Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
Do you want to be a best-selling author? You do? Well, here’s how! Just write your novel, upload it to Amazon’s self-publishing program, drop the price to ninety-nine cents, and sit back to watch it grow! No water necessary—except to keep yourself hydrated during the process.
Also, don’t forget: once that’s done, to help increase sales you will also need to spend money buying ad space, get a review from Kirkus Reviews (because many big-name reviewers don’t touch self-published works), and essentially do all the marketing for your book yourself because you don’t have a publisher.
But that’s okay because, in the end, you’re selling books, and you can cross “Publish a Book” and “Be an Author” off your bucket list and be done with it.
It seemed that way for Darcie Chan anyway. Mother, wife, and lawyer, Ms. Chan pitched her book, The Mill River Recluse, to publishers but they just weren’t feeling it. She finally decided to go the digital self-publishing route, got herself an agent, and using the steps outlined above, ended up selling 413,000 digital copies of her novel as of December 9, 2011.
Her agent has encouraged her to write a second novel, though the Wall Street Journal reported recently that “while she would love to write full time, for now, she still sees writing as more of a hobby. When people ask her what she does for a living, she says she’s a lawyer.”
I’m happy for her. I really am. She’s fulfilled a goal, taken her hobby and turned it into the 15 minutes of fame we all speak of but hardly ever experience.
But as a student in an MFA program who is seriously studying the art and craft of writing, and as an individual who has been writing since they could hold a pencil, (oh yes, I wrote “stories” in my little notebooks, for all their misspellings and lack of actual plot), what writers like Ms. Chan are doing is almost an affront to my entire being.
It’s like I’m being told, why bother burning infinitely deep holes in my wallet paying for classes with the faraway dream of publishing a book when I could just write as though it were my hobby and self-publish?
I’m not saying that instant success is a bad thing. Several actors, musicians, and authors were nobodies one day and big somebodies the next because of that instant magic. In fact, I would love for it to happen to me. (Who wouldn’t?)
What’s needling me is this idea that anyone can be a writer and writers don’t need publishers.
It is true that everyone can write. But not everyone can write well. I have read brief excerpts of some self-published works, and they are atrociously written and in desperate need of basic grammar, punctuation, and capitalization corrections, just to start with.
On the flip-side, there are plenty of books that have been traditionally published and are written so poorly that even the best copy editor in the world can’t save them. How they managed to get printed is a mystery I’d like to solve one day.
I sometimes wonder, if I get rejected enough times by a publisher, would I decide to take the self- publishing detour? Shouldn’t I wonder that perhaps people are saying “no thanks” for a reason? Maybe I really can’t write.
But I know that’s not possible. There are plenty of authors who can’t write, and yet they’ve been published. How? It’s quite a conundrum.
Or is it?
Maybe this is a time when publishers should start weeding out the weak writers who approach them. Instead of turning away decent authors because their work doesn’t fit within a specific genre, as what happened with Ms. Chan, publishers should turn away writing that isn’t even on par with that of a middle-school child.
And for writers, well, when we’re sick, we don’t try to self-medicate, do we? (Well, some of us do, and end up the worse for wear.) We go to the doctor—we go to the professionals. So why should the writing world be any different?