What Stace had to say on Monday, September 14th, 2009
Self-publishing is not like punk rock*

*except when it is. Which isn’t often.

Lemme ‘splain.

More and more lately I’ve been hearing this argument, or discussion, or comment. Self-publishing is just like punk rock! Because anyone can do it. Because self-published authors are taking the bull by the horns and doing it themselves! Fuck the Publishing Man! Rock on!

And it’s something I’ve wanted to write about for some time, but it was this Genreville blog post in PW that finally inspired me to do so.

Yes, there are a few similarities, or rather, there is one way in which they are alike. But for the most part they are vastly different, and this is what irritates me and makes me want to pull out my hair sometimes. Because the differences are vast and wide.

Before I start, let me give you a quick run-down of my credentials to even discuss this topic. I was heavily involved in the punk scene for, oh, ten years or so. With an ex-boyfriend of mine, who was in a band, I ran a tiny punk record label; we sold records for a dollar each. I helped book shows; I had bands stay at my house; I slept on floors; I did a little touring; I watched recording sessions; I sang one line in a song that ended up on a Lookout! records compilation; I went to drunken all-night parties; I never paid to get into shows because I always knew somebody in the band; I traveled across country with the ex (he wasn’t my ex at the time) and his band to attend a three-day punk festival in northern California; I can play a few Ramones and Sex Pistols songs on the guitar; I started my own band with a couple of other girls, and we were getting ready to try booking a show when our drummer quit; and a whole bunch of other stuff I’ve forgotten. This was one of my favorite things about writing the Downside books, was being able to draw on those experiences and namecheck my favorite bands.

I say this just because I want to make it clear that I do in fact know what I’m talking about; it’s not to brag or say “Look how cool I am” or anything of that nature (I readily admit I am not cool. Perhaps I was at one point in my life, but now I sit around all day writing and pouring juice for my daughters).

The only self-publishing I can honestly and truly say is punk rock are zines. Zines are–at least they used to be–fully punk self-publishing. Handwritten pages (although now that we have computers it’s very possible they’re typeset or laid out using Pagemaker or whatever), usually full of personal essays, record reviews, jokes, show reviews, that sort of thing, photocopied and stapled together at Kinko’s or in your basement or whatever. Are you getting a sense here of what punk rock zines are about? Could it be, hmm, that they are about punk rock? (I haven’t seen a zine in a while, save some of my old copies of big ones like COMETBUS or SCAM. So forgive me if some of my zine info is a little out of date.)

The rest? Not so much.

.

Yes, self-publishing is punk in that anyone can do it, and that’s where the Genreville blogger is incorrect. With punk anyone can do it. To an extent. Just because anyone can do it, doesn’t mean that anyone can do it well. And therein lies the rub.

Here’s what happens when you self-publish, as far as I know: You write a book. It gets rejected by many agents or editors, or perhaps you don’t want to bother with that and want to do it yourself. Maybe you believe the myths like “an editor will make you totally rewrite the book so it’s not even yours,” or “Publishers do no promotion” or “You have to pay to be published,” or “You have to give back your advance if it doesn’t earn out” or any other crap. Or maybe you do not want a single one of Your Golden Words changed. Or you simply want to be totally in control of every step of the process; I don’t mean to imply here that everyone who self-publishes does so because they’re rejected, untalented, or stupid, so please don’t think that’s what I’m saying. I don’t at all believe that’s the case.

Anyway. You write a book. For whatever reason you decide to self-publish. Most of those who self-publish seem to go through a company like Lulu–which is a great service (I’m still loosely planning to use them to print copies of the Strumpet series for those who would like print copies). They take their ms, they load it in, they design a cover, and there you go. You have self-published a book.

Now let’s take a look at a punk band who decides to produce their own record. They save their cash. They rehearse (or maybe they don’t, but they probably do.) They hire a studio. An engineer–or maybe they have a friend from another band do that part. They get–again, this is from my experience years back so the actual equipment may have changed–a DAT, Digital Audio Tape, and send that on to the record plant, which converts it to vinyl (or CD, or whatever.) I have no idea if DATs are still the norm or if it’s more digital now.

So right away we have some difference, though. The self-published author does it all himself. The band recording its own record has, in addition to the (at least) three band members, someone to handle the recording and engineering. More ears to hear what’s happening. More hands to play and write songs. And every recording session I ever attended had still more people, too; the friends, the girlfriends. Doing hand-claps or backup vocals or whatever. Granted none of us gave our opinions unless asked, but we were usually asked. For their first record a friend of ours did the producing along with them, essentially. For the next one (I believe it was the next one) Joe Queer did it. They worked with even bigger names later; always on indie labels, but not purely doing it on their own. Because that’s not how it works.

