Tag Archives: Ursula K. Le Guin

Soldiering On: RIP Ursula K. Le Guin

“Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.” —Ursula K. Le GuinSeattle rose

It’s hard to express the sorrow you feel when a hero dies. Ursula K. LeGuin was one of those people for me, and it’s funny because I’d never really thought much about her until she won the National Book Award a few years ago and said four words I’ll never forget. “Books are not commodities.”

Oh yes, I thought. Writing is art. Writing shouldn’t be directed and commercialized. I’ve always felt that way. And yet, it is. Publishers hold the cards for the most part in the world of writing. Publishers decide what gets published based on what they think will sell—and too often in today’s world, publishers decide what gets written.

It’s a chilling thought that a handful of corporate conglomerates might decide what books you read, isn’t it? It sounds more like a dystopian fiction than reality. And yet…it does happen. I know of writers who long to write a particular story and go to their publishers with it and the publisher doesn’t like it. It won’t sell. How about writing this instead?

And an idea dies.

Maybe it won’t sell. It’s certainly been my experience as a self-published writer that very often my ideas don’t sell. They’re well written. I know I’m a good writer, and a lot of reviewers (not all, but a lot) agree. They’re well edited. I am meticulous about that. The formatting is not as professional as, well, a professionally published book, but my books are certainly neat and clean and readable. But whether it’s because the publishers are right and my ideas are not sellable or because I don’t have a publisher’s ability and know-how to market them, my books are most definitely not bestsellers.

The one thing I can take pride in, though, is that my books are my ideas, born of my dreams and written in my words. Without direction or influence from a dystopian corporate world. That’s what self-publishing has done for me and countless other writers who’ve gotten their words out there in spite of doubting corporate publishers.

Rest in peace, Ursula K. Le Guin. We heard you. And in the end, what more can a writer ask for?

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Plastic fiction: What happens when writers give up on soul

Three years ago, Ursula K. Le Guin gave an impassioned speech in which she basically implored writers to write what they wanted to write and not what the publishing industry told them to write. She asked that literature in all forms return to being considered an art form. “Books aren’t just commodities,” she said.

I’ve often wondered if I would sell out if someone offered me the opportunity to sign with a big publisher that would basically guarantee my book would be a bestseller with an awesome marketing plan and everything all taken care of—but I had to write a book the publisher wanted with the plot all spelled out for me. Would I do it? Would I sell out? Would I turn out a plastic fiction book with no soul and no art just to gain readers?

I can’t answer that question. I fear I might. It’d probably be easy enough to write if I didn’t have to come up with the plot myself. And I have a respectable backlist now. Surely I should consider that in the equation. If I gained lots of readers with my plastic fiction—readers who enjoyed my style of writing and who would then consume my other books—wouldn’t it be worth it? But then, too, I’d be feeding the plastic fiction industry that has taken over the publishing world and made it more difficult for writers to be the artists they are meant to be.

Not sure you know what I mean by plastic fiction? Oh yes, you do. It’s especially prevalent in my chosen genre at the moment. For a while it was vampire romances (which has now morphed to include werewolves and shapeshifters and lots of other paranormals). I’m not saying these are all bad. I’ve even read a few that are exceptionally good. But those can be hard to find. And then there’s the fifty-shades phenomenon that is reflected in everything from content (way more explicit than just a few years ago) to covers (haven’t you noticed the trend to monochromatic still life since Christian Grey’s silk tie?).

I think the surge in independent publishing has been a reaction to writers trying to avoid the plastic fiction publishing industry. I’m proud to be a part of that surge. I love what I write, and I love publishing my little bits of art. They aren’t the highest quality—maybe they’re made of aluminum instead of gold or silver—but they aren’t plastic, either. I know this because they come from my heart and contain bits of my soul.

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Filed under Publishing, romance, self-publishing, traditional publishing, Writing