It doesn’t matter what you call me

My clown selfie

My clown selfie

Every six months or so someone on the traditional side of the publishing fence feels the need to blast the internet with their opinion on the unsettling trend of self-published authors flooding the marketplace with material that hasn’t been vetted by the increasingly irrelevant gatekeepers of the industry.  The fact that anyone with a computer can publish a book sickens them, and they bark out their dismay until their throats get sore, and they annoy the holy hell out of everybody in the process. We get it.  You’re upset.  Move on.  There is nothing new you can say.  Your point has been made… repeatedly, and uttering another word about it is completely unnecessary.

The latest grumbler is Michael Kozlowski, Editor in Chief of Good E-Reader.  He is so miffed that he is even offended self-published authors are allowed to call themselves authors.  I’m guessing he wants self-published authors to wear a scarlet letter… only not an “A”.  He suggests that self-published works should be segregated from those published by what he calls “professional” authors.   His logic here is that it’s unfair to consumers to subject them to a plethora of inferior works on an e-tailer’s website. They should be given a clear path to the deserving works of traditionally published authors.

Kozlowski’s argument would be valid if not for the fact that by his own definition Snooki is a “professional” author, along with Pamela Anderson, Britney Spears, John Travolta, and the list goes on. Bad writing abounds amongst the offerings of traditional publishers and self-publishers.  To suggest that a bad writer deserves to be called an author because he or she has a contract with a traditional publishing house while another one doesn’t because he or she self-published is more than a bit shortsighted.  It’s an elitist-laden load of pap.

Here’s the good news.  Good writing can be found in the indie world just as plentifully as it can be found in the traditional world, maybe even more so.  Self-published authors are more apt to take risks and bring readers something new, while “professional” authors often play it safe and follow formulaic writing not because they want to, but because they’re being paid to.  I ask you which has the potential to bring more value to the literary world.

I’m a writer first and foremost.  I’m devoted to the art of fiction.  Whether or not you call me an author matters not to me.  Call me a hack or Bobo the typing clown for all I care.

Writer out.

Mixing oil with water: Christian Fiction and Contemporary Literature (Guest Post – Michel Sauret)

Note from RWR: I recently had an in-depth discussion with author Michel Sauret about a common issue many indie authors face.  Let’s call it genre confusion.  Michel has written a collection of short stories, Amidst Traffic, that has been lauded for its literary merit.  At the same time, his book has drawn attention for its Christian themes.  In other words, his book appeals to two different demographics.

On the surface, that may seem like a nice position to be in.  However, such diversity does pose a problem.  Where do you spend your marketing efforts?  The two demographics are normally at odds, a position that usually forces an indie author to make a business decision that goes against his or her artistic sensibilities.  Welcome to the sometimes frustrating world of indie publishing.

I know nothing about the Christian market.  I’ve been labeled evil by readers who love and hate my books, so it’s probably a good idea I stay away from the gentile-inclined readers.  But I gave Michel my opinion based on my knowledge of marketing.  I found the discussion so interesting that I asked him to write up something for my blog.  I know other indies stop by every once in awhile, and I thought they might find his perspective edifying.  Without further ado, I give you multi-award winning author, Michel Sauret.

Michel Sauret: Can oil and water mix? Can they become the same substance? Or, at the very least, can they be packaged into a single product?

Several years ago, when I was thinking of proposing to my (now) wife, Heather, I came across a passage in scripture that halted me:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

That same passage came to mind years later when I returned to writing fiction.

If you’re like me, when I first read that passage , I had no clue what a yoke was. I actually thought the Bible was talking about an egg at first. But a yoke is a harnass that allows multiple animals to plow or till a piece of land in unison. It joins the two bests in a common purpose, and for the animals to work efficiently, they must move in the same direction and at the same pace, otherwise the land might look like a sloppy mess.

When I published my collection of short stories, titled “Amidst Traffic,” I thought I could have the best of both worlds. I thought I could market to both the Christian and Literary readers together.