Now let’s look at the bigger stuff. How does a band go about making a record? I don’t think I ever knew a band that made one without some guarantee that some of them would sell. I saw a lot of bands come and go. I saw a lot of bands playing their first or second or third shows. None of them had records. Why? Because it’s not the first thing you do. You play some shows. You gain some sort of following. And when people start asking if you have a record, that’s when you make a record. You have an audience ready to buy, so you give them something to buy. (I’m going to get to merchandise shortly.)

But if you’re good, chances are you actually aren’t making your own records. My ex’s band made their first record on their own–it was a tape, actually, if memory serves, just a little demo kind of thing. Then they recorded the song for the Lookout! comp along with four or five other sings for a different label in California. This is a huge difference, and it’s where the self-publishing = punk crew always seem to get it wrong. In fact, in the comments for that Genreville post, the man who made the original comment the post is about even manages to muddle his own argument without even thinking of it. It’s six comments down:

By “punk rock” I mean the spirit of much independent-minded music in the seventies through the nineties. If you listen to stuff on SST records, it’s not three notes and screaming.

Yes. If you listen to SST records. SST is a label, y’all. Just like Lookout!, or Alternative Tentacles, or Crypt, or V.M.L., or Fat Wreck Chords, or Sub*Pop, or Melted, or Porterhouse, or Boner, or BYO, or Recess, or Far Out, or Kill Rock Stars, or any one of hundreds of other indie punk labels around the world.

Recording for an indie label is not self-publishing your music. It’s indie publishing. There IS quality control. There IS a vetting process. In punk anyone can start a band, but not everyone can get recorded by a label, at least not one with a reputation for putting out good music. Anyone can start a band, but not everyone can get people to come see that band play live. Anyone can record their own record, but not everyone can get people to buy that record, or anything else.

Which brings me to another big difference, possibly the biggest difference. There is no merchandise. Punk bands have t-shirts; often they make the screens and print the shirts themselves. I saw a couple of bands collect t-shirts and addresses from people, then take the shirts home, screen them, and send them to the owners. I’ve seen over the years quite a few people with home-made Sharpie t-shirts, when they couldn’t get an “official” shirt. Punk bands have stickers and buttons and keyrings (I carried my Blanks 77 bottle-opener keyring for years and still have it somewhere). In punk, fans feel as if they’re part of the bands gang, to some extent. They wear the shirts and buttons and in doing so declare an allegiance, a “We’re all in this together” kind of thing, which is awesome and fun.

When is the last time you saw someone with a book title magic-markered onto their t-shirt?

See, punk is a culture. It isn’t just about music, it’s about a lot of things. It’s about beliefs; it’s a way of life. And punk bands are at the forefront of this, and that culture sprang up around them to support them. There are magazines devoted to it, to review records and give you some idea what’s happening in other parts of the country and other parts of the world. I remember on my first trip to London, being on the Tube in my Misfits t-shirt and spotting a cute Asian guy in a Teengenerate shirt. We smiled at each other; he asked if I knew where the punks hung out and I had to tell him I didn’t. But we KNEW each other. We could have gone and had a drink and talked. We were part of something, both of us, him from Japan and me from the US. We even knew we’d have similar tastes (I freaking love Teengenerate).

Pinks listen to punk music. We look for it. We watch for it. We see a record with an interesting cover and grab it to give it a try. We hear a new band is playing and we go to see them, and if they’re any good we buy their record. If the band is on tour and we can afford it we buy a shirt, too, if we liked the music, because they need that money to get them to the next show. We get recommendations from our friends and recommend things to them.

Self-publishing, in the main, does not have that culture. Self-publishing isn’t about labels. It’s not about social gatherings. Nobody lines up to hear the latest self-published author read out loud or buy shirts or buttons with his or her name on them. Self-publishing doesn’t support a culture and a culture isn’t built around it.

When you buy a punk record you generally have some idea what you’re getting, especially since most of them are on labels and you usually know what kind of stuff that label puts out. When you see a Lookout! record you know chances are you’ll be getting some East Bay pop-punk; not always, but usually. (Again, there are those LABELS. Because the majority of records you buy are on labels, unless you bought it at a show where the band was playing, or saw a great review in Maximum RocknRoll and decided to take a chance–in other words, you knew something about it.) But even if you don’t know the label, you have some idea of what type of music it will be. You know the production will probably be decent and the music itself will probably not be awful; again, because you’ve heard the band live or seen a great review in a magazine you read anyway because it’s devoted to your particular subculture. Maybe you saw it in an indie record store and asked the people working there–who you probably know–to play it for you. It probably has cool cover art, a picture of the band or a little cartoon of some kind. You didn’t stumble across it online and buy it without hearing a sample or hearing something about it.

