The Business of Writing

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

Should you be a full-time writer?

14 March 2015

From author Mary Robinette Kowal via SFWA:

A lot of writers have a goal of being a full time writer. I think there’s this image of your life continuing exactly as it is, except that now your job is writing. Sure, you know you won’t go into an office, but it will be so nice to have no demands on your time, except writing.

Yeah… so, about that.

. . . .

As someone who has spent most of her adult life as a freelancer, let me speak to those of you who have conventional day jobs. How comfortable are you with not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, or even how big it will be?

Being a freelancer means that you have to constantly be hustling to get work. You get big checks when you turn in projects and nothing in between. Royalties? Twice a year and unpredictable in size.

When you are not writing, you are unemployed.

If this idea makes you uncomfortable, think very carefully before quitting your day job.

. . . .

You no longer need to leave the house. You won’t see people unless you make the effort to do so. Ah…. solitude. At first, yes. It’s glorious. But if you are even a minimally social creature… it can get really isolating really fast.

If you are a midlist writer (likely), you will have less money for indulgences. You might have to move to somewhere less expensive. Or travel less. Or you might have to travel more to promote the book. The only thing that is certain is that your life will not look the same as it does with the regularity of a day job.

Link to the rest at SFWA and thanks to Michael for the tip.

Here’s a link to Mary Robinette Kowal’s books

Taking on Scammy Publishers

6 March 2015

From Indies Unlimited:

As Kat announced Monday, IU is devoting the month of March to authors who have been scammed by scummy publishers, and what to do if you’ve been caught by one.

. . . .

The current CEO of Author Solutions, Andrew Phillips, told the Alliance of Independent Authors last year that it has published works by 180,000 authors over the past few years. (It’s telling that those 180,000 authors published just 225,000 books with Author Solutions imprints – or just over one book each. You’ve gotta ask yourself why they get so little repeat business.) And that’s just one vanity scammer. That doesn’t take into account those who signed with America Star Books (which used to be called PublishAmerica) or other pay-to-publish outfits. And it also doesn’t cover authors who signed a contract with an inexperienced small publisher.

My own story falls into the last camp. In 2002, I agreed to co-author a nonfiction book about simple living. My collaborator had already lined up a publisher, and even though the publisher had only put out one other book prior to ours (his mother’s memoir), I figured it would be okay. I even had a lawyer vet the contract. But after months of doing interviews and writing and editing the chapters, it became painfully clear that our publisher expected us to do all the marketing by word of mouth (as in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point). When I proposed a more traditional marketing push, all I got was crickets chirping. Not only did I not make any money, I never even recouped my costs.

I don’t believe our publisher meant to scam us; I’m sure he didn’t make any money from the book, either. But even today, I feel uncomfortable talking about the experience in public. There’s a stigma associated with being taken in, even when the scammers are pros. The victims expect others will judge them and call them out for “being stupid.” Melody Stiles, a licensed clinical social worker in Indianapolis, told me, “Shame is a very difficult thing to deal with internally, let alone publicly. Most people who have ‘gotten over’ the shame connected with a past incident will sometimes admit it if they are angered by seeing someone else get taken in a similar situation or if others are ‘coming out’ telling their stories.”

So this month, we’re coming out.

. . . .

Help us spread the word! Vanity presses have slick websites that feature reassuring words and soft-focus photos. They have tons of cash for online ads and preferential placement in search results. All we have is word of mouth. But we have a lot of mouths, and we’re pretty darned loud. Please share our posts far and wide with the hashtag #PublishingFoul.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited and thanks to Al for the tip.

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

Barnes & Noble’s Dirty Little Secret: Author Solutions and Nook Press

3 March 2015

From David Gaughran:

Nook Press – Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing platform – launched a selection of author services last October including editing, cover design, and (limited) print-on-demand.

Immediate speculation surrounded who exactly was providing these services, with many – including Nate Hoffelder, Passive Guy, and myself – speculating it could be Author Solutions. However, there was no proof.

Until now.

A source at Penguin Random House has provided me with a document which shows that Author Solutions is secretly operating Nook Press Author Services.

. . . .

