Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Serious Writer Voice

5 February 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

So I read fiction magazine after fiction magazine, anthology after anthology.

I noted something as I read. Most of the stories had the same voice and tone. What do I mean by that? I mean they read like they’d been written by the exact same person.

It was always a joy—it is always a joy—to “hear” a new voice, a voice that doesn’t sound like anyone else. I could tell without looking at the byline when I hit a Joyce Carol Oates or Megan Abbot or Michael Connelly story. The Strand found an original F. Scott Fitzgerald story and published it last year, and Fitzgerald’s voice—unlike any other—came through loud and clear.

A lot of the stories I read this past year had wonderful plots. They had great characters and lovely twists. The stories were published, remember, and so they all had something unusual, something strong.

But that something generally wasn’t voice.

And now I’m reading manuscripts for an anthology that should be all voice. Every story should sound so different from every other story as to be unrecognizable. Think of it like accents or word usage: As I read, I should be seeing Texas accents and idioms in one story, Australian accents and idioms in the next, and Scottish accents and idioms in the next.

Instead, I get mostly what I call “serious writer voice.”

Serious writer voice is carefully bland. It will include a few setting details, some nice descriptions, maybe a few unique words. But mostly, it is indistinguishable from any other voice. Rather like the way we used to train broadcasters in this country.

When I started on the radio, I was fortunate enough to have the perfect accent, because broadcasters were trained to speak like a Midwesterner. (Middle Midwest, if you want to be specific—more Central Illinois than Northern Minnesota or Southern Missouri.) Now, if you listen, you’ll hear broadcasters with Georgia accents, and broadcasters with Brooklyn accents. They actually sound like human beings these days—with correct grammar (most of the time) but varied delivery.

Like broadcasters of old, writers have been trained to sound the same. Serious writer voice stories have paragraphs that are of uniform length, sentences that rarely have contractions, a lot of passive voice (!), and very few conjunctions. Things like dashes and parenthesis are used judiciously—as in so rarely that most stories don’t even have them.

All the tools that writers should have in their grammarian’s toolbox—the tools that make writers “sound” different—well, most writers don’t know they exist. It’s as if writers try very hard to build a house using a hammer, nails, some wood, and a saw. No screwdriver, no wrench, no metal, no PVC pipes, nothing. Just the same four things over and over again, whether they fit or not.

. . . .

Think of it this way: imagine someone telling you a story. That person, who uses his own voice creatively—mimicking accents, raising his voice when someone’s shouting, using different tones for different characters—will hold your attention with his performance as well as his story.

Then think of the same story told like this: the person stands in front of the room, uses no gestures, and speaks in a monotone. Sometimes, you can hear the story anyway. But most of the time, you have to struggle to pay attention, because that monotone is deadly.

Most of what I read these days—things that are published, both traditionally and indie—are written in the stylistic equivalent of that monotone.

Is there a reason this is happening? Absolutely.

Writers workshop their manuscripts. They have their friends (usually unpublished or poorly published) writers go over the manuscript. Those friends impose really weird rules on the writers. I’ve seen lists of these rules. The rules tend to vary depending on where the writer learned them.

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

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

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Indie Contracts

29 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Boy, I’ve been seeing a lot of crappy contracts lately, and not at all from the place I would have expected. I expect bad clauses in traditional publishing contracts. Too many writers don’t hire intellectual property attorneys to vet those contracts, relying instead on agents, and that leads to all kinds of terrible book contracts. If you want to see what some of those are, look up the contract posts here  or pick up a copy of Deal Breakers 2013 (or wait for the new version).

However, the bad contracts I’ve been seeing these last few months don’t come from traditional publishers—directly, anyway. They come from indie writers and brand-new small press publishers. And these contracts aren’t just bad, they’re often worse than traditional publishing contracts.

The motives behind the contracts are different. Traditional publishers are trying to see how much they can get from ignorant writers with complicit agents. Indie writers/small press publishers are just as ignorant as those traditionally published writers, but the indie writers/small press publishers believe they’re on the side of the angels.

They’re not because they’re making huge mistakes.

. . . .

The bump in the road [for Newbie Publishers and Newbie Editors that run them] that I hadn’t expected were the contracts. Most of the readers who support these new projects never see the contracts between the publisher and the writer. That’s one of those arcane little details that matter only to the publisher and writer.

Unfortunately, this is an area where Newbie Editor and his publisher violate their own ideals. Usually, Newbie Editor was (once upon a time) a traditionally published writer. The publishing company is often owned by Newbie Editor.

And Newbie Editor is just like any other traditional writer: he never hired an IP attorney to vet his book contracts. He let his agent do it. Newbie Editor never negotiated his own short story contracts either, so he has no idea what the good or bad clauses are. In fact, Newbie Editor knows nothing about copyright or contracts—and it shows.

. . . .

Newbie Editor sends a contract to Short Story Writer. Most short story writers are happy to make that sale. They sign the contract and send back without a second thought.

But people who read my blog and/or who have been my students know better than to do that. They actually read the contract.

And what they find is that the contract is a nightmare.

Most of the contracts I’m seeing from Newbie Editors and new online magazines make no sense. I mean it. They contradict themselves on every page. Sometimes they ask for things they don’t need while ignoring things they do.

The most egregious contract I saw was just a few weeks ago. Some idiot publisher/editor had changed the language in his very bad traditional book contract to be a short story contract. This ten-page short story contract (not kidding) including right of first refusal of the poor author’s next short story! And a non-compete. And all the other horrid things we’ve been discussing about traditional publishing contracts.

