Calendars (A 2022 Anticipatory Process Blog)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I realized this month that I have a weird form of pandemic PTSD. As those of you who regularly follow this weekly blog know, I order at least six paper calendars for the year ahead. In 2021, I added a calendar at Dean’s request that’s dedicated just to our runs. I also ordered an extra calendar when my usual exercise calendar (which I use for reading—go figure) kept getting delayed due to printing issues.

I’m usually extremely organized with my paper calendars. By this point in the year (and I’m writing this on December 20), I should have everything that I have scheduled for 2022 logged into the paper calendars.

Right now, I have many things that I know about for 2022 logged into the computer calendar. I’m anal about that thing, with its reminders and its messages and its notifications. If I schedule something, I log it into the computer that day.

However, I said “many” because I haven’t yet logged in my class dates and times. Which I just realized as I’ve been writing this post.

I’m really reluctant to look at my schedule for 2022.

For this one, I blame 2021. I filled out my 2021 calendar at this point in 2020. I was excited about the vaccines coming, excited that we might return to in-person everything in 2021, excited about having a sane president. I was hoping that we would be able to put the increasing insanity of the previous five years behind us.

I wrote a really upbeat blog about it, coming into 2021, which, if I remember correctly, went live…on January 6

. . . .

I’d get my feet under me only to be swept away by something that I truly did not expect. I probably could have foreseen all of it if I were willing to acknowledge how dumb some people are, how gullible other people are, and how venal a whole lot of people are. But I try to be optimistic about the human spirit. I really do.

. . . .

I went forward, sometimes with great disappointment. Sometimes with a shake of the head. And sometimes with complete stubborn determination.

I was just about to type that for me, personally, 2021 wasn’t a bad year. And then the back of my brain started listing the dead friends and family members who had been alive at this point last year, the sudden move, the continually changing exterior landscape and, yeah. 2021 was…well, it wasn’t the worst year of my life. Not even close. But I can’t say it wasn’t bad.

Dean and I survived just fine, but I do feel like we’re living in a rubble-filled crater from the year, trying to make the best of the times ahead.

. . . .

I did not realize the toll that 2021 took on my scheduler brain. Realize that I schedule everything. 2020—once we got through March or so—did not have this kind of impact. Everything was canceled or we expected it to be canceled, but that was not the case in 2021.

I thought things would be on. Not much would be canceled. Lots got canceled, even now at the end of the year due to Omicron. (Dammit.)

My calendars are a scribbled mess of changes.

As I typed that section in my blog about school, I realized what my hesitation was. In August, I signed up for the Entertainment Law class ahead of my planned schedule on taking it because the class would be in-person. A different class, one I need to take and had signed up for, went from in person to online, so I bailed.

Online learning has its place, but a lot of in-person teachers suck at it. I had a prof in 2020 who was a great raconteur in person. We moved to online in March…and he just drily narrated his notes. Clearly, he needed an audience.

If I’m going to pay a lot for school online, I’ll seek out people who can teach well online, not people who are doing their best poorly.

So I canceled out of a class and took EL, which ended up being a great decision, except that my Thursdays became nightmarishly long. I don’t want to do that again.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

The Sad State of the Traditional Publishing Backlist

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A quietly astonishing moment happened on November 9, the first day of 20Booksto50K, in a panel titled “High-Powered Authors.” Multiple New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin said something that caught fire when the video of the panel went live.

At least three people sent me the video and pointed me to that moment, about 38 minutes into the panel. For those of you who don’t know, Kat Martin has written more than 65 novels, had them published traditionally, and has hit bestseller lists for three decades now.

. . . .

Her comments on this panel were all good, many of them about the importance of focus and of writing daily. She has published a few backlist titles through a specialty ebook press, but she’s not self-published. (I had no idea that 20Books had invited traditionally published authors this year, but they had for some reason. Or maybe the trad pubbed writers expressed an interest. Lord knows, they need to be interested in self- or indie-publishing.)

Anyway, at that 38-minute mark, Kat spoke up about her backlist. She was speaking after indie writers who were talking about the importance of the backlist, and how they kept the backlist fresh, how they actually made consistent money from their backlists.

When she received the mic, Kat said:

I think [the backlist is] a real negative for traditional publishing. Once you sell them your book, they have your book and they own it for years. And they do pay you a nice fat fee up front, so it’s kind of a trade off, but it’s not a long-term, it’s not a retirement thing, because they’re making money off the backlist. You don’t. They give you a percentage, but…the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self publishing.

Note that again: the big money, I think, for long term is probably in self publishing.

Traditionally published writers have said that privately for years now, with that same sense of sadness that Kat Martin had. They know their books are tied up, and not really usable. These days, traditional publishers are extremely unwilling to revert the rights to books, playing all kinds of games to keep the books “in print,” when in reality they’re very hard to find.

And that “nice fat fee up front”? It’s not so nice or so fat anymore.

An article on literary novels in the September Vanity Fair pointed out that Sally Rooney’s Normal People sold 325,000 copies in paperback, as if that was a good number.

Paperbacks, back when I met Kat Martin, weren’t successful unless they sold a million copies. If they were trade paperbacks, then half a million. Otherwise, they were midlist.

The Vanity Fair article did talk about the declining advances, though, and contained this bombshell:

Last summer, Jesmyn Ward revealed that the advance for her follow-up to the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones was a mere $100,000—for Sing, Unburied, Sing, which also won a National Book Award. It’s telling that you can win American publishing’s highest honor and still (after taxes and agent fees) make not quite enough up front on your next book to buy a late-model Lexus sedan.

