I'm Mik. Model, mother, moron. Future meta-magician. Former logic clinician.
My better half and I own Brainfood Bookstore in Longmont, Colorado. It is the only exclusively indie- and local-lit bookstore in the nation. We meet a lot of crazy folks.
Testimonial from a former roommate:
"Living with you was like living with a quiet little opinionated deer person who floated around like a ghost and said smart/nutso things and ate seaweed. "
I love Colorado. I love mountains. I love hiking. I read and write. I raise my children to the best of my ability. I have lupus and have defeated early-stage cancer twice, so I pretty much fully support the use of medical marijuana.
Thanks! Yeah, this is something I feel strongly about— Not that I believe that traditional publishing is ‘evil’ in-and-of itself, but it certainly intentionally misleads prospective authors by misrepresenting itself to consumers (many of whom may wish to become authors), and I don’t agree with that.
Let’s start with A Brief History— We all know that the Big Six publishing companies made their fortunes by seeking out talented authors and new stories. When we think of publishing, we tend to think of Scribner’s relationship with Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and the like. The publishing companies like us to believe that such is still possible; that if only an author is discovered, their story can be told to the world, with the assistance of editors, marketing crew, the works. They portray that image, because everyone reading a book wants to imagine that’s what kind of person the author is. This is so far from the truth.
This idealistic mode died out slowly, but the Big Six really threw it to the can about a decade ago. They stopped publishing, with very few exceptions, anyone who didn’t already have a built-in fan base. They made the decision to bank on celebrities and previous bestsellers. This is why every other bestseller is the latest Kardashian tell-all or Jodi Picoult. No, I’m not saying this is universal; some new books are still published. Some new stories are still told. But it’s an exception, a rarity, not the publisher’s livelihood. They could get by without publishing anything new, banking solely on the pocketbooks of established fan bases. Oh, and it’s going to kill them.
But of course, they don’t portray themselves in this manner to their consumers. They don’t say, “Hey, you’re all fucking idiots, and we’ll keep spoon-feeding you the same regurgitated matter as long as you keep buying it.” And, unfortunately, most prospective authors fall for the illusion set up for the consumers— because most prospective authors are consumers of the traditional publishing industry.
As for the best route for authors, I’m going to compare it to post-secondary education. Pardon my extended metaphor. Most of us were told, throughout high school, that we needed to prepare ourselves for college, we needed to get into a good college, needed to do well in college so we could get good jobs after college. Well, too many people took this as a guarantee that doing well in college would get them a good job, and the whole economy fucking flopped because of it. I digress.
Following all the rules and going to college doesn’t guarantee you a job, just as following all the rules and submitting a query letter and getting an agent and waiting patiently doesn’t guarantee you a book deal. And, more importantly, you have other options. What pisses me off about traditional publishing (and colleges) is that they portray themselves as an author’s only option, their only way to publish, their only way to succeed. This is so far from the truth. The dishonesty of it is what pisses me off. It’s not that people shouldn’t publish traditionally or go to college; But those institutions should not portray themselves as the only option.
If you don’t go to college, you’re not stuck at a minimum-wage job forever. It might be harder to become a millionaire, but it’s so far from impossible. You could go to a great vocational or technical college, and make a modest living. You could get an apprenticeship, you could become an entrepreneur, you might be a truly skilled artist. Or, you might start at a minimum-wage job and climb promotion after promotion in success. There’s so many different ways to make it.
At a traditional publisher; if yours is the one-in-a-million new story that gets picked, you get the benefit of a label; of an editor and marketing crew; and possibly of lots of money. You get the disadvantages of basically no chance of getting lots of money, of getting well-known and well-read, and even of getting picked. You possibly get the disadvantage, depending on your specific circumstances and contract, of your story no longer belong to you, of being forced to change things you don’t want to change. For some people, traditional publishing may give them everything they ever wanted. For most, it won’t.
