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A Reaction to Frank Daniels' Futureproof

There’s a fairly brutal take on Frank Daniels’ futureproof, which seems unnecessarily negative but brings up some questions about how self-publishing will possibly be regarded in the future. One of the reasons I’ve advocated self-publishing is because if the book does eventually get picked up by a mainstream publisher, it’s a story that can eventually be written about the book – self-published writer hits it big.

If you go from small press to large publisher, or self-publishing to small press, there’s less of a story there. And publisher’s like any way that can get a book press. But what can happen is the reaction in this piece to Frank Daniels’ book – people looking to find reasons of why a book was self-published to begin with. And when you look for those reasons, you’ll find them because every book is flawed in some way. The person writing this article obviously has a predisposition against self-publishing because the review says,

Self-publishing can be a faux-pas in literary circles. Collecting a healthy stack of rejection letters is generally accepted as a crucial step in improving one’s writing or, at the very least, a rite of passage. Atlanta-based author Sheri Joseph explains that with self-publishing, “We lose the editor, the publisher — all of these people reading and helping the book along.”

The argument for self-publishing is it does all those things: it finds actual readers, which is far more instructive about a book’s reach and promise than the opinion of one intern at an agency or publishing house reading through queries. What can happen though in this world of cynicism before appreciation is that people still doubt that the self-published book has merit, based on being self-published in the past:

Harper Collins certainly didn’t buy this thing as a book. What they bought was the unfinished story of how an aspiring novelist promoted his work online, and they provided the final chapter that makes it a tale worth telling: a book deal. It’s all clear in the additional “P.S.” material they decided to include at the end: nothing about the characters, nothing about the book’s style or technique, nothing about themes, nothing for reading groups to grapple with. That’s because this isn’t a book they want you to read, it’s just one they want you to buy.

The degree to which that is unfair is maddening – to the point where I almost don’t want to reprint it. It’s just one terrible review, but to target the book saying the only reason it got published was because it got self-published first is so incredibly off-base that I want to point it out. The book is powerful. It found readers who it spoke to, and Harper Collins thought that with more distribution it could find more readers. Certainly, self-publishing is part of the book’s story, but to say it only got published because of that is a grave oversimplification. Futureproof is one of the better books I’ve read about drug addiction. Period. A rival to Tony O’Neill’s Digging the Vein, who is this generation’s Burroughs, and who’s also published through Harper Collins’ P.S. imprint. Daniels is a great, concise, purely talented writer, who’s got a lot of books ahead of him if he was ever given the chance. And now, finally, he has.

This piece speaks to the basic problem with publishing: the idea that a book has to be a masterwork to be worthwhile. This is Frank Daniels’ first novel – no first novel should be put up to the kinds of standards that are put on first-time authors in this climate. If you can come away from reading futureproof without seeing that Frank Daniels is the real thing then you’re no judge of writing. And that’s how writing should be assessed – by the writer’s promise, not the perfection of one book. This reviewer’s argument is no different than publishers who look towards marketability before talent. Frank Daniels is clearly a powerful and gifted writer. Is futureproof perfect? No. Does it have to be? No. Is Frank Daniels a writer with a career to pay attention to? Yes. End of story.

  • Randall Radic

    I agree with you. It doesn’t matter WHY his novel got picked up by a big publishing house. It did. Which means it must have enough merit to stand on its own two feet as a story. The naysayers, in my opinion, are people who — because they are snobs — don’t like self-publishing, and who are jealous of anyone who gets published. Which means they are doubly jealous of N. Frank Daniels. Not only did he have the gall to self-publish (sinner!), but he had the talent to get noticed and picked up by a major publisher.

    WAY TO GO, FRANK!!

  • http://madpropstobakedpotatoes.com Brian

    Yeah I’m sure Harper Collins really wants to be known for putting out horrible books.

    These days, I’m of the opinion a first time author of moderate talent and decent self-marketing abilities should self-publish, anyway.

