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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Here Be Monsters!

Old maps fascinate me, the elaborately decorated charts and drawings from the sixteenth and seventeenth century when the world, to European explorers, still possessed vast tracts of Terra Incognito and the empty spaces were embellished with fanciful designs and interpretations of fantastic creatures and the monsters of the deep.

Starting out as a published author, launching Iceline on Smashwords back in 2012  felt like heading out with such a chart. There were more gaps on my knowledge than anything as travelled a learning curve so steep it felt like the ascent of a rock face.

Little has changed, the curve is still steep and the landscape like the old maps appears to be changing as the blanks are filled in: and the monsters?

They are there, the slick marketeers and professional twisters eager to sell their version of your dream - where you do all the work and are relieved of hundreds or thousands of pounds/dollars for the privilege of seeing your book published.

Indies Unlimited's, March Madness continues and a couple of days ago RJ Crayton ponders why, despite the bad publicity writers still fall for the Vanities and authors cheerfully sing their praises, and comes up with an interesting answer; Stockholm Syndrome. Authors believe publishing a book is an expensive process, so the exorbitant fees are expected, what she finds puzzling is the enthusiasm.

How, why, do we fall for the same old story? The smooth patter, the glossy brochure and the baggage that goes with it? In the traditional publishing world, the publisher speaks with unquestioned authority.

The Traditional publishers never describe themselves as traditional, and the vanities never use the V word in describing their publishing activities. Both are simply identified as publishers, so they apparently 'speak' with the same authority.

Authority requires obedience, often unquestioning; do they actually get it?

Signing up with a publisher puts you on their side, and the subtle threads of authority and obedience tie the two parties together with a requirement to toe the line. The higher the cost the more compliant or enthusiastic the author may become; up to a point!

The point is not fixed, the tipping point varies from person to person and the circumstances of the arrangement, a relationship explored in the 1963 at Yale University by Stanley Milgram. The result of his experiments helped develop his Agency Theory regarding behaviour in a social situation. With the modifications on the original parameters (636 partiicipants in 18 variation studies) he identified different reactions and conditions of compliance.

The degree of obedience is supported by the moral or legal legitimacy of the authority figure, and many aspects of  our upbringing support this compliance; perhaps this suggests an explanation why authors taken by the Vanity Press enthuse about their situation when the overwhelming data suggests it's not a good place to be.

This may be a form of dissonance reduction, where the product continues to be sold after the purchase is made and the customer, (a favourite reference among the Vanities) sees the other brands which may be as good or even better. The sales patter continues to reinforce the original action and affirm the buyers choice, confirming the wisdom of their decision. Their enthusiastic support for the Vanity Press helps to support this belief and turning against this level of pressure calls for real courage, to admit that a costly mistake has been made does not come easy.

Writing involves everything, the head and the heart working as allies. The process comes out of the head, but the passion and the drive is from the heart and there lies the strength and the weakness.

No one wants to see the thing they have nurtured, cherished and loved bashed around and knocked up in the harsh world outside our imagination and we know that the route to publication can be a difficult one, almost impossible - I said almost - without the backing of the publishing house in not too distant past.

The changing landscape means that the ancient stranglehold is slowly being weakened and more routes to publication are available than have ever been possible. The landscape is changing rapidly but how the author is seen changes more slowly.

The stigma of the self-published author as lesser being is fading, not as quickly as it should, and a trawl of the Internet reveals literary greats who originally self-published, but the image has been tarnished beyond measure by the Vanity Press, a business model designed to produce a book at the author's expense and the company's benefit.

The reasons they succeed are complex, as involved as the personality and character of the people they target, and that is exactly what we are, targets. Everything about the market is designed to catch you out, sneak under your radar and suddenly they have you, caught on the hook and like an expert fisherman they know how to play you, and play you they will, for ever penny/cent they can, so what is the best protection?

Imagination, the power of the mind you used to write your story, use it to work out the angles of the deal you are being offered, if it sounds too good to be true, tell yourself that it is, and look at it closely. You may be a single click away from a shedload of trouble!

The available resources are the greatest limitation to any course of action. Working with the traditional/trade publishers doesn't cost the writer, your obvious talent has been recognised, snapped up and acknowledged and the cost to you is minimal. the publisher puts their money into the project.

Without the backing of a traditional or the burden of a vanity publisher; how close to that figure can we get?

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