Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

A Year of Experiments

21 February 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This week, I did something I hadn’t done in nearly five years: I wrote a book proposal. Yep, I hit upon a project that I think would be better off produced through a traditional publishing company. If the proposal does its job, and the project sells, I’ll be more forthcoming about what the project is and why I went this way.

Suffice to say, these days all writers have options—and as I weighed my options on this particular project, I realized that the best way to handle it was to license it to some place traditional.

. . . .

At the same time, I’ve finished the first novel in a series I’ve wanted to do for almost ten years. The Fates series, which I’ve written under the name Kristine Grayson, introduced three teenage girls who were acting as the Interim Fates. I had written Tiffany’s story and had trouble selling it eight years ago. When I reread it, I realized that the book was just fine. Then I mentally reviewed the rejections I’d received on the project back then, and realized what the problem had really been.

The rejections had all focused on the “dialect” and the unacceptability of the point-of-view character. The young adult editors who saw the book said the point of view was unacceptable for the market, and no YA reader wanted to read about characters like this.

At the time I was truly confused. I’d sold books about those kinds of characters—magical characters negotiating our world—before. I couldn’t figure out what these editors were talking about. When I asked my then-agent, he said that the editors were just clueless. Comforting, sure, but not helpful.

Now I realize he didn’t want to tell me what the editors really meant.

So I didn’t know what I had done “wrong” until this year (nearly a decade later). It was a problem I had seen before; I just hadn’t recognized it.

Tiffany is African-American. Her race shows up in the very first paragraph. There is no dialect—there isn’t even slang in that opening. Just a rather sassy voice of a confused young woman who has entered our world for the very first time.

I never thought of the book as anything but a Fates book, so when I got horrid (and I truly mean horrid) rejections—mostly based on that first chapter saying that no one would read a book like this let alone publish it, I thought I had done something wrong in the writing.

I hadn’t done anything wrong. Unless you consider a non-white protagonist to be something wrong. I hadn’t. I still don’t.

But now I don’t have to deal with the perceptions of what is or is not acceptable to the YA market. I can just finish the trilogy-plus that I’ve been trying to write for years now.

The book is now in production, and I finished the next book, dealing with Tiffany’s half-sister, Crystal. In March, after I finish the seven (seven!) short stories I’d promised that are all due right now, I’ll write Brittany’s story, and then the final wrap-up novel.

Those novels will be published, one a month, later in the year.

I could never have done this in traditional publishing. Obviously, right?, since I couldn’t sell the first one because of Tiff’s race. But I’m not really referring to that: I’m referring to the one-per-month pace.

As most of you know, I’m publishing one novel per month right now, and whoa doggies, did that turn out to be a good idea.

Not just from a sales standpoint—which is sooooo much better than expected (thank you, Retrieval Artist fans!)—but from a creative standpoint.

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

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

Weird Misinformation

13 February 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken to a bunch of writers at the very beginning of their careers. When Dean and I teach our in-person workshops, we teach professional writers.

. . . .

I learned something this past weekend. Everyone who is still active in the industry has kept up on the changes, but there are terrible old pieces of advice still floating around the universe, and newer writers are acting on that advice.

. . . .

[The Superstars Writers Conference] covered all sides of the industry, from bestselling writers talking about process to the people directly involved in indie publishing discussing how to do it effectively to traditional publishers discussing how the business works now. Lectures on Hollywood, copyright, negotiation, you name it and it got covered in three intense days.

. . . .

[A] lot of learning happens in the time between sessions. Meals, conversations in the bar or around the hotel’s fireplace, a handful of chance meetings gave me the opportunity to speak to writers I had never met before.

. . . .

[I]n those conversations, I heard bits of misinformation that took my breath away. I think a lot of the reason I heard this stuff was because these writers felt as startled as I did by the misinformation and wanted to find out if that misinformation was something they needed to pay attention to or something they needed to ignore.