Independent publishing: You get the advantage of a much better chance of getting published. They don’t hand out contracts like candy or anything, but your odds are comparable to those a talented Alice Toklas or whatever had in the 1920’s. If you have talent, you might succeed. Oh, and you get a label— an independent publisher’s label. Disadvantages: Even if your book is more likely to be published, you’re less likely to instantly become a millionaire. Oh, and you probably have to do all your own marketing. If you’re lucky, someone might do editing and cover design for you. They might not.
Self-Publishing: Advantages: You have control of everything. You get to keep virtually all profits. Disadvantages: You have to do everything yourself. Oh, and you have like zero chance of anyone taking you seriously. But, that’s changing. more.
Glossery: The Big Six publishers are (were): Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin. Random House recently acquired Penguin, making it the Big Five. And S&S and HarperCollins are in the process of finalizing a merger. So it will be the Big Four. You can see where this is going.
By the way… All those hundreds of labels you see in Barnes and Noble? Alfred Knopf? Signet Classics? Viking Press? Puffin Books? Scribner, who I spoke of earlier? Yeah, those are all now imprints or subsidiaries of the Big Five. There aren’t 500 different publishers. Those are just four different companies, four different (very powerful) voices, given different labels to make you think you’re buying from lots of different, less powerful, companies.
Hey thanks, that’s actually a really great question! There’s a couple different ways to approach this answer. Yes, that’s one of the greatest things about literature, is that you can expose yourself to all different views and ideas, perspectives and cultures. That’s the problem with traditionally-published literature; it comes from only 5 different publishers, which only publish books they believe will sell well in the main stream— Which means mostly celebrity tell-alls, and certainly very very little of this ‘different perspective’ stuff. They just don’t publish anything that they don’t believe will sell in the main stream. It’s effectively censorship.
Which is why I support indie lit from all over; By saying ‘buy local,’ I am NOT saying ‘do not buy lit from other places and other cultures.’ Instead, I am trying to say, “There is a better alternative to shipping in mass-produced brain junk that will not introduce you to any new perspectives.” Once again, I am NOT telling anyone to avoid books from other places and cultures, but the benefits of ALSO buying local lit are undeniable. By buying local lit and encouraging others to do so— by talking about your favorite book, and throwing in ‘Oh, it was written by someone 30 miles away’— you encourage others to realize that literature does NOT just come from New York; it comes from all over, and anyone can be a writer. In some ways, this also encouraged reading of indie lit from people all over the world— because everyone is a local somewhere.
Thanks for that great question, and I’d be happy to answer any more! I’m aware I may not have answered this question as fully as some people would like, because I wanted to keep it short enough to be easily readable. :)
Oh my god THANK YOU. I love that book SO MUCH. It has had such an influence on my writing style. I have struggled with autism-spectrum disorder most of my life and that book really helped me to figure out how to take the quirks and thoughts that make me ME, and turn them into writing that is interesting for others to read, rather than alienating.
But you’re right. It’s the attitude that’s so wrong. He’s not even ‘mental,’ he’s neurologically atypical, but it doesn’t make any difference. Why not read a book by someone who has a mental illness or is neaurogically atypical? That’s like saying ‘I don’t want to read a book by someone who’s not my gender.’ ‘I don’t want to read a book about being black.’ ‘The protagonist doesn’t like potato chips like I like potato chips, so why should I read that?’
It’s ridiculous. Isn’t that the point of a book, to get to see the world from someone else’s prospective? It’s not just about getting to open a book and go on an adventure blah blah blah and get to see life from the prospective of an adventurer or a president or or an explorer or a princess or an inventor or someone more privileged than you. It means getting to see the world from the perspective of any person.
Mk prepare yourself:
Local Lit (Colorado)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thomspon
Cat and Dog: a Cajun Tale by James Ory Theall
The Path by Joyce Graham
Think Sideways by Tamara Kleinberg
King of the Chicanos by Manual Ramos
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Woman Warrior: A Memoir of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston
Rum Diary by Hunter S Thompson
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Cocaine: The Unauthorized Biography by Dominique Streatfield
Anything by Hemingway, Capote, or Vonnegut
Lemony Snicket (via ashleys-)