That advance is tiny for an award-winning novel…or used to be tiny, back in the day. But as I’ve been saying here, advances for traditionally published writers have been declining for more than a decade.  And traditional publishers have been playing with the percentages so that when backlist books sell, they no longer earn what they used to.

What is traditional publishing doing wrong with their backlist? Pretty much everything. They’re throwing it out there, and hoping someone will buy it. They’re not repackaging it, they’re not really paying much attention to it at all.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

IP is the New PrimeTime

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 JP Colaco, head of ad sales for WarnerMedia . . . . said, “IP is the new primetime.”

Television execs are acting on this. They’re becoming platform agnostic (which raises its own problems) and they have learned, because of the pandemic, that people want to watch good television. They don’t care if that program was produced in 1980. They will binge whatever appeals to them.

Which is why the upfronts were so odd this year. A few networks didn’t even push their fall line-ups, which used to be essential for ad revenue. Now, these networks are pushing their platforms or even, at times, their older programming, trying to pair up the right ad with the right program in the right way so that consumers will see it all.

What I wrote in my blog was that, for publishers, IP should be the new frontlist. Rather than promoting the new books and titles at the expense of everything else, traditional publishers should be mining their backlist for items that will capture the moment.

For example, let’s take the pandemic. (Please, as the old comedians used to say.) If publishers had been smart, they could have combed their backlist for stories of survival in the middle of a plague.  Or maybe a few books that would make us all feel better about the extent of the pandemic we’re currently in. With just a little time on the Google (as a friend calls it), I found a dozen lists of good plague literature. None of the lists were published in 2020, by the way.

. . . .

The point isn’t whether or not the books are still in print—although that’s part of this argument. The point is also that the publishers themselves should be putting books like these out as part of their front list, books they’re throwing money behind so that readers know about them and buy them.

Because of my crazy summer, I decided to wait to write this small series of posts until the fall.  By then, every time I looked at the title of this blog, which I had listed as “IP is the New Frontlist,” I had forgotten where I saw the original quote. I had, instead, thought that some savvy book publisher person had said that at a book conference.

I decided to wait to see if publishers took any action on this before I wrote about it.

Shows how dumb I can be.

In those months, as the TV/film industry continued to alternately reel and innovate because of the pandemic and the impact on that entire industry, the book industry decided to pretend that nothing had happened in 2020—except an election here in the States and an insurrection in January of 2021.

They commissioned new books to deal with all of those things because—to be fair—no one had time-traveled to the future to write books on those things in 2019.

But publishers didn’t look through their inventory to find books relevant to those things. I have some books in my personal library, books on impeachment, on the U.S. Constitution and on the 1850s, which provides a rather terrifying roadmap for where we are now.

Publishers also didn’t look for books on health and wellness to keep people sane in lockdown or tons of classic literature on plagues and pandemics or incredible escapist fare for those of us who wanted to think of anything except death and dying.

To show you how little traditional publishing plans, the Bridgerton tie-in edition for Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, which was the basis for the first season, didn’t receive any promotion or advertising. The book released on December 1, but when I searched for it around December 15, I couldn’t find it. Avon put no money behind it.

They thought the series was going to tank.

That’s so different from the way most TV or film tie-ins are treated. Some of that was pure bigotry—traditional publishers make a lot of money on romance novels, but never think of them as anything other than garbage.

But some of it was sheer ineptness. It didn’t matter that the show was being produced (and shepherded) by Shonda Rhimes, who seems to have a golden touch with what she does. Nor did it matter that the show was on Netflix, which promotes the hell out of everything.

Avon saw a 20-year-old book and thought that putting together a tiny tie-in edition was more than adequate. It was so in-adequate that I couldn’t find the book two weeks later.

Friends overseas couldn’t get copies at all, and were begging for copies from the States. Then, when the book took off, it took a while for Avon to realize they needed Bridgerton editions of the whole series.

The book sales were skyrocketing and the books were increasingly hard to find. That’s terrible planning on the part of Quinn’s publisher. I’m sure Avon knew the TV show was coming; they just didn’t think a backlist series was worth their time.

Whoops.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

From Kristine Kathryn Ru sch:

I’m doing a lot of things here in Las Vegas that I only dreamed of doing when I lived in Oregon, especially small town Oregon. Sometimes I think I rolled myself into a little ball and cut out everything else. Some of that was health-related, some of it was the demanding job, but some of it was opportunity.

Not that I took advantage of a lot of opportunities when I had them.

Bear with me on this, particularly those of you who have read the blog for a long time.

The word “audition” used to scare the ever-living hell out of me. I won a lot of awards for singing, music, and performance when I was a child and as a teenager. I also modeled. I fell into it as a child because the photographer of the local newspaper wanted to date my older sister. She was one of those popular girls who treated her boyfriends like crap.

My mother used to assign her to babysit me, probably thinking it would keep her out of trouble. Instead, my sister used to pass me off on the wanna-be boyfriends, particularly the photographer. I was in the paper a lot.

Then she married, my parents and I moved to Wisconsin, and my mother still found a way for me to get photographed for the paper. I did a ton of artsy fartsy things, except actual drawing, which I sucked at. I competed a lot, but I never had to audition, until high school.