Startlingly, these questions about misinformation didn’t come from the folks who were brand-new to the publishing industry. The serious misinformation came via the folks who are what the sf field calls “neo-pros,” newer professionals with a few sales under their belts or that brilliant first novel that some agent agreed to take on.

Clearly, these young writers (and I mean young in the time they’ve spent in the field, not in physical age) had been studying the field for a while and had absorbed some bad information along with the good. But some of the information was so bad, so out-of-date, that I don’t think these writers got the information from anyone who has published in the last 20 years.

. . . .

These discussions happened because, for my sins, I sat on a panel about agents (with Dean, Dave, Eric, and Toni). It was a different panel than it would have been five years ago, as Toni remarked when it was all over.

But because of that panel, a lot of young writers who were at the stage where they’re contemplating hiring an agent (or already have hired one) asked me questions in the after-hours discussions.

Writer One hadn’t hired an agent yet, but said, in all earnestness, that he was not looking at agents who charged photocopying or postage for mailing out work. And I told him that was a good thing, since no reputable agent has photocopied or snail-mailed a manuscript in at least 10 years (maybe not even in this century). I’m not even sure a bad agent or scam artist would list those things on a website.

Shortly thereafter, I was talking with another writer who had just hired a major agency, one that I’m familiar with (and have known its founder before the agency started). In the middle of a very good discussion about the firm and the agency, the writer told me that she had queried her agent-to-be, making sure this high-level agency did not charge for postage or for photocopying.

I’m sure at that point, the agent in question stared at the phone (or the e-mail) and wondered where in the hell that writer’s query had even come from. Because the agent in question probably hadn’t sent out a photocopied manuscript in her entire agenting career. (There are other agents at the agency who were in school when the last photocopied manuscript got messengered to a publisher. High school.)

. . . .

Business advice in how-to-write books published in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, and 90s is also woefully out-of-date. As is most business advice written before 2009.

. . . .

The business has changed dramatically, but because publishing does not have a reputable way for young writers to learn the craft and the business, then intern somewhere, and then become a full-fledged professional, the writer has to assemble his education from bits and pieces of knowledge scattered in a variety of sources.

And if the writer is new to the business, the writer has no way to separate good advice from bad, current advice from outdated advice.

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

Following The Crowd

6 February 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

We all have those moments when we think, Jeez, if I just write [insert latest trend here], I’ll do so much better than I’m already doing. It doesn’t matter how well we’re already doing. There’s always a better.

If you’ve been in the business a long time, you have a follow-up thought: I know how to do [latest trend]. It wouldn’t take much.

And if you were in traditional publishing, and occasionally wrote tie-ins or some novel that your traditional editor demanded you write, you have a third thought: I’ve played in someone else’s universe before. It wouldn’t take me long to churn out something just like [latest trend].

Yes, note that I used the phrase “churn out,” which I complained about a few weeks ago. I did so deliberately. Because that’s the mindset you end up in.

You’re not writing for the joy of the art. You’re not writing what you want. You’re writing what you think is required for success.

A lot of people end up with an okay short-term career doing just that—writing the latest trend, whatever it is. When that trend eases, they move onto the next trend, and the next until they burn out. Sometimes, for some of them, following the trend works, and they find their niche. But for a lot of folks, they wake up one day to find themselves not wanting to go to their writing desk because sitting there feels too much like the day job they quit (or are still working in the hopes of a windfall).

When I say “short-term,” I say it from the perspective of a long-term career. I mean a five-to-ten year career in publishing, with only two or three years of real success. It’s a career. It’s something to be proud of. But it isn’t a lifetime career, which so many writers say they want.

. . . .

I know I can’t write well about something I don’t enjoy.

I write in a lot of genres because I read a lot of genres. I write a lot of short stories for themed anthologies to stretch myself. Once in a while when I write a theme anthology story, I discover a subgenre I don’t really want to tackle again, but mostly I learn the ins and outs of the genres, and often I get too many more ideas to ever finish before I die.