You will see that the postal address highlighted above for physical submission of manuscripts is “Nook Press Author Services, 1663 Liberty Drive, Bloomington, Indiana.”

There’s something else located at that address: Author Solutions US headquarters in Bloomington, Indiana.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble has never disclosed that Author Solutions is providing these services, either in the press release announcing same, the communications to Nook Press users, or on the site itself.

. . . .

Also, Barnes & Noble fails to disclose Author Solutions’ involvement to authors purchasing these services. The Nook Press Author Services site goes into great detail about these services but never once mentions that Author Solutions is fulfilling them. In fact, the way the FAQs on the site are worded makes it sound like Barnes & Noble/Nook Press carries out the work itself – which is extremely misleading.

Finally, authors who use Nook Press Author Services are not informed that their personal details are shared with Author Solutions, along with explicit permission to use those personal details to upsell Author Solutions’ infamous marketing packages.

. . . .

A line in the sand needs to be drawn. Partnering with Author Solutions is not acceptable. Hiding that partnership from users of Nook Press Author Services is not acceptable. Sharing Nook Press users’ personal information with Author Solutions is not acceptable. And that message needs to go out very clearly to Barnes & Noble.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to James and several others for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

28 (Better) Things No One Tells You About Publishing

26 February 2015

From author Scott Berkun:

The recent Buzzfeed post by Curtis Sittenfeld called 24 Things No One Tells You about Publishing was fun to read. I’ve written 6 books with two publishers and I agreed with much of what she said. But having been an author for a decade and hearing every question and myth, here’s my own list of things I wish more  people knew about writing and publishing.

1. Selling books is harder than writing them. There are 300k books published in the U.S. every year. And 30% of Americans read only 1 to 5 books in 2014. Writing a book is purely up to you. But getting other people to buy and read you book is another matter.

2. Everyone obsesses about titles and covers but it’s hard to prove their impact beyond above a basic level of quality. It’s easy to find popular books with lousy titles and covers, and unpopular books with great titles and covers. There are too many variables for magic answers. Publishers exert more control over titles and covers than you’d expect: often authors have little say.

. . . .

5. Fame will likely ruin your writing or your life. Study the history of famous writers if you doubt me. Fast fame is a curse, or a trap, as everyone wants you to repeat exactly what you did before.

6. The publishing industry is slow to realize authors need them less than ever. Unlike 20 years ago, you can do much of what a publisher does yourself, perhaps not as well, but that depends on how entrepreneurial and self aware you are. Learn about self-publishing simply to be informed about your business end to end. Some publishers do great work, but many are stuck in an antiquated notion of their value.

. . . .

9. A great editor at a mediocre publisher can be a better situation than a mediocre editor at a great publisher. Editors represent you for dozens of decisions the publisher makes for your book that you can’t participate in.

. . . .

14. Publishers only invest in big PR for famous authors. For new authors there’s little reason to believe the investment will pay off. Would you spend 50% of your annual marketing budget on an unknown? Neither would a publisher. Publishers do love authors who invest their own time and money in marketing, and will help with and add to your investment.

Link to the rest at Scott Berkun and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Here’s a link to Scott Berkun’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

Erik Hanberg, Author Business Interview

19 February 2015
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From The Enterprising Writer:

Erik Hanberg lives in Tacoma, Washington, where he serves as a public official elected to the area’sMetropolitan Park District Board. More importantly for our purposes, he writes and self-publishes books in series: murder mysteries, science fiction, and how-to guidebooks addressing the specific needs and challenges of smaller nonprofit organizations.

He and his wife Mary Holste also own a business together: Side x Side Creative ( Side x Side provides cover design, formatting, ebook production, marketing strategy development, and public relations services to independent authors… as well as nonprofit, small business, and local government clients.

. . . .

How do you define the business you are in? What business model are you following today?

Erik Hanberg:

I am in two different businesses with my books. One is the business of entertainment and storytelling; the other is the business of sharing knowledge with a narrow niche: directors of small nonprofits.

The business model attempts to balance two different priorities for my own income. My three nonprofit books allow me to have a small and steady income from my writing. None of them are likely to be a “breakout” book, but they sell at a healthy clip month after month.