I don’t remember most of my auditions, but the last one—the very last one—sticks in my mind. I auditioned for Fiddler on the Roof. I was scared to death, and the music stuck in my throat. When it became clear to me that I couldn’t sing in tune at that moment, I apologized to the co-director.

“I go out of tune when I’m nervous,” I said.

She looked at me over the top of the piano. “Well, you’ll be nervous on opening night, won’t you?”

It was like an arrow to the heart. And that was it. I saw everything through that prism from that moment forward. If I was nervous, I would screw up.

What I didn’t see was this: I had blown the audition badly and I still got a singing part. (One of the two youngest daughters, Shprintze.) What I considered bad wasn’t awful. It just wasn’t good enough for a lead role.

I had no one to tell me these things. I had a perfectionist mother who believed one missed word, one missed note, ruined everything. So I decided to avoid anything that required auditioning…although I found ways around it.

I was in radio. I got my first job as a writer of copy, and eventually, I learned engineering and because we were short-handed, I went on the air a lot.

I had married another theater geek, and I had dreams of heading to New York. He would perform and I would write. That got tanked when he quit drama school after he had been chosen to work at a start-up theater (which later won a Tony). He “didn’t like the pay.”

. . . .

[Kris took a voice-over class.]

Seventy-five percent of the class was performance, sprinkled with a lot of learning about all the kinds of existing voiceover work. There’s an engineering course that I will take later in the year, if I can sign up (it fills fast), and there’s a lot more to learn.

Because I didn’t care about whether or not I was the best or even “good enough,” I tried all kinds of things. I had fun and I was eager to get in the booth and try something hard.

It knocked the rust off my radio skills, and reminded me how much I loved voice work. I had tried to revive some voice work back in Oregon, but I hadn’t felt comfortable, considering how much had changed.

And a lot had changed, but the fundamentals remained the same. One voice, one microphone, some engineering work, and ¡voila! a product. I had forgotten that.

So, while I was enmeshed with trying to work out which classes to take next, the VO studio sent an email about moving forward, and in it, had this quote:

Comparison is the thief of joy.

They sent it because students who finish that first class usually become a group who take other classes together. As in all of the arts, a group that starts from the same place does not stay in the same place. Some have early success. Some quit. Some work forever to make small gains. And some eventually become the solid folks in their field.

I’m not planning to become a major voice-over artist. I have a job. But I want to do a few things, and I want the skills (and the contacts) to hire the right people for the jobs I have.

Still, I stared at that comparison quote for a long time, and it got me thinking.

The writers I’ve been around, particularly those with some success, often compare themselves to others like this:

I’m more talented than XYZ Bestselling writer. How come he has all the luck?

And then they try to explain it to themselves, often with a result like this:

Oh, he’s successful because he dumbs his work down for the masses.

Or, he’s successful because he’s writing something trendy.

Or, he’s successful because he does more advertising than I do.

Or, he’s successful because he sucks up to everyone in power (in traditional publishing).

He’s never successful because of his abilities—not to that person. Not that it matters, either. In the arts, comparing two artists isn’t fair. They’re different. They’re on different paths.

Which was the point of the quote the VO studio sent.

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Supply Chain Woes…Traditional, Indie, And More

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This morning, a regular reader of my blog forwarded a tweet to me from a bookseller and writer about supply chain issues for books. He then suggested I blog about those issues.

I had planned to, but I had a vague hope that they would improve. The bookseller’s tweet disabused me of that notion.

The tweet is below. Read the thread, and note that she does have a book coming out. In fact, I had initially thought she was a writer, not a bookseller and this had happened to her. (That’s what I get for reading things early in the morning.)

Well, it had happened to her, but her as a bookseller, not her as in her current release.  Here’s the link to the tweet.

For those of you who won’t bother to read the thread, she goes on to say that this is extreme red alert territory, because the book comes from Random House. Others chimed in with knowledge about other books going through similar issues or the way that they’re dealing with this.

I know some of you live under rocks and/or have decided not to pay attention to anything right now (and boy, do I relate), but surely even you all have noted the supply chain issues.

Your favorite grocery store doesn’t stock the same things it used to. My cats’ usual cat food has been discontinued (after years) because it includes some kind of tuna that’s no longer available. (Every supplier I know suggests I get them chicken, but Cheeps loathes chicken. I know. He’s not really a cat.) Fortunately for the cats, I found a variety pack of other food that they like better (even though that has supply issues as well), so all’s well that ends well there.

But half of what I usually buy, whether in person or online, has had some kind of delay due to some missing part. In 2020, we bought a new living room set, and that included 2 ottomans. The couch and loveseat were in stock, but the ottomans weren’t. It took four months for those to be delivered.

So, when we bought another new furniture set because of the move, we instructed the poor sales person to show us only items that they had in their warehouse. That took forever, because most sets had only one or two items in the warehouse, not everything.

We also somewhat optimistically partnered with another company on a game for a 2020 Diving Kickstarter. The game manufacturer went to China for his product, which hadn’t been a problem in the past. Then…well, you know. After a year, we will be refunding the game money. We’ll do the game when we have it in our hot little hands and not before.

The game manufacturer is dealing with this kind of delay on many of his products. I can’t imagine what that’s doing to his bottom line.

The New York Times had a pretty good article on the supply chain issues. (I’m sure you can find others.)

