It pains me to think of the changes sweeping through our leather-patched, tweed-ridden, and chalk-dusty world…In short they are obsolete. I wonder how they will take the news.

Marshall McLuhan, January 4, 1961
The Practical Side of Marshall McLuhan
From Marshall & Me

 

Proposition: Practically speaking, it’s hard to speak practically on our social media.

I have an example for you, full of controversy.

To get it across, I need you to join me in a willing suspension of emotional response on questions about self-publishing. I think it’s worth the effort, so you can see the dynamics of sensitive exchanges on the grid.

We’re hunkering down. I’m convinced we can forgo the actual posture — a deep squat balanced on the balls of the feet — but I like the sense of thinking closely together on this.

Mind the meld, babe, I’m coming in.

We begin.

Chuck Wendig

(a) Chuck Wendig‘s blogging voice is anything but emotion-free. His writing persona, like the facial expression in his headshots, tends toward the mightily ticked off. He plays this role well.

So it’s hardly out of character that he calls a loud-mouthed self-publisher a “screeching moonbat,” as he did in a post this week.

He’s referring to a self-published writer who gets into everybody’s face about “indie” this and “self-publishing” that.

Sarah LaPolla

(b) Once Chuck had posted, here came Curtis Brown associate literary agent Sarah LaPolla as backup to Wendig on “still a subject I think needs discussing.”

LaPolla, in fact, went so far as to start her essay with the line, “I like writers. That’s no secret. I like publishing their stories on this little blog, helping my clients bring their books into the world, protecting them from getting taken advantage of, and giving unagented/unpublished writers advice.”

(c) These two were then joined by Nathan Bransford, agent-gone-author-and-CNET-guy.

Nathan Bransford

And Bransford hit the issue twice, here and here. It’s in the first of the two posts that he used the phrase “chip on one’s shoulder.” It became a little buzz-badge for this fracas.

(d) Then I summed up the comments of these three forthright folks in Writing on the Ether. I was impressed that they’d all come to such similar conclusions. They are alarmed at what they see as a still-raging and bogus battle among writers: the traditionally publishing and the self-publishing.

I found real sense in this line from the end of Bransford’s second piece:

The only way you’ll be able to decide what’s best for you is…set aside your emotions

As you and I continue to act on that advice, still hunkered in our emotion-free zone (is this good for our hamstrings?), here are some other key lines from these columns. Scan them. Don’t get stuck anywhere. See them, don’t feel them, I want your mind unclouded by gut reaction:

…there’s a civil war happening in publishing right now…the continued “us vs. them” mentality with self-publishing makes me disappointed…it’s true, there is still a stigma…most self-published writers still think of self-publishing as the “alternative” to traditional publishing and not as its own viable option…What’s the right way? There is no right way…Sure. It’s fun to join up sides and start flinging mud…To the self-publishing DIY indie community at large: Call these screeching moonbats what they are: screeching moonbats. I’ve long said that the self-publishing community needs fewer cheerleaders and more police — meaning folks willing to say, “That fruity nutball does not represent me, my work…or my very molecular structure”… Don’t let them be the loudest voices in your community…

Remember, don’t inhale.

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If I were to add a qualifier to the discussion that spawned those lines, it would be this: I think the most important debate is internal to the self-publishing camp. I don’t think it’s traditional vs. self-publishing. I think it’s self-publishing vs. self-publishing, as a widening field of publication shakes out and personalities jockey for position within it.

After all, it wasn’t long before Wendig was taken to task and had to explain to one blogger in a comment:

I *am* a self-publisher. I have more work self-published than I do traditionally published.

While Bransford had moved the discussion to “us vs. them” meaning traditionally publishing authors vs. self-publishing authors, the initial post from Wendig, in fact, was the complaint of a self-publishing author about another self-publishing author. And much of the reaction I saw to all this was self-to-self, if you will — self-publishing writers debating among themselves.

In one of LaPolla’s more pointed statements, she’d written:

So, self-publishing community…if you want to convince traditional publishing you’re its equal, stop drawing comparisons and start recognizing yourselves as your own entity…You’re something new. We traditional folks won’t be mad, hurt, or think you’re foolish if you choose to self-publish. Like I said before, we’re not even thinking of you at all.

To my eye, all three original writers, Wendig, LaPolla, and Bransford, had come across in their blogs as supportive of self-publishing authors and protective of it against the most vociferous, Kon-wrathful types.

