Gattis, Ryan

Ryan Gattis, Adjunct Professor of Creative Writing

The worst possible way to publish is to talk a great game and never write. We all know those people that want to be writers but don’t read, don’t write, don’t keep a notebook.

In general, the publishing model has changed so much. New avenues are opening every day. The internet has allowed writers for the first time in history to be able to quantify readership. Look at tracking numbers on a website, x amount of unique hits on a monthly/annual basis, translates to x amount of sales. That’s incredibly liberating and fascinating and exciting because in some sense it takes the power away from the publishers. So many people feel like they’re on the outside in. Editors and marketing are still needed, but authors have the ability to reach unique, niche readerships in a way they never had before. With those things in mind, the key is just to use the tools at hand, and it’s difficult because it puts a lot of pressure on what it means to be a 21st century writers because we no longer just write and then send it off to a publisher. Everything from Kindle to Twitter to Facebook gives prolific writers the ability to build a fan base. Stakes are higher, but rewards higher than ever. It’s up to writers to balance that, and it’s not easy. I am learning everyday, making mistakes everyday, failing in small ways everyday, but growing and learning. It’s something we need to learn how to do. Either that, or shell out money to a PR firm to market it for you. If there are tools at hand, why not use them?

Things are in a pretty intense period of transition. Publishers are going for new, new, new or guaranteed commodities. But self-published writers are going to the top of the bestsellers list. One of the best ideas is to learn more about Cory Doctorow. He has a website called Craphound, and what he does is so incredibly instructive. He talks about rights, how they work. He wrote a book called With a Little Help From my Friends, and what he’s done. He actually releases financial reports, shows how it works, shows how he’s making money from it. He’s really at the cutting edge right now and it’s worth being familiar with what he does and what he’s doing.

Publishers are useful for a lot of reasons. Primarily because they offer a stamp of approval, people are more likely to pick it up because it’s been screened and edited. It’s worth the paper it’s printed on. That metaphor is dying. Digital sales have surpassed paper sales. What are the new models? Self-publishing isn’t the way forward for everyone. Groups, artistic collectives, groups of writers who perhaps similar genres getting together, helping each other edit their books, which will provide that stamp for readers. I wonder if that’s the future. They use their skills to make each other successful. It seems to me that that is definitely something that can work. No one can create their perfect book in a vacuum. We need people to disagree with us in order to write the best work we can. All that’s needed is the stamp.

The delivery model is gone. Kindle has the Whispernet. The writer is closer to the reader than ever before. Potentially there’s already a model built in. Maybe the universities are doing something similar, doing workshops, helping each other edit, providing constructive criticisms, using this in a more professional way can form publishing houses. There are folks doing different things – website, writing, etc. It would potentially be extremely successful, but would require great deal of trust and loyalty. We’ve been bred for some time to be independent thinkers, but who knows? The power of the group, the power of the collective, and what that can accomplish, opposed to now. I’m interested in where we’re going and what’s going to happen. Now that we don’t have to pay for paper and binding and covers. Now it’s really just the content, taking the time to really sit and type something out.

Ideally, workshops in universities can provide a template and connect like minds. There’s respect there. Creative writing programs may become incubation chambers for these new publishing models. When that kind of power is used to deliver fiction, non-fiction whatever that’s going to really start changing the world in a really good way. Look at what’s come before. We might look back at the seven percent royalties as the dark ages. It’s time, because the days of the publisher owning 93 percent of your work are dead. It’s the power of numbers. Overtime, as they started doing team activities, they started doing projects together, and now they’re a bit of a brand in their own right. Use the power of the folks that are there. For too long, writers have been isolated, and it’s really time to reach out, forge bonds, and create something meaningful using the group theory as opposed to the individual theory. It’s going to take one group to really hit big and next thing you know, there will be copycats. That’s any industry. The Pixar model has totally changed a lot of the movie industry because it’s successful and because people are happy. I want to be happy, too. I want to feel like I’m helping at the same time. More positivity is needed. Workshops are a possibility to build bridges, to form lifelong partnerships, not an ego game. Workshops with tons of honesty and tons of criticism are good, but always with end goal of how do we make this better? I’ve seen it work. I want them to think about creating their own work, creating their own company, now’s the time, a period of great uncertainty, terrible profits, publishing companies folding; now’s the time to take risks and forge new things.

Two things:

I’m not my writing. My writing is words, and it’s always the best I can do in a given moment. A year later, two years later I’m going to look back and say could’ve done this better. Get rid of perfectionism, move forward, keep looking up. Not being perfectionist is the most liberating thing in the world. It let me go on to be published.
Emotionally, I had to learn to love myself and trust myself. For too long, I let people who hated everything I wrote run my life and my way of thinking. I definitely wish I knew that sooner. To learn to tune people out better and to learn to trust myself more. That’s something that can only come from experience. Those two things are pretty darn important.

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