  • Steve Reynolds

    To be fair to Wyatt Williams, the bulk of what you take issue with here is not his review, but a deranged comment on the review by a reader of Creative Loafing (“Justin G”, who clearly has some kind of personal beef with Frank Daniels). I think Williams’ review was pretty reasonable, actually. I liked “Futureproof” (3 stars out of 5), but some parts of it are tedious and it’s mainly for the reasons Williams cites; a lack of structure and narrative drive, and some pretty banal language. It’s precisely the kind of work that would benefit from the editing process Sheri Joseph mentions. (Daniels did have plenty of early readers, but did he take any of their advice?) Still, one could make a similar critique of many books by big-name authors published by the majors, e.g. Booker-winner John Banville’s attempts at genre crime fiction; Paul Auster’s last two novels; J.G. Ballard’s most recent. They all seem to have abandoned the editorial process entirely. Daniels can hold is head high. His book isn’t perfect, but most first novels aren’t. By the same token, we don’t need to favourably compare it with Burroughs, Bukowski or Salinger (as some have done) to say it’s worth a look. Such hyperbole doesn’t help anything, least of all this book’s chances of finding a broad audience on its own terms. I think the tendency with self-published authors and their champions is to oversell, which only encourages the Justin Gs of the world to overreact against them.

  • http://www.kristentsetsi.com Kristen

    Steve -

    Can you define “over-selling”? (Serious question.)

    It is usually not the author who compares his or her own writing to that of past authors – it’s the reviewers and critics who do that.

    And I would argue that self-published authors have to do what you call “overselling” to get their work looked at seriously. Self-published writing has such a stigma attached to it that if a self-published author doesn’t “oversell,” the writing isn’t read. There’s no major publisher name giving it automatic credibility – the author has to do it him or herself.

  • Steve Reynolds

    Kristen –

    By “overselling” I mean overstating a book’s quality, historical significance, or the talent of its author. You’re right, it’s online reviewers who are doing this more than self-published authors (unless they’re posting about their own work under pseudonyms). But many of the early “reviewers” of a self-published title are obviously friends and family. Others are non-professionals (like me) with Amazon pages who are hand-picked by the author, sent a free book, and invited to review it. There is nothing wrong with an emerging author marketing in this way. How else are you going to get noticed? What I’ve noticed, however, is that the results tend to be way too positive. If a contacted reviewer hates the book or finds it average, they usually spare the author’s feelings and decline to post a review. I know this from chatting to reviewers on the Amazon Discussion Boards, and because on one occasion I did this myself when the book was simply unreadable. So most of the posted reviews naturally end up being positive. Some are genuinely enthusiastic and well-argued. Some are hyperbolic nonsense lacking any insight or critical perspective. Others make it clear the “reviewer” hasn’t even read the book but apparently feels obliged to do the author a favour! (I can give you plenty of examples, if you’re interested.) Compare the average star-rating and tone of the reviews of self-published titles at Amazon with those of regular titles. It’s not unusual to find a self-published title with 100% 5-star ratings. By comparison, Philip Roth’s Pulitzer-winner, “American Pastoral”, is relatively languishing on 3.5 stars. Based on average ratings and the tone of reviews, one could be forgiven for thinking the only good books are self-published ones. Not even the most ardent POD devotee would argue that. This kind of overselling by online reviewers doesn’t alleviate the stigma you say attaches to self-publishing. It actually reinforces the perception that it’s a cottage industry operating under different standards. I’m not criticizing self-published authors for self-promotion. You must do all that you can do. What I am saying, and what I was trying to say at the end of my previous comment, is that we shouldn’t be particularly disgusted or surprised when the welcome a formerly self-published title gets in the media by paid, professional reviewers isn’t anywhere near as rapturous as the amateur feedback it garnered online.

