Martha Wells, author of the Murderbot series, which seems to be doing
well among fans of SF/F these days, published this article
recently at The Mary Sue.
Writing is about digging around in yourself and pulling things out. The
only special thing about our work is us, what our own unique brains and
personalities and experiences bring to the table to make the stories
new. That’s where the answer to whether you should continue to persist
or not needs to come from, from you.
Good luck. I’m rooting for you.
Taken as a whole, I’m a fan of what Wells is doing in this article. What
writer isn’t familiar with the dread of putting themselves out into the
world only to be ignored at best or trodden over at worst? Her
statement, “I’ve written a whole essay on People Who Want You to Stop
Writing,” certainly struck a chord with me. I know very well that
writing can feel this way.
However, there are a couple of aspects of Wells’s presentation of this
overall theme that I find problematic. There’s this:
I had interactions that made it clear I was expected to maybe
self-publish a little and then go away, emphasis on the go away.
As a proudly self-publishing author, I don’t appreciate this attitude.
There’s a persistent and, in my opinion, toxic cultural myth that
so-called professionally published works are somehow better than
self-published works, and we self-publishers are only doing this because
we “can’t” be traditionally published. I challenge any traditional
publisher to offer me better cover design, interior print layout, ebook
formatting, and editing than I am currently capable of.
If the publisher is not up to my quality standards, I will
reject them. Wells’s comment serves a well-meaning point, but her
derisiveness of self-publishing is toxic and unproductive.
There’s also this:
And there’s that whole category of People Who Are Happy to Take Your
Labor But Don’t Want You to be Paid, and also the People Who Would Be
Happy if All Creative Art was Produced by Those Rich and Privileged
Enough Not to Need to Profit From Their Work.
A big way in which traditional publishers create the perception that
they are necessary is the myth that they are raising up the downtrodden
and giving a voice to people who would otherwise would not have the
monetary means to put their work into the world. There was probably a
large element of truth to this in 1980. In 2020, there are two big
problems with this statement.
First, in terms of actual money, publishing a paperback book is now dirt
cheap. It can be accomplished on Amazon using a cheap laptop (at let’s
say $500), LibreOffice (free),
GIMP (free), and
Sigil (free). Now, good editing, a good
cover, learning all the nuances of book typography, learning HTML for a
proper ebook, etc. etc. are either expensive or time consuming, but that
isn’t the point of the assertion. The claim is that there are those who
want art to be "produced [only] by those rich and privileged enough
not to need to profit from their work." Self-publishing actually
solves this problem. Self-publishing on Amazon is effectively free.
And I would challenge anyone trying to back Wells’s claim to show me the
traditional publishers who have lists of published authors who lack the
means to provide themselves a computer and the internet.
Second, while I have received interest from commercial publishers in the
past, none of them has so far passed my sniff test. All but one has
wanted to foist upon me worse cover art than I was capable of procuring
myself, worse interior layouts than I was capable of designing myself,
or wanted to snare my work in vicious contracts, where they would
effectively own all print rights to my work in perpetuity, making it so that if they
ever wanted to stop printing my work, it would become effectively dead
to the world. I also remain suspicious of their editors, who are
employees of a profit-driven business. Am I really supposed to believe
that these people are going to help me develop my voice? Sorry, but it
seems much more likely that they will be interested in shaping my voice
into what is most profitable for their company. The cultural mystique
that professional publishers’ editors are superior to all else boggles
I’m sure that there are wonderful small, independent publishers out
there. I know certainly of one, with whom I have worked and would gladly
do so again. I hope to meet others someday. I insist on retaining
reprint rights to my work, and it would be a joy to add my typography
skill and editorial experience to such a press’s endeavors. I keep my
mind open that more such presses exist now, and that more might come
into existence. Sadly, most of my experience so far has been to the