What I came to realize, however, is that there is a fundamental divide between the literary market of readers and the Christian one. The two don’t mix well.

oil_by_loumavis-d4xb2pr

Photo by LouMavis

Christian and literary fiction are not necessarily exclusive (the way, for example Christian and Erotica are), but a chasm has grown between the two genres over the last few decades.

Contemporary literature has a tendency to explore existential philosophies, life’s meaninglessness, sexual “freedom,” human individuality, personal lonesomeness, along with a myriad of other themes. The prose is usually rich and full of metaphor. The tone is often moody and its style can be gritty or even experimental.

Christian fiction (as of late), has a tendency to be more straight forward, filled with supernatural elements, less prosy, more spiritual and often even preachy. The tone appeals to a sense of hope and the writing style is more traditional and less risky.

Also, not to overstate the obvious, but the literary movement typically sides with the liberal camp on most political and philosophical topics, while the Christian movement is politically conservative.

For these reasons the Christian reader often guards himself against contemporary literary books and the literary reader rejects Christian fiction.

Though shallow and generalized, the expectations are simple: The literary reader thinks a Christian book will be preachy and trite (full of false hope), and the Christian reader often won’t appreciate the more experimental nature of contemporary lit. I’m not saying this is true all the time, but generally it is true. I’ve met enough readers in both realms who were willing to cross the border and judge a work based on its merit rather than its label, but typically readers remain in their “safe” zone.

My_Venn_diagram_by_failing_senses

There is a small overlap of readers who consider themselves BOTH Literary and Christian (Photo by Failing Senses)

Not to be overly dismissive, but I’ve actually noticed that the literary reader is more guarded against the “Christian” genre than the Christian reader is to the “Literary” one. I once had a book reviewer ask for a copy of my book, and as soon as she found out that “Amidst Traffic” held Christian themes, she refused to even read it. On the other hand, I’ve sent the same collection to Christian readers/reviewers who weren’t nearly as threatened by its gritty style and moody tones. In fact, they found those elements refreshing.

When I tried to market my work to both camps, I thought I was appealing to a larger audience, but really I was just attracting the narrow overlap from the Venn Diagram. Thanks to a conversation I had with author R.W. Ridley, I was able to identify the weakness in my marketing strategy. He said that I shouldn’t try to “serve two masters” (such an appropriate phrase, actually), but pick one camp and stick with it. Then, in the end, I’d have a better chance to break out. I consider this to be a wise choice so long as I didn’t have to change my writing style.

For that reason, I’ve decided to brand myself to the Christian camp (even though I personally find Christian fiction pretty weak when it comes to literary substance and prose quality). By identifying with a Christian market, I won’t have to compromise on personal conviction or message. Even though the Christian market isn’t currently molded to accept experimental and gritty fiction, I have a better chance of finding readers in this market than the literary one. It is by staying true to my Christian faith that I can write fiction I love to write and inject literary prose into it.

I don’t think the opposite would be true if I tried to market myself as a literary author.

2012-10-06-Michel%20Headshots-008%20SMALLAbout Michel Sauret: Michel Sauret was born in Rome, Italy, and is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s English Writing department. He published his first novel, “Breathing God,” at the age of 19, and has been serving as a public affairs specialist and journalist for the U.S. Army since 2004.

His work has won several journalism awards, including the Keith L. Ware, giving him the title of Army Journalist of the Year in 2008.  His short story, “Lost in the Night” appeared in the anthology, “Best New Writing, 2008” and his work has appeared in literary publications in the U.S., Britain and Australia.

Closing message from RWR: If you’re a reviewer, writer or reader, and you have an idea for a post that you’d like to write or see on the blog, contact me and give me your best pitch.

I’m Opening Up the Blog to Self-Publishing Questions

Classic Jeff!

Okay, so you know I quit my job (assuming you frequent this blog.  If you don’t, welcome, and I quit my job. Consider yourself caught up). But you probably have no idea what I did for a living the last five years because I purposely never mentioned my company’s name on this blog, or made references to my work.

