Sunday, July 31, 2011


by: Joelle Charbonneau

So – here at DSD we have talked about reviews and how they are just one person’s opinion. We talk about agents, editors and rejection. There has been more than one conversation about self-publishing e-books and how the industry is changing. We are a full service shop when it comes to writing chat. We don’t pull our punches. We say what we think. Sometimes it gets us in trouble. Sometimes not. Today – well, I’m probably headed for trouble. But I’m a red head. I can’t help myself.

Last week I finished another novel. This was not a contracted novel. It wasn’t even close to the same genre I am publishing in now. I had an idea for this book and I decided to try my hand at writing it even though I doubted whether or not I could master the world building and the voice necessary for the task. Had this been three years ago, I would never have attempted writing this story. Heck, even a year ago I would have probably filed it in the “interesting idea that some day I might want to think about” file. I wouldn’t have had the confidence in myself as a writer to take a leap of faith and give it a go.

Being published is a lot like being a professional performer. Some days you find validation from the powers that be and some days you are kicked to the curb. I can’t tell you how I felt after landing my first professional theatrical job. Someone wanted to pay me to sing and dance on the stage! All the rejections I received up until that moment faded away because someone said yes. Did I know I was a good performer before then? Sure. I had a resume of high school and college shows to prove it. I had confidence in my abilities. But landing my first professional show made me feel validated. Being able to call myself a professional paid actress/singer and list that credit on my resume strengthened my confidence no matter how many rejections (and there were too many to count) I received.

Rightly or wrongly, landing my first professional publishing contract gave me that same kind of validation. I believed in my writing before that contract. Hell, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have sent it out to agents or editors in the first place. But as much as I believed in myself, learning that someone else in the industry (who was willing to pay me) thought my writing had merit was a huge boost. A boost that strengthened my confidence enough for me to put aside my doubts about my ability to write in this new genre. I’m glad it did.

But I got to thinking. In our discussions about e-self-publishing (or indie or whatever we want to call it) we’ve talked about pricing and quality and about the brave new world that has opened up in front of authors. But so many of the e-self-published authors I know, some who have racked up hundreds and often thousands of sales, don’t seem to shake the nagging sense of self-doubt at never receiving a traditional publishing contract. They never walked into the theater and had the director give them the validation that they were good enough. A lot of truly talented singers and actors I know never got that moment of validation. They performed in a few smalls show, eventually took a better day job and drifted away from the industry always wondering what might have been. In this brave new world of publishing, I wonder if we’ll see many of the independently e-published authors do the same.

I’m not saying e-self-pubbing is bad. Far from it. I think it gives lots of opportunities for books that don’t fit into traditional genres and story collections that deserve to be read. But I wonder about the authors who (like me – because I freely admit I am neurotic) need validation beyond reader reviews and Amazon numbers. Will they keep writing? Or will they like so many of the performers I know change course and always look back wondering what might have been?


Dana King said...

I don't know that I even care much about reader reviews and Amazon sales numbers. My first e-pubbed novel will come out at the end of the summer. I've received good comments from a number of people whose opinions I respect and trust. I enjoy writing the stories, and have come to learn enough about the publishing business that I seriously question whether the amount of bullshit I'd have to put up with--even after getting a contract--would be worth it, considering the current publishing climate, and the acknowledged fact my books aren't what is currently considered to be mainstream and won't sell much.

Writing and never intending the words to see the light of day is a masturbatory exercise. I have no quarrel with any agent/editor/publisher who thinks they can't make money off of what I write. I probably can't, either. But I wrote it, and anyone who wants to read it is welcome to it. That's good enough for me.

John McFetridge said...

I think one of the reason so many traditionally published writers are starting to put out direct-to-ebook books is that validation from the "industry" wears off pretty quickly.

It's a cliche to say that you have to find personal validation, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

The publishing industry, like every other industry, I guess, values profit more than anything else. Artists usually value the art.

I read recently seperate interviews with a couple of guys who were in a band together years ago and they were both asked which were their favourite songs. One named the band's biggest hits and the other named some more obscure but maybe more musically challenging and more personal songs. Maybe they were both being completely

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Dana - I understand what you are saying. And yeah - you have to want to put up with a certain amount of BS in order to be involved in the publishing industry. Which seems only normal to me since it is the same in the performing world. I just wonder if like the performing world there are people who will fade away because the validation just doesn't measure up to what they need.

