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Day: March 21, 2016

Don’t Do This Ever: “Ego-Induced Amnesia” edition

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Ros Barber will never self-publish. It is beneath her. It should be beneath any “serious novelist” (a title Barber seems to self-apply), and she has taken to The Guardian to tell us why.

Now, I understand that “indie publishing” is all the rage, but you might as well be telling Luke Skywalker to go to the dark side. Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously, and love to write). Here’s why.

I should warn you that any time someone uses the term “serious novelist” without irony, whatever follows will be an orgy of public masturbation. Barber’s piece is practically NSFW in this respect.

If you self-publish your book, you are not going to be writing for a living. You are going to be marketing for a living. Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing.

Wait, I thought this article was about why Barber won’t self-publish. I won’t go downhill skiing, but it’s a comfort to know that my inexperience won’t hold me back when I want to write an article for a major media outlet about why downhill skiing is terrible and no cross-country skiers should do it. Somehow, Barber is the expert on how self-published authors divide up their time, despite her reluctance to do it in the first place.

But if your passion is creating worlds and characters, telling great stories, and/or revelling in language, you might want to aim for traditional publication.

I’m not sure it’s possible to be more insulting than Barber is here. Only traditionally published, serious authors can create worlds and characters, because clearly self-published authors draw words out of a hat and hurriedly type them up so as to return to their mindless, repetitive social media presence. Only traditionally published authors can tell great stories.

Barber goes on to describe the very marketing behavior many successful self-published authors already advise against, and assumes that all self-published authors are equally guilty:

Imagine we have just met. I invite you into my house and the first thing you do is show me the advertising blurb for your book and press me to check it out on Amazon. Then you read me the blurb for someone else whose book you’ve agreed to promote if they’ll do the same with yours. Then you tell me how many friends you’ve lost today, and that I can find out how many friends I’ve lost by using this app. Then you poke a reader review of your book under my nose. All within the first 10 minutes. Does this lead me to conclude you are a successful author, whose books I might like to buy? Or a desperate egomaniac with no thought for other people? One who may not be able to string a decent sentence together, since your sentences come out as semi-literate strings of hashtags:

The tweet Barber uses to illustrate her point once again raises an often overlooked component of self-publishing, which is access for authors of color. Does Chopra’s tweet include a number of hashtag sins? Certainly. But one has to wonder whether Barber realized that by choosing Chopra’s tweet as an example of the “semi-literate” over-saturation of social media promotion, she was betraying the narrow scope of her own advantage with the publishers of “serious novelists”. A highly educated white woman (a “scholar”, as described by a dedicated section on Barber’s website) has a much better chance of skating by the gatekeepers Barber later lauds in her piece. Perhaps some unserious writers come off as “desperate” because they have to work ten times as hard to get their books noticed by readers, let alone publishers.

One also has to wonder when, exactly, Twitter became Barber’s private living space.

In another section, Barber compares self-published books to wobbly cabinets constructed by inexperienced carpenters using shoddy materials. The subtitle for this section?

Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego

It doesn’t seem to have worked for Barber, but, as Kermit the Frog says in his popular meme, that’s none of my business.

My first novel was my fourth novel. It was accomplished on the back of three complete novels (plus two half novels) that didn’t quite make the grade (even though two of them were represented by well-respected agents). Yes, it can be frustrating, having your beloved book (months or years of hard work) rejected by traditional publishers. But if you are serious about writing, you will simply raise your game. You will put in another few thousand hours and complete your apprenticeship. And when you do, you will be very glad that the first novel you wrote was not the first novel you published, because it will now feel embarrassing and amateurish.

Amateurish is exactly the word I would use to describe an author who truly believes that talent and hard work will eventually result in a published book. Willfully ignorant is what I would call an author who sees traditional publishing as the inevitable end result of finely honed craft. If this were true, a certain world-wide record-smashing blockbuster series of novels based off an equally record-smashing blockbuster series of novels wouldn’t have slipped past those gatekeepers’ quality control. The Instagram filter Barber has chosen for her view of traditional publishing washes out the reality of commercial fiction and market trends.

You can only be a debutante once. First novels are all about making a splash. You’ll find it hard to make a good impression if the first thing anyone saw from you was that wonky cabinet with sticky drawers.

Again, I would refer Barber to some of the wonky cabinets built by first-time carpenters and haphazardly installed by the very quality control gatekeepers she lauds.

With genre fiction, self-publishing can turn you into a successful author (if you can build a platform, if you enjoy marketing and are good at it, if you are lucky). But an author who writes literary fiction is dependent on critical acclaim and literary prizes to build their reputation and following. If genre fiction is chart music, literary fiction is opera: the audience is small, and there are limited ways to reach it. Self-published books are not eligible for major prizes like the Baileys, the Costa and the Man Booker, and getting shortlisted for major prizes is the only way a literary novel will become a bestseller.

