Orna Ross, the Pudding Would Like a Word — @Porter_Anderson

The recipe I've found for Yorkshire Pudding calls for "four fresh eggs." Have you ever wondered why recipes always specify "fresh?" Would anyone knowingly go for four stale eggs? Never mind. Not the point of our time together here.

No, the point of our time together here is to bring you a trying incident I encountered a bit over a week ago during BookExpo America in New York City. This link is to the Epilogger I created for my coverage of the event, should you like to review the big trade show's 47,000+ tweets.

Orna Ross, chief of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), included me (and some flattering words) in her story on the ALLi site, Indie Authors and Book Expo America. She wrote:

The global-conference-trotting Porter Anderson, who always has his finger on the pulse, was on hand...and we had one of our friendly spats as we watched the action unfold. Porter, who writes not one but two excellent industry analysis blogs, is one who is concerned about self-publishing flooding the market with "amateur" work. I on the other hand delighted to see these six very different writers come together, not so much to promote their own books -- though that too of course -- but also to say “look at us, we are here, ask us how we did it...”

But there's a line missing. When Ross published her piece, she also wrote:

Porter...is one of those who holds the wish that this self-publishing lark would just stop.

A day later, that line had disappeared. Which is good. I asked about it. Ross wrote to me in a tweet "Yes. Felt I'd over egged the pudding. Written on the fly. You OK with it?"

You are reading my response to her now.

I do not, of course, hold the wish that this self-publishing "lark" would just stop. And to be clear, self-publishing is no lark. It probably is, in fact, the sharpest edge of the dynamic that will, in ten years' time, have completely reshaped publishing. 

This glancing blow appears to have lived on the official ALLi site for perhaps as long as 24 hours before it was quietly removed. Those who already had seen Ross' post, of course, are left with that erroneous statement in their minds.

Even after removing the line, Ross has imposed a bad juxtaposition, making it appear that something I'd said about amateurs relates in any way (it does not) to the six best-selling entrepreneurial authors who together took Booth 966 at BEA. These authors, whom I now hashtag as our #Indie6, have more than eight million book sales between them. And my unrelated comment to Ross about amateurism was based on the fact that the writings of novices these days are deluging both self-publishing and traditional publishing, alike.

Ross might have missed my Writing on the Ether: The Indies Are Coming to BEA!  at JaneFriedman.com in which I previewed these six authors' plan to create Booth 966. She may also have missed my follow-up at Publishing Perspectives, in which I again held up our self-publishing authors for managing to outdo BEA, which had no AuthorLounge powered by Authoright for our writing community as Earls Court had. That one is headlined Ether for Authors: How London Beat BEA’s Pants Off.

But had she asked any of the six authors who were at Booth 966—Bella AndreStephanie BondTina FolsomBarbara FreethyHugh Howey, and CJ Lyons—about my position on self-publishing, I think she would have come away with a happier impression. In fact, if she'd asked ALLi's own Joanna Penn or Roz Morris or Mick Rooney or Ben Galley or Dan Holloway, I like to think she'd have heard something different.

Few of us can allow falsehoods about us to stand uncorrected, especially when placed on the official pages of an organization by its leadership. 

But what's important in incidents like this is for all of us to remember that our words, our expressions of opinion, can be hurtful, wrong, unfair, damaging. It's incumbent upon us to be careful.

A tip from the long-lost arts of journalism: None of us knows what another is thinking, feeling, believing, or wishing. A good journalist never writes, "The police believe the Pudding was one egg short of a true Yorkshire." Instead, he writes, "The police say they believe the eggs were not fresh but stale."

Had Ross taken a moment to write, "Porter says he wishes this self-publishing lark would just stop," she might have realized that she'd never heard the Pudding say any such thing.

By sterling comparison, here from Ross' own group is ALLi member Roz Morris, author of that rarest of reads, a self-published work of literary fiction, My Memories of a Future Life. She is a best-seller in her own right as a ghost-writer and a highly regarded teacher of writing craft, with two books, Nail Your Novel and Nail Your Novel: Bring Characters to Life. And she has a forthcoming novel—literary again—Life Form Three. Her NailYourNovel.com has been named by ALLi a Top Website for Self-Publishers.