Here’s how LaPolla put that:

There are so many self-published authors who’ve spent just as much time researching and planning as they would have if they chose the traditional route. They treat self-publishing with respect and don’t just see it as a way to avoid the “shackles” of traditional publishing. To the self-published authors who are doing it right, thank you.

Others around the debate suggested that loud, critical voices can encourage independent authors to rush publish too fast, resulting in the low-quality material that tends to mar too many non-traditional efforts.

And yet blogger Jaye Manus seemed to feel that Wendig, LaPolla, Bransford (and I) “want self-publishers to sit down and shut the hell up … four experienced, seasoned, intelligent professionals. All of them wrong.”

This was not the case. None of us had asked self-publishers to shut up. But there was Wendig again, answering yet another comment at Manus’ site, patiently, diligently:

But again, nobody’s asking for silence. Nobody is saying ‘self-publishers,’ shut up.’

Another element of social: Once a commentary has been classified by one or more respondents as such-and-such (anti-traditional publishers or pro-self-publishers in this case), the chain of comments turns into white-water rapids.

If you see Chuck float by, toss him a paddle.

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Now, the good news: I found during this unplanned exercise that if you work hard to be clear — and if you develop trust with a colleague you’re debating — you can have a meaningful, helpful exchange in social media. But it takes some real effort.

Orna Ross

I had a series of good exchanges in comments on the Ether with Orna Ross, who has founded the Alliance of Independent Authors (called “ALLi”) in the UK. Do check out the organization if you’re interested.

Part of our focus was on the terminology that seems to bedevil this whole development in publishing.

LaPolla writes in her piece that she’s exasperated by writers incorrectly and casually calling themselves “indie.” She writes:

Using “indie” interchangeably with “self” only confuses people who want to self-publish and pisses off actual independent publishers. There is a clear difference between publishing with a small press (“indie”) and using a vendor (“self”).

Ross, on the other hand, prefers the constructive obfuscation of these terms. She writes in a comment to me:

Independent authorship is, more than anything, a state of mind. An author who hires a self-publishing company to handle every aspect of publication may less ‘indie’ than somebody with a traditional publishing contract.

I can tell that Ross is richly dedicated to the idea of raising up self-publishing as the perfectly valid thing it can be if done well. She writes about wanting to see that “they (self-publishing and independent writers) and their readers take their rightful place at the heart of this business that we all value so dearly.”

Ross has been using the phrase “writer-publisher” this week, rolling it around in our comments. It reminds me of Herbert Beerbohm Tree, a noted “actor-manager” in London. Something of a pioneer of this in the West End of his day, he ran the Haymarket Theatre and was founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.

I’m not sure “writer-publisher” is the kind of language the reading public might embrace. From what I’ve seen, I can only guess that the self-publishing community will splinter in all directions on it, if asked to consider it. Indeed, Manus adds a note as a postscript to her column:

I’m an independent writer. When I self-publish, it’s as an indie. Guess what, Old School folks. YOU don’t get to control the language. Not anymore. Never again.

But I see the logic and like the intent of “writer-publisher,” myself, should there be a beneficial effect to using another term.

Lots of emotion in this, isn’t there? Ross, in forming a new organization of her “writer-producers” has her work cut out for her.

And we have ours, in trying to communicate on such volatile subjects as this via the social media. Is it that we’re less guarded in how we say things on the grid? Or do we need to simply slow down and be more thoughtful?

As we get out of our long hunker here and stretch, it’s your turn, do jump in:

Is this debate traditional vs. self-publishing? Or is it a shakeout inside the new self-publishing world? How important do you think are the terms we use for types of self-publishing? And do you find it tricky to handle difficult issues in social media? What do you do to avoid having to explain yourself in comments for a week?

 

Main image: iStockphoto / BrendanHunter

 

About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, consultant, and speaker in publishing. A Fellow with the National Critics Institute, Anderson's Writing on the Ether essays are read at ThoughtCatalog.com. His Issues on the Ether runs Tuesdays at PublishingPerspectives.com, followed by a Wednesday live chat with hashtag #EtherIssue. His "Porter Anderson Meets" live Twitter interviews are conducted with the hashtag #PorterMeets on Mondays and run in London's The Bookseller magazine on Fridays. Anderson is also programming the all-new BookExpo America (BEA) uPublishU @AUTHOR HUB for the May 29-31 trade show at the Javits Center in New York City. More at PorterAndersonMedia.com and follow him on Google+.