The Business of Writing

In Which I Rant About How Writers Do Not Respect Their Readers

20 July 2015

From TPV regular Shantnu Tiwari:

So I read yet another book by yet another author (a 1st book by a new writer, published by a traditional big 5 publisher) that ended without warning. As in, the book finished without solving any of the main plot points or character arcs. It was like, I turned the chapter, and bam! The End. Buy the next book please.

Legacy publishers have loved this sort of thing. This guarantee readers will buy the next book. And readers hate it.

Hyperion is still hated by many people, and has hundreds of 1 star reviews, because it doesn’t finish the story in the first book. The main story is that a small group of people go to a planet where a demon like creature lives. And the first book ends right when they enter the planet, ie, where the book was supposed to start!

I knew about this, having read the reviews, which is why I bought the omnibus edition that contains both books in one really thick tome. But most people have sworn to never finish Hyperion.

Holly Lisle says that her editor did this for one of her books– just cut it in half, ending the first book on a cliffhanger. And many years later, she still gets hate mail for it, even though it wasn’t her decision. It is one of her few books that has many 1 star reviews.

. . . .

Recently, I have started seeing Indie & self publishers follow the same tactic.  There is a religious thinking, that looks almost cultish, that says all books have to be written in a series, so that readers will buy one after the other. And many writing “gurus”, including one best seller whose blog is super popular and get millions of hits, say that you must end your book on a cliffhanger, or at least in the middle of action, so that readers will buy the next book.

. . . .

I am even happy with giving a teaser to the next book in your last chapter. So the reader knows what’s coming, and can buy the next book, if they want. But only after the current story, the one they paid for, is finished.

Link to the rest at Shantnu Tiwari

Here’s a link to Shantnu Tiwari’s books

Fighting the Wrong War

18 July 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Indie Writers: You have the control. Own it.

27 June 2015

From author Elizabeth Hunter:

Here’s the thing.

There are many reasons why people decide to publish their own books. Some people get frustrated with traditional publishing. Some prefer the creative control that self-publishing brings. Others see it as a better long-term business choice to control their intellectual property for the life of the copyright. Some people want to publish their Uncle Alvin’s memoirs and hand it to him at Christmas because it was good old Uncle Alvin’s life-long dream. It could be none of these reasons. It could be all of them or a combination of any.

Whatever the reason you decided to self-publish, there you are. You’ve done it.

Now please own it.

Amid all the handwringing about subscription services and how writers are getting paid (I don’t want to go over it, so if you don’t know what I’m talking about, just read David Gaughran’s post HERE) writers seem to be forgetting one very important fact. It’s really important. In fact, some might say IT’S THE ENTIRE FREAKING POINT.

You are the one who controls your books.

You’re it. You’re the boss of your work. You.

So please stop bitching and just take the reins.

. . . .

“BUT EVERYONE IS GIVING AWAY EVERYTHING AND—”

Seriously, do I need to have that conversation with you again about your friends and jumping off bridges that your mom had with you when you were six? You’re (hopefully) an adult. You should understand how to combat peer pressure by now.

Link to the rest at Elizabeth Hunter and thanks to David for the tip.

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Hunter’s books

Write It Slow?

23 June 2015

From Bookview Café:

Ursula K. Le Guin recently blogged right here on Book View Café about how the marketing practices of Amazon.com results in disposable, interchangeable world-pablum instead of thoughtful, well-crafted literature. She wrote:

If you want to sell cheap and fast, as Amazon does, you have to sell big. Books written to be best sellers can be written fast, sold cheap, dumped fast: the perfect commodity for growth capitalism.

The readability of many best sellers is much like the edibility of junk food. Agribusiness and the food packagers sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we come to think that’s what food is. Amazon uses the BS Machine to sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we begin to think that’s what literature is.

. . . .

I know successful authors who write more than one novel a year (it takes me one to two years at this point to finish a novel to my own satisfaction). They are dedicated craftspeople, and some of their work is very good. It’s not that one way of working is better than another, it’s that I got into trouble by comparing mine to someone else’s.

I know romance writers who support themselves with their writing. They sell on proposal with very detailed outlines. They know exactly how many pages each section of the outline will require and by what date they must finish them to meet deadline. They do this every 3 months. By and large, their readers expect a particular experience and the writers deliver it consistently. It’s a 9-to-5 job, but one they love.

Sometimes when I as a reader pick up a book, that’s what I want. Not challenging literature but a predictable, engaging read. Fast food For The Mind, as it were. It could be escape reading, or comfort, or perfect for a time or situation rife with distractions, when subtle writing would get lost. (Think: on the bus, during your kid’s karate class, in the dentist’s office.)

. . . .

As a writer, I try to work at the pace that allows me to reflect and dig deep into my stories instead of dashing off the first things that come to mind.

Link to the rest at Bookview Café and thanks to  for the tip.

The Real Price of Traditional Publishing

23 June 2015

From Dean Wesley Smith:

This new world of publishing now allows authors to make many publishing choices after they finish a book. That’s a great thing compared to just ten years ago.

Now an author can go the old traditional route, they can go full indie and do everything. Or they can publish somewhere in the middle, taking responsibility for all the work, but hiring out parts, or all of the tasks needed to be done.

A thousand choices in the process now. And that’s a very, very good thing for authors in the abstract.