In Strength in Numbers: How ALLi Members Are Changing Minds about Indie Publishing, Morris includes the ironic subhead "Setting the Record Straight," precisely what your faithful Pudding is doing here.

Writing of what she calls "the power of ALLi," Morris tells us:

We can make sure issues are discussed sensibly and in a balanced way. We can show where authors are struggling, even though the world is brave and new. We are all part of a publishing industry, and we need it to thrive so that we can continue to make books and have places to sell them. By speaking up when we see these misconceptions, we can contribute knowledgeably and usefully to its evolution.

Compare that to Ross' comments, written after she and I ran into each other at a joint signing at BEA by those sixself-publishing authors. Never mind that I was also in London with her group as she and Morris and Galley and Lyons and Rooney and Holloway and one of those "Indie Bestsellers," Lyons, launched ALLi's book in April at the London Book Fair. I wrote up the launch of ALLi's Choosing a Self-Publishing Service 2013 as part of my London on the Ether (Part 2) column for The Bookseller in April, as a matter of fact.

The Pudd—like others who work daily to cover and analyze the industry! the industry!—seems damned if he does and damned if he doesn't, no?

It's okay. The Pudding is bearing up. It's the discourse we need to consider.

Let's end this in the fresher air of the sea.

You know the phrase "loose cannon." I'm intrigued to read, in phrases.org.uk's discussion of the term, this line: "As with many nautical phrases, the use of 'loose cannon' owes something to the imagination as no evidence has come to light to indicate that the phrase was used by sailors in the days that ships actually carried cannon."

Authentic to its era or not, we all know that the proverbial "loose cannon" fires off in all directions, slamming unintentional insult and injury at targets undeserving. A loose cannon is precisely what you don't want heading up an organization which has the important chance, as Morris writes, to enable and demonstrate "the diversity of our expertise and talents—both to publishing folk and to readers." 

Because Ross didn't egg a side dish. She egged a person.

The proof is in the Pudding.                       


Indie authors are meeting industry standards

As an indie author, it pleases me to see you hold the indie six in such high regard. I am full of admiration of their tireless efforts, too.  But their success didn’t happen overnight. They worked extremely hard so they could sit back and enjoy their success. 

And while I agree there is a rake of amateur work being published, is it not a little short sighted to hold up just six people in the entire world as examples of good self published work? I could ream off a list of authors who treat writing as a professional business and produce real quality work.  I am one of those business oriented authors, and I wouldn’t expect a reader to pay for a product I’m not prepared to stand over. I have an editor and a book cover designer. I use beta readers.  I edit and then edit some more until I’m sick of the sight of my manuscript. So far, I’m doing everything a traditionally published author is. I'm meeting industry standards.Then there’s the other stuff. While I’m writing I’m promoting my latest work, writing for my blog, figuring out new ways to market author me and my product, emailing reviewers asking if they would like to review my work, answering fan emails and building the pyramids.

Okay, so I’m not actually doing the last one.  But sometimes I feel like I’m dragging a heavy block behind me as I battle to convince the world that they should try my book. It’s particularly difficult to convince the heavy hitters within the industry to open their doors to indie authors. They only seem to notice when sales have hit the millions or when an author has picked up a lucrative print book deal. 

The London Book Fair was a great place for indie authors but I encountered some negativity when I ventured past the walls of the Author Lounge.  I was taken aback by the initial excitement followed by extreme apathy I received when I revealed to the people at the stands that I was a self published author.  Is that because of the negative perceptions that continue to surround the idea of self publishing? I have read terrible books that have been produced through traditional channels. Should I say that traditionally published books are not of good quality? Of course they are. But there are stinkers in the pile, just like there are stinkers in self publishing. Indie authors that are serious about the business are trying to distance themselves from those particularly amateurish books, the ones that perhaps should have been given to families and friends.  It would be great if the industry noticed their efforts.

