Publishing Advice from Jim Munroe, a Guy Who Knows a Thing or Two
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8. STREET POSTERING
I did a talk at Active Resistance, an anarchist gathering that happened in ‘98, about whether it was possible to combine a political activism with science fiction writing. From that, Nalo Hopkinson, Emily Pohl-Weary, me, Renee North and David Findlay formed the Science Friction Action Heroes. We put one page stories on poles - Kensington Market 2020, Queen St. W 2020 and U of T 2020. It was a way to directly become a part of the city in a very tangible way.
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10. CORPORATE BOOK PUBLISHING . . .
Context: Jim Munroe's first book, Flyboy Action Figure Comes with Gasmask was published by HarperCollins--a for-real big time New York publishing house. While the experience was good-ish for him, it wasn't all he'd hoped, and he's since been strictly DIY and self-published. Jim writes great stories, and produces good-looking books. I've loved his writing since Fritz, Mojo, and I all read Angry Young Spaceman, back in the early days of Poor Mojo's Media Empire (this was my first experience with a contemporary free-to-download eBook, incidentally). Jim looked at one of my early stories, and inadvertently gave my fiction career a leg up by pointing me to some 'zines that really fit my brain. Jim has interviewed us about Poor Mojo's Giant Squid, and always offered good advice. I like Jim, and he's certainly been an influence on what I'm doing today, right now, as I'm typing to you. That said, I don't agree with the fundamental assumption behind the linked article, although I still recommend this article to all Mojonauts who also happen to be members of the Scribbling Class.
The Gist: Most folks can do what Jim does. For most of us, option #10 is actually good for our writing.
Jim is very fair to corporate publishing in this piece, and in general, and I applaud that. If there was a period when he was rabid about DIY and all blood-in-the-teeth-tear-down-the-corporate-pigs!!! (his last legit job was as an editor for AdBusters, after all), he's long past that now -- which puts him in sharp contrast to most writers who blog about the business side of writing. By and large, a big deal is made of how small your cut is as a writer, even though you're responsible for assuming a lot of risk and "making the thing that makes the money." At the same time, all the contributions the publishers make and risks they take are downplayed to the point of nonexistence. In particular, publishers are portrayed as, at best, stifling creativity and quality, and at worst actively degrading it. This bums me out, because it is such a slap in the face to editors, and totally disregards the important role they play in the creation and distribution of Good Writing. (Aside: I'm a freelancer, and the bulk of my paid writing is work-for-hire, which means I'm paid a flat fee for the project, and transfer all rights to the client. If they sell one copy, I get paid, and they eat a huge loss; if they sell millions and millions of copies, I get paid that same amount, no royalties, no bonuses. That flat fee is good, but far from princely. In other words, I'm a schlub writer, just like those guys who rant against the publishing fat cats getting rich off the sweat of our brows.)
When one-third of your household budget depends on writing and selling that writing, it's *really easy* to convince yourself that something is *much better* than it is. Your editor, on the other hand, sits at a desk, and has health insurance, and gets a steady paycheck. But if he or she lets a lot of lemons roll of the assembly line, there is Hell to pay. You have every reason to say "This is done! It's great! Off to the presses! Where's my check?", and he/she has every reason to ask a lot of hard questions, and make you make it better.
I'm speaking from personal experience. Every time I submit some work, I feel like it's good enough and done. Often, I feel like it's better than good enough, since I wouldn't have sent it yet if I thought I could make it any better, My heart sinks when the notes come back from the editor, but those are always good notes and important questions, and in the end, I know that the book is better than what I started with. This is a really health set of opposed interests; it's good for art, it's good for culture, and it's good for commerce.
I've read a fair number of self-published books, many of them by friends and friends of the Mojo (which is to say, books I've had every reason to be charitable towards). Nonetheless, every one of them, apart from Jim's, have *badly* needed the guidance of an editor: All needed significant cutting, all of them drifted focus, all of them had some downright ugly packaging issues. Some were worse than that.
Jim is incredibly good at being honest with himself, and at seeking an honest, tough-minded critique of his work, and integrating that criticism. He's good at finding the right people to lay his book our, the right printers to put it together, connecting with the right shops and distributors to sell it. Jim basically has an entire publishing house in his head.
You probably don't. I certainly don't.
Jim is an incredibly disciplined man, which means that he isn't necessarily equipped to appreciate how important editors are to the test of us.
So, that's my pair of pennies: Self-publishing is a way to do things (and, as the very existence of the Poor Mojo's Media Empire indicates, is clearly an important part of the mix for us), but regular old publishing just isn't some machine built by MBAs to fuck and rob writers. There's value in every step of the process.