The wider road of publishing

I read some posts on Facebook today lamenting how publishing has gotten to be a soul-killing mess, bookstores and libraries are going into the toilet, and other things. In some ways these are legitimate complaints.

Here’s the bottom line, and I’m putting it right up on top:

A: The publishing industry has changed a lot.

B: It’s not all bad. Not by a long shot.

In the old days (not that long ago) you had mostly the major publishers and the bookstores. You had a few authors that made it big, some authors that made a decent living (fewer than you’d think, even among well-known names), a boatload of authors with unsold manuscripts collecting dust, and a mighty boatload of authors who never got to the point of getting a manuscript finished.

If you were a writer, there was nothing in front of you but a line of hurdles. You’d bust your butt jumping one, and there was another one. And another. Some of them were a lot higher than others, and if you couldn’t make it past one you sat on the track with nowhere else to go.

I look at the track now, and something interesting has happened. The publishers, agents, and the the rest are still there. The hurdles are still there, and you can still jump them. But the track itself has gotten a hell of a lot wider, and now if you want you can go up to some of these hurdles and…just go around them.

My first book, Castle Falcon, went the standard route of agents and publishers, and it didn’t work out (long story). The book could have sat there and molded as I went on to the next ones. But a year or so ago, I took a look and saw that I had new options that my favorite authors of my younger days could only dream of.

I published the book myself. It took some learning, and the messy details can be found elsewhere on this blog (go down to that tag cloud on the sidebar, and click that great big “Self-Publishing” tag).

I made a POD softcover book (Createspace), I made e-books (Kindle, Nook), and I even made a real live Lulu hardcover with a dust jacket (mostly just because I could). I put all of it out for sale on ready-made systems that let people buy them over their computers.

I didn’t have to spend thousands getting crates of books printed and try to figure out how to get them in stores while they sat in my garage becoming rat farms. Remember when that’s what “self-published” used to mean?

It cost me time and effort, and I was fortunate to already have some computing tools and a bit of artistic skill, but none of it cost me a dime.

Am I getting rich now? Is this one of those stories you read about the self-publisher who struck gold?

Hell, no. I’m not even making a living at it. Sales are almost nil, trickling at best. But they’re there. Yog’s Law is in force, and the money is trickling toward me, not away.

And I’ve got readers. Not a lot of readers, but real readers who paid to see my stuff. My work isn’t languishing on a shelf or in a drawer in dusty spiralbound drafts. That’s not wild success, but it ain’t chopped liver either.

It isn’t just self-publishing that’s changing things. In the regular publishing industry the Big Boys might look moribund, but I look out there and see small publishers coming out of the woodwork in all directions. I used to go onto Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background Checks and it was almost all agents. In the past couple of years it seems like the new entries are all publishers. Little publishers, trying out the new wider road, and providing even more options for writers to get their books out there.

It’s not just regular books either. I read comics, and in the old days if you had writing or drawing talent, you worked for one of the big comic companies or basically, you didn’t get published. There were some notable exceptions, but not many.

Now there’s online comics, and some amazing talent is finding an audience. Anyone can set up a webpage to get their work out there. WordPress and others have specific formats just for online comics. Many of these artists are even using the new book publishing tools and things like Kickstarter to get their work into actual print. Again, getting there by another road, going around the old hurdles and gatekeepers. Are they getting rich? Hell, no. But they have fans, and readers, and what money there is still trickles toward the artists.

Yes, publishing has changed. The old routes haven’t gone away, and some of the hurdles are even higher than they used to be, but the road is wide now, miles wide, with plenty of new routes.

I’m still trying out the regular route to get my other two books published, jumping those damn hurdles. Oh, yeah, it would still rock to see my books in a real bookstore. Surprised? But if they don’t make it, I’m not left sitting on the track in front of a hurdle I couldn’t clear.

An angel, or maybe my Muse, told me once that no writer is a failure who has readers.

I’m telling you that any readers are better than no readers, and any money is better than no money.

Now tie up those track shoes, and get that manuscript out of the drawer.

“Publish & Perish”

Phil and Kaja Foglio are the authors of (among many other things) the fantastic Girl Genius comic series.

They also recently began a series of Girl Genius novels. Now those novels have run into one of those legal morasses that have snared other authors in the past. Fortunately, the novels are only part of their output–I’ve heard that some authors have had their entire life’s work hung out to dry in legal snags like this–but it’s no less painful for that.

Best of luck to them–I’m one of their biggest fans. You can read the whole online comic series (so far) here. You’re not doing anything else for next week or so, are you? And buy their books! Check out the great Christopher Lee photo on their blog post, too.

Latest online comic discovery…

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to post links of online comics, because there’d be no end to them.  But a few days ago I spotted a page from a comic on Deviantart, went to the website, and ordered the first paperback collection ten minutes later.

Lackadaisy, by Tracy J. Butler.  Best cat comic since Blacksad and Omaha.

There’s nothing like discovering a great new online comic, and realizing there’s about five years of backlog to check out.  It’s like finding a great book by an author you’d never read before, and finding out it’s part of a series of twelve.

Online comics and art

Fair warning:  I’m not putting any links in this post.  I wouldn’t know where to start with great examples, and I wouldn’t know where to stop.

I just want to point out that the Internet and computer drawing tools have combined, and art and cartooning talent is busting out in all directions.   I have a bookmark list of about two dozen online comics that I check frequently, and they’re all great.

The kicker is that for me, this list could easily be fifty to a hundred links long.  Most online comics have ads for other online comics, many of them excellent.  It would be real easy for me to kill a lot of my day reading them.  It’s tough enough staying away from the Internet when I have useful things to do.

It’s a lot like book self-publishing in that the tools for getting your work out there have never been better or easier to use.  Will some people break out into paying careers doing this kind of thing?  Sure.  We’ve already seen that in the book and e-book self-publishing industry, and there’s no reason we won’t be seeing it someday for online art and cartooning.

You’ll never know unless you try.

Nine and Sixty Ways

(Link to comic source.  Check out Aaron Williams’ blog, too!)

Anyone who spends time on writing forums or reading “how to write” books knows the paralysis that sets in when the sheer number of “rules” overloads you.  A lot of them even contradict each other.

When the rulemakers are arguing endlessly with each other, “use the one that bugs you least” works as well as anything else.  If you’ve been reading good books for years, down deep you sort of know what works.

“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!”  – Rudyard Kipling