Not Sure I Buy It Yet

It’s an old argument by now. Publisher gatekeepers are keeping good writers out of the game, dictating to the public what they should and shouldn’t like. We need ways around them to reach readers and let them decide for themselves. On the surface it sounds appealing, both to readers and writers. Not every publisher book is a hit, and every once in a blue moon a good writer strikes out on their own and is very successful (I want to highlight the ‘once in a blue moon’ part because though there are those who DO make a success of self-publishing, there are thousands who don’t) doing it that way. But are gatekeepers really all that evil? Are they really keeping out good talent because the writing world is a snobbish elitist place full of big time writers who don’t want the new guys to come and play? Okay that’s probably a bit of an overexaggeration, but you get my drift. I don’t want to get too much into the topic because I think for the most part we’re pretty familiar about how valid the anti-gatekeeper arguments are and how unrealistic it really is right now to expect readers to take the place of gatekeeping. Not many have that kind of patience, and until self-published writers overall raise the standard of how much work they put into their books people are always going to have a negative view of self-pubbed books. Anyway, there have been some interesting attempts to try and bridge the gap between readers and writers but this one that Writer Beware posted about seems almost plausible to the right set of conditions. I still have questions about it though.

It’s called Unbound, and it’s an initiative called crowdfunded publishing. You can read the full article here. Basically, the initiative is a website where writers pitch their ideas on the website and if readers like the idea, they contribute money and when the set amount is reached the book is written and published. Initiatives vary, and seems to follow the same sort of thing you find when you fundraise for a charity and the amount you raise earns you certain rewards. If the author fails to raise the set amount for one project before the deadline, the money will either be refunded to the donators or set for them to be used on another investment. Now in certain circumstances this could work. For example, authors with a substantial following, or someone writing in a niche market. But to a new writer? I still have my doubts. For one, just because a pitch sounds good doesn’t guarantee that the book will be. People take a huge risk investing into a new writer, it could pay off or it could be a complete waste of money. And if you’re a new writer who blows it on the first attempt, I don’t think you’d get a second shot. People seem to forget that publishers risk a whole hell of a lot as well. Another thing that makes me hesitant is that this is a venture by writers for writers and supported by a publisher who sounds like they’ll soon get into selecting and publishing ideas that get enough pledges and are moved from a soon-to-be new area onto the main site. That opens up all sorts of potential for skewed results, because it’s not always the best-sounding idea that gets the most votes, but the most popular. And really, your odds probably won’t be any different than if you were to query the publisher directly, so it also has the potential to give writers false hopes. A comment near the end of the article by Amy Jenkins also bothers me. She says that what she didn’t like about her commercial publisher was all the publicity she had to do and that by being on Unbound she’s in charge. It, kind of didn’t make sense to me the way it was said, but that’s not what bothers me. Publicity is par and parcel of the writing game and it’s something us writers have to expect to do. And without publisher support, you should probably expect to do more than a writer with a publisher. The way it was all put together kind of gives the impression that going with Unbound makes it sound like it makes all that easier, but it’s not yet demonstrated that it can actually do that.

Publishing is especially tricky for us unpublished ones to try and navigate. We all know publishing is shifting and that things are changing, but sometimes I think those changes are more talk than actual change. I think some things could probably stand to change, but I don’t think we’re ready to actually go for the readers-as-gatekeepers initiative. Not at least until self-publishing improves.


Vegetarian Cannibal said...

Interesting post. Thanks for the link.


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