Editor’s Note: Luke Bergeron is a contributor to TeleRead and has given me permission to reprint his 5-part series which is currently appearing on his blog mispeled. Future installments will follow during the next four days. Paul Biba
Once upon a time I had my sights set on a Creative Writing teaching job. I thought it was what I wanted to do, but over the years my views have changed. However, all this thinking about e-books lately has gotten me thinking about it again, not about applying, but about the applications themselves. That’s where this multipart article started, although it got much bigger in short order, after I started looking for other opinions. It got big enough to warrant multiple parts, so stay tuned over the next few days, I’ll be posting one part per day.
Anyway, almost all Creative Writing teaching jobs (and some other jobs in a similar vein) require three things: teaching experience, a terminal degree, and a “substantial publishing record.” The first two can be obtained through a decent MFA program (almost all of them offer teaching as a way to pay for it), but the third is a little trickier.
The traditional publishing system has become a vile backwater of internal handshaking, intensely gated communities, and lottery-styled odds. Building a “substantial publishing record” involves beating down editor’s mailboxes as much as it involves quality writing. Trying to get short works in print takes months of submissions, postage costs, and much more time shopping the work than writing it. Submitting poems and stories to small literary magazines can take six months to get a response. Agent queries and small publishers are sometimes almost as bad. So a “substantial publishing record” is a ten-year wait-fest, give or take five years.
“Okay,” you say, “just hold on for a second. You’re being a little hyperbolic here, right? It’s not as bad as all that.”
Everyone has different experiences, to be sure, but for the most part, no. I’m not being hyperbolic. From personal experience: I spent a year shopping around my first novel, and months shopping the second. I have a grand stack of rejection slips from all types of small magazines for poetry and short stories, but only one poem in traditional print. It wasn’t skill, it was luck and persistence. It was marketing. That published poem wasn’t nearly as good as other things I’ve written, but I happened across the right editor with the right digestion on the right day. That’s the lottery, not a skill-based system. That’s silly.
“Well, your writing sucks,” you say. “Maybe if you were better, you’d have an easier time getting published.” Sure. That’s probably part of it. I’m still learning – it’s true. I’m working on that.
But in the meantime, there still has to be a better way than traditional publishing. It’s not like small print publication makes authors any money anyway, so there are only two reasons to get work out there in small print publication: to be read (which is the point of the entire writing enterprise, really), and, that’s right, you guessed it, creating a “substantial publishing record.”
Enter self-published e-books. The internet gives authors a way to publish their work without all the hassle of six month wait times, postage costs, and roller-coaster hopes. It gives almost instant feedback, and gets authors’ work out to the masses much faster. It’s green, because there’s physical printing, and it allows authors to have much more control over their work. In fact, it improves on everything over the typical publishing method in all respects, save one: legitimacy. It doesn’t build a “substantial publishing record.”
Typical publishing, at its most basic level, works like this: you (or your agent) send your work to an editor. The editor, probably way overworked and underpaid, decides if your work is worthy of publication or not. Basically, the editor functions as a “gating mechanism” that helps filter out all the craptent (that’s a portmanteau of “crap” and “content” for you savvy folks) bad writers try to get published. This filtration system is useful, because it makes it easier to determine whether something is “legitimate” or not. It’s the same idea behind peer-reviewed journals, essentially. It’s a good system, has worked for hundreds of years, and everyone likes it, right?
Right. Except for the amazing risk taking writer who can’t get published because he writes about content that doesn’t interest emplaced editors. Or the great author who has time to write, but doesn’t have time to shop his work around and spend all her time on marketing. Or the author who writes a glorious book that no publishers will touch read and gets so discouraged he eventually kills himself.
Hey, all these people are stoked about the current publishing model, right? [Please pay no attention to the crickets chirping in the background – they’re for comedic effect.]
There’s got to be a way to create a “substantial publishing record” with self-published e-books. In the next post, I’m going to talk about possible ways to do this and why they could be methods for obtaining “legitimacy.” I’ll also include opinions from a self-publishing author, a traditional author, and input from a traditional publisher. Stay tuned!