Professionals Perform

It should be obvious to anyone who reads this blog that I am not a professional author.  I have never made such a claim, despite the fact that I’ve written a bit.  I’ve traditionally published nonfiction with McGraw-Hill, I’ve edited quite a bit of nonfiction, and lately I’ve independently authored/published two novels.  And I write this blog which, I hope, occasionally doesn’t suck.  All of which does not make me a professional author.  I am a surgeon, and I write.  But I am a professional surgeon, and I am not, in any manner of speaking, a professional writer.IMG_1114

I make this point as a matter of introduction. I read a bit about writing, since it is my hobby.  Nobody who dabbles in this business can possibly miss the current controversy surrounding the seismic changes occurring in the publishing industry.  The recent changes have allowed anyone with a computer to publish a book.  I am, as I mentioned, a case in point.  This has led to a great deal of distress on the part of the established publication industry, exactly paralleling the cataclysm which struck the traditional music industry a little over a decade ago.  No surprise there.  What is unique to this authorship revolution, however, is the angst that this revolution has created amongst professional authors.  A case in point–

I recently read the blog post of Chuck Wendig at Terrible entitled:

feb, 2014

 At the risk of oversimplifying Mr. Wendig’s lengthy blog post, the gist of the problem as he sees it is that now that the barriers to publication have been dismantled, so many people are publishing so much bad literature that it is making it hard for readers to discover quality books and, in addition, that this lack of quality may lead to a backlash against independently published work.  This is a point that Mr. Wendig has made many times and is a point made by many concerned professionals in the field.

I don’t agree.

Oh, I wholeheartedly agree that we are currently experiencing an unprecedented wave of terrible, awful, self-published books.  Just like we’ve recently seen a surge of mega-best selling traditionally published dreck.  Nothing new there.  But I disagree with Mr. Wendig that this is a problem.  It sounds an awful lot like, “Those damn kids with their rock and roll are ruining all the good music for the rest of us.”  I don’t think Mr. Wendig has to worry so much.

You see, Mr. Wendig, you are a professional writer.  You dedicate all your professional energies to your craft, which is your job, which earns you a living so that you can put food on your family’s table.  That is not what I or these other yahoos spouting “the self-publishing shit volcano” do.  We dabble.  We emulate.  And very often, we suck.

You should be encouraged by this fact.  You should revel in the great discrepancy between your work and mine.  Trust me, if you decided to take up general surgery as a hobby and start taking out a few gallbladders on your kitchen table just for kicks, I’m not worried.  You are never going to approach my skill or professionalism in this endeavor.  If you can convince some folks that your hobby-level gallbladder removing skills are good enough to get a few people to lay down for a cut-rate cholecystectomy, I’m not feeling threatened.

Your job, Mr. Wendig, is to be so much better than the rabble that your professionalism makes you stand out above the crowd.  Your job, is to make sure that your work is valued and valuable, marketed in a manner that the audience/consumer finds desirable.  The music industry analogy is perfectly apt.  Believe me, Bruce Springsteen isn’t too worried that I can put out an album on iTunes using Garage Band.  However, quite a few million music lovers got a little ticked off when Springsteen’s albums were costing $18 a pop for a CD that cost thirty cents to make.  A lot of folks couldn’t afford $100 for a ticket to a concert in Madison Square Garden.  That’s when we all started to look around and realize that the bands playing at the local theater for $10 really were pretty damn talented.  So we went to see them perform, instead.  And then we bought their albums, instead.

So Mr. Wendig, don’t worry that most self-published books are terrible.  Just be professional. Worry when we start getting good at this stuff. 

“Discoverability”: An Indie Author’s Publishing Parable

~first posted 23 Feb 13

[In the manner of those times when you showed up to the lecture that everyone else had cut, and the prof spent the whole class complaining to you about the poor attendance and then was so ticked off he refused to give the lecture…]

You’re not reading this, because you don’t know who I am. You’ve never heard of me, or this blog. Yet here I stand, knee-deep in snow in the Amazonian wildlands, the wind howling about me, as I toil at chopping down this huge tree, a mighty oak of a tree; a damn fine tree, if I do say so myself. And then, finally, suddenly, the tree falls…

…without a sound.IMG_1110

The tree lies there, silent and still, as I stand above it, victorious and proud, sweating, with heavy axe shouldered, my boot atop its fallen trunk. Breathing heavily–falling trees alone in the woods is hard, under appreciated work–I take stock of the magnificence of the work I’ve just accomplished, somewhat chagrined that there isn’t a crowd of appreciative well-wishers gathering about to clap and congratulate me on having accomplished the dropping of such a big and important tree. Why is that, I wonder.

So I wait for a bit; but no, it seems that no one is coming. Or noticed. In the distance, I can see quite a few people milling about other, lesser fallen trees. I really don’t get it, those are like saplings compared to this sucker here. Those folks don’t even seem to know what they’re missing, as if they really don’t know much about trees at all…

“Excuse me,” I hear a small, plaintive voice say. I reluctantly tear my gaze from the other, more appreciated trees, and look down to see a very cute little bunny caught by a branch of my fallen tree. “Excuse me,” he repeats politely, “but I seem to be caught here by your fallen tree. I’m sorry to be a bother, but I never even heard the thing falling, otherwise I certainly would have avoided your tree altogether. Might I trouble you for a little help?’

He is so cute and well spoken! “What is your name, little bunny?” I ask, kneeling next to him. I scratch his head between his pink bunny ears, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate this much.

“Is that important?” he asks, a bit annoyed after the head scratching episode. “I mean, just to move the tree a couple of inches and let me on my way? Are we to exchange insurance information as well? Can I expect a card on Easter?”

“Well, I was just trying to be nice, is all.” He is so fluffy, I’m sorry my tree has trapped his paw. I feel bad.

“Nice? Nice would be watching out not to drop a tree on any innocent soul that happens to be passing by. Or at least calling out something before doing so; saying, oh, I don’t know, something like ‘Tim-ber’ or ‘yet another self-important freelancer tediously dropping a tree randomly in your vicinity.’ Something like that would be nice.” I look wounded. “Reed. The name’s Reed.”

“Reed? Reed Rabbit? Is your middle initial ‘R’?”

“No. And my last name isn’t Rabbit, either, it will shock you to learn, I’m sure. As I myself would be, if your last name isn’t ‘Pathetic Dumbshit.’ ”

“Oh. Sorry. Listen, since you’re here anyway, would you like to discuss the critical importance of my tree? Or why this is the most significant tree felled in our lifetime?”

“No.” I see the fluffy bunny struggling to free himself.

“Well, if I free you, can I at least ask you to nibble a bit of the bark here? You know, just take a little bit to get the taste of how marvelous this tree is? Since you’re here already? Just a taste?”

“I think not.” Reed struggles mightily at the entrapped paw, somewhat panicked now. He looks up at me, obviously concerned that I’ve made no move to release him. “Listen,” he says with a slight twang of desperation, “how about you release me and I’ll mention to everyone I meet here in Amazonia just how decent a chap you are? How about that?”

“Oh, so you will try my tree then?”


“But then how–”

“Does that really matter? I’ll be on my way, you’ll be happy here with your twisted little bramble bush. I mean, look at this. It looks like a prop from ‘The Charlie Brown Christmas Special.’ Just lift the thing for a second. It’s the decent thing to do.”

I realize that the fluffy little fellow is right, though he seems a rather heartless little bunny. I stoop to lift the tree. “Maybe you could stop by my house here in the woods sometime, try my blog soup.”

“To be honest, I’d rather gnaw off my own paw.”