With self-publishing, you don’t. It could be a funny coming-of-age story. It could be a spy novel. It could be non-fiction about ornithology. It could be fantastic and well-written; more likely it won’t be (not it definitely won’t be, but it’s more likely it won’t be). You’ve never heard of the author. You know nothing about the book. A punk record, at least a 7″, will probably set you back $5 or so; a CD may be as much as $10 or $15, but if you’re buying those, again, you probably know something about the band. A self-published book, which may have amateurish cover art, could cost as much as $25 after shipping.

Yes, punk has a spirit of independence. Sure, self-publishing does too, in some cases. But punk bands aren’t playing punk and releasing records on indie labels because they couldn’t get Warner to sign them. They’re not doing it because Capitol rejected them. They’re doing it because it’s their culture and what they believe in. They’re playing the music they love and want to hear and they’re not doing it hoping a major label will pick them up. Whereas it seems to me a large proportion of self-published authors self-publish because they couldn’t get an agent or a NY deal (again, not ALL, just most).

Yes, there are some self-published authors who simply want to do it all themselves. And you know, more power to them. I appreciate and respect that. But again, the majority of them that I’ve seen, even those who most loudly proclaim that they are INDIE publishing, are hoping that by going this route they’ll get a NY deal. Not so with punk bands.

The simple fact is, the two are not the same because the products are not the same and the culture is not the same. The emotions behind it are not generally the same. The goals are not the same. The process is not the same.

If you want to self-publish, more power to you. I think, as I have said a number of times before, that there are some genres and areas where self-publishing can work very well. But punk is its own platform; if you want to self-publish you need to build your own.

If you’re already punk, and you’re writing something and self-publishing it, you already know how to do that. You already know who your audience is. But if you’re not, don’t claim you are just because you’re putting out a book yourself. Punk isn’t just about DIY. It’s about a lot of other things, too. And if you know enough about it to know that, you should also know that most punk record labels aren’t equivalent to self-publishing. Aside from zines, really, the analogy simply doesn’t work. If you write and self-publish a tale of urban alienation, wasted youth, and your personal quest through it, you could probably call that punk publishing (assuming you are in fact punk yourself). Publishing your fantasy novel yourself and calling it punk publishing, not so much. It doesn’t offend me as much as that infamous Subaru “This car is like punk rock!” ad from the early 90’s, but it doesn’t endear me either.

I’ve ranted for long enough, now, I guess. Any and all comments welcome, of course.

16 comments to “Self-publishing is not like punk rock*”

  1. synde
    Comment
    1
    · September 14th, 2009 at 2:15 pm · Link

    Incredibly well thought out and well presented. As someone from the earlier days(Germs Ramones, ….)everything you said is absolutely right on the money…There is rarely a similarity between POD and Punk rock… thanks for a post that made me smile and remember..and also proved a very poignant point.



    • alex
      Comment
      1.1
      · February 21st, 2010 at 9:58 am · Link

      A lot of self publishing websites open the doors for people who couldn’t write a good postcard let alone a book! But there are exceptions. Like me!!!! Check out [generic link to ebook creation site from which I suspect “Alex” is just a spammer removed] and my Sid Vicious comic book. It’s not what the mainstream publishers want but it’s a book I wanted to make. Alan Parker even likes the book and he’s written 4 books on Sid. So drop the stigma attached to self publishing. There are some real gems out there the publishing houses missed!



      • Stace
        Comment
        1.1.1
        · February 21st, 2010 at 10:02 am · Link

        Alex, read the rules of the blog please. I don’t allow spam or promo in my comments.

        Also, how do you know you’re an exception?



  2. Jo Lynne Valerie
    Comment
    2
    · September 14th, 2009 at 2:31 pm · Link

    Not every self published author goes through Lulu or does everything for herself.

    Some own a media company, have already been in the publishing biz for a chunk of years, have been editor in chief of a couple of print magazines, even wrote the content for a PBS television show.

    Such an author might already have a design and editing team assembled, and maybe she hires a kick ass artist to create original cover art. Maybe that author also likes the idea of publishing her book as part of her biz, because she knows she can (like the other stuff she’s done) produce a quality product.

    Hi. :)



    • Stace
      Comment
      2.1
      · September 14th, 2009 at 2:55 pm · Link

      Yes, and that is why I specifically said “most,” instead of “all.” It’s also why I specifically say throughout that not every self-published author is self-publishing because he or she was rejected, and that I don’t believe all self-published books are poorly written, unedited crap.

      I certainly wish you all the best with your book.



