Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Than One Way to Part Kenny's Hair

I was going to post about my inaugural spinning class at the Y this morning, how "sprinting" on my stationary bike to bad Top Gun soundtrack music made me feel weirdly nostalgic for H.G. Wells's contraption (I just had to use that graphic again) and how the guy behind me warned me he always felt like he'd just gotten out of prison afterward (and how very Laura Ingalls of me not to get his total butt-sore reference until I stepped off the bike 45 minutes later), but I think it's been far too long since I've mused on writerly things. And I miss it. Like damn.

There are as many different paths to publication as there are mullet hairs on Kenny Loggins's head, so why have I just been entertaining a handful these past few years? True, I've ventured out into Amazon Breakthrough Novel territory, had an agent for a time, published a short, even boldly gone where few have gone before to double final in RWA's prestigious Golden Heart Award, but still I write toward that brass ring. In my mind, I have only dared to reach for it with the time-worn, established, always-been-this-way methods. I'm a safe, bet the odds, follow the rules kind of writer. I hoard my novels, lest I reveal too much. I fear posting my words will push them firmly into the "already published" hot potato camp where agents and editors dare not tread. Funny, but in trying so hard to get them into mass publication/mass distribution hands, my stories have become completely unreachable to those whom I wish to access the most: readers.

Maybe I've been riding the wrong Kenny Loggins hair.

Two recent sites I've visited have broadened my awareness of reader-centric sites where readers are not only the focus, but the decision-making force that drives the engine.

Recently, Dorchester Publishing announced an alliance with Unpublished romance writers who deliver serialized stories that capture the most subscriptions and readers are awarded a publishing contract. This feeds (1) the publishing house's desire to find a sure-thing with a built-in audience (2) our culture's increasing fascination with all things delivered in tiny, digestible, digital meals and (3) a writer's craving for feedback from those whose opinions matter most: readers. The model is hugely successful in Japan. Many mainstream novels have entered that country's collective awareness via this route.

Another site that has been around since 2006 is Sponsored by the Arts Council of England and watched closely by top editors at major publishing houses, writers enter into a bartering feedback system. For each installment a writer posts, she agrees to read and provide feedback on five others. This rating system sifts out the stories highest in a handful of factors such as characterization, plot, setting, etc., and titles earn coveted spots on top ten and bestseller lists. While YouWriteOn offers a self-publication route, their mission is to hook writers up with the industry's top agents and editors. So, while TextNovel is reader driven, YouWriteOn is based on peer evaluation of other writers who (1) self-published or (2) became frustrated with their inert careers.

Do these sites, then, sacrifice a novel to the altar of popularity we so wanted to leave behind in junior high, benefiting the most tech-savvy, socially-networked writers? Or does the cream really rise to the top? Do writers become attention hos like those who final in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel contest and the American Title contest, with nary a mention of, "nice weather we're having," than to follow it with, "vote for me, vote for me!" If we're to believe the promotion and hype on both sites, these models have led several writers to mainstream success with houses such as Putnam, Random House and Orion, an easy decision for these houses because the risk is greatly reduced. Are these viable paths to an author's ultimate goal?

There is careful. And then there are years. And years. I'm between, wondering if the hair is smoother on the other side of the mullet.

Today's earwig: Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins....ah!! (the link so it can become your earwig, too. You're welcome.)
What do you think of these serialized sites for authors to post their work?


the walking man said...

Laura...I am going to be completely honest here.

I think if I were more diligent to the business side of writing I could find the agent or the publisher for my verse/prose. I wouldn't mind being known beyond the borders of my blog, I wouldn't mind a bit of fame and all that.

I'd like my high school diploma to be invited to an advanced writing university class to read and discourse with students of the art.

But I have found that the hundred rejection slips of a few years ago before I really found the voice I now write in, set my mind on the "*shrug* fuck it path."

And now as long as I continue with output I feel OK about what I do. If someone sees worth in it for a moment then I am a success at it.

I am assembling about 65 or so poems to self publish in the next few weeks, I expect to sell them for cost plus postage because profit has not been a motive for me. If Twenty people want the book then I am a success as an author.

