Sunday, November 29, 2009


There has been a lot of conversation on the net recently regarding self-pubbing, e-books and associated attitudes from various writer’s organizations. I ‘spect more than one or two independent publishers are also conversing with their counterparts on the subject. Much of it provoked by recent business moves from a long-established publishing house.

I think it’s fair to consider self-publishing print materials such as novels, short stories and non-fiction as one kind of business model. Perhaps more informal than going to an established publishing house. There are success stories and failures, just as is the case with the formal publishing of print materials. I also believe that e-publishing is simply another kind of business model. None of these models are inherently good or bad, in terms of product quality, any more than publishing with a small or independent press is good or bad.

An author who makes a rational decision to self-publish should be neither derided nor congratulated and wouldn’t be if folks on the sidelines were less emotional and more prone to pragmatism. The same should be true of decisions to publish via electronic means instead or in addition to traditional paper. Self-publishing puts a work into the realm of individual investment of time, talent and money. Publishing with a press that requires an investment of funds by the author should likewise be neither condemned nor applauded. It is the product that should count. Every year entrepreneurs come to the market place with new inventions. Most fail, some go on to fortune, if not necessarily fame. Why should it be any different for writers of books?

I don’t understand why it’s okay for a musician or a band to produce and distribute its own music via CDs or a website, but it’s not okay for an author to do the same.

If an author takes on the production of his or her work using the same or higher standards of quality in the editing and production of a given work, as the standards set by a business called “publisher,” why cannot the result be judged using the same standards? Instead, the work is largely ignored and the focus of most negative criticism falls on the decision regarding how to publish. Moreover, most of the critical comments are couched in broad terms. We read constantly, often from sources that insist they don’t read ebooks or self-pubbed work, that such work is inferior, not worth time and effort. How do these people know that? If you press them they’ll suggest that a long time ago they read an ebook, or a self-pubbed novel and it was really bad.

That kind of discrimination—which is exactly what it is—is injurious to our society.

Right now there is a kind of upheaval in several national organizations relative to policies regarding membership and association linked to the decisions regarding how a book is published. Interestingly much of the negative rhetoric is similar in nature and tone, if not identical. One could almost believe there is a small group of individuals who are dedicated to stamping out publishing business models which do not conform to “the way it has always been done.”

I don’t believe in conspiracies. Restraint of trade is a nasty way to interact with the Federal Government and can be very costly. Conspiracies to defraud are almost always found out, sooner or later.

What I really wish is that more time and energy would be spent helping authors to understand the business models that exist, their advantages and disadvantages, so that those who are unlearned in these areas could be guided away from the scam artists, the thieves and robbers who would take your money and deliver nothing. Or maybe there are and I just haven’t run across them yet. Maybe distribution is at fault. Which reminds me of an incident to illustrate my points.

As a reviewer of mystery fiction, a self-pubbed author once verbally attacked me when I read and reviewed her work but refused to submit it to the newspapers for which I was freelancing at the time. Before I read the book, I had determined that the paper would not print my review of the book because it was not available in local bookstores. That was their policy. Not set by me, but I was quickly perceived by the author to be the barrier. I was standing in the way of her success. She assumed it was my fault that the book would not receive local coverage. This author should have done some research into marketing and promotion before she elected to self-publish the novel. What local newspaper is going to devote space to any author whose books are not available in local bookstores? The answer is fairly obvious, although there are, of course, exceptions.

Authors need to learn in detail about the business model they wish to use and professional author organizations like RWA, MWA, Sisters In Crime and EPIC could provide great service to authors by concentrating efforts to help their members learn what they need to know for success, instead of squabbling over whether e-books are legitimate and whether publically admitting to having self-pubbed is a death knell for a writing career.

Woe betide the author who believes e-publishing and self-publishing are simply neat ways to get around the costs of fact-checking, copy and line editing, content editing and professional cover and book design.
Most emphatically, they are not. Like it or not, authors, to be successful are in business and they need to learn some basic facts, like how to protect themselves from thieves and charlatans, and how to improve their product to help it attain recognition and success.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Black Flies
by Shannon Burke
Soft Skull Press, May, 2008
Trade Paper Original, 184 pages, $14.95
ISBN: 9781593761912

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

A powerful debut, smoothly executed, about New York Fire Department paramedics working in Harlem. Paramedics everywhere will doubtless recognize the range of emotional scenes packed into this slender novel. The book’s essence is the constant pressure, in unremittingly unbelievable working conditions.

When the book opens Oliver Cross is a rookie emt. When it ends he’s on his way to a different career. The only mystery here is how he and the other paramedics in the city generally but especially those in Harlem, manage to survive and hold on to their humanity. There is something insidiously wrong in placing human beings into these pressured situations, expecting them to perform near miracles in saving the lives of a range of humans from murderers and addicts to diseased and uncaring predators. And the expectation is that they’ll do it while seriously understaffed, underfunded and inadequately equipped.

This darkly sympathetic novel is both a celebration of the dedication and expertise of the paramedics and an indictment of the system. Against the lethargy and remoteness lf the system, Burke examines the struggles of the men to maintain their sanity and continue to function. Intensely human on one hand, the brutality of their daily existence war constantly with the readers sensiblitites and struggle to accept the reality of the circumstances.

The author’s ear for swift and punchy real dialog is amazing. His integration of story and reality is sometimes amazing. What comes through is a turbulent stressful yet oddly satisfying occupation. Enthralling.