  3. Chris
    Comment
    3
    · September 14th, 2009 at 2:59 pm · Link

    I agree with some of what you say, but I think you are being a little harsh. I think sometimes people mistake “punk” and “DIY” for being the same thing. Punk as an ideology and punk as a sound are definitely two different things. All kinds of bands will describe what they are doing as “punk rock” when it comes to how they are handling their music, even if their music isn’t exactly punk; they mean the whole DIY aspect of it that most people equate with originating with the punk bands of the 80s (pre-80s bands like Ramones, Clash, Sex Pistols et al weren’t exactly DIY). If someone equates self-publishing with a certain amount of DIY attitude, then they are certainly hitting the target, if missing the bullseye.

    I see self-publishing similar in that regard. And I also feel that some of what you say about how a band goes about recording to be a little inaccurate in plenty of cases. There are a lot, a LOT, of “bands” these days that started out as a demo with one guy playing all the instruments, writing all the songs, etc. and doing a self-recorded demo that lead to bigger things, just because he/she had a sound they wanted and they went for it on their own. I’m more of an underground metal guy than punk, but the band Toxic Holocaust (who started in Florida, btw) was one guy. He parlayed his bedroom demoes into a deal with Relapse. The Sword’s first album derived from one guy’s demo, and they toured Europe and the USA with friggin’ Metallica. The list goes on and on. To me, a solid one-person demo leading to a bigger thing for a guy who ultimately needs to put a band together as a result isn’t all THAT different from someone writing a book, putting it online as a free download, generating buzz and ultimately signing a major deal. Hell, that’s how Hugo-winning sci-fi author John Scalzi really got his ball rolling.

    I would also strongly argue that MOST, but not all, punk, metal, indie or otherwise bands laboring away on their homemade, indie labels (which is how most of the labels you mentioned started — self-made labels by bands to release their own material), talking loud about “keeping it true,” would JUMP at the chance to sign with a major label, just as any author would jump at the chance to sign with a big publishing house. They will argue against it, but that is a bet I would make almost every single time.

    Finally, there is some cool underground music releases out there, with good art, good recordings, etc. But there are far more real shitty ones who couldn’t get anyone to record their band for the same reasons you list that authors can’t get publishing deals. I think the odds of finding a quality self-published book are probably as high as a quality self-released record. The shit-to-quality ratio isn’t very good (but you could say that about books and music that ARE released by the majors too, frankly) when it comes to DIY music. But that is the attraction to many people.

    It’s all just splitting hairs, though. IMO the best music is being released by bands who will never see a big label contract. I suspect the same situation exists in books (and film, and painting, etc.), or soon will, given the contraction in the publishing industry. Corporate backing of artistic endeavor is really no judge at all of quality. I applaud people who don’t wait for the approval of a suit to do their thing. And I REALLY applaud the people who spend their creative dollars on independently-released artistic output!



    • Stace
      Comment
      3.1
      · September 14th, 2009 at 3:57 pm · Link

      I agree with some of what you say, but I think you are being a little harsh.

      How am I being harsh, when I went out of my way repeatedly to say not all self-published books are crap, not all self-published authors are doing it because they were rejected?

      I think sometimes people mistake “punk” and “DIY” for being the same thing.

      Agreed. That’s kind of the point of the post. :smile:

      Punk as an ideology and punk as a sound are definitely two different things.

      Totally disagree. Or rather, I agree in theory but not in practice. If you’re putting out a record and calling it “punk,” it better be punk; it better sound like punk. There are many subgenres in there–you can be rockabilly or garage or old-school or whatever–but if you’re going to call yourself a punk band you can’t play soft Michael Bolton covers, no matter how DIY your ideology may be. The music and the ideology are intrinsically related.

      All kinds of bands will describe what they are doing as “punk rock” when it comes to how they are handling their music, even if their music isn’t exactly punk; they mean the whole DIY aspect of it that most people equate with originating with the punk bands of the 80s (pre-80s bands like Ramones, Clash, Sex Pistols et al weren’t exactly DIY). If someone equates self-publishing with a certain amount of DIY attitude, then they are certainly hitting the target, if missing the bullseye.

      If your music isn’t punk you shouldn’t be describing it as such. If you run your band based on a DIY ethos then you should describe it that way. Sorry, but I’m a writer, and words have specific meanings.
      Yes, there absolutely can be a strong sense of DIY in self-publishing. But that’s not the same as being “punk rock.” Call yourself DIY if you like. But there’s a lot more to punk than DIY, at least as it relates to recording vs. publishing.

      And I also feel that some of what you say about how a band goes about recording to be a little inaccurate in plenty of cases. There are a lot, a LOT, of “bands” these days that started out as a demo with one guy playing all the instruments, writing all the songs, etc. and doing a self-recorded demo that lead to bigger things, just because he/she had a sound they wanted and they went for it on their own.

