MSP by Andrew Oberg

Our By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story and essay showcase continues. This week’s contribution on our theme of Faces is from soda jerk numero tres: Andrew Oberg.

Covering our tukhuses: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

MSP by Andrew Oberg

‘All of these people. All of these people busy about their days. Big ones, small ones, tall ones, short ones, young ones, old ones. Nearly every one of them with their faces in some device or some device in their ears. They have no idea that they are about to die. They do not know that I am about to kill them. That the very technology that has made their lives meaningless and the modern world inhuman will be used against them. It is a necessary sacrifice. Their lives and our lives will make the world whole. I am sorry but we cannot wait. Evolution takes time, time that we do not have. The world could end at any moment unless humanity wakes up. I will wake it up. I and my brothers will wake it up. Our Good Guide has shown us the way, he knows the Divine Words by heart and knows how to interpret them. He has assured us that we are right and that the Holy One will bless my mission and its counterpart hundreds of others. Together we will bring these technophiles to their knees so that they may at last raise their gaze to the heavens. Our sacrifice will show the truth of The Path, and those who die with me today will become the unknown catalysts for the change that must occur. They will be remembered in their number and by what resulted later but not by their names. Our names too will quickly pass from history, but our sacrifice and our faith will not. It is enough…

To read the rest, click the button below to download the pdf

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The Quiet Man by Hamish Spiers

This week we begin our latest round of By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story and essay showcases. Starting us off is a piece by the always intriguing Hamish Spiers, whose contributions to our site we’ve greatly appreciated over the years. This one from him will really punch you in the stomach.

Yes, I have to post these disclaimers every time: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

The Quiet Man by Hamish Spiers

Elena Mihaylov lived without companionship. She shared no meals nor laughter with friends and nor did she work. The lameness in her left leg that had troubled her since she was a child prevented her from that.

To the casual observer, the fact that she could limp to the market every day and keep food on her table and logs in the fireplace was an unsolvable mystery. But the person who watched her for some time would observe that every week she went to her letterbox, pulled out an envelope and within it she would always find the means to survive. To keep going. And on the back of this envelope there was never any address. Just the name of her benefactor, Iosif Yakovlev. And for the keen observer that would be the sum of what they could ascertain with regards to the mystery of how one Elena Mihaylov, ageing widow without any income of her own, could get by and make it through each day that remained to her.

As to Iosif Yakovlev, one could credit far more enigma to this man than Elena Mihaylov carried about her person, with the first striking fact being that Mrs. Mihaylov had never laid eyes on him. All she knew was that, not long after her husband had died, this man, whom she had never met, had started leaving her money. He was her saviour. The one man in all the world who cared for this poor ageing widow…

To read the rest, click the button below to download the pdf

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Catian Literary Taste, redux

Ahead of our latest By Prescription Only: Themed Writing showcase to begin next week, here’s something to get your fiction juices flowing: hand-picked by the author from our archives, Nick Cody reports on Cata’s literary scene. Enjoy!

The only publication in Cata that could even remotely pass for a literary journal is called Taste Buds. It touts the “original work of local artists” but most of the stuff it prints is facile and transparent. I can’t judge the quality of the photos, artwork and graphic designs within it, but the verse is certainly suspect. You be the judge: here are two lines by one of it’s most frequent guest contributors. A heroic couplet divided by a shrug.

“Poetry, prose, symphonies, even songs,

(shrug)

Life’s only good if you have a big dong.”

The cover caught my eye one evening while I was waiting for Mint in a bland cafe’. “20th Century American Literature: A Meager Buffet.” Now it’s true that Catians can be quite cocky about the society they’ve created. When pressed, most natives would say it’s more-or-less utopian. Obesity rates practically nil, longevity spiking, homelessness a rumor, and violent crime a shadow of all developed countries. Last year was the first time in living memory that rape and battery charges were brought to a trial, and the suspect was acquitted when defense attorneys argued that she was half his size and lacked a previous criminal record.