That contract at least made sense. I could see exactly what that idiot publisher/editor had done. She had modified an existing document by using a global search & replace, substituting the word “book” for the words “short story.” Apparently the idiot publisher/editor thought that was what she needed to buy a 3,000 word short story.

Sigh.

. . . .

But most of these newbie editor/publishers take clauses at random from every contract they’ve received in their publishing careers. The contract have boilerplate traditional publishing language that refers to other parts of a contract that aren’t there. It’ll ask for North American Rights and then say that the story will be on sale around the world in all languages. It’ll claim that the contract is for non-exclusive rights, but the writer can’t sell or publish the story without the publishers permission.

And on and on and on.

In other words, these newbie editors and publishers are too damn cheap to hire an IP Attorney to develop a valid publishing contract. Just like these people were probably too cheap to hire an IP attorney when they got their own book contracts.

I’ve received some of these cobbled-together contracts myself. I’ve worked with the editor/publisher to devise a fair contract for me, although in one or two instances, I just walked away. The handwriting was on the wall that the project was going to be a disaster, and lo and behold, it always ended up being one.

The flip side of the cobbled-together indie contract is the draconian one. Some of these new companies have hired some young, cheap attorney to develop the company’s contract. Often that attorney is the friend of a friend, and not an IP attorney at all.

Those contracts don’t just want the writer’s firstborn child, they want everything the writer owns in perpetuity. They’re terrifyingly nasty, the kind of contract that makes a traditional publishing contract seem nice and cuddly.

Writers are signing these contracts because writers are mostly ignorant about legal things. And as long as the original newbie editor/publisher is in place, the writer will probably be okay. After all, the contract was born in ignorance, so it will to live in ignorance. No one will notice how horrid the clauses are. No one will ever exercise them.

But should the project become a success, and should someone with half a brain decide to buy out the editor/publisher on the project, that new someone might actually enforce the contract clauses.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

PG says it always costs less in legal fees to fix a contract (or walk away) before you sign a contract than it is to deal with it afterwards.

Poor Poor Pitiful Me Is Not A Business Model

22 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last week, I wrote a blog about the Authors Guild letter of 2016. I explored a number of things about the letter, but avoided the one thing that annoys me the most.

The letter’s tone.

It begs. It whines. It pleads.

Don’t believe me? Read it.

For those of you too lazy to click on the link, here are three examples of what I mean from the letter itself:

•It is time for publishers to give authors the respect, compensation and fair play they deserve.

•And authors should be able to get a fair shake even if they don’t have powerful agents or lawyers…Why not do the right thing by all authors and eliminate those provisions for everyone?

•Without serious contract reform, the professional author will become an endangered species and publishers—as well as society at large—will be left with less and less quality content. Publishers need to treat their authors equitably so they can keep writing the kinds of books that have enabled the publishing industry to achieve the financial and cultural status it enjoys today.

Note the repetition of the word “fair” and “equitable.” Yeah, all well and good, folks. But the Authors Guild is writing a letter to large corporations begging those corporations to give up profit and advantage because it’s “the right thing” to do.

How nice, and sweet, and naïve of these people. In a perfect world, maybe, some Powerful Publisher will grant its Poor Little Writers a few more crumbs from the Big Kids table.

But a friend of mine, who started and ran a multimillion-dollar business (not publishing) for decades, has a saying. Whenever he hears or sees something like this, he gets an impish little grin, and says, “Fair is in August.”

For those of you outside of the United States, he’s referring to county and state fairs that show up every summer, with carnival rides and cotton candy and all sorts of circus-like entertainment.

. . . .

The tone of the Authors Guild letter reminds me of children begging their parents for one more piece of candy, one more movie, one more toy from the toy store. “It’s not fair!” the child whines. “Suzy gets one! Why can’t all the kids have the same toys?”

It’s not fair. Nothing in life is fair.

And no large for-profit business, which is answerable to shareholders, is ever going to lose a profitable advantage because it’s somehow fair.

Here’s the truth of publishing, folks. Those terms the Authors Guild is fighting for, the thing they want all authors to have? Some authors already get them. It’s not that the industry refuses to grant the terms to allauthors. It’s that the industry gives those who have some kind of clout in a negotiation more respect—and better terms—than someone who rolls over and whines.

That clout doesn’t have to be multimillion dollar book sales. That clout might simply be backbone. From my early days as a beginning writer, I asked for good contract terms. And because I asked, I often got them. It wasn’t like the publishers refused everyone, but they certainly aren’t going to give good terms to someone who is too dumb to ask for them.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Krist Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Authors Guild 2016 Letter

15 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

On January 5, 2016, the Authors Guild released an open letter to “U.S. publishers—namely those who are members of the Association of American Publishers.” The letter, based on the fair contracts initiative that the Authors Guild started last year, informs publishers that they need to improve the standard contract model between writers and publishers.

Dozens of other writers’ organizations have signed onto this letter, and the Guild requests that writers’ organizations outside of the United States follow suit with their publishers in their countries.

The point of the letter is “to start a conversation within the industry about antiquated and unfair clauses in ‘standard’ book contracts.”

. . . .

I believe writers should understand what they sign, and walk away from bad contracts. Simply knowing that publishers will negotiate many of these points will help writers in standing up for themselves—without agents, who make the problem worse, generally speaking.

(Agents, who are not lawyers, break the law when they practice law without a license. In some states, that’s a misdemeanor. In others, it’s a felony. But I digress.)

Writers can hire lawyers to negotiate for them, and believe me when I tell you that the lawyers will do a much better job for the writers who partner with them. Why do I use the word “partner”? Because I’ve seen some writers completely misunderstand what the lawyers tell them, and make matters worse. Writers need to understand that contracts are a unit, and changing one clause without changing another will sometimes not make a difference at all.