Here, I agree with Barber. Though some may take the comparisons of genre fiction to “chart music” and literary fiction to “opera”, I would agree with that assessment. That said, pop music is my favorite music, so I don’t see it as an insult. And it is rare for a self-published novel to win a major award. In 2013, Sergio de la Pava made headlines when he won the PEN/Robert W Bingham award for his novel A Naked SingularityWhat made De La Pava’s success so notable was the fact that his novel was self-published, and only became an eligible, “serious” novel once a publisher picked it up after the book had generated positive reviews under De La Pava’s own steam. In other words, this book that was dismissed by Barber’s precious gatekeepers was better than other traditionally published novels, even when it didn’t have traditional publishing’s stamp of approval. Instead of pointing out that self-publishing excludes authors from prestigious festivals and prizes, why not question why that’s the case?

Barber continues to explain the higher quality of editors at traditional publishing houses, and the advantage of not having to pay for those services. She also shares an anecdote from a one-time self-published author who turned to traditional publishing and is much happier.

She has just sold Korean translation rights to her children’s books, which illustrates another benefit of traditional publishing. Publishers and agents have reach.

Publishers and agents do have reach. I’m lucky to have a very good agent who uses her reach to sell foreign rights to my self-published books. So far, my self-published series has been translated into Italian, French, and Portuguese, and these foreign editions have been very popular with readers. Though finding representation for foreign rights isn’t a guarantee for self-published authors, neither does traditional publishing guarantee that your book will reach international markets.

For those who prefer orchestrated backing to blowing their own trumpet, who’d privilege running a narrative scenario over running a small business, who’d rather write adventures than adverts, self-publishing is not the answer.

A single look at Barber’s modest website will give you a clue as to what her “orchestral backing” sounds like. Take an hour or two to peruse and digest the bounty of self-aggrandizement there. Barber is an author, a scholar, a “conscientious creator” who “has been helping writers and other creative women to achieve their dreams since 2009”. Barber’s own self-promotion is a Wagnerian opera as composed by Gwyneth Paltrow. And if you manage to make it through the blaring sonic obstacle course of Barber’s instrumental soundtrack far enough, you can even find links… to her self-published books.

I’m not sure anything else needs to be said, except “don’t do this, ever.”

Troutcation, Part One: “I went on vacation and that thing in my neck stopped happening.”

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Hey there, friends! As I mentioned last week, Apple Vacations gave me and Mr. Jen the fantastic opportunity to visit the Secrets St. James resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Mr. Jen and I don’t get a chance to go on many vacations together. Oh sure, I travel a lot for work, so I can get out and see as many of you guys as are willing to travel to a hotel ballroom to get an awkwardly over-enthusiastic welcome from me. But those trips are actually kind of exhausting, because every day of a conference you have to be “on.” So it was nice to get away from it all, not have to be “on”, and also not be at Disney World (a vacation we took late last year as a family, and which required a recovery period of its own). However, when explaining the concept of an all-inclusive, adults-only resort to our children, that’s exactly the frame of reference we used: “Imagine everything you find boring, but that adults love. Then put all of that together in a place like Disney World, but a Disney World you would immediately want to come home from.”

It didn’t hurt that everything was free, so we didn’t have to work that out. Yes, if you couldn’t already tell, this is a sponsored post. I don’t do many of those, because I like to keep this as add-free a space as possible. But come on. It was a trip to Jamaica.

We were sent as Preferred Club guests. That meant getting some extra perks, like a private lobby with private check-in, a bar, and an all day buffet of little gourmet treats. They don’t care if you take those little gourmet treats back to your room, either; two staff members watched me with amused, knowing looks as I stumbled toward them, glassy-eyed, a plate of multiple bowls of salmon tartar and some kind of ceviche on one arm, an almost Seussian stack of deserts on the other, and called out, “Hey, you don’t mind if I take this and hit the road, do you?”

Me, in a black and white striped swimsuit, sitting in a bathtub on the balcony, staring  blankly out at the ocean.  There is no water in the bathtub.
You could buy it on the beach guys. And it was so cheap and green and so, so good.

The staff of this resort wants you to relax and have a good time–and to have a good time with you–from the moment you touch down at the airport. As we stepped off the plane, we were greeted by a uniformed Apple Vacations representative, who whisked us through immigrations and customs, bypassing lines like big shots. I don’t know if this is a service I got because I was going to write blog posts about the trip, or if it’s just something that comes with the Preferred Club service. On our return trip we decided to independently investigate something called Club Mobay, which is essentially the same thing. It costs $30.00 USD, and you just breeze in and out of the airport like you went to the post office and there was no line. We didn’t use the arrival service, as Apple had us set up, but the departure service was awesome. You wait in their lobby full of complimentary beverages and food (like an actual buffet; you could plan to have your lunch or breakfast there) until it’s time to go. I highly recommend that for everybody.