But even if Cata has a murder rate that most Americans would kill for, that doesn’t mean the fruits of a well-oiled society branch out into the arts. Not only did I feel that Catian poetry sucked pretty bad, but I could also tell that they had no sense of quality in others. In this case, the lack of taste was amplified by faulty knowledge of basic facts. The column I was reading featured “micro-reviews” of canonical lit. Here’s one on 1984, yes, George Orwell’s novel reviewed in a journal about AMERICAN literature!

“Our praise must remain equivocal. It’s good that Orwell defends the orgasm. But the writing on sex is of a bland, generic nature and lacks convincing specifics. Granted, it takes place in a repressive society, yada yada yada, but he could have slipped in a wet dream or two without sacrificing too much verisimilitude. In fact, the total absence of nocturnal emissions strains reader credulity. In short, it’s a futuristic novel that takes place a long, long time ago.”

And another example submitted by a different reviewer dismisses Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a single sentence. “An unsatisfactory work that could have, and most definitely should have, generated thunderbolts and lightning had the author been inspired enough to place a buxom southern belle with a ripped bodice on Tom and Jim’s raft.”

What agony, though, not being able to slap a colleague on the shoulder and share these howlers! Or even an acquaintence in a pub. Someone who would get, for starters, the delightful absurdity of lumping Twain in with 20th century letters. No, Cata wasn’t perfect in any sense of the term, but seeing Mint descend feet first, then knees, then pale thighs down the staircase to the lobby, I spun the rag onto the coffeetable and awaited a night of sweet consolations.

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The view from behind the editor’s desk

Some of you may have been wondering where I’ve gone, while others may have been wishing that I’d never come back, but most of you have probably simply been relieved not to have to read my drivel masquerading as prose and obscure thoughts pretending to be, well, thoughts. Regardless, for all of those who don’t care to know, here’s what I’ve been up to: editing. That is, editing!! (Note the enthusiasm those double exclamation marks grant.) And I’m happy to be at it because of what we’ve got in store for you.

First off, our latest By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story and essay showcase on the motif Faces will begin later this month, featuring a thriller from Hamish Spiers, a real treat of an experimental piece from Paul j Rogers, a physiological treatise/groundbreaking research results from Nick Cody, and a dumb yarn from me.

Mark Porter’s new book Get Stupid! will then appear early next year (projected) and will no doubt start 2015 off right. This will be Mark’s third book overall and his second with us; it’s a crime suspense novella that leaves readers tensely turning pages and scratching their heads right up until the very end. It’s a harder, edgier book than Dogs Chase Cars but will still please fans of that work and of Mark’s writing generally. It’s sure to win him some new fans too.

Following that, Paul j Rogers will be releasing his much-anticipated novel later in the year. I don’t want to say too much about this as it’s a work that is best read with a fresh mind, but let me just note that it will absolutely knock your socks off, as well as any ankle bracelets or toe rings you happen to be wearing. Its protagonist will haunt you like a shadow, even as he attempts to deal with his own. But much more on that later.

We’ve also got more BPO showcases planned for 2015 so don’t be shy and send us your stuff. Drugstore Books will never charge you for any services or make any copyright claims to your work, and your writing will reach a broad audience of readers in the thousands. If you’re a writer, there’s no reason not to take advantage of an arrangement like that. Except, of course, that you’ll have to deal me. Also Paul. And probably Nick. Oh, just send us your stuff.

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As Yet, Untitled

Nick’s last blog post about the titling of Inherent Vice inspired me to write a general piece about titles. But then a neon tube flickered, before sputtering out in a power short. While wafting away cathode gas, I vaguely recalled blogging about this topic before. A quick search through the Drugstore archives confirmed that I had. Twice.

My first post, nearly five years ago now, was mostly about the lack of control debut authors have over titles in legacy publishing. The second zeroed-in on a few formulas for making titles, ways of playing around with parts of speech to work a few a punchy lexical combos when you’re on the ropes.

