Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Fighting the Wrong War

18 July 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I know some of you are going to ask me what I think of the latest Authors United letter, the one they’ve just submitted to the United States Department of Justice.  For those of you who don’t know,Authors United—a group of New York Times bestsellers—have chosen to speak for all of us…in demanding that the DOJ stop Amazon’s monopolistic practices, because Amazon is ruining the book business.

Sigh.

There’s so many things wrong with the Authors United letter that it makes my brain hurt. Writer Joe Konrath has fisked the letter on his blog, putting a lot of time and effort into debunking almost everything in the letter. Writer Joe Konrath. Bestselling writer Joe Konrath—in case you missed the point.

I’m not going to replicate Joe’s work. He’s fighting The Stupid, so the rest of us don’t have to.

I’m also not going to defend Authors United. I really wish those folks, some of whom were writers I respected (note the tense), would learn the business of publishing, rather than listen to their agents and publishers, who have a different set of concerns than the writers themselves.

. . . .

Here’s what I wish: I wish that writers had business sense. I wish that they would then use their collective multimillion dollar clout to fight the real war, the one that the music industry is slowly turning its attention to.

I’m pretty sure that no writer besides me noticed this headline on National Public Radio’s website on Tuesday: Is Transparency The Music Industry’s Next Battle?

My answer to that question would be a resounding yes. And after that, perhaps someone can tackle transparency in the traditional publishing industry.

Transparency. What does that mean? It is actually a financial term, with a specific meaning. Financial transparency means that a company must make information as clear and accessible as possible for its investors and business partners. There are a million explanations of financial transparency on the web, but my favorite comes from the Investopedia, which has this sentence in the middle of its four-paragraph explanation of the term:

Transparency helps to prevent the corruption that inevitably occurs when a select few have access to important information, allowing them to use it for personal gain.

So, when artists in the music industry are asking for transparency, they want to be able to track the royalties and other income that artists are due, in an easy and explainable way.

. . . .

Think of this complexity, when you contemplate the revenue streams on your one novel. You wrote the novel, and yeah, you might have put it up on various ecommerce sites yourself, so you have a handful of revenue streams that you can keep track of.

Some writers just publish to Amazon, and have a single revenue stream. When that revenue stream gets disrupted, the writers complain loudly.

. . . .

If you move to other places besides Amazon to sell your single title, then you have multiple revenue streams on that title. Those of us who have freelanced forever learned the first rule of freelancing is to have more than one revenue stream, because the single stream can close literally overnight.

The complexity for writers grows with the number of titles that you publish. Each title, published on multiple sites and in multiple formats, has multiple revenue streams. Not just streams for subscription services like Oyster, but through the digital sites like Amazon and iBooks, and through print, and audio, and podcasting, and a dozen other licenses.

And that’s just the indie work. Hybrid writers like me have titles in channels we can’t monitor easily. Any book still licensed to a traditional publisher has multiple revenue streams, some of which I control and some of which the traditional publisher controls.

That traditional publisher reports on those revenue streams twice a year, a throwback to the origins of the publishing industry, when all of this stuff was done by hand.

. . . .

Figuring out what’s going on with traditionally published work is truly a nightmare, because traditional publishing is not transparent, in any sense of the word.

Sure, writers get paperwork from our traditional publishers. At the beginning of July, Dean and I each got over 50 sheets of paper royalty statements for some of the tie-in novels that we wrote in the 1990s. We could sign up for the online version of those royalty statements, but we haven’t done it yet. I think we’re being passive-aggressive: we’d rather have the publisher spend the money to print out the things than do it on our own.

Most traditionally published writers also have agents, and have a traditional relationship with those agents. That means the money from all of the various revenue streams funnel to a single point—the agent—who removes his 15% before sending the rest of the money to the writer.

You’d think that financial relationship would be transparent, but it is not. In fact, in all the years I had agents, not a single agent ever sent an overall yearend statement, delineating all of the financial transactions that we had throughout that year. Hell, I just got a financial transaction statement from my veterinarian because we spent quite a bit of money there these past two months. And it was amonthly statement of account.

No agent has ever done that for me, and I’ve had several agents from some of the biggest agencies in the business. Think on that, and look at that Investopedia quote again. Then add 2+2, and see what you come up with.

. . . .

The Author’s Guild had one moment of clarity in May, when it announced the Fair Contract Initiative, and I had hoped the Guild was moving to sensible fights. Sigh.

Of course, even the Fair Contract Initiative is behind the times. It’s something that an organization like the Author’s Guild should have fought for fifty years ago. But the Author’s Guild, unlike many music organizations, is toothless. The Guild has no clout at all (even though it thinks it does), and others in the industry can easily ignore it.

As the Berklee study points out, the artists who handle their own finances and don’t go through what the study calls “intermediaries” like record labels have a better understanding of what the income is from music.

Those of you who are indie published can keep track of what you earn with greater ease than traditionally published writers can. The problem isn’t with the transparency of Amazon or Barnes & Noble or other retailers. As I’ve said before, these large organizations with public stock are governed by very strict laws, some of which address the need for transparency for investors.

The problem for indie writers comes in the amount of data, as I mentioned above, and trying to keep track of all of it.

The problem for traditionally published writers is the same as the problem for musicians who have chosen to go through labels to market their work. As the study says repeatedly:

Data provided to artists and writers with these royalty payments is often opaque. As a result, they often don’t understand the payments and accountings that they receive. One reason for the opacity may be that it benefits intermediaries—Fair Music: Transparency and Payment Flows in the Music Industry, P. 3

. . . .

Traditional publishers have already gotten into trouble with the Department of Justice for bad business practices. It’s not hard for anyone who understands business to believe that organizations which have already proven that they’ll break the law to have a business advantage will break the law in other places as well. Companies that are willing to cut corners will look at the most vulnerable parties first, and in publishing, those parties are naïve writers, who expect honesty and get none.

Neither the music industry nor the publishing industry has an internal reason to change its reporting structures. Those structures also benefit agents, no matter how much they complain to the press. Because a lot of agents skim. Some do it on the float, by holding money in interest-bearing accounts for as long as a month—which is, by the way, perfectly legal if the writer has agreed to it in a contract. Other agencies actually skim by “losing” payments or by taking a larger percentage than they deserve.

Even if individual agents believe that the system must change, the company they work for, the agency, will not take on this fight. It’s not in an agency’s best interest either.