But given all of the difficulty indie authors face, why do some of us keep going in the face of such adversity? Because we believe that what we are doing is worthwhile. It’s time for the industry to take a closer look at the quality that is being produced rather than simply focusing on the negative label associated with self publishing.

Or maybe not. Without it, would we be having such a debatable discussion?


My what a storm in a teacup

seanyeageradv's picture


Compared to the recent flamings of all self published works that have been vented by people with some kind of axe to grind I fail to see what the fuss is about. A deleted sentence. Surely there is a clue in there?

Compared to some 'real journalism' I've seen of late quoting statistics alongside vitriolic exaggerations and generalisations, this really is a storm in a teacup.

For what it's worth, I believe that all authors should seek to own their book rights full stop. That is capitalism, the creator of the asset owning the asset. What we have with traditional publising is more akin to something completely different. It was called slavery.

Quality, merits of works etc we can debate until the cows come home. And for both traditionally published and independent titles where it should be considered equally. I mean - a biography from an 18 year old? Another cooking book from someone on TV? Soft porn pretending to be literature? And so on. 

Surely that is a debate or three worth having?





"A debate or three"

Porter Anderson - @Porter_Anderson's picture

Hey, Sean,

Thanks for reading and commenting. You said it, so many issues these days, so little time. I think you might be referring to the Guardian piece today from Alison Flood in which Profile's MD Andrew Franklin is quoted (from his The Literary Consultancy commentary) along with new Bowker Market Research figures, yes?

If you haven't seen it, do check The Bookseller's report today on comments from the Society of Authors' president-elect Philip Pullman on author revenue from library ebook loans. In letters to Bloomsbury and Random House, Society president Nicola Solomon has "called for future publishing contracts to state clearly what rights were being granted and what rate was to be applied to licences for e-book lending, and that any models for e-lending should renumerate authors per loan as well as for the initial licensing of the e-book...Solomon also called for an author's receipts from e-book lending to equate to the total earnings the author would have received on a physical copy over its lifetime through both royalties and PLR on every loan."

Another potential debate right there. Never a dull moment, as you say. 

Thanks again,
On Twitter, @Porter_Anderson

Gosh Porter, I am surprised

Gosh Porter, I am surprised that my small summation of our conversation has so upset you. It was not my intention to "egg" your position, never mind your person -- and I don't believe I did, actually.

Porter, as I said that day we chatted at BEA's Bestselling Indies Booth 966, I understand the trade's, and your, concern about the deluge of poor quality books and the amateurism that come with the self-publishing phenomenon. But from my perspective -- that of somebody who used to run a writing school, and teach Creative and Imaginative Practice to marginalised communities, and now runs the Alliance -- amateurism is very much a side issue. Of concern to the publishing industry but less so to readers, and wider society.

To me, in a world where so many voices are stifled, the democratisation of publishing is something to be delighted in, not decried.  While working to encourage indie excellence, I simultaneously welcome the publication of any book -- even one that is poorly produced, or written by somebody with poor literary, or indeed literacy, skills -- that has a potentially empowering effect on the writer, their sense of self, and self-worth

Success in writing and publishing takes many forms and isn't only about selling a million or producing a literary masterpiece. But where it is, today's amateur is tomorrow's professional.  This is why I doubly welcomed the success of the indie bestseller writers at BEA -- not only for itself, but also for the permission and encouragement it gave others. As their badges said: "Ask me how…"

This generosity and sharing of what is practical and possible is, as noted in Dr Alison Baverstock's recent research into self-publishing, typical of the indie author community. It's all part of the current flowering of creativity in our community and in the wider world.

All this differs, I know, from mainstream publishing's perspective and from the opinions you expressed in our conversation at BEA about self-publishing, amateurism, writing courses and book discoverability. Those opinions were noteworthy to me that day precisely because they differed from anything I'd heard you express before.

