One more thing about publishing and fandom in general

Because I think it’s important, and it actually has only a limited amount to do with Interlude Press specifically. This is a point that’s far more general, and it’s been bugging me for a while.

Yesterday I listed some of my initial concerns about a fandom-focused publisher, but it wasn’t until I was getting in bed last night that I realized what really troubled me about this whole thing. It’s very small, it’s not the most extreme instance of it that I’ve ever seen, but it’s there and I want to mention it specifically.

In their intro and in their FAQ both, Interlude mentions a particular justification (or rather two related but slightly conflicting justifications) for why they exist:

We believe, deeply, that authors exist in the fan world who deserve a chance to be published. These are authors who might otherwise be ignored by the traditional publishing industry, and who would likely be discouraged from acknowledging their fan fiction roots and receive little marketing support were they ever to sign a contract with a big name publishing house.

Unlike publishers who have recently begun to “recruit” authors of fan fiction, only to discourage them from acknowledging their roots, Interlude Press was developed to honor both the creators of fan works as well as the gift culture they represent.

I just.

Okay, look. One of the things I often have to work especially hard to get my Sociology intro students to understand is that an n of you is not a representative sample of the population, and while your anecdote can serve as a datapoint, it’s by no means one upon which you should lean very heavily. That said: I’ve been active in various fandoms way longer than I’ve been getting paid to tell stories. My fandom identity and my writer identity enjoy a very slim separation, if any at all. I still write fic, and I’m very open about it. I’ve sold five novels, two novellas, and somewhere between 40 and 50 short stories. I’m a member of SFWA at the Active level. I’m very comfortable calling myself a professional writer.

Never in my own experience have I found my fandom affiliations  to be harmful or to block my way, nor has anyone else I know, at least not my knowledge. I’ve heard of publishers “recruiting” from fandom, though I don’t think that word really accurately describes those situations, and as far as I know it still happens rarely enough to be the exception rather than the rule, and if being “ignored” equates to not being “recruited” and that’s the problem at hand, guess what: would that being “recruited” happened to any of us. And there is an increasingly long list of successful authors who write original stuff and are very, very open about where they come from, as well as continuing to be active.

I’m not saying fandom getting in the way doesn’t happen. I’m saying that if it was a common thing, a trend that generally held true, I have to think I would have noticed by now.

This is not the first time I’ve seen a publishing house say something like this, and it’s never good when one does. They may very well be sincere in what they’re saying, but as far as my knowledge goes they’re also sincerely wrong, and this is not the first time I’ve run into this kind of misinformation being slung around regarding what’s involved in actually selling your book. It’s that misinformation that I want to focus on now.

People say “you need the right connections.” They say “you need the right profile.” And people also say that if you’re active in fandom, the mean prejudicial gatekeepers will lock you out, unless you write the next Fifty Shades, in which case come on in, but pretend it wasn’t fic before or something. Interlude is – though their language is not particularly strong – implying this, that the authors they’re working with would be largely unable to sell books elsewhere, despite their talent, because fandom.

People, I have some hard truth for you. If you’re in fandom and you’re shopping around a book, trying to break into the business, and people keep shutting doors on you, it’s not that you don’t have the right connections, it’s not that there’s some super secret publishing code word that you’re missing, and it’s almost certainly not that you’re in fandom. It’s that they don’t want what you’re selling.

I need to emphasize this: There is no big secret to getting published. There is no shadowy cabal of industry gatekeepers locking out the undesirables. If you want to become a professional writer, write good stories and submit them. If you write a great book, fandom will not hold you back. If you write a bad book – or at least, a book that publishers don’t think they can sell – no power in the ‘verse will help you. You also need to be clear on what sector of the industry you’re willing to count as “breaking in”; if you’re content with small presses, there are so damn many options that, if what you have is good, you can often find a publisher relatively quickly (say within a year or so). If you want to get picked up by one of the big NYC houses, guess what: It’s fucking hard for everyone.

You do not need one specific boutique publisher to realize your dream, and if that boutique publisher is suggesting that they’re one of the very few – if not the only – avenues that talented fandom authors have to professional publication, I would be highly skeptical of that claim.

I’m not suggesting that Interlude is lying. I am suggesting that they’re misrepresenting how publishing works. I’m not saying they’re doing that intentionally, but in my opinion that’s what they’re doing.

I realize that at this point it might seem like I’m going on and on about something that really isn’t a big deal, but Interlude represents something that I think we’ll be seeing more and more of, and even where fandom isn’t concerned, I’ve seen these claims floating around, and I don’t like it when authors buy into them, because all too often it results in them getting screwed over, by themselves or someone else or a combination of the two.

If you want to work with a publisher that’s specifically fandom-friendly, it sounds like Interlude might be a great fit for you, so I’d say follow your bliss, man (though I would seriously hold off to see if they’re for real). But if you’re convinced that you’ll never get published elsewhere because of fandom stigma or whatever and therefore have no other good options… Basically don’t think that way because by and large it just ain’t true.

The secret to getting published is to write a good book and submit it. That’s all. It’s not rocket magic. So do it however you want, but do not ever buy into the idea that there’s only one way.

One response to “One more thing about publishing and fandom in general

  1. An excellent warning, even outside new social media publishing ventures. But especially with social media because there seems to be an assumption that doing anything online can help a creative slip into paid work without going through what they see as the fuddy duddy establishment.

    The only way trying to become published via social media is still vanity publishing. Authors going through Interlude Press who want more than that will still end up joining the same road that every writer has to travel at some point. The “fandom” aspect plays no more role in a publisher’s decision than whether or not an author plays SIMS or Facebook games. Copyright claims affect any author, not just those who have had their text on livejournal before changing the names of the characters.

    So Interlude’s biggest selling point as a boutique publisher working with fan fiction only is rather moot, and I would be as wary of them as anyone who doesn’t disclose their actual credentials. Small time publishing is a lot harder than setting up a website and having a few friends or relatives in the industry. And the naive dotcom revolution concept of going after a “burgeoning market” (i.e. yet another social media hub) with no evidence beyond two published previous fan fiction authors withdraws from an already limited amount of credibility.

    I wish all fledgling publishers well, so long as their motives are solid and not based on seeing a profit in at least the first two years, but everyone in this business needs to look after their hard work and be prepared for the long haul. Having success online based off of an existing franchise has no relevance to publishing and will only set aspiring authors up for disappointment.

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