Redheaded Neanderlady

Redheaded Neanderlady
This is a photoshopped version of something I found in National Geographic about the time I started researching

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Robert Sawyer's "publishing problem"

Robert Sawyer, a highly respected science fiction writer(I really like some of his work), has a publishing problem.  No, I don't mean that he can't get published.  He can.  You can get his books in any halfway respectable bookstore that sells science fiction.  He's against "self publishing" science fiction.  Totally against it.



He claims, in effect, that you will never, ever find a science fiction writer who self publishes.  This may or may not be true.  Writers who write science fiction are often a quirky lot.  And there was "vanity publishing" back in the days of classic writers like Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, etc.  "Vanity publishing" back then had a very bad reputation, and for very good reason.  Also, there was no such thing as e-publishing.  For that matter, there was no such thing as the Internet.  So I can see where he's coming from. 


I should also add that I've seen at least some "independently published" fiction(some of it is actually a type of science fiction).  The quality varies, and the audience for some of this stuff may be rather limited.  In some instances, I think the writers know this, and that is why they go this route.  Occasionally, the writer goes this route after trying to get a "bite" from some agent(very hard to do these days).  These writers have done all the right things that they're supposed to do, but gave up in despair of ever having their books published. 


However, a lot has changed in recent years, and many of the publishing houses(including the ones that publish science fiction) are subsidiaries of giant corporations, and "traditional" publishing is not in a happy state right now.  It's always been hard for an unknown writer to get him or herself published, and perhaps even harder for a writer of science fiction who can't break into one of the magazines(and there aren't very many of those any more,  either).  Is Mr. Sawyer completely unaware of this?  It almost seems as if he is.  And, unfortunately for Mr. Sawyer, I think it is only a matter of time before a lot of material ends up e-published anyway.  Again, this may not be true of science fiction, but I wonder.  I don't know how much time will pass before this is the case, but I am pretty sure this will happen; the publishing business at the moment is in a fluctuating state.  And because of this, if there isn't some science fiction writer who has "self published" somewhere, there soon will be, and people will read him or her.  And, perhaps, Mr. Sawyer will end up having a very red face.

Anne G


RobertJSawyer said...

Anne, for Pete's sake, EVERYONE knows that publishing is in flux. But when people are asking how they should spend their money RIGHT NOW, telling them, "Well, you know, someday someone might succeed at what you're trying, so go for it!" is irresponsible in the extreme.

Henry Baum said...

For a science fiction writer to be that un-forward thinking is bizarre. I self-published my science fiction novel as well.

Nice post.

Kirstin said...

First, be careful. Don't conflate "self-publishing" with "e-publishing" and "independent publishing" (or the one you didn't mention, "small-press publishing"). Sawyer is a huge proponent of the e-book revolution. He's the one who introduced me to e-books and he owns literally hundreds of bought and paid for e-books.

And he's been a tireless supporter of the small press. Ask the people of Edge Press or Red Deer Press or Bundoran Press.

And actually, he does not say that you can't find an SF writer who has self-published, just that you can't find an SF author who has self-published and was successful.

Now, let's define success. To me, it would be someone who makes a full-time living from writing SF novels, novellas, and/or short stories, without living below the poverty line. That's success as I would define it. And I don't know one SF author who self-publishes who would meet my criteria for success.

Maybe if you were to set your sights sufficiently low, you might be able to be "successful" by going that route. Just lower the bar until you can get over it. But is that really success?

He doesn't say that this might not be a valid way of going in the future. He said what he said, which is that a successful, self-published SF writer does not exist.

Yes, Mr. Sawyer is completely aware of all the arguments you've made. He mentors many beginning writers and many of his students have gone on to real, money-in-the-bank publishing experiences.

Sawyer's not going to end up with a red face. His statements, as he made them, are all factually true. You act as if you don't know that he's part of the push to make e-book publishing mainstream. If you don't, read his site or his blog a bit more.

So it's almost like you're boxing with shadows. You're refuting arguments he never made by characterizing his argument as something that it is not, then saying he'll be embarrassed when what he never said becomes untrue. Very strange.

So let's talk about his actual argument. Let's talk about successful, self-published SF authors, people who actually make a living from their self-published books. Name a few and let's talk about them.