September 22, 2011

The Reader Revolts

by Rolynn Anderson

I’m still absorbing what I heard at the Cuesta College Writer’s Conference last weekend. One of our keynote speakers was SMASHWORD’S Mark Coker. I was lucky enough to hear him speak on four different occasions during the two-day event, and I’m still revved up about his plan to give power to the reader.

Now, I grew up during the feminist movement with Gloria Steinem and other brave women guiding me; in the end of my career I served as the first female high school principal in a school district. Yes, I’ve been in the thick of an important revolution. But it looks like I get to be involved in yet, one more BIG upending, and I think this one will be a wild, fun ride.

Mark Coker and his wife tried, with all their might, to get the major publishers to buy a book they’d written, called BOOB TUBE. Frustrated when their efforts were stymied at every stage of the process (we know how that feels), he developed SMASHWORDS, a quick and easy way to get any text (any genre, any length) out to the readers. In other words, Coker’s view is that the reader has a right to choose what she wants to read, and she doesn’t need a gatekeeper (like the big six publishers) to determine what “good” is.

We all know the sad stories of rejection, THE HELP, being the most recent anecdote. Supposedly, Kathryn Stockett was refused sixty times before she was picked up by one of the big six. Imagine how many great stories like THE HELP will never reach the hands of readers because of publishing house quotas.

I’ve worked hard to craft good stories. Religiously, I ‘followed the process,’ pitching my finished novels to agents as well as to big and small publishers. Queries, contests, synopses, ten pages, three chapters, fifty pages…on and on…I submitted constantly! Eight novels and eight years later, I was about to give up when Wild Rose Press, a great ‘small’ publishing company gave me the nod. Sure, I’m happy I’ve been accepted, but many wonderful writers don’t have my thick skin and my persistence. Will their great stories ever be matched with readers? Without the opportunities offered by people like Mark Coker, I don’t think so.

Power to the readers, I say. Readers know the kinds of stories they like and they are perfectly capable of determining quality. I’m celebrating Mark Coker’s vision to eliminate gatekeepers and allow readers the right to choose.

by Rolynn Anderson

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Sarah Grimm said...

Welcome to the Keyboard, Rolynn! Readers are a smart lot, aren't they?

Debra St. John said...

Hi Sarah and Rolynn,

I am all aboard for 'small' presses like TWRP. My persistance paid off when I was offered a contract with them several years ago. Now three full lengths, an upcoming novella, and another full mss under consideration, I haven't looked back.

Smaller presses also offer greater longevity than some of the bigger houses. I'm still getting royalties on the book I published four years ago, which means the readers are still buying it!


Christine Warner said...

Nice post. It does make you wonder how many wonderful stories have been missed because the writer didn't have the thick skin to stick it out and keep pursuing their dreams. Rejection is a hard pill to swallow, for sure. I subbed my story with TWRP and was contracted as well. They are a great company and I know they'll be a force to be reckoned with as they continue to grow and find loyal readers. Thanks for your post...enjoyed it.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks for your comments, Sarah, Debra and Christine. Debra, your point about the longevity of our books makes me smile. In jest, I've chosen "She Wasn't Finished" as my tombstone statement. If my stories carry on through time...perfect! As for thick skins, Christine...I think most writers are full of self-doubt about their writing, no matter how 'tough' they are in their day jobs. It's tricky to push our stories out there when we're worried that we could have made them better.

Calisa Rhose said...

What an inspiring post Rolynn. Thank you for that insight!

Rolynn Anderson said...

Thanks, Calisa. I love being in the middle of an imbroglio (and I'm really happy to have the chance to use that word )!

Anonymous said...

You're so right, Rolynn. I'm so tired of publishers telling us what we want to read--this genre is in, that genre is out. They're usually behind the curve anyway!