I have dreams of midlist glory!--Me, as recently as six or so years ago
People say all the time, "I'm no J. K. Rowling" - but the disclaimer has almost no meaning, really. Even in a climate where you *have* to sell, and sell well - in a climate where authors *probably* can't hope for second chances - where providing a moneymaking brand and the product to keep it going is the only hope for an author to gain "publishing success".
I'm not even Hilary Mantel.
Bestsellers, I rarely read. Some of the greatest authors I've ever found were ones who WOULD not emerge, or survive, today - at least in American publishing - at least not the way they did when they came up the Traditional path. Donald Harington. America's Chaucer, I've seen him called. Parke Godwin, who wrote perhaps the best work in my own genre, to whose standard I will always aspire - and who also was able to get away with comedic sci-fi/fantasy farce too. Not happening, that genre-jumping, not such a long jump.
There is no place anymore for the adequate author, for great writing but un-thrilling sales, for second novels from workhorse producers, for first novels from the rarefied genius.
... or is there ... ?
I don't know.Among the great factors on my mind, as I have begun to contemplate becoming a self-pub/indie author has been the desolation of the middle class, in traditional publishing.
The situation looks, on the one hand, very much like a symptom of an industry upper-class avariciously destroying a wide, bread-and-butter segment of its own livelihood. I don't pretend to know that's the case. Whether it's the corporate imperative of growth above all, infecting a business ... which never has been entirely comprised of uber-moral artistes in any case ... or the creaking imminence of the death of an outdated system: my education is not wide enough to judge.
Even if I knew enough to judge, probably best to make few pronouncements, in this life.
I tend to be skeptical of harbingers of death. In my less than half a century on this planet, so many concepts have died, I no longer take stock. Rock and roll has died - multiple times, I believe - yet seems curiously animate to those of us in ignorance. Disco has died too - or was murdered, indeed by friends of mine - but retains some vitality, no matter how often we tell it it's over. Civility is a perennial hospice patient; it's been dying for centuries now, off and on.
And so I wonder whether the extraordinary shrinkage of the middle-class in publishing ... and I watch the increasing cross-pollination of self-pub and trad-pub - authors increasingly working both ways, at multiple levels of success and experience - and I am forced to wonder:
Are the evil gatekeepers in the traditional infrastructure the virus - or another patient?
Or are they - is the industry - are we all - metamorphosing?
Transformation is painful, pretty much every time. We've watched for years as newspapers have died (another one for the list), going digital and either suffocating for life's breath without subscription money, or becoming less available ("you have read your limit of free articles this month PLEASE SUBSCRIBE" and you're splatted on a paywall), or even losing relevance just because the vastness of availability means ABC/NBC/CBS aren't the masters of the media universe.
Nobody cried for typewriters.We kept them on at most companies, without pay, as long as carbon paper took to eke its way out of existence. Sometimes, we used them to cobble together documents already barfed out of a printer but in need of corrections or additions. We used pens, too.
We began to think typewriters were cute.
We forgot they existed.
We began harvesting the truly quaint ones for keys to turn into DIY jewelry.
The typewriter lives on, but primarily in steampunk design now. Rarely used for writing anymore. Even spiral notebooks find more use there. Though those dwindle too, and we recycle more.
And so ...I both reserve my weeds where death is heralded, and I believe in it at the same time.
And I grew up in Beautiful Downtown White Flight.
I know, sometimes, things just: move.
And again my education is poor.Did the middle class move to self-pub when it got squeezed out of the ever-decreasing real estate available for non-bestsellers in traditional? Or give up and just ... keep the day jobs, losing the dreams.
The sheer volume of dreams clearly available seems in this world to me to discount the latter, to an appreciable degree.
Have dreams changed?
I wonder about that too. Because, before I ever even began my education as an *author* as opposed to a writer - my education, with the real and quantifiable goal of becoming published ...
I dreamed of not having to deal with those "gatekeepers."
And, no matter how many of you love Janet, and know you're going to do it, and *have* done it, don't you tell me for a second you never thought about that. "I'll just copy the thing and sell it myself." Even before the days when self-pub had gained the traction it has, the legitimacy it has. Even before people DID that, and it was a real Thing.
Before even I dreamed of midlist glory, before I ever encountered James River Writers, when I was a mere stripling of thirty, or in my twenties, or unable to concentrate but somehow aware I was a not-bad-stringer-of-word-thingies ... in fear and before the blank wall of "how the hell do people become authors anyway" and never knew I would, or could - I thought, "why not copy my writing and sell it myself?"
Easier than learning.
("Oh. Wait ...")
And, yeah. It turns out - something to learn, all itself.
I come from the generation that brought the 'zine to its apex. I come from a wordy dang family. I come from all the fear every Woodland Creature (reg US Pat Off, Janet Reid's Phrase and Wordventions Incorporated) ever experienced, not to say wallowed in. I come from curiosity and confidence and ...
I live, in myself, in that moment where the inchoate dreams of a non-author who was nonetheless still a writer has come face to face with the first dream I ever had, and found that a "real" author can do it too. It's not just the throwaway resort of a 'nartist.
It would be sad if it's the *only* way for a non-bestseller to be published, but ... again, I'm decreasingly of the opinion anymore that self-pub/trad-pub is an either/or proposition.
And I have a resolution in my mind, to always learn, to commit to the preservation of my wee and paltry brain by feeding it with knowledge, and challenges.
And ... self-pub was, in its way, the first dream I had, as a writer. Granted, out of fear. But the way I saw it was an instrument of control. The way I saw it was as an escape from rejection, yeah. The way I saw it came from a time before it ever really existed.
And now it does. Because my dream is widespread.
Programming note for those who've been kind enough to inquire after me lately - the illness I've had is called labyrinthitis, it's something I've dealt with periodically since I was twenty. It STINKS but is nothing dangerous, and I've been so grateful for everyone's well wishes. It's still not quite cleared off, but I am safe to drive and very happy back at the office, and Penny will be especially pleased when I'm sure enough on my feet for her to get her regular walkies once again. (She's a tugger; you have to be *really* sure on your feet to walk her!)