Writers have to do it. And the big names should stop wasting their time and what little clout they have with things that have nothing to do with the sharp decline in traditionally published writer revenue, and go after the thing that actually has impacted writer revenue: the way that this new digital income gets reported.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

Gaming the System

19 June 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

It has taken the latest Kindle Unlimited Apocalypse (KUpocalypse 2? KUpocalypse Part Deux? KUpocalypse XXL?) to help me understand my visceral reaction to all of those writers who game the system.

First, let me explain the reaction. It ain’t pretty. It comes from decades of watching young (meaning newer) writers try to game whatever system exists, whether the system is traditional publishing or indie publishing or getting an agent or trying to sell a book to Hollywood using by writing “blockbuster” novels based on current movies (I can’t even begin to count the ways that’s stupid).

By gaming the system, I mean artificially elevating book sales by doing something non-writing related.

For example, when I edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, I stumbled on a writing article in which some newbie writer claimed to have found “the secret” to selling short stories to me. That writer analyzed every story in every issue I had my byline on up until that point, found common elements, and told the writers reading his essay that I looked for those elements.

Ooops. That was wrong. Because the first 18 months of my editorial reign included works purchased by the previous editor Ed Ferman. Just like the first 18 months of Gordon Van Gelder’s reign included works purchased by me, and part of Charles Coleman Finlay’s early years will include works purchased by Gordon, depending on inventory.

Half the things that writer found in my editorial canon were in stories I didn’t buy (and maybe didn’t like). The other things may have been things I decided I had enough of and wasn’t going to purchase for a while.

. . . .

Writers do a variety of things like this even now, from analyzing the kinds of clients agents have, to writing to order based on Amazon’s bestseller algorithms. Kindle Unlimited really provokes a lot of this behavior, with writers admitting in blogs and other places that they were deliberately writing shorter works (and serialized works) to make more money on Amazon.

We’ll get to all of that in a minute. But first, I want to talk about gaming the system just a bit more.

In a closed and arcane system, like publishing used to be and like traditional publishing still can be, some amount of gaming is inevitable. Because there was no school for writers, no business training, and very few established professionals who mentored and/or taught newcomers the tricks of the trade, each generation of writers had to learn from scratch how to break into publishing.

This led to a weird phenomena. Good information got mixed with totally useless information, and presented as Gospel.

. . . .

In a closed system, guesswork often takes the place of actual information. Guesswork means that the individual writer will poke and prod, trying to find what works.

That habit, guessing and prodding, continues among some writers, who don’t learn to substitute knowledge for guesswork. Those writers end up spending their writing life on guesswork.

And working off guesswork as a professional leads to behaviors that make those of us with a business background shake our heads, behaviors like giving an agent 15% of a copyright for the life of the copyright just because the agent made a few phone calls or like selling a book to a small press in the hope of that book becoming a bestseller when that press has never had a bestseller and wouldn’t know what to do with one if one came along.

The practice of using guesswork as fact becomes a way of life for some writers. It’s now built into the arcana of writing. It makes gaming the system seem normal, the way that business is conducted.

. . . .

[T]he internet has made it possible for writers, without leaving the comforts of home, to actually gain knowledge on how to be successful from people who have long-term careers.

Why am I stressing long-term careers? Because a lot of things work in the short term and don’t work long-term at all. Writers who have freelanced for decades know how to survive the ups and downs of the publishing business.

. . . .

In the beginning, I tolerated gaming the system.  I used to think that writers would get by it. Some writers do get past that idea that they can game their way to success. Some writers do game their way to success. But I have learned that every writer who games his way to success has short-term success.

And then that writer gets caught or the system changes or the bottom falls out. Most writers quit at that point. Last summer’s Kindle Unlimited Apocalypse took out hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers who had some success. Many of them left writing altogether.

Some of them found a new way to game the system, still with Kindle Unlimited, figuring out the new algorithms and what those writers “should” be writing in order to win the big prize—which is, either, some imagined (unprovable) bonus to their bestseller rankings or part of the Prize Pool. Ooops. I mean the Select Global Fund. Or none of the above. Honestly, I haven’t made much of a study of it, because, as you can tell from my tone, I don’t think it important.

The remaining writers who were gaming the system and got nailed did the cliché thing and turned lemons into lemonade. They learned that they were approaching their business wrong, and they took the collapse as an opportunity to build a foundation underneath their writing career.

A lot of those writers are showing up in the discussions about the latest change in Kindle Unlimited, and mentioning how they changed their behavior, so that this year’s change will have little or no impact on the way they’re doing business. I’m very impressed by these folks.

. . . .

You are responsible for your career. You’re responsible for your successes and your failures. You’re responsible for whether or not you have a career.

There are ups and there are downs. You ride them, like you surf a wave. No surfer rides the crest of every wave each time. Surfers do crash and burn. Then they paddle out and catch another wave. And no wave is the same.

. . . .

In addition to the writers who mentioned they had left Kindle Unlimited last year and put a foundation under their business, a number of other writers commented on the changes. Those writers defended the fact that they were continuing to game Amazon’s system, and those writers vowed to find the new way to game the system.

And that bugs me.

It bugs me because of the contempt these writers show for the craft of writing.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

Hidden Treasures

11 June 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

At the end of May, I hit most of my major writing deadlines. I’m turning my attention to short stories and to a massive project I’m doing for Baen Books, under the unwieldy title Tough Mothers, Great Dames, and Warrior Princesses: Classic Stories By Women in Science Fiction. (Yes, I’m considering another title, but still haven’t come up with it.)

In connection with that book . . . I’ve started a website called Women in Science Fiction, mostly so I have a place for suggestions from you sf fans, and also so that I have a record of the various stories I like that probably won’t fit into the book.

. . . .

I’m amazed at how many writers I’d heard of, but not read. I’m also amazed at how quickly names have gotten lost. I actually found many of the suggestions shocking—not because I disagree or anything, but because I hadn’t realized these writers had become writers who needed to be rediscovered.

For example, a number of people told me about Ursula K. Le Guin, because they hadn’t heard of her until lately. Or Octavia Butler, whom many don’t know. And then, the Andre Norton discussion I had on this site with Jeffro Johnson on Norton’s obscurity to an entire generation.

. . . .

You mention Christie these days and everyone has heard of her work, even if they haven’t read it. You mention Burroughs, and everyone has heard of Tarzan, and some even know about John Carter of Mars. You mention Robert Heinlein to science fiction fans, and they know who he is as well.

Heinlein, Burroughs, and Christie have been continually in print for generations. But Andre Norton hasn’t. Some of her work left print during her lifetime.

. . . .