And ‘work’ is the key word here. Full-length novels offer many title choices and working through them can be hard graft. If a writer’s lucky a title will light up, fully-formed, and stay switched on in their mind throughout the writing process. Cool beans. But we must be cautious: with repetition being a form of persuasion, it can become unthinkable to search for something better. In some cases, though, that title that’s been there from day one is the correct choice.

But sometimes the writer gets bored with those words at the top of the first page, sick of seeing them on the file names of story notes and characters. Deep down in her gut, she has a gnawing sensation that those words don’t quite say enough.

My preference is towards the poetic rather than the literal. Snakes on a Plane is wonderfully succinct – if you’re working in the action/comedy genre. It’s also unashamedly high-concept, like the movie it titles. But if your book’s themes are more nebulous (or cerebral) then summing up the plot in three or four words is probably not the way to go. Literary fiction doesn’t lend itself to literal titles.

As mentioned before, repetition is a form of persuasion, and a movie or book title acquires acceptance the more famous it becomes. To take another example from the movies, let’s look at Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. There are no reservoirs. There are no dogs (unless you count the heist crew, and I think many people do as the human brain seeks to make sense of why those two words should be given such importance). Various urban myths have grown around this movie’s title, yet Tarantino himself simply bats it away as “a mood title”. This, in turn, adds to its mythical aura. (Which, I guess, is artists’ privilege.) So then, the opaque title is definitely an option.

Becoming a magpie is another route. Many well-known writers have done it. The title of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood is taken from The Beatle’s song Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) on their 1965 album Rubber Soul. Of course, Murakami took out his scalpel and cut loose that suffixed parenthetical (and then the bird inside those brackets was gone). Yet given that this is the favourite song of the protagonist and that there is much forest imagery in the book, the title is actually quite literal. But those two nouns stand alone with real power. To the reader without knowledge of story or characters, those words are loaded with many different possibilities.

Another example is William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. The title is adapted from a soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Faulkner added the definite articles, and by doing so (like a jazz band covering rock) made it his own:

It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

(Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-28)

The Sound and the Fury. Shakespeare’s juxtaposition now becomes specific with the addition of definite articles, and we want to know ‘which sound?’, ‘what fury?’. Faulkner edited his way to something ethereal. Without knowing a single thing about the book, the title makes it pop off the shelf and into your hand.

And that, to me, is a great title.

 

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What do you call it?

The following is the final post of a three-part series on Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice. Spoiler warning for those who might want to take the dive: ditto if you’ve heard about the up-coming movie from Paul Thomas Anderson starring Joaquin Phoenix.

“Whadda ya call it?” Where I come from that colloquialism means, “Help me out here. What is the word I’m momentarily unable to recall?” When it comes to the title of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, the characters are rummaging through the moment for the meaning of it all. Doc Sportello and his lawyer, Sauncho Smilax, come up with the title of the novel, totally unaware that they are fictional beings in a weird bit of beach noir. Events in the narrative have pursued their course, things have happened, until finally we readers reach the denouement overhearing Doc and Sauncho:

It was as if whatever had happened had reached some sort of limit. It was like finding the gateway to the past unguarded, unforbidden because it didn’t have to be. Built into the act of return finally was this glittering mosaic of doubt. Something like what Sauncho’s colleagues in marine insurance like to call inherent vice.

“Is that like original sin?” Doc wondered.

“It’s what you can’t avoid,” Sauncho said, “stuff marine policies don’t like to cover. Usually applies to cargo–like eggs break–but sometimes it’s also the vessel carrying it. Like why bilges have to be pumped out?”

“Like the San Andreas Fault,” it occurred to Doc. “Rats living up in the palm trees.” (p. 351)

This passage made me think about the act of the artist bestowing a title upon her work. The title of a poem, or a movie, or a novel: is it like the crown jewel on a glittering tiara? The craftsman sets it ‘just so’ to give the whole thing a greater resonance, an amplified power? Or, because the title is partially off by itself, highlighted so to speak and set off from the main, should we look to it for some special meaning, like a keyhole into a room where some shady business is being conducted?

