NOTE: This is a longer version of an article originally posted on Carrie Butler’s blog, So, You’re a Writer…, in August 2013.
Did you ever study debate in school? Debate classes are great, because they teach folks to argue both sides of controversial issues. Thanks to the Internet, debate classes should be mandatory. Too many people in this world only argue their own viewpoints and have no clue how to see the other side of things.
I open this article with that thought because our artful host, Carrie Butler, requested I give 5 positive and 5 negative comparisons, regarding changes I’ve seen in publishing since releasing my first novel, The Gothic Rainbow: Beginning Volume of the Vampire Noctuaries, in 1997. However, as anyone skilled in debate can tell you, that’s not so easy. The unbiased soul can argue both sides of most opinions. Hence, this article will be written with a tongue firmly rooted in cheek, very cognizant of knowing any vehement stance I present could easily be contradicted.
With said disclaimer out of the way, let’s begin…
The Negatives of Publishing in 2013 Versus 1997:
1. Less Bookstores
Forgive me an uncreative and obvious opening, but the demise of so many bookstores deserves a reverent moment of silence. Yes, it’s great to order books online and have them arrive in a day or two. Yes, instantly downloading eBooks is fantastic. But walking into libraries and bookstores means being surrounded by the essence of humanity. Stories. Tales. Myths. Knowledge. These are the fabric of our lives. The written word is the record of our memories and thereby the ghosts of our antiquity. Books represent the core of what it means to be human and alive upon this Earth during our brief window of time. Bookstores are cathedrals, worshipping the sanctity of our yesteryears. We shouldn’t be allowing them to disappear faster than virginity on prom night.
2. Less Magazines
Back in 1997, The Novel & Short Story Writers Market was the biblical-sized, de facto reference book, featuring submission guidelines for the world’s breadth of magazine and publishers. Even bigtime professional writers used it. Updated yearly, we used it to find agents, publishers, contests and magazines seeking short stories or review copies of our books. That was how authors found out everything before the Internet. Today, the annual, venerable book still exists, but comparatively speaking, The Novel & Short Story Writers Market has devolved into little more than a leaflet. The quantity of vanished magazines is rather astonishing. Thankfully, there are still a lot of publishers and agents out there, but you simply can’t get published or reviewed in as many magazines anymore, because their numbers have shrunk faster than testicles in icewater.
3. All The Damn Vampires…
Bonus points if you got the movie reference. When I created the characters of The Vampire Noctuaries duology in 1991, there was no Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no Twilight, no Vampire Diaries, no True Blood, and people thought Barnabas Collins was Joan’s sister. The only vampire novelists anyone heard of were Bram Stoker and Anne Rice. Although there are too many damn vampires now, I’m proud a story I began 20 years ago has none of today’s vampire cliches. No vampire huntsman. No love triangles. No werewolves. No “chosen ones”. No daywalkers. No seeking “cures” for vampirism. No vampires attending school. No vampires having babies. Where do “writers” get these ideas? Mine are good old fashioned dark creatures of the night, going to Siouxsie & The Banshees concerts and being all mites o’ sinister. The Vampire Noctuaries are just a bleak story of anguish and betrayal and heartache where lost souls find redemption in the shadows of each other. A story you can relate to, because you’ve been through that stuff yourself.
4. Crappy Self-Published Books
The ease with which anyone can publish books today, especially eBooks that can be totally free to create, has festered a mire of uneducated dillweeds cranking out an endless barrage of snail vomit disguised as “books”. You know who you are! The ones with typos on every other page and all the narrative style of a 4th grader? Yeah, I’m talking to you. Where do you nimrods come from? You people are the literary equivalents of tone-deaf musicians. You sound awful, but you just don’t know it. You think just anyone can write? Just because I can ride a horse doesn’t make me a Kentucky Derby contender. Just because I can use a blender doesn’t make me a French chef. Just because I’ve been in a fistfight doesn’t mean I can beat Bruce Lee. Just because you know how to spell your name doesn’t make you an author. Please… stop. Focus on attaining the true pinnacle of your job skills and repeat after me – “Would you like fries with that?”
5. Granular Categories/Genres
At the risk of stepping on the “new adult” toes of my gracious host (a danger easily avoided if I charmingly sweep you off your feet, Miss Butler), I’m really bothered by the granular categorizing of books these days. In my mind, The Vampire Noctuaries have always been fantasy novels. The first printing of The Gothic Rainbow was somewhat facetiously called “Literature/Dark Fantasy” on the back cover. These days, people would call it “New Adult” or “Horror” or “Paranormal Romance” or “Oh Crap Another Kinky Vampire Novel”. Personally, I still just consider it a fantasy book. As my idol Ray Bradbury once explained, “Fantasies are things that can’t happen, and science fiction is about things that can happen.” That’s granular enough for me.
