Sunday, May 1, 2011

Just sayin'

For some reason I'm thinking about an old rock'n'roll song: I first heard Herman's Hermits do it (not that I remember them). "Don't know much about history/Don't know much about (whatever it was, biology?)". . . I fall under the category of "don't know much, just enough to feel extremely intimidated".

I'm kind of getting it from all sides that I should e-publish. I sort of know what they mean. I should produce a novel that can be published in non-paper form, seen only on a glowing screen and paid for, presumably, by some magic machinations of a credit card.

I'm s'-pozed-ta get something out of this, myself. Like, royalties. Not royal-teas like Kate Middleton or that chick with the pretzel on her head, or somesuch, but money, the kind of money writers are always surprised to get. (Hell, I'm surprised to get anything. My royalty statement from my first publisher now shows a negative balance. How can this be, when almost all the reviews were good?).

Anyhow. On to the subject: e-publishing, or epublishing, or ehhhhpbpbpbpbllt. This doesn't cost anything, or very little, and people ARE reading these books, yes they are, and it's practically a guarantee they'll be reading even more of them in the future. Hell, now that I've started a blog and have a web site and even gone on Facebook, anything is possible, and I may end up with a Kindling or whatever it is. My husband has been threatening to buy one for months but is waiting for the price to go down.

But here's the thing. The concerns I have are manifold. I've spent most of my adult life approaching publishers with queries and sample manuscripts, and after decades of beavering away, I've published two novels the old-fashioned way (one might almost say the hard way). But in order to reach that happy state, there was a process, a long and rigorous one.

To get to the point where a publisher would even request to look at my manuscript, I had to first convince them it was worth their while. This in itself takes time, energy and a sales/promotional savvy that I've never really possessed. One must boil years of work down to a single page, and that page must be snappy and engaging. This is called a synopsis. But you also have to tell these folks who you are, what you've done, what your education is, what you've already published and etc. and etc. and etc. and etc. and etc. and

In other words, these folks don't want to take a gamble on someone with no credentials and no track record.

Then comes the evaluation process. This often takes months, during which time the writer either withdraws with a bottle of Wild Turkey or goes away and eats 17 pounds of Cadbury Mini-Eggs. Then comes more waiting. Then.

Then, usually, a no.

But, even if it's a yes, another process begins: working with an assigned editor who will (once more) evaluate and weigh and measure and advise.
What I'm trying to get across here is that there are standards. I'm not sure such standards exist in e-publishing (God, that word is hard to type). Can't you just put anything up there, or out there?

OK, another related topic. If there's no formal evaluation before it goes out there, are there reviews? Reviews don't necessarily "sell" books, but they publicly acknowledge that the book has been published, and also evaluate its quality or lack of it. It puts the book (and the author) out there in the public consciousness. Of course it's subjective, but it's not true that all reviewers are drooling idiots or failed novelists with a grudge.

So now we come to the issue that is very, very, very, very (OK, stop Margaret) touchy: awards. Writers all say awards don't matter and they don't even care if they're eligible or not. Then they grind their teeth to powder when the announcement comes out about who won the Giller or the Governor-General or the Booker or the Leacock or the Nobel or, on and on and on.

Awards don't matter unless you get them. When you get them, your sales can skyrocket, if even for a little while. And it might just improve your chances of publishing again, which is what most of us want.

Is an e-book eligible? For any of this? I suppose there are Eebie awards and such, but - do I sound like a snob, a Luddite, a - ?

I'm a writer, and, hey, I want an award. It'd be cool on my mantle, and maybe I wouldn't have a negative royalty balance. I don't like to think my book could be casually deleted, and thus no longer exist at all.

I like picking books up, and smelling them. I like how they clutter up my house, get old and fall apart. I like finding a paperback that originally cost 17 cents. In short, I like books just because they're books, and I like signing them even more, in spite of my miserable, stunted, dorky signature. Can I sign an e-book?

I think this is one of dem-darr paradigm shifts that everyone blathered on about in the '90s. We're between systems. Traditional publishing often seems to be moving very slowly. I know, I sound like I'm facing backwards, but to be honest I prefer the seemingly glacial evaluation period and being strained through the fine sieve of reviews and award eligibility over a method that (to me: don't know much about his-to-ry) feels too easy and does not demand real dedication, the kind that yields a high-quality, readable result.

There are those who will say, but look at all the dreck that comes out every year. Perhaps. But when the gate is this wide open, when standards no longer exist, when (as Moxy Fruvous once sang) "everyone's a novelist, and everyone can sing" ("but no one talks when the TV's on. . . "). Excuse me. I lost my train of -. When everyone's a novelist, and libraries no longer exist, and a moth will fly out of every rare edition of Dickens -

Someone will come out on top. Look at Stephen King. He can do it! Why can't we? But next time you're in an airport, just try to buy an e-book along with your Evian natural spring water and 500-gram bag of Skittles.