two hilariously contradictory views on the publishing industry
Pat Rothfuss: Why I love my editor…
OK, they’re really only “contradictory” inasmuch as Rothfuss is impressed by and grateful to his publishing overlords, whereas Trunk is full of mockery and scorn. And of course they emphasize different things; Rothfuss basically lived in poverty and squalor until he hit the big time, whereas Trunk has been super-successful in a few industries and spends her life thinking about how businesses succeed and fail. You might not necessarily expect a fantasist who lived on ramen for most of his life to have the same priorities as a kick-ass entrepreneur. (I worry that I’m painting Rothfuss as a schlub or a failure here; that’s not my goal. Penelope Trunk is not likely to write anything, ever, that hits my heart as squarely as THE NAME OF THE WIND. Which, by the way, is not except possibly in the broadest sense “what people [were] looking for.” I think people are most affected by things they didn’t know they wanted until they had them. I would never have sought out a contemporary British comedy of manners, but MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND is one of the ten best books I’ve read in the last ten years. And I’ve read a lot of really good books in the last ten years.)
I don’t think I’ve ever read a traditionally published author say anything but (apparently sincere, and quite warm) good things about their publishers. But fiction authors probably don’t know as much as Trunk about marketing, and they’re probably happy not to know; it isn’t professionally useful for them. There are at least some genre authors who could use their blog as a sales platform the way Trunk is doing it, but most of them owe that capability to traditional publishing. (Exceptions: John Scalzi, Amanda Hocking, E. L. James, Howard Tayler, presumably others.) I do still wonder why no one’s run the numbers and jumped ship, though. Maybe because they figure there’s no going back? But how can that be right? Maybe DAW wouldn’t take Pat Rothfuss back if he scorned them, but someone would. That’s not true for a midlist writer, obviously, and then I guess the interesting question is whether a midlist writer has less or more to gain from jumping ship.
I wonder if it’s down to the view of the craft. Penelope Trunk doesn’t need to spend all her time writing to produce a good book — in fact, she’d better not; she has to demonstrate success in and leverage insights from some non-writing field to give her books any credibility. But, for a fiction writer, any time not spent writing is time not spent honing a craft that is at least mythologized to be incredibly exacting and time-consuming. (I sometimes wonder about this. Then I realize how crappy I was five years ago, when I started writing THE DANDELION KNIGHT, and how much better I am now, and how good I’m still not.) And, for fiction writers, writing is all they’re selling; it’s not a summary of insights from some other accomplishment, it’s just itself. Anything Penelope Trunk learns about marketing, or accomplishes in marketing, is both useful for itself (in part because she already knows a lot about marketing) and potential book material. Anything Pat Rothfuss learns about marketing is maybe useful for itself, except that he already has the services of specialists who know more about it than he does, but he can’t use it in the book — unless the last Kingkiller installment takes a seriously sharp left.
I sure would like to hear more on Norman Spinrad’s self-publishing experiments. But I worry that no news is bad news there.