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Missed Opportunities for Self-Publishers?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Philip Overby, Jan 21, 2014.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Well, I was with you until you said "pretentious things like that." It sounds like anyone who challenges the status quo is perceived as pretentious. I'm not sure I think my suggestion is pretentious.

    And I don't believe all writers enter the market as equals either. A debut traditionally published author is most likely going to get more exposure than a debut self-published author.

    Yes, it's hard if not harder because you have to avoid the minefield of being cliche, trending familiar ground too much, being predictable, etc. etc. I think it's actually very hard to write epic fantasy without being too homogenous to the point in which every story stays the same. Those writing epic fantasy that I admire buck the tropes or turn them on their heads. That's why they're successful.

    I've said several times that it would just be nice to have more choices when it comes to fantasy. Self-publishers have more a chance of doing so than traditional publishers is all I'm saying because they don't have gatekeepers telling them something won't sell. It's up to them if they decide it's worth trying to sell or not.

    Forums factor into what I meant about advance reviews and social media, although I didn't mention that. Unless every single book you read is told to you by someone else in person.

    In any case, we're talking in circles. You seem to have strong opinions on the lack of need to distinguish indie writers, while I have strong opinions that they do need to be. You think my suggestion makes no sense, so let's just leave it at that. You're not going convince me and I'm not going to convince you.

    I have enjoyed trying to convince you though. I don't normally find myself passionate about anything enough to have the energy to argue it. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2014
  2. Ankari

    Ankari Hero Breaker Moderator

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    First, I'm going to have to ask everyone to take the edge off of your responses. I can read the emotion behind your words. While passion is a desired aspect of art, it can incite passions in others. Opposing passions is conflict. Resort to reason. Please.

    Mythopoet,

    You're somewhat right about self publishers. They don't have to differentiate from traditional authors, they have to differentiate from other self publishers. There is a stigma associated with self publishers. No matter how you splice it, the stigma is real. Self publishers, then, need to differentiate themselves from other self publishers because, among many things, they emulate traditionally produced material. I think that is the point Phil was making.

    Most readers don't care about how authors are traditionally published, but they do care that they product they buy is of professional grade. I've never once bought a book and looked to see who published it. I buy book based on a few criteria:

    1) The cover. If the cover is good, then the author/publisher felt the product was good enough to shell over a couple hundred bucks for a decent cover. Most covers from established artists cost over $500, and $1000 isn't an extreme figure. If self publishers get stock images and photoshop them to form a cover, it's a sign the author hasn't invested in other crucial things.

    2) The back blurb. I read those. If they grab me, I'll proceed to the last, and most important point.

    3) I read the first chapter. If I can't stand the author's style of writing, I don't buy the book. As BWFoster points out, this is where most self publishers fall hard. There is a flow that comes with a polished piece. I'm sure most self publishers do a couple revisions, maybe even seven, but they don't invest into a professional editor. They may have a buddy that is really good at grammar, or a family member that's an English teacher, but that's only a half-measure. Editors go to school for a reason. They put the time in reading slush piles to form a honed sense of what works. If a self publisher wants to be a publisher, s/he needs to do what real publishers do: hire professionals to do specific jobs.

    Traditionally published authors receive that much benefit. They also receive the blessing of being in a brick and mortar store. How many self publishers can claim that honor? Do you think it's insignificant? How many ebooks are bought by people browsing a bookstore's shelves? I know I've done that.

    It's true most authors have to do their own marketing, even if they are traditionally published. But, I think the trade off is worth it. Get your name recognized, gain a fan base, then self publish.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2014
    Philip Overby and T.Allen.Smith like this.
  3. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    Thanks, Ankari. It is good to mention that we can have a discussion but to keep the absolutes and the edge off if possible. I am passionate about this topic, so I hope my passion doesn't come through as hostile in any way.

    Yes, this. Maybe I couldn't explain what I meant as concisely, but this is what I'm getting at. I don't have my finger on the pulse of what makes self-publishing tick, but I would say there is still a very real stigma. My suggestions have all been to delude this stigma or at least think of ways for indie writers to make themselves stand out from the crowd. Good storytelling isn't always enough, sadly.
     