Most important of all, writers must understand that they are not selling their books to publishing companies. Writers are licensing pieces of the book’s copyright.

. . . .

I want to support what the Authors Guild is doing here. I really do. I believe this “conversation” needs to commence. Writers—particularly writers of the Take Care of Me school—need to understand that their publishers and their agents are not their friends. Those two entities are in business for themselves and will devise contract terms to benefit them.

Most agents are vested in keeping their relationships with publishers smooth. If forced to choose between one of their authors and a Big Five Publisher, the agent will choose the Big Five Publisher, because that publisher provides more income and opportunity than the single author will (unless that author is a mega-bestseller a la James Patterson).

The Authors Guild letter will go a long way in educating Take Care of Me writers, who absolutely need to hear what the Guild is saying about contracts. The contracts are unfair. They’re ridiculously one sided, and I would wager that if some bestselling author with a bad contract went to Equity Court, the court would consider canceling the contract altogether. (However, you can never entirely predict what a court will do, which is why I’m hedging my bets here.)

. . . .

I’m not unusual, however, in my lack of an Authors Guild membership. I personally know hundreds, maybe thousands, of writers who earn a full-time living at their writing—and judging from a quick scan of the Authors Guild membership, only about 20 of the writers I personally know who are making a full-time living are Authors Guild members.

So who are these Authors Guild members?

Well, once I eliminated the names of old-time NYT bestsellers and writers who live in NY, a lot of the names I recognized were agents. Agents, and agent assistants. Agents are allowed to become “members at large” which is a non-voting category of membership, but clearly (clearly!) influential.

When I shut off my “know personally” filter and searched the list of member names. I recognized the bylines of many writers (most nonfiction), but found only the handful of New York Times bestsellers on the list.

Frankly, the paucity of New York Times bestselling fiction writers on that list startled me. (Most of the Big Names were once-every-five-years, research-heavy nonfiction writers.)

Some of the biggest New York Times bestsellers are not on the list. Nora Roberts, George R.R. Martin, and Stephenie Meyers aren’t here. Nor are James Patterson and John Grisham. Debbie Macomber isn’t there. Those six authors sell a lot of books, and make hundreds of millions (if not a billion) for traditional publishers. (Realize, however, that public declaration of membership is something the author can choose not to do, so I don’t know for a fact that these people are not members.)

Bestsellers who aren’t in the “mega” category aren’t on the list either. Lee Child isn’t there. Neither is Robert Crais or John Scalzi or Neil Gaiman. So when the Authors Guild says it represents “the collective voice of American authors,” it’s just representing the collective voice of a small handful of American authors, influential and non-influential alike.

The Authors Guild says it will accept self-published writers, which surprised me, because I didn’t see the name of a single major indie writer, like Marie Force or Hugh Howey.

. . . .

I do know this: If you remove all hybrid, indie, and self-published authors from consideration (leaving only traditionally published authors), then writers’ income has declined in the past six years. I know for a fact that a lot of bestsellers are losing income because their sales have declined, but that decline won’t show up in most royalty statements until later this year. And a lot of the contracts of really big bestsellers don’t have the onerous contract terms that the Authors Guild lists.

But add the hybrid, indie, and self-published writers back into the mix, and I would wager that writers’ income has grown dramatically in the past six years. Author Earnings  provides more than enough information to allow me to make that statement with my wiggle-words attached. Why the wiggle-words? Because I don’t know how much traditionally published only writers’ incomes have declined. Enough to off-set many of the gains of the hybrid, indie, and self-published? I don’t know.

However, given the pool of writers that the Authors Guild represents, I absolutely believe that those writers have seen a drastic decline in income. Most of the writers in the visible list are mostly mainstream and literary, with very few genre names on board (except for a handful of mystery and children’s book writers that I saw). Almost all are traditionally published.

. . . .

If the Authors Guild letter had stated that the Authors Guild membership saw dramatic decreases, that letter would have been accurate. But the Authors Guild for some blind, ungodly reason, believes that it is “the collective voice of American authors” and doesn’t realize that it doesn’t even represent most of the successful authors in America.

I hate it when someone puts misleading information out into the public discussion. I hate it more when my colleagues in the journalism field accept those numbers without a thought or fact-check. All I did was a spot-check of the names on the members list and I knew immediately that the information was incomplete at best.

. . . .

[N]ot even that money paragraph (which got me going on my rant) is the paragraph that angered me.

This is:

The [Authors Guild Fair Contract] Initiative’s fresh look at standard book contracts has proven without doubt that provisions that would never be acceptable in other contexts have long been taken for granted in publishing agreements. Authors are now standing together to say “no.”

I left off the final sentence of that paragraph. I will deal with it, and the tone of the letter, shortly.

But let’s consider that paragraph, which is the letter’s second paragraph. A “fresh look” has shown that provisions “that would never be acceptable in other contexts” have “long been taken for granted in publishing agreements.”

I do love passive voice. Because the missing clause here is “by the Authors Guild.”

Remember the Authors Guild claims to be “the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization for writers.” On its website, it also states, “The Guild advocates for authors on issues of copyright, fair contracts, free speech and tax fairness, and has initiated lawsuits in defense of authors’ rights, where necessary.”

These “antiquated” contract terms, long taken for granted, have existed for at least fifty years in the publishing industry. I can tell you for a fact that I’ve seen these terms since the mid-1980s in contracts.

Where the hell has the Authors Guild been? What kind of advice has it been giving its writers? Why hasn’t it stood up against bad publishing contracts before now?

. . . .

