In another forum, there was a question of “What did you publish in 2022?” I counted up a bunch of work there, so in the interest of plagiarizing myself, as everyone should for enhancing efficiency, here you go!
I think a lot of the world, myself included, have a fairly naïve perspective on what it means to “write” a book. Hell, I didn’t really have a clue what it all encompassed before I started these activities a few years ago. Like most people, I loved reading books and magazines, and I’m sure my thought process at some point was the same as everyone else who has ever curled up with a good volume: “This is awesome! I would love to be part of creating stories like this.”And thus begins the journey of many from infatuated fan to aspiring novelist, essayist, journalist, or creative memoirist. It’s a naïve position, one that, should it remain in that unenlightened state, might actually allow someone to continue to enjoy the writing process.
Writing is a creative, generative activity.
For me, it’s akin to the growing and birthing of life. First there is nothing, in fact there are two nothings, like two separate ideas, that eventually come together. Maybe, “What if there was technology that could dramatically extend lifespans? And that was applied to a prisoner who was in prison for ‘life plus a thousand years’?”
And then out of that nothing there emerges something, and then that something takes on a form and grows and grows and grows, finally resembling a thing, a reality, something concrete and solid, beyond just imagination or ideation.
Eventually, you have a thing! Just like you have a baby child, or a newborn kitten, or a foal, or a baby giraffe, you can see that the thing is there and you can have some general idea where it’s going to go in the future.
You might not be able to completely predict, and you might not be able to control, but you can at least be there to provide it the right values, offer boundaries and corrections if it’s off track, and encourage it as it takes ever increasing risks to discover just what it is, and cheer it on as it finally reaches its final form.
Publishing, however, feels less like a generative process and more like a reductive one.
Look, I get that there are developmental editors, and peer reviewers, and critiquers, and that’s not what I’m talking about. Those are more like the mentors and advisors that come into the story’s life during its young adulthood so that it doesn’t go off the rails, and it actually meets the goals it has for its own life and doesn’t completely disappoint its parents by doing something stupid, like getting addicted to pot or becoming a fan of the Cleveland Browns.
Instead, the publishing process that I’ve gone through, whether that’s via submitting stories to multiple journals or creating and publishing a book (which I’ve done thrice now!) feels more like you’re carving a finished product out of a big empty block of marble. Michelangelo’s quote about “removing everything that was not David” seems especially apt. When you’re publishing, you’re removing everything that is creative, and you’re basically inverting the pyramid of effort and emotional energy expenditure.
During submissions, you’re not being creative at all. It’s simply process, a decision tree that must be followed without any sort of thinking: Is this a market that takes my kind of story? My length of story? My aesthetic of story? Does this market pay what I want for the story? Is it open? Do I match the criteria for authors? Will it respond fairly reasonably?
When you’re working on publishing, yes, there can be some creativity, but substantially all your effort is devoid of that generative activity which gives me energy. Sure, you have some flexibility when decide on a cover design, but the vast majority is more rote activity: What size pages do you want? What font? Blank pages here and there? Header? Footer? Page numbers? Spacing of lines? Margins? Do you have an account set up with the publisher? Did you choose all the categories appropriately? Turn on all the right switches, and turn off all the others? Did you proofread every page? Double-check everything? Did you pay your invoices? Did you set up all your reminders?
I haven’t worked with an agent and traditional publisher, but I suspect the same kind of administrative headache saps your emotional energy: does this agent work with your genre? Are they accepting new clients? Did you send the right number of pages? Did you get formatting correctly? Did you sign all the dots and pieces correctly? Did you input the right account numbers? Did you set all the switches on the client portal right? Do you have the meetings on your calendar? Do you have all your accounting set up correctly? Fuckin’ accounting. Shit, man, I though this was about writing stories! Nobody wants to keep track of goddamn receipts, we got narrative arcs to tend to and emotional beats to ensure get appropriately spread throughout the second act.
