Archive for March 2009

Moving in…

March 31, 2009

I’m in the process of moving my blog from Blogger, which has been sweet but just isn’t interested in growing the ways I need to, to WordPress. And I’ll be gradually moving old content from there to here. But first, I have to spend more time and brain cells on the mystery that is Twitter.

Bookmark this spot, friends. There’s more to come. 🙂

Artistic freedom in a limited-outlets world

March 18, 2009

SF Signal has a very interesting topic up on MIND MELD today:

Q: Once upon a time, sf/f was full of taboos: no swearing, no sex, etc. We’re thankfully past those days, but are there any taboos still remaining or new ones that have sprung up? Have you ever had trouble with publishing something, or caught yourself self-censoring?
Peter Watts

As is the practice on Mind Meld, a few pro writers are asked to weigh in and the floor is opened for comments. The site may shortly go up in flames; stay tuned. What I find most fascinating is the passionate allegiance people exhibit to one side of the question or the other: the writers (and remember these are pros, not the Bitter Unpubbed) who take the question itself to task, so frustrating is the suggestion that art is not completely hamstrung by publishers’ taboos or fear of others’–versus the writers who are offended by the suggestion that we should tolerate (gasp) pottymouth, much less inappropriate behaviors or philosophies, when those things are simply not necessary to great storytelling.

Look through the words to the experiences they reveal, and you may see a deeper conflict: the one between artists and entertainers, between those who want to wrestle with Big Questions and the true meaning of humanity–and those who want to be a part of the comfortable, accepted “artistic elite”. I see this conflict play out over and over: at cons, on discussion boards, etc. Big Publishing is heartless and fascist, say those whose art is too risky for publishers who put money ahead of art; Big Publishing is the only thing protecting the Qualified from the Fanficcers, say those who are either comfortable within the accepted norms or both able and willing to channel their creativity into works that don’t challenge their audiences overmuch.

The image above is from The Long Tail. Setting aside the political-party overtones, which I think Completely Miss The Point in any context, the image fits the situation. Self-censorship by an industry is still censorship; it is one of the most insidious symptoms of fascism. But I’m getting a bit off topic, as usual. Let’s see if we can drag this back on course.

Big Publishing is Big Business. It is in the business of making money. People who work for Big Publishing are not necessarily fascists, but in order to keep their jobs they must adhere to the business model that says making money is more important than art–that choosing works which will not sell enough copies to support the Lifestyle to Which Publishing Has Grown Accustomed is a bad plan; that choosing works which may inflame the wrath of that vocal minority which fancies itself the arbiter of decency (whatever that is) and Good Taste is equally bad if not worse. Big Publishing is not in the business of taking risks; it provides a safe haven for well-behaved entertainment folk, and tries to guide the public in the direction of appreciating art that matches its ideals. It is the wrong place for artists.

Fortunately, there is a place for artists. It’s called Independent Publishing. Contrary to whatever confusions organizations like Author House may have imposed on you lately, Independent Publishing is not the same thing as Subsidy Publishing or even Self-Publishing. Independent Publishing is run by people who are passionate about art, who will take on the task of bringing to the public works that will push the mainstream audience out of its comfort zone and delight those who were already hanging around outside. Independent publishers do many of the same things Big Publishers do or once did: choose works carefully, work with authors to make the works the best they can be, give individual attention to artists’ visions and careers, produce, distribute, and promote books in ways that match the works themselves.

Independent publishing is not for everyone. It’s a trapeze act rather than a safe career. But it may be the last remaining haven for true artistic freedom.

Another example of the publicity thing done right

March 12, 2009

Those of you who caught my little show with Russ Marshalek at the Spring Book Show: go look at Eugie Foster’s new Facebook group. For the rest of you, the catch-me-up: more than anything else, we talked about the fact that the Book World of Today is not a place in which writers can afford to just sit in the garret of their choice and write, waiting for the reading public to beat a path to their door. We talked, in particular, about:

* using social networking, not as a way of dropping publicity-bombs but as a way of reaching out to your audience and community;
* becoming a real part of the community: making contributions to the ongoing collaborations and dialogue among publishers, audiences, writers, the press, and booksellers

Eugie is the exemplar of the sort of work in the community I’ve been trying to encourage aspiring and newly-pro writers to do. Eugie is very, very talented and has been working in the field for a long time–the first time I read her work was in the Critters workshop, about a hundred years ago (well, maybe not *quite* that long ago) –and she has been polishing her craft to within an inch of its life for at least that long. She serves the community tirelessly, giving countless hours to organizations like Dragon*Con. And she gives the sense that she does these things not out of a sense of obligation, but for the joy of being a part of it.

People always ask how to publicize a book; as Russ noted last weekend, there’s no single right answer, because every book is different. Every author is different, too: I am not trying to suggest that every writer should go out and do all the things Eugie does (though polishing your craft can’t hurt). I am suggesting that it’s worth paying attention to what people like Eugie do: enrich their own lives and become active participants in their communities by figuring out how to turn their particular talents and passions into productive ways to serve, and thus find the community predisposed to receive their written work well.

Writers are natural-born introverts; but becoming a part of the bookish community is not just good business: it’s an opportunity to find like-minded people. What do you enjoy doing that could make Book World a better place?

All writers report to Twitter. Now.

March 10, 2009

Hey, remember how you’d gotten that nagging feeling that twitter was somehow going to turn out to be worthwhile? Yeah, here it is:


Seriously. Go to twitter and read. Learn. Laugh. Cry. Maybe some of each.

Impromptu manifestation at the Spring Book Show

March 6, 2009

Just a quick note for anybody who’s going to be at the Spring Book Show here in the ATL tomorrow–come by & say hi. I’m not on the program; I’ll just be sitting in with the Awesome Russ Marshalek during his panel on publicity, having more opinions than allowed by law…and wandering around the fair. I’ll be easy to find during that 2:15-3:15 slot, of course–and you can shout to me via Twitter (@barbarfriendish) to arrange rendezvous the rest of the time. With any luck it won’t be too loud for me to hear the “you have a message” noise…

Why it’s hard to make the grade in publishing

March 2, 2009

Writing for publication is not like writing for your creative writing class. There are no grades on your assignments; truthfully there are rarely assignments at all, and you’ll be lucky if you ever actually lay eyes on the prof or receive a rubric of any sort. And the whole thing is pass/fail. At first glance, it’s the easiest class ever.

Here’s the problem: the only passing grade is an “A”.