Successful self-published crime writer Pete Morin vents his frustration with the treatment of indie authors at Crime Bake and other writers' conferences.
This past weekend, I attended my fourth New England Crime Bake, a small conference of about 350 writers of crime and mystery, co-sponsored by the New England chapter of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Like most conferences geared toward aspiring writers of any genre, Crime Bake focuses almost exclusively on helping writers go the traditional route. All of the author participants are traditionally published, and a dozen or so agents were on hand to find The Next Big Thing.
Besides the usual craft-centric panels (e.g., Anatomy of a Best Seller, Writing and Sustaining the Series Character, the Architecture of Murder), the big draw – and anxiety producer – for the majority of the aspiring authors was the “pitch fest,” that Waiting-for-Godot-like experience where you stand huddled in a crowded hallway until your time slot is called, and you spend 5 minutes trying to describe your novel to an agent who’s listening for one good opening sentence or you’re toast.
I did that pitch fest four years ago, and met Christine Witthohn, who has been my agent ever since. After failing to sell my first novel (Diary of a Small Fish), she encouraged me to self-publish, helped me with a launch plan, used my success with that to try to sell my second novel (Law & Disorder), and when the select group of two passed, encouraged me to self-publish that, too. I tell that story to many writers and agents, and they look at me funny. An agent who encourages her client to self-publish?
Anyway, so now at my fourth Crime Bake, having an agent and a first novel that’s done pretty well and garnered a lot of fine reviews, I felt like something of a veteran, unencumbered by the burdens of wishful thinking.
I met some new authors who were pitching for the first time, poor folks. I saw other authors I’d met at prior conferences, pitching their novels, yet again, this time after reworking both the pitch and the manuscript. How adorable and slightly depressing.
I also met a lot of authors like me. Authors who’d begun their journey seeking what we thought was a ticket to the Big Show, seen enough of the costumes along the way to realize it was all an elaborate circus production, and moved on to produce our own show.
We did not make that choice because we were rebelling against an industry that told us we weren’t yet good enough. We made the choice because we had confidence in our work, and we knew that rejection had nothing to do with talent, but with other things over which we have no control and have nothing to do with quality fiction.
A few weeks before the conference, I received (as a member of MWA) an email from the chapter President, informing me that those who’d had books published during the previous year were invited to submit their book cover, to be included in a big poster celebrating the publication of member novels. Covers of self-published novels were not eligible.
I sent a reply, asking why I should remain a member of an organization that couldn’t even throw a small bone to their self-published members. We’re not talking eligibility for one of their prestigious awards, mind you. Just the modest recognition that we, too, were authors of crime and mystery fiction. And dues paying members.
I received a polite, sympathetic reply. The organization is “too tied to traditional publishers” to be doing anything to recognize us. He had to “toe the company line.”
At the conference, I said hello to MWA’s membership director. She asked if I’d like to renew.
I demurred. Sooner or later, they’ll wise up.
If you think indie authors should be included in festivals, associations and other literary events, please sign our Open Up To Indie Authors petition at Change.org.
[…] Closed Gates At CrimeBake […]
I have read through some similar topics! However, your article gave me a very special impression, unlike other articles. I hope you continue to have valuable posts like this or more to share with everyone!
This whole piece was excellent, but one ‘graf, in my opinion, was a great summary of why authors are going the indie route:
“We did not make that choice because we were rebelling against an industry that told us we werenâ€™t yet good enough. We made the choice because we had confidence in our work, and we knew that rejection had nothing to do with talent, but with other things over which we have no control and have nothing to do with quality fiction.”
As one who jumped the fence from traditional publishing, I think you hit the nail a good one.
BTW, Private Eye Writers of America this year added a new category — Best Indie Novel — to its Shamus awards. They’ve invited comment from members on whether to continue it. Here’s hoping.
Thanks for letting us know how MWA feels about indies. I was debating joining.
The most depressing sentence of this whole post is perhaps this one:
“I received a polite, sympathetic reply. The organization is ‘too tied to traditional publishers’ to be doing anything to recognize us. He had to ‘toe the company line.'”
