Friday, November 13, 2009

Some Advice for Self-Publishing Writers: A Reader's View

Self-publishing has always been a way for Oz fans to share their Oz stories. With the rise of the internet and print-on-demand sites such as Lulu, the possibilities for Oz fans to share their stories grew exponentially.

Sadly, this has proved to be a mixed blessing. While you may have Oz fans publishing their stories to share them with the world (or reprint some books), you have other Oz fans who want to set themselves up as "published authors" by using such services.

Let me set something straight: it is not an accomplishment to put a book on Lulu. In fact, major publishers will ignore your work unless you have sold very well. (And don't even think that Hollywood would like to make a movie based on your book.)

Also, I really think that the producer of the work should not be so quick to label themselves as an author. An author produces quality work, and really, a writer should not be trusted to decide if their own work is quality.

Anyone who is writing any book would benefit from bringing in an editor who can critique the work and offer corrections. And the editor's advice should definitely be heeded. A good editor is worth their weight in gold. (Sadly, they often get a lot less.) Just about every professional author still has an editor aboard, and many writers have re-written stories from scratch at the editor's suggestion, realizing that their editor was definitely right and a better story was told because of it.

When it comes to Oz stories, I have one word: research. Stay well-read in Baum and any other books you might be deriving elements from. (Make sure to respect copyright laws!) And even if your book is not intended to work with the entire Famous Forty, there is usually no need to contradict any post-Baum books. (Get a copy of "Who's Who In Oz" for some quick reference.) You might even find it helpful to read up on the lives of the authors of those books, seeing what shaped their stories.

Be very careful when you make claims about continuity. One book I recently read claimed to be in line with Baum but contradicted several points. If the writer had said he was writing a new continuity, then there would have been no problem. If you're keeping in line with Baum, there should be no need to specify that you are.

About these differing continuities: handle them well. Think "will this be a take on Oz that could interest and not offend Oz fans?" "Is this too different from Baum's Oz?" I actually have a bit of advice. If you're going to make an Oz that feels nothing like Baum's Oz, why not make your own world instead of Oz and give yourself even more freedom? (Many fantasy and science fiction writers were clearly inspired by previous authors, including Baum, and some admit it..)

Also with differing continuities: be original with your plot. No one wants a retelling of a good book that already exists in a viable form. A certain book published a couple years ago claimed to be an original sequel to "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," ignoring all other sequels, and even said the reader would need to empty their mind of any other follow-ups to enjoy this book, while the book itself was a glorified re-write of "The Marvelous Land of Oz."

Another thing that irks me is the surprising number of people who want their book made into a movie. When it comes to Oz, not even all of Baum's books have been made into successful movies. (I even noted some time back that there has not been a theatrically-released Oz movie that was a financial success upon the initial release.) And why does the writer want a movie before they've made the effort to make braille and audio editions for the blind? And how about translating it into another language? If the work is so good that it could be a film, why not make the effort to put the work out there as much as possible?

In the end, being an author, even a self-published one, is going to take a lot more work than churning out a story and putting it on a print-on-demand service. You have a responsibility to your readers that should not be taken lightly.


Doug Wall said...

So many people have this "If you build it, they will come" attitude, especially when it comes to the Internet. Marketing is, if anything, more crucial to success on the Internet.

I am self-publishing my game, but I have my own set of reasons for doing so. I think I smell a blog post there...

Mikelo! said...

This has been a constant complaint of mine. People cite the public domain and say they can do whatever they want with the property. While it's true, technically, it cheapens the quality of the stories.

The biggest sin is characterization. While I think there will be differences of interpretation between writers, there are basic ways characters behave. All too often, I've seen characters changed to suit a plot.

The second biggest is making established characters background. How many modern Oz books give Ozma the role of furniture. She exists to give the new characters a mission and then she's gone. And Dorothy - I don't understand why people seem to think that there are no more stories left to tell about her, but no one wants to include her much anymore, even though she was the subject of most of the original Baum books (she discovered Oz for crying out loud).

We read Oz to read about familiar characters, and we know these characters pretty intimately. It's frustrating when characters are suddenly doing things that are drastically out of character.

Personally, I'm tired of "new takes" and re-imaginings. Just take the traditional characters and tell a good adventure story with them, and make the story fit the characters, not the other way around.

Jared said...

Doug, as an RPG, I think you're doing well. I'm not against self-publishing, but I am against thinking that this makes you a serious author.

Mikelo, I do agree, though I was urging folks to be a bit more responsible with how they present their work.

Marcus said...

AMEN, AMEN and AMEN. Ruth Berman once mentioned to me, "If you write a sequel, respect the original material."

Can't get any more succinct than that.

The people who print their materials just so they can call themselves a "published author" are really doing a disservice to the literary world... propagating misinformation, poor grammar and usage, and offending readers who actually do care. Capice, JW?

Vincent j kelly said...
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