      But that is not a punk band. A “band” consisting of one guy doing all the parts is not a punk band. Punk bands play live; it’s terrifically important and a huge part of the culture. If you can’t play it live, it’s not punk. So while what I said may be inaccurate in other musical genres, it’s not inaccurate as far as punk goes, at least not to the extent of my personal experience and that of the people I know.
      What bigger things do these one-man demos lead to, just out of curiosity?

      I’m more of an underground metal guy than punk, but the band Toxic Holocaust (who started in Florida, btw) was one guy. He parlayed his bedroom demoes into a deal with Relapse.

      And that’s great, but with all due respect, that’s not a punk band or a punk label.

      The Sword’s first album derived from one guy’s demo, and they toured Europe and the USA with friggin’ Metallica.

      And again, last time I checked Metallica was not a punk band. The underground metal scene is not the punk scene. I’m sure it has its merits–I’m not familiar with the music, really, or the scene–and I’m not trying to put it down, but my post is about punk rock. Not underground music in general, not DIY music, but punk rock specifically.

      The list goes on and on. To me, a solid one-person demo leading to a bigger thing for a guy who ultimately needs to put a band together as a result isn’t all THAT different from someone writing a book, putting it online as a free download, generating buzz and ultimately signing a major deal. Hell, that’s how Hugo-winning sci-fi author John Scalzi really got his ball rolling.

      Hmm. To me, a guy who gets a deal based on a solid one-man demo and ultimately needs to then put a band together is Boston. That’s how they got their start, after all.

      And I never said it wasn’t fine to hope your self-published book gets you signed to a major house. I never said it doesn’t happen. I didn’t say there’s any difference at all between self-publishing, hoping it will get you that deal, and a band generating buzz on MySpace or whatever and signing a major deal from that; I didn’t say there’s anything wrong with it. I didn’t address that at all, in fact. What I did say is that self publishing does not equate to punk rock. Period.

      I would also strongly argue that MOST, but not all, punk, metal, indie or otherwise bands laboring away on their homemade, indie labels (which is how most of the labels you mentioned started — self-made labels by bands to release their own material), talking loud about “keeping it true,” would JUMP at the chance to sign with a major label, just as any author would jump at the chance to sign with a big publishing house. They will argue against it, but that is a bet I would make almost every single time.

      First, I’m aware of how indie labels got their start, just as I’m aware that the Ramones et al were not DIY bands; I’m hoping you’re including these asides to educate readers here, and not me, since as someone who once ran an independent label, and knew other people who ran them, and was actually part of the scene, I’m well aware of those things.

      I can also argue that you’re wrong about punk bands being eager to make the jump to major labels, as I can think of several offhand who refused when offered the major label deal. But the point is more that, whatever their ultimate decision was, the majority of them didn’t start out hoping to get a major label deal. Whereas it seems many self-published authors have that in mind right from the start.

      Finally, there is some cool underground music releases out there, with good art, good recordings, etc. But there are far more real shitty ones who couldn’t get anyone to record their band for the same reasons you list that authors can’t get publishing deals. I think the odds of finding a quality self-published book are probably as high as a quality self-released record. The shit-to-quality ratio isn’t very good (but you could say that about books and music that ARE released by the majors too, frankly) when it comes to DIY music. But that is the attraction to many people.

      And I agree with that. The majority of good punk records are put out by indie labels–that was my point. Among self-recrded and released, sure, the shit-to-quality ratio (good phrase) is high. I disagree that most books released by major publishing houses are shit, of course, and I disagree that being shit is the attraction. I know my friends and I wanted to listen to good music, not shitty music, and there was plenty out there.

      It’s all just splitting hairs, though. IMO the best music is being released by bands who will never see a big label contract. I suspect the same situation exists in books (and film, and painting, etc.), or soon will, given the contraction in the publishing industry. Corporate backing of artistic endeavor is really no judge at all of quality. I applaud people who don’t wait for the approval of a suit to do their thing. And I REALLY applaud the people who spend their creative dollars on independently-released artistic output!

      And again, while I agree with you on music, I cannot agree with you regarding books. Perhaps specifically corporate backing of artistic endeavor is no guarantor of quality, but having a record on a large indie label means your band is probably better than a lot; you’ve been vetted, you have a certain degree of skill, you have professionals behind you. Speaking both as a reader and as someone with two separate series out with NY publishers, I have to say that I’d rather read books that I know have been vetted and judged to be of a certain quality. I want to know that the story will make sense, that the author uses the English language properly, that many independent people found the book worthy of putting their money behind. When you’ve read as many excerpts and stories written by people who do not have that approval behind them as I have, you’ll see the difference it makes. And really, while a popular punk band on a large indie label can make a living without signing to a major label, the same isn’t true of a writer with a small house. We have no merchandise to sell. We can’t go on tour and make money on merch and admissions. We have no other income source, frankly. Which is yet another way the two are different.

