Friday, April 27, 2012

Publishing & What's Important

This post may not make you very comfortable. It may not make you happy. But since this blog is designed to accomplish exactly neither of those things, I'm going to use this space to talk about my thoughts and feelings about publishing. I'm going to try and not quote numbers or limit myself to specific citations, I want this to be broad view not because I don't know the particulars but rather I believe that it is in the particulars where all the fighting happens, where people see a stat or get a quote and blow things way the hell out of proportion.

So this is just me, John, talking to you, the writer/creator/artist/producer/game developer/whatever you call yourself. This is not my axe to grind or my "converting you to one side or the other" because, as you'll see, I don't care what side you're on, so long as you're creating for the best/right reasons. Before we go any further, we should talk about those reasons.

Why are you creating the thing you are? Doesn't matter what it is, so long as it's lawful, doesn't harm kids or sap my life force out of my body, I'm not really going to oppose you doing it. I'm going to be honest with you though, there are some reasons that are better than others.

Creating art should not be done so that you be taken seriously. Creating art is not going to repair the relationships you've screwed up by being obnoxious, immature, unprepared, crabby, bitchy, catty, superficial, dull, uncaring, mean or intoxicated. I'm not talking shit about art therapy, but that's therapy designed for the patient - the random person who hates you for what you did isn't going to suddenly forgive you because you drew a sunflower. Sorry, it might be the best sunflower this side of Van Gogh, but that person has made a decision to hate you and its an apology, not a canvas that's going to fix that bridge.

Creating art also shouldn't be for financial gain. Yes, sure, you can make a living producing and selling your work. And yes, sometimes, that living is going to be comfortable. Other times though, you're going to look at the Groupon emails in your inbox and say, "Not this week, I gotta pay my electric bill." I'm not saying you shouldn't make money off your art, it's your art and you can do what you want with it, but I'm saying that if you're just churning out material so that your bank account swells, or so that your spouse can "live in a style they're accustomed to" its very likely that what you're selling is your soul and what you're buying is empty space in a destructive relationship (believe me, I've been there.)

Creating art also isn't a badge of superiority. Way back in caveman days, when your ancestor cracked some quadraped in the mush with a rock, they could hold up the pelt or the skull and that was superiority, exclaiming to the heavens and the rest of the tribe, I did this, I am better than you. But there's also a purpose there - dead quadraped equals dinner, so providing for the tribe is better than mooching off Thog's rock prowess. And the guy who told the first novel on a cave wall, he wasn't doing it for an Amazon ranking, or for First Rights, he was doing it so that the tribe could pass on a story and learn from their experiences. Again, a purpose, not just a mark of I'm-better-than-you.

So why do it? Because if you don't, if you don't get the story out, your head will melt. If other people don't sit down and experience what you're creating, then some part of you, some part however "flawed" people may term it or think it, goes unsatisfied. Creating scratches some deep itch and fills a hole that no amount of dead quadraped trophies or fancy purchases can top.

But the downside to creating is that you create in dynamic times, which I guess is the John-version of that Chinese proverb. And change now isn't the enemy, it's not the thing keeping you from creating (if you think it is, then you're just afraid and you're letting the fear stop you from doing what you love**)

**Note: If you are afraid, ask yourself, if this wasn't about creating....if this was about getting laid or playing a game or eating your favorite meal or making yourself happy, would you let yourself be stopped?

Change happens. The car replaced the horse. The mp3 replaced the phonograph. The smartphone replaced the old Bakelite desk monstrosity. Your ability to adapt and work with (not against) that change, even sometimes acting in favor of change is what's going to make your end goal all the easier.

What end goal? Well that's up to you. I cannot tell you your end goal, nor can any author, publisher, owner, bazillionaire, celebrity or religious figure. Like He-Man, you have the power to determine your end goals, and you should. And they should be HUGE because that's how you get better. Yeah, that makes them difficult to accomplish, but nothing worthwhile is easy.

My end goal is to tell stories and get those stories into the hands of people who pay to read them. Notice that this particular goal doesn't claim sole ownership of the stories. Yes, I have my own stories to tell, but while I'm telling those, I can help other people tell theirs. I want all kinds of stories to be available, so long as they're told with the best ability to be told and they're told to people who give a damn about sharing them.