Paper books are no exception. In fact, Ingram sent out a series of warnings about the problems it anticipates in the Fourth Quarter. As those of you who follow several indie publishers on social media probably already know, one of those changes that Ingram Sparks has implemented are price increases, effective on November 6, 2021.

These increases are not small. The U.S. market will see a 6% increase, and the U.K. and Australia will see a 3% increase. As one publisher noted, that will make some of his hardcovers $40 or more. Ingram helpfully adds that they will be “We will also be identifying titles that will move into negative publisher compensation because of these price changes…”

In other words, they’ll let publishers who are going to lose money with the new pricing structure know before the new structure hits.

That’s just one way this is impacting publishing. There are other ways.

Let’s start with traditional first, because traditional publishers are making some amazing and difficult decisions. I actually have some empathy for them, because they’re not built to absorb this problem. Then I’ll move to indie, which can deal with the problem, with patience and a bit of creativity.

Traditional publishing, as I have written many times, is built on the velocity model. Books must sell quickly out of the gate, and then taper off later. Sometimes books that sell quickly sell faster than expected, and the demand is higher than originally thought.

In the past, the solution (though not ideal) worked well enough: the moment it became clear that the traditional publisher would blow through their inventory, they would sent in an order for reprinting. In the unlikely (but joyful) event that the first reprinting wasn’t enough, there would be a second, third, fourth and fifth.

Those days are now gone. As you can see from the tweet above, a book published two weeks ago has sold very well, but the publishing representative, talking to the bookstore that wants more copies, had the unenviable task of telling the store the book would not be reprinted.

At all.

Sounds like a stupid thing to do, right? And it is. If traditional publishing had a different business model, they would simply tell booksellers to be patient. The reprint would come eventually.

But that’s not happening.

This is because traditional book publishers must reserve time with their printers. Because everything is new, new, new, the new books get the most attention. Their printings are scheduled months in advance—a practice that has been part of traditional publishing forever.

Because of the supply chain problems and worker shortages and driver shortages and a whole bunch of other things that have an impact on paper books, there is less time to be reserved from printers, not more. That means that traditional publishers are pretty much guaranteed to get their first printings on their latest releases…and nothing else.

Even those first printings are delayed. As Ann Trubeck of Belt Publishing noted, it used to take two weeks to get a book printed. In July, it was taking her eight weeks.

Ingrams is encouraging booksellers to stock up early on the “hot” books of the season (whatever you guess they might be). But Ingrams is also encouraging publishers to print more books than usual, so that they will have books on hand, rather than run out.

But that traditional publisher, Ann Trubeck of Belt Publishing, included something quite savvy in her post. She wrote,

It is entirely possible to lose money by selling more copies than anticipated because an algorithm or overoptimism or “just in case” caution leads to large orders that force publishers to print more copies, only to have that demand evaporate, and all those freshly printed, last minute copies are sent back to the warehouse in a tsunami of bruised, tired cardboard boxes.

Remember, in traditional publishing, returns get eaten by the publisher. Booksellers who over-order can send books back for full credit, if they do so in the right amount of time.

So the traditional publisher put a lot of money into the product and find that they can’t sell it.

This is hard enough for the publisher. And Trubeck isn’t the only one dealing with this, quite obviously. If you read through that thread on Twitter, you’ll see Random House authors mention that their first printing sold out in 2020, they were promised a reprinting, and it never happened.

It won’t happen.

There’s not enough room in traditional publishing right now. I like Trubeck’s voice, so I’ll show you once again her publishing perspective. She notes that on Ingram, many of her books show no copies available. But readers can order from her directly because they have copies stashed at the office. (I have no idea how big her offices are or how many direct sales she makes. Probably not enough.)

Here’s what she says about that:

It’s as scary to anticipate losing sales as it is to be too late with an additional print run, but we will have books available for those who do an extra google search. This line of thinking leads, of course, to this thought: “boy I hope CBS News does NOT cover our October release, and nothing is nominated for a major award this fall!”

Now imagine that from the traditionally published writer’s point of view. They believe they hit the jackpot. Their book came out and got reviewed positively in every single mainstream publishing venue. Their book is the book of the moment—the kind of book that gets a crapload of attention, like so many political books got last year. Suddenly everyone wants to read that book, so folks who like paper order paper…and are told the book is out of print.

Then the book gets nominated for every single major award in publishing (that the book is eligible for). There’s no way, with a minimum of an eight-week delay on printing and time reserved ahead for the new, new, new, that their book will ever be reprinted in time to catch the wave.

Their publisher, who has been around the block a few times, knows that. Knows it very well in fact. So well, that after all the early COVID returns in 2020 (for full credit from closed bookstores) and because of all the supply chain issues and everything else, the publisher won’t even try to reprint.

The publisher will pat the author on the head, congratulate them for a job well done, and move to the new, new, new.

And the writer’s big perfect and wonderful launch—in which everything went right according to the traditional publishing gods—will result in a ruined career, because the books will not sell because there are not enough copies of the book to sell.

Worse, the people who read ebooks don’t like ebooks priced over $10. So, ebook readers will hear about this book, click on it, see that the price is $14.99 and will not buy. The paper book buyer will pick up the ebook, if forced, but will look at the price and think, “What the hell am I getting for my $14.99? I want something to put on my shelf. Ebooks should be cheaper.”

As a result, the ebook sales will increase, but not enough to cover the lost print revenue. Not by a long shot.