Writing novels to follow a trend (even if it stretches me) is something I won’t do. Novels take too much time, and you have to sink into them, or at least I do. I need to lose myself in the world that I’m writing about, and losing myself means a full commitment.

. . . .

But trend-following in novel-writing, that’s generally not collaborative. That’s just being outer-directed instead of inner-directed.

What do I mean by outer-directed? Someone else or something else, in this case a trend, determines what you write from day to day. Nothing wrong with that, except…

To me—and this is probably just me—it completely defeats the point of being a freelance writer. If I wanted a day job, I’d get one. If I want someone to tell me what to do, then I’d have a boss. If I wanted to guess trends, I’d work in advertising.

I don’t want to do any of that.

At heart, I’m both a rebel and an artist, and those two aspects of my personality have allowed me to freelance successfully for decades.

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

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

Traditional Numbers

23 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve started this blog four separate times in the past week, and each time, I stopped about 1,000 words in. I have been planning to analyze some bestseller numbers that I found two weeks ago, numbers that truly had me shocked. In doing so, I wanted to check some other numbers as well, because an article about numbers is only as good as its data.

It didn’t seem to matter how many numbers I found, how much data I linked to, or how I did the math, something was confusing me. The harder I worked, the more confused I got.

It wasn’t until I was complaining about this at the weekly professional writers’ lunch that it all came clear to me: Most of the numbers I was working with were suspect in one way or another.

. . . .

Let me give some examples of confusing information that I explored these last two weeks:

  • In an article titled “Real Data On Print Sales In the eBook Era — And the eBook Plateau”  Publisher’s Lunch reported that ebooks have “cannibalized” sales in trade paperback editions, not in hardcover editions. The conclusion comes from a presentation that Jonathan Nowell at Nielsen Book gave at Digital Book World last week.

I like numbers, and there are some fascinating ones here, and even more fascinating ones in Nowell’s slide show presentation but they are completely untethered to anything. By that, I mean, I could find no information on how the study was done, how many data points Nowell worked off of, and what he based his conclusions on.

Granted, Nielsen Book is the company that does Bookscan, so in theory, they have raw data, but as I examined thePublisher’s Lunch article (which is on Publisher’s Marketplace, mentioned last week), I found a statement that set my teeth on edge:

[Nielsen Book’s] quiet PubTrack Digital service — the only source of real, granular ebook sales data, based on invoices for ebook sales from participating publishers — shows adult fiction still accounting for 65 percent of all ebook sales.

Um, what? I’d never heard of PubTrack Digital. Where did it get its numbers? How does it track things?

. . . .

But here’s where PubTrack Digital comes in.

The description for that service isn’t based on a physical product. It doesn’t seem to go by channel either. It uses information from 30 publishers (according to this site) to examine “the top e-book categories, authors, and titles based on unit sales and revenue.”

So, thirty self-reporting publishers send their numbers (unverified, I guess) to PubTrack Digital in order to receive information from the other twenty-nine.

. . . .

Both PubTrack Digital and Publisher’s Lunch also tell me that PubTrack Digital is the only source for aggregated ebook sales in the country.

. . . .

But the data is self-reporting, which makes it flawed from the get-go.

. . . .

Digital Book World . . . hired PubTrack Digital specifically for the conference last week.

. . . .

“Digital Book World asked this guy to examine the impact of ebook sales on hardcover sales, making the study flawed in the first place.”

Words straight out of my subconscious. Of course, the study is flawed. Because we have no way of knowing if ebook sales have any impact on paper sales at all. No way. None.

We don’t know if people who bought paper books in the past are buying more books due to ebook availability while still buying the same number of paper books—or if those people stopped buying paper books altogether, or, if faced with a choice of ebook or paper, choose ebook. We don’t know.

And because we don’t know, looking to see if ebooks have had an impact on hardcover sales by looking at ebook sales and looking at hardcover sales doesn’t answer the question. We don’t know if hardcover sales remained steady (as Nowell reported) because hardcover readers are hardcover readers and have sought out the hardcovers in various markets. We don’t know if the rise of ebook sales over the years is because ebooks are cannibalizing print sales or because more readers have ereaders (or tablets or phones) and therefore have 24-hour access to books and can order easily and quickly.