Thus the end-to-end is heavily weighted towards the administrative, tedious stuff, and I suspect that what often happens is someone loves writing, does some of it, is willing to put in the effort to practice and get critiques and make it better and better and better, but when it comes to publishing eventually gets smacked in the face by the alternate reality. Hard. Like, brick wall at 80 miles an hour hard. And that’s when they quit.
I don’t blame them.
In my experience, it feels like writing the text itself is only about 25% of actually completing a book.
And the publishing is the other 75%. Which means that the vast majority of the work isn’t in the writing, it’s in the publishing. And therefore, it’s no wonder why I’ve spent so much of my time in the past years on writing for myself, and very little on publishing.
I’m fine with that. You know, it’s a maturation that I think all writers go through. And it’s an unspoken truism of the writing and publishing world that non-writers and non-publishers just don’t understand.
Maybe I should have joined those who quit while they’re still writing for themselves. Perhaps then I’d just be doing what I was doing for ten years, just drafting stories in my notebook and leaving them there, satisfied by my obeisance to the Muse and my cup filled with the knowledge that I’ve been honest to myself and my desires.
But I didn’t. And, through that, I’m glad I have persisted. There is value in publishing, certainly, and yet I’m not experienced enough in that to be able to fully flesh out all the value. I’m pretty sure it’s not a fair trade for all the administrative headaches, but I can’t be sure yet. Perhaps with a few more rounds to evaluate I’ll be able to create some greater objectivity.
I don’t really know how to finish off this exposition. Do I regret publishing? No. Do I wish it on others? Not on the unprepared, or those with weak stomachs who just want to enjoy the creative process or just appreciate the finished product.
This process exposes several undesirable elements that are quite easily glossed over in the pursuit of “Bestseller” status. If you’re fine holding your nose and putting up with them, you can get there. But if you’d rather remain indefinitely in the blissful ignorance of your youth, maybe better not to even try.
So that’s the major difference between writing and publishing. The WRITING is actual, real, exploratory development. It’s the storytelling that all of us fell in love with and which inspired us to pursue this kind of thing.
PUBLISHING is, to commandeer a phrase, the mind-killer. It’s the thing which, I would bet, turns more people off from actually putting their work out into the world than the creative process itself. It’s probably holding loads of us back, and, frankly, I don’t know how to solve the problem. Except by maybe, lowering our own standards and accepting that not everything we read is going to be superlative: it won’t be the newest, freshest, most intriguing, most-hyped, bestest anything. It won’t win awards. It won’t light a fire in our nether regions. It won’t move mountains, inspire thousands of ships, make us sit up and take notice, or even be worthy of commenting to our partner in the bed beside us.
But, still, it’s worth it.
Because it’s someone’s creation. And therefore it’s worthy of reading, even if for no more reason than to validate the effort.
There’s great advice about life, love, relationships, career, how to live a good life, finances, career decisions, even spiritual dilemmas.
Frankly, I think this should be within reach of every single porcelain throne, nightstand, and above the Gideon Bible in every North American hotel room. But since I don’t quite have the capital to make that happen, I’ll just go with this instead.
I would LOVE for you all to head over, pick up a copy, and leave a review.
What do you believe? About yourself? About your work?
I had a story accepted this month (October). This makes three in the past four months. Death at the Door was accepted into an anthology that I didn’t even submit for! Consider the Possibilities was accepted into a stand-alone digital short series that should be published in 2023. The Wish Artist was selected for an online magazine with a professional-level rate ($0.10 / word), my first ever fiction publication of such status. (I have had other writing pay me more, but that’s a different category altogether, so I’m not including it in the mental gymnastics involved here.)
And yet, even with that relatively successful few months (versus the past five years), I still find it hard to get excited about these acceptances.
One of my fellow writers asks me, whenever I’ve got something like this to announce, “And how are you going to celebrate?”