(And if you think I’m exaggerating the ebook prices of traditional books, I’m not. I did a spot check on books released this month—books that I preordered in paper from traditional publishers—and the cheapest one I found (from a non-bestseller) was $11.99.)

Sadly, this pandemic and the supply chain problems that will be with us, according to one estimate I saw, until early 2023, will tank a lot of traditional writers’ careers.

Yes, traditional publishers will know that a book that came out in 2021 will have lower print sales than a book that came out in 2019, but honestly, they won’t care. Because there are always new, new, new writers lining up to be fleeced. I mean, traditionally published.

Sigh.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Research And Learning And Blogging

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I spent the morning researching things like BookTok and NFTs for writers and Substack. I was going to write about each, but you know what? I don’t want to.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been blogging now on the publishing industry—the indie publishing industry in particular (which some folks still insist on calling self-publishing)—for 12 years now. Which makes me a relic.

When I started blogging, it was something that everyone did because that was the way to attract readers to your fiction. You could make a living by writing a blog.

The rule of thumb for writer-bloggers was never write a blog longer than 500 words. Yeah, you see how that worked for me. I never write a blog that short.

But folks were making a small fortune blogging about topics not being covered by the mainstream media. Eventually, though, that niche went away or it disappeared behind a paywall like Patreon. Now that paywall includes Substack, which I am truly interested in.

Honestly, though, if I blog about it, it really isn’t fair to you all. My knowledge of Substack is an inch deep, which is an inch deeper than my knowledge of NFTs, and two inches deeper than my knowledge of BookTok. I haven’t even been to TikTok, although I’ve seen some great vids designed for TikTok.

I had planned—weeks ago—to learn all of this in depth, so that I actually could cite articles and experts and do a good analysis of the changes happening in the digital sphere.

I didn’t do any of it, I thought for lack of time. But I managed to research some other things which are important to my career and I also managed to learn some new skills that I will continue delve into. So really, lack of time isn’t the issue.

Lack of priority is.

And I realized, that’s where the blog is, as well as the end of this particular series of posts.

When I started blogging in 2009, the indie world was small and contained. I wrote about that in the previous blog. In indie publishing, rather like traditional publishing, we were all doing the exact same things, because there wasn’t much more to do.

New things came on the scene, and we all analyzed them. Sometimes we made group decisions about them (you have to try BookBub!) and sometimes we did our own thing, after a lot of analysis. But we were talking about the same programs or opportunities.

As new things proliferated by 2014 or so, those of us in the blogosphere tried to keep up. The problem was that many of those new things would disappear shortly after we researched them. I got paid $4000 by an app developer around that time so that he would design an app based on my Fey books. And then he literally disappeared. He paid me, said he started, and poof! gone as if he had never existed. (And he paid me by check, so he wasn’t trying to get my bank account information.)

Stuff like that happened all the time. And eventually, I started to tune out some of the new. It was either keep up or get my writing done. For some reason, I preferred writing.

A friend of mine who makes part of their living off online work advising people what to do with their indie publishing opted to do something different. They just interviewed everyone about every bit of new tech. My friend did not investigate the tech or even use most of it. The upshot of it was that my friend knew about the newest latest thing, but rarely used it themselves.

That put them in almost reportorial mode even though they had started off only interviewing things they recommended. And, let me say as a former journalist, the problem with reportorial mode is the one that I mentioned above. Journalists are, by definition, generalists. Their knowledge of damn near everything is only an inch deep.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Business Musings: Expletives Deleted

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

In late April, Dean and I started planning for a reopened society. We plotted our lives, the things that needed to be done for our individual businesses, and then for WMG Publishing.

Finally, we got to the workshop planning.

I wanted to start in-person workshops in the fall. I looked at the vaccination rates here in the U.S., and figured we could do some small workshops before building to something bigger in the spring of 2022.

Dean put the brakes on that. He said that the fall was too early. I asked him why he thought so, and for once, he couldn’t give me a definitive logical reason. He just said it was.

Then, a few hours later, he added that many of our students come from overseas. He was watching the vaccination rates in other countries, and noticed that they were slower than the U.S.

People won’t be ready yet, he said.

We talked some more. I wasn’t sure he was right. Things were going swimmingly on the vaccine and virus front. If the pace continued, most of the people in the U.S. who were eligible would be vaccinated by August. A lot of venues here in Las Vegas were already requiring vaccines to attend a concert or a sporting event.

But we couldn’t figure out how to make vaccines mandatory for our people without a lot of rigamarole that a small company is not set up to do.

Ultimately, it was the mandatory vaccine thing and the fact that other countries were behind that convinced me not to have Fall in-person workshops.

. . . .

The impact on our in-person workshops, which I enjoy greatly, isn’t the only thing in our business that the unvaccinated are having an impact on.

In late May, we had the final, final, final half-off sale on our workshops, figuring that yes, indeedy do, no one needed to stay home anymore, at least here in the U.S.

Heh, were we wrong.

We aren’t holding those sales for us. We’re holding them to ensure that people take care of themselves.

We actually discussed having a sale for the vaccinated only because we want to reward people for getting the vaccine.

We can’t figure out a good way to do that.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Much of Kris’s post consists of criticism of those people in the United States who refuse to be vaccinated for Covid.

PG is not certain whether this is an issue elsewhere or not, but it certainly is for an insistent minority in the US.

PG seems to recall that some countries have laws that require that all persons be vaccinated against a variety of preventable illnesses.

