Authors behaving badly

The publishing industry is in a sad state lately, and bad wanna-be writers are just making it worse.

Publishers are used to spending the majority of their marketing dollars on a handful of blockbusters, leaving us mid-listers in the dust. With the economy in bad shape, and everybody and their mother wanting in on the action, it’s getting crowded and lean.

There seem to be a few factors. On December 12, 2008, Paul Greenberg’s article “Bail Out the Writers!” for the New York Times expressed that overcapacity was causing “snow-blindness” in publishers. God knows, if you walk outside your house right now and put up a sign that read: WRITER WANTED, you’d stop traffic in an instant. And because there are so many of us vying for attention, it’s hard for publishers to sort the wheat from the chaff, which leads to all kinds of bad behavior.

I recently joined the social networking site JacketFlap. This morning as I scrolled through some member profiles, I came upon the same messages from a few members. Each of them was a small ad for their own book. Each of them seemed to have been sent to every single member in the network. This kind of behavior is disgusting. I realize you’re trying to promote your book, but spamming people is just unprofessional. These are probably the same people who would steal your seat at a conference when you get up to use the bathroom, even though you left your notebook there. Yes, this happened to me.

Then there’s the fact that new technology has made it easy for anyone to publish a book. Bowker reports that the number of titles every year is increasing, but who is publishing those titles? According to Motoko Rich’s New York Times Article “Self-Publishers Flourish as Writers Pay Tab” it’s increasingly the authors themselves. And because you can publish a title for $99, you will be responsible for doing all the promoting you can on your own, which can lead to more bad behavior. You can, for more money, purchase a marketing kit with some vanity presses, but these prices go into the thousands.

Self-publishing is enticing. I could have my next novel available at Amazon in a couple of months if I wanted to. And for a couple of hundred dollars out of pocket, earning 45-55% of the cover price and selling for $12, I could make back my money after the sale of 37 copies and the rest is bank. Who wouldn’t? (Actually, I’m thinking about it. A LOT)

Some authors have even found traditional publishers this way after selling several thousand copies on their own. Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll be that diamond in the rough. Then there are the independent bookstores being innundated with requests to sell self-published titles that may not be any good. One such bookseller said, “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published.”

Harold Underdown on his Purple Crayon site has a new article “Working in Children’s Books and the Recession of 2008-09” that breaks down the current economic trend as relates to the publishing industry. Harold is always pretty positive about the way things will turn out. I’ve known him a while and have never known him to grouse. He writes that Hachette Book Group recently handed out bonuses after a banner year, but since Hachette publishes the “Twilight” series, and those books sold more than 2.5 million copies in Nov/Dec 2008 alone, I wonder how much of those bonuses came driectly from the Stephenie Meyer or Rob Pattinson fan club. Even Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” won’t get those kinds of sales, and it won this year’s Newbery!

With a bad economy, everybody self-publishing, rock-star authors and their marketing-$-sucking-power, and authors behaving badly, I’ve had about all I can take.

The current state of affairs may be bringing out humor or a can-do attitude for some. I for one, feel the pressure of my shoulder to the grindstone. Every time I write, it just feels harder. And maybe that’s the job (one that I would do regardless), but I dislike sugar-coating except on pastry. It’s not pretty out there, people. So those of you who kind of suck at writing, (you’d know who you are if you read what you wrote) could you just roll over? The rest of us are feeling crowded.

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4 thoughts on “Authors behaving badly

  1. levimontgomery says:

    No, actually, I don’t think they would know who they are if they read what they wrote. Take a look around at any one of the zillions of “writers’ community” websites that are sprouting and dying almost as fast as the work-at-home-and-make-millions-doing-nothing sites.

    “i luv 2 rite….ben writnig since i wuz 4”

    “These are some stories I have wrote over the years that my teacher said were real good.”

    “Its your turn to write a ten word story.”

    Add in all the arguments about whether, as an art form, writing can have rules, or whether grammar and syntax can safely be ignored. Add all the people that crowd together on the ends of the plot spectrum – the ones that have someone killed in every line, and the ones that go on and on and on about the appearance of the character, his eating habits, etc. Add all the ones that think the only reason you would be at such a site at all is so that they can tell you exactly what you did wrong.

    No, I don’t think they would know who they are if they read what they wrote. I don’t think they would know themselves if you rubbed their noses in it.

  2. Amanda says:

    I have to agree with levimontgomery. I’m not sure that they know who they are, even if they read their writing. I think this goes back to what makes a good author. Is Stephenie Meyer a “good writer” because she sold 2.5 million copies? Obviously a lot of people seem to think so. And then I skim Twilight in the bookstore and want to vomit at how bad the writing so obviously is. So is she a good writer? Does SHE think she’s a good writer? I’m sure she does. I guess there always has to be different kinds of writers and different kinds of stories–that’s what makes the world what it is. But it definitely gets frustrating when you look at the somewhat random success at such a small few and the endless toiling with no reward of so many others.

  3. scifialiens says:

    Even with traditional publishing a lot bad writing gets past the ‘gatekeepers.’ I think most of us have had the experience of picking up a book only to feel it’s been time wasted when we’re finished.
    Then again, much of writing and reading is a matter of taste. Part of my responsibility as a self-published author–at least in my opinion–is to only market to those who might be interested in my scifi series. People who have made comments to me have been mostly positive, and several are eager for the next book in the series.
    Of course I’d like to ‘make a profit’ from my writing. That’s why I made the time, effort, and investment to get published. But the publishing industry itself does make it hard for a first time author. I saw no reason to jump through all their hoops when I finally committed to a life of writing.

  4. yecarth says:

    Good points, all.
    Since I’m doing the Meyer bio, I have recently begun reading many articles about Meyer and you’re likely to find as many pro as anti Meyer comments. Even established writers are weighing in on the quailty of her prose. I’ll let you guess what they’re saying.
    As for self-publishing. I think it’s a smart option especially in the current publishing climate, and I’m unsure why it’s still being frowned upon when there are clearly writers doing well from it.
    Perhaps there is always the fear that what goes out isn’t the best it could be, but then there are the duds that made it past the “gatekeepers” as you say. …
    Thanks for posting.

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