Wil Wheaton and the Lulu debate

I’ve been a fan of Wil Wheaton’s blog for a couple of years now. For those who may not know, Wil is an actor, he was Gordie in Stand by Me and Wesley Crusher in ST:TNG. He’s gone on to create one of my favorite blogs, and has written some pretty damn good books. 

He’s also done something that took me by surprise; he published something using Lulu, and has had a bit of success with it. Granted, he has name recognition, and that helps far more than anything else could. However, I also think he is in some ways doing a disservice to would be or wannabe writers by his endorsement of self publishing.  For those familiar with my blog, and the Legion of Nitwits, you know there are some who should have their writing implements taken away. There are also some-I’ll say many-who should be barred from publishing their own work. Most delude themselves into thinking they’ll be able to make a living from what they do, and sadly that’s not the case.  Even writers who get published from small press or larger press publishers still have to supplement their income by other means.  For every Stephen King, there are thousands of writers who will never be able to support themselves from their writing.  

Being the type of person I am, I made this comment on his blog, and needless to say the poddites were swarming over my remarks. One person mentioned this piece in the NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/28/books/28selfpub.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2 . And in all fairness I think the article articulates my position more than those of the self publishing industry.

Of course, authors who take this route also give up a lot. Not only do they receive no advance payments, but they also often must pay out of their own pockets before seeing a dime. They do not have the benefit of the marketing acumen of traditional publishers, and have diminished access to the vast bookstore distribution pipeline that big publishers can provide.

Still, many self-publishing companies allow authors to take more than the traditional royalty of 15 percent of the cover price on hardcovers and 10 percent or less on paperbacks.

And while they may get more than the traditional royalty, twice nothing is still nothing. The last sentence in the article, really illustrates the problem,

Diamonds in the rough, though, remain the outliers. “For every thousand titles that get self-published, maybe there’s two that should have been published,” said Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the Tattered Cover bookstores in Denver, who said she had been inundated by requests from self-published authors to sell their books. “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”

The fact is, if you have the talent, and a story worth reading, it will get published. People send one thing out and it gets rejected and get discouraged. Rather than maybe reworking the story, or sending it out somewhere else, they resort to self publishing. The thought that what they wrote isn’t worth the paper they pay to print it on never crosses their mind. 

Let’s not forget also, POD and self publishing are two different things. Self publishers and vanity presses like Lulu may use POD technology but the result is still the same: untold numbers delude themselves into thinking that they’ll be on the bestseller lists simply by paying for the privilege of killing a few trees.

12 thoughts on “Wil Wheaton and the Lulu debate

  1. I thought we’d just continue the conversation here–and dude I’m from Long Isald too: Nassau or Suffolk?

    Your points are all well-taken. And most of them are valid.

    There are a few points though that I think you are missing–its not just Wil’s rather minor celebrity (no offense to Wil on the minor) that gives him the edge. Its his internet presence and social networking.

    And, of course, his writing ability. These two things combine (along with viral marketing know-how, a la Gladwell’s Tipping Point) in the cost efficient petrie dish of POD technology and you suddenly have a whole new field of possibility.

    (Think of the viral presence of certain You Tube videos, you dig?)

    Where I agree with you is that POD will still generate a lot of immature, badly written CRAP.

    Where I disagree with you is the: “If you have a good story…”. Google can tell u better than I the number of great works of literature that were passed over by publishers.

    BTW: for academic publishing (and I am a relatively well-published dramatic literature scholar) I think this is absolutely the way the industry should go.

    Thanks for your point of view. Food for thought.

  2. Heya blog nerd,

    Well I was born in Oyster Bay, but lived in Suffolk County till my parents moved out to AZ when I was 16. To be specific I was raised in Islip Terrace.

    Getting to your points, would Wil have the same internet presence without his status? Or would he be just another geek with a blog? I have my blog, a myspace page, am active on several writer forums, and post on a fairly regular basis. I also belong to a world of warcraft guild that has 4000 members. Theoretically I should be able to make decent sales, given all that. but would I? If only 1 percent of people I have networked with (and I can’t lay claim to knowing all 4K guild members, more like 200 at most), I’m still looking at only a couple of hundred sales. 200 paperback books through lulu would cost 2100 dollars. If I sell each one for 15 bucks that’s 3000, with a net profit of 1000 bucks. Meanwhile I do all my own advertising, editing, formatting etc. If I use the Lulu pacjages add another 5-600 bucks.

    If I go to a small press, or medium press, the minimum advance would be 2000-if they’re paying pro rates. They do the editing etc, as well as advertising.

    People tend to be impatient, and expect acceptances on their first go. They’ll ignore any notes, criticisms or advice that’s passed along and say, “Screw it, I’ll do it myself.”

    And while many masterpieces have been passed over, they’ve ultimately found publishers, or we wouldn’t be calling them classics.

    POD delivery as I said over on wil’s blog is a good way to go, but the self publishing, and vanity presses do more harm than good.

