

Fanfic isn't like that at all. (Stick with me, the random topic shift will make sense in a minute, 'K?)

Whether you write for a small community of fans or dive into the turbulent waters of a mega-site where all fandoms are housed, the response time to a new piece of writing can be minutes.

I've mentioned before that my first "public" writing was fanfiction (TV show, no longer in production, stop giving me those dirty looks!) At the time, I was an exceptionally timid person when it came to sharing my writing, and so, it was with horribly fragile nerves that I decided to try this thing called "fanfic" a friend had told me about. To my absolute shock and elation, the readers liked it.

So I posted another.

And another...

And another...

I meant what I said about it being addictive. I could easily knock out 100-200K words of fanfic a month. No, that's not a typo, I said one-to-two hundred thousand words. I wrote over 1 million words the first year I waded into fandom waters.

From participating in writers' forums, I know that this is the same trap that snares many well intentioned writers who choose to forgo the necessary steps to get a book in shape and just vanity publish. Vanity pubs and POD presses pretending to be commercial publishers (there are legit POD presses out there; I have no issue with those) thrive on certain aspects of human nature, and one is the wish for instant gratification.

On paper, the idea that you can have a book -in hand - in less than 6 mo. sounds wonderful. It sounds like you've found a way around all those people who get into the crawl and look for an agent and all that stuff that detracts from the excitement of having something NOW. But, like with fanfic, it's empty more times than it's not.

The sad fact is, that instant rush comes with its own problems. Vanity presses of any kind, do no more for you than registering yourself at a fanfiction site. They don't edit. They don't get you in stores. They charge you for the work you do yourself. It's not real, anymore than the fanfiction "novels" I wrote could be published as is.

That's not the way it works. And no matter what you tell yourself or what your friends have to say about it, consumers know the difference. They know a product that's been properly handled and assembled, and they know one that hasn't.

Yes, it sucks that it takes so long. Yes, it sucks that you can't make your own rules and be famous tomorrow. Yes, it sucks that not everyone gets to play in the big leagues. But... the people who put in the effort and go through the steps and wait the time it takes to do it right are the ones that readers are going to hear about. They're the ones who get ads in the paper and they're the ones who get their books in stores.

Even e-stores feature certain books front and center on their main page, and those books aren't by authors who took the shortcut, shrugged their shoulders, and pretended that doing so put them on even ground with those who didn't.

10 Chiming In:

J said...

I agree 100%. There's something to the quality control of the traditional publishing route that appeals to me. I know that I expect a certain level of professional presentation from a book that I buy off the shelves. I would expect to have to create the same level of quality if I expect to become published.

Even if I chose the instant gratification, I'd probably be finding typos for years, which would make me pull my hair out more quickly than waiting!

Cheryl said...

I dunno. I don't think that self-pubbers are cheating the system. It's hard enough getting a traditionally pubbed book to sell, a self-pubbed book is infinitely harder. If a self-pubbed book rises through the muck to be a success, the author probably worked pretty damn hard to do it. But most don't rise from the muck.

I guess I just don't see the two even competing with each other since self-pubbers generally market to indie readers. There's an indie market in every artistic medium. And there is always built-in quality control through reviewers. If your reviews suck, you won't sell no matter what you do, traditional or not.

If someone wants to go for the instant gratification of getting their book out there, good luck. It isn't easy and I hope they shelled out the dough for an editor but most don't and the reviews reflect that. So do the sales. Everything about it screams disadvantage so you'd have to be pretty clueless to think you're getting some kind of leg up on someone that is going the traditional route.

Vanity pressing, on the other hand, is just stupid.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Self publishing's a whole other ballgame, and not what I'm talking about here.

Self-publishing's a legitimate venture, and is by no means a quick fix. It takes time and effort, more than most writers are equipped to handle.

It's also not Indie Publishing. People have tagged that on to make it sound equivalent to indie music, but it's not. Indie pubs are legitimate publishing companies that operate on a small scale

self-publishing =/ = vanity publishing

Vanity publishing is the short cut.

It's someone who bangs out a draft and either can't get it published through a commercial house, so they decide to just "get it out there". Or, sometimes, it's the writer who hasn't done his / her homework and believes they've hooked a commercial publisher, only to find they're stuck with a vanity press' promises that don't follow through.

Simon Hay said...

With all the changes in publishing, particularly e-books and the royalties publishers are offering, have your publishing goals changed? I'd still like to have an agent, but I'm in a niche market, and I wonder sometimes if it would be better to self-publish. I'd never vanity-publish, I'm cautious, and I've been following writers, and agents blogs for 5 years now. I was just wondering.

Josin L. McQuein said...

My goals haven't changed, no. I write commercial fiction - YA and MG, so it's not the same as having a niche market product.

I know that a lot of niche authors self-pub and take their books to events dealing with their particular subject. Car books to auto shows, or pioneer histories to craft fairs. There's a man who works the Ren Faire I worked at in high school who sold books pertaining to his musical craft.

Things with that specific a target audience probably won't appeal to larger publishers because there's not enough chance of mass appeal. They're still good books with good topics, they just have to be marketed differently.

Simon Hay said...

Thanks for answering. I think I'll be patient for a few more months; I've a few more agents on my list. I'm writing, still loving it, and my platform is growing, so I can be patient a little longer. Happy writing :)

Laura said...

A friend of mine is incredibly talented. She can write circles around me and does but only in fan fiction. It's SO frustrating to see her waste her talent year after year. She says she knows... then writes another fan fic.

Such a waste. So frustrating. And apparently, yes, wretchedly addictive.

p.s. Read your query on query shark for Premeditated and basically tracked you down from there, haha. I LOVE the idea, the query, and that tight, concrete style of writing. Can't wait until it gets published, would love to read it now.

English professor and closet YA reader

Miss Cole said...

Hello! Found you via YA Highway :) Checked your blog out and this post really grabbed me.

Fanfiction is such a great place to build confidence as a writer but yeah, the positive reviews becoming very addictive. I consider my years in fanfiction training ;)

Vanity publishing is especially cruel to people who don't understand the system. I think it shows you have to do a lot of research into publishing before you embark upon getting your work published.

Good luck to you!

Shannon said...

Interesting post, Josin.

I've never dabble with (or read) fan fiction, but I'm familiar with the genre.

Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment, but I don't want my journey to be easy. It's the stumbling blocks and setbacks that force me to improve and keep pushing. I know that sounds trite, but it's not - I'm being sincere.

Vicki Rocho said...

Ironically, I popped over here from Shannon's blog...and here I am commenting right after her. I swear it wasn't planned!

Anyway, I enjoy reading your in-depth and insightful feedback for her Anonymous Query feature each week and figured it was time I came over to meet you properly!

I understand the temptation of instant gratification vanity publishers offer, but (like Shannon), I want my path to be difficult. It makes the victory more satisfying.

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