I struggle with celebration. I struggle to accept that my story has been selected, published, that I got paid for doing it. I mean, intellectually I know that that’s exactly why I’m submitting, rather than just writing and either keeping it to myself or publishing it on my own site, but, still, I don’t exactly feel like it’s real.
The spiral of negative, self-sabotaging thoughts goes something like this:
How are you going to celebrate?
Well, see, I can’t exactly celebrate yet, because though they accepted my story and I’ve signed the agreement, they haven’t given a publication date and haven’t paid me and haven’t offered any suggested edits or anything, so I’m still quite skeptical that it’s going to actually go through.
How are you going to celebrate?
Well, see, I don’t really know if I should, because it was in an anthology that like nobody is going to read, and it was such a token payment anyway that it doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s kind of hard to find anybody who’s going to care, so, it’s not really something to brag about.
How are you going to celebrate?
Uh, for this one, mostly by disbelieving that it’s real until it’s actually out on the interwebz, despite the fact that I’ve gotten a contract and had correspondence with the editor and been paid, and yeah, this one is a “professional” level rate so it’s harder to ignore, but still, I’m going to keep thinking less of myself until it’s really out there, and, even then, I know that celebration is going to be hard to come by, because celebration and self-promotion and “Hey, look what I did!” isn’t really my thing.
God, typing it all out is rather disheartening. It’s sad to see that I think so little of my achievements.
But it’s typical of my whole personality, not just in writing. I disbelieve my work in virtually any area where I pursue. For example: I recently ran a half-marathon. 13.1 miles, took me over 2 and a half hours, and when I finished I was hella proud of myself for going farther than I have in nearly a decade. But you know what one of my very quick follow-on thoughts was? “Oh, sure, but there were people who ran marathons that day, too! Your half isn’t really that special.”
It’s like there’s this part of my psyche that just doesn’t accept that I can have good things too.
Like, it’s all well and good for other people to be happy about new stories coming out or sold, but, for me, it’s really hard to do. [Yes, I’ve forced myself to do it some, but it’s just not a natural feeling like I somehow think it should be.]
So why don’t I believe it? Why do I still feel like I’ve not “arrived” or I’m not “worthy” or I’m actually just sort of “pretending” to be writing these things? (Or running, or getting a certain professional qualification, or whatever…)
Is it the fact that it’s been such a long road for me to get here, something like 38 years between my first story in 3rd grade and now? When other writers I’ve admired have had stories, poems, even whole books published at 17, 23, 30? Am I just jealous or petty? Maybe.
Is it the rather harsh rebuke I received from another well-established writer when I pitched him a collaboration and he basically told me to Fuck off, if that’s the way you think about writing, you’ll never be a writer? I admit, I did let that bother me for the first couple of months, but it was years ago now and the idea only pops up in my head like once a year, so that’s probably not it.
Is it the fact that I’ve spent my last two decades treating writing as a thing for me only, a hobby, a pastime, rather than a craft to be honed with feedback, as everyone says it must be, because everyone says it’s really hard to write a story and make it the best it can be, and I don’t like that editing process, I really just want to write a first draft, maybe tune up a few paragraphs in the second draft and get it out into the world, and because I am ignoring the rules of developing writing skill and just sort of hoping to luckbox into publication I’m kidding myself that my stuff is any good, and so when things like acceptances come along I feel like I’ve somehow tricked the editors into accepting my story?
Or is it possible that I’ve been so spurned by the historical pattern of rejections, so burned and so jaded and so expectant that it will simply be more of the same, that I don’t actually believe the acceptance? That I distrust that it’s real? That in my subconscious, I’m self-preservationally holding back my excitement at this positive development, so that when things return to “normal” I’m not so scarred by that future state of everyone hates everything all the time, why bother? Maybe. Hell, that’s probably the surface of a really deep insight my therapist ought to help me unpack.