  4. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

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    Not at all. 5 stars means: I loved it. 1 star means: I couldn't read it. The scale is based on my personal enjoyment of it. It has absolutely nothing, zero, zip, nada to do with the *quality* of a book. We've all come across books we hated that the entire rest of the world loved, and vice versa. My reviews are simply my personal summary of what I enjoyed about a book and what I didn't like about it. If you've read any of my 1* reviews you'll see that I generally say: if you like this kind of story and you don't mind [problem I hated] you'll probably enjoy this book.

    I do occasionally get requests from authors for a review and I find the book is unreadable (to me) because of grammatical errors and so forth, in which case I tell the author that when I turn down the request. Even then, I don't say it's crap, I say: I found the following errors on the first page, you need another round of editing. I don't think I've ever said: this book is crap. I just don't think it's possible to judge the quality of a book in that way.
     
    Mythopoet likes this.
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Who said my criticism is falling on deaf ears? I think that, overall, my direct criticism to other authors is fairly well received.

    Note that in a forum I say, speaking generally, "If you want to succeed as a writer, you need to put in a lot more effort at learning craft than it appears a lot of self published authors do." Again, this type of situation, I am quite blunt.

    When I'm addressing a specific author for a critique, my tone is much more along the lines of, "This specific issue did not work for me. A lot of authors think that doing it this way (elaboration) is better. You may want to consider it."

    Okay, well maybe not quite that soft, but much more that than, "Hey, dude, you suck."
     
  6. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Pauline,

    I think I understand your viewpoint. If I've got it right, the difference that you perceive between the two of us is:

    You: You judge books purely based on personal judgement which is purely relative and should not be applied to any objective measure.
    Me: I try to make objective judgements of books.

    You feel, again if I've interpreted you correctly, that trying to be objective is BAD while being relative is OKAY.

    By that reasoning, the following judgement of a book would be fine:

    I could not get into this book. It seemed to me that the author had trouble stringing words together in a coherent manner, that the plot, as far as I could tell, didn't exist, and the characters behaved in a manner inconsistent with any known psychological profile. If you, dear review reader, don't mind that the book is essentially a jumble of random words, you may find it enjoyable.

    I stated my personal opinion and listed specific things I didn't like. I concluded that another reader may like the book if he can get past the things I didn't like. Therefore, I'm being relative, which is okay.

    To me, this is just semantics. I'm essentially saying in the above post that, "This book is crap." I'm simply using more words to do so.
     
  7. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I don't want to get into this further publicly, but if you're more curious about what I'm getting at, I'd be happy to talk to you on chat sometime.

    I'd prefer if this thread continued to discuss the OP and didn't keep getting into comments about the quality of self-published works.

    There's a recent thread that already discusses this here: http://mythicscribes.com/forums/publishing/10996-another-question-quality-self-pub-3.html
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2014
  8. gethinmorgan

    gethinmorgan Scribe

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    There have been some interest in creating new, vibrant fantasy settings and tropes - Ahmed and Mievile instantly spring to mind - but most fantasy nowadays is either urban or epic. And the Epic had a tenancy to be medieval European, al la Lotr or GoT. I like Abecrombie - but I know he's not going to break any moulds.

    (Sweeping statement, I know!

    The problem with publishing experimental work is that it's going to sit there, for a long time, and not move. Sub-genres like alt-lit, New Weird or Slipstream will only appeal to a small audience - so it verges on a labour of love rather than a sound brand-building exercise.

    And as for dismissing indie-publishing - Indie-fantasy is all I read now. Quality is just someone's opinion.
     
  9. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I guess what I was suggesting wasn't so much experimental fantasy fiction, but just what Ahmed (who you mentioned) suggested when the Diversity in SFF discussion was going on as of late. He said, “I want fewer kings and starship captains, more coach drivers and space waitresses.” I say let's have all of them!