And ten to fifteen years ago, as ebooks just started up, smart writers complained vociferously about the 25% of net clauses. Agents refused to negotiate those clauses, citing industry standard, and traditional publishing said they had no idea how to pay royalties on ebooks any other way.

In other words, no organization that I know of—not SFWA, not MWA, not RWA, and certainly not The Authors Guild —fought the implementation of 25% of net as ebook royalties. The publishers wanted 25% of net and the organizations rolled over, not understanding the problem.

My early contracts in those years treated ebooks as a subsidiary right. I got 50% of retail. Then as other authors, agents, and organizations caved, I had to fight to get 50% of gross.

Finally, I found myself facing 25% of net. That’s (fortunately) when I had the opportunity to indie-publish my books. And I took it. Because I knew that 25% of net will—by 2020—equal $0. There would never be a net income, just like there isn’t on big Hollywood movies. (It’s already going that way.)

The fact that the Authors Guild has done nothing for decades to help writers understand and negotiate their own contracts makes me furious. Particularly when the Guild, in a panic, has decided to beg publishers to be offer good terms.

Yeah, I said “beg.” Because this Authors Guild letter is one long whine.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Reactive Business Model

8 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

As promised, I’m doing a lot of catch-up on the state of the publishing industry at the beginning of 2016. The reading is illuminating. Many things seem similar to the situation at this point last year, and many others seem so wildly different that it’s hard to believe only a year has gone by.

. . . .

For years now, I’ve been looking for a term to describe something that has increasingly irritated me about this new world of publishing. “Reactive Business Model” might just work.

I’ve been using the phrase “jumping on the bandwagon,” but it’s more than that. It also refers to herd marketing and non-creative thinking in all aspects of business and creation.

. . . .

 How The Reactive Business Model Works

The Narrative

Susie Q’s novel becomes a surprise bestseller. The publishing press (whatever it is) examines the bestseller. Someone (or someones) create a narrative that “explains” the success of the bestseller.

Narrative Number One

If most publishing professionals (whoever they are) hate the novel, the narrative becomes this:

Susie Q’s bestseller, The Surprise, sold half a million copies since its pre-Christmas release, making it the largest bestseller in the last half of December. Aggressive marketing combined with a hot topic have made this by-the-numbers novel reach the top of the charts.

The narrative will then examine exactly what the aggressive marketing campaign did, and why it was successful.

Narrative Number Two

If most publishing professionals (and/or critics) love the novel, the narrative becomes this:

The half-million copies of Susie Q’s novel, The Surprise, which appeared a few weeks ago have become a Christmas bonus for Extra Big Publishing House. Stellar writing, a savvy marketing campaign, and a bookstore blitz have provided the publishing industry with one of the biggest bright spots of 2015.

This narrative will continue with an explanation of the savvy marketing campaign, a mention of the bookstore blitz, and an examination of just what it is about The Surprise that makes it the novel of the year.

The Truth Behind The Music…I mean, The Narratives

One thing you must understand about these two narratives (and yes, there are usually only two) is that they are as big a piece of fiction as the book itself.

In traditional publishing, the narratives are designed to make the publisher’s effort paramount and the writer’s completely unimportant. Because of all of us who are writing at the moment grew up in a traditional publishing world, we’ve absorbed these narratives from the moment we decided to become writers—maybe even from the moment we became readers.

Look again at this sentence: In traditional publishing, the narratives are designed to make the publisher’s effort paramount and the writer’s completely unimportant.

Most of us, as writers, believe deep down that a publisher can make a bestseller. A writer can’t write one.

Why do we believe it? Because of Narrative Number One. If traditional publishing can’t figure out why a book everyone in the know hated sold well, then clearly, the book sold well because of the ads or the cover or the push that a select portion of the sales force gave it.

The book couldn’t have sold well because it was a good story. Because people outside of the literary bubble enjoyed the read.

And if crappy books sell well, then that simply proves the point: the only thing that will make a book sell is the proper marketing.

Before my comments light up with lists of crappy books that sell well, remember this: One reader’s crappy book is another reader’s favorite. At a certain level—and that level is often publication—we’re only discussing taste, not quality. There is no quantitative measure for the quality of a book.

. . . .

 The Reaction

Because traditional publishing gave up innovative marketing decades ago, they’ve developed a response to the surprise bestseller. First, the narrative. And then an analysis of the narrative. Finally, they act on that narrative.

Here’s what I mean by acting on the narrative.

Narrative Number One

So why did Susie Q’s craptastic book sell well? The narrative claims it’s all about the marketing. The marketing worked for The Surprise in (ahem) surprising ways. The cover was perfect—not too schlocky, a little different from the usual craptastic fare. The book debuted at San Diego Comic-Con where fans of the craptastic thrive.

Or maybe the book didn’t debut at all. Booksellers in the Midwest hand-sold it, and we all know that people in the Midwest have no taste, no discerning palate. They live in flyover country, for gods sake, communities everyone important tries to escape from.

Or maybe the book thrived in an ebook version first. That means it wasn’t about the cover or the hand-selling. It was all about the price. The book was priced higher than its competitors or lower than its competitors. Or maybe it was a Kindle Daily Deal (paid for by the publisher) or maybe the author herself did a successful Goodreads promotion. Maybe she’s on Wattpad and gave away the first three chapters there.

Or maybe she’s a heck of a promoter. Maybe she has her own YouTube channel. Maybe she spends every waking hour on Twitter. Maybe she gives speeches to three libraries a week.

Whatever it is—whatever they can blame the success on besides the book—they do.

And then what happens?

Every publisher on the planet looks at their upcoming list of books (never ever at the backlist) and tries to see which book is the most similar to The Surprise. Maybe, they have an entire list of books that fit into that genre.