Point is, I don’t know why I don’t believe it. But I do know that it’s a consistent tendency within myself to discount my accomplishments, because they’re somehow never enough. I probably have some kind of “achievement complex”. I once complained that I was going through my mid-life crisis pretty early, like before 40, and my mother commented, “Well, you’ve always been an over-achiever.” Like I couldn’t even wait until a normal time to disintegrate my life, I had to make it happen extra-soon. Ugh.
There’s no way I’m going to figure it out right now. Maybe not even in the next year, or five, or ten. By the time I’m dead? Probably. Fat lot of good a new mindset will do me then, eh?
So I guess the only thing left to do is, just keep doing it. Faking it. “Fake it till you make it,” right? Because in faking it, you trick your body and mind into understanding what it means to “make it”. And then, when you actually do it, you won’t be faking any longer. And your subconscious won’t have to be so damn skeptical all the time.
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Do it again because you did it wrong the first time. Correct the mistake, as much as you can, and attempt to avoid making that same mistake again.
Do it again because you did it right the first time, and yet despite your efforts, the results were not as you wished. Perhaps there were external forces. Perhaps there was a chaotic winds inpired by a toucan flapping its wings inopportunately in the Amazon basin. Perhaps an unforseen tragic cosmic event happened just at the critical moment, a sunspot or a radiation burst from a far galaxy finally reaching us, and the neutrons and photons and neutrinos reacted in the one in ten trillion ways they needed to in order to somehow subvert your efforts, and as a result, reduced your outcome to something unanticipated, undesired, unacceptable.
Do it again because you did everything right and got the results you wanted. It worked, didn’t it? You got what you wanted – the date, the publication, the promotion – and so why should you stop there? Do you have a vision for the next avenue of approach? Pursue then. Are you interested in seeking out alternatives, [illegible], accelerations of what you just achieved? Do those too, building on your success as what you have to make it more special.
But don’t forget, in the real thing in the first time, to celebrate what you have achieved. Do not assume that it is what is not; you wanted that – Do not dismiss it so cavalierly as unacceptable or unfortunate. There is no way to arrange your world in which you are both always leveling up and ever satisfied with your achievements. So take the time, now to celebrate, to bask in the glory of what you have done, to see yourself as an accomplisher of things, of good things, of the ways you attempt and compete for being something valuable in your life. There is more to be done, yes. There is an infinite amount. And thus it is worthwhile to stop and accept your accomplishments as a validation, a positive, a good thing that you have completed.
And then, when you have satisfied that itch for confirmation and endearment…
The problem with readers is that they are not you. They have different backgrounds, different experiences, different ways they see the world now, different hopes for what the future could, should, or will bring.
All of this means that, generally, they won’t see your story in the same way that you will when you wrote it, or edited it, or published it.
What I’m saying is that I know there’s a story that the writer is trying to tell, and that it is very likely that what I read is not that story.
And that’s the problem that we have. We have several translation issues, where we play fiction telephone, in that we have a story in our heads. (For nonfiction, we have a message we wish to convey.) It’s up there. We, as authors, and that story, are the most intimate of partners. It literally lives inside our brain. Almost like we are symbiotic. It’s fully coalesced, fully baked. We know every nook and cranny, every nuance, every little corner behind the elbow that if our partner kisses it just right we fucking crumble.
And, just like the AI from the movie Her, we can have several of these relationships at once, with our several works that we have once created, are currently creating, or are just gestating, awaiting their own future moments of birth and emergence and maturity within our mind, to join the created and creative community. It’s not required to be monogamous for us.
Anyway – we have all these stories in our head, and then we must force them to go through the first adaptation: from our brain, to the words on the page. Here, we are so clouded by our own experience, which is obviously unique from every other person in the world, and so influenced by our own perspective and desires and fears, that it becomes virtually impossible that the magnificent, fantastic, groundbreaking, earth-shattering, award-worthy, inevitably-bestselling story survive that adaptation intact.
It can’t. There’s too much. From the limits of our vocabulary to the inability of language in general to express the nuances of emotion, something, many things, several elements of the story, will get lost or modified or perturbed in the first offload from our brain to the text. We may hope that it remains intact, whole, surviving, but invariably there is a loss of fidelity, sometimes slight, sometimes great, and this is just the first step.
