Archive for publishing

Writing vs. Music: Labels and Publishers

Posted in Rumination with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 11, 2010 by scottsplatter

Since making writing a serious focus, I have tried to find parallels between small press publishers and underground record labels. Chances are if you’re reading this it’s because you found the site via my own music or because of something I released on Crionic Mind. I understand underground music and labels pretty well I think, so I keep hoping that familiarity will assist in finding a foothold in the publishing world.

There are similarities in the spirit of both worlds, but the machinations really are pretty different. This will be the first of a couple posts looking at those differences. The more I look into it the greater the differences become.  The soul of the participants share common ground but the approach and relationships are unique.

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Underground music for this discussion refers to experimental music, dark ambient, lesser known metal, punk, industrial etc. Music that is released by small labels that operate out of the corner of the labels owners house. Limited edition releases that end up somewhere near the high/low mark of 1,000 copies,  There are publishing companies that fit this description as well, good ones.

Underground music functions more or less on a barter economy. Labels and distributors trade merchandise more often than not rather than buying from each other at wholesale rates. This allows each to diversify their mail orders while being able to put any real money into releasing new product. Bands or projects are usually paid in product that they can then sell. There are exceptions, but much of the music is obscure enough, and the pressings small enough, that a royalty arrangement is essentially agreeing to do it for free.

If you aren’t familiar with my music and found this through a tag search, there is a discography in the side bar. I never signed a contract, never received a check for any of it. I received product. This worked for me because with running the label I was able to convert my releases into other releases and build a nice mail order catalog (that I will get online again at some point). The bands I did releases for –  I would take care of the artwork and mastering if they wanted, but I paid them in product. No one even raised the issue of money because we all knew how it worked.

I’ve been releasing music since 1995, and recording it longer than that. What did I get out of this model? Reviews, contacts, interviews and friends on every continent but Antarctica. It helped me build a record label that  garnered some amount of respect, had an identity and supported itself. It put me in touch with people who remain friends and inspirations and people who I think might say the same about me. Those things have a value,  but none of them pay my bills. For what I do soundtracks are perhaps the one area that could be lucrative, even then there are a lot of variables.

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I’ve not yet published anything, in fact I have not yet submitted anything, though that time is near.  These impressions are based on the extensive research, market reports, submission guidelines, classes and the advice and comments of those who have.

With publishing, the battle cry is that the money flows to the author. If you publish something you aren’t paid for it’s seen as an invalid writing credit by many. If you self publish, it’s viewed with scorn and can work against you when you submit through the established channels. The editors and publishing houses have determined the chain of worth. It counts if they say it counts.

Print on demand services and e-publishing  have made it easier than ever to self publish, just as affordable home recording software, mp3’s and cdr’s made it easier to make and spread music. The distaste for self publishing comes from the amount of sub par writing that surfaces there. There is so much garbage that the gems are not worth the energy it takes to find them. However, I’ve read books published by reputable houses that contained work I’d have been embarrassed to show anyone. It’s not that published work is better, just that it is more likely to be better.

There is a saying, the hardest book to sell is your second book. Publishers will take a chance on new writers, but once you are published your track record is established. If you aren’t able to sell through your first pressing, your opportunities become more limited. Other publishers have access to the sales numbers for books published by other houses. Not only are your chances diminished with your original publisher if you don’t sell through, they are hurt with prospective publishers. This is with marketing budgets nearly non-existent in the small press world and the responsibility falling to the writer to hustle their work.

Joe Konrath, has a blog called A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing that makes a case for ignoring some of this conventional wisdom and ways to get the money flowing to the author without filtering it through the publishing houses. Paul Jessup had a nice bit of musing on the state of publishing recently on his blog as well. The model is going to change because the tools exist now in such a way that it will have no choice. There will always be garbage on the market, but the time will come when it is the market that determines what is garbage and what is not.

R. Thomas Riley has a post on the Apex Books blog regarding the differences between writing and publishing which I think is a good place to wind this down. This is incomplete, and maybe even ignorant. I wrote it for myself as much as anyone else. Having had success, at least as I measure it, with music and exploring this new parallel underground is an odd thing. There are more rules and more divides. Right now my goal is to write well. I will try to publish. Whether I am successful at that end of it or not I will still try to write well.

To be continued…

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the lay of the land

Posted in Rumination with tags , , , on July 2, 2009 by scottsplatter

I think there are a lot of parallels with regards underground music and the small press “genre” publishers out there.  From the networking style, to the niche genres and sub genres, to the small zines and ezines and bedroom enterprises, the similarities are there. Both try to focus on the overlooked and under appreciated and both contain genuine pools of genius that the rest of the world is too narrowly focused to notice. Small Press publishers also like special, limited editions  that are such a hook for record collectors… I could go on.

So researching all of this and checking out the publisher sites, magazine sites, and going through the listings on places like Ralan.com and Duotrope.com has been pretty interesting. The mentality is familiar and comfortable to me, and in most cases, as far as I can tell, it is passion above all else that is driving the small publishers to do their thing.

It’s odd staring down such a familiar path once again and not being sure if it leads anywhere. Publishing is not my first concern, just as getting a record out wasn’t when I started messing around with music, but as the work piles up you inevitably start to wonder what to do with it. I’m trying to get the lay of the land now in hopes of being somewhat prepared  when the time comes. The tales of rejection slip piles among even the most established writers are the things if legend. I don’t fear that, at least not yet.

I think the thing right now that seems the most obscure is the readership and how they discover new writers. With music it was relatively easy to see the patterns and habits, but with writing it’s not as clear to me.   That’s the question I am still trying to get a handle on.

As I come across writers or books I like I’ll try and give them a plug here as I did recently with Thomas Ligotti. Word of mouth is still one of the most potent forms of promotion I think, so stay tuned.