      Thanks for the comment! It’s always nice to hear other people’s perspectives.



      • Chris
        Comment
        3.1.1
        · September 14th, 2009 at 4:38 pm · Link

        How am I being harsh — I meant in shooting down the original argument. I read it in the sense that “punk rock” has become an adjective used more commonly than the original noun it was based on.

        I think that is where we are disagreeing. If you want to compare self-publishing literally to punk rock, there isn’t a comparison. If the comparison is to what is probably the greatest legacy of punk, the DIY-adjective-term “punk rock” that gets thrown around as much as the “devil horns” does these days, then I think it is an apt comparison.

        If you’re putting out a record and calling it “punk,” it better be punk. I totally agree. But if you are an alt country band saying you are going to go “punk rock” and DIY your release, that is definitely a nod to the punk ideology, utterly different from the music. I think you and I probably agree on this one, don’t we?

        What bigger things do these one-man demos lead to, just out of curiosity? Usually actual bands, heh.

        I think our (friendly) disagreements are just a matter of how the words are used. I’m a writer too — not published (yet) for fiction, but I’ve had my share of journalistic writing published, mostly in regards to music (and I’ve toured in my own bands, released records on my own “label”, etc. for 20+ years — not telling you to compare pedigree, just letting you know I’m not some blowhard troll either). As a worker in words, I think “punk rock” the adjective is useful to describe an ethic and an outlook that transcends the music. You and I would also probably agree that most of the “punk rock” shit getting sold out of the Hot Topic in the mall is going to kids with no idea what punk rock really is!

        I’m hoping you’re including these asides to educate readers here, and not me That’s right. I have no doubt you know your stuff. :)

        I disagree that most books released by major publishing houses are shit I didn’t mean to say that, sorry if it came out that way — I mean a fair number of them are. I think most are good for their targeted audience, but some are neither.

        and I disagree that being shit is the attraction. I think there is a demographic that truly thinks the scruffier something is, the better it is. “Shit” is a poor choice of word, because I don’t want to be one of those people that think just because I don’t like something then it doesn’t have any value, but there is certainly a group of people who prefer things to be really, really raw.

        I cannot agree with you regarding books . // . And really, while a popular punk band on a large indie label can make a living without signing to a major label, the same isn’t true of a writer with a small house. We have no merchandise to sell. We can’t go on tour and make money on merch and admissions. We have no other income source, frankly. Which is yet another way the two are different. I guess I have two points on this. I’ve read plenty of books that were presumably vetted that were awful — poorly edited, typo’d, plot holes, etc. I will agree, though, that there is more that can go wrong in writing probably than music to make something really suck. As for the second part, I think that is a perfect example of where authors can learn from musicians. Musicians didn’t start doing all the cool merch stuff from day one, they learned that is where the money is. What is stopping authors from doing that? If you gave a reading, and were great, I would spend to the best of my ability. If I can buy a book, I would. If I could only afford a couple stickers, I would. Same with a shirt. It may seem silly, but I think it’s worth considering — I know I do.

        Stacia, I hope you don’t think I’m being argumentive and a dick, we probably agree on more than we don’t. I LOVE this topic though, and it’s one probably best argued over beers between sets in a nice greasy club somewhere. It’s something I think about a lot. Maybe it’s wrong to use “punk rock” as an adjective. Personally, I think it’s something the punks who made it happen should be proud of.



      • Stace
        Comment
        3.1.2
        · September 14th, 2009 at 10:49 pm · Link

        I meant in shooting down the original argument. I read it in the sense that “punk rock” has become an adjective used more commonly than the original noun it was based on.

        Ah, okay. See, the thing is, I–and every other punk I’ve ever known (and I don’t claim to be punk anymore, just that it was a huge part of my life and is still the music I listen to and the culture I identify with)–gets pretty defensive when it comes to the use of the term “punk rock.” Because it’s ours; it’s specific. And to have all these other groups or whatever claiming some kind of kinship or ownership or it rankles. It always makes me think of those same jock assholes who would spit at punks or give us the finger in HS, who when Nirvana came out were suddenly all down and “punk is awesome” and whatever, you know what I mean? So suddenly something we’ve built and nurtured in the face of contempt becomes something everyone wants a piece of, and that’s lousy. I don’t mean it’s lousy of you personally, just lousy in general, you know?

        I think that is where we are disagreeing. If you want to compare self-publishing literally to punk rock, there isn’t a comparison. If the comparison is to what is probably the greatest legacy of punk, the DIY-adjective-term “punk rock” that gets thrown around as much as the “devil horns” does these days, then I think it is an apt comparison.

