With the economy the way it is, many college graduates don’t have job offers this year, and as a result a lot of them are attempting to start their own businesses. I recently read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. He talked a lot about how success is dependent on people being in the right place at the right time, which includes the time period people live in. It made me think about whether this is the time to take advantage of the mix of economic woes and social media boom. In 50 years will the most successful people (in whatever field) be those who took advantage of a time when a heightened percentage of people are pursuing self-employed ways of sustainability?
But how does this apply to writers? Well, let’s face it: the market is saturated with literature. You go to any bookstore, pick a genre, and that section will be stuffed with books you’ve never heard of and that you’ll probably never read. Still, being published and on that shelf is (probably) a big dream for all of us.
So, more importantly for us aspiring authors, the pool of writers trying to get published is also extremely large, making it extremely hard to gain someone’s attention. Agents receive thousands of manuscripts per year. Imagine if you had to look at a thousand of any type of art over a relatively short period of time, and then had to choose the five best ones? When it comes down to it, the reasons you picked what you did may have a lot more to do with your personal preference than the actual talent.
In my writing group, some of the other writers express that with the internet and social media, why shouldn’t we start publishing our own work? It’s so hard to get published, and people have found success by pursuing alternative paths, so why shouldn’t we?
It makes sense, but I’m hesitant. Part of it is a sense of accomplishment. Anyone can have a friend videotape themselves reciting lines and call themselves an actor, but only a select few will ever be able to land leading roles in mainstream films. Same with writing. It may be hard as hell to ‘make it’ but once I do, it would feel phenomenal. If I’m not mistaken, even when self-published people become successful, they get picked up by a publishing company. So far as I know, no one well-known continues to just be purely self-published. So, in a way, self-publishing is just another way to try to reach the ultimate goal of being distributed by an establishing publishing house.
Then there’s the question of quality. If self-publishing became the mainstream, then what would be the filter for quality? Not everything that’s in the bookstore is a jewel, but virtually all of it had to compete with thousands of other manuscripts to make it to the shelves. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone’s first attempt at creative writing, or something riddled with grammatical and spelling errors, in Barnes & Noble. The competition ensures people polish their work extensively before even seeking an agent.
But I guess the readers could be the filters. Consider YouTube. Anyone and everyone can upload a video if they have a simple motion-capturing camera. There’s a lot of junk on YouTube. A lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing, or those who simply make videos to rant about things no one else cares about. But then again there is the talent that’s on-par with television and the movies, and in some cases far beyond. Usually someone notices, and those videos catch on. More than a few people have gotten famous off of YouTube.
But I’d argue that writing is different. If I come across a bad video on YouTube, that may be only one or two minutes out of my life. Even a bad full-length movie is only 90 or so minutes. But reading a book takes investment. The more avid readers might get through a piece of work in a few days or a week, but others will take about a month or more. This can be different with short stories, but reading is such an action (whereas with other forms of entertainment, you’re just receiving without doing any work) that if the writing sucks, I’m not going to read one paragraph, much less two pages. And then I might become too discouraged or tired to sift through the rest of the self-published entries and all the gems are missed.
Then again, other people might have already done the sifting and rating for me, the whole point of YouTube.
I’m going to try and take advantage of this social media boom. I’m talking with a writing friend about starting a science fiction and horror website and then generate original content for it. Still, my biggest hope/goal is to be published. Also, I don’t want self-publishing to stunt my growth (as I’m sure the process of working with an agent, editor, and publishing house to create a finished product is invaluable). Either way, I’m going to continue writing. Which is most important, right?
What are your thoughts on self-publishing and making your own writing website versus traditional publication? What do you practice/what are you currently working towards?