We don’t know if the reason trade paper sales have gone down (which Nowell reports) because most people don’t like the format or because the number of retail outlets carrying trade paper books has gone down (witness the loss of many chain bookstore locations, where most trade papers were sold) or because given a choice between trade paper and ebook, the average reader will choose ebook.

. . . .

So we can’t do a legitimate study of how ebooks impact the sales of paper books until we have done a study that tells uswhether or not ebooks impact sales of paper books. Looking at the sales figures of hardcovers, ebooks, and trade paper does not give us that answer, because that data doesn’t address the initial question.

. . . .

[D]uring my entire career, the “numbers” in traditional publishing have always been based on extrapolations from one piece of evidence.

For example: traditional publishers used to base all of their accounting on books shipped not books sold. Why? Because books shipped was the only number traditional publishers could be sure of. The books sold wouldn’t be known for six to nine months, maybe even for a year or two. That’s because of the returns system. A bookstore could return a book, depending on the account the bookstore had with the distributor or publisher, for as long as a year after purchase.

. . . .

In other words, all of traditional publishing from the introduction of the returns system in the 1930s to the early part of this century was based on educated guesses by the sales department in consultation with editorial.

Not based on actual numbers. Not based on real sales figures. Not based on any kind of fact-based system at all.

The traditional publishing industry is in transition because it’s gotten gobbled up by international conglomerates who need real numbers for their own internal reports. Digital book and online sales actually allow for real numbers. Since the American Booksellers Association has taught independent booksellers how to manage their inventory (at the ABA’s Winter Institute), those booksellers have lowered their returns to a maximum of 25%.

So the traditional publishing data is becoming solid, but it’s not there yet. And because so many people in traditional publishing—particularly those in its upper echelons—have been in the business as long as I have, they’re a lot more accepting of wishy-washy numbers and fake statistics. Reports that have lovely graphics and percentages that seem real are still the norm in this industry, rather than studies based on real methodology.

. . . .

I know of no traditionally published bestselling author who regularly audits their agents and publishers. Not a one.

I know of a handful who have audited when something went wrong. But a standard business audit? Never.

Yet all of those traditionally published bestselling authors are million-dollar businesses, just like the local businesses our accountant/writer friend worked for are. These local businesses, these small town businesses, as a matter of course, audited their sources of revenue every year.

But writers, who make millions, and often funnel those millions through a single point—an agent and/or an agency and/or their publisher—never audit that agent, that agency, or their publisher.

In fact, several years ago, when I ran into some glaring errors in my payments from a former agency, I threatened to audit that agency. It was still handling the books my once-agent had sold for me. It wouldn’t release those books or split payments. When I pointed out the errors and demanded an audit,  the agency did the literary equivalent of flinging my books at me. The day after my threat, made in December, just before Christmas, that agency decided it no longer wanted 15% of my business, and sent letters to all of my publishers telling those publishers to send any monies owed directly to me. That agency—on its own volition—cleared me out of its entire company.

Within 24 hours of me stating that I wanted an audit, I was finally free of that agency.

This was—and is—one of the biggest, most famous agencies in New York, with several repeat #1 New York Times bestsellers. I found irregularities in royalty reports coming from overseas, irregularities that made it clear someone (probably a foreign rights affiliate agency) was pocketing my money—and, most likely—pocketing a lot more money from all those #1 bestsellers.

Because I personally know that those bestsellers don’t audit their revenue sources.

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

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The Rise of The Backlist

16 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The new year hadn’t even had a week to catch its breath before the first year-end numbers for 2014 appeared. The definitive numbers—if you can call any numbers “definitive” in traditional publishing—won’t show up until late February or early March. But the early numbers reveal quite a bit.

. . . .

