Thursday, October 12, 2006

Maybe, Maybe Not

I would like to thank Samuel Tinianow for taking the time to read what I have had to say and for taking the time to sit down and write an honest and thought-out rebuttal. To be honest, his reaction is exactly what I wanted and exactly what I was expecting.

Having said that, Mr. Tinianow’s suggestion that “the flaws in the system aren't worth complaining about” but are “worth working with” is ludicrous. Of course they are worth complaining about, but more importantly, they are worth analyzing, discussing and fixing. Any system that doesn’t work perfectly – a point that Mr. Tinianow has no problem accepting about the publishing industry as a whole – should be open to criticism and suggestion.

By the same token, my commentary should be equally open to criticism and I welcome all feedback, if only because it shows that someone is paying attention. I will admit that my suggestions about possible solutions to the publishing system are theoretical at best; but at least I am offering suggestions. The Hegelian dialectic starts with a thesis, which generates an antithesis and leads to synthesis. But it has to start somewhere.

For the most part, Mr. Tinianow brings up logistical issues about why the proposed farm team system won’t work, which is actually good news. After all, professionals talk about logistics – and then usually during the process of deciding whether those issues are worth the time and energy of overcoming. I’ll save the point by point rebuttal of his critiques for individual readers to work through on their own. As we have seen, raising issues is easy. Solving those issues is difficult and I would prefer to focus my problem solving skills on the writers who are the point of the entire process.

Which brings me to the single point that I would like to address in Mr. Tinianow’s commentary. Halfway through the essay, he cites a 1999 survey by Jerold Jenkins (thanks for the resource, by the way – solid numbers are always helpful) which estimates that there are upwards of six million manuscripts circulating in slush piles around the industry. Towards the end of the essay, he thinks “there are a lot fewer "disenfranchised writers" out there” than I seem to believe. This seems counter-intuitive. Six million is a very big number. And, as Mr. Tinianow points out, children’s books have a success rate of .0003%, which would indicate that there are a lot of failures who might very well want a seat at the disenfranchised table as well.

The sheer number of people who have chosen the self-publishing route via print-on-demand would tend to bear this out. Despite the fact that they have no real hope of national distribution, high-end marketing budgets or access to professional editorial services, these arguably disenfranchised writers have made the decision that limited self-publication is better than no publication at all. It is a difficult and controversial decision to make on an individual basis, but the fact is that it is happening now and will probably continue to happen no matter how many disapproving frowns are leveled in their direction by industry professionals.

A large part of the disapproval seems to come from the fact that some of these print-on-demand publishers seem reluctant to admit that they are a limited gateway to the marketplace, which creates an air of disrepute about them. This reputation tends to cling to their authors, because the assumption is that anyone who used them must not have been intelligent enough to understand what the limitations were. Personally, I think that’s a fallacy.

I used PublishAmerica to publish my book because I had already spent nearly $1000 on agent submissions and I figured that I could easily spend the same amount of money on marketing and at least I would have a product to show for it (not to mention something I could write off on my taxes at the end of the year, if it came to that). What I got from the process was complete creative control over the cover of my book and a free ISBN (which got me access to Amazon, gratis). The reputation of the publisher really didn’t mean much to me because I’m used to laboring under the reputation of my employer; I work for the Federal Government, after all.