Okay, here we go, as promised, Sherwood Smith’s guest post! This one offers some historical perspective about self-publishing, which you will not find surprising if you follow her reviews on Goodreads — lots of history there, too. It’s particularly valuable to be reminded about this aspect of publishing today, when we’re undergoing such a paradigm shift in publishing and it’s still far from clear where we’ll be in five years, much less ten.
Without further ado:
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Since records have been kept, it appears that artists, musicians, and writers were pretty much in charge of marketing their own work. There were no publishing conglomerates. The market was mostly confined to kings, church leaders, and universities until the Enlightenment printing boom, which was, I suspect, roughly the equivalent to the digital revolution.
To get some perspective on self-publishing I think it is worthwhile to remember that to get your work in print in the west during the late 1600s to 1700s, you either fronted the cash on your own or took up a subscription, found a print shop or a bookseller, put up some broadsides, and out it went to either success or failure. Jane Austen’s first bookseller sat on her first novel without bothering to print it, and so her brother had to go to the trouble of getting it back while she tried more successfully with a second.
Then came the nineteenth century, when publishing coalesced into publishing houses, with editors hired as gatekeepers. The subscription publishing model all but vanished.
By the twentieth century, self-publication had pretty much dropped away to amateur status: it was so much easier to send your piece in, get an advance, and let the publishing houses handle production and marketing than to muscle your way through the complicated process of print, then the tougher prospect of getting it before the public eye.
The publication process is now even easier than those wild days of the mid-eighteenth century, and as for marketing, there is the Internet!
And so millions of people are doing it.
I believe that ranting about the various ills of conglomerate publishing (publishing has been through such a metamorphosis over the past 200 years that the word ‘traditional’ really seems to mean ‘as has been the practice for the past fifty years’) might make one feel better for a few minutes, but otherwise isn’t going to change what people read or how they read it.
These lovely, golden days, there are now nearly a million new books a year, pretty much guaranteeing that no matter how esoteric one’s tastes, there is surely something out there to fit that taste, but the real problem is finding it.
I think the trustiest way to get the word out is by word-of-mouth. And that means enthusiastic readers. A writer can bombard every social medium with constant pleas, promises, and exhortations to Read My Book, or a publishing house can hurl an enormous, expensive publicity campaign at those same media, but if readers don’t read the books and talk about them, all that effort is just more noise scrolling off into infinity.
Word-of-mouth puts the power of publicity into the hands of readers—and many of us are getting into the habit of tuning out the media bombardment and gleaning our recommendations from friends or online acquaintances whose tastes match ours.
How many find their TBR piles growing exponentially every Wednesday because of the Reading Wednesday posts all over the Net?
So with that thought in mind, I decided when Rachel Neumeier asked me if I wanted to do this guest blog, I should talk about why Andrea K. Höst has become one of my favorite new discoveries.
Many of Höst’s novels began with a lone female tossed into a tough situation. Until I started reading her books, I hadn’t thought consciously about how frequently this works as an immediate hook for me.
My first encounter with Höst’s books resulted from an online friend, Estara Swanberg, recommending Stray to me. While Estara’s and my tastes don’t always overlap, I was sufficiently curious to grab the first one at the very same time that she – certain that I was going to fall in love — bought me a copy of The Touchstone Trilogy at Smashwords and sent it to me.
I was dubious at first, because I am not usually fond of the survival story a la Robinson Crusoe. Stray opens with a high school girl suddenly finding herself completely alone in a strange environment. One summer night, I thought I’d read a few pages before falling asleep, and the next thing I knew most of the night was gone — dawn was like two hours off — and I could not stop turning those pages.
It was Cass’s voice that grabbed me instantly. I had to explore the environment with her, and her internal voice was so much fun that I found her good company while at the same time I was growing anxious over her survival. And when other humans show up, the second stage rocket took off: they, and their world, were fascinating, seen through Cass’s eyes.
Though Höst’s novels often begin with a similar setup (female cast directly into some kind of conflict) none of the characters, or books, repeat a similar trajectory. One heroine is alone and tries to find people; a second is on the run away from people; a third has to resort to disguise. Another discovers that she is now a kingdom champion, and she has never touched a weapon. And the next is a powerful mage forced to go home, though it nearly kills her every dawn.
Her heroines are not interchangeable. I cannot imagine Medair from her eponymous series trading places with Madeleine in And All the Stars. Or Gentian from Bones of the Fair and Cassandra from Stray doing well in each other’s circumstances.
Are there some constants? Most of her heroines find romance. Höst’s romances are a pleasure to read because whatever type of relationship occurs, each partner has stuff to bring to the table, and the character negotiation is a great part of the fun.
The way Höst’s characters negotiate the relationship road I think demonstrates the influence of Jane Austen; in Pride and Prejudice, the powerful man had to improve himself before the woman found him acceptable. Austen was the first to make it plain in her fiction that how women see the world matters. The books I enjoy most—that I keep on my reread shelves—are a direct descendant of Austen’s narrative through the female gaze. In Höst’s books, the female gaze is important.
Her characters are complex individuals who hit the ground running and not only grow through their experiences, but have a profound impact on their world. And this trope is one of the reasons why I read fiction in the first place, what I think of as the seduction of competence.
I love smart characters, and I love world building that makes me not only imagine different paradigms, but whose details permit me to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell the environments. I am amazed at how many different worlds Höst creates — I who struggles with two or three.
To wind this up, a few comments about specific books:
The Touchstone Trilogy: Let’s face it, a lot of us of whatever age still like to read about People with Powers. In this trilogy, Höst does it right— with every gain, there is a commensurate cost, which keeps the tension line taut.
And All the Stars: Another of my favorite tropes is the twist that changes everything, pulling me back to the beginning to reread what has become a different book.
Champion of the Rose: This takes place in my favorite of Höst’s worlds, Darest.
Medair: outside of Lord of the Rings, , I don’t recollect much fantasy that conveys that same sense of what the Germans call Sehnsucht, that strong sense of one’s world fading with the inexorable beauty of a long summer’s night. She explores changing cultures and the cost to the and individual in unexpected ways, while examining the tension between melancholy and hope, love and honor.
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There you go, and now I’m curious: which is YOUR favorite of Höst’s worlds? Mine is not Darest; too many curses! Dangerous weird inexplicable neighbors! From a live-in-it standpoint, I guess despite the lack of privacy I might pick Taren — or better, Muina. From a cool-to-tell-stories-about angle, um, that’s more difficult.
Tomorrow! Andrea’s OWN guest post, so be sure to check back in!