I’m a week late posting this, and you’ve all got my apologies for that. I ended last week’s conversation on self-publishing with Thursday’s claim that it’s an author’s responsibility today to learn the hard work of publishing.
Here’s the thing: it’s tough work. I’m a week late posting this because I’ve been in a steady, quiet little crash ever since last Tuesday when I published Expectation. I spent the last six weeks pouring everything I could into the production and distribution process, trying to get everything ready, and in the midst of that I was even doing frantic rewrites (as I’ve mentioned).
And then, last Tuesday, it all ended. I took a deep breath…and crashed. I’ve spent the last week doing very little of anything.
As artists, most of us aren’t really cut out to be publishers. The difference between the two exists (and has existed for a very long time) for a perfectly natural reason. Courtney and Becca will both talk to you about the difference between right-brain thinkers and left-brain thinkers, and most of us do this because we want to indulge in the creative process.
We want to lose ourselves in the unreal, to elevate ourselves above the mundane. That doesn’t have a lot of overlap with cool, practical business sense. We create content because we want to, but then someone starts telling us we need to find an audience. We need to perform audience analysis. We need to write a synopsis (or a query letter, if you’re still chasing legacy publishing), and find a way to tell our story in a different…worse way.
I could say this is the difference between amateur and professional art, but I think that’s being a little too generous. No, this is the difference between art and hobby. If all you want to do is the fun stuff, the self-indulgent self expression, then writing is your hobby. If you want to raise it to an art, then you have an obligation to bring your vision to your audience.
I’ve been told a painting isn’t really ready for public display until it’s been framed. There’ve been times in my career when that seemed really weird to me. You can’t paint a frame. A frame is woodworking. It’s a totally different skill. It’s unfair!
But that’s the reality of the situation. The frame (or “framing,” I should say, or maybe “finishing,” because it’s not always a bordering frame we’re talking about here…). Ahem. I lost all my momentum inside those parentheses.
The “finishing” of a painting says a lot to a viewer. It gives a context for the image, provides boundaries and states definitively, “This is it.” That’s a problem we all have to deal with as artists — knowing and accepting when a given work is finished, because we could always do a little something more.
Maybe that’s why art so consistently requires intervention from someone else near the end of the process. We need framers. We need editors. We need publishers and cover designers and marketers — not because we can’t fill those roles, but because bringing someone else in to help “finish it off” gives us a solid endpoint.
It does the same thing for readers. I’ve been guessing at it for years, but I can now tell you from experience: readers respond differently to a “finished” book. If you hand someone a printout of your manuscript, they’re going to flip through it thinking, “Hmm. I wonder why he decided to write it that way. I wouldn’t have done that. Maybe this character should do something else instead.”
Hand them the same novel printed and bound, with a lovely glossy cover, and they’ll think, “Wow! Where did he come up with that idea? I never could have made up a world like this. What an imaginative character!”
And creating that reaction in readers is part of the art. It’s not writing — it’s photography and copyediting and cover design and interior design and print selection — but it’s part of the art you’re participating in as a writer.
You can leave that aspect of your art in the hands of a publisher. Maybe that’s your heart’s desire. There are some compelling voices saying it’s a bad idea, though, and even some reasonable voices saying it might not be an option for much longer.
No matter what your end goal is, if you’ve got any interest in your craft, I’d encourage you to dedicate some time to learning its finishing process. You don’t have to become an expert, but at least pay attention. Learn to recognize all the pieces that go into making a finished product, and recognizing good craftsmanship when you see it.
I’ve decided to go ahead and spend a couple more weeks on self- and indie-publishing, sharing some of my experiences with you and giving you and idea where to look. After that (as promised back in January), I’ll turn to creative writing techniques I’ve learned in my Master’s program. This really strikes me as a worthwhile diversion, though.
See you next week!