Whatever they find, they decide to do whatever it was that the narrative claims made The Surprise such a success.

All of these publishing houses copy the cover. Not the art, not exactly. But the fonts, the structure of the cover (where the pull quote goes—if there’s a pull quote at all), maybe even the color palate, will be the same. The back cover copy will suggest the back cover copy of The Surprise. There might even be a pull quote from a famous author (also in the publishing house’s stable) that says, “If you liked The Surprise, you’ll love This Pale Imitation.”

All of the publishing houses will use the exact same marketing campaign that The Surprise used and God forbid if the narrative claims that the reason for the book’s success was because the author spoke to a dozen book clubs or did a blog tour. Because then the author is going to have to do those things.

Never once does anyone say, “Write a book like The Surprise.” Because “everyone” knows The Surprisesucked. So the traditional publishers mimic The Surprise’s success with “better” books.

Narrative Number Two

The only difference between the response to Narrative Number One and the response to Narrative Number Two is what happens with the editor and the writer.

All of the publishing houses will look at their upcoming lists and see if any books are “good enough” to mimic the success of The Surprise. Because the publishers are looking at “quality,” there won’t be an entire genre rebrand.

(This explains why publishers did not rebrand all of their science fiction lines after the success of The Martian. Because, y’know, The Martian is a good book with great voice and a sense of humor and “everyone” knows that science fiction is a crappy genre without voice or a sense of humor. (sigh) [bitter much, Rusch?])

Instead of the genre rebrand, a handful of already-turned-in books will get the same treatment as The Surprise. Maybe no already in-house book will get that treatment.

What will happen is that editors will get a mandate to find books “just like” The Surprise. And if the editors can’t find those books, then the editors better force their writers to manufacture them.

If The Surprise succeeded because it had an unreliable narrator or two (see Gone Girl), then the Just Like books need an unreliable narrator or two. If The Surprise succeeded because it had a twist every fifty pages, then the Just Like books need a twist every twenty pages.

Those books, once they’re in-house, will get the same treatment as the books rebranded because of Narrative Number One. These new books, which have been manipulated by the editor and sales force to be as close to The Surprise as possible, will also be marketed like The Surprise.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

The Upcoming Year

1 January 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I come to the end of 2015 dog tired. Not stressed, like I was in 2013 and 2014. Plain good old-fashioned tired.

. . . .

At this time last year, I wrote several pieces at year end about the state of the publishing industry. I had hoped to do the same this year. I woke up on Christmas Eve, and realized it was the end of December—which meant the end of 2015—and what with the health issues, the travel, the marathon book, and some changes in two of the other businesses we own—I hadn’t been paying attention to the publishing industry as a whole. I thought about cramming, but I had left some other projects for year end (one anthology to edit and four short stories to write—eek!), and I wanted some time off (we all need to see Star Wars,right?).

I didn’t have time for cramming on the industry.

But I did want to talk about the year end. I wanted to look forward as well. In doing so, I decided to read some of the blog posts other people have written about the state of their writing careers in December of 2015, and the plans they have for 2016.

I discovered a theme. And ironically, it was the same thing that Dean and I had been discussing.

. . . .

I said to Dean as we were planning our 2016, “I need some time to write, to be alone with my creativity, to just think about new stories, experiment, and focus on the writing, not on being a business person.”

Note the word focus. I didn’t say I was going to give up doing the business stuff and the business research. In fact, as I was reading the year end blogs, I made some notes of business things I wanted to do in the future for my own writing.

For the past four years, though, I have worked on building several businesses that are not my writing. Some involve my writing in a peripheral manner, and one publishes much of what I do (although not all of it—still hybrid, still proud of it), but none of them are writing-only.

How do I plan my writing?

I don’t. I write. Planning my writing is a business strategy. Writing is what I do and what I love.

. . . .

Over the past week, as I’ve relaxed into the idea of writing as my focus, I find my brain exploring ideas it was too preoccupied to consider in the past four years. I see that as a good sign.

What I find fascinating is that as I click through the blogs of friends, peers, and colleagues, I discover a similar sentiment. It’s not just Joe [Konrath] who stressed writing, but other writers as well.

. . . .

Our industry has changed phenomenally since 2009. Joe posted his resolutions for the past several years in that blog, and some of them are true blasts from the past.

What we’ve been doing is inventing a new way to go about being writers. In the past, the path was stable. If you wanted to get published, you had to go through gatekeepers. And if you wanted a career as a published writer, you needed a lot of resilience and creativity to survive inside a system that was hostile to your creativity and your needs.

The new world isn’t actively hostile, but it is difficult. And why shouldn’t it be? We’re working on an international level.

But one of the degrees of difficulty we’ve been dealing with since 2009 is that the new system hadn’t stabilized yet. Things changed, sometimes weekly, and those of us who jumped into indie publishing from the beginning were constantly revising expectations as well as ways of doing things. Even the kinds of files we had to upload for ebooks changed, and changed again, and then changed again. The files haven’t stabilized yet, but the rate of change (at least in that area) has slowed immensely.

We all had incredible learning curves, and we worked with each other—sharing information on blogs and in person—trying to figure out not only what worked best for the readers, but what worked best for us.

Most of us became what I call outer-directed. We focused on things outside of our writing and, for some folks, to the detriment of their writing.

Well, the industry is stabilizing. It hasn’t stabilized entirely, but it’s not going through such a rapid state of change either. We can actually envision parts of the publishing future.