But all choices have costs. This post is about the costs of going traditional with your novel.

. . . .

As electronic books came into a true reality over the last six or so years (ignoring the 15 years of sputtering before that), traditional publishers started to adjust to meet the new world. It does not seem like they did from the outside, but they have in many, many ways. And are still adjusting.

And as indie publishing ate into the sales numbers of the traditional publishers and their authors, and discoverability became an issue for traditional publishers just as it always was for indie authors, traditional publishers had to adjust even more.

No traditional publisher would survive in 2015 with only paper books and their old trade channels. Most traditional publishers now say that electronic is from 20-35% of their entire income. They work on 5% margins with high overhead. They would not survive in any form that we know without electronic income and low author costs for that electronic income. So because traditional publishers needed to, they have adjusted in many ways.

. . . .

First adjustment: Author advances against royalties went down almost across the board.

A standard genre advance is now in the $3,000 range. A lead list title can get a little more, but inside most genres, advances for all but the major bestsellers are now far under $10,000 for most books.

Second adjustment: Contract terms changed to “life of copyright” and reversion clauses became useless.

In the last two years I have seen a couple dozen author contracts from various traditional houses. “Life of Copyright” is always a non-negotiable contract term in the United States if you are a normal-level writer.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith and thanks to James for the tip.

Here’s a link to Dean Wesley Smith’s books

Gaming the System

19 June 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

And that bugs me.

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

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

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

Hidden Treasures

11 June 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Canadian Writers Working Harder While Earning Less

29 May 2015

From The Writers’ Union of Canada:

The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) has released today a summary report from its latest income survey of Canadian writers. Devaluing Creators, Endangering Creativity contains the very bad news that writers in Canada are making 27% less from their writing than they were making in 1998 (when last surveyed to this extent). What’s more, a full 45% of those surveyed indicated they are working harder in order to earn that lower amount.

The Writers’ Union believes these results represent a cultural emergency for Canada. For 81% of respondents, income from writing would not allow them to live above the poverty line, and the average writer’s income ($12,879) is a full $36,000 below the national average. This despite the fact that writers have invested in post-graduate education in large numbers.

“This is not a sustainable situation,” said TWUC Chair Harry Thurston. “If we want a strong and diverse publishing and cultural industry in Canada, it’s essential that creators are reasonably rewarded. Everyone — governments, corporations, institutions, and individual consumers — have a part to play in fairly compensating writers for the content they expect, need and enjoy.”

Similar findings have emerged from recent income surveys in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Writers’ incomes are in steep decline across the English-language publishing industry. Changes to contracts and publishing practices (declines in royalty percentages and advances on sales), industry consolidation, as well as worldwide pressure on professional creators to work in a disastrously weakened copyright environment are all likely contributors.

Link to the rest at The Writers’ Union of Canada and thanks to Tudor for the tip.

It’s interesting to PG that this announcement from Canada is released at the same time The Authors Guild announces a steep decline in the income of traditionally-published authors in the United States.

Both announcements fail to mention the incomes of indie authors.

Writing by Committee

26 May 2015

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Turns out I was right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

So, rather than deal with that, he retired.

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Your fans expect you to have a strong romance

Your fans won’t like a graphic murder scene

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

And so on.

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

10 things authors learn the hard way

26 May 2015

From BDaily:

Writing workshops and books, professional advice, even Google, won’t answer every question an author may have. Some knowledge can only be gained by personal experience. The following list stems from genuine reports by authors I’ve either spoken to or worked with, across the globe. Individual points are not meant as sweeping statements; there may be a good portion of authors who have different outcomes and opinions. Nevertheless….

No one but you cares as much about your book  

Agents, publishers and publicists – and especially readers – don’t have the same emotional investment as the author of a book. They might just as easily prefer another book on the same subject, or easily forget your title altogether; with over 14 million books to choose from, that yours will be the best, most unique book they’ve ever come across is unlikely. Dump the ego, and work on enticing them to look at your book in the first place. Help them to make their buying decision, don’t just assume that once seen, automatically sold.

Traditional publishing is not better than self-publishing

Yes, TP has a lot going for it, but it also has its downsides. Sacrifices to become a TP author may include your book no longer being recognisable to you, little control over the book’s aesthetics, a long, long time to market and vastly reduced royalties. That’s not to say self-publishing doesn’t have any cons; TP and SP are essentially just different ways to publish that should each be thoroughly investigated.

Traditional publishers commonly display shiny book syndrome

Your book’s out, you ride the publicity wave for a few months, then…..nothing. Though your book will be in the publisher’s back catalogue, and will undoubtedly have a strategy behind its continued promotion, your publisher will switch their attention to their newest author, time and time again. Neither can you pick up the mantle; your contract with them may restrict the marketing you do off your own back. A Catch-22 situation indeed.

. . . .

Publishing is an unscrupulous business

Vanity publishing, scams, fake competitions, companies only looking to make money out of you….there are many of them about. If your gut tells you it doesn’t feel right, it most probably isn’t. It’s very rare for a traditionally published author to financially contribute to their project (usually, only when certain copyrights or research needs to be obtained), and it should also be clear to a self-publisher what their upfront costs of production are – and it’s not as expensive as you may think. If you’re quoted a price above a couple of thousand run it by me – or just run.

Link to the rest at BDaily

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