But part of the reason that Andre Norton’s work has faded into obscurity for younger generations is precisely what Jeffro Johnson mentioned. He wrote,

There is a generation gap. In the seventies, fantasy readers would have typically read stuff from a half dozen decades without giving it a thought…Something happened with regard to publishing, libraries, book clubs, and book stores in the eighties to cause a shift….

He guessed about what the shift was, blaming the usual suspects, video games, blockbuster movies, but those—frankly—were 1970s phenomena, and while prevalent in the 1980s, didn’t stop people from reading the old stuff.

. . . .

So here, in the smallest nutshell I can manage, is what happened. I’m dealing with the US only because that’s what I’m familiar with. But as I’ve been Googling today to double-check my facts, I realize that some of what I mentioned here (particularly the part about libraries), occurred in other Western nations as well.

First, the rise of a certain type of chain bookstore occurred in the 1980s. Bookstore chains have existed almost as long as bookstores. It’s pretty normal for a successful retailer to open another store once the first store does well. Until the 1980s, bookstore chains were regional. You’d hear a New Yorker say that he’d be going to Brentano’s, not that he was going to a bookstore. Or someone from Michigan would go to Borders. These were independent booksellers, who owned more than one store.

. . . .

The early chain bookstores in malls were small. These stores had a tiny footprint and big rent. They had to “churn” books, meaning that every month—or in some cases—every ten days, the entire content of the store would change. Books were being stripped and tossed out if they didn’t sell in less than two weeks. The bestsellers would remain in the stores. Everything else would change.

At this point, though, independent booksellers still grew and expanded. The chains had no real impact on independents because the chains weren’t in their neighborhood. Very few independent bookstores opened in shopping malls again, because of the high rents. Bookstores tended to locate in older parts of a city where the rents were low.

. . . .

Less money for libraries meant a shift in the way that libraries handled their collections. Libraries needed patrons to show up and then support organizations like Friends of the Library, so libraries cut back on book orders and increased periodicals they carried. Interlibrary loan became important. As long as the book was somewhere in the system, then someone could order it and wait and wait and wait.

As you can tell, this had an impact on the little shelf-scourers, like me. I couldn’t randomly discover a writer and then easily read her work. The library, the place I always thought of as a repository of knowledge, became more about the churn as well, mostly in self-defense. The books didn’t stay on the shelves for five to ten years. By the end of the 1980s, if a book hadn’t been checked out in two years, it went to the library book sales department or got pulped. (Writing that hurts. It really does.)

So by the end of the 1980s, as Jeffro Johnson noted, books went out of print. There was also a tax ruling that got misconstrued as the main cause of the loss of the backlist in the 1990s, but that ruling only had an impact for a few years. The ruling changed the way that warehoused items were counted on taxes. It’s too complicated to go into here, but suffice to say it wasn’t cost effective for publishers to sit on books in warehouses during that period, so stocking books at a publisher’s expense (to replenish when the supply in the market diminished) ceased.

Midlist books got published, but older titles? Important titles? The first books in a series or books by authors no longer producing new work? Those books were the first to leave the inventory.

Publishers stopped reprinting them, but kept them as company assets unless the writer or the writer’s estate asked for a reversion of rights.

The changes in the way that books reached readers continued in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. The rise of the superstore bookstore chain started then, with Barnes & Noble leading the way. These huge bookstores needed “wallpaper,” books that would sit on those far walls, almost as decoration. The bookshelves in the middle of the stores held the newer material. The older stuff went back on the walls.

. . . .

The superstore chains were good for writers with established careers because the superstore chains, unlike the chains before them or the smaller independents, carried an entire series, and often the writer’s entire backlist. Writers could walk into a Barnes & Noble and find their own books that had been published two years ago, still stocked.

. . . .

Those other stores—those not-bookstores that carried books? The grocery stores, truck stops, drug stores, restaurants? They all got their books from a little local distributor down the street.

Literally down the street for me and Dean. We lived in the country, and the only people near us for about a mile were the owners of the book distributor for Lane County, Oregon. They rented a warehouse in Eugene, and they trucked books all over the county. Those folks knew that truck stops sold more romances and Louis L’Amour than the snobby bookstores near the University of Oregon. They knew that chain bookstores sold more bestsellers and the local grocery stores sold books on calorie counts. They knew every little detail about an area, and they knew who bought what kind of book.

Algorithms before Amazon, just kept in a distributor’s head (and on their rudimentary computer).

Grocery stores also chained up during these two decades. Instead of the regional large stores or the mom-and-pop stores on the corner, large grocery chains dominated. These chains funneled their invoices to corporate, and corporate hated the regional book distributors. The product was the same—books—but the invoices came from thousands of different distributors, sometimes with invoices as small as a few hundred bucks.

So giant grocery chains (my memory says Walmart and Safeway, but my memory might be wrong and I can’t find this quickly) decided they would deal with ten distributors each. Nationwide. They let the existing distributors compete for the business, and each company chose a different group of ten. (Eventually, those twenty distributors whittled down to four.)

. . . .

Most of the regional distributors who didn’t work with the chains went out of business, including our former neighbors. Some of the distributors got bought up, but those employees (if they stayed) were busy trying to provide books to a much larger market. The initial twenty distributors who survived didn’t have time to learn that book buyers in Raleigh preferred historical novels over science fiction novels or who the local authors were in New Orleans. So all the surviving distributors did was order bestsellers and pray that those books would sell while the distributors learned how to do business on this grand scale.

The distributors learned within a year, but the damage was done. The publishers were repeatedly told that only bestsellers could get into the pipeline, so publishers only bought guaranteed bestsellers. The whole idea of growing a bestseller from a midlist book went out the window. If the books didn’t perform significantly better with each release, then the authors were jettisoned.

And backlist? Gone, at least from these distributors. The big chain bookstores started ordering directly from the publishers, setting up their own distribution arms. Midlist writers and their backlist still made it to the superstores, but not the smaller retail outlets and not to their customer base in certain regions.

And the older books didn’t stand a chance. Unless they were being released in classy editions that looked good as wallpaper.

So here’s the upshot. By the beginning of the new century, the old genre classics in science fiction, fantasy, romance, and mystery were unavailable. They weren’t in new bookstores; they had a small (and often expensive) presence in used bookstores; and they weren’t in libraries.

. . . .

Young writers professing an ignorance of the past got me started on this project. These writers said that women had never had a place in science fiction, and I knew that was wrong. But when I tried to find books to disprove the point made by those writers, I couldn’t find much that was in print.

From a look at the evidence—and the dearth of materials online as well—it would seem that the young writers are right. In the Information Age, information is being lost.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

PG can’t think of anyone blogging who puts the present book business in context with the past as well as Kris does. She does a great many other things well, but she’s unique in this respect.

