Help starving artists like Matt Damon by reading the work of indie authors

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Last week I spoke to a great group of readers for the Friends of Mirror Lake Library in St. Petersburg. Much of the discussion was about indie publishing (read about it on their blog.) I asked the group how many people knew the name Hugh Howey. One or two hands went up. Die hard sci-fi fans know him, and even more people will know his name when Ridley Scott adapts his Wool series to film. Howey is not only a prolific self-published author, he isn’t shy about jumping on author message boards and offering writers good advice, debunking myths, and opining on the shifting sands of Amazon’s KDP program.

Then I asked the group if they’d heard of Andy Weir. Again, a couple of hands. The film version of his book The Martian became the top movie at the box office last week. That movie starred a fellow named Matt Damon who, once lamented the lack of decent scripts available to him, and wrote himself an Oscar winning screenplay called Good Will Hunting.

"The film version of the self published novel The Martian is #1 at the box office. How do you like them apples?"

“The film version of the self published novel The Martian is #1 at the box office. How do you like them apples?”

People might snicker at E.L. James’s 50 Shades of Grey, and the subsequent movie. Perhaps it wasn’t literary greatness – but rarely does literary greatness pay the bills quite so well. The point is, whether you are a DIY writer/publisher, or have a nice contract with the Big Six Five, matters less and less. Or, according to Author Earnings, it doesn’t matter at all. You are no more or less likely to toil in obscurity or become a household name.

The good books will rise to the top.

It’s not that it’s harder for an indie author to get noticed. They just skip that years-long process of getting a traditional publishing deal. I have a friend with a proper book deal with an academic press. The book is popular non-fiction, not some dry thesis, and in our writing circle we’re very excited for her. The process is taking years and years, and that is just how it works. She started writing her book before Andy Weir began the Martian. Hers hasn’t hit print yet, and Andy’s walking the red carpet. (Sorry redacted, we’re still proud of you.)

One last comment to tie this all together. Last week I had a little fun with Lorraine Devon Wilke’s article imploring self-published authors not to write four books in a year. Well, Lorraine (can I call you Lorraine?) is super cool and she tweeted my blog post and we had a nice “hi-how-ya-doin” in Twitter-ese. She’s a bona-fide pro whose novel After the Sucker Punch was turned down by a bookstore because it was printed by CreateSpace (that’s Amazon’s print-on-demand arm that does a better job of printing books than many capital “P” presses.) The quickest way for bookstores to (continue) to hurt their own relevance (and lose the battle with Amazon) is to shun the work of up-and-coming authors.

Thanks for reading. Do you have a question or a comment that you don’t want to leave for the entire world to see? Drop me an email at jkilewrites@gmail.com. I post once every week or two so sign up on the left and never miss a post.

-J.K.

To publish – a lot – or not to publish a lot

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This little nugget of journalistic click-bait caught my eye the other day, and I set it aside for a response. Lorraine Devon Wilke (a great Huffington post writer) has a beef with writers who publish multiple titles in a year (she specifically is against publishing four books in a year.) You can read the article HERE, but I’ll summarize that she thinks publishing in volume causes the writing to suffer and as artists, writers should take more care in their craft. She references writers who take decades to write one book, and Harper Lee publishing one work in her lifetime (plus that one we won’t talk about.)

Here’s the thing: many writers, want to be writers and eat. So it might just be that to make a living, a writer needs to write more than one magnificent piece of literary fiction every seven years, and instead write two or three or four pieces of genre fiction in a year (a market that actually sells books) and have that be their “day job.” Like Russell Blake, who according to the Wall Street Journal, published 25 novels in 30 months and parlayed that in to a gig co-writing for Clive Cussler. Not bad, when you also consider that Blake did this living on the beach in Baja Mexico.

When I went back to read Ms. Wilke’s article for the purposes of writing this blog-post, she’d added a “clarification” that basically walked back everything she said in the article. I know, I know, her job was to write a sharp piece criticizing all these people are self-publishing multiple novels that don’t overwhelm us with artful prose. Has she read anything that the big publishers are putting out? I’m sure she has. Is there a difference anymore? There’s a little book called The Martian, that was self published. It’s also going to be the #1 movie this weekend and win a few Oscars.

I read an interview with John Grisham where he explained that he wrote his books in 3-4 months, then it went to the editor while he figured out what his next book would be and outlined that book. Once his editor was done, he’d put on the finishing touches, they’d release it, he’d do a book tour and start the process again. A book a year. I would bet that if the economics forced the situation, he could do two in a year. Once you sell a movie deal or two, you don’t need write as much, and that’s what we’re all hoping to do.

In fact, it appears that Lorraine Devon Wilke understands this dynamic well. She’s a terrific writer. I happen to love the Huffington Post and her work stands out. But she’s also got some fluff in there. And, lo and behold, she wrote a GREAT article about the time a bookstore rejected carrying her book because it came from Amazon’s print arm – CreateSpace. In fact, it appears that Wilke is just like the writers she’s taking to task. If she ever stumbles across this little piece of criticism, I hope she understands that every writer’s most precious resource is time. I’d also love for her to read my book and review it honestly on Amazon. It took me over a year to write, work with an editor, and publish (while focusing on my paying job.)

And I’m available if she’d like to interview me for her next column. The Huffington Post has a few more readers than I do. (Hey, Lorraine, email me at jkilewrites@gmail.com.)

Thanks for reading. Sign up for update on the left and never miss a post. If your name isn’t Lorraine, you can still email me. I’ll be speaking Monday, Oct. 5, at the Mirror Lake Library in St. Pete, where I’ll talk more about how getting noticed as a writer is changing.