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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.


C. N. Nevets said...

Dear heavens above, may my fan fic never see the light day. Amen.


That said, I'm going to have to percolate on this idea, Tara. A significant portion of my fan fic was (deep breath) Star Trek related (let it out). That was a pretty vibrant community and some of it did actually get into some of those Xeroxed pages and uploaded to BBS's before there was internet, etc... And, come to think of it, that did help me grow some.

But... Somehow thinking about having possible self-published it gives me the willies.

I'm not sure yet what the psychological difference is, except that maybe distributing fan fic to a somewhat closed group of fellow fans feels different than offering it up to the world.

Tara Maya said...

The first complete, novel length book I wrote, when I was in jr high, was Star Trek fanfic. Cowritten with my mom. I remember we were so proud of ourselves for going through a thesaurus and finding all the synonyms for "said", about 300 of them, and using a different one each time a character spoke. Remembering this makes me think DEAR GOD LET ME DIE NOW.

I admit, if this book had ever been put up on Lulu, I would take it down and be looking for any extant copies to destroy. And maybe that's how the next generation will feel about their you tube vids. Maybe instead of being exhibitionists, they will be more careful of their privacy than ever.

Tere Kirkland said...

My first completed novel (written *gasp* FIFTEEN years ago) was thinly veiled fan fic. I basically stole the premise of Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters and made it my own. The head master wasn't in a wheelchair, or bald, but he still had an English accent.


I think my mom threw all those old notebooks out that I used to write in after I went to college. I didn't care about them any more, and now I sorely regret it. I wish I could see that old stuff (another story basically ripped off Anne McCaffrey's Pern, only there were no dragons. Actually that premise was kind of original, only there was no real plot), just to learn from it. I'm sure it seems a lot better in my memories, but who knows, maybe I was a natural back then, before A.P. English, and critical writing ruined me. ;)

So no matter how bashful you are about that fan fic, don't toss it!

Tara Maya said...

I agree, Tere. For the sake of history, not your ego, do keep your originals. I don't know where my Star Trek fan fic book is. We wrote it on the computer, but those files aren't even readable any more. I wrote another novel the summer I lived in Mexico (I was 14? 15? don't remember), entirely by hand in 3-ring binders, and I KNOW I've lost that one. I also know it wasn't great, but I'd be curious to read it again.

I found another novel I started, but never finished, when I was but a wee lass -- 10 or 11. To my older self's amusement, I began the story, "It was a dark and stormy night." Yes. Yes, I did. I cannot remember if I was being ironic.

Davin Malasarn said...

Tara, I recently made the same decision on this point...which was why I am also now planning to pubilsh Rooster, my first very imperfect novel. I decided that there was enough there to entertain people, even if it wasn't a master work by any means. My fear is that the book will be so bad that people decide never to read any of my other works, but even then I think we are constantly meeting new people and getting new chances. I really love this idea of growing up in front of the public. Along with that, I also decided to get less feedback from people until AFTER I publish. I don't want feedback on hwo I can fix my old stories. I want feedback on how my future stories might be made better. This all makes a lot of sense to me.

Tara Maya said...

Domey, I completely agree with you. And this is a reversal from my earlier position, which was the paranoid feeling I had to be the perfect writer, or at least the best I could ever aspire to, before publishing.

Along with this, I am deciding to reject the idea I can't change in public. My style, I mean. Some readers will be lost, some gained. Think of Picasso, or many an other artist, whose early period is so different from later work. Some collectors might prefer the blue period, others not. But the artist paints and experiments and puts the art out there.

But does this mean you aren't going to send me a copy of Rooster? Or your novella? 'Cause we can always consider it an Advanced Reader Copy, if you prefer. ;)

Jean Michelle Miernik said...

"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."

Hilarious! And spot on! There is a drastic cultural shift going on right now with regards to concepts of privacy, ownership of information, and presentation of self.

In the Facebook/Twitter age, things we post online can last forever in cyberspace... sure, in theory... but our audience has a five-second attention span and is always checking to see what's new. Publicly experimenting and taking risks is not what it used to be. I, for one, remember only a small fraction of all the stupid crap my friends and cyberfriends have posted on Facebook, blogs, etc. I'm more interested in what they have to say TODAY.

This new era has been an adjustment for me, but I feel that nowadays, it's riskier to remain isolated and miss out on group participation and exposure than to let it all hang out, so to speak. For better or for worse, it seems that publicity of ANY kind is better for artists, creators, and performers than being too careful.

Free love and free writing! At least you can't catch HPV from reading or posting bad fanfic.

C. N. Nevets said...

hahahaha Genie, that is the funniest reference to HPV I've read today.

Domey and Tara, while I would not like my formative-years work to be published as-is, I think you're both right that waiting to perfect your craft is fruitless approach. An artist that stops changing and growing is not much of an artist. Your quality should always be going up and your style and voice adapting and changing with you as a person.

So, yeah, I want to keep my junk hidden away, but I'm resolved to not tinker my current projects to death in the name of making them just right.

We'll see if my perfectionist soul will follow through on that resolution.

Tara Maya said...

Genie, that's hilarious.

Tara Maya said...

Nevets, I am looking forward to reading your contribution to Notes. :)

C. N. Nevets said...

As I am looking forward to Conmergence!

Davin Malasarn said...

Tara Maya,
I will eventually send you advanced copies. :)

SandyG said...

The hardest thing for me to get used to in the computer age is that the internet allowed us to realize the benefits of a "mass" market. In olden times, if you presented something to the marketplace, it had to be pretty good in order to succeed. That's why we all tried to make things perfect. But a mass market is different. It is the same dynamic as a pop concert - people who like the performer go to see the concert. People who don't like the performer don't buy tickets to it. Therefore, the performer only gets positive feedback from her audience. This accounts for the tremendous egos of these performers (or maybe you need a tremendous ego to get up on the stage - or to publish). In the internet age, if people don't like what you do, they go on to something else. If they like it, they stick around and look for more. But since your audience is now potentially millions, you have a greater chance of finding someone who appreciates whatever drivel you have produced.

It is hard to get used to this, but the attitude you describe Tara of using the tools to help you develop is a good one to have. It is hard for us oldsters to admit that maybe you young whippersnappers have discovered a new and perhaps better way to grow as a writer.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Fantastic post, Tara! And a great discussion here, too. I'm really late to the party. Oh well. I just have to say THIS is how I knew I was ready to publish Cinders. I had been through the "public" ringer, so to speak, with my other work. I grew a lot from that, more so than anything else, even classes in college. The way to write well is to go out and DO it and get feedback and grow.

Several people have asked me, and I think it's an odd sort of question, if I will regret publishing Cinders in the future. My answer is heck no! I don't regret publishing short stories in college. I've worked my butt off for this book, and I'm proud of it and think I always will be. Growing as a writer is expected. That doesn't mean we shouldn't share or publish our work until we've reached "masterpiece mode" - which I think is a dream, anyway. What would be the point if you don't keep learning?