Writing by Committee

26 May 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I had a shudder moment yesterday. While researching something else, I read a New York Times interview on leadership with Gina Centrello, president and publisher of Random House Publishing Group. (No, she’s not the head of Random House. Just a section of it.)

She mentions the importance of teamwork in the publishing industry. She’s running a huge section of a major company. Of course there needs to be a team, and of course, the team needs to work toward a common goal.

In the article, she says some of the right things about writers, like:

Authors are fascinating people, and as a publisher, your job is to make their work public

Okay, that’s simplistic, but this is an interview, and one thing about interviews is that the interview’s subject has to simplify major concepts to be clear.

But the article bothered me, not from a business perspective, or even from what’s on the page. Just based on some things bestselling writers have told me about working for Random Penguin. This paragraph bothered me in particular:

Our group is composed of a ton of stars, but they’re part of this bigger galaxy. If you want to be a solo artist, you’re probably not going to be happy in our group. If anyone doesn’t succeed here, that’s usually why.

Again, she’s talking about working inside the publishing company. When you’re dealing with that many employees and a division as large as the one she manages, having an outlier employee might be a problem. (It might also be a boon, but that’s another article.)

However, that line: If you want to be a solo artist, you’re probably not going to be happy… kept reverberating for me. Because novelists are by definition solo artists.

. . . .

I do read bestsellers—generally, though, I started reading these writers before they became bestsellers—and many of their latest works have become frighteningly predictable.

Some are predictable in the way that writers become predictable once you’ve read a lot of their work. I was the annoying twelve-year-old who read every one of Agatha Christie’s mysteries (in a month) until I saw the pattern: the killer was always the person with the little or no motivation to commit the murder. Murder on the Orient Express was the one that made me quit because… SPOILER…

I had this thought as I read, “No one has a motive. She wouldn’t have all of them do it, would she?”

Turns out I was right.

END SPOILER (although, really, if you don’t know this one by now, you’re clearly not a mystery reader or a movie fan).

All writers have patterns, and sometimes, if you binge-read, you learn what those patterns are.

Those patterns are unique to the writer, so if you only read a few of the writer’s works, you’ll never see the pattern at all.

The patterns that have been kicking me out of so many bestsellers these days aren’t unique to the writers. The patterns aren’t even unique.

They’re storytelling patterns—familiar ones. The kind that tell me if the writer does A, then B will follow. A writer’s job isn’t to move from A to B. It’s to move from A to M, then back to E, and maybe all the way to Z before ending with L.

A lot of these authors specifically thank their “team” for help with the writing experience. Most writers have trusted readers, usually unfamiliar names to the rest of us. These unfamiliar names are friends and family, people who may not be in publishing at all.

But the writers I’m mentioning? They thank their publishing team for the help with the storytelling.

Since I started the blog on publishing six years ago, a lot of #1 New York Times bestsellers contacted me privately to talk with me about indie publishing. Many of these bestsellers had “retired” and all of them, to a person, mentioned the lack of respect at their Big 5 publishing house.

It seemed to these writers that the Big 5 publishing team thought they knew what sold better than the writer did. As one romance writer said to me, “Maybe they do know what sells well. But I became a bestseller without their help, and they have nothing to add creatively. They just want me to dumb things down.”

That romance writer retired, left her publisher, and now has left retirement to publish on her own. Her fans are happy, and so is she.

. . . .

A bestselling mystery writer told me that his treatment the last several years with his Big 5 publisher was so disheartening he thought he’d never write again. Again, he was told he didn’t know what sold and that he had to write the way that the company told him to, so that he could sell his books. Like the romance writer, he got angry. He’d sold a lot of books before these editor/publishers had even had a career in publishing.

So, rather than deal with that, he retired.

But he couldn’t stop writing. Also like the romance writer, he revived his career and his passion for writing by self-publishing.

. . . .

Corporate publishing has changed the game. With the emphasis on quarterly profits, the decline in a real sales staff, and the lack of institutional memory (due to so many in-house layoffs), the folks who work in traditional publishing are trying to make a fast buck by selling sure-thing products.

The problem here isn’t just with the publishers. It’s also with the writers who acquiesce. I know how seductive it is to have someone tell you what to do with your writing.

Even strong personalities, like the writer whose work I just quit reading forever and ever, can be seduced with the right language.

Your fans expect you to have a strong romance

Your fans won’t like a graphic murder scene

Your fans read your work for comfort; this book isn’t comforting

And so on.

Writers in these situations will often say that they and their agent are partners or that they and their editor will hone the book into the best book it can be.

But they’re wrong. And that’s why the books are starting to sound the same. The suggestion that the writer who is still with the Big 5 company received from her publisher  was so trite as to be the kind of cliché that movie-goers make fun of.

Big 5 publishers are patterning their business on the Hollywood model in a variety of ways. They want blockbusters, so they’re demanding that their writers produce blockbusters according to formula, even in original work. (Tie-ins are another matter; the writer is under contract to produce formula.)

. . . .

Last month, I spoke to a long-time bestseller who told me (like so many other bestsellers) that he doesn’t have time to deal with business or publishing his own work. He doesn’t deal with business now—his agent and his business manager do, so he can just write books.

I found myself wondering how much money his assistants helped themselves to over the years. But I’m too polite to ask questions like that in public. Usually I don’t say a lot to people when they tell me in person that they’re too busy as writers to handle things like finances. Sometimes I can’t shut up, though, as in the case last year of a writer who told me how much she adored the agency that represents her. It’s one of two that I caught embezzling from me.

. . . .

Some committees do work well together—a very creative writers’ room in a television series, for example—but most do not.

And no committee composed of business types can help on the creative end. That’s why the suggestions coming from the suits are usually mediocre and why suggestions based on an assumed fan/audience expectation are bad.

Audiences expect to be entertained, but the entertainment should be unique to the entertainer. That’s you, writers. I know it’s scary, but the best writers work without a net.

Many, many, many bestselling authors tell the sales force or the publisher/president to take a flying leap when the suits make suggestions that put the suits directly inside the creative process. Many of the bestsellers who “retired” did so because they didn’t want to deal with that ridiculous attitude any longer, and those bestsellers retired before indie publishing became an option.

Once it became an option, these writers embraced it. Their sales are at the same level (or better) than they were when the writers were with their traditional publishers, and the writers are making a lot more money.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Linda for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

PG says the consolidation of publishing into a handful of big conglomerates is death for creativity. The corporate mentality invariably runs to something like “Give me another Hunger Games” or “We’re looking for the next Fifty Shades.”