Next, we have the medium. There certainly are differences between how users take in an experience when it’s delivered via hardcover, paperback, e-reader, serial email, audiobook, podcast, or web browser. The differences in these formats are vast, and bring with them several connotations about the work itself, which can vary reader to reader, culture to culture, and even when consumed at various times of day. All of which means that your readers who take in the first adapted story in the morning, on their tiny phone screen, as they’re jostled along by the mass transit commute, may have a wildly different experience from those who listen to it in their headphones while they work in the garden in the heat of the afternoon.
Finally, there is the translation from the medium back to the reader. She doesn’t have the same background as the writer, or the publisher, so what makes its way through her experience filters certainly impacts how she perceives the story. She may have good memories of owning a pet as a child, so my story of pet ownership evokes warm fuzzies. Whereas I was trying to express my disgust at the many ways that humans subjugate those pets to seek resolution of their own emotional insufficiencies.
Basically, the long and short of it is, you and I don’t see the same story. Whether it’s one that I write and you read, or one that you write and I read, it’s never the same. Sometimes it’s better on the reader’s end. Usually not. The process has morphed it, transformed it, sculpted it slightly or majorly from how it began. And that’s okay.
We shouldn’t be trying to be all things to all readers. We shouldn’t have this idea that we have to satisfy all sensibilities, all experiences, all backgrounds. And we shouldn’t expect that just because we wrote something poetic, or upbeat, or subversive, that our audience is destined to have the same feeling about it after finishing as we do. The only thing we can do is to craft the best story in our head. And then do what we can to minimize the translation errors in the first step. It is our authorial responsibility to make sure what’s on the page is as close as possible to the masterpiece inside our brain.
Because that’s storytelling. It’s part of the process. I think we in the audience have a subconscious understanding of this corruptive process. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Which is why I usually end my critiques to other writers like this:
“May the story in your reader’s mind be as wonderful as it is in yours.”
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Hey! So my story “Death at the Door” is now available in this anthology from Cloaked Press:
Here’s just a preview of the story:
There was someone at his door.
It looked to be at least a foot taller than him, wearing a hooded dark brown robe. And was that one of those farm tools with the ridiculously long handle and curved blade slung over its shoulder?
Was that Death at the door to his apartment?
Waiting for him?
It stood, staring at the number 17 bolted to the frame. It raised an arm. A hand, with skin on the fingers and actual flesh at the wrist, knocked. It stepped forward and grasped the handle of the – what – sickle? No. Scythe? Yeah, that was it.
It put two hands on the scythe and waited. Nothing happened. Why would it? Marcus wasn’t in his apartment, though he should have been for at least the last hour. Normally he would be sitting on his couch in his underwear, second drink in hand, mourning all that had been taken from him, television droning on unattended.
Want to read the rest? Of course you do! Head over to Amazon and pick up a copy. Hell, I don’t care whether it’s the Kindle or paperback version, just toss a few bucks towards the good folks at Cloaked Press and they’ll continue to do good work, and you’ll get to enjoy great writing.
August 27, 2022 – If you ever need something to write about:
If you ever need something to write about, just write a list of writing topics. Can be simple, or complex, just let your hand and your mind go. don’t worry about being real, or likely, or even good. Just write.
Write about a bird that won’t shut up.
Write about that same bird eating a cicada.
Write about the cicada attacked, yet escaping, and going off to live in the city with its cousin.
Write about that cousin resenting the cicada for coming and bringing his country ways with him, and having to put up with him, but not having the courage to stand up and make the first cicada mad, so it develops a complex and begins to go to therapy.
Write about the insect therapist, how they didn’t really want to do the job but they’re so indebted to their degree program that were they to take a pay cut and change careers, they would have to sell their house and live in a van down by the river.
