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2.16.2010

Carving Out a Space

We live in interesting times. But when, in the course of human history, has that not been true? The world of publishing is changing rapidly. In some ways, this is really good for writers and readers. In other ways, it's just plain frustrating.

I admire J.A. Konrath an awful lot. I like the way he writes (I read Origin online, back when it was just a PDF on his website) and I appreciate his willingness to encourage other writers and share his extensive knowledge of the field. I have three of his hard covers (his Jack Daniels series is awesome; read it NOW if you haven't yet) on my bookshelf at the college, and I bought those after reading much of his stuff online.

He recently wrote a post about how our attitudes about media change in time. I agree with him. I'm going to get an e-reader when the stars align (price, function, accessibility), but I'll still purchase books as well. Books are never going away.

But this past weekend, I logged like eight hours putting twenty years' worth of accumulated DVDs on my i-touch. That, in and of itself, is amazing. It took me only eight hours to transfer twenty years of music onto a little handheld device. I took our old component stereo to Goodwill (egads, they accepted it!), as well as the cabinet that housed it. We're going to buy a sleeker unit this weekend. The CDs will go in a box. Someday Lyla will find them in the attic and wonder just what the hell we were thinking when she finds that old Ice Cube CD.

This, by the way, was a good thing. I don't mourn for those CDs. They were old. The cases were all cracked (a conspiracy by the music companies, I think, to have the little joints splinter off when someone sneezes near them) and scuffed. They were a little awkward to pack around everywhere too. I remember going to parties where the deejay literally had crates of cds. Now the sucker just needs a pocket.

So back to Konrath's points. We're changing how we engage with media, and writers need to be out in front of how they deliver their content.

He's written a series of excellent posts about earning money from the sale of online writing. I really like his advice in a recent post, in which he advocates for writers to get in on the ground floor of the e-pub revolution. His advice makes sense, and it's worked well for him.

But I'm wary of putting myself out there so thoroughly on an island. I've written three novels. One is under submission with my agent. One is up for sale on Kindle at the right of this screen, and one is in the revision process. I'm drafting the fourth right now. Along with that, I usually produce 15-20 short stories in a given year.

But I don't have the cache that a writer like Konrath does, and I don't have the platform to make a go of it in the way he is suggesting--at least not yet.

So here's what I'm working on. There are a number of online magazines (Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, tor.com, Apex, Abyss & Apex--to name just a few) that I admire very much. They pay well, they publish great fiction, they look good and they get read. I know I gobble up content from each of those every month. They archive work, and they provide an instant forum for discussion.

These are all great things, folks. Feedback, accessibility, attractive layout--it's all done well on the internet.

Now, many writers want to hold a publication in their hands. It's nice, I'll admit, to have a tangible magazine in your mitts like that. But those markets above, and many others like them, are in the process of redefining what it means to have a story published well on the internet. This, for me, is the online territory I'm trying to venture into.

As for the novels? I know life is all about timing and luck. I've been lucky before (my wife and daughter are examples A and B), but I've also seen the effects of bad timing (the real estate market collapsed eight minutes after I closed on my house in 2006). I can only hope that Bernadette can find a passionate editor who will like my work and go to bat for me with the publisher because, as the traditional path to publication grows ever narrow, it's hard to get a push behind a book (thanks to Editorial Ass for the link).

Marie Mockett, in her fine essay, writes:
  • Not long ago, Nielsen announced that Kirkus, one of four trade reviewers of books (which charged a fee, mind you), was closing. Ron Charles, the Washington Post Fiction editor, lamented via his Twitter feed: “Everytime we lose 1 of these rare independent voices we grow more dependent on publicists, authors' parents/ friends clogging blogs w praise.” Well, yes, that’s right. That is what will happen—and it is what is happening. It is, in fact, what has helped me with my book—the collection of readers and mothers and writers who are looking for something new. As far as I’m concerned, the bloggy-internet-online-bookclub-nightmare of publishers and editors can’t happen fast enough. As a reader, I don’t need to read reviews of the same writers over and over and over again. Yes, I understand that there is a hierarchy, that Margaret Atwood has been at this much longer than I have, and that she deserves my deference. I don’t believe, however, that I’m not supposed to have a career at all. New writers, after all, are the lifeblood of this profession that we are supposed to care about so much. I say we level the playing field sooner, rather than later.

I'm going to buy Mockett's book. It sounds like a great read. And then I'm going to post a few thoughts on it, as I do every week or so around these parts, because that is the changing face of the world of literature.

The keys to carving out a space, I think, are flexibility and determination. A writer needs those and luck and a thick skin and a supportive family and time and inspiration and Patron and...and...and...

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