Whatever generated that big quarter last year is what the suits want to do again this year. In their perfect world, the publisher would release one huge book every quarter, quarter after quarter. Think of how much excess headcount you could cut with a business model like that.

 

Debt Collection

8 May 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

When writers get overzealous, they sometimes burn bridges that don’t need to be burned. I saw that last December as one writer who, in trying to deliberately burn a bridge, burned at least five other bridges, probably unknowingly. Editors, writers, and other publishers do work with each other and talk to each other, so realize that when you burn one bridge, you often torch bridges you can’t even see.

All of the tools I discuss in this post can lead to bridge burning if handled incorrectly. You should not burn bridges except in an extreme situation—no matter how much money someone owes you.

. . . .

First, a lot of people say my earnings numbers when discussing freelancing are unreasonably high. No, sorry. Successful freelancers often work in those numbers. I know hundreds of writers who do. And there’s no point in discussing American taxes at the lower earnings numbers either, because if you have a good accountant and you know what you’re doing, you won’t run into major tax issues when you earn $20,000 to $30,000 freelancing. It’s when you get to the higher numbers that taxes should become a major issue.

Second, a number of people said that they would never become freelancers without having a day job in reserve. Not only is that silly, it also shows that the person making the comment should never freelance.

Think of this way: do you have another day job lined up in case your current day job goes belly-up? Because that’s the attitude you’re expressing about freelancing.

Day jobs are no more secure than freelancing. If you believe your day job is secure, then you are deluding yourself. If you work for a major corporation, the office in your area could close without warning. I can cite example after example of company towns that get wiped out economically when the big company pulls its stakes with less than two weeks notice.

If you work for a small company, then you might want to figure out who owns the company and what happens in the event of that person’s death. Because anyone can get hit by a bus tomorrow. Just because someone else pays you doesn’t mean you’re secure.

. . . .

The difference between long-time freelancers and people with long-time day jobs is that the long-time freelancer knows how to handle personal economic ups and downs, and people who lose their day jobs often don’t. Unlike long-time freelancers, people with day jobs have no idea how to function if their primary income source disappears.

That’s what this entire series is about: how to survive the economic ups and downs of freelancing. Which is why I call it the freelance scramble.

. . . .

The problem is that most freelancers don’t know the signs of a business in serious trouble. Good, established businesses will often have cash flow bumps, and payments will sometimes be late. (Usually with explanation.) Sometimes businesses need to revisit their internal models and make course corrections.

In other words, healthy businesses lay off employees, get rid of departments, cut underperforming product lines, and change focus to growth areas. If I thought that every business I’d ever worked with was going out of business when it laid off an employee, I wouldn’t work in publishing any more.

Every single publisher I’ve ever worked with has laid off employees (sometimes en masse), cut book lines, chased new areas of profit, and reorganized entire departments. But let’s leave publishing for a moment.

. . . .

But sometimes the layoffs, shutdowns, and reorganizations are signs of a company in trouble—ironically, because the company hasn’t been making cuts or changes up until that point. In other words, the company put off making the hard decisions, and then, when it’s probably too late, they throw the kitchen sink at everything and hope it will work.

Again, impossible to tell if that’s happening, unless you’re involved in the decision-making

So, if most people can’t tell how a business is doing from the outside, then why am I telling you that freelancers should know? Or at least, should be able to guess?

Because there are some signs. And most of those signs involve payment.

. . . .

What isn’t contract specific is something that most people who work in business have learned over the years. To maintain good relationships with the people you do business with, you give the opposing party the right to cure the problem.

The right to cure is a legal term that I might be misusing, since I’m not a lawyer. But the theory behind the right to cure is a good rule of thumb when you’re dealing with a contract.

. . . .

Whenever someone fails to meet one of the terms of a contract—turning a book in by a certain deadline, making a payment on time—the contract suddenly comes into play. The contract has been violated, but not fatally so.

. . . .

There’s an implied few days or few weeks in which the party who has screwed up has time to make things right without anyone making a fuss.

Unless the contract has some language that penalizes the parties for missing the exact date and time.

. . . .

So, let’s pretend your contract on this project is a standard publishing contract, one that lays out payments and deadlines, but doesn’t ascribe penalties (like late fees for missed payments or automatic cancellation for a missed deadline).

How do you handle it when a payment gets missed?

You write a polite letter, reminding the company that payment is now overdue. The letter should be pretty casual. You should get a response—with a new timeline for payment.

Your letter should say something along the lines of:

Dear [Name],

I’m rather stunned that it’s May. I’ve come out of my latest project and as I put my business affairs in order, I noticed that the contracted payment for [title of project] has not arrived yet.

According to our contract of [such & so date], the payment for [title of project] was due on April 10. [Then you do an update here—you turned in the project on such & so date…]

I’m sure this was just an oversight. Please let me know the status of the payment.

Thank you.

All the best,

Polite, friendly, with a bit of an edge. The implication here is that you’re looking at the contract, and you will take action if the contract terms aren’t met. But you haven’t threatened anyone, and you’re not angry. We all make mistakes.

The response you want from the company is pretty simple: You want your payment. And you want them to want to pay you. At first, you do that with honey. Honey also keeps the relationship intact because, chances are, someone did screw up.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

As usual, good advice from Kris. PG doesn’t remember ever suing someone over a contract breach without sending a letter first.

A letter from an attorney can have a bracing effect — PG even sits up when he receives one (emails not so much) — and sometimes, catching a person’s attention is enough to resolve the problem.

At other times, sending a letter has brought a response providing PG with new information that caused him to advise his client to hold up on the lawsuit and go talk to the other party. Sometimes a resolution of the dispute followed soon thereafter.

The Freelance Scramble Part Three: The Unthinkable

24 April 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Freelancers must plan how they will get through a year financially. Which means they need four cash flow charts. Now, realize, when I’m talking about cash flow, I mean how the money owed will arrive. It generally will not arrive in one lump sum.

So here are the three charts that I listed in the first freelance scramble post:

The first chart shows how everything might flow.

The second chart shows how it probably will flow.

The third chart shows the absolute worst case scenario…assuming the freelancer does get paid.

For more explanation of those charts, please read the earlier post. In it, I also recommend a reserve savings account to get you through the hard time, and paying off all of your debt. That means a paid-for car, paid-for house, and paid-off credit cards, among other things.

After I laid out those first three charts, I mentioned that there is a fourth chart that every freelancer has.

The Fourth Chart shows the true worst case scenario—what happens when no one pays.