The fiction, on the other hand, I write because I enjoy it (of course), but also because it has the chance to go big. Without promotion, the books have modest sales. But when I find a promotion or marketing opportunity that works, I can sell several thousand books in a few days. Even with the books priced at a discount (which these opportunities frequently require) the total volume makes up for it, and I have enough of a backlist that readers find the rest of my fiction.

In short, my model gives me steady income month after month, but also the opportunity for big income spikes.

. . . .

What is your level of interest in publishing all or part of your work commercially, that is through a traditional, Big Five publisher? 

Erik Hanberg:

I have gotten more interested in the idea than I was when I started.

My goal right now is to be a hybrid author: one or two commercially successful titles published by a traditional publisher with a backlist of self-published work.

Currently, my writing and business plan say that my first task is to finish the sci-fi trilogy. It’s been a little challenging just having one book in the trilogy out—readers want to know for sure you’ll finish before they start buying into a series, I think.

Then I want to write another mystery in the series and make sure that series stays fresh. Then I want to begin work on a novel to query to agents.

By the time I’ve finished that book, I would have three nonprofit books, four mysteries, and a sci-fi trilogy. A good base for whatever comes next.

. . . .

What methods or practices do you use to think about and plan the future of your business? 

Erik Hanberg:

I am in this for the long game. Yes, of course, a big spike would be nice. And making my living as a full time author will always sound appealing. But I’m not counting on it. The more books out, the more likely that is. So this gives me perspective. Self-publishing books is the most likely to pay me royalties year after year, which makes it a better option (for now) than a single limited advance with less chance of future payouts.

Link to the rest at The Enterprising Writer and thanks to Ryan for the tip.


17 February 2015

From The Economist:

The mystery is worth a book in itself. How could a hitherto unknown novel by Harper Lee, writer of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, remain hidden for 60 years, and why was it not published before? For all the swirling questions, there is one certainty. The book will become a blockbuster without Ms Lee so much as signing a copy. If only every author could be so lucky.

Standing out as a book writer today requires more than a bright idea and limpid prose. Authors need to become businesspeople as well, thinking strategically about their brand, and marketing themselves and their products. There is more competition for readers’ and reviewers’ attention, and fewer bookshops to provide a showcase for new titles. In 2013 some 1.4m print books were published in America, over five times as many as a decade earlier. Publishers are increasingly focusing their efforts on a few titles they think will make a splash, neglecting less well-known authors and less popular themes.

. . . .

[T]hese days, writing a book is just a prologue to more work. Even the most successful writers need to invest large amounts of time and resources in promoting themselves. Authors mostly used to rely on public-relations staff provided by the publishing house. Now, wise writers hire their own publicists, whether they are unknowns just starting out in the business or stars such as J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame.

Authors must court an expanding variety of “influencers”—people whose opinions can determine a book’s success. Once a select group of newspaper reviewers were the principal arbiters of literary taste. Now, as the amount of newsprint devoted to reviews keeps shrinking, a host of bloggers and social-media pundits fill the gap. The most important are the celebrity endorsers. Oprah Winfrey used to help books soar up the charts by discussing them on her television show. More recently Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has become an important endorser. Steven Pinker, a psychologist, enjoyed a “Zuckerberg bump” in sales of his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, after the social network’s boss told his online followers he was reading it.

. . . .

Authors, like other entrepreneurs, should not let failure get to them. If they fail to make aTimes bestseller list, they can always try for another one, such as Amazon’s. Cheap e-books can shoot up the website’s real-time lists, which is how many self-published authors have gained attention. Their moment of glory may have lasted a mere few seconds, but no one needs to know that.

Link to the rest at The Economist and thanks to James for the tip.

Killing Even More Sacred Cows of Publishing: #1… Novels Must Be A Certain Length

16 February 2015

From Dean Wesley Smith:

There sure are a lot of myths about publishing.

Sacred Cow #1: A Novel Must Be A Certain Length

You hear this myth spouted from almost every blog or young author or young editor at one point or another. The writers spouting this myth all go on about how a novel doesn’t have value, readers won’t like it, the author won’t feel complete unless the novel they write is at least 80,000 words long or longer.

