Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Coping in the Half Light

Last night, we went out with friends to a French restaurant--the entrees were buy one, get one free, and each bottle of wine was half price. Amazing. Again, one wonders, why does anyone ever pay full price (for clothes, for dinners, for anything, really)? I suppose one reason is that date night is traditionally Saturday, when restaurants charge full price. This is why I can never re-enter the dating life (well, this and my spouse): I would invite people out on Monday, when things are cheaper, and I can afford an extra bottle of wine and dessert too! While we were eating, apocalyptic rains swept through the region. It seems even more apocalyptic since we're in the dry season, and we don't usually have flooding rains in March. Of course, our weather has shifted back into summer, so maybe I shouldn't have found it so unusual.

This morning, some of the lights in my study aren't working, but I'm too afraid of the circuit breaker box and the dark laundry room (which is attached to the house, but I have to go outside to get to it, and there's always the possibility of animals in the dark) to try to fix it. I'm sitting in the study thinking, there's enough light to get done what needs to get done. I can cope with this amount of light.

It's a fitting metaphor for the publishing ideas that have been in my brain in the last few weeks. At one point, I'd have said that I didn't have enough knowledge and/or skills to do anything more with publishing than the traditional, let the publisher handle everything route. But lately, I'm thinking that there might be enough light for us to consider other options.

The ever-wonderful Nic Sebastian has a post that links to her nanopress experience. There's lots to read, especially if you work through the links and the comments, which you should.

What I love most about this post is that she reminds us that we don't have to choose one publishing format. If we control our work, if we're our own publisher, we can publish in all formats at once: paper, e-readers of all sorts, PDF files for those of us who don't have e-readers,CDs. Why not do them all? Nic also offers stats, which she promises to update, which tells us how many readers are choosing which formats.

The whole e-publishing trajectory is dizzying. Last week, I also came across this interview, via Jane Friedman's blog. It asks the question, "What would convince you to walk away from a half million dollar advance from a big publisher?" It's got very interesting thoughts about electronic rights and why we as writers shouldn't just be giving them away (or letting the publisher take the share that's so much more huge that we may as well just be giving them away).

I hear some snide remarks out there. You might be saying, "Yeah, but you're a poet. No one's making big bucks on you."

Perhaps. But like many poets, I also write in other genres, and I have hopes for other writing projects. For example, I have lots of creative writing exercises which also can translate well into the Composition classroom. And since so many of us are going to be teaching endless Composition classes, even though we went to MFA programs hoping to teach Creative Writing, I think there could be a market.

So, in older days, I'd have started scouting for a publisher. But now, I'm wondering if self-publishing might not be a smarter way to go.

On a similar note, I'd be interested in interviewing people, poets and women especially, about their creative processes. I'd love to publish these on my blog, and later, I'd like to collect them all. Would people pay for a collection (either electronic or paper) if it was all available online? If they went online, it would take a lot of clicking to get to all the various interviews. Would people pay a few dollars for the convenience of having all the interviews already assembled?

I set the price at a few dollars in the above paragraph because there's a school of thought that people will buy all sorts of things if the price is between 99 cents and a few dollars. Once you get into the $8 range and above, people aren't as likely to hit that purchase button. Is this dynamic similar to the French restaurant dynamic? At half-price prices, I'll go to the restaurant, but charge me full price, and I'll cook at home. And where does giving our work away for free fit in? That's a topic for a different post, since this one is getting long.

I'm also aware that I'm writing this during the week where The New York Times begins its own experiment with charging fees. If they weren't charging fees, I'd link to a story that I saw on Sunday about a best-selling, self-publishing (via e-books) author who writes for young adults. She's just decided to take an offer from a mainstream publisher (St. Martin's?)--she says she was spending over 40 hours a week doing all the things that her publisher will now do (book design, cover choices, dealing with the technology). She wants that time to write.

Of course, many of us won't face these choices; many of us won't have publishers beating down our doors and trying to outbid each other as they compete for our work. Insert a heavy sigh here.

I've always thought about self-publishing, even when it wasn't as easy, even when the technology wasn't there. I've always been intrigued by the numbers of writers who self-published or formed themselves into publishing collectives. Today, Walt Whitman is generally considered to be one of our great American writers, but we wouldn't know about him if he hadn't believed in himself enough to self-publish. What other poets and writers might we be losing? In what ways do we need to be brave and believe in our own work and worth? How do we best harness the technology?


Kathleen said...

Thanks for shedding light...or half-light!...on self-publishing.

Nic Sebastian said...

Thanks for the shout-out and yay! hope you do go for it! Nic

Kristin said...

Thanks Kathleen and Nic for always having interesting things to say, both here and at your own sites!