Write about that van, and how it’s had several occupants over the years, and the whole community knows that it’s just a place for deadbeats to live out the remaining days of their spiral into oblivion, but the city Council won’t bother removing it, because, hey, at least if it’s there they know to go check on it every couple of days and maybe they’ll find someone there, someone that may need a little hand up, so they can offer that but if the van’s gone then those people who may have been helped out of a desperate situation could just be wandering the streets aimlessly and it would be so much more unlikely that they’d find those people and intervene in their lives to get them the help they need.
Write about the halfway house that those people / bugs / whatever are taken to, and how it’s okay, the good part is that there’s structure and a bed and a library and some counseling on how to get moving again. The bad part is that there’s really no privacy and it always smells like stinky feet and the books in the library have all become so old and worn that you can barely tell what the cover says and they’re all from like 50 years ago anyway, so to read them now, feels a bit like time-traveling back to another era when different sensibilities ruled and different views on the ways to interact in society dominated everything, just just the popular media.
Write about the rug on the rec room floor of that halfway house, how one time there was a fire and someone grabbed the rug on her way out of the building because she liked it more than anything that was in her room and if she was going to lose everything but one thing she wanted that rug to be the one thing.
Write about the boyfriend of that girl, who watched her spiral down and down, helplessly, as she got more and more addicted to booze and dangerous sex, so that he eventually realized that though he loved her, he had to let her go or, like a drowning swimmer, she would have pulled him under, too.
Write about how, when that boyfriend got a new girlfriend years later, he didn’t even mention the one who’d lost herself, but he did check up on her from time to time by calling her mother, once every six months or so, and how they would have a lovely chat and how she would promise to keep secret that he was checking up on the daughter and she knew she would keep that promise, but he was always like 5 percent skeptical.
If that doesn’t give you enough for a story, start again. You can do it. I believe in you.
The early 2000s saw revolutions in several technologies. There was the rapid expansion of internet access, the development of eInk and ePaper, and the rise of self-publishing tools such as blogging (WordPress, Blogger, and now OnlyFans and Patreon).
This perfect storm of technological advancements was supposed to be sounding the death knell for the publishing industry. Now that we’ve had eReaders like the Kindle, the Kobo, the nook, and even apps for our iPads and other phones for fifteen years, we’re all supposed to be reading everything electronically, instantly, wherever we go.
Books are supposed to be dead. Dead as the trees that make them. Deader than doornails. The publishing industry is supposed to be gutted, relegated to a slag-heap of has-been technologies like horse-draw carriages and the telegraph.
Yet books persist. Libraries still exist. People still read: old people, middle-agers like me, and even younger generations still read. They pick up two covers with a few hundred pages in between, sit down and stare in the general direction of their crotch for a few minutes or an hour, and then get up and go on their way.
Books are clearly not dead. Publishing is not dead. Books and eReaders and online blogs have somehow managed to find a sort of equilibrium of market share, wherein some people read only physical books, some read both physical and electronic (and audio) books, and some don’t read at all. But eBooks have clearly not eviscerated the market for paper books, much to the surprise of all those circa-2005 prognosticators.
Everybody’s got their own theories as to why publishing and books just won’t die. The cynics say it’s because there’s so much money invested in advertising that we just can’t help ourselves but to buy books. Others say it’s because we’re too old and set in our ways that we can’t adapt to the newer ways of life that would be better for us (more convenient! cheaper! faster!).
I don’t think those are the only reasons. I think there are several forces underlying our continued engagement with dead trees. Here are a few.
Books are tangible things. eBooks are not.
Sure, an eReader is itself tangible. But the book is a physical object. When you pick it up, you feel the weight and heft of it. You touch its pages. You smell the aroma of the ink, the faint tinge of memory that lingers on the pages. It’s something.
eBooks on your reader, on the other hand, are very fragile. Nebulous. They can come, and therefore go, with just a click. It’s almost like they’re not really there. When you have 1,000 books on your bookshelf, you can humblebrag to your neighbors about how hard it was to move last time, when in reality you’re swelling with pride that you’re so smart that you’ve read some of the titles that are on your shelf! When you have 1,000 eBooks, nobody knows. They’re all within that little half-inch slab on your desk, and you’ve got to do a hell of a lot more work to brag about that.