I often find Publishers Marketplace’s analysis of the publishing industry useful, not because it’s accurate, but because it gives me a fairly clear snapshot of what the traditional industry’s thoughts on the business are. Publishers Marketplace’s focus on traditional means that it misses a lot of the trends and changes that happen because of indie.

. . . .

Nielsen Bookscan reported that print book sales—in the outlets that report to Bookscan—went up 2.4% in 2014 over sales from 2013. Half of the gain in sales—1.2%—came from a better-than-expected holiday season.

In that first week, Publishers Marketplace went deeper into the numbers than Publishers Weekly did and came out with some fascinating information, some of which I’ll deal with in the next week or two. But here’s the take-away:

All of the year’s gains and then some came from backlist, however, not newly-released titles. Frontlist unit sales fell 2 million units to 276 million, while backlist sales rose 17 million units to 359 million…

Those of us who’ve been publishing indie have known how powerful the backlist is since 2010. Fortunately for most of us early adapters, the traditional publishing industry didn’t get the memo for about three years. They started to get a clue in 2013 that there was wine in those dusty old bottles, which is why it’s become harder and harder to get rights reverted from traditional publishers in the past couple of years.

. . . .

Traditional publishers still don’t have a complete clue about the importance of the rise of the backlist, as evidenced by this comment from Publishers Marketplace:

[backlist sales rose]…reflecting the lack of new breakout hits…

Sorry, Publishers Marketplace, no. The backlist rose because the industry is changing. The way books are being sold everywhere, not just online, is changing. Readers are changing.

Well, actually, readers are staying the same. They want “what they want, when they want it, and at a reasonable price” to quote Kevin Spacey on the lessons Netflix learned from House of Cards.

Readers have always wanted that. But traditional publishing, like all other media in the 20th century, was based on the scarcity model: if you make readers hunger for a book, they’ll pay more when they see one. They also buy it immediately, and they’ll be grateful for what’s offered, rather than buy what they like.

The internet broke the scarcity model.

. . . .

Because the entire traditional publishing business is based on the scarcity model, Publishers Marketplace can’t understand the rise of the backlist. The rise doesn’t fit into the scarcity model.

Here’s the logic of the situation when looked at from the scarcity model: if people are buying “old” books, then the new books aren’t satisfying. The new books aren’t “good.”

That analysis was true-ish before backlist was constantly available. I say true-ish because, remember, not a lot of “old” books were available—just the ones that readers would keep recommending to their friends, so publishers couldn’t take those books out of print.

Back then, breakout books happened for two reasons: First, the books stayed on the shelves long enough to get word of mouth; and second, the books dominated the conversation.

It’s almost impossible to dominate the conversation now. Traditional publishing doesn’t control every book that makes its way into the media now. One book might get some traction, but definitely not all of the traction.

And the conversation moves faster as well. We might discuss Book A today, but tomorrow we could be discussing Book J. Or not discussing any traditionally published book at all.

. . . .

My dollars are finite, just like yours are, but book-buying dollars are not. Now that more books are available to more people, book sales should—logically—go up.

And they are. But they are going up outside of the traditional models. At least 20,000 of my ebook sales in 2014 did not get counted by any traditional measure—Bookscan or otherwise. I say “at least” because I don’t know if Smashwords sales count toward Bookscan numbers or if some of the other ebook sites (like Kobo) count as well. I do know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble ebook sales get counted.

So there is a shadow industry. There always has been. Even Bookscan itself says that it only covers 80% of the print book business. That’s up, by the way, from the old days, when Bookscan was less than 50%. There’s a lot of give in that 20%. And that’s in the traditional industry.

There’s even more give when you consider indie publishing. A lot of indie writers publish their print books without an ISBN, so the books don’t get tracked by traditional means. I suspect Bookscan covers 80% of the traditional market, but in all of trade publishing? I think that Bookscan misses a lot of books. How many? I have no idea. I doubt anyone does.