When it comes to telling stories, there are loads of media options and there are loads of ways to distribute that media. In fact, understanding the flow and distribution of your media is critical, but that's something I'll probably end up writing in another post. For now, let's just agree that there are lots of ways to skin the cat called "publishing".

There was a time, yes, when you had ONE road to get published. You wrote/typed your manuscript, you dumped it into an envelope and mailed it off to some "big city" office where someone you didn't know and didn't communicate with made some sort of gross and broad determination based on criteria and metrics you knew nothing about that somehow defined whether or not your work was "good enough" to be read by the masses. And they took you on as a client and acted as a middleman to help sell your manuscript to other "big city" offices that you definitely didn't communicate with because it was akin to mortals chatting up Olympus, and your manuscript, the little pages that could, went so far out of your hands and someone else gave you approval and validation that your hard work was worth it.

That, if you're paying attention, is traditional publishing. You write something, go shop it around and hunt for an agent and then the agent goes and finds a publisher. It's one route to getting your book into the hands of readers. It is no longer the only route.

It's also not the "best" route. There isn't a "best" route. If the route you take achieves the same end result, then who's going to bitch about how you did it? And okay, let's say you find some people who will bitch about the method - do you really want to associate yourself with those people?

Things have changed. You have options now, and it has to do with how much work you want to assert in getting your art into other people's hands. Now I'm not trying to imply you're lazy or anything, if you want to go the traditional route, but please please remember:

i. No method is "better" than any other.
ii. No method is "right".
iii. Publication isn't validation, it's a transaction, it's something you've done in your step towards your end goal.
iv. Publication isn't legitimacy.

Here's my note about legitimacy, which I talked about when I got interviewed on Jennisodes -- There was a convention of game designers and creators about 5 minutes from my house. These were people whose products I owned, people I admired and people I thought I'd never be "good enough" to associate with on any level beyond "I buy your stuff". And I got there early, and sat in the lobby, and watched people (some I knew, some I didn't) all congregate and greet each other. They all radiated this sense of belonging, like it was a big fraternity/society, practically a family, and this was just what they did. And here's me, the overweight guy who feels like he's best suited to live under a bridge sometimes and who often prefers the company of books and games to humans, sitting in the lobby, feeling very much like the kid picked last in gym class. And as I sat there, I said to myself, "I could leave. I mean, I paid like $50 bucks or something for this event, and I have a workshop to do, but it's at midnight and I can just do it and bail or whatever." I didn't feel like I belonged, is what I'm saying. I didn't feel legit. But over that weekend, I started talking to people. I figured if they were going to laugh me away, at least it was a short walk back to the house and I could spend the weekend playing Xbox on the couch. They, to date, haven't laughed me away. In fact, they keep handing me work and keep asking for my help and my opinion and they invite me to barbecues and other states and to meetings with people. So I don't know what I did, but to this day I keep taking steps towards my goal -- tell stories, help other people get their stories told.

Legitimacy, I have discovered thus far, comes from me knowing that I'm capable to do a really great job on the projects I'm lucky enough to be a part of. I'll say that a different way - the fact that I'm attached to this project or that project or this company or this developer is not proof that I'm legitimate -- the fact that every day I get to wake up and do all the things that make me absolutely ridiculously happy are what make me legitimate. Because I'm the only arbiter of how legit I am. Not my family. Not the readers. Not the fanbase who will buy what I'm working on. Not whoever I date or who I dated. Just me.

So with all these methods and ways to tell your story, I say, go for it. Make that podcast, read from steno pads at open mics, write blogs, make videos -- go wild.

The only "bad" option is the one where you don't go after your dreams.

Let's summarize:

1. Go after your dreams. This will not be an easy pursuit (if it is, dream bigger), but the things that truly matter are not easily obtained.
2. Don't let anything or anyone external dictate the validation or the reason for why you do whatever you do.
3. You are the sole judge of your "legitimacy", not the method you take to accomplishment, and not the reception you get from people who may not yet fully enjoy/understand/accept what it is you're doing.
4. Once you set a goal, go after it. If you're able to put it down because it doesn't excite or interest you, it's not a goal. It's just something you like doing.
5. Don't let anything get in the way of #4.
6. What's "best" for you is the route that allows you to meet or exceed your goal/dreams and you'll know you're on the right path because it'll never feel like you're doing work and you'll always want to do it instead of distracting yourself from it.

Have a great weekend, happy writing.