PG is not an expert on US vaccination laws, but understands that virtually all (or perhaps just all) vaccination laws in the US are state laws that govern the citizens/residents of those states.

A variety of vaccinations are routinely given to newborns. PG understands that some doctors and some hospitals won’t deliver babies, absent an emergency, unless parents are willing to permit at least some vaccinations. (PG could be wrong on this.)

To the best of PG’s knowledge, home births are not subject to vaccination requirements. As a practical matter, enforcing such mandates could be very difficult.

Many US state vaccination laws are focused on children. The most visible of these are vaccination requirements for children attending school, often both public and private schools. Without required vaccinations, children are not allowed to attend school. To the best of PG’s knowledge, while there are vaccination requirements that are standard for many states, there is not one law/rule that applies to all states.

PG understands that some childcare facilities require vaccinations for any children for whom care is provided.

Religious objections to vaccinations are perhaps the most common historical reasons for legal vaccine disputes. Such objections have been regularly protected by court decisions.

A long time ago, PG was involved in a case in which a family refused to permit a child to be vaccinated. The relevant state child protection agency took custody of the child on the basis of parental neglect, planning to have the child vaccinated. Under the state laws of every state with which PG is familiar, such child protection agencies are authorized to remove children from a home where they are abused or neglected.

In a conference with counsel in chambers, the judge hearing the case in which the parents sued the state agency for wrongfully taking their child into protective custody expressed substantial concerns about ordering injections of the child. He specifically mentioned the actions of Nazis during World War II when they performed grotesque medical experiments on imprisoned individuals, quite often Jews and, sometimes, gypsies being held in concentration camps.

Several years ago, PG heard part of an interesting disagreement between two brothers, one an American physician and the other a Canadian physician.

The general topic was medical care of children. The American was pointing out all the medical and chemical technologies and facilities he had available to treat children. The Canadian replied by saying something to the effect that, in Canada, all children receive proper (and mandatory) vaccinations against childhood illnesses, which had effectively eliminated those illnesses while the US still reported some cases every year due to lax US vaccination practices.

For the record, PG and Mrs. PG got their Covid vaccinations as soon as they were available. Their children, now grown, received all the medically-recommended vaccinations at the time recommended by their doctors.

On the other hand, PG does feel a bit squeamish about government agents forcing individuals to receive injections to which they strenuously object.

Finally, PG is aware of people who have strong feelings on both sides of the vaccination discussion. He requests, as usual, that comments and replies to comments be civil and non-hostile. Even if you have very strong opinions, you don’t absolutely need to reply to a comment of someone who has different opinions in any sort of hostile or offensive manner.

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket: Amazon Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’m putting up this post in the middle of the fear sequence as it appears on my website, not because the post fits in the fear cycle, but because I don’t want to monitor the news for weeks to see what, if anything, has changed.

On June 9, here in the States, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a package of five bills which theoretically have bipartisan support. In a nutshell, the bills are aimed at stopping anti-competitive practices among the tech giants. Some of the provisions could even force companies like Amazon to break apart into smaller units.

Now, realize, that here in the U.S., just because a bill gets introduced doesn’t mean it will pass. It needs to pass both houses of Congress, and then the President must sign the bill into law. If the President refuses, Congress can override his veto…with enough votes.

In other words, there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

. . . .

For a decade now, I’ve been railing against writers who go exclusively to Amazon. I’ve been say, as clearly as I can, that as a business person, you should never, ever, ever put all your eggs in one basket.

Back in the early days of the new world of publishing, indies from the Kindle Boards would screech over to my website (usually on a Saturday) to call me stupid and ignorant, especially when I “attacked” Amazon.

Amazon is too big to fail, they said. Amazon will be around forever, they said.

And it didn’t matter how many examples I gave them of too-big-to-fail companies that did, indeed, disappear, they didn’t listen.

Those indies are mostly gone now, not because Amazon failed, but because they burned out or didn’t understand what kind of success they actually had and therefore gave up.

But for every screamer who left, another took their place. Usually quieter, and often just as dismissive. They’ve now moved to other places to share information because they know I’m inhospitable to exclusivity and Kindle-only. They’re stuck in Amazon’s algorithms, believing their writing careers are safe.

When these writers “go wide” as they call it, selling their books on sites other than Amazon, and lose Amazon’s exclusivity and “page reads” and deals, their income goes way down. Because these writers don’t understand that they need to build a new audience on each platform.

Building audiences takes time, but it protects against the eggs-in-one-basket problem.

. . . .

When a company gets hit with antitrust violations, there are a lot of remedies. Breaking up the company is one. Forcing the company to divest itself of parts of its business that help it create a monopoly is another. And there are so many more.

. . . .

“For Amazon,” [Michael Cader at Publisher’s Marketplace] writes, “that would likely mean divesting most arms of their publishing octopus, including much if not all of Audible, plus Brilliance, Amazon Publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing, and probably CreateSpace. It might apply to divesting AbeBooks as well.”

Sit with that for a moment. Amazon might have to get rid of everything that makes their indie publishing arm possible. Amazon could do a few things with it. They might sell the pieces. If those arms aren’t making a lot of money (in corporate terms), they might simply shut them down.

That’s not a big deal for people who are wide. They’ll still be able to publish.

But indies whose entire career is based on Amazon’s ecosystem? Those indies will go through a year or more of turmoil—if Amazon sells those pieces. If Amazon shuts those pieces down, the indies will lose their careers overnight.