Does that happen? Oh, sadly, yes. Especially to new freelancers. Freelancers who’ve been at it longer usually know how to mitigate the circumstances, which I’ll discuss in a future post.

. . . .

Do not volunteer to write anything for free. Ever. You make your living as a writer. Do you go to your day job and tell them they don’t have to pay you for your efforts this week? Then why in God’s name would you ever do that as a freelancer?

Value your work so that other people value it as well.

The problem of undervaluing what you write isn’t just a traditional writer problem. It’s also an indie writer problem.

In the United States, the myth is that artists (writers, painters, actors, musicians…) starve. And so anyone who chooses the lifestyle of artist, it follows, should expect to do a lot of work for very little money.

That attitude is what causes so many writers to undervalue their own work. Indie writers do it more than traditionally published writers. Most traditionally published writers have at least gotten the memo that they should, at worst, get an advance on their novel.

. . . .

Dean and I did not get paid by any of our New York traditional publishers for six months after 9/11, even though some of that money had been due since July. In some cases, we went more than a year without payment from our usual sources. We survived because of the freelance scramble.

Major crises happen, from the stock market crash to the fall of the Berlin wall. And sometimes those crises have an impact on freelance writers (as a group).

Other times, though, it’s just a series of bad circumstances that keeps every client from paying the writer. One client goes bankrupt. Yet another shuts down his business for good. A third decides to pay a different writer instead of you.

Everyone is late, significantly late, for a variety of different reasons. There are techniques to get money from each of these clients, and I’ll give you some techniques later in this series, but for the sake of argument, let’s say you know you’re not going to get any cash for the next six months, despite what’s owed to you.

What now?

If you’re a longtime freelancer, you’re prepared for this contingency. You might hate it, but you’re ready. You have a plan.

The plan, simply put, is this:

You use your reserve funds to pay this month’s bills. And then you find new work. That new work will not pay as quickly as the work you’ve already done should have paid. But it will eventually pay.

You just need to hang on until the new money comes in.

. . . .

So you made $200,000 last year, and will make $50,000 this year. You will still have to pay taxes on that $200,000 this year. If you didn’t save for it (or pay estimated), then you will have to pay those taxes out of that $50,000.

This is why, in addition to copyright, the other thing writers need to learn to maintain a long-term career in this business is how to work the tax system to your benefit.

Because a good half of my readership for this blog are not in the United States, I am not going to go into a long tax discussion here (or in the comments). Suffice to say that you need a good accountant who works with non-traditional clients—particularly musicians and other writers. Because the tax law is different for those of us who freelance, run businesses and/or make a living as artists. There is no one-size-fits-all tax preparation and no one-size-fits-all answers to tax questions.

If you need a way of thinking about this fourth scenario, think of it like this: You got fired from your day job and you have no prospects for a new job. You still have to pay your bills and cope with the day-to-day stuff, but you have no unemployment coming in and no safety net except the one you build for yourself.

That’s the scenario I’m describing here.

Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it might happen to you.

The key to surviving it isn’t to hide your head in the sand. The key is to plan for it. Expect it, at least once in your freelance career, and then when it hits, do your best to find new work.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

The Freelance Scramble

9 April 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Writers who become successful freelancers learn how to manage money. But more than that, they learn how to manage cash flow.

Cash flow is the way that the money comes in, not how much is owed or how much will be paid.

For example, a freelance writer with traditional publishing contracts will have the pay schedule delineated out in that contract. The lump sum advance is listed, along with the way it will be paid. For example, many contracts these days look like this:

1/3 on signing

1/3 on acceptance

1/3 on publication

So, if a writer gets a $12,000 advance, she’ll get $4000 on the signing of the contract, $4000 on the acceptance of the manuscript, and $4000 on publication of the book. Those three events, in traditional publishing, often happen in three different years.

. . . .

What writers soon learn is this: $4000 on signing doesn’t mean the day the contract is signed. It means “sometime after the contract is signed, a check will appear—maybe 30, 60, 90 or 120 days later.” Acceptance is worse, because the manuscript has to be accepted first—and that can take months after turn-in. Then that 30, 60, 90 day thing starts all over again. And publication—well, the payment doesn’t come when the book comes out. The invoice gets triggered in the publishing house, and the writer then gets paid some undefined period of time later.

. . . .

Successful freelance writers learned how to manage the vagaries of lump-sum checks arriving at irregular intervals. Some writers had several publishers. Other writers augmented their book publishing with short fiction or nonfiction or tech writing.

The problem with all of that, though, was the same: Each company paid the writer in its own way, and in its own time.

Long-time freelance writers are very happy with their indie publishing careers because the checks from the online retailers arrive at regular intervals. Most pay monthly. A few pay biweekly. Some pay every quarter (I’m looking at you, Smashwords.) And the writer always knows what the payment will be.

For example, if a writer’s January sales figures on Amazon US were $1,000, the writer knows she’ll get a $1,000 from Amazon in March. The same with the other online retailers. Generally speaking the writer knows how much she’ll get paid two months before she gets her check.

Which is better than that ill-defined system traditional publishers have. But it’s still dicey. Because, as the KU Apocalypse proved to so many writers, you can’t count on earning the same amount of money in September as you did in January.

. . . .

But a freelancer can’t rely on $2000 every two weeks. Even if the freelancer has indie income combined with traditional income, and even if the freelancer figures out how much she’s owed for the next six months, she can’t guarantee that the money will flow in the time that it’s allotted.

The traditional income is generally late. The indie income will arrive on time, but the freelancer has no idea what that income will be six months hence.

Which means that the freelancer must learn the scramble.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

PG will note that some publishers and some agents have been known to manage their cash flow by slowing down payments to authors.

However, unlike the electric company and Mastercard, authors don’t receive interest and late-payment penalties when their money is delayed.

The Hard Part

3 April 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Some weeks I hate opening my e-mail. Most of March fell into that category.

Throughout the entire month, I got e-mails from writers at the end of their ropes. Some were losing their traditional contracts; others had seen their indie sales fall through the floor; still others were thinking of declaring bankruptcy. A handful asked for the names of attorneys to sue various and asundry publishers, agents, subrights organizations—you name it. And another handful wanted to know why they weren’t making the promised millions.

Welcome to the garbage pit found at the end of the gold rush.

. . . .

The gold rush started tapering off in 2012, but smart indies kept their income alive by moving with the changes in the industry for another year or more.

Then the tricks stopped working completely. On the Kindle Boards, they actually have a phrase for the end of the gold rush era: they call it the KU Apocalypse. The introduction of Kindle Unlimited put the final nail in the gold rush’s coffin. The readers who want free all the time had only to subscribe to KU to get all the books they wanted. With KU, writers got a fraction of what they were being paid before.

