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