Now, almost two weeks on, I still feel either sentence in my blog post -- the original or the altered one -- is a fair summation of what was said. I changed the sentence not because I felt it was inaccurate but because I am, as the post says, an admirer of your work and was trying to be uber-fair, the same reason I asked if you were okay with it.  I didn't want to take that one conversation as representative if it was not. That is what I meant by over-egging the pudding. 

But that's not to say I don't understand and respect that perspective, though it differs from my own, and happy, then or now, to clarify and tease out the debate, in private or public.

I hope this public clarification of our positions may be useful in some way to the community of readers and writers that we both work hard to serve. 

Thanks for this gracious comeback, Orna

Porter Anderson - @Porter_Anderson's picture

Hello, Orna, 

I respect and appreciate the perspective you're offering here, and I like the thoughtful and careful explication of it you're making.

Thank you for that -- it's not an easy thing to do, as I well know, and I admire your care here.

If anything, this fine way of taking what you felt you had heard from me and explaining how it triggers its responses in you (I'm thinking of, especially, this question of the place of amateurism) is precisely the kind of thing I think we all need to do as fully as you're doing here.

This was my point. 

The "small summation" is probably not our friend, however well intended. And no, neither you nor any of us gets up in the morning determined to throw off an incorrect impression of something someone has said. We can all fall prey to the temptation and pitfalls of that small summation.

I'd actually like to examine more fully in some setting the question of how the needs of our quickly changing industry stand next to -- as you point out -- the inherently salutary elements of a more "democratized" context for personal expression. I do think there are points at which difficult pressures are brought to bear on a publishing world groaning with so much material at the very moment its structures are being transformed. But, of course, no one would say that the basic right of self-expression or the chance for a creative person to find his or her way to a professional career in writing is anything but good. I think the dilemma is a sophisticated and challenging one and well worth further study and exchange. Maybe we can look for a chance to examine this on a conference panel or workshop someday?

The bind in which I found myself when I saw your post was not as limited to my own experience as it might seem. One of the effects of that "democratization" is that we all -- and I include myself here, of course -- can so easily drop a line, a phrase, a quick observation that can skew others' impression of our work. We have such easy and quick access to our many means of self-expression these days that I think we're all needing to learn how to handle it. As the proverbial gatekeepers recede, any of us can haul off (as you mentioned, writing on the fly) with something less considered than it might have been. For example, in my Ether post today at Publishing Perspectives, I'm dealing with some of the "charged words" (this is how we refer to them in one newsroom I've worked) that are too easily deployed in haste or emotion. Did someone "refuse" to comment? Or just "decline" to comment? The easier, more charged choice is "refuse." But it's so frequently the wrong choice because it implies hostility, negativity.

Chalk this up to my bad memory, but for the life of me, I can't even recall us touching at BEA on the wide range of issues you mention here in your good comment. Honestly, it sounds like a great conversation! We were, of course, dancing around the camera crew that was working with the "Indie Bestsellers" we'd both arrived to congratulate as they signed books. My dismay reflected your "small summation's" idea that the self-publishing progress we were both witnessing was something that I considered a "lark" that should end. Which is not the case, enough said on that.

What we must come to, of course, is the agreement to disagree. And yes, I happily join you in a willingness to "clarify and tease out" more thoroughly these topics in the future.

To my point, such communication will beat the fast characterization every time.

I'm particularly glad you mention the community of readers and writers whom we both work hard to serve," in that I recognize your service and your intention. Surely it's at that level, not as a disagreement (however cordial) between the two of us, that we both want to operate.

The success here, for me, is the fact that we're able to come to the table offered by The FutureBook and lay out our respective views of this -- for me, a question of how we all talk about each other in a strained business, and for you -- as I get it -- a question of our comparative valuation of what is under stress. Surely it's the small summations we want to avoid. It's the sharing of the views without quick characterization of them that means the most, whether we ever see eye to eye on some points or not.

Thank you again for your substantive and helpful comment. For my part, this exchange has been useful and instructive. 


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