I may feel different if I was totally immersed in the guilds and conventions with other writers/editors but I can not force myself to join such groups.
(not that anyone has asked me to)

In the end I suppose what I am saying is I write because I can and because it is one of the more enjoyable pass times I have since being forced away from my hand tools.

Beyond that if the world of publishing seeks me out, I'll listen but I don't get any pleasure at all from begging some one to even simply look.

(although I do break all the rules when writing cover letters and make them non formal, personal communication which is an off shoot of my Fuck "em I'm from Detroit attitude)

Be Well and good fortune on your quest though.

Gina said...


I wasn't aware of those sites. Thanks for passing them along. Unfortunately, I don't have anything to promote. I like the idea of accountability, of serials, of other authors ranking the writing efforts - though I'll have to thicken my skin before I begin.
I guess I should start preparing for the National Conference as well. He he. I'll be there, but again not with the sense that I really have a book to promote, pitch -- though I'm going to pitch one anyway. I'm looking forward to the President's Retreat and the PRO Retreat.
Hope to see you there.

Charles Gramlich said...

There's definitely more routes to publication these days, and that has both good and bad sides. Some folks will be lucky with the new technology and new net opportunities. Others won't. And, unfortunately, quality is not necessarily where the buck stops.

Stewart Sternberg said...

You know, I once interviewed Kenny Loggins. Nice guy...genuine, unaffected. That being said, I think we're in flux and the world of publishing as we know it is becoming a very different think from what we knew as recently as ten years ago. Maybe it's the net, maybe it's globalization. Still, I feel there are more routes to publication, as you put forward. It will just take some of us a bit longer to rethink our paradigm.

Maureen McGowan said...

This business gets more and more complicated and difficult and confounding.

I think at some point we just have to rely on our gut and on pursuing avenues that give us pleasure.

But keeping abreast of all the options out there is smart.

laughingwolf said...

thx for these, lam... now i'm even more confused :O lol

Katie Reus said...

I agree with what Maureen said. There are many different paths to publication. Some bypass looking for an agent and use e-publishing as a spring board to NY. Some agent hunt right away. And some will use contests such as the ones you mentioned as a means to publication. There isn't one right way b/c everyone is different. Listen to your instincts.

Michelle said...

This recent article in Time Mag. has has some interesting comments on self publishing. Page 2 quote: "Here's an interesting factoid: last year, for the first time in history, more books were self-published in the U.S. than were published the regular way.",9171,1904142,00.html If the link doesn't work the article is titled "Is Amazon taking over the book business?"

Todd Wheeler said...

I agree with Charles and company: the more routes the better. If nothing else, it forces the traditional routes of publisher/agent to change or perish.

As for the author, he or she should choose the route that works for them, not just what is working for someone else today.

I think I just rephrased what everyone above just said. :-)

L.A. Mitchell said...

@walkingman - thank you for the well-wishes. As much as I enjoy the creative process of writing, my goal of a sustainable living is always at the back of my mind. Somewhere along the way, this transcended hobby and determination took hold. I wish you much success with your collection and I'll be one of the first to get it :)

@Gina - good to hear from you again :) I'll be helping Sherry out at the PRO Retreat, so I'll see you there for sure.

@Charles - I'm trying to stay on top of technology, but Twitter has me baffled and the time suck vortex that is Facebook I can't afford right now. There are books to be written and stories to be told ;)

@Stewart - I want to hear the Kenny Loggins story someday. You're right, and it's taking me so long to shift that paradigm

@Maureen - Not sure my gut has always served me well, but I think I've been taken down paths where there were important lessons to be learned.

@laughingwolf - we'll be confused together :)

@Katie - thanks for the input. You've had such a great run at e-pub and now jumping to an agent. I see more great things for you.

@Michelle - Hey you! Thanks so much for the article link. More proof that no one really knows what's coming down the road with any certainty. In ten years, the business model that's so prevalent now could be obsolete.

@Todd - Well said :) It's hard to know what that "right" route is sometimes.