Now granted, some stories need to be that long. Some.

But many, many novels are padded out and basically killed in quality because of this belief in a myth. I know, in over one hundred contracts with traditional publishing, I wrote to contract lengths and most of the books I wrote had to be padded out in one form or another to hit contract length.

I hated having to do that, but back in the 1990s and into this century, it was just the way life was.

I always believed that a story just needed to be the length the story wanted to be. Not some artificial length prescribed by contract or a false belief system.

So how did this silly practice and myth even get started?

. . . .

Back in time, around the 1890s, there was a major rift that intensified the difference between “literature” and “stories for the masses.” That difference had always played out for centuries before as those who thought they were better than others often showed that superior attitude by buying thick leather books full of almost-impossible-to-read words.

The theory was that when something was hard to read and not fun, it had to be literature and thus it had to be good. For centuries, writers (now long forgotten) made money from that way of thinking. Usually patronage in one form or another supported them because supposedly it took great amounts of time to produce such difficult-to-read tomes. (That’s where the myth started of the longer a book takes to write, the better the quality of the book. That, of course, is another major myth. I covered that topic in another Sacred Cows chapter in another book.)

The unwashed masses wanted great stories, from the Dime Novels all the way into the pulps that started up in the 1890s and exploded into the next century. The great unwashed didn’t need to struggle over a story, they just wanted to be entertained.

The pulps existed up until the distribution collapse of the late 1950s, when the mass market paper replaced them completely as a way of getting cheap entertainment to the reading masses. (Mass market paperbacks had been around since the late 1930s, but only fully replaced pulps in the 1950s.) During those six or seven decades that the pulps ruled, they contained hundreds of thousands of novels and even more short stories.

The novel structure we know today was developed, for the most part, in the pulps. Entertainment story structure was worked out by the likes of Lester Dent and Max Brand and other great pulp writers. (Brand was a pen name of Frederick Faust. Dent wrote under many pen names including Kenneth Robeson.)

Novels in the pulps ranged in the 30,000 to 40,000 word length, almost without exception. A story around 20,000 words was called a short novel.

When paperbacks started to take over, almost all novels ranged in the same length, rarely topping out over 50,000 words. (Of course there were exceptions, but they were rare. And there were the excessively long literature novels published in leather as well.) And novels were still published in magazines, often serialized.

This lasted up until the 1980s when costs of traditional publishers started to rise. Shipping costs and a run-away returns system were just two of the major factors that drove publisher costs up. Also, since publishers remained in the high prices of New York City, the overhead of publishers shot up as well.

So as costs of publishers went up, the prices of books needed to go up or people would have to lose their jobs and their offices in New York.

So traditional publishers hit on a perfect idea to help readers not be angry at them for raising book prices. Simply make the books thicker.

The publishers, in author contracts, slowly forced authors to write longer and longer books over the decade of the 1980s and into the 1990s.

My first book contract in 1987 had a required length of 60,000 to 70,000 words. By the time I wrote my last traditional book, the contract wanted a book of over 90,000 words.

. . . .

I write this in the early part of 2015 and thankfully, it’s a new world. Traditional publishers have lost control of just about all areas of publishing.

Indie and smaller press publishers can do books easily and quickly and get them distributed around the world and into bookstores.

Readers are slowly gaining control again by buying what they want when they want it, and for a reasonable price.

. . . .

In the last seventeen months, I have written seventeen novels, novels that I never would have been allowed to write in traditional publishing. All seventeen are between 40,000 and 55,000 words long. Why? The answer is simple.

I started reading as a kid in the 1950s and my formative years in reading were up until 1980 when I turned 30. Almost every book I read during those years was in the 40,000 word range. I read science fiction and mystery series such as the Travis McGee series. I collected old paperbacks and pulp magazines.

The classics of mystery and science fiction were written at the length of 40-50 thousand words or shorter. Blish, Budrys, Knight, Norton, Vance, Silverberg, Williamson, Boucher, McDonald, and so on and so on.

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

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

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