        Right. If you want to call it DIY publishing, that’s better. But the punk world revolves in large part around record labels, and it just makes me itch to see people act as if self-publishing makes them punk. It’s the specific term “punk rock” to which I object; it’s cultural appropriation, and the people who’ve devoted years of their lives, their money and time and creativity, to creating that culture don’t appreciate having it stolen.

        But if you are an alt country band saying you are going to go “punk rock” and DIY your release, that is definitely a nod to the punk ideology, utterly different from the music. I think you and I probably agree on this one, don’t we?

        We do agree. I still don’t like it, because it still feels like cultural appropriation and walking on the backs of others to me, but I do see the point. And I think if it’s put in quotes like that, it’s one thing. But to see people who self-publish proclaim solemnly that they’re being all punk for self-publishing, when their knowledge of punk begins and ends with the Sex Pistols and Nirvana (who are not punk, btw), is irksome.

        I think our (friendly) disagreements are just a matter of how the words are used. I’m a writer too — not published (yet) for fiction, but I’ve had my share of journalistic writing published, mostly in regards to music (and I’ve toured in my own bands, released records on my own “label”, etc. for 20+ years — not telling you to compare pedigree, just letting you know I’m not some blowhard troll either).

        And I didn’t think that at all. I did think, though, that you were simply coming at it from a different angle; it’s very difficult for people who aren’t/weren’t punk to understand exactly what that label or word means, you know?

        As a worker in words, I think “punk rock” the adjective is useful to describe an ethic and an outlook that transcends the music.

        And I can see that, but it still bugs me. :) Because to me punk rock means one particular thing, and to not be that thing while claiming to be is irksome. It’s not personal, but it does bug me; I can’t help it.

        You and I would also probably agree that most of the “punk rock” shit getting sold out of the Hot Topic in the mall is going to kids with no idea what punk rock really is!

        LOL. We definitely agree there!!

        I think there is a demographic that truly thinks the scruffier something is, the better it is. “Shit” is a poor choice of word, because I don’t want to be one of those people that think just because I don’t like something then it doesn’t have any value, but there is certainly a group of people who prefer things to be really, really raw.

        And that’s very true, as well. It is a matter of personal taste. But again, I think my reaction to that statement was based more on the “popular conception” of punk as shitty music screamed out by talentless idiots, and an audience who is too brain-dead and/or angry to know the difference. When in fact some of it–most of what I listened to and still listen to–is incredibly good music put out by driven, talented people.

        As for the second part, I think that is a perfect example of where authors can learn from musicians. Musicians didn’t start doing all the cool merch stuff from day one, they learned that is where the money is. What is stopping authors from doing that? If you gave a reading, and were great, I would spend to the best of my ability. If I can buy a book, I would. If I could only afford a couple stickers, I would. Same with a shirt. It may seem silly, but I think it’s worth considering — I know I do.

        It is actually something I’ve considered and am considering. :) But I think the difference here is that in order to sell shirts or stickers or whatever in the writing world, you need to be a big seller; a big Name. Whereas in the punk world you can be just the band that rolled into town, you know what I mean? We all understand that that band needs those sales, whereas the popular (mis)conception of authors is that we make huge amounts of money from our work and are rolling in dough. So I think there’s an idea that an author who charges for merch in that way is being money-grubbing; they should give the stuff away instead of charging for it. You know what I mean?

        Stacia, I hope you don’t think I’m being argumentive and a dick, we probably agree on more than we don’t.

        I didn’t think that at all! In looking back at my original response I was probably a bit sort; I was in a mood over something else and so wasn’t as careful to make my non-offense clear the way I usually would have been, so sorry about that if you thought I was being short with you.

        I LOVE this topic though, and it’s one probably best argued over beers between sets in a nice greasy club somewhere. It’s something I think about a lot. Maybe it’s wrong to use “punk rock” as an adjective. Personally, I think it’s something the punks who made it happen should be proud of.

        I definitely agree about it being a discussion to have over beers. :) But while I see your point about it being something punks should be proud of, the fact is it just isn’t. Having a system and society you’ve rejected suddenly want to be your best friend doesn’t feel good; it’s annoying, you know what I mean? It feels like people trying to horn in on what we’ve built. Like you building a house and suddenly the people who made fun of your efforts want to move in–and not just move in but act like it was their idea all along and they cheered you from the sidelines. Does that make sense? It’s great that people are getting into DIY and not relying on others, but the way things work in publishing is very different, and the two simply aren’t analogous.

        One of these days we’ll have that beer though, okay? 😉



  4. JenB
    Comment
    4
    · September 14th, 2009 at 2:59 pm · Link

    Oh wow, I LOVE this. What a perfect explanation (rebuttal?) of a very bad analogy.

    As an editor, I often find myself puzzling over authors’ reasons for self-publishing. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I guess I don’t think that way. I’m a rules kind of person, so even the punk rock concept is foreign to me (which makes me pathetically uncool).