A writers’ organisation that feels more bound to “the company line” of traditional publishers than to acting in its members’ best interests? Wow. Even if I were still traditionally published, I would think twice about throwing my money at such an organisation. Certainly, big organisations are a bit slow to change, and if the board was filled with hardliners, it would perhaps be difficult to convince them that opening up to self-published authors would be in the best interest of all members. But, we have to “toe the company line”?!?!?! Goodness…
[…] Closed Gates at Crime Fest by Pete Morin […]
I’ve printed this bit out in big letters and stuck it on my wall. “We did not make that choice because we were rebelling against an industry that told us we werenâ€™t yet good enough. We made the choice because we had confidence in our work, and we knew that rejection had nothing to do with talent, but with other things over which we have no control and have nothing to do with quality fiction.” Pete, you always manage to say succinctly what I struggle to articulate. Thanks for this post.
And of course we have just learned that the International Thriller Writers Association has opened up to considering SP books, which is very cool.
For a conference that HAS opened up to indies, crime writers can apply to be on a panel at UK Bristol Crimefest in the form below
What “a line” you have to “toe”. Things will change, of course, but it’s always sad to hear these things.
Well, Dan… it was a little awkward, because, you see, one of my traditionally published friends (and a multi-bestseller, at that) was looking on.
There was me squaring up for some controversy, but I couldn’t agree more with all of this.
That said, whilst I love the truncated “I don’t need to spell it out” ending, I really *do* want to know what you said to her. Or at the very least what you used to peel your eyerow off the ceiling
Kudos for You Pete: The last thing we need in this rough and tough industry is a self appointed group of nose-in-air snobs. Thanks for standing your ground for dedicated Indie authors and self-publishers.
Best of success…
Thank you, Warren. In all honesty, the folks at Crime Bake are lovely folks – they’re just… misguided.
Well said, Pete. Looking forward to reading your book.
Thank you, Joni. Feel free to spout off about it, good or bad.
Excellent post, Pete.
It’s so disheartening to be faced with a group of people happy to indulge in a spot of navel gazing. As independent authors we’re at the sharp end of a revolution that is changing the face of publishing. Many people find change threatening and fear it. It’s fear that’s causing them to circle their wagons against Indies.
However, I’m seeing a see-change in attitudes particularly in the romance genre where authors who were traditionally published and indies are working collaboratively, which is helping their work become visible to readers. While certain factions in traditional publishing are mulling over the way forward indies are not hanging around waiting for recognition. They are talking directly to readers, organising their global business and trying new things. By working collectively and behaving inclusively and with a generosity of spirit, we’ll kill them with kindness and they’ll have no choice but to let us in or appear very foolish.
Perhaps the day will come, sooner rather than later, when the membership director of the MWA will ask you to speak at a conference to share your journey to publication.
Can you tell I’m an optimist?
An indelible one at that!
Self-pubbers are too kind – we let anyone in.
We feel sorry for those dumped by a publisher, dropped by an agent, having to come around and learn the other way because the way they were isn’t working any more.
Which is as it should be – we don’t control self-publishing.
I just wish they hadn’t been so scared and unwelcoming before that.
Well said, Pete. The writing life and a writing career are not easy choices for most of us. It seems counter-productive to me that we war among ourselves as well. As a long time MWA member (and most other professional writing organizations), I’m sorry that we aren’t supporting each other more effectively now and hopeful that we will do so very soon. For all our sakes.
It’s only a matter of time, Diane. At least I hope so.
I’m so grateful the trailblazers – like you – have already done most of the hard work.
When I finish – and I do know what that means – I won’t have to do the slog of years through agents and slush piles. I tried that part with my first novel – to the happy ‘send us your next’ point.
I don’t think there’s any less work going traditional – just less control. I might as well have the control.
I’m no trailblazer, Alicia, the waters were well parted shortly after I got started.
Now DAN HOLLOWAY, there’s a trailblazer!
Thanks for the link to the petition – I wasn’t aware it was out there!
Through our Open Up To Indies Campaign, we are making links with some of the larger Associations like the Romantic Novelists Association. Organisations that close themselves off to author-publishers are cutting out some of the most dynamic, hardworking and forward thinking writers today.If you agree, please sign our petition here: http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/open-up-to-indie-authors. And let your author friends know about it with a quick email. It’s time to open up!
None of us can be certain of the future course of publishing, however, as with every other industry, if its current aristocracy fails to embrace modern technology and the paradigms of the new publishing democracy then they will eventually be left out in the cold. They will be the ones blocked from active participation at book festivals through lack of perceived or acknowledged relevance by the new wave that they are still desperately trying to strangle. A good blog Author Pete Morin. Authors have been freed from shackles imposed by antiquated systems and a privileged elite, through having a direct root to the market and the customer. I call that socially beneficial progress.
And so say all of us, Richard!