As an exercise, put yourself in Pynchon’s shoes. You’ve finished your novel about Doc Sportello, seeker and weed smoker, included the whole menagerie of southern California beach culture, and thrown in a nefarious cabal called The Golden Fang along with off-hand mentions of a ruined, mythical (but real in some people’s minds) civilization called Lemuria, but when you reach the end you pause for a title and come up with, wait a second! Is “Inherent Vice” supposed to close the book on the novel’s unsolved mysteries or loop us into a deeper reading? If the answer to both questions is, “Either is fine”, then in response to the question, “What do you call it?”, Inherent Vice might be as good as it can get.

Look again. Doc has photographic evidence taken at the crime scene for the murder he is trying to solve. Problem is, increasing the resolution only reaches the point where the details lose focus. The sentences preceding the quote above are as follows: “There were close-ups of the gunman who’d nailed Glen, but none were readable. It could have been Art Tweedle under the Christmas-card ski mask, it could’ve been anybody. Doc got out his lens and gazed into each image till one by one they began to float apart into little blobs of color.”

What it comes to the murder mystery, the answer seems to be, Who knows? Regarding the larger question, the looming death to our society and our civilization (seen in the reflection of Lemuria), Pynchon might be saying through that dialogue of Doc and Sauncho, ‘There is something intrinsic about human beings that leads them toward total loss.’ Whatever alien designed and created this species would have a hell of a time trying to insure his creation.

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Pynchon’s eyeball: the elusive and enticing search for meaning

Two weeks ago I posted about the color scheme of pink and green in Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice (2009). So I completed that novel last week and was struck with no epiphanies. I guess that lack of an “ah-ha!” moment when I finished reading the final page should have come as no surprise. Good reading of good novels doesn’t work that way. It’s all about rereading. I wrote in that post about how contemporary fiction, at least for the last 100 years, is about puzzles composed of words and symbols by writers for readers. If that is true for writers like Nabokov, Joyce, Proust, and others, then the initial reading, no matter how careful or thorough, will not suffice to notice, much less solve, the problems that arise upon a first reading. If you want to get it, you’ve got to look again.

Does Pynchon agree with me? Maybe not. Just as every strong artist reacts against the established Masters of the preceding era, so too might Pynchon be writing in a way that casts doubt on the whole “novel-as-a-puzzle” enterprise. If Nabokov’s Pale Fire is THE masterpiece literary puzzle (it is), then Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 might be the greatest reaction to it, wherein every avenue to truth leads into shadows of doubt. And is Inherent Vice in that vein of agnosticism? Or is it begging to be reread for reasons other than because it has amusing scenes and killer sentences? The law of diminishing returns says, when applied to less than superior novels, that future readings will provide ever-decreasing amounts of pleasure. In this way, the “less-than-genius” work will always carry with it an expiration date, for each person (one or two readings is enough) and for each generation.

So how about Inherent Vice? Is it a literary puzzle or fine stoner pulp? Maybe now is a good time to reconsider that eyeball at the beginning of the novel:

The sign on his door read LSD INVESTIGATIONS, LSD, as he explained when people asked, which was not often, standing for ‘Location, Surveillance, Detection.’ Beneath this was a rendering of a giant bloodshot eyeball in the psychedelic favorites of green and magenta, the detailing of whose literally thousands of frenzied capillaries had been subcontracted out to a commune of speed freaks who had long since migrated up to Sonoma. Potential clients had been known to spend hours at the ocular mazework, often forgetting what they’d come here for.

