The Bad Old Days: A Rebuttal to Keillor

A response to Garrison Keillor’s take on self-publishing.

I grew up not much different than any other author, whether traditionally published or indie published. I spent a lot of time with my nose in the books too. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, and Charlotte’s Web. I excelled in English classes in school–straight A’s & B’s in all my courses in fact.

Guess what, “I N3V3R WR0T3 LYK D1Z.”

In college I studied dance, but enjoyed writing too…

Mr. Keillor, you can act like you and your ilk are the only ones who have received approval and encouragement from a teacher you admired…but believe it or not, during that time two college professors had encouraged me to become a writer. And circumstance would result in my change my major, hang up my ballet slippers for good, and sit down at a typewriter–yes, Mr. Keillor, A typewriter, just like you.

I HATED carbon copies, I hated “white-out” even more. Every typo on any page of my precious manuscripts…and I had to white out and then realign it…or else type the whole damned page all over again. If you miss that…? Well, that labels your longing for the “good old days” pathetic.

Ah, the Bad Old Days…when I got my first acceptance letter from a small press that offered to publish one of the children’s books that I created with my sister, an artist. We were so excited, we danced for joy. Our dreams were realized. Then, two weeks later I received another letter saying that the publisher was going out of business. Our book would never be published due to someone else’s inability and/or finances to keep their business afloat.

The Bad Old Days, when I waited and waited…and received a $20.00 check for some poetry. The Bad Ole days when I had to practically sue an editor (whose magazine folded due to a lawsuit related to trademark infringement) for my contributors fees from the one and only issue.

The Bad Old Days, when if I wanted to self-publish (and yes, I could have even then) I would’ve had to pay over $2,000 to a printing press and/or book bindery; and store every single book in my garage. Then, I’d have had to find some way to sell them on my own.

The Bad Old Days, when writing a single page took FOREVER, because you had to keep replacing the typewriter ribbon, you had to use white-out and/or correction tape. Now a days, your works can just flow from your mind, to your fingers freely. I like that I can look up artwork that inspires me while I write, or listen to music…I couldn’t have done that with a manual typewriter.

In the Bad Old Days, one had to go to the post office, and mail out submissions and wait…and wait…and wait. Receive a rejection. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Until finally, somebody says yes.

And even then, that is no guarantee of success. Your book could fail to earn back its advance and a publisher could drop your title. And, when that happens most writers turn to self-publishing anyways to keep the titles in print.

If you really think all self-publishers only sell to 14 people, most of which are family, and that they only make $1.75 a year? You’re more senile than I thought, Pops. Even so, the statement itself mathematically contradicts itself.

My first months as a self-publisher I more than doubled what I ever received in contributors fees. My friends and family don’t read my genre, and consider my stories “too scary.” NONE of them own a kindle. And, I’ve made a nice little profit thus far. It’s all up from here, based on what I have seen others do. I can name 10 self-publishers off of the top of my head who have sold more copies then some traditional publishers. The world is changing. Publishing is changing. But, it’s not getting worse. It’s getting better.
Get with the program, Old Timer.

Hooray for the future! Hooray for technology giving us the ability to take matters into our own hands! The Bad Old Days. I sure do not miss it.

  • I thought the exact same thing when I read that article. He called it the good old days, and in my head I was replacing it with “the bad old days”. Nice to see someone else who thought the same thing! Does he even realize he came across as such a snob?

    • klcrumley

      Yeah, exactly. I hate his condescending use of the word “Children.”

  • All I can say to him is my first novella, self-published and priced at 99 cents has earned me over $2,000 on Kindle and is selling at a healthy pace still. So meh, no reason for me to wait in anybody else’s line. I love self-publishing and I love the possibility and the creative control.

    My new cover artist is almost finished with the Blood Lust redesign and I’m blown away by how talented she is. If I was traditionally published I could get stuck with an ugly cover that doesn’t even appeal to the demographic I’m going after. How is that helpful to me?

    The whole system is so screwed up. I can count on me. I can’t count on a trad publisher.

    • klcrumley

      Zoe, Your success has been both inspiring and encouraging.

