Downstairs in my kitchen

Sunday, January 12, 2014

When a writer is a publisher

It's become commonplace to take the view that publishing is in chaos and that change is the only constant. Although those statements are repeated endlessly and possibly even true, I wish I would stop hearing them. My concern is that these statements confuse writers--make them think that writing is in chaos, that they need to keep a weather eye on the changes. It isn't and they don't.

Okay, the publishing business is certainly changing fast and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. How books will be sold and even what constitutes a book is up in the air. But for writers the world, the job hasn't changed at all. Being a successful writer still means writing stories people want to read. So the job is to find a story you are passionate about and tell it well. Then do the next one.

As a reader I don't want my favorite writers wasting time worrying about what ebook format or e-reader will dominate, whether their books will be read on cell phones or tablet computers, or worse yet, if the demise of the print book is real, immediate, a gradual trend, or total bullshit.I want them writing stories, thinking about storytelling. And writers have enough distractions as life is. They have enough ways to keep from writing without spending hours and days on forums bemoaning or cheering (as their belief set dictates) the changes or even lack of change in the world of publishing.

Mickey Spillaine once told a story about dealing with writer's block. With no ideas of what to write, he went to Florida for an extended vacation. He was bored. One day his accountant called and told him that his income wasn't keeping up with his outgo. The situation wasn't critical; he had money in the bank, but he needed to pay a little attention--generate some income.

Almost instantly, he said, he had several good ideas for stories. Not for ebooks, mind you. Not paperbacks. Not hardcover books. Just stories that he wanted to write.

When I hear (or read) the thoughts of many writers, however, they seem to focus on the ins and outs of publishing; they talk about distribution channels; the ups and downs of various outlets (say of Barnes & Noble) are the stuff of their day. Not stories. When money is tight, instead of it generating story ideas, that concern seems to produce thoughts (some rather desperate) about ebook pricing, how to market on social media better, and perhaps concerns about the work of their current cover artist. While the business of writing certainly means understanding, addressing and dealing with all of those things (and a lot more), if they become the primary focus, the writer becomes more publisher than writer. The person produces business and marketing strategies instead of novels. They become more business person than artist or communicator. To be your own publisher (self, indie...fixate on the terminology if you enjoy the exercise) does require finding a balance that Mickey Spillaine didn't worry about. (But rest assured that he had other balancing acts to deal with.)

Of course a person's focus is their choice, but if they are a writer I enjoy it can be a loss. My loss. And let's be honest here. I am taking the viewpoint of the reader here. If my favorite writers are spending too much time on publishing and not writing, I lose out.

Hey, that gives me an idea for a story. See, a writer has finished his book and.... No, sorry, we won't talk about it until it is done.