2. Creative Direction
E.L. James. Love her. Hate her. The fact is, there are many people that have purchased and read the 50 Shades books, and they have been wildly popular. I myself have not read them, and based on what I have heard, they are not my cup of tea. One thing these books have really seem to have contributed to is that openly reading sex stories, and talking about sex openly, have become more normal. A really big thing has been that it has become more normal for women to have a sexual identity and a sexuality. As a therapist, I think this is all great.
My point with this is that this book has opened up something of a social movement. I think that society has already been moving toward a more positive view of sexuality and feminine sexuality, so this is not the only factor, but I think it is still hard to deny that these novels have had an impact. If you are not aware, they are fan fiction, based off the Twilight novels (which I have also not read, but they are in my wife’s teacup.)
These novels are fan fiction, and are riddled with raunchy sex that no one has ever openly admitted to enjoying, outside of the red light district in any major city. By every traditional metric, they really had no reason to be successful, and yet they were wildly successful. There is even a movie adaptation coming soon.
As I stated in the previous post on this topic, I do think there are great reasons that traditional publishing has worked for many years. However, I also think there are reasons that self-published novels are rising in popularity. The 50 Shades books would have never been published by a traditional publisher. As I understand the history of this story, it started on websites dedicated to fan fiction, and was later picked up by a small, nontraditional print-on-demand press. From there, E.L. James went on to be named one of Time’s one-hundred most influential people of the year in 2012.
Whether the books are on my “must read” list or not, I have to recognize their reach and impact. I have heard the writing is very poor, yet these books started a movement often referred to as “mommy porn,” that helped many women get more in touch with their sexuality. By all traditional rules and reasoning, this should never have happened. Whether you love E.L. James and her writing or not, you have to respect the impact. This new direction was only possible through a nontraditional means, forging new ground, with new rules.
So that was my point with all this. I truly believe that writing is an artistic expression. Yet no other art form has so many “rules” that people have to follow. Try to find the equivalent to “show don’t tell” in the world of painting. Realistically, I do not think you will find it, because no other medium of art is bound with so many rules regarding how to express yourself in an acceptable manner. I want to reiterate that I am not a black-and-white, all or nothing type of thinker. I do very much strongly believe that authors should have their books professionally edited, regardless of how they choose to publish them. Therefore, I am not a completely “throw the rule book out the window” type of person. At the same time, I do not know of any other art form that is so rule bound as the writing industry, and artists at times should test the limits and functionality of those rules. E.L. James tested those time honored rules with the 50 shades books, and not only proved some of them to be outdated, but also had an artistic impact on society.
Traditional publishing uses the antediluvian rules that are the very foundation of publishing since before the Gutenberg press, and those rules have a reason and a purpose, because they have been proven to work. I myself would use a traditional publisher in a heartbeat if the chance presented itself, and I believed that the contract would be beneficial for both parties. However, I really believe that the ability to self-publish has become more than a vanity, it has allowed for creative expression by artists that would have normally not have been allowed to publish, and one may argue the impact has been negative, but one cannot argue that those artists have had an impact. In the end, I think society generally benefits from less fettered, creative expression from modern artists, whether it comes from paint or pen.
More on this topic in a later post, stay tuned! Please also comment below, and let me know what you think!
Let me be clear right from the start, I am not a dichotomous thinker. So this is not a self-publishing versus traditional publishing, there can be only one! type of post. I have a lot of respect for many traditionally published authors, and I think it makes quite a bit of sense for those want to be the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. I once held that the only way to have a book published was through the traditional means of going through an agent and big publishing company. Over the years, however, I have come to really believe in self-publishing.
1. The Free Market
I honestly believe that there are a few things that should not be free market based, because the concern for profit countermands the very premise of those industries. I do not see publishing as one of those industries. When a few big hands control the flow of any media, there will be both advantages and disadvantages. One advantage will be a more precise control on quality. This makes great sense. If I find a few typos in a book I spent ninety-nine cents on, I will be able to quickly move on. If I find typos in a book I spent fifteen dollars on, I will probably not buy from that author at full-price ever again.
That is often the argument against self-publishing, that the quality suffers. I would contend that there are many ways of determining quality. One way is through the proper use of grammar and punctuation. Another is through sticking to proven elements of literary style. Yet another is through creativity and compelling characters and story. Creativity is one thing that suffers when novels are pressed through a mill whose very design is to ensure conformity to established standards.
I do very much strongly believe that grammar and punctuation are important. As a college instructor, I do really wish I could get many of students to see the value in using proper grammar and punctuation. I also believe that authors can look toward general elements of style that work well. For example, I was very thrown off when trying to read a book with an omniscient point-of-view, and I just could not get into the book. Third-person-limited just works. That is how it became an industry standard. However, I have also read excellent books that had serious flaws, but I still enjoyed them. House of Blades, by Will Wight is a great read. It was a very imaginative fantasy story, in an interesting and unique fantasy world. It has more errors in it than an Astros game. Mr. Wight has not followed some rules, including using professional editing, and having a professionally designed website. Yet he has really done well with his books. How? To me it is easy. The books are imaginative, have compelling characters, and are just fun to read.
Do I wish he had his books edited to remove the glaring typos? Heck yes. However his books have been successful because there is more to the success of a story than following paint-by-number rules that the publishing industry has built their empire on. Again, please do not misinterpret me, I am not saying that those rules are wrong. I am just saying that they do offer only a limited view. Not a wrong view by any means, just limited.
I think that general rules of thumb serve any industry well, especially one that tries to channel creative expression into something that a general group of people will relate to and want to consume. As stated at the beginning though, I am not a black-and-white thinker. There are many ways to achieve success, just like there are many different ways of measuring success. Please come back as I explore this topic further, and explore my other thoughts on why self-publishing here to stay, and why that is a good thing.