      Regarding control & artwork, I completely agree! I basically made the same points in a discussion with a certain scifi illustrator, and he didn’t get it…

      He couldn’t comprehend why an author would want total control, and what good did we think we were doing ourselves by taking total control rather than relying on so-called “experts.”
      And, then he posed the arguments that it’s not important whether or not the author is happy with the cover art…

      (well I consider the source, since his illustrations have been mocked on bad cover art blogs).

      I’ve seen about 2-3 blogs from authors who were traditionally published, but HATED their cover art. So, after they went out of print they self-published it with art they were really happy with. Actually, two of these posts inspired my decision to self-publish.

      I’ve seen so many ugly TP covers (and lately they’ve taken a trend to be overly-bland), and so many awesome indie/sp covers…

      And, like you, I never wanted my books to go out of print.

      The “experts” get things wrong most of the time…and they drop the ball with some very good books IF they even accept them at all. Either by dropping them entirely, or leaving them to languish on the backlist.
      Unless your last name is King or Rowling, you are stuck doing the marketing yourself anyways.
      And, If I have to market myself…well then I might as well just indie publish. It’s a no-brainer. 😉

      • OMG. Why do so many people think the only thing a writer can do is write? It’s like they think we can’t even dress ourselves. I have a good eye for design. My problem is that I cannot IMPLEMENT it myself. I can LOOK at it and know if it’s right or not. I can know what’s wrong with it. I may not know how to fix it, but that’s why I hire an artist who is skilled. (And I don’t know if you’ve seen my new cover art on my blog yet, but it’s HOLY CRAP awesome sauce! Great cover artist.)

        LOL @consider the source. It seems like that issue of thinking you’re awesome when you suck can be said for art just like with writing.

        I’ve also noticed this tendency toward bland cover art in NY publishing. Samhain epublishing on the other hand, has covers that are ART. Angie Waters has some of the most amazing covers. And my artist, Robin Ludwig is phenomenal as well. A cover should POP, not be all like “blah blah I’m a book.” I mean WTF? I think NY publishers are all smoking crack with their marketing departments.

        I especially hate the parts of two faces smooshed together on a lot of NY covers lately. Where it’s basically just a photograph weirdly cropped to cover the whole front and then some text on there. How is that even art? It’s not. It’s just slapping some smooshed, cropped faces together. Dude, *I* can do that.

        I think the problem is that too many people are willing to consider other people authorities of their lives. Not me. You may know what you know, but you don’t know what’s best for me. And the fact that so many are willing to bow and scrape and allow other fallible human beings make decisions for them about their work is just… ugh.

        And totally agree on the having to market myself deal. I mean don’t “assign” me that work and then give me a crap royalty. I’m no publisher’s writing butt monkey.

  • I never wrote like that either. I think the people that will succeed at self-publishing are writers who, if given a proper opportunity (and exposure, and marketing, and distribution), would do extremely well if traditionally published. But they aren’t being published, or they want more control, or the publishers aren’t able to print every great book due to their margins, etc. That opportunity, exposure, marketing, and distribution, are being whittled away. Those things are tough to get even being traditionally published.

    The stats they release say that %7 of books traditionally published are the only ones making money. We see that. And if an author was going to be in the 7% with a traditional publisher… being a self publisher with a higher margin and retaining complete creative control isn’t a bad deal.

    Our works aren’t reliant on others. I certainly haven’t made much money on my books yet: I need to write more and get more exposed once they are polished. But even I’ve made more than $1.75.

    • klcrumley

      Well said, James!

      I agree. A good author can succeed regardless of publishing model he/she chooses. It becomes a matter of choice, and how much control you want…and what YOU want to do, as opposed to what others want to do with your book(s).

      I wouldn’t be able to do the things I’m doing in TP, and as I see it their plans (especially regarding ebooks) would hurt sales more than help.

      …I think we’re beating them at their own game in that regard.

  • James, that was pretty much how I saw it… if I could succeed in trad pub, then I could succeed in self-pub enough to make at least a small living over time. And I’d be in complete control and my entire backlist would stay in print. I could always pursue additional options, like subsidiary rights or book clubs or nontraditional sales outlets. SO many freedoms to expand and grow that I wouldn’t have in trad pub. Only way a NY pub could be remotely attractive to me is if they were going to make me rich. Otherwise they shouldn’t call. I’m happy where I’m at.