And that has allowed writers to breathe. As we breathe, we realized—hey, I want to write more. I want to be creative, not in marketing or cover design, but in making up and living in imaginary worlds.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Gamblers and Artists

11 December 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

After I published a recent blog post, a well published writer responded by saying that one of her business choices was the best possible bet she could take. Her entire response to the post was filled with gambling language. She said that business was about placing your bets where the odds are best, that becoming a megabestseller is hitting the jackpot (I actually agree with that one), and what you do with your career depends on what kind of gambler you are.

Her post took my breath away. I never think of my writing or my business as a gamble. I do know it’s filled with risk—anything worthwhile is. I also know that some people are risk-averse, and that means that certain aspects of a writing career are not for them.

But a gamble? No.

Her post was a lightbulb moment for me. It helped me understand some of what I’d been reading.

I have been getting a lot of pushback from writers for my Writing To Market and my What Market? posts of a few weeks ago. Some of those responses were in comments I did not let go through. Some were in email. And some were on other websites and listserves that friends forwarded to me (or that I saw in my weekly perusal of the cobwebby corners of the net).

. . . .

So…I took note of all the pushback I was getting to those posts on writing to market. At heart, those posts of mine are about trusting your art. About being an artist in the first place, and being the best artist you can be.

On one site, an anonymous commenter took me to task for the use of the word “artist.” He hated it in the context of writing. (I have no idea why.)

I admit: that stunned me. I’m a writer. That’s who I am. As a writer, I am both a craftsperson and an artist. I constantly strive to get better. I produce the best work I possibly can, and I always feel like I’m dancing on the head of a pin, trying to get something right.

. . . .

In fact, the attitude of striving to be the best artist you can be is at the heart of it all.

Because writers often confuse “getting it right” on a craft level with “getting it right” for the teacher. Most of us learn how to write fiction in school. We took creative writing classes in college or had a creative writing unit in high school. We wrote short stories and submitted them to workshops, hoping that the workshop would help us “get it right.”

. . . .

No one in your writing workshop, no teacher or professor or first reader, will ever know what your splendid idea actually was, nor will that person ever know if you reached the splendid idea’s potential.

So…relying on a workshop to tell you if a story works makes as much sense as asking your next door neighbor to guess what you were thinking last night at 11:30. There’s no way for that neighbor to know exactly what you were thinking even if you were talking to him at the time, and there’s no way anyone else will ever know if your story works—in the way you’re asking these people to know.

. . . .

Most workshops fail because the writers in those workshops come at the stories from the perspective of “improving” them. That’s not how readers read, however. We read to be entertained. So if you want to know if a story “works”—as a standalone piece of fiction, separate from the initial splendid idea—then have someone who is not a writer read it for pleasure. If that person has a visceral reaction to the story—they love it, they hate it—the story works. If they have a lukewarm reaction, then the story is probably pretty mediocre…or you have the wrong reader.

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

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Some Thoughts on the International Market

3 December 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This morning, I found out through the magic of Facebook that four of my sf novellas, translated into Italian, are four of the five bestselling titles in my Italian publisher’s bookstore. As I mentioned in my blog on translation a few weeks ago, that’s not due to me. That’s because I have an excellent translator. It’s a good marriage of translator and story, because books in translation don’t receive acclaim (and sales!) if the translator is poor, no matter how well the book did in its original language.

The Italian books came about because I don’t have an agent. I know that’s counterintuitive for those of you still wedded to traditional publishing myths, but things have changed dramatically in the past twenty years. Or rather, my eyes have been opened and things have changed.

For many years, I had sold many titles for translation in other countries. Then I switched agents, went to a much larger agency, one with a dedicated foreign rights department, and the sales of my books to foreign publishers for translations decreased. I switched agents again, to an even larger and more prestigious (and older) agency, and my foreign rights sales stopped completely.

What happened? It’s very clear in hindsight.

Agent #1 embezzled from me. His preferred area of embezzlement? Foreign rights royalties. He paid the advances, although I never saw the contracts (a problem right there, because who signed them? I never gave him power of attorney). I have no idea if he skimmed off the top of those advances. I suspect he did, but I didn’t audit him.

When I realized just how shady this guy was, and believe me, it took years because he (still) has a sterling reputation in the industry, I fired him and moved to the much more prestigious and much larger boutique agency with the dedicated foreign rights agent with an office in the basement.

My sales started drying up then, because she would turn down deals if they were too small. Embezzler Boy would take those sales, because he knew he would get more in royalties, but she was (in theory) above board, and thought the deals too small.

Since Boutique Agency handled (and handles) some big New York Times bestsellers, my deals were small in comparison to those offered to the big names. And apparently, not worth the agent’s time. She turned down the offers without consulting me. Yep, she and the agent I had for my U.S. rights often turned down “too-small” offers on my behalf without consulting me.

How did I find this out? Only when I went overseas as the guest of honor at an international science fiction convention and publisher after publisher who had published my work in the past pulled me aside to ask why I had gotten so focused on money. I mentioned changing agents, thinking these publishers had simply contacted the wrong person, and the publishers told me they knew I had changed agents and as politely as possible, told me that the change prevented my books from seeing print.

. . . .

I’ve been making steady royalties off the foreign deals I’ve negotiated, without any embezzling that I’ve caught. (Another foreign agent, a partner agent to Boutique Agency’s agent, embezzled as well. It’s so easy for “trusted advisors” to put their sticky fingers into a writer’s finances, so easy it’s scary.)

The Italian deal, above, with the novellas, is one I negotiated. I’ve done plenty of others, and I know I could have even more if I simply queried the older publishers. I’m sure I will…eventually.

. . . .

