Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The road out of isolation.

Reading Trisha’s post below prompts me to think of several issues.
·        In the traditional model the decision to publish is now economical, not qualitative. It always was, to an extent, but is more starkly so now. If a major publisher can say in November they’ve settled on their one new author for the coming year, then they seem to have shut the door on any other factors. I mean, how can you put a cap in advance on how many quality manuscripts you’ll be receiving.

·        With the new model of p-book (printed book) self-publishing (to a degree) and most especially e-book (electronic) self publishing the economic factors may lessen and the issue of quality of work becomes more black and white. If you can publish at the push of a button, then anyone can. How do we know that anyone/everyone has done the necessary diligence with their work’s quality before they push that button. The reading community will make their own judgements about quality as they always have. The writers need to be very clear-eyed in their qualitative judgements of their own work prior to publication.

In the new model I sometimes come across writers who are consumed by the how, in how to publish, and don’t always give enough focus on the when and what.
·        When – when is the manuscript ready to for me to hit the go button?
·        Why – what have I done/not done to ensure the manuscript is as high a quality as it can be?
The new model of self-publishing takes away the gatekeepers who decide we can/can’t publish, but now so much of the work they’ve done in that role needs to be taken on by the author.
·        Assessment
·        Layout
·        Artwork
·        Editing
·        Marketing
·        distribution
A couple of things spring to mind.
1)    Are potential self-published authors bearing all these tasks in mind when they consider their options
2)    These tasks need to be done, but not necessarily by the writer

When we consider these issues and tasks, how much are we thinking of gathering and pooling knowlege and ideas to work collectively, and how much are we approaching the new world in isolation. 

If we take one aspect of the list – Assessment  - and look at ways to do this, it’s not as daunting as it may seem. It is critical however. Writers and readers will not benefit by having first draft manuscripts published. I’d recommend the smart writer covers this issue in several stages.
·        Get together with a writing buddy or a writers critique group. Start assessing and critiquing your manuscript right from the start. Find out major issues early on, not at page 276. Be part of a pro-active servo mechanism – get other writers to critique your work with you critiquing theirs. Don’t expect anything for free, that’s disrespectful. Listen to advice, you don’t have to accept it, but to not listen is to miss out of fruitful opportunities to learn. For more info see my post on writers’ groups.
·        Attend writer’s workshops, or bang the drum to organize them yourself, with a group of writers. I have conducted workshops with several groups who have contacted writers and teachers themselves.
·        Get into a mentoring scheme. The NZSA has a good one, and it’s very cheap. Numbers are limited, but keep plugging away at it.
·        Have a professional assessment done – but only after you’ve already had several pairs of eyes look at it – on a quid-pro-quo basis. Don’t have the professional assessor be the first person to look at it. Iron as many of the kinks out as you can, prior to that point. Remember, peer critique is an effective way to upskill yourself, both by being critiqued and critiquing.
·        Read read read read read. I’ll say that again – read. Read as a writer – for technique as much as enjoyment. Deconstruct what you see, especially books that either work very well for you or don’t work at all. What are the differences – beyond personal taste.

A lot of writers’ trepidation about this issue, and most of the issues writers now face is based on the feeling that we are isolated. In the moment of creation, that’s true, but it doesn’t have to be in all aspects of what we do. There’s a wealth of ideas out there (but perhaps untapped) on how to get away from this, so we can form collectives and groups to negotiate our way through many of the tasks in the list above.  As Trisha notes, indie film-markers and musicians have already galvanised themselves to face the new reality.
In upcoming posts we’d like to go further into this, and call for ideas on how writers can get on the road out of isolation.

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