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

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

 

Churning It Out

8 January 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Toward the end of a pretty good Entertainment Weekly article about the romance side of the publishing industry, this sentence appears:

[Bella Andre]’s a naturally fast writer — on average she churns out four to six books a year — and she released the first one in June 2011.

Before we get to the reason I’m telling you about that sentence, let me say one thing that might or might not be related: There’s a slight snobby tone to EW’s romance article. What’s that all about? The magazine’s called Entertainment Weekly, not The New York Times Book Review. EW sings the praises of The Walking Dead and video games, and everything in between, for heaven’s sake, but somehow romance fiction doesn’t meet the high standards of entertainment?

Sorry. I had to get that off my chest.

. . . .

So why am I objecting to that single sentence?

I’m not, really. It’s a common sentence from any media that covers books. And I’m not even objecting to the entire sentence. Bella Andre does write fast by most writers’ standards, and she does so comfortably.

What I’m objecting to is the phrase “churned out.”

It’s become a cliché. Any writer who writes fast “churns out” material. Or she “cranks out” or “pounds out” whatever it is that she writes. Because clearly, no writer who writes fast can think about what she writes.

There are other implications in that phrase. The material “churned out” isn’t very good. It’s also an exact copy of what has come before. It has no real value, primarily because of the speed with which the writer “churns” the material out.

In the olden days of traditional publishing, those of us who “churned out” a lot of books did so under a lot of pen names. Here’s how it worked in my case: Kristine Kathryn Rusch might, at best, put out two books per year; Kris Nelscott one every two years; and Kristine Grayson one every six months.

. . . .

While reading a midlist thriller novel in bed one night several years ago, I laughed so hard that I woke Dean up. What made me laugh? The author’s bio, which stated that the byline of the novel I was reading was a pen name for a “well-known #1 New York Times bestselling author.” Ballsy and hysterical. That writer wrote so many books that his publisher refused to publish them all under his bestselling name.

. . . .

Think about this, people: How many other industries that have megaselling products demand that the producer of popular, high-quality material slow down? What happened to providing the consumers with what they wanted?

When Nora Roberts started out, she was fortunate to begin with Harlequin, which could publish as many books as she produced. She stayed with Harlequin even after she moved to a bigger publisher (Bantam for a once-per-year hardcover, which then became a once-per-year hardcover and twice-a-year mass market paper, and then became twice-a-year hardcovers and three-times-a-year mass market paper, and finally, she had a big fight with Harlequin, and started up the J.D. Robb pen name (twice per year) and her publisher (by then, Putnam) threw in the towel. The publisher finally agreed that Nora could put out a lot of books. But not the publisher’s other writers.

Her speed didn’t matter to that publisher because the publisher had no expectation of quality based on the genre. As we all know, and Entertainment Weekly’s snobby tone confirms, romance is trash anyway. No one expects quality fiction from writers who crank out cookie-cutter books for women.

. . . .

Romance has a lot of respect now compared to thirty years ago—and still writers see phrases like “churned out” and that slightly school-boyish tone that every Literary Critic uses when discussing romance.

It’s about love and mushy stuff. It can’t be good. It might include kissing and touching and actual irony-free emotion. Anyone can churn out that crap if they put their minds to it. But most people are sensible enough to want respectability instead of…whatever it is that these romance people have.

Oh, yeah. Money.

And readers.

Who actually like the books.

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

Things I Learned (Or Relearned) in 2014

31 December 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

2014 was one of those years where frustration seemed to be the dominant emotion for me. Some of the lessons I learned twenty years ago got refined for the new age, and some of the new things I learned took more time than I anticipated. I also learned a few things about other people in general, some of which I did not want to know. The good things about other people though, came through strong, and that was truly wonderful.

One of those good things happened in the last few weeks. It’s been great to come back to the blog, and to find so many of you still reading, still waiting, and still supporting. You’ve touched me with your kindness and your good words. Thank you.

. . . .

Big Projects Suck All of The Air Out of The Room

When people are working on a massive project, they can’t do anything else. So even important stuff goes by the wayside.