One of the biggest overseas markets for my work twenty-five years ago was Great Britain. Back then, getting British books here in America or getting American books in Great Britain was a real chore. There were some booksellers, including friends of mine, who specialized in getting first edition British books into the States. That involved tariffs and taxes and expensive shipping or traveling with the books themselves. And then there was no guarantee of instant sales.

The best way for book dealers to handle British books was to deal with British writers who had become popular here. British writers like P.D. James would first publish their books in Great Britain, so the first editions in English were always British. Plus, they were released six months to a year in advance of the American edition. If you couldn’t wait for your next P.D. James fix, you either had to travel to England yourself, cultivate a British bookseller, or buy books from one of these American bookseller/brokers.

No matter what your preferred method was, you would always pay a premium for that first edition and the chance to read that book before everyone else.

Amazon started to change that when it opened its Amazon U.K. store years ago. Other online businesses sprang up that had partners in various countries, which somehow reduced the tariffs and duties. (I don’t even pretend to know all the legalities.)

But the real groundbreaker, as you all know, was Amazon’s Kindle, which led to the rapid rise of electronic books.

. . . .

My books have been in the Amazon U.K. store since Amazon made it possible to sell English-language books in the U.K., and the one thing I always noticed was that the British market lagged a few years behind the American market. (I like to say five years behind, but it’s probably closer to three.)

The arguments against e-books were the same in Great Britain as the ones against ebooks in the U.S., but Great Britain was having the arguments years after the U.S. had already settled them.

The British market remains years behind the U.S. market, and the British market added some twists to protect paper books. For example, the U.K. market charges a Value-Added Tax (VAT) on all ebooks, which it does not charge on paper books. I’m sure there are other things that I’m not aware of that are currently hindering some of the growth in the U.K. ebook market.

But the market is a viable one. For years, for my work, Amazon’s U.K. ebook sales were always second to Amazon U.S. ebook sales. That’s no longer true. A number of other retailers both here and in other countries now scoop Amazon U.K. in terms of sales for my stuff. But we all know—or should know—that anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence at all. It’s just proof that one writer’s career works one way.

. . . .

Myth 3: The Big Five Publishers here in the U.S. can get better overseas sales for their writers.

Simply not true at all. The entire [Author Earnings UK] study that Hugh and Data Guy did points to this conclusion—and frankly it surprised them. It didn’t surprise me, because my own personal experience has been that the ebook revolution has made my own English-language sales grow exponentially.

I’ve had some other experiences though that help this detail be unsurprising for me. I’ve traveled overseas as an author a number of times, and I was the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction before this ebook revolution hit.

I constantly got questions back in those days about making F&SF available for an international audience. After all, the major SF awards are mostly focused on short fiction and until the last six years or so, getting the issues of the various short fiction magazines into the hands of readers outside the U.S. has been difficult at best. Those readers had heard of all of these stories and authors, but weren’t able to sample them.

Now readers can, and can easily.

The same happened with novels. I can’t tell you how many people I met overseas who had heard of my work but had never read it. They wanted copies of the work, but couldn’t get their hands on it.

Then the ebook revolution happened, and I got email after email from some of these same readers, ecstatic that they can now get books they had only heard about before.

Some of my books that are unavailable overseas are traditionally published. In some cases, I got English-language rights reverted to me, so there are different editions for the overseas work and the U.S. work. But in others, I signed some bad contracts that took translation rights as well as World English. Those publishers have not exercised any of the overseas rights. Not a one, but they would come after me if I did so.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

What Market?

27 November 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This past week, I’ve talked with a lot of writers about writing to market. Not just because of last week’s blog post, but because I had done a group author signing at Powell’s on Sunday, and the topic came up again. At dinner after the signing, one of the writers asked, “What market are indie writers writing to?”

Indeed. That’s a very good question. Because there is no answer. Or should I say no good answer. Not in indie publishing anyway.

Let me explain.

Back in the days before the ebook revolution hit, there was an actual market that writers could write to. That market was defined by traditional publishers.

Traditional publishers—without doing any market research at all—would declare certain genres dead because sales had tapered off. (Sales had usually tapered off because mediocre books got published in that genre after the big surge of good books. More on that below.) At conferences, editors would state that their company was looking for a certain type of book, usually a subgenre.

Often those editors were editing brand new imprints at very old companies, an imprint that the traditional publisher was starting to capitalize on some perceived market trend, and needed a new stable of writers to fill.

Usually writers didn’t have to write to market for these imprints. Usually, writers had a trunk manuscript in that very subgenre, something other publishers (or even that publisher) had turned down years before.

. . . .

Last year, Pocket Books opened a new sf and fantasy imprint, after years of not publishing any sf/f except in urban fantasy and romance. (Those of us with sf/f books still in print from Pocket from the previous incarnation of the sf/f line back in 2000 had been effectively orphaned all of that time.)

I’ve been through these traditional publishing waves dozens of times in the past thirty years. So-n-so has started a new imprint at such-n-so big company and promises it will have dozens of New York Times bestsellers. Then the books don’t do well or the sales force loses interest, the editor moves on to another company or is downsized or is promoted, and the imprint gets canceled or morphed into another imprint altogether.

Those are publishing markets that writers can figure out. The markets are defined by the new imprint or the new editor’s tastes.

. . . .

Clearly defined markets were the hallmark of the closed publishing system that existed before the ebook revolution—from the perspective of writers. Traditional publishers were just flailing in the dark. Because traditional publishing is the only multibillion dollar industry that I know of that does absolutely no market research at all. None. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

They hire editors for their “gut,” and fire those editors when their “gut” fails them. Often failure is defined by such stupid things as “This erotica title didn’t sell as well as expected.” What was the expectation? “Oh, that it would sell at least as well as Fifty Shades of Grey.” Which was aphenomenon.