  • http://nfrankdaniels.wordpress.com N. Frank Daniels

    Steve,

    you need to listen to your inside voice and make sure it matches up with your outside one before you go poasting commentd and reviews all over the web. You make a point of saying that “we don’t need to …compare it with Burroughs, Bukowski or Salinger (as some have done) to say it’s worth a look ” while invoking overly-excited reviews lost in the throes of hyperbole, then in your own review of futureproof on Amazon (posted 6/27/2006) you make note of how the book would take “an Updike, a DeLillo or a Roth” to “pull it off.” Youre contradicting yourself. For you to defend the shitty review skills of Wyatt Williams is disgraceful, especially considering yourself a serious reviewer in light of that defense. The guy said my writing was ‘banal’ and as proof of that, quoted one statement from the book: “The acid is really fucking good.” There might be a multitude of bad writing out there, but there is no shortage of shitty reviewing either. Opinions are like assholes, right? I think the point here is being missed: no question that these books are held up to more scrutiny by certain people—so-called ‘critics’ more than anyone. I have no doubt that this book would have been received differently if it hadnt been hyped solely along these “came from myspace to find mainstream publishing success” lines. The true fans of this book could not give a fuck about that. Every single day I get emails from people just having discovered the book. Here’s one I got today:
    “…Your book really touched me on multiple levels. It helped me rethink what Atlanta means to me as well as my adolescence which I often feel like I have lost somehow, or perhaps more accurately, never fully experienced. Sometimes the pain of regret or lost opportunities throughout high school and college hits me hard when I think about these things. Like missed chances with women or why I didn`t do something else careerwise or why I didn`t try to live somewhere else…that sort of thing. I liked in Futureproof when Luke mentions something like how he thought of a thousand deferred possibilities all around him when he was in his apartment one day.

    I am glad you believed in yourself and worked hard to get Futureproof published. You have given a gift to many, many people. I believe healing and understanding come about through meaningful, shared stories. Our society needs more of them. There is just too much out there that suffocates the spirit and clenches the heart.”

    This is from someone I have never met. This is from a person who emailed me out of the blue. This is the only person I give a fuck about. Anybody knows that, like a eunach, a critic is someone who “has seen it done, knows how its supposed to work, but doesnt know how to do it himself.” So sorry if I sound pissy. But for a fucking Atlanta staple like Creative Loafing to stoop to such unjustifyiable levels to review my book OR ANYONE’S BOOK is unforgivable. It’s short shrift of the highest order.

  • Steve Reynolds

    My voices are well aligned, Frank, but thanks for your concern. The points I make about “Burroughs, Bukowski and Salinger” and “Updike, DeLillo and Roth” are quite different and not contradictory.

    In the first case, I was saying we don’t need to pretend you’re a Burroughs, a Bukowski or Salinger (which you’re not) to argue your book is worth reading (which it is). You’re Frank Daniels, and that’s enough. You have your own voice, your own style, and it clearly connects with some people. But they do you and your book a disservice if they carry on like you’re Jesus Christ with a laptop, because it encourages the kind of blowback you get from pissants like Justin G, and it diminishes the credibility of self-published work generally.

    The point I was making about Updike et al in my own review of “Futureproof” on Amazon was something else – which you’ll see if you go back and read it. I thought those Andersonville vignettes in “Futureproof” were great, and they made me think of an entirely different novel that could be made: one that would work up only that inspired seed, elaborate only that section to novel-length, and draw a comparison between the values of Civil War America and contemporary US culture. I thought it would be the kind of book Updike, DeLillo or Roth would do rather well, given their historical-cultural concerns. I was not saying only they could pull off the novel you actually wrote, which is a far more interior and personal work.

    I still think Wyatt Williams’ review was OK. Whether that additional paragraph of “evidence” was added later or just left off the original post as claimed by the Ed is really beside the point. It’s there now for all to see. And he does precisely what Harpers would have wanted him to do: sell the novel’s genesis, if not the novel itself. What do you care anyway? The kid writing you e-mail is apparently “the only person you give a fuck about”, so why does a mixed review from a “eunuch” on a third-rate city website cut so deep? Bear in mind that published reviewers get 500-600 words (at most) to make their case, and that’s usually to address TWO books, not one, so it’s unlikely you’re ever going to get a detailed literary-critical analysis anywhere online or in print. Within that limit, I think Williams covered the bases. That’s disgraceful of me? I stand disgraced.