The Positives of Publishing in 2013 Versus 1997:
1. On-Demand Printing!
This one gets a well-deserved exclamation point, because it’s so awesome. Without a doubt, this is the greatest blessing of all. Do you ever stop to bask in the euphoria of how thrilling it is to be a writer today? How lucky we are! I’m not exaggerating when I say, this is truly the greatest time in the history of humanity to be an author. Think about it. On-demand publishing has changed the course of our evolution and has only been around for, what, 5 to 10 years? In the words of Captain Tightpants, “This is us. On the raggedy edge!” We’re the youthful pioneers of a revolutionary shift in culture. For the first time in the history of the world, anyone with access to a computer can write a book, have it printed for a reasonable fee, then shipped to almost any corner of the Earth. This has never been possible before in all of recorded time! As an author, you can now reach the biggest audience the planet has ever known. If that doesn’t excite you, quit writing and go mop floors for a living.
The Gothic Rainbow was not available as an eBook until February of 2013. I was a Luddite hold-out, renouncing eBooks even longer than J.K. Rowling. This may sound oddly archaic for one who has spent more than half-a-decade earning a living doing computer programming for Walt Disney Studios, but I just loved the feel of a paperback. Conceding I was walking away from the chance to reach more readers, I finally relented. Some people fear eBooks substituting traditional books, but I’ve never had such a worry. Audiobooks didn’t replace print and I simply regard eBooks as the same concept. eBooks represent an additional format, not a replacement one. All my books are now available as hardcovers, paperbacks and eBooks. As a highly experienced programmer, I’m proud to say all my eBooks are constructed by me, by hand, and they actually work without getting all wonky in your eReader, unlike the eBooks of some authors (see #4 above).
When my book was first published, Amazon would put any book with an ISBN in their database. Shortly thereafter, they adopted a policy wherein you had to pay them to appear on their site. The fee was negligible – only $20 a year or something, if I recall correctly. Despite the low cost, there was no way I would pay that, just on principal alone! They would take a percentage of my book sales and they’d charge me just to make it available for sale!? How was that fair, to charge me twice? Needless to say, this policy wasn’t around for very long, but it was around long enough for me to lose all interest in using Amazon for a long time. Thankfully, Amazon turned this lame policy around and is now one of the greatest supporters of small publishers and self-publishing. Today, it’s exceptionally easy to have your books selling on their website for free. So, historically speaking, Amazon was cool… then they sucked… now they’re cool again.
4. Social Media
Websites comprising the foundation of social media have become so ubiquitous, you don’t even need to mention them by name anymore. The vernacular of “profiles” and “avatars” and “content” and “posting” has become so commonplace in our culture, we don’t need to define it or explain it. When journalists in old media outlets no longer prefix a news item by explaining what “chatting” means, you know our society has come far in accepting the proliferation of communicating on the Internet. Yes, the Internet existed in 1997 and I was actually very active in promoting The Gothic Rainbow online back then. But, the quantity of resources was drastically limited. The word “blog” didn’t even exist until 1999 and the original social networking site, Friendster, didn’t exist until 2002. How would you promote a book via the Internet without blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Goodreads, LibraryThing, or Google? None of those sites existed in 1997. We didn’t even have cat memes! In 1997, the Internet was nothing but cobwebs, tumbleweeds and 5 dirty pictures… of your mom. She was hot back then.
Most reading this won’t bother to purchase my novels, but a couple of you will. You’ll actually read my books and become a fan of my work. “Thanking the fans” is such a cliche, but folks like you are the people who allow folks like me to flourish and keep paying the rent. As I don’t fancy the notion of becoming an emaciated homeless writer living under a bridge in a cardboard box, I truly appreciate you and every single person who becomes a fan and purchases what I write. Believe me, thanking you is not a corny cliche. I am truly grateful for the existence of my readers.
6. Bonus Answer: Carrie Butler
Miss Butler wasn’t part of my publishing endeavors in 1997 either. Thankfully, in 2013, the talented Miss Butler exists and has given me the opportunity to talk about my books and writing experiences. For that, she has my heartfelt appreciation. Carrie, if you ever make it out to Los Angeles, I should warn you – beware of scruffy novelist bad boys with tight abs and motorcycles. They are total jerks. Don’t trust them. Sure, beautiful ladies like yourself always get the motorcycle rides for free… but touching the abs will cost you a dollar! Each time! Can you believe it? That’s how they get you! Lousy swindlers! I don’t know any such dashing gentlemen personally, but I’ll steer you clear of those villains if I spot any. Just my friendly travel tip to a fellow Ohioan.