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ASK THE EDITOR What's Your Motivation?

By Susan Malone

May 2001

We talked last month about the misconceptions many (if not most) folks have about writing, and what it means to be a "writer" versus an "author." Especially, we focused on motivation, and how that plays out in what one thinks this business is all about.

So, let's move on to the next step and discuss how your dreams, as a writer, are being used and manipulated by a new form of industry greed, and what you can do about it.

Battle lines are now being drawn between the new form of "vanity" press – online publishers, print-on-demand publishers, eBooks, etc. – and traditional publishing. The line is a very vague one, and has everything to do with quality. Although to the outside eye the two types of book delivery may seem to be the same thing, a vast ocean actually separates them. And if a new writer isn't careful, he can slip into that sea and drown before he knew his feet were wet. The traditional route requires a level of quality that is unknown in the vanity world. I.e., the latter will publish ANYTHING for the fee. Therefore, no matter if you truly have written The Great American Novel, this enormous sea of junk obscures any book that actually does strive for or achieve a level of integrity and worth.

Do you want your marlin to sink there with the trash fish?

Unfortunately, the "vanity" presses these days are going by traditional names (see the Authorlink Article in this issue: "Searching for the Elusive eBook Market). What appears to be a real publisher (in one case, Barnes & Noble.com, a bookseller) offers to "publish" your book for a mere pittance.

For many creative types, especially those who have been fighting to get published for years, this just seems as though the heavens opened wide. As with all things that appear too good to be true, this one is by logarithmic degree. As Steve Riggio, Vice Chairman of Barnes & Noble.com and Barnes & Noble, Inc., explained in a recent Authorlink interview, the shortage of available first-class titles impedes the rapid growth of the digital market in the short term. Listen carefully to what he said. Even those now in the business of so-called "personal publishing" bemoan the lack of quality.

We've discussed the pitfalls associated with this on numerous occasions, and do peruse Doris Booth's eBook article for a deeper take on what these "new" publishers mean to the business as a whole. But now let's talk about your plans and your goals, and separating out what's best for your talent as it relates to finding your own market niche. Where does all this change leave you, the aspiring author? In this confusing mass of chaos that is publishing today, how does one sift the wheat from the chaff? In other words, how do you know on which side of the warring factions you should fall? Although the waters seem very murky at this point, they're really not. Once you get an unobstructed view of how the business is operating, and that all of these technological advances are just plugging into the old vanity-press mode, the picture becomes much clearer. And if you combine that with understanding where you are, as a writer, in the scheme of things, your decisions will come easily.

First off, begin by defining your goals. What, exactly, is it that you want to achieve with your writing? Pare this down to one sentence, exactly as you would with a book you wanted to pitch. Step one: write a two-page synopsis, as you would for said book. Include in this all of your hopes and dreams, as well as your business plan of action?your audience, how you reach them, etc. Step two: boil that down to two paragraphs. What's really important? I.e., is it important that you write The Great American Novel, or do you want an appearance on the Best Seller List, or the Oprah Winfrey Show? Right now, don't worry about what any of that means?just be honest with yourself. Step three: reduce all of this to two sentences. And lastly, reduce this to one sentence.

What you're left with in the respective cases is: What is your book really about? Who are you as a writer?

Some books lend themselves directly to the new technology. If you're writing, say, a family memoir or something related to personal genealogy, then a vanity press may be the perfect venue for you. The same goes for very specific business books, which may be used only for "in-house" distribution, etc. In other words, if you're writing for a limited market (no matter if you believe the market may be enormous), then the vanity route may indeed work wonderfully. Because, only those few folks who can plug into what you're writing will be buying your book anyway. Remember: the major bookstores won't stock selfpublished books, no matter in what form they now may be.

In the end, if you realize you're writing for a very limited market (friends, family, your personal workplace), then don't hesitate to go the vanity route. If you're writing for a broader market, and especially with fiction, it's still okay to do the vanity, print-ondemand, or eBook thing, as long as you understand clearly that's not REAL publishing. And, you know where that will land you?adrift in that vast sea of mostly schlock, which bookstores won't carry and readers can't sift through.

You have a choice to make. Make it NOW, before pursuing publication. Do you want to drown in the ocean or continue swimming toward that island of quality? Yes, it's wearisome. Disheartening even. As I've said so many times, long and slow and humbling. But true artists have always swum upstream.

The term "Cantadora" is used to describe the teller of oral tales, but it means much more than just "storyteller." The deeper meaning, "Keeper of the Stories," speaks to a reverence for the job. She is the one entrusted by the gods to honor and store and keep the stories safe, as well as to tell them.

And your choice begins by deciding whether to honor the wise old Cantadora within you, or to follow the path of instant gratification and ease.

See, I told you it would all clear up.

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial service. Ten books she’s edited have been published or sold within the last three years. Check out her listing under Editorial Services, and email her at aaasuz@aol.com