    I think self-pub is a good way to provide print copies of books/collections that were previously only available as e-books, and it’s a good venue for nonfiction and cookbooks and such. But fiction…ugh…there are so many better ways to do it.

    (disclaimer: I do know a couple of fabulous self-pubbed authors; I consider them exceptions to these comments)



    • Stace
      Comment
      4.1
      · September 14th, 2009 at 4:09 pm · Link

      Thanks! :smile:

      Oh, absolutely there are some great uses for self-publishing (like I said, I’m eventually going to get off my butt and publish the Strumpet series; I need to check with my agent first and make sure he doesn’t want to try to sell it at some point but given that it’s already on the blog there doesn’t seem to be much point). And there are definitely some talented authors who are self-publishing. But yeah…for fiction it’s very hard.

      And that’s one of the points I was trying to make. Punk records have, if not a built-in audience, a ready audience. A whole subculture of people seeking out the music. There’s distro in some independent stores but there’s lots of mail-order and lots of records sold at shows (I imagine with the internet it’s even easier than it used to be). But there is no distro for self-publishing fiction, really. No one will know about your book and they’re probably not going to take the chance. Why would you go out of your way to make sure nobody gets to read your work, you know?



  5. Cora
    Comment
    5
    · September 15th, 2009 at 9:19 pm · Link

    Regarding merchandising for writers, I used to be (still am, sort of) on the staff of the literature mag of my university. We are tiny and none of our authors are famous.

    One of the people on the editorial staff had access to a button-making machine and she designed and made some buttons for us. We sold those buttons for 1 Euro a piece at readings, bookstalls, etc… And they sold. There were events where we sold more buttons than magazines, because the same people who were too cheap to buy a 2 Euro magazine somehow saw nothing wrong with buying a 1 Euro button. Some people even bought several (there were five different designs). So we made money and we got our name out there.

    Unfortunately, the person who made the buttons took off for her semester abroad soon thereafter and never came back, so we never got another batch after the first sold out.



    • Stace
      Comment
      5.1
      · December 21st, 2009 at 4:30 pm · Link

      Geez, this comment never made its way into my inbox, so I missed it. Apologies.

      That is a cool story; thanks for sharing it. Like I said I do have some plans for little merch-y items I’m hoping to put together, but I’m not sure at the moment how exactly to handle it. That’s a big deal as far as mail-ordering stuff, and the amount of work on top of everything else frankly scares me!



  6. Tami
    Comment
    6
    · September 18th, 2009 at 7:26 am · Link

    Somewhat embarrassingly unrelated to this excellent topic, but I have a question. I use my library (inter-library-loan) to pre-screen books before I buy them – but they don’t have a single book by an author I’d really like to read more from – Stacia Kane! (see what I did there?)

    Are you aware of ways to suggest an author to a library? It’s not even remotely the first time I’ve not been able to find a book I’m interested in, but it’s one of the few times I’ve not been able to find an author.



    • Stace
      Comment
      6.1
      · December 21st, 2009 at 4:32 pm · Link

      Hi Tami!

      I am so sorry, this comment never made it into my Inbox so I’m just seeing it now. Thanks!

      Honestly, though, I’m not sure how you’d do that. My guess is to just ask at the desk; they can pass your request up. I know my books are in a few libraries (or rather, I know of a few libraries they’re in, I have no idea how many) so it’s not like they’re totally unavailable, it’s just your particular system may not have it.

      Sorry I can’t be more help.



  7. J.P. Winters
    Comment
    7
    · June 3rd, 2016 at 11:30 am · Link

    I totally love this. I was pretty active in my local punk scene for about 8 years. Was in a couple bands, produced some records and wrote some barre chord songs about feeling powerless, insecure, and self-deprecating. I had a good time, but the time came for me to move out of that community. I got a creative writing degree and started looking into getting my writing published. Self publishing seemed like a really good way to go because I didn’t want to hassle with all the waiting around for rejection letters. I knew my stuff wasn’t Faulkner, but I still wanted it out there to be distributed to people I know so they could read it on a user friendly portable device. I started looking for advice on how to do this well and I got very turned off. All the advice columns I found were very cold, snobby, and business-like. I was hoping to find some more underground vibes going on, but I just got left with a bad taste in my mouth and I couldn’t figure out why. Dropped the whole thing even though I wanted to be writing I didn’t feel comfortable being included in that company. Anyway, finally got back on the horse and published with Amazon. I rant, but I really appreciate this post. I can identify with a lot of what you say. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a bona fide punk lit community I’ll feel at home with, but I’m starting to feel more assured that I can do my art how I prefer to do my art. Maybe next time I’ll make my own cover art too, haha.



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