Friday, July 8, 2011

The Old Fart Writing Convention

It's been fascinating to watch the uneasy boundaries shift and sway on every frontier of the Ebook Revolution. The uninformed opinions, the narrow-minded perceptions inflated to universal wishes, the selective experiences designed to affirm a certain outcome of what the future will look like...

No, this isn't a publishing industry rant. At this point, the industry deserves sympathy, not vitriol.

I am talking about the "experienced" writers who formerly used their platform to warn against all the perils of traditional publishing and have suddenly become self-publishing experts. You know, the ones who used to sit on the Old Fart Writing Convention panel and stay stupid stuff like "The money always flows toward the writer" while they themselves gave 85 percent to a publisher and an additional 15 percent to an agent. That's like having your mouth at the bottom crack at the far end of the trough, even though it was the only meal in town.

Those writers were among the first to frown at self-publishing. Indeed, another Old Fart panel staple was "Never self-publish." Then, when self-published writers were kicking their asses in sales, and the Kindle catapulted unknown writers over those who had been laboring on contract work for decades, they blinked and looked around, wondering why nobody was sitting before the Old Fart panel anymore.

The reason was because everyone was across the hall in the "How to Self-Publish" panel. The Old Farts, seeing their panel had been abandoned, went to the doorway to peek in. No, they couldn't enter, because this was turf they didn't rule. Entering would be admitting they were out of date and their time maybe had passed. Worse, that their advice was not only worthless, it was actually harmful.

With time, the Old Farts went in and sat in the back room of Self-Publishing, and soon worked their way up to the front seats. By making comparative judgments based on their "experience" ("Blah blah self-publishing should work like THIS because THIS is how publishing used to work. You need to go from A to B to C."), soon the Old Farts were back on the panel. After so many decades, it was assumed they had knowledge. However, it was like Copernicus trying to explain Hawking's theories, something based on an entirely different set of rules that were still inventing themselves.

Unfortunately for anyone who takes Old Fart advice, publishing books hasn't gone from A to B to C. It jumped to D-and-a-half. The writers who had no traditional publishing experience started at D and moved ahead of all the "experienced" writers. The Old Farts are still hanging on to B because it more closely links them to A, an era where A mattered and they mattered. The writers at D-and-a-half don't have any use for A advice, and the newer D writers who listen to A advice tend to move back to B or C.

Heck, I'm kind of an Old Fart myself at this point, even though I'm not enough of one to star on an Old Fart Writing Convention panel. And I am probably wrong about what's going to happen with ebooks and writers. But I'm equally sure the other Old Farts are probably wrong. If it comes down to it, I'm going to trust my D experience and tune out A, B, and C.

I guess the only advice this Old Fart has to offer today is to not listen to Old Farts. Let them serve you drinks in the hospitality suite, nod at their war stories, and then go to back to your room and create E, F, and G.



Nancy J. Parra said...

Nice~ and all so true. There are "experts" everywhere today.

Truth is no one knows- it all flows back and forth depending on the day and volume.

Best to write your stories- be who you are and make your own decisions...after that- don't whine and even better, don't preach. Go write some more. Thanks for the post. Cheers~

David Gaughran said...

Great post Scott.

I loved this bit "However, it was like Copernicus trying to explain Hawking's theories, something based on an entirely different set of rules that were still inventing themselves."

I've had plenty of those conversations, and I'm sure you have had plenty more.

It's a great analogy because what has occurred is a paradigm shift in the way we publish, distribute, and sell books - and they just don't get it.

I don't get annoyed by this old-fashioned thinking, I just see it as increasingly irrelevant.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks, Nancy--to thine own self be true.

David, the hardest work for me to skip B and C was to unlearn everything I thought A was about. It simply was irrelevant, like you say. Writers starting out today who didn't learn all those old rules are much better off.

Narratus said...

An enjoyable read, thank you. Your last piece of advice reminds me of what my son said yesterday. "I want to walk up to someone on the street who I don't know and say to them, 'Don't take advice from strangers!'"

I think the Old Folks have important advice when they aren't afraid of losing their positions of respect. The funny thing is, the more they let go of their fear, the more they will (hopefully) realize they have advice still to offer on *writing.* I hope they catch up quickly.

David Gaughran said...

Scott - we can start with a blank slate true, and without any of the old misconceptions, but then again, I think I'd trade that for the backlists full of gold!

Anonymous said...

@David - but the backlists are full of gold only for the "publisher" getting that 70%. Not the writer stuck with the legacy contract.

We're at that stage where we're dreading an irresistable short-term legacy offer because we know long term it will backfire.

@Scott - great post. So tempting to tune out A, B and C but for those of us who've never had a paper version this coming twelve months are pretty much our last chance to be a part of the Old Model.

I envy the next generation, who will no more harbour the dream of a paper book on the plinth than musicians dreams of vinyl.

author Scott Nicholson said...

thanks for the comments, Narratus--it is odd how little writers talk about writing anymore.

David--well, if you OWN your backlist...

Mark--you have to take the deal that makes the most sense for today and not worry about the long term. The only deal that makes sense for both sides now is for a zero-advance, print-only deal with a traditional publisher but ego will not allow them to go for it. And even if you SIGNED today, it would probably be a year before the paper book is out, and how many stores will be left then?

Tim McGregor said...

Interesting post, Scott, as always. I'd reiterate what Narratus said, the Old Farts have a lot of experience and wisdom to impart. They just need some time to reorient themselves to the constantly changing playing field.

Hell, a year from now any one of us could look up and realize the whole game has changed again.

author Scott Nicholson said...

True, Tim. But I don't think "old" experience will ever align with new skills and attitudes. The old system was "how to work the system." The new system isn't even a system. Now, that's just on professional publishing advice. Writing advice and narrative structure hasn't changed much since Aristotle.

Jeff Bennington said...

Preach it, brother Scott!