I worked for BookSurge (now CreateSpace).  I sold publishing packages for three years, and then served as the author marketing specialist for a year and a half and finally ended my time there writing for the corporate blog.  I LOVE the company.  I didn’t leave because I was unhappy there.  I left because my duties started to interfere with my writing, and I wasn’t able to be aggressive enough to build my own personal brand. Writing and selling books is what I do.  Can’t help it.  Sometimes I wish I could because the benefits suck.  But that’s for another blog post.

Today, I’m serving notice that I am going to start talking about publishing and self-publishing a lot more on this blog.  I study the industry obsessively, and I am endlessly fascinated by it.  I know there are a lot of writers/authors out there with questions about print-on-demand, self-publishing, traditional publishing, blah, blah, blah.  Consider me the Perez Hilton Edward R. Murrow of publishing news, rumors, etc.  If you have questions, fire away in the comment section, follow me on Twitter, Friend me on Facebook, send me an email, whatever.  I’ll answer it here or in a video.  Don’t be shy.  Ask away.  If I don’t get any questions, I’m going to pretend I do each week and answer questions from John Smith in Poughkeepsie or some other generic named person living in an oddly named city.  Don’t make me humiliate myself like that.  Just ask me questions!

So, for our first question, John from Poughkeepsie asks:

“Just how sexy is Jeff Bezos in person?”

Wow, John, that was really inappropriate and very sexy.

Let’s turn the dignity dial back up a couple of notches with this segment from NPR.; iPad Could Help Self Publishers Kick Open Doors

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4 Days Left in the Corporate World

I’m winding down my corporate persona, and I have a lot of loose ends to tie up before I turn in my badge and kiss my quarterly restricted stock options good-bye.  I promised the folks in charge I wouldn’t leave them hanging, and I aim to deliver on that promise.  That means my activity around here may be a bit spotty and decidedly panicked in tone.

For those cubicled comrades that I’m leaving behind, I give you this “Good-Bye” song.

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An oldie (almost) but a goodie viral video

I’m swimming in rewrites today so here’s a gorilla video to keep you entertained. This is a variation of the 2007 viral video campaign by Cadbury.  The original was done with Phil Collins song, In the Air.  I guess Phil objected and they pulled the video, but some other artists (music and video) put their own spin on it.  This is the Sean Kingston sampling version of In the Air. 

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Is the publishing industry dying?

The slush pile just got slushier!

The slush pile just got slushier!

Don’t make me pull out my Mark Twain quotes. Don’t do it. Don’t… okay, you asked for it. The rumors of the death of the publishing industry have been greatly exaggerated. Not exactly Twain, but you get the point. In December, 2008, the publishing industry went through some pretty significant downsizing, particularly among the giants in Manhattan. It sent a lot of people into an all out panic attack, and not just those people who lost their jobs. Authors are scrambling to find out what the cutbacks mean for them. And not just the previously published. The wannabes like me are among the inquiring minds. I have books on the market, but I use a subsidy publisher. My ultimate goal is to garner that all elusive publishing deal with a major house. That deal just got elusiver (before you hound me with comments, I know elusiver is incorrect or incorrecter).

The major houses are scaling down their acquisitions for 2009 & 2010. Red carpet and black ink* celebrities don’t have to worry. The deals are still going to be there for them, but little known and unknown writers are in for an even tougher next few years. We are going to have to buckle down and look for alternatives until the traditional publishing houses get their legs back and start taking risks again. But even then, the publishing industry will have a much different landscape. Don’t be surprised if you see a shift toward tie-in mergers. Film companies merging with publishing companies merging with online social communities merging with online video distribution companies merging with TV networks, etc. The media lines are about to be blurred in a big way.

The good news is the publishing industry is not dying. It’s changing. The money will be their again. The doors are going to open wider than ever before for people like you and me. The bad news is we just have to wait it out. Keep writing. Hone your craft. In other words, nothing much has changed from our perspective.

*Black Ink Celebrities are big name authors; J.k. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, etc.

Articles on the demise of the publishing industry:

Puttin’ Off the Ritz

Read it and weep

Blockbuster or Bust