Category Archives: Books on Writing

The What vs. The Who

When I founded Publerati ten years ago, one of my core guiding principles was to help The What regain lost power versus The Who. (I’m not talking about the British rock band.)

What do I mean by this? In our loud age of celebrity culture, reality television, and cable news, quietly excellent novels by unknown people have little hope of being published. Agents are looking for people with a large following. So are publishers. Let’s face it, this makes their lives much easier. Starting anything from scratch is a much more daunting (some would say naive) undertaking.

How does one evaluate art on its merits alone? Is this even possible given how subjective tastes are? I’m not here to debate the age-old question of what is art, but rather to make the case for rebalancing our business models and appetites for risk more toward The What and less toward The Who. This trend toward The Who accelerated back in the 1980s in book publishing, with the mergers of book publishers into larger entertainment conglomerates, with the odd, possibly unintended, outcome of deeper pockets but less risk-taking on new Whats.

There have been as many artistic and commercial failures coming from The Who’s as there have been successes from The What’s. Eventually some What’s become the new Who’s. My favorite examples are the courageous signings of first novelists who unexpectedly break out with commercial success, only to then be grossly overpaid for their second novel, which is both an artistic and commercial dud. The initial instinct to evaluate the first novel on its merits was sound, but then degenerated into infatuation with The Who in signing the next two novels sight unseen. It’s a bit like a gambler in Vegas. You were up before you were down. You had a sound strategy but lost it in the hoopla of the bright lights. And the “free” drinks.

So how does one evaluate The What free of The Who?  An easy place to start is to simply try. This means not always starting every evaluation process with the author’s track record, the size of the author’s social media presence, and the potential “reach” or sales. Instead, clear out all the judgments and read the first few pages free of prejudice, “like a virgin,” as Madonna might say. Only consider new projects first thing in the morning, before the travails of the day color our perceptions and attitudes. Do our best to be open to new people, ideas, and expression. Make some decisions based on gut instinct and not solely on financial projections. Work for a company that believes in this strategy and provides some protection from negative consequences brought about by individual courage. Otherwise you end up working in a culture of frightened sheep that produces . . . well, sheepishness.

And don’t completely relegate the gatekeeper task to unpaid interns or junior staff with good intentions but no power. Discovery of new talent should be a core responsibility of any worthwhile book publisher.

Here’s to rebalancing The What versus The Who. It’s difficult work but among the most rewarding.

Caleb Mason, Publerati

#ebookschangelives

The more I read and hear from near and far, the more I realize that ebooks are changing many lives in positive ways.

Many writers no longer have to endure years of agent rejections before publishing their work. Many readers are discovering new authors because they like ebooks and like paying less than what the popular authors ask.

At last, there is a great new place for the less popular people to hang out, a place so big, it feels like infinity.  It’s the world of digital.

Publishing consolidation continues to make publishers more cautious about trying something new. They are surviving on the Donald Trump books and blockbuster novels from well-known established writers. There’s that word again: established. As in establishment. Increasingly becoming the common enemy that might possibly be the only way to reunite our country. But that’s what they do best and whom they serve best. “You get the customers you deserve.”

Worldreader is demonstrating daily how ebooks are changing lives in remote regions of the world. Not just ebooks, but digital reading. On phones. On network-connected screens that overcome the heartless barriers of geography.

Civilizations no longer need that one great river or port to flourish.

The new Nile of our times is the Internet. And this is great news for a better future. Which is why we are launching our new hashtag:  #ebookschange lives. Please come visit us in this new world, on Twitter, Facebook, and unknown worlds to come.

#ebookschangelives

What do we mean by the label “literary fiction”?

Some people have been asking what we mean by “literary fiction,” as the term carries many positive as well as some negative connotations. Publerati purports on our Web Site to be “Publishers of Fine Fiction for eBooks,” and we say in our submissions area that we are looking to specialize in literary fiction at the exclusion of other forms of writing. What do we mean by “fine fiction” and “literary fiction”?

When we use the term “literary fiction” we mean the following as it pertains to novels, novellas, and story collections:

  • Works that grab you with a distinctive voice and perspective. There are many examples of these but one we like to cite is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. We love this classic for its distinctive voice and mood, and how the stories all hang together in a coherent collection. This American classic has dropped out of favor in modern times, which is a shame and our collective cultural loss. It is a great example of unique human expression via the written word. It stood out in its day and it stands out today.
  • Works that focus more on characters and less on plot. Ideally there is a balance and that is when modern publishers will say a “literary novel can cross over into the mainstream.” Just as some indie movies can. In general terms these are strong character-driven works of fiction. They can be funny, tragic, or both.
  • Works with psychological depth that reveal the interior moral struggles of the protagonist in engaging our interest. Works where there is subtext. Works where what the main character says they want does not always align with their actions.
  • Works that can be read many times during our lifetime and where we discover something new with each reading. Ideally, works that will endure over several lifetimes because of the universality of the themes and story.