Maybe pink and green are put into scenes sporadically in order to signal to the reader that stoner associations have been given the green light to flow freely, but they are all leading nowhere? Kind of like the author saying, “Be my guest, look around, snoop and follow your nose, but you’re not going to find any singular Meaning.” Isn’t that what the etched eyeball represents? Incredible, captivating detail, and yet people come and lose themselves in it and forget their normal business. Applied to literature, Pynchon’s metaphor is clear: ‘Readers come to my novels (or movies like The Shining) and start connecting the dots so obsessively, with such tunnel vision, that they lose sight of what they’d come to find.’ What do we come to novels to find? No answer. This is quintessential Pynchon, a trick he pulls off time and time again in The Crying of Lot 49. In fact, it just might BE the strongest interpretation of that great novella: We, the readers, are lured into a search for meaning that will ever elude, and ever entice, us.

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By Prescription Only: Faces

The deadline for Faces, our next BPO, is next week! Please send submissions by October 17th.

Please send your submissions to: contact@drugstorebooks.com.

  • Theme: Faces
  • Length: 3,000-8,000 words
  • Format: MS Word 97-2003 (If you’re using a recent version of Word then please save as a .doc and not a .docx file, this will help smooth out compatibility issues.)
  • Title: Centered, Times New Roman 16 point; with a byline below also centered and in 14 point
  • Text, font and size: Justified; Times New Roman, 12 point
  • Spacing: Single, with block quotes separated by an empty line on both sides; paragraphs indented but section breaks separated by an empty line and three centered asterisks
  • Footer: www.drugstorebooks.com (on the left) © Your Name 2014 (on the right — stretched to fit the length of the footer)
  • Quotation conventions: Double quotes (“faces”) with embedded single quotes (‘faces’) for reported speech, single quotes for reported thoughts, double quotes to mark text off (i.e. so-called “~~”), song titles, etc.
  • Italics: Use for emphasis, book/magazine/TV show/film/album titles
  • Referencing: Any standard academic convention is fine as long as it’s used consistently; both footnotes and end notes are acceptable, though any applicable footnotes will not be included in the opening section posted on the site
  • Deadline: 17 October

If you’re wondering how it will all pan out, here’s Nick’s “No Contest” from our last round as an example. Please note too that all of our previous entries are available on the By Prescription Only: Themed Writing page. All submissions will be edited by us but the final decision regarding any suggested changes to the content will be left up to the author. The author will also retain full copyright privileges and ownership; we’re here to display your work and help it reach a broader audience, not to profit from it. We’re looking forward to reading what you come up with!

Next week, Nick Cody will be back with more thoughts on reading, writing & books.

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The Color Scheme: Pink and Green in Pynchon’s Inherent Vice

Pity the critics. Imagine being a book reviewer, slave to the deadline, when one afternoon Thomas Pynchon’s Mason & Dixon lands on your desk like a fat, dead fish. You have the weekend to read and review it. Your readers are waiting. I suppose the dread of this situation would apply to most novels by Pynchon as well as a majority of contemporary novels blessed or cursed with the tag literary fiction. Like it or not, for the past one hundred years, the modern novel seems to be predominately an affair of puzzles. From the micro level of deciphering the meaning of long, meandering sentences that literary types like to employ–with the occasional obscure vocabulary word or allusion placed along the garden path as a stepping stone or trip wire–to the macro level task of explaining how it all hangs together, reading good fiction is not so much about appreciating beauty as it is about making sense of it all.

The book reviewer, in this sense, is like a professor of a lax institution at grading time. The limited information available tells him that the student is pretty bright, and heck, no one ever complains about receiving an A, so he writes “brilliant, ingenious, clever, magical, amusing” or any platitude that he thinks he can get away with. Leave it to the next guy to try and explain this 800 page behemoth. My job is finished: my reputation and paycheck secure.

Keeping such absurdities in mind, I will not attempt to explain, solve, evaluate, or assess Pynchon’s 2009 novel, Inherent Vice. All I will say from an appreciative standpoint is that Inherent Vice is a genuine pleasure to read, reminding me of the Coen brothers’ film The Big Lebowski, except it replaces bowling balls with surf boards.

