Gentlemen, Start Your Photocopiers Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2014-01-26 15:00:00 No comments


OK, time for a new wrinkle on an old complaint.

I've written before about how one of the most consistent disappointments I have with self-publishing is seeing people work really, really hard to do nothing more than recapitulate what's already out there. Instead of trying to do the things that conventional publishing won't do because it has no idea how to market such material, the self-published crowd too often falls back on doing the things that everyone else is doing, just in highly miniature form. Hence the floods of self-pubbed paranormal romance, warmed-over space opera, dark teen fantasy, and so on.

If I sound like I'm being critical of people's tastes, it's not because I think those books shouldn't be written. Such material will find an audience in any market. It's that I think a big part of the point of not going through the apparatus of conventional publishing is to avoid repeating all its most obvious gestures -- to do something new.

But having seen so much of what self-publishing produces has forced me to draw another conclusion: self-publishing makes it too easy to believe you don't have to create anything new. If you look around and see everyone else pumping out such things -- and some of them even making money doing so -- doesn't that give you even less incentive to fire off some wild moonshot of your own?

For a long time now I've held a thesis that when you are surrounded with nothing but a particular kind of cultural artifact, you fall back on a series of default assumptions: a) this is all there is, b) this is all there ever needs to be, c) this and only this is what people want, and d) this is what I ought to be producing because it would be foolish to do anything else.

Self-publishing doesn't by itself destroy or offset any of these delusions. If anything, it has only made it possible to be even more thoroughly afflicted by them. It's easier than ever now to build your own one-person cultural echo chamber, and that's not what indie artist of any stripe should be doing.

OK, I amend that: it's not what artists, period, should be doing. But it happens anyway, and it's too easy for it to go uncorrected. I have known far too many visual artists who have never set foot in a museum (and who claim they don't need to because they can just look at pictures of paintings -- as if a museum were nothing but an art warehouse), far too many musicians who have never listened to anything older than even half their age, far too many writers who have never opened a non-fiction book let alone something not written in the genre they're producing.

In short, I know too many creators who seem to think the point of being what they are is to become an efficient reproducer -- or reducer -- of whatever they're nearest to, culturally, because that's the fastest road to getting rewarded for what they do. The idea of the work itself being the reward ... not so much.

Whatta revoltin' development.


Tags: creativity creators culture self-publishing writing