Op-Ed: The Sixth Thing

It figures. Barely a day after the original Five Things Non-Writers Should Know About Writers and Writing went up, I was hit with the epiphany that I’d left something out. And I had. I’d left out a very important bit that, for whatever reason, didn’t occur to me while I was putting together the original post.

Oh well. We all know that “Five Things” feels a bit snappier than six. Humanity is odd like that, but it’s true.

Still, this realization left me with a conundrum. The first post was already up and being read; had been for over a day. So I really didn’t want to go back and awkwardly shoehorn in a sixth entry. But I still wanted the issue I’d thought of to be addressed. Hence, we come to this: a follow-up post.

Just a quick refresher before we dive in. Tuesday’s post was all about breaking some common misconceptions about writers, writing, and being an author, summarizing things into five core points. This post is going to add a sixth. The original post is found here, and I highly advise reading it beforehand if you haven’t already, just to get caught up. And I’ll be going back to it and adding in a link to this post as well once it’s up and ready for viewing, so the two will be forever linked.

So, all that said, let’s get down to business. The sixth thing that non-writers should know about writers and writing.

6) A Published Book is a Published Book
This one is bound to create some controversy, because oddly enough this tends to be an area where people get very defensive, even for book-readers, but here it is: A published book is a published book. That’s just how it is. Doesn’t matter where it was published, or who by, it’s a published book, and that makes it “legitimate” book.

Notice the quotes I had around legitimate? That’s because in the last decade, there’s been a massive upswing among the social strata of readers in debating what makes a “real” book. What makes a “proper” book. And yes, I’m going to keep using quotes, because this is pretty ridiculous, but then comes the kicker. This belief culminates in the idea that only books approved and published by specific publishers—not all—are real books. The rest, apparently, are just impostor books, concealing themselves like the fabled treasure chest mimics of classic role-playing games, waiting to harm the unsuspecting buyer.

Okay, I got a little farcical in that last summary, but this is a real misconception that does exist. There are a lot of people out there who believe that the only books that are “real” are those that come from a specific set of publishers (who, of course, happen to be the largest publishing houses), while everything that is published anywhere or by anyone else is not. So if a book doesn’t come from one of those publishers, than it’s not a real book, and the author not a real author.

Now, there are a few reasons that they think this, none of which hold water. One of the more common ones (which the big publishers themselves have even alluded to since it does make for good marketing) is that books published by the big publishers hold the title of “real” book because the publisher is “vetting” everything they receive, shuffling out the poor entries and passing on the good ones to the consumer.

The problem is … this doesn’t hold water in the slightest, and anyone who’s ever spoken to an editor in from any of the big publishers would know that this isn’t even close to accurate. Is there an element of “vetting?” Sure, but more often than not, it’s random. Hence why Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected over 30 times from the major publishers before finally being published. It wasn’t a different manuscript each time, either.

See, most publishing houses, especially the big ones, don’t have time to look at everything. I recall one LTUE I attended where an editor for one of the smaller large publishers mentioned that their system was ‘trash nine, read one and make a call, trash the next nine, read one and make a call,” etc, etc.

And that’s not that uncommon. The truth is, while most publishers love people thinking that they’re individually judging each and every entry … they’re not. Most of them are being rejected without even being looked over, and the few that are looked over, well … Tell me, when was the last time you picked up a book from a bookstore or a library bookshelf and it was a pretty poor book? I seem to run into a couple a year myself, at least, and guess what? Big publishers.

Crappy books come from everywhere.

Now, I could wax on about this for a while yet (once you’re in the industry, you start learning all sorts of things), but if you’re handy with Google, you can learn all that on your own. The point I wanted to illustrate with the example above is that a published book is a published book, regardless of where it came from. Publication does not equal good, but that’s been true for over a hundred years anyway.

At the end of the day, if an author publishes a book, it’s published. It doesn’t matter if the editor was a big-shot at one of the largest publishing companies in the world, or a freelancer slaving over manuscripts in a makeshift office, it’s still published. It’s still a book. It might be a good one, or it might be a bad one … but the information that determines that isn’t going to be whether or not it came from one of the big publishers.

Frankly, that idea is just ridiculous. Imagine if other industries operated under similar rules. “Real” movies only came from one Hollywood studio, and nothing else was a “real” movie. “Real” games only came from Activision and EA, while everything else was just “pretending” to be a real game. See how ridiculous that sounds?

Now, one last thing to mention: A lot of this has surged in the last decade due to the rise of self-published authors and those who take the indie route. There are a lot of people who like to say that those books aren’t “real” books and those authors “real” authors.

People who think that clearly missed how books like The Martian and Wool, both of which were standout novels that got a lot of worldwide attention (one was even a very successful movie) were self-published. They’re indie. Yes, you can go pick one up in a bookstore, but that’s because what bookstore wouldn’t be selling books that were massive hits? Crud, with one of them, one of the big publishers shelled out something like half-a-million dollars plus royalties for the rights to sell a limited run.

That’s right, a “not a book” was such a hit that a publisher of “real” books shelled out half-a-million plus royalties for a limited-print run. Must not be a very good book.

Okay, that last bit was a little sarcastic, so it’s time to pull things back in. The simple truth of it is, regardless of whether a book came from a major publishing house or a tiny little indie shop, it’s still a book. The author is still an author. They might not be a good one, but this is true regardless of where the book was published. Major publishers print junk all the time, based on what they think will sell most effectively and where the market is going. And for publishing houses that spend so much time defending themselves as the “bastions” of good publishing, they also spend a lot of time and money buying up both indies and smaller publishing houses whenever those places have hits and acquiring their books for their own.

Because good and bad books aren’t dependent on the publisher. They can be influenced, but that’s a can, not a will. At the end of the day, there are plenty of books that get shipped out of the big publishers that came closest to an editor when said editor stamped ‘Good enough’ on the manuscript and shuffled it down the desk without looking at it to meet a deadline, just like there are plenty of indie authors who decide to skimp in a similar manner to save a few bucks. And there are plenty of books from both indies and trad pubs that have been meticulously picked over by experienced, sincere people.

At the end of the day, a published book is a published book, regardless of the source. It can be good, it can be great, or it can be terrible … but it’s still a book. Andy Weir (the author of The Martian) isn’t any less of an author because he decided to go indy rather than try to pitch his book to one of the big pubs. For starters, he could have been trying to get it published by them for upwards of half a decade or more, and when (or if) it ever had come out, the end result could have been very different. There are a lot of reasons so many authors choose to go indie these days (and again, I’ll leave you to Google them, they aren’t exactly hidden).

But a book is a book, regardless of who published it. It can be a good book, or a bad book, or something in between, but it’s still a book, and it’s creator, and author: good, bad, whatever.



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