With a book, you can physically see and feel your progress through the experience. Your bookmark travels with you as you navigate the story. As you notice the end approaching, it’s unignorable how much is left because of how little is held in one hand and how much is in the other, and you can do the internal math to say, “Hey, this story isn’t going to finish in these pages,” or “Oh good! I’m almost done!” Can’t do that with eBooks. Sure, there’s that little slider sometimes at the bottom of the page or the side of the screen, but it’s not the same. You can see it, but you can’t feel it.
Books are real. eBooks just aren’t.
Books are permanent. eBooks are ephemeral and fleeting.
When you have a book on your shelf, it’s not going to change next week, next month, or next year, when the author suddenly gets cancelled for things she said twenty years ago. eBooks, blogs, tweets, and other “new media” are quite vulnerable to the tides of social sentiment, in several directions. Someone doesn’t approve of a chapter? Maybe it gets deleted or changed! Other people have asked for more on a certain topic? Well, just hit [update post] and now we’re exploiting the algorithms even more efficiently!
Books don’t have that vulnerability to changing externality. (Unless you’re in Oceania, of course.) They are what they were when they were printed, nothing more, nothing less. Yes, interpretations may change over time, but at least we have some permanent record of what was posited, and when, so that we can always have a fixed reference point to come back to.
That sort of permanence of idea means we don’t have to question what the author really thinks. We can just look at her words, and know.
Books are robust. eBooks are vulnerable.
In complement to the contents of our books being consistent, the physical thing of a book is also persistent. I can go to my library and read the exact same thing that my neighbor did a week ago, or the Mayor did a month ago, or my grandmother did fifty years ago. Physical books deliver a communal experience spanning space and time that you don’t get with eBooks. An eBook is a singular thing, a one-off instance, that disappears as soon as it is deleted. And it requires an external, electrical source to be able to access it. Sure, the content may be recreated, but it’s not the same thing. It’s a different thing. It didn’t exist before, and it won’t persist after you’re gone.
You can’t write a note in the margin or on a cover of an eBook that can be discovered by future generations and relate to. You can’t take an eBook with you on a hike on the Ozark Trail and trade it with someone you meet along the way, mingling ideas and their expression for a whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience that parallels how swapping DNA beyond a limited gene pool benefits future generations.
In short, eBooks are for the right here, right now experience. If you want to have any kind of relationship with your ancestors, or your descendants, in your own family, tribe, nation, or even across the world, you’ll read books and you will tell others about that experience. You will listen as others tell you of their reading, and you will commune with them when your fingertips touch the pages that theirs did not that long ago.
And these are all good reasons that books will stick around. The biggest, though, may have to do with signaling.
Physical book publishing send a vastly stronger signal than eBook publishing.
Publishing a physical book requires vastly more investment than publishing an eBook. With both, it starts with writing up a manuscript. The similarities end there.
If you’re publishing a physical book, there are many next steps: finding a publishing company, which may take finding an agent or going through the never-ending saga of queries and rejections; editing; typesetting; cover design; interior design; paper selection; print schedule; marketing plan; and more.
It can be anywhere from a few months to a few years from the time the author types THE END to the day that a reader first sets eyes up Once upon a time…
For the eBook, though, it’s almost nothing. They can push [PUBLISH] and it’s done, whether that’s hosted on their own website or even a marketplace. There’s very little barrier to entry.
And yes, I know that many well-produced eBooks are clones of the physically-printed books. The publishers do all the work up front for the physical book, and then just port it over to eBook format.
See, the thing is, readers aren’t stupid. They know that there’s such a low bar for many eBooks that they lump those well-produced volumes in with the slipshod ones, and taint the whole format with their simplicity.