There is anecdotal evidence that the KU Apocalypse also hit the writers who weren’t exclusive with Kindle. In fact, some say, that’s where the apocalypse hit first.

I don’t know, because I have never allowed my ebooks to be exclusive. It cuts out too many readers, especially in growing markets, like iBooks. But indie writer after indie writer reported huge sales losses—many going from making tens of thousands per month to only making hundreds.

Tales like this were happening before the summer of 2014, but in the summer of 2014, some big names were affected, and that made national (mainstream) news.

That last bit showed hundreds of authors that the get-rich-quick schemes of the early indie days had a shelf-life, just like everything else in the world. The problem was—and is—that so many of these authors never planned for the gravy train to end.

I tried to talk about it. And I often got shouted down by people with only a few years in the business, people who told me I didn’t understand the new world of publishing.

. . . .

Does this mean that everyone whose indie writing career has trundled downhill have written bad books? Not at all. There are other issues at play here. Some of them have to do with bad covers or poor copy editing or poor content editing . . . . Some have bad book descriptions or blurbs. And a whole bunch of the books, more than I want to say, are just okay.

There’s nothing wrong with “just okay,” except that it doesn’t inspire readers to return for the next book. Just okay sold in the early part of the gold rush because there wasn’t enough supply to meet the demand for ebooks.

. . . .

Now that the gold rush is over, the indie writers who earned a lot and are now earning one-tenth or even less of what they had previously earned are feeling like failures.

How do I know this? Because I’ve watched it for decades. Not with indie writers, but with traditional ones. Whether you like it or not, the pattern is the same.

Back when I started, the writers who’d been in the business a long time tried to warn new writers not to quit their day jobs when they got their first book advance. Yet I personally know dozens of writers who did. They sold a three-book contract for more money than they’d seen at one time, and think they had it made.

. . . .

Not every novel published traditionally succeeds. In fact, most don’t. Just like most indie books fail to make sales that can provide the writer with a living.

The writing career doesn’t follow a steady uphill trajectory. Unlike a salaried position where you remain at the same rate of pay until you get a raise, writing is filled with ups and downs. The writing career is made up of a succession of waves. Sometimes the waves are so huge that they could swamp a cruise ship, and sometimes they’re so tiny as to be invisible to all but the person measuring them.

And around every wave is a trough.

Sometimes—often—a writing career will dip to its lowest level ever before or after it hits its highest level ever.

The writers who stay in the business are the ones who learn how to surf.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Robert for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

Controlling The Creatives

26 March 2015

From Kristine Katheryn Rusch:

Right now, a visible group of people in the field of science fiction are engaged in a protracted battle about the genre’s future. Both sides are practicing a nasty, destructive campaign against the other, and not worrying about the collateral damage they’re causing on the sidelines.

Those of us who’ve been in the field a long time have pretty much abstained from the arguments. Not because we lack opinions. We have opinions and have discussed them with each other privately, but we remain quiet because we’ve seen such protracted battles before.

When I came into the field in the 1980s, I watched the remnants of two such protracted battles. The first was about the legitimacy of Star Wars and Star Trek and whether or not Trek and SW fans even belonged in the genre, let alone any writers who admitted they enjoyed those things.

That first argument spilled into a sillier side argument about whether or not tie-in writers tainted their writing skills by writing novels in someone else’s universe. Hugo Award winner Timothy Zahn pretty much destroyed the naysayers by writing excellent sf novels under the Star Wars label and making a small fortune doing so.

The second argument was about whether fantasy was a legitimate genre. The writer-critics agreed that slipstream fantasy—the kind that where you can’t tell if the fantasy is something that really happened to the character or something that he misinterpreted—was legitimate. But the rest of it? That could’ve been crap, as judged by the terms the writer-critics used, like “fat fantasy novels,” as if they were all the same or “elfy-welfy” novels that obviously weren’t up to any kind of quality whatsoever.

When I published my first novel, a not-quite-fat fantasy novel set in a magical kingdom, a writer-friend told me that I had just ruined the career I was building because I was writing crap fantasy, not real literature.

. . . .

If you think these kinds of arguments only occur in the sf genre, think again. In the past few years, I participated in a few group projects in the romance genre. In two cases, one of the participants was a male romance writer, and I’ll be honest: until this sf argument started, I had never before seen such naked bigotry between writers.

Some of the female romance writers hated that a man was involved, wouldn’t admit that he could contribute anything of value, and essentially treated him (if they spoke to him at all) as if he was an imbecile. These women, all of a certain age, had had the same experience themselves in reverse in their real-world careers, so I was stunned that they would turn on a fellow human being like that, but turn they did.

. . . .

While these distinctions might sound silly to the casual reader, they’re extremely destructive to writers inside the various genres. I know of writers who stopped producing in the genres they loved because of the vicious attacks from one side or another. I also know of writers whose outspoken nastiness destroyed their careers with the very editors (and readers) they wanted to sell books to.

Since the advent of indie publishing, it’s not as easy to destroy a career as it was in the past. An editor might not want to take a toxic writer into the fold, but the writer can self-publish. You’d think that would solve the issues of divisiveness—if writers want to write something, they can—but it hasn’t. If anything, the problem has grown more pervasive, louder, and uglier.

Personally, I believe that a writer’s politics and religious beliefs (including beliefs about a favorite genre) should remain off-social media if at all possible, and that arguments in favor of one thing or another should be made in person, if at all.

I think it’s more important to incorporate your worldview into what you write and let the readers decide whether or not they want to read your work than it is to win an argument that will seem quaint fifteen years from now. Of course, I also believe that we should all look at the way people live their lives rather than focusing on the words they use or the color of their skin.

. . . .

My tenure in the publishing industry has shown me that these bitter disputes are really about change. One side resists the change while the other side advocates for it, and they remain locked at each other’s throats, calling each other names. The thing is, as they’re screaming at each other, other writers are quietly effecting change by doing what they do best—writing fiction.

. . . .

The problem with all of these arguments, from the cozy versus the hard-boiled, the fantasy versus science fiction, the women versus men, the white folks versus people of color, is that they prescribe how a story should be written.

What’s wrong with writing a story from your own heritage? If the story’s from a perspective that hasn’t seen a lot of print, then write it. If the story’s been done before (as is the case with so much white American-European fiction), write it anyway.

Write it. Because it comes from your personality, your knowledge, and your heritage. That story will contain your passion. Write it and let it find its audience.

