The Screenplay-novel Manifestos

Less is more vivid

Sunday, April 30, 2006

DIY vs. RIP - 4

The discussion over self-publishing continues at Slush-pile. There have been several good comments, and here is a sample of them:


Several people have talked about indie movies self-publishing.

I’m not sure how accurate this is. Film is different than print, but I think a fair generalization would be that in print the publisher has two main functions
a) Financial backing (the cost of printing the book)
b) distrobution (and we can lump marketing in here too)

Film is very expensive and every indie filmmaker I know personally or have read about gets financial backing. Often they cobble it from random places and maybe we can still call that self-”publishing,” I’ll buy that. However, none of them rely on themselves for distribution. It would be extremely hard. They all constantly are trying to get another company to give them distribution.


It’s not the case that all indie films have outside investors, not do all of them have distribution deals. “Primer” had neither – its maker put up the money and distributed the film himself, arranging limited runs at art houses....

Further to this point, it’s been interesting to watch the changing attitude towards another form of self-publishing: blogs. While a lot of people in traditional media initially scorned them, lately they’ve been sourcing them as well, for everything from news to fiction.... The point is once a model begins to work, which is to say attract an audience and display the potential for profit, respectability tends to follow.

Scott Promfret:

We had a product (Harlequin-style romance novels for gay men) that we believed would be better pitched as a concept than any individual book. Thus, we created the website, brand, four novels (POD), and a marketing plan. Only then did we pitch agents (got one) and find a publisher (Warner Books). I know from my experience with other authors in a online writers group I belong to that this approach is not unique. So the commentator’s 99.9999 figure is silly and betrays a disrespectful and assured-of-my-own-preconceived-
beliefs-and-damn-the-truth attitude that is irritating at best.


I do get a bit testy when I see discussions comparing “POD publishing” and traditional publishing, because POD is a technology, not a type of publisher. POD allows any publisher, vanity, subsidy, or traditional, to produce books on-demand. I see that John Wiley, a well-respected traditional publisher, has POD services for low-demand books. Technically, the definitions are these: [click on link to see original post]

Margaret Falk:

There’s a lot of really bad writing out there. A lot. Now, with good photography and Photoshop, tons of these books are coming out, and they look just like books that have vetted, edited, and paid for. The customer doesn’t know the difference. He picks up a book that reads like crap, and he thinks the book next to it on the shelf is just as bad. You read a few of these in a row, and it’s enough to make you swear off reading completely.

and Sherryl:

I used to teach classes in how to self-publish, because I had worked for a printer and also published short runs of community anthology stuff. However, my absolute rule was that people understood all the practicalities of self-publishing - that the market for their books would be minimal and they should never think it was a way to get rich and famous.

Consequently my “students” published books that included family histories, language workbooks (for Lithuanian children), a how-to book on guitar playing, an alternative history text, some poetry collections, a short story collection - the list goes on. The point is, all of those books had viable niche markets and part of the course was about how to reach those markets....

But I have seen plenty of the other kind of self-publisher. In fact, I have a collection of the worst sp books - I keep those that illustrate how to make a book look awful and read worse. In my experience, the worst examples of self-publishing are usually fiction writers.

There are a few common threads here. The conclusions that can be drawn are these: the first is self-produced work is more acceptable in other fields, but comparisons are difficult.

These comparisons lose their force when film is being considered because film is so expensive to make (even low-budget video demands a certain standard of equipment and production). That said, the attitude of those who consume indie film or music -- that is, the attitude of the audience -- is simply different from that which exists for self-published writers. In the former case, people will be often be open-minded. In the latter, they are likely to flee.

This might change as the caliber of self-published writing improves. But the least likely field in which this might happen seems to be fiction. Of course, it is fiction -- especially literary fiction -- that is suffering most from the current atmosphere in publishing circles, because the prevailing thinking seems to be that literary fiction either is dead or should be funneled through the MFA and/or high-powered agent system. As a result, this is the group of writers most likely to be frozen out, and why comparisons between "writers" in the general sense are useless. When discussing this issue, commentators have to be clear: what group of writers, exactly, are you talking about?

What, then, is a writer to do? Well, I think one step that might be considered is either the one recommended by Scott Promfret or by Jeff and use self-publishing (including publishing online) as a step to something bigger. My main misgiving to this approach is that it seems to work better with mass-market than literary fiction. It's very important to distinguish between the two and not expect literary work to behave as product.

And it's also worth emphasizing again that the problem is not big publishing houses per se; it's the difficulty involved in getting their attention -- a difficulty that they've created through their "no unsoliciteds" policies. Theoretically, any self-published writer (or small press writer, for that matter) who is repeatedly rejected by the big houses but nevertheless achieves critical praise and
sales will have achieved what he or she might have gotten in the first place. But why put writers through all this grief? This is a time in cultural history when major houses should be showing more flexibility rather than battening down the hatches.

And writers need to do their part as well: that means, to keep trying, not become bitter, and, above all, produce good work. Oh, and experiment more with form.

So, although any writer who is serious about a career will want both
artistic freedom and monetary success, how that freedom and success are achieved is what needs to be thought of in new ways ... by all concerned.


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