Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bad Publicity?

This started off to be a comment on Jay Lake's LiveJournal, on this post, but it's overflowed its bonds, so I'm posting it here as well. Some days I am just incapable of writing something sort.

I'm a bit befuddled by the people slagging on this writer. Maybe I'm missing something, but, as far as I can see, the sum total of his "lying" were the two words "Alan Chase" at the bottom of a press release.

According to the linked article, he didn't send his work to an agent or to a publisher; S&S approached him after a reading. So complaining that he didn't "do the work" of targeting dozens of agents is beside the point -- he wasn't trying to get an agent in the first place. (And, as far as we can tell from the article, he doesn't have one now.)

He wrote the book, he published it himself, he publicized it himself. He was smart enough to know that signing the author's name to a press release is the kiss of death. I've seen plenty of authors use their spouses (or just their spouses' names) on press releases, or have them sent by their employers -- all to avoid the stigma of sending out one's own press release.

The release still had to be compelling; it still had to grab interest. Signing "Alan Chase" just kept it from being thrown away immediately; nothing more. Press releases are a dime a dozen; just writing one doesn't get anyone anywhere. Reading between the lines of the story, he set up at least one "event" that impressed this nameless person from S&S to call him. This is a guy doing everything right.

Self-publishing really only works for insanely energetic self-promoters (preferably with a mission) -- this guy fits that profile perfectly, and that's one major reason why he's a success. He's the kind of guy who makes himself a success. If his example makes a dozen other young writers put their energy into publishing and publicizing their own books instead of trying to get them placed with major houses, I don't see how that's a bad thing.

Big Publishing does have certain major advantages, but it's not the only business in town. And a writer who has a message, or is otherwise trying to do something more than just tell good (fictional) stories, might just do better as a self-publisher than by spending the next two years going hat-in-hand to a succession of agents. It's a bad, bad option for most people, yes, but, for those real Type A writers, it can work.

So I can't see him as a horrible example. Would-be writers who are smart and reasonable will know their own capacities; they'll be able to figure out if this model would work for them at all. And the ones who are neither smart nor reasonable will never succeed, no matter which model they use.


Carmen Webster Buxton said...

How interesting this all is! As an unpublished writer (I do have an agent, but we haven't sold the book yet) it seems to me this kinds of fuss just reinforces the people who are convinced there is a secret handshake. The folks on the inside get into a sweat when it seems that someone has found a way into the secret inner chamber without executing the requisite number of secret handshakes. Thanks for a calming voice.

Jay said...

As a self-published author, I find this story fascinating. It is hard to get upset about this author’s approach given the stacked deck against self-published authors. My book, “John Fastramp and the Dakota 3000 Challenge” is loved by the local kids and parents but reviewers dismiss the story without bothering to review it. You must be fiercely passionate about your work and be fearless in promoting it. The only people you typically will hear from are those that stand in your way. Despite the top-down challenges, John Fastramp has been translated into Braille and is in a number of independent bookstores, and a small number of local Border bookstores as well as Amazon. I know that eventually the story will gain wider exposure (

Anonymous said...

Hey guys, thanks for chiming in on this. Please take a look at the entire story. The NY Times only told about 2 % of the story. Please read it here:

Please share it with as many authors as possible.


Troy CLE

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