Anyway, as we took our private transport (thanks for that, too, Apple!), the driver told us all sorts of facts about Jamaica–which I’ll talk about in Troutcation, Part Two: “Things That Surprised Me About Jamaica”. At the hotel, we were whisked to the private Preferred Club check-in, where they greeted us with glasses of ice cold champagne and cold towels. “You’re just like Obama,” a bellman joked.  This is also where we elected to independently investigate the resort’s credit voucher system. You pay $200.00 USD and get a book of vouchers for $10.00 off bottles of wine (4), $60 off a romantic candlelight dinner (1), and some other random amount off spa services that I can’t remember. Basically, it totaled $200.00, anyway. It’s the Disney Dollar of the resort: got ’em, so you might as well spend ’em . If you’re not planning on getting spa treatments, now maybe you are, because you don’t want to lose money on the coupons. Getting a bottle of wine with dinner? Now you are! You want to use up those credits. Even if you were planning to do all that stuff, anyway, why not just keep the $200.00? Verdict: nah.

We did, however, opt for the candlelight dinner. It was pricey (somewhere around $250.00 USD), but we considered it an early tenth anniversary present. We did this on the last day of our trip, and enjoyed a dinner on the beach in the moonlight, with the gorgeous mountains in the distance. The dinner was amazing, with a shrimp tempura appetizer course, caprese salad, filet mignon and lobster tail entree, and a dessert that was like a red velvet cake with fruit and chocolate on top.

An elegantly set table with flowers and candles on it, with a dark night in the background.

I highly recommend this option, which comes with various package levels. We did the very basic one. And after dinner:

The jacuzzi tub, surrounded by candles, with a bubble bath inside and rose petals on top. It's directly beside a huge four poster bed with rose petals sprinkled all over the duvet.

Really cool, right? It was totally romantic. I mean, Mr. Jen and I aren’t romantic, so we ended up watching CNN and taking turns in the tub so we could both see the TV. But it was still a wonderful evening.

However, do you notice something about the placement of the bathtub? This is pretty key. See, Mr. Jen and I have been together for fourteen years, married for ten. So a bathroom set up like this:

The bedroom and the bathroom are open concept, with just a curtain separating the bedroom area from the tub and sink. Frosted glass doors enclose the toilet and shower stall.

isn’t going to phase us. We have no boundaries anymore. Well…almost no boundaries. One morning, the copious amount of alcohol consumed and the unlimited amount of complimentary gourmet food took its toll. “Hey, Jenny? You mind, uh…spending some time on the balcony?” he asked plaintively. “And turn the shower on? For some noise?”

I’m just saying that if your relationship is in the “bashful flower” phase, you might want to have a talk about the bathroom arrangement up front before you book this vacation. I do, however, know that this is something Apple Vacations takes into consideration for its customers at the other, equally exciting vacation destination properties they can book you at, so if you call and talk to an agent, maybe that’s something they can help you with.

Another perk of the Preferred Club was that we got butlers. Plural. Two butlers handle the arrangements for anything you’d like to do while you’re at the resort. Want that romantic dinner? They’ll help you. Excursions? No problem. Tarje and Patrick have you covered. You even get a little phone you carry around with you so you can call them if you need something, and they’ll be there in a moment’s notice. This was, of course, a service we barely used. They called everyday asking, “Are you sure there’s nothing we can do?” I tried to explain that we are but simple country folk and are used to doing for ourselves, but it was too late. I was already Obama.

We had a fantastic time at Secrets, and a big part of that was what I considered our “Apple safety net.” One of the things I dislike the most about traveling is having to know where to be, when, how much time to budget to get stuff done, etc. The night before we left, an Apple representative contacted us about when our flight would leave, what time our transport would take us to the airport, and what time to check out in the morning. When we had questions, we just went down to the lobby to ask her for clarification, because Apple has representatives on the property. Every day, they were there if we needed their help with setting up outside tours or handling travel arrangements. That was a really cool piece of mind to have.

We stayed for three nights, and honestly, that was just about the right amount of time. Sure, people go down there and stay longer, but three nights was just long enough to feel like we’d gotten away from it all, without getting sunburned or missing the kids too much. And when we did get home, we felt like we’d been gone for weeks. On our first night back, snuggled in our own bed, I leaned over to Mr. Jen and said, “Hey. Feel my neck. It’s not doing that thing anymore.”

All of us have neck things, right? Well, for a few glorious days, I did not. And it was magical.

I know this post comes off as quite commercial-ish, but I honestly can’t say enough about how well the whole thing was set up, both on Apple Vacation’s end and at the resort. Mr. Jen and I are already talking about booking a trip with them for another vacation some time. I creeped their website and it looks like for the exact vacation we had, you’d be spending under $4,000.00 total (this is leaving out some stuff I’ll talk about in another post, I’m just talking hotel/flight/Preferred Club upgrade). So, if you’ve got that kind of vacation cash and you’re looking for something short and tropical, this is definitely a good option. For us in the midwest, it’s actually a shorter flight than going to Vegas.

Also, you get to see Cuba!

A view from the plane window of the sea and one of Cuba's little island chains.
Wave hi to Cuba everybody! Yes, even the Americans. Waving at Cuba is legal now. 

So anyway, I’ll be making more posts this week about some other stuff that happened on vacation, like stuff that surprised me about Jamaica and funny stuff that happened there, including why you should never book a ground floor room at Secrets Wild Orchid, and why every Jamaican person we met wanted to talk about tattoos. Stick around.