My goal here is modest: describe the reading process in relation to one of its puzzles. As you might have gathered from this blog’s title, the colors pink and green figure prominently in this beach noir tale set in southern California circa 1969. Since the question Why Pink and Green? is temporarily on hold, a better starting question might be, How do I know that these two arbitrary colors have anything to do with the novel?

At first, a sensitivity to pattern comes into play. You notice a detail here, an echo there. It makes you feel smart. And that feeling keeps you in the game, in pursuit of a better sense of the puzzle. Of course, one or two instances doesn’t make a pattern, so catching it requires a retention of what you’ve read in addition to an attentiveness as the story unfolds. An example is in order here. The novel opens with Doc, a hippie private eye, meeting his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Pynchon and character names! another puzzle or what?). She wants help with a job. Jump to page 14 and Doc is arriving at his office where we are given this description, “The sign on his door read LSD INVESTIGATIONS, LSD, as he explained when people asked, which was not often, standing for ‘Location, Surveillance, Detection.’ Beneath this was a rendering of a giant bloodshot eyeball in the psychedelic favorites of green and magenta, the detailing of whose literally thousands of frenzied capillaries had been subcontracted out to a commune of speed freaks who had long since migrated up to Sonoma. Potential clients had been known to spend hours at the ocular mazework, often forgetting what they’d come here for.”

If you’re like me, you have a good guess about the meaning of “magenta” in that sentence, but you want to be sure so you google it. Yep. Pink. Hardly a page later and you have a bit more detail from Doc’s office. “In Doc’s office were a pair of high-backed banquettes covered in padded fuchsia plastic, facing each other across a Formica table in a pleasant tropical green.” Fuchsia fits with that sentence and that setting, using detailed description to bring life to this oddball character’s place of business. But you feel there also MUST be some connection to the pink-and-green combo from the previous page. The pairing of magenta-green and fuchsia-green each in their own sentence a page apart is too much of a coincidence to just let it slide. From now on, we will be alert for a repeated occurrence.

About 60 pages later, we get another sighting. And ten pages after that one, more pink and green. Hibiscus and green on page 77. Pink and Asian indica on page 85. Nobody needs Google to know what color grass is. And it goes on: “li’l pink trike heading out through the beet fields,” (page 112). At one point there are two references on one page, “green and fuchsia lunchroom booth” and “pink, but poison green” on page 147.

The pattern has been noted and the coded signals received, but what does it all MEAN? All of this “mazework” creates a tension. Can we be satisfied with the pursuit of questions instead of establishing answers? Is the answer in that eyeball? I’m going to finish reading the thing and if I figure it out, I’ll write about it. If I don’t, I won’t. I’m not a book reviewer and this shit is free. But if you wanted to help out, you can cut into the action by picking up a copy and shooting me an email. I’m fairly sure if you see Inherent Vice in the bookstore, you won’t miss the cover.

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How Should I Publish?

First of all, some terms.

Exhibit a) Indie publishing, aka self-publishing, or, if you prefer, self-pubbing (which sounds a lot like the process of turning oneself into an alehouse).

Exhibit b) Traditional publishing, aka trad-publishing (© Andrew Oberg, 2011) and its obvious derivative trad-pubbing (conjuring images of a ghastly Oxbridge bar crawl), and then, finally, the term the industry seems to be pushing, legacy publishing.

Exhibit c) the many-headed hydra, being a hybrid author.

But before we start…

*Disclaimer 1. I’ve yet to publish fiction via any medium (except for BPOs on here, shameless plug 1, shameless plug 2, shameles plug 3). As such, my opnions have been formed by regularly reading writers’/agents’ blogs and by my experiences working with other writers here at Drugstore Books over the last four years.

*Disclaimer 2. If you read this a few months after the publishing date, a little/some/all of it may be out of date. Things are changing so quickly that might even be the case already.