I know that a lot of curated fiction—stuff that came out of traditional publishing—closed and barricaded the door to people of color (in almost all genres), to women (in most genres), and to men (in the romance genre). I know that these issues still need resolution.

I also know that indie publishing has allowed these voices to finally be heard.

That’s change, and so many people are so terrified of change that they react with startling bigotry and language or behavior that they would never use in polite company. Social media has allowed a lot of horrid things to slip through the cracks—racist, discriminatory, biased and just plain ugly stuff.

And because of it, so many newer writers are backing away from topics that they could easily write about now that the gatekeepers have lost their hold on the entry points into various fields. These newer writers are letting the opinions of others—others who, in the scheme of things really don’t matter much—shut down the creative process.

What these newer writers don’t realize is that a lot of these arguments are a last-ditch effort to control the conversation—and more importantly, to control the creatives.

Link to the rest at Kristine Katheryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Katheryn Rusch’s books

Getting By

5 March 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s an anecdote those of you who have faithfully read my Business Rusch blog or The Freelancer’s Survival Guide have encountered before. I apologize for the repetition, but the context needs to be here.

Trust me. I will bring this anecdote around to writing and freelancing farther on in this post.

One-hundred-and-fifty thousand years ago (or the early1980s, whichever makes me seem older), I got a job at a textbook publishing company. I came in as the lowest of the low, an editorial assistant—in other words, a secretary with a fancy title that made me seem more important than I was.

I was barely out of college and the best thing I had going for me was that I knew how to turn on a computer. (Seriously, these people had had a new computer sitting idly because no one could find the on-switch.) We did everything by hand or by typewriter, and for the bulk of my time there, that computer gathered dust.

I had come from freelancing. My (soon-to-be ex-) husband and I owned a failing business, and we were broke. So I got a full-time job to pay the bills.

Day one, I got trained by the woman I was replacing. Day two, I came in and did everything I had been assigned to do within 30 minutes. My boss, the wonderful Editor Greg, was startled that I finished so quickly. He double-checked me, found out I had done everything right, and gave me more to do. Still and all, I was done with my tasks by noon.

With Editor Greg’s permission, I read a book all afternoon. The book was one of the company’s textbooks, but Editor Greg thought that it might be useful if I knew the product.

Day Three, same thing.

Day Four, the other secretaries—I mean, editorial assistants—waylaid me as I came into work. They explained in no uncertain terms that I had to make my 30 minutes of work stretch throughout the 8 hours, or I would make every other editorial assistant look bad.

. . . .

After that textbook publishing experience, I stopped hiring out as a secretary for part-time work. (For a while anyway. Years later, I moved to Oregon, and was desperate for any part-time work. Then I got hired by a wonderful man [still a friend] who let me leave when I finished the tasks assigned me.) For most of my early working life, part-time work I got go augment my freelance income was as a waitress.

Waitresses in busy restaurants can’t slack off. If you do, you get fired. Or, if your bosses really don’t care, you don’t make money. Because other (good) waiters and waitresses will take your tables—and your tips. By the time I was out of high school, I could handle an entire Country Kitchen restaurant at breakfast by myself (with the assistance of someone to bus tables) and still get customers in and out of the restaurant within an hour.

And I had fun.

Why am I telling you this?

Because one of the things I learned in 2014 is that a lot of employees get by.

Dean and I own or co-own eight different businesses—not all of them to do with publishing. Generally speaking, we’re good at hiring people and for the most part, over the years, we have hired excellent folk. We have a good staff of people right now—people who work hard, care a lot, and do an excellent job.

Dean and I have hired and fired people throughout our adult lives, and also generally speaking, we tend to avoid the get-by folks. We get rid of them fast when we accidentally hire them.

How do we accidentally hire them?

They present well. They present as smart and talented and (sometimes) misunderstood. In their (excellent) interviews, they complain that they were in the wrong job. Sometimes, given their resumes, it seems like they actually were in the wrong job.

While the get-by folks talk a good game, they don’t perform well. After their training is complete, they can’t seem to meet deadlines or get work done.

. . . .

There are writers who get by.

I’ve always known that, but I hadn’t given it a lot of thought until the indie publishing revolution. Throughout my entire career, I’ve known writers who take five years to write a book (or a year to write a short story!), writers who never try freelancing because they can’t get their production up, writers who can’t seem to finish anything after the first few books.

I always thought, ah, it’s their critical voice that’s on too loud, or they really don’t want to become a writer, or they have some other interest that’s more important.

I never thought—I never realized—that a goodly percentage of these writers are simply folks who get by. These writers figure out how to game the system at their jobs. They do like my very good friend did at his job; they seem productive when they are not.

Unlike my very good friend, many get-by people seem to believe their own hype. They seem to think there’s a way around everything, that everyone else does this, and that successful people aren’t people who work hard but are people who know how to play the game well.

Does this sound familiar?

There are blogs everywhere on how to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm to make a book a bestseller. There are writers who cringe when you tell them the best way to sell your first book is to write a second. There are writers who simply do not believe that writing the next book (and the next and the next) is more important than promoting the only book.

. . . .

Expecting recognition for a minimal amount of work is a get-by attitude.

Why do I call writing one novel a minimal amount of work? Because I’m mean or a show-off or a hack or freakishly productive?

No, because I know writers who have long-term careers. Most of us never talk about our productivity. Most of us never talk about how many hours we spend at the computer. As Dean often says, we are successful because we work harder than everyone else.

. . . .

It is an accomplishment to finish your first novel. Go celebrate. Most wannabe writers never finish a novel. They may not ever finish a short story. They talk the good talk, but they don’t put in the work.

When you finish your first novel, you have taken that first step toward being a professional writer. But from the perspective of career writers, people who’ve been at it for years, you’re a baby who has toddled over to your parents for the very first time.

Yep, it’s an accomplishment worthy of cake and videos and applause.

Now, time to emulate that toddler and learn to run.

These days, most indie writers expect that first novel to be a success. I expected my first (real) novel to be a success as well. We all write because we know we’re brilliant, because the world was just waiting for our wisdom, because we have done something Mankind Has Never Seen Before.

Then those of us who want careers get over ourselves and move onto the next novel, and the next, and the next, and the next.

Right now, the Get-By People who wrote that first novel, gamed Amazon’s algorithms, and tried to convince everyone under the sun to buy that novel are leaving the writing business in droves. The Get-By People are complaining that “sales aren’t what they used to be.” They’re complaining that “free doesn’t work any more.” They’re wondering why no one is praising their (three-year-old) work.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and thanks to Bruce for the tip.

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books

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