Maker, Hacker, Writer.
On Wednesday, I’ll be participating in a live Q&A where anyone can ask me anything and expect some form of honest answer. Leading up to that, I thought I’d share two of the questions I get the most these days and also explain how this past weekend at the Boing Boing and Ford Ingenuity Hack-a-Thon helped me to better understand my usual answers.
The number one question I get is why I chose to self-publish. When I wrote my first novel, I spent a few weeks querying before two small publishers expressed interest and made offers. This was already more than I expected, so I took an offer and had a wonderful experience editing and publishing my first novel.
When the contract arrived for the sequel, there were a few reasons I decided to put the book out on my own. The two strongest reasons were the desire to control every aspect of the book’s creation, and the awful feeling I had when signing over the rights to my work. There are a lot of other reasons I thought self-publishing made more sense (the tools are available to anyone; the book will be in print for the rest of my life; I was going to be responsible for the majority of the promotion; the pay was a lot better). But it really came down to control. I didn’t want to hand over the thing I’d made. I wanted to craft it from beginning to end.
I liken this to an artist who isn’t satisfied simply painting on canvas. They also feel the need to choose the matting and the frame, to hang it on the wall just so, and to light it appropriately. How the painting is observed is a combination of all these things, just as how a book is enjoyed is affected by font selection and size, the spacing, where a sentence ends on one page and begins on another. It’s all important to me. While working with a publisher, I wanted to get on the phone and discuss these minutiae but worried about being a pain in the ass. Doing it myself removes that worry. I can be a pain in my own ass.
The other question I get a lot of these days all fall into the category of: Are you freakin’ stupid? These are questions on DRM, piracy, and fan fiction. I’m against the first and all for the second and third. DRM is bad for those who pay for their media and a minor annoyance at best for those who steal it. And my stance on piracy is that I don’t care if people steal my work. I similarly don’t care if they buy my books at a used bookstore, read them on a friend’s Kindle, or borrow a copy from a neighbor’s bookshelf. The challenge is to be read. Figuring out ways not to be read seems silly to me. I’m not alone in either of these stances, but my view on fan fiction is a bit more outlying.
The idea of the immutable novel is rather modern. Storytelling began as an oral tradition, when tales were swapped, spliced, modified, and augmented by each teller. Even when books began to be written down, translators and transcribers would often make tweaks and add their own twists as they were copying the text. And beyond the printing press, you had greats like Dickens who would serialize a story and then change those texts slightly as he combined them into novels. Stories weren’t meant to sit there, unchanged and unmoving through the years. They can, but that’s a recent invention. Fan fiction is much older. It harkens back to the Homeric epics and the lore lost to time.
What I realized this weekend at the Boing Boing and Ford Ingenuity Hack-a-Thon is that my writing philosophy is a product of the Maker and Hacker culture in which I grew up. My love of crafting a product from beginning to end, which means teaching myself the typographical secrets of kerning and widows and orphans, or figuring out Photoshop for covers and Indesign for interiors, fits with maker culture and the obsessives who want to craft a thing from concept to launch.
It was from embracing the crowdsourcing mentality at an early age that I learned to be comfortable with fan fiction. This is literature, hacked. DRM-free is all about open sourcing material, making it part of the commons. Not worrying about piracy is because . . . well, I was a pirate. I knew firsthand that trying out a product was the surest way to get me to support it. What’s true of software could be true of books.
My first career was as a computer repairman at a Tandy store. This is where I picked up the traits that would color my writing career. I loved to build my own computers from scratch. I loved to tinker, to steal software, to share what I learned on bulletin boards, to make things do more than what they were designed to do. Watercool a PC just to push the chip to its limits? That was me. Rewrite the hex code of a saved computer game to open up new abilities? It was more fun than the game itself. You think I would be happy just writing the words and handing them off to someone else? Not on your life. You think I would want to lock up these words, make them difficult to access, difficult to change? It would go against everything I’ve done as a user.
I like making things. I like hacking things. That affects who I am as a writer.