  3. You’re right. I probably suck–I mean that sincerely. It’s my first piece of fiction after 30+ years of writing nonfiction professionally. I have supported myself since age 16 as a writer, mostly for broadcast or the web, mostly in journalism.

    It doesn’t matter whether I suck, though, because apparently the suck I write is popular with a certain class of people; I’ve garnered close to (or just over–haven’t done the accounting lately) $10,000 in donations from my readers to keep writing. I’ve hired an editor; what’s posted at my site isn’t edited, and I’m not sure what you read since you posted on of all things one of my silly perfume reviews. I’m working on making the final printed books the best I can make them.

    The main reasons I’ve been rejected are: They don’t like my process (open draft); there’s too much sex; there’s not enough sex. I’ve been rejected by one publisher and three agents. I’ve just decided to keep going, make the story the best I can and go my own way. So far it seems to be working out. It’s not to your tastes or standards, and that’s okay. Not everyone’s going to like what I do.

    I do wish, though, that you linked to some of your work, not because I want to leave snarky comments, but so that I can read what you do. I really like reading what other people on the ‘net are doing, and I’m sorry you don’t link to your work.

  4. I apologize, first of all, for the short snarky comment. My problems with what you’ve posted has nothing to do with sex, my taste or standards. Indeed, much of what I’ve written hasn’t been to everyone’s taste for the same reason. There are two main problems with what I read, one is technical (grammar etc), and the second is just predictability. I did spend a fair amount of time (about 2 hours give or take), reading your work, so I’m not basing it on simply one or two paragraphs.

    Having said that, I think it can work with editing and some rewriting. However one publisher and three agents, isn’t a lot. If you’re serious about being published, you need to keep sending it out. I can think of 2 or 3 small presses who publish your type of material (I don’t mean that to sound derogatory either).

    Here’s the problem though, and also the reason I have no links to my own writing right now. Anything I put up on the web, on a blog etc, is going to be considered published by anyone I send it to. I don’t submit to many web zines as they generally don’t pay or if they do, they pay a token amount. My writing and the time I spend on it, is worth more. However, I will look through some of my older work and put something up for you to read, or make snarky comments about. 🙂

    As for where I posted my comment, I really couldn’t find a place to post it. You’re site is really, ah, busy. I congratulate you on your success so far and wish you nothing but the best in your future endeavors.

  5. I didn’t mean where I could read you for free; I meant where I could purchase your work, or even just know what it was. I understand your not putting it up for others to read gratis, though many publishers are allowing online excerpts these days.

    I don’t make snarky comments about people’s work. It doesn’t add any value to a conversation and generally speaking just makes everyone feel bad, including the snarker–at least this one.

    Thank you for your gracious words. I do need an editor for both technical and plotting reasons, which is why I hired one. As for the low number of agents/publishers I sent out to, I know that’s not nearly enough rejection. 🙂

    And this isn’t the only book I have inside me. Having an existing fan base and submitting a different, more sale-able project to a publisher increases my chances of traditional publishing, should I ever want to take that route. But I’m really having fun with this business model, and I want to take it as far as I can go as an indie. Others can learn from my failures or successes as they happen.

    Thanks for the conversation. 🙂

  6. As someone who has worked in a wide number of publishing venues, types, and genres, I can say that a large number of fans in one area rarely leads to large sales in another.

  7. I disagreed with you over there, have to take issue again. This blanket statement just isn’t true: “The fact is, if you have the talent, and a story worth reading, it will get published.” That’s a fantasy. Great stuff doesn’t get published. Especially now, with everyone feeling the money crunch, there is just not the space or money to publish the increasing number of books being written. I’ve had several high profile agents, been published by the best French publisher, one of the coolest U.K. publishers (Rebel Inc.) a well-respected indie publisher in the U.S. (Soft Skull) and other places. Soft Skull told me about my follow-up novel: if you can’t guarantee 3000 sales, then we can’t publish you. In short, marketability’s as important for small publishers as large publishers. Which is fine – they need money to stay afloat.

    Self-publishing is incredibly hard and demanding and absolutely a last resort – because having the wind behind your back of an editor/promotion/bookstore distribution is a major bonus. But to suggest that if it’s good, it’ll get published is showing far too much faith in an incredibly competitive publishing industry. My book was rejected by publishers, but readers (who I respect) like it. Who’s right? I’d rather get their feedback then leave the book to gather dust in a desk drawer.

    It’s a new world. I used to run on the romance of – if my writing’s good, luck will find me. But self-publishing has opened up a whole other very positive avenue for writers who can put out there books and build readership if they didn’t hit it big in the five minutes that an agent takes to send out a novel. It’s giving power back to writers, which is something to be celebrated.

  8. Sorry to be off topic but just read about Will Wheaton’s major roles and never knew his character’s name in Stand By Me.

    So he played Gordie, and when he was Welsey Crusher one of his best friends was Jordi! 😉

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