I finished the big Retrieval Artist project in the fall and have been cleaning up ever since. Lots of projects left undone, lots of people waiting for things, lots of little details missed.

I should have expected that, but I stumbled into this big project. I truly thought it was going to be smaller—three books instead of six. Jeez. It kept growing and growing, and I kept triaging.

I doubt I’ll ever plan something that big—I didn’t plan this one!—but next time I won’t be surprised by the way it took time from everything else.

. . . .

I’ll Probably Never Stop Working

When most people say that phrase, they’re whining. Me, I simply don’t understand retirement or relaxing. I tried to relax in a traditional fashion when I finished the massive Retrieval Artist project. I took a small trip, I saw a bunch of movies, I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve tried to stay away from my desk. I keep wandering back to it.

I guess when play is the same as work, time off isn’t necessary.

. . . .

Success Costs Money

Those investments I mentioned above, those wrong roads? Sometimes they happen because people like me try many roads and experiment and take chances. Those chances cost money too, but they always have a good return on the investment. So…the lessons are mixed here.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kathryn Rusch’s books

Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014

26 December 2014

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’d love to say nothing, but that’s not true—if we’re discussing indie writers who have remained in the business for several years. There will always be new indie writers who know very little, and there will always be those with “experience” who turn a year or two worth of sales into a know-it-all platform.

However, those indie writers who’ve been at this since the beginning of the self-publishing revolution in 2009 have learned a lot in 2014.

. . . .

I’ll be using “indie writer” instead of “self-published writer,” following the music model. I’ll also talk about “indie publishing” instead of “self publishing,” because so many writers who are not with traditional publishers have started their own presses. It’s not accurate to lump all writers who are not following the traditional route into the self-publishing basket any longer, if it ever was.

. . . .

Telling stories is fun. Every person does it. Some of us do it better than others. When we’re in school, those of us who tell stories verbally often get pushed into theater or the dramatic arts. Those of us who tell stories well on paper often get rewarded with excellent grades and much acclaim. Teachers love good writers. And good writers are told they’re talented.

As a student, I often wrote essays instead of taking multiple-choice tests, partly because even then I was a good writer, but also because I’m dyslexic. I screw up a multiple-choice test most of the time.

Writing was easy; multiple choice was hard.

When something is easy, then you should do it, right?

The problem is that when you go from the high school or college stage to the Big International World of Storytelling, your chops can’t be just okay. They have to be wonderful. Even if you have an innate talent, you have to improve on that talent.

Plus, writers spend most of their time alone. Writers get no feedback, and what feedback they get is often negative.

It takes a certain personality type to persevere through the solitude and negative feedback. I often say I’m a writing junkie, but more accurately, I’m a storytelling junkie. I consume and create story in equal measures. Take my stories away, I’ll wither and die.

Most people have a real life that writing gets in the way of. I have a writing life that real events interrupt. Most writers who have committed a novel or two find the writing life not to their taste.

Solitude and making things up is not for everyone.

. . . .

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 free downloads. Is that success?

Not to a long-term writer.

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 99-cent downloads. Is that success?

Not to a long-term writer.

Sure, your first book can have 50,000 $4.99 downloads. Is that success?

Well, that’s a hell of a start, the kind that’ll make the long-term writer start rooting for you, and hoping you make it through all the upcoming pitfalls. Why? Because readers are spending noticeable money (not pocket change) on your book. Lots of readers. You’re developing a true fan base, and you’re making real money.

We all measure success differently, and we should know what it is before we start publishing. But most writers don’t. Success is finishing a novel (check). Success is getting that novel published (check). Success is getting good reviews (check). Success is getting paid for that novel. (check) Success is making a living. (um, what?)

Making a living means doing the process all over again. And again, and again. Most writers achieve the first goals or a version of the first goals. And then, the real work hits them.

Lots of writers have been publishing indie long enough to realize that self-publishing is as much work as a day job, if not more work. Lots of writers who started their own publishing companies have learned that indie publishing is more work than a day job.

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

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