I don’t mind. It creates, in the mind of the reader, a much higher barrier to entry to be able to publish a physical book than an electronic one. Which means that the readers care much more about physical books than electronic books. They know the signal that publishing a physical book sends, and they respect that commitment to the cause.
Because they also know, even if it’s only subconsciously, that the author must have a stronger conviction of their message, if they’re willing to go through all that effort for something that cannot be changed later, cannot be rescinded, and will potentially (hopefully!) last for hundreds or thousands of years. The author’s belief, and the parallel commitment from the publisher, signal to the reader that, “Hey, this is something you really should pay attention to.”
Yes, some of that higher barrier to entry is being lowered every day, through print-on-demand capabilities, freelance cover and interior design, and the opportunity to self-promote through social media. Instead of reducing the signal for physical books, I think such ease of use contributes to the greater differential signal between externally-published and self-published volumes.
The vast outweighing of signals between physical books and eBooks persists. I’m confident that physical books will never go away, because readers don’t want them to. They want someone to be able to sort through all the multitude of potential messages on their behalf and tell them which ones are more likely to be good. That’s what the physical book does. That’s why we will continue to see them as so valuable. That’s why we’ll never, ever, ever give them up. And that’s why, in a hundred years, physical books are likely to echo Mark Twain’s apt quote:
The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
In Parts 1-3, I described the drafting and revision processes.
In Part 4, I laid out what happens during the submission process.
Now, about 3.5 years on from that update, I make a further update.
So, way back then I had the following list of markets I was going to submit to:
Writers of the Future Contest
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Abyss & Apex
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
T Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog
Outposts of Beyond
Of those (and others, in italics), I have, as of this time, submitted to and received rejections from the following markets:
Writers of the Future Contest
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Abyss & Apex
The Colored Lens
Society of Misfit Stories
Summer of Speculation
So, why the difference? Why are there some on the original plan that don’t appear on the actual list? And why some new ones not listed before? And why does it take nearly 4 years to rack up a dozen rejections? Several reasons.
Some magazines just stop publication, like the T Gene Davis Speculative Blog and Intergalactic Medicine Show. Some stop accepting new submissions for a period, or are only open for a short window, like Strange Horizons. In order to meet those windows, several stars have to align. Sometimes, when I’ve received a rejection from a prior submission and am ready to send it back out again, the market is closed. So I (as any other author does) have to go down the list and search for a place to submit, make sure I’ve met all the guidelines, formatted correctly, addressed it to the right place and right person or used the right “author’s biography” paragraph, attached the right file, and so on.
The amount of administrative overhead to submit a story can be intimidating, slowing the process for those who aren’t diligent about keeping stories out on submission as much as possible. I’ve gotten better at this in the past year. Currently I have over a dozen stories and essays out. However, for a while, it was not uncommon for me to have none at all, delaying the process.
Plus some markets change their focus or put additional restrictions on author demographics. For example, I don’t qualify for several markets any longer because I’m white, male, and heterosexual, and they already have enough of those in their backlog so they don’t need another.
Taken all together, this means the submission process often drags, and drags, and drags. I don’t think this story is bad, in any way. It is, though, not good enough for those markets. Or, a better way of saying it would be, It’s not right for that market at that time with those editors.
Because, ultimately, publishing is an incredibly subjective exercise in itself. You must be able to have a story which not only meets various editorial benchmarks, but it must also fit with any “theme” that the publishers are interested in presenting, as well as playing nicely with all the other stories by all the other writers who are also submitting to that journal at that time with those same criteria.
It can feel like a crapshoot. Or a lottery. Yet we continue to do it, because we can’t not write, and the external validation feels nice.
However, I do have some news. I have tentative acceptance from my most recent submission, and I must wait for them to close their submission period and send a final notice. When this completes, I believe the target publication date is in the fall of this year. As that goes through, I will certainly brag and update here with Part 6 of, we hope, only 6 in total.