. . . .

I’m just going to use Cader’s pull quotes here, since he really does very little editorializing, except at the end. (Although the choice of quotes is instructive.)

Here’s how he describes that Act:

The Act “prohibits discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms, including a ban on self-preferencing and picking winners and losers online.” In particular, it prohibits conduct that “advantages the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user.”

Significantly, covered companies may not “interfere or restrict a business user’s pricing of its goods or services.”

It blocks the use of “non-public data obtained from or generated on the platform by the activities of a business user or its customers that is generated through an interaction with the business user’s products or services to offer or support the offering of the covered platform operator’s own products or services.”

And it would keep Amazon from putting its thumb on the scale of their various promotional levers, blocking, “in connection with any user interfaces, including search or ranking functionality offered by the covered platform, treat the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business more favorably than another business user.”

There’s so much to unpack here. Note that this act covers pricing and promotion and, once again, competition. Instead of the Amazon ecosystem favoring Amazon, it would have to level the playing field in all areas.

That would mean, indies, there’s no competitive advantage to being Amazon-only.

. . . .

Amazon itself would survive. If the American Innovation and Choice Online Act is the only one that passes, then all those publishing services would remain intact, but the promotional deals that favor only Amazon products—and yes, your exclusive book is an Amazon product—would disappear.

All the advantages you have at Amazon would disappear if either of these two Acts pass in the current form.

They won’t. They’ll be different, if they ever make it out of committee. They’ll be significantly different after random House members get to put their imprint on the bills. They’ll be even more different after the Senate messes with it.

. . . .

Eventually, the U.S. government will take apart Amazon and the other tech giants. In the 1920s, the U.S. government took apart the tech giants of the late 19th century. When the tech giants’ power rivals the U.S. government and/or trumps the government (pun intended), the U.S. government—in a bipartisan way—will defang a tech giant. It sometimes takes years. But it will happen.

What do I recommend for those of you who are Amazon exclusive? I recommend that you watch this legislation for one thing. For another, I would start—slowly—divesting yourself of the exclusivity at Amazon.

I’d take my lowest performing works and pull them out of the exclusive ecosystem, going wide with them. I’d focus on promotions outside of Amazon for those particular products. I’d learn how to be a business person without Amazon, so when the Amazon ecosystem changes—and it will—you will be prepared.

. . . .

I have watched countless writers go under when the book publisher goes bankrupt. I  have watched non-publishing businesses go down because they have, essentially, one client and either that client stops paying or that client goes out of business.

See this as the shot across the bow that it is. The changes might not happen in 2021 (most certainly they won’t). They might not happen in 2022. But by mid-decade? Maybe.

. . . .

The system Amazon built that has—as a sideline—benefitted some exclusive indie writers will change in the next five years. I can guarantee that.

It might change sooner.

The indies who act now to slowly go wide will survive.

Those who cling to the old ways of doing things—exclusive, through Amazon—will lose their entire business, maybe sooner rather than later.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG shares some of Kris’s concerns but doesn’t think some of her concerns, while legitimate, are as serious as she does.

PG also thinks other factors Kris doesn’t mention may impact Amazon’s future.

When a strong personality steers a large company, there are upsides and downsides.

Even though the company becomes very large, the strong personality can make the ship turn more rapidly than a similar company under more conventional corporate governance could. Bezos and Amazon have demonstrated the benefits of this agility and willingness to take risks on more than one occasion. Steve Jobs and Apple are another example.

Sometimes, when there’s a strong personality at the top of an organization, the organization develops responsively to their leadership style. A new leader with a different style can lead to organizational stumbles. Organizations governed by several strong leaders acting in various roles may transition to new leadership more easily than single-leader organizations.

Another potential drawback of strong personality leadership is that subordinates with similar talents and personalities will go elsewhere instead of remaining in the organization. Would a clone of Jeff Bezos go to work at Amazon today? Suppose a clone of Jeff Bezos was an Amazon vice-president. Would they stick around to see how the CEO-successor game played out or jump to a leadership role in a different company when a head-hunter called with a good opportunity elsewhere?

The problem of a Big Tree CEO stunting the growth of smaller trees in the lower ranks is a real possibility. Some CEOs deal with that problem better than other CEOs do.

Amazon today is two large businesses – The Everything Store, where zillions of people go to buy stuff, and Amazon Web Services.

Of the two, Amazon Web Services earns the most money and is the most valuable. At root, The Everything Store is a retailer, and retailers, large and small, almost always operate on tight margins. AWS is a money machine.

Perhaps he has missed it, but he hasn’t seen anything that suggests that AWS is the focus of any serious antitrust scrutiny. Most of the public heat is focused on The Everything Store because it competes effectively with all sorts of retailers and touches on the distribution and sales operations of a whole bunch of manufacturers and suppliers of goods.

The Everything Store also competes with lots and lots of other retailers. Its enormous success in this sphere has gained the company a lot of enemies, including dedicated Amazon-haters. Most of traditional publishing falls into this segment. So do the many culturally influential individuals who are hopelessly in love with the idea of the little bookshop on the corner.

PG opines that most middle-class people in the US have no beef with Amazon and are happy to continue buying all sorts of things from the company.

For politicians, all the potential glory lies in attacking The Everything Store.

That’s the background as PG sees it.

What’s the future of legal attacks on Amazon?

PG thinks the timeline of any antitrust litigation against Amazon is very long.

