Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Self-publishing, writing, and the Wold Newton/Crossover Universe concept, etc.

I was corresponding with a pal, and have edited the notes down to some generic thoughts...

With the advent of Print On Demand (POD) technology, people can make their own real books. With the advent of web-publishing, creators can now put their own comics online. Why should I not now include in the Wold Newton Universe (WNU)/Crossover Universe (CU) crossover stories previously eliminated as "fan fiction"?

I already have incorporated some web-only stuff via crossovers, such as Tom Floyd's Captain Spectre and Chris Mills' Port Nocturne/Femme Noir. Criteria: Floyd is a pro artist with pro credits (Moonstone book covers). Mills' comics made the jump to print. In my view, there has to be some external criteria that speaks to quality.

The ability to use POD technology and secure an ISBN number is not a marker of quality control, and thus not a marker of "legitimacy" in my mind, for incorporation into the WNU/CU. There is a ton of POD drek out there that is poorly written, not copyedited, poorly laid out & designed, etc.

If I'm going to spend the same (or more) for very small press POD book, as I'd spend on a book from a more traditional publisher, it had better be very close to the same quality standards, Otherwise I feel ripped off -- like I felt ripped off by a neo-pulp anthology I picked up a few years back. One story was fine. Some of the others were horrendous, I don't think they went through Word spell-check, let alone even one round of human proofreading. I never finished the story, or the book, and I paid over $20 for it. Rip off.

OTOH, there are high quality presses like Black Coat Press that use POD tech. They proofread, they copyedit, they are selective about the stories to be included. Why? Because there's a professional behind it.

So I'm not going to include something in the Crossover Universe (which I am documenting in the book Crossovers: A Secret Chronology of the World, coming from MonkeyBrain Books in 2010) just because someone got on the Internet and posted something they wrote or drew, or got ahold of some POD tech, and put in crossover references.

I understand the point that the line has blurred between what is "fan fiction" or not because of these technologies. In the past I could merely point to the online/print distinction and draw the line that way. Now I have to make an editorial call, which is purely subjective to me, and since I don't want to take a lot of shit from people who want their special project in Crossovers, or get into lengthy discussions about what is "quality" and what isn't (and thus what is "in" Crossovers
or what isn't), I'm not entering the fray. So this is basically my final word on that -- not that anyone probably really cares. ;-)

So then the question came up: isn't Lulu a publisher, just like Black Coat Press (BCP)?

No.

Lulu is not a publisher. Lulu is a company that people pay to self-publish their stuff using their POD tech. Very different from Black Coat Press. Now, there may be some publishing companies that use Lulu in the background to support their non-traditional POD publishing model, and that's fine. Some of those publishers undoubtedly have good quality control (people who are willing to spend the extra time and effort to proofread, copyedit, and in general adhere to a high quality standard of writing).

Many do not.

If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, and you feel you must use Lulu to get your stuff out there, then at a minimum you should layer your own publishing imprint over them ("NonSuch Books," or whatever), and don't use the Lulu name anywhere on your book. Don't sell your books off of Lulu; Lulu is not a bookbuyers' destination site. The most you will sell there is 15 copies to your 15 friends. If you launch NonSuch Books (or whatever), get your own site or blog where people can buy direct from you. Get an online presence so that you and your own books become their own "brand." Lulu is not a brand that people seek out.

So... Lulu is really not akin at all to Black Coat Press. Let me see if I can explain this clearly.

Altus Press is a publisher that uses POD tech to publish their books. Their POD tech vendor is Lulu. It could be anyone.

BCP is a publisher that uses POD tech to publish their books. Their POD tech vendor is Lightning Source. It could be anyone.

Now.. lest you think I'm getting all high on my horse... yes, there can definitely be copyediting issues with books that have a traditional (non-POD) publishing model. I've learned a lot of lessons, lessons about speaking up when things might be going wrong, and pushing for answers, rather than just trusting someone else to take care of everything. Trust, but verify. No one will love your book as much as you do.

Of course, there will still be issues, even with outfits that care deeply about high writing and editorial standards, especially with small outfits that have almost no staff. But the error ratio is definitely a lot lower among those who care than, say, in that horrendous pulp anthology I previously mentioned.

I am not Mr. Know-It-All writer. I have a ton to still learn, with every new piece I write. My last bit of unsolicited advice is to pick up these books:

SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS (authors: Browne & King)
CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT (author: Orson Scott Card)

Read the latter two and apply the lessons in them to each piece. Go back to them again and again. And if you're the least bit unsure about proper usage of anything, look it up in the CHICAGO MANUAL.

Finally:
  1. start using standard manuscript format (just Google search on that phrase, there are a lot of examples out there)
  2. turn in the cleanest manuscript you possibly can (when you think you're "done," think again; put it aside for a week, then come back and proof it again before sending)
  3. follow all other instructions from the publisher with whom you're working; be flexible, friendly, and cooperative (if you can't do that, for "creative" reasons or whatever, then you probably don't have a good fit with that publisher or editor anyway; move on); and
  4. keep commitments and turn in manuscripts on time; this means planning for your proofing and self-editing in your overall schedule, not "finishing writing" your piece the day it's due.
Oh, and 5... Have fun!
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