Sep 17, 2010
Growing Up In Public
If you skim through You Tube, you'll notice a lot of videos of kids doing cute, crazy stuff. Like this adorable French girl, who is "publishing" her first story -- it happens to be Winnie the Pooh fan fic, and I dare say, it is the most awesome Winnie the Pooh fan fic ever.
New technology shifts paradigms. One worry I have always had about self-publishing is the fear that I would publish something too soon. When I read the first books I wrote, including fan fic, back when I was 12, 16, 22, I am horrified at how juvenile it was. My first thought was, "Thank goodness it wasn't as easy to self-publish back in those days, because I would have probably done so and this crap would be haunting me."
But maybe that was the old paradigm speaking.
In the old paradigm, a writer toiled in secret for years, crumbling up paper from the typewriter, hiding manuscripts under the bed, slowly accumulating a million words of dreck in desk drawers and trashcans, until finally a gatekeeper, an agent or publisher, said, "This is polished enough to show to the public."
Today's kids grow up in public. You don't wait until something is perfect before you put it in front of an audience. You throw it out there, saying, "This is what I'm trying to do. Tell me if it works." And people respond. They praise, they mock. But it's out there. You keep trying, and you do it in public, in a community that gives you ongoing feedback. You don't hide your million words of dreck. You post it on your blog. You share it in fan fic forums. You publish it on Lulu.
There's still a sense among established industry people that if a writer gives away one's writing "virginity" to anything less than a major publisher, one is as tainted a Fallen Woman of Victorian England. Seriously? Does the You Tube generation care if your first book was a thinly veiled Twilight pastiche published through iUniverse? I suspect behaving like a troll on websites is far more likely to hurt you than having self-published something.
Would it have been so bad if I had self-published my early works? Maybe not. Not if it encouraged me to improve, rather than stay still. Not if it connected me to a small, but possibly growing fan base. Not if it were accepted practice to grow as a writer in print, in public.
It's a completely different model than the publishing industry has been used to. It goes along with cloud sourcing the slush pile. Although, C.J. Cherryh pointed out (on Facebook), this model is not entirely new to the genre of sff. Science fiction fans created fanzines, filk and fanfic long before the internet. They circulated their early stories on mimeographed pages, self-published tiny magazines, passed around stories, met in people's homes to share songs, gathered at conventions. When it works best, I think growing up in public also means growing up in a community. I think that form of sharing art is at least as old as the human race. Possibly older. (Australopithecus, I'm raising my inquiring brow at you....)
I, for one, if I could, would pre-order on Amazon now any book Miss Capucine publishes in twenty years.