The publisher, of course, wouldn’t look beyond that expectation to see that the erotica title sold half of what Fifty Shades sold, which made the erotica book more successful than, say, that literary novel everyone in-house loved. But because everyone in-house expected the literary novel to sell only 5,000 copies, and it sold 5,005 copies, it was successful, and the erotica novel, which sold (oh, I don’t know) 100,000 copies, was not.

Because of unrealistic expectations.

. . . .

There is no market.

There is a marketplace.

A wide-open marketplace that lets readers browse and find whatever is to their tastes. Think of one of those bazaars you find in major cities, the kind of bazaar that goes on for blocks and blocks. Sure, there’s a lot of fresh fruit currently in season, and some lovely woven scarves and some beautiful hand-carved bowls. But there are also one-of-a-kind items, from artists who might not be able to afford to be near the entrances, but you can find them if you look.

That expanded marketplace is new in publishing. Before, the gatekeepers controlled every single stall in that marketplace. You couldn’t find the lovely one-of-a-kind item even if you walked past every stall in every aisle.

Now you can.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like what an author has written, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Writing to Market

20 November 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Marie Force wrote a lovely blog post this week on the five-year anniversary of her major success as an indie writer. She busts a few myths about her career in the post, and she’s very clear about her numbers, and the events that came together to launch her success. She’s written something similar before, but not in quite as organized a fashion. Take a look with an open mind. You’ll benefit from it. (Thanks, Marie! And congrats!)

I’m going to mention a few of the myths she busts in that post, and then I’m going to look at one thing she focuses on, something that other writers either miss, scan over, or don’t understand at all.

. . . .

While Marie was traditionally published when she started her self-publishing career, she hadn’t been in traditional publishing for very long. She really didn’t have much of a platform. Look at the dates she lists in her blog, and realize that the publication of her “big” traditional books happened in the same period of time as her indie books starting up.

Some of her traditional publications were with a small press. The bigger traditional publisher who took her—Harlequin—had her in their Carina line, which, at the time, was e-book only unless a book took off.

So, her traditional publishing “platform” wasn’t really a platform at all. It barely counted as a dock at the edge of a shallow lake.

The build in her career—traditional and indie—started at the very same time.

. . . .

Marie Force kept her indie published titles secret in the beginning. She did zero promotion, because she was worried about “publisher retribution.” She didn’t want her traditional publisher to know that she was self publishing — even though contractually, she could self publish.

Smart woman. Traditional publishing is nothing if not unpredictable.

She was on the cusp of the ebook revolution, when there were a lot of devices, and not a lot of content. Her books were good, and they sold, primarily by word of mouth—word of mouth that she had nothing to do with in the first several months of her self-publishing career.

. . . .

She’s a good writer. Readers like Marie Force’s books. She’s constantly improving her craft, telling stories that she loves to tell.

In other words, that free book was one of those promotions that’s really hard to replicate in the market of 2015.

Writers tend to miss that—the way that promotions change.

My Real Point

Writers tend to miss something else, in all these stories of wild success.

The successful writer does something new, and daring, and different.

Not in promotion. Not in cover design.

In the book itself.

From Marie’s blog:

I’ll never forget the reason my agent said the publisher gave for rejecting True North: “No one wants to read about a super model.” Those became the nine words that changed my life. At that point in my “career” I had received a lot of rejections. I’d need a third hand to hold them all. By then, every romance publisher in the business had also rejected Maid for Love, Gansett Island book 1. I’d grown accustomed to rejection, but the True North rejection made me mad. It made me sad. And it made me determined to take control of this ship myself.

Most writers see the last sentence of that paragraph as the all-important part of what she’s saying. While it’s important, it’s not the most important thing here.

What’s truly important is the fact that Marie Force self-published a book in a subgenre that traditional publishers believed to be worthless. The story of a famous person (insert your favorite noun here—super model, star quarterback, actor, high-powered CEO, singer) was considered unsalable in New York, for some reason I’ve never understood.

Believe you me, writers for decades have butted their heads against that one. For every book that slipped through, like the Nora Roberts category Once More With Feeling that got me started reading her work to Suzanne Brockmann’s Heart Throb, there were dozens, maybe hundreds, that didn’t sell—just because traditional publishing “believed” that those books wouldn’t sell.

I put “believed” in quotes on purpose. Traditional publishers never do market research. Their prejudices come from their gut or from the results of a book badly published decades before.

So, when the country supposedly got sick and tired of the Western in the late 1970s, traditional publishers gave up on them. Try selling a Western to a traditional publisher these days. Can’t be done, unless the Western has another label—like Weird Western (western & fantasy) or Western romance (self-explanatory).

Somewhere along the way, publishers decided that romantic suspense didn’t sell, either, and that once-booming market has trickled—in the traditional world—into a handful of writers.

Why is the fact that True North, the book that launched Marie Force’s successful indie career, is about a super model important?

Because the book—in addition to being good—filled a gaping hole in the market. Readers were looking for famous-people romances, and they bought that one.

If you look at the game-changing novels that have been published in the U.S. in the last 100-plus years—and believe me, I have—what you’ll find is this: They are, to a book, stories that were unique, different, and (dare I say it) original.

There was nothing else on the market like those books.

They were not part of a major subgenre. They were not part of a trend. If anything, they were the kind of book that got rejected a lot, the kind of book the gatekeepers said could never, ever sell.

Ever hear of Harry Potter? The DaVinci Code? Presumed Innocent? The Flame and the Flower?—ooh, wait. That’s probably too far back in publishing history for you people.

All of these books surprised their publishers with the success. Just like True North surprised the publishing world with its success.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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