The sort of books described above oftentimes will not earn their way from a commercial standpoint, as they were not created with the pressure to “make money.”  Yes, we all would love to make money and many great works of literary fiction have from the earliest times. Oftentimes these are first novels by writers who have spent years or decades perfecting what they want to say, without the pressure of publishing every two years to make money for themselves and the publisher while under contract. Many are cathartic works of art, whether in painting, music or literature, that share some profound emotional truths that move us deeply.

The purpose of Publerati is to utilize ebooks as a way to reopen access for literary works. Period. That is our mission. All great literary writers were unknown when they first began their careers, so let’s make it easier for writers of literary fiction today by using the new technology now at our disposal.

Many publishers and excellent imprints used to gamble much more than they do now on literary works, because as the industry consolidated into a handful of media conglomerates, the pressures to have every title earn its way as a commercially successful work became a prerequisite when deciding what to publish. If the chances of “earning out” its small advance were low, then the proposal to publish was never even presented internally. Just too much work for too little gain.

“Literary acclaim” became too difficult a case to make to the Editorial Board. Many excellent editors in the industry know this to be true and struggle with the modern reality.
We are of the opinion there will be plenty of room for ebooks and print books to coexist, so let’s use ebooks as a way to reopen access for deserving literary works while also supporting literacy charities around the world. It’s a win-win.

We envision ebook-only futures for some very talented fiction writers who otherwise would never be read. Some will also get print contracts down the road or be released in print-on-demand editions as this technology becomes widespread. That thought should give us all hope.

-Caleb

What do we mean by the label “literary fiction”?

Some people have been asking what we mean by “literary fiction,” as the term carries many positive as well as some negative connotations. Publerati purports on our Web Site to be “Publishers of Fine Fiction for eBooks,” and we say in our submissions area that we are looking to specialize in literary fiction at the exclusion of other forms of writing. What do we mean by “fine fiction” and “literary fiction”?

When we use the term “literary fiction” we mean the following as it pertains to novels, novellas, and story collections:

  • Works that grab you with a distinctive voice and perspective. There are many examples of these but one we like to cite is Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. We love this classic for its distinctive voice and mood, and how the stories all hang together in a coherent collection. This American classic has dropped out of favor in modern times, which is a shame and our collective cultural loss. It is a great example of unique human expression via the written word. It stood out in its day and it stands out today.
  • Works that focus more on characters and less on plot. Ideally there is a balance and that is when modern publishers will say a “literary novel can cross over into the mainstream.” Just as some indie movies can. In general terms these are strong character-driven works of fiction. They can be funny, tragic, or both.
  • Works with psychological depth that reveal the interior moral struggles of the protagonist in engaging our interest. Works where there is subtext. Works where what the main character says they want does not always align with their actions.
  • Works that can be read many times during our lifetime and where we discover something new with each reading.  Ideally, works that will endure over several lifetimes because of the universality of the themes and story.

The sort of books described above oftentimes will not earn their way from a commercial standpoint, as they were not created with the pressure to “make money.” Yes, we all would love to make money and many great works of literary fiction have from the earliest times. Oftentimes these are first novels by writers who have spent years or decades perfecting what they want to say, without the pressure of publishing every two years to make money for themselves and the publisher while under contract. Many are cathartic works of art, whether in painting, music or literature, that share some profound emotional truths that move us deeply.

The purpose of Publerati is to utilize ebooks as a way to reopen access for literary works. Period. That is our mission. All great literary writers were unknown when they first began their careers, so let’s make it easier for writers of literary fiction today by using the new technology now at our disposal.

Many publishers and excellent imprints used to gamble much more than they do now on literary works, because as the industry consolidated into a handful of media conglomerates, the pressures to have every title earn its way as a commercially successful work became a prerequisite when deciding what to publish. If the chances of  “earning out” its small advance were low, then the proposal to publish was never even presented internally. Just too much work for too little gain. “Literary acclaim” became too difficult a case to make to the Editorial Board. Many excellent editors in the industry know this to be true and struggle with the modern reality.

We are of the opinion there will be plenty of room for ebooks and print books to coexist, so let’s use ebooks as a way to reopen access for deserving literary works while also supporting literacy charities around the world. It’s a win-win.

We envision ebook-only futures for some very talented fiction writers who otherwise would never be read. Some will also get print contracts down the road. That thought should give us all hope. 

-Caleb