John - Yes - the validation wears off - but it was there. I know several traditionally published authors who have made the switch and are confident in it because the once were traditionally published. Many of them say they wouldn't have made the change had it not been for that validation. Of course, there are those that self-publish that don't feel they need the validation as well. I think both are also right. I just wonder how many fall in the cracks between.

Dave White said...

I felt a huge validation when WHEN ONE MAN DIES and THE EVIL THAT MEN DO were picked up by the big house in NYC. Loved having a paperback copy in my hands. Got very good reviews. Award nominations. Lots of validation there. Would love to get it again.

At the same time, e-pubbing WITNESS TO DEATH brought a different type of validation. Made me feel like a writer again. I was more in touch with reader's opinions (if you look at Amazon and Barnes and Noble, I've gotten wayyyyyy more public response to WITNESS than the first two.) Plus, I've even got Carol Barrowman--a real life book reviewer--to review WITNESS in the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal. Two very different types of "validation," but I've found it in both styles of publishing.

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Joelle, you're a redhead? Since when? Thought provoking post, and could have sworn you said you were running this on Monday or I would have stopped by yesterday. I know authors that are neurotic at ever level. They tend to believe that book one through seventeen were flukes, and it can't possibly happen again. Then there is that author who writes the book of his soul, and world be damned, no one can shake his belief in it. It's back to the old number one rule in this industry: It's subjective.

Cathy Shouse said...

Joelle, this is a timely topic since I just came off a conference where e-pubbing was discussed, although not the main subject. For me, I want the validation of a traditional contract. Mainly, it's because I think those editors are best in the business, at this time. As a published nonfiction writer, I know the incredible value of a good editor and a great one is priceless!
Bob Mayer has a post where he says to go traditional, if possible, and I know it's hard because I'm still trying, then go with e-pubbed for the best success of your e-pub.
I believe the vast majority of people e-pubbing themselves believe they will get picked up by a traditional publisher and that's why they do it. Having that happen is as likely as getting struck by lightning, in my opinion.
Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I was away for a blissful, long weekend without internet, up in the mountains at the cottage on the lake, so I initially missed your post and am catching up now.

And now I'm going to confess something.

I was close to ready to give up writing altogether. Oh, I mean, I'd dabble on my own and do what I wanted for myself, when I wanted, but I was close to giving up on publishing my work.

It wasn't about me as a writer; it's about the industry. We get so many ARCs for review at our house, and what's discouraging is seeing a lot of crap published and marketed, especially when your work is failing to find a home. My favorite rejection for a manuscript came from an editor who cited a whole series of events in the book they found unbelievable.

But they didn't happen in my book, so I found them equally unbelievable.

I know we do tend to find a publishing contract validation. At one point, I did, too. But I've come to realize, from things like judging a category for ITW awards a few years ago and from the stream of ARCs we receive here, that in a lot of cases (not all) the only reason a book got a deal was because a marketing team thought they had an angle or gimmick they could use to sell it.

What rejuvenated me about publishing has been my first book. A book with a publisher so small, who didn't have much business savvy, that it promptly disappeared from the public radar. Despite multiple great reviews and endorsements. It was disheartening to see that happen to my book, and I had to learn to let it and the characters go.

When I got the rights back this year and made the book available as an e-book, I didn't know what to expect. But on Sunday, the day of your post, it crossed the 3000 sales mark. And also on Sunday, it earned a new review:

In the traditional publishing world, that doesn't happen 4.5 years after the book is released.

It's great to make some money - don't get me wrong - but I don't see the sales as just money. Each sale is a reader. I'm building a readership years after this book debuted, with this book.

I remember years ago, a bookseller saying that the publishers would send out reps and they would tell booksellers which books to order in, and they would tell them which books in their catalogues to skip. The idea that the publishers wouldn't try to promote everything they were publishing blew my mind.

I'm not opposed to traditional publishing. I'm not opposed to the idea of shopping a book again, either. But it's nice to know that there are respectable options now, and I can circumvent the politics of the business and just reach readers. That's pretty cool. And that, more than anything, gives me a reason not to keep writing, but to keep publishing.