    I'm just not sure why treading the same ground is the only viable option for fantasy writers. Is that the only way to truly build an audience? Maybe I'm being naive, but I believe there's the chance for a pack of writers to really challenge the conventions of fantasy. I'm not talking New Weird or something like that (which I like), but just putting the focus elsewhere. Maybe a micro rather than macro approach.

    I just wrote an article about this topic for Mythic Scribes, so yeah, I'd love to see what the reactions are going to be. I made sure to repeat over and over again that I both read and write epic fantasy, so people won't think I'm trying to destroy the paradigm or something. :)
     
  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I've seen this mentioned elsewhere on the site in the last few months. Writing stories about the "little people" of the fantasy worlds. I believe that this could be rather interesting if done well. It's also what I'm trying to do with my current WIP, so the idea is dear to me.
    I think that to do this you'd have to put more focus on world and character than on action and adventure. One of the first things I noticed was repeated regularly here is that character is important and that as long as you have an interesting character you can get away with a less then enchanting story.

    I've also seen mention here and there on the forums that people are bouncing around the idea of re-using the same setting from story to story. These stories aren't meant to be related other than that they're taking place in the same setting. This isn't exactly a new idea. Discworld has been around for ages and I'm sure other writers have done it as well.
    In a way this is similar to epics in that it allow the reader to come back to the same setting they're familiar with over and over again. Unlike the epic it would allow the author to change the style of their stories and how they're told. You could tell light-hearted romance stories focused in one part of the world and you could do a miserable grimdark tragedy set somewhere else.
    This approach also releases you from the giant undertaking of writing an entire twelve and half volume epic monstrosity.

    Also, I'm planning on doing this as well once I figure out how to write, so this idea is dear to me too. ;)
     
  11. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I think the way I expressed the original post might have come across as saying self-published authors should only try to do things that go against current trends. I never said that. I just said that it might be a missed opportunity for a group of writers to show that self-published writers are doing what mainstream fantasy is not. This is no way saying that epic fantasy needs to go away. Quite the contrary. I just think there's room for fantasy that dares to buck conventions, such as following a character as he does something in his village, where it has no bearing on the outside world whatsoever. I don't quite understand why fantasy stories almost always tend to have the main character's decisions have a bearing on the entire world. Again, I like these stories, I just hope for more is all.
     
  12. C Hollis

    C Hollis Troubadour

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    I had a similar conversation with my wife a couple of days ago. I enjoy epic fantasy a lot, it has always been in my rotation of reading, but as much as I enjoy it, I tire of the "save the cheerleader, save the world" premise.
    Why does it typically have to be the entire world? Why can't it be about the character's world?
    Meaning: Why can't the quest just be about the family, the village, the region, or the kingdom? We aren't devoid of such titles, but they are few. I really don't see me ever writing a story about saving the world, I like to keep it closer to home.

    And really, that one topic that is different from the norm could be successful.

    I have also considered writing a fantasy that fell closer to the realms of a simple literary story, much like a Steinbeck novel.
     
  13. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Could this be a parallel to the gaming (or movie) industry? The costs involved in making a big game these days are enormous, meaning the stakes are really high. The people able to invest that kind of money are reluctant to part with it on something they perceive as risky or uncertain.
    We're still getting big amazing triple-A games, but they're rarely all that revolutionary or different.

    However, if you look at indie games you see all kinds of interesting and innovative games being published. You'll find everything from the purely experimental to traditional platformers. The quality is extremely varied, but there's some really good new stuff coming out and while it may not be as polished as some of the more well-known franchises there's a lot of enthusiasm and creativity going into making these games.
     
  14. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I thought that "saving the world" is part of the definition of "epic" fantasy. I'm no expert in the differences between fantasy genres, but it was my understanding that, if the story focuses on a smaller scale such as saving the character's village or whatever, the story isn't rightfully classified as epic fantasy.

    Perhaps you're missing out on the stories you want because you're looking in the wrong genre?