*Disclaimer 3. I’m getting close to finishing a novel I’ve been working on for a few years sodding ever and therefore feel reinvigorated by the nuances of the current publishing climate after many years where I couldn’t have given a monkey’s. Indeed, my lust for the high life has become so acute that I recently bought a 1986 Lamborghini Countach on ebay with my credit card. (The ocelot skin seat covers are divine, unless you’re vegan.) This, however, is not really a disclaimer at all, more like a daydream that’s been foolishly typed out.

Indie

When we first started this website, there were still mutterings on the internet about ‘Vanity Publishing’. No more. Indie publishing is not a reluctant last resort; it’s a bona fide choice.

Its main strengths (in no particular order) are: total creative freedom; speed of project completion; it’s fast enough to respond to trends; control over cover design; control over marketing campaign (if you can afford one); you can release via multiple services and platforms (CreateSpace, Lulu, Smashwords, books printed at a print shop etc.); niche genres are welcome and well-suited; and, the author can start earning immediately.

On the negative side, you’re on your own throughout. You have to do everything yourself or outsource stages beyond your capabilities (feedback, revisions, proofreading, artwork/covers, marketing). In addition, you have to organize getting your book reviewed, set up book readings and signings, and arrange radio interviews and schedule promotional work at book festivals — all at your own expense. If you live outside the U.S and sell less than $100 worth of stock then Amazon will never send you any royalty payments. Marketing your book is now a full-time job.

Legacy

It’s probably still true that a book distributed by a legacy publisher has more cachet than an indie-published book. This is because, at the very least, the reader is guaranteed a basic minimum standard of quality (edits, proofreading, printing). It also implies that industry professionals, at the very least, see some kind of commercial value to the project.

Positive things for the writer include: being able to discuss the project with an agent and get feedback on early drafts; in-house editing and proofreading services; in-house designers for artwork/covers (this I see as a plus because making covers might be lots of fun, but they need to be done by a professional); at the very least, listing in trade journals; probable marketing campaign strategy and support; getting the book into bricks and mortar stores; and, crucially, some form of royalty payment.

Negatives include: getting from being unrepresented to published takes a very long time; even when you’re represented, getting published takes a long time (the legacy machine is slow); reduced control over the book’s content; no control over artwork (and you might hate it); royalties aren’t what they used to be (broadly speaking, for debut writers); marketing isn’t what it used to be (broadly speaking, for debut writers). In fact, modern writers are expected to promote their work tirelessly through social media, book signings and book readings, festivals, radio etc. The publisher will open doors, but much legwork remains. In short, congratulations on getting an agent and publishing deal but hold off on that ’86 Countache with ocelot seats for a while.

Hybrid

Hybrid can mean many things to many people. It can mean self-publishing one of your books and legacy publishing the next. It can mean selling ‘paper book’ rights to a legacy publisher and handling ebook sales yourself (for the same book). Some agents will not take on a client whose book has been self-published. Others most definitely will. Some agents scour Neilsen BookScan looking for writers whose sales have acquired ‘traction’ and then offer to represent them. (I read an interview where an agent mentioned that 5,000 copies sold gets people’s attention.) Even million-seller authors have switched to indie publishing after long careers with legacy publishers (if you don’t believe me, Google it), and authors who started out as indie publishers have gone the other way and been signed by agents and publishers.

If you’re querying agents having already indie-published the same book, do your research and make sure you’re approaching indie-friendly agents. In a nutshell, being a hybrid author means being flexible, at ease in both worlds, and choosing different methods of publication, project-by-project, or, even within one project.  It goes without saying that much promotional work needs to be done and that rests with you, the writer.

Final Thought

The common thread here seems to be that in 2014, unless you’re a best-selling author, the onus on real world marketing and raising the book’s profile online rests squarely with the author.

I guess, these days, being a writer is the best of times and the worst of times all at the same time.

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Posted in Writing Craft & Self-Publishing | 7 Comments
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