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Oct. 19 2009 - 7:42 am | 1,679 views | 1 recommendation | 8 comments

Dirty DIY: Self Publishing A Treatise On Porn Valley, USA

They Shoot Porn Stars Don't They . Words & photos by Susannah Breslin_1255909623009Freelance journalist Susannah Breslin’s piece, They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They? was meant for a specific publication, but when that plan fizzled, she opted to take her tale of the declining fortunes of the American porn industry to the web on her own terms. She snagged her own domain, enlisted illustrator Chris Bishop to produce the accompanying artwork and has watched the hits roll in. Ms. Breslin was kind enough to consent to an email interview about the intersection of long-form journalism and web publishing and just how hard it is out there for a freelancer.

Why did you decide to self publish vs. shopping the piece around to other publications?

Originally, I wrote They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They? for a specific publication. Ultimately, I decided to pull the piece. After that, I contacted editors at various publications to see if they would be interested in publishing the story. They were not.

At that point, I had two choices: bury the piece or self-publish it. I thought it would be pretty lame to just stuff it down the garbage disposal, so I decided to get it online myself. I contacted my friend Chris Bishop, an illustrator and designer, and he created the project’s site and art.

More generally, I was tired of being told “no” by editors, I was tired of being told what to write and how to write it, and I was sick of giving up because the traditional forms of publishing were failing me or uninterested in my work. Of course the payoff of self-publishing is total control, and because I am a control freak, that appealed to me. I didn’t want someone to rewrite my copy, or demand I come up with some manufactured thesis, or create a piece of journalism that fits some type of template that was created by some now-dead person who worked in some New Yorker office for 20 years. The system wasn’t working for me. So, self-publishing becomes a more attractive option if you have a hard time with authority, or if you and your work don’t “fit” into traditional ideas of what journalism is supposed to be. This way, I could make the piece available to anyone who wanted to read it, I could have a great artist design and illustrate it, and I could let the story be what *I* wanted it to be, not what someone else thought it should be.

Is the public’s appetite for large-scale investigative features still there or has soundbyte culture/the 24/7 news cycle dimmed our appreciation for in-depth explorations of a given issue or topic?

I really have no idea what the answer to this question is because any statement I make about “the public” is a generalization, and, therefore, false.

But I can tell you that in six days, They Shoot Porn Stars has gotten over 80,000 unique visitors and over 500,000 page views. That would suggest to me that, yes, people *do* want to read long-form journalism. Or, you know, maybe they only want to read long-form journalism that features people boning. I really don’t know.

I think readers and viewers are looking for immersion and escapism, and novels and long-form journalism offer that. People want to get lost in a story, to get transported to another place. Here, I play Virgil to the reader’s Dante on a tour through Porn Valley. For most, that’s a world with which they are unfamiliar. I offered readers a trip to a place they wanted to go, and so they went.

Do you feel that the growth of social media and the popularity of blogging has helped or hurt freelancers?

There is no doubt that the Internet has helped creatives of all types. Rather than negotiating our way through the world based on whether or not we’ve gotten the nod from some self-appointed gatekeeper, we can get our content to our readers directly.

The “problem,” or the question, really, is that right now we don’t know how to monetize that transaction. People are doing all kinds of things in this direction, but it’s a market in flux, and while it’s terrific to be able to get your work out there, it’s tricky figuring out a way to make a buck off it. And we all gotta eat, ya know?

Aside from the lack of a tangible document to hold in your hands, how do you think the web compares to print media as a platform for feature-based journalism? What are the differences in reach? Composition and quality of audience? Creative control, etc.? Will the former replace the latter entirely at some point?

Well, clearly print is dying: books, magazines, etc. One day, the printed book will be as foreign as penning a letter in calligraphy. (Unless, you know, you’re into that sort of thing.)

Thanks to the Internet, our reach is great. I wish there was more online-based long-form journalism, rather than a bunch of yappy blogs recapping other publications’ content as fast as they can, like hamsters racing on a Habitrail wheel to nowhere.

One day, perhaps it will be self-publish or die.

Have you been promoting the piece? If so, how? What has been the reaction so far? Would you use this method of publishing again?

After the site launched, I sent out the link. The reaction has been pretty positive. People seem moved by the story, and that means a great deal to me.

As a writer, sometimes you feel like you’re writing into a black void. This is the opposite of that. You see people experiencing it in this very intimate, immediate way. There’s a way that the subject–which is very visceral–is very well-suited to publication on the web. It has a kind of “aliveness” to it, and people seem to be really responding to that.

In the past, what I’ve heard from mainstream book publishers is that a nonfiction book about the adult movie industry won’t sell–because there’s free porn online. Which is a mind-boggling assertion. This is the mindset of a dinosaur, and the Internet is swallowing them whole.

Would I do it again? Sure. It’s not easy. But it’s great to have the control and the freedom, to have people read your work and appreciate it, to feel like what you do matters.


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  1. collapse expand

    Has she made any money? Or was her point to make this larger point about how “dead” print it?

    Every freelancer I know has a few great stories sitting in inventory, killed. Do people have to read them? Maybe. Or maybe it’s a job that didn’t work out and you go sell something else and don’t freak out that your very own personal vision was ignored. It’s standard, annoying and happens to anyone who writes for dead-tree publishers.

    It’s nice to be entrepreneurial, but freelancers have to pay their bills, so writing for those vision-stifling old farts who still sign checks is generally necessary.

  2. collapse expand

    Anyone else notice an irony in Breslin writing about an industry reeling from the proliferation of Internet-based content distribution when she’s using the same system to distribute “content” she was not able to sell … and now we’re talking about it?

    In any event, nice piece J. Maureen, thanks for posting it.

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