    Regarding Phil's original topic:

    If you're trying to get noticed as a self-published author, maybe it is best to go against the grain, to produce something that no one else is doing. My concern with that approach is that, if you're truly writing something that no one else is, you almost have to thwart reader expectations (after all, if you're not going against what the reader expects, you're probably producing the same thing that the reader has read).

    In my experience, it's much more difficult for an author to successfully pull off plot and character arcs that go against expectations than it is to pull off normal ones for which you have tons of examples. Truthfully, I've read a lot of stories lately where the authors didn't even pull of the traditional plots well.

    Maybe, if you're just starting out, it's better to make things as easy on yourself as possible.
     
  15. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    My feeling is that self-published authors don't have to totally reinvent the wheel, but maybe just make things even simpler. Instead of having huge casts and conflicts, make it smaller. As C. Hollis said, around the local village or something. I've been doing that more and more with my own fiction. I want to make the conflicts more local.

    For example, one idea I was tossing around is about a craftswoman who makes jewelry and trinkets for the local men and women in her village. Kind of like a fantasy version of Etsy. :) However, some swamp hags show up in her village and lure people with newer, shinier trinkets that promise infinite beauty and such. This makes the craftswoman have to figure out how to get her business back from the hags, who have been using nefarious means to steal her business. It could also be like a comparison of corporations vs. small businesses. Pretty relateable I think. Simple.

    Maybe this sounds like more of a short story, but I think with other added conflicts, the story could expand to a novel length. This story isn't reinventing the genre in anyway, but it's offering a more focused story that deals with simpler goals. I would feel it would almost be easier for new writer to try something along what the lines of what I'm talking about and still find an audience, than writing a huge epic right out the gate. Coming from someone who has written epics, I think I'm closing in on finishing my last one (for now).

    I think the impression my earlier posts gave was that fantasy needs to be all weird or experimental for self-published writers to get attention. That's not really what I was getting at. I'm just thinking of writers looking at what mainstream publishing is doing and trying something that doesn't exactly match that is all.
     
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2014
  16. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I like to think also of the comparison between Hollywood and indie films. Hollywood tends to shy away from more daring kinds of movies and the ones that do try different things usually win Oscars. I'm not saying self-publishers should only write high brow fiction, but there's just an open avenue to try new things that mainstream publishing isn't attempting at the moment. Epic fantasy is cool, but variety would be awesome. Sure, reading outside the genre helps that, but fantasy can be spreading its wings more I think.
     
  17. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Phil,

    Again, I'm pretty sure that such a book would not be properly categorized as epic fantasy. By pretty much every definition I've ever read, epic fantasy is characterized by large casts and being "epic" in nature such that the actions of the hero impact the entire fantasy world.

    Perhaps if you search for tales in other subgenres, you might find that some of the stories you want already exist.

    EDIT: I don't know if I'm making myself clear or not, so I'll state it one more time. It is my understanding that, if you write a story about a hero saving his village, you will not have "expanded" the epic genre. You will have written a story that is not, by definition, an epic fantasy.
     
  18. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm actually just talking about fantasy in general, not epic fantasy. I'm saying it would be interesting to try more local ideas in fantasy. Fantasy in a broad sense, not getting into sub-genres like epic fantasy.
     
  19. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    When most people think "fantasy," they think of the famous epic fantasies, but there are a bunch of sub-genres out there. Have you searched some of these? I have to think that people are out there writing in other genres and that some stories like the ones you're looking for probably already exist.
     
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'm tempted to make another parallel - with music this time.

    It's not uncommon for musicians to play in more than one band. Once you've established your band and it's identity, changing it up may not be much of an option. Starting a side project and playing something else is an option though. As an example, Charlie Watts from The Rolling Stones is involved with quite a few different other bands he's playing in - with more or less success.

    On the literature side of things there was recently an incident where JK Rowling got her pen-name for a non-HP novel revealed. She'd wanted to try her hand at something else to see what it was like and didn't want to put her own name on it and somehow the name got out anyway. Maybe if she'd just self-published the thing that wouldn't have happened and no one would have known.
     
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