He’ll summarize the timeline of the Microsoft antitrust of the last century:

  • Serious investigations began in the early 1990’s
  • Suit was filed by the Justice Department in 1998 after Netscape lost the browser wars to Internet Explorer
  • In mid-2000, the trial judge handed down his verdict. Microsoft appealed.
  • In mid-2001, The Court of Appeals acted rather quickly, reversed the trial court’s decision, and sent the case back down for a brand-new trial with a different judge.
  • At this point, the US Department of Justice got serious about settling the case instead of going through the trial-and-appeal process again. Microsoft exited the antitrust litigation in November, 2001, almost unscathed.

So, Microsoft’s antitrust litigation problems lasted over ten years from the beginning of serious investigations until the case was resolved. Today, Microsoft is the second most valuable company in the US by market capitalization.

In 1969, following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against IBM for monopolizing the personal computer market. That case lasted 13 years and IBM survived, remaining in the top ten of the Fortune 500 until 2006.

So, PG’s bottom line on Amazon is that, unless the company does something truly stupid, antitrust problems are, at most, a distant cloud on the horizon.

As far as harmful new legislation impacting Amazon, there is less predictability, but Amazon is #2 on Fortune Magazines list of the World’s Most Admired Companies.

Amazon is a very popular company with a great many American voters. Amazon has an estimated 147 Prime members in the United States. PG speculates that a letter to its customers asking them to contact their congressional representatives to head off anti-Amazon legislation might be quite effective.

PG is not aware of any law that would prevent Amazon from sending an email to each of its Prime members (or each of its customers) in the United States (or anywhere else) asking them to send a letter or email to their Congressional Representative and each of their two Senators.

Typically, Amazon’s customers provide a physical address to which purchases of non-digital goods should be sent, so the company has a very good idea of which state and congressional district in which a customer lives and/or does business. With that information, Amazon could provide relevant names, offices and email addresses, etc., for the relevant representative/senator.

Amazon’s letter or email to its customers could encourage customers to contact their representatives to tell them not to do anything that would harm Zon, including voting for any legislation that would force Amazon to change its business or stop selling popular products to individuals.

There would be a huge uproar by the anti-Zon press and other of the usual suspects, but PG thinks congressional representatives would get the message that their constituents like Amazon just the way it is and don’t want anybody voting for laws that would prevent them from buying whatever they want from Amazon.

Business Musings: Traditional Writers

From Kristine Kathryn Rusc h:

The other day, I got an email from a writer friend who was about to give advice to one of their friends. Seems that friend had a niche how-to book for parents who are dealing with a certain kind of health issue. My writer friend asked me, Is there any reason for this person to go to traditional publishing?

I looked at the whole thing with an unusual thought for me: Some niche products might do well in traditional. The friend of the writer friend (hereafter known as FoWF) wasn’t in this for the money or even to hold onto rights. FoWF wanted to get information out there, and really, wasn’t trad pub the way to do so?

I started answering my friend by email, and as I did, I realized that publishers know nothing about this niche field because there are no books about it. Which meant that FoWF would have to educate an editor, find places to market the book on their own, do all the social media, and…eventually FoWF would discover that the traditional publisher has no in with the places that could effectively sell this book, like seminars for parents of kids with this issue.

The more I typed, the more I realized that, nope, trad pub wouldn’t help FoWF at all. It might even hurt them, because the book wouldn’t sell well, which meant that it would probably go out of print. And it would be priced too high, so that parents struggling with this issue and day jobs and all the things parents struggle with probably couldn’t afford it. So I wrote:

But as I type this, I realize they can probably do all that on their own.

So, never mind.

No, there’s no advantage to traditional publishing.

Yeah, even I get tripped up once in a while, thinking—hoping—wanting traditional publishing to have some benefit for writers.

There really isn’t any. And anyone who would do a modicum of research about the field they’re trying to enter would learn that pretty darn quick.

In fact, traditional publishing itself tells you that in a myriad of ways—and has since I got into this field forty years ago. The evergreen article just appeared in that company town rag, The New York Times, in April under the title, “What Snoop Dog’s Success Says About The Book Industry.”

The article had this little tidbit: “…about 98 percent of the books that publishers released in 2020 sold fewer than 5,000 copies.”

That would be new releases, not backlist.

But here’s the thing that the company town rag doesn’t tell you: For decades, the majority of new releases from traditional publishers sold fewer than 5,000. For decades.

The new figure in this little equation isn’t the 5,000 copies; it’s the 98 percent. If you combine that with the other statistics that came out about our pandemic year, you’ll see that this is up by maybe about a third. Bookstore sales, which are generally frontlist, were down 30% in 2020.

We don’t have the statistics on how many frontlist books felt the impact of the closed bookstores which is why I think that percentage is higher, but we do know this: trad pub doesn’t know how to market direct to consumer, nor do they know how to market to any place other than a bookstore. Their ebook prices are too high, so a lot of readers migrated to other new-to-them books, which included a lot of backlist.

But the backlist isn’t up as much as trad pub would want you to believe. Backlist sales were 69% of all book sales in 2020. In 2019, backlist sales were 63%. Yes, the pandemic accelerated the rise of the backlist, but not by as much as the trad pub editors are screaming about.

And yet, traditional publishers don’t put any money into their backlist. They make backlist books extremely hard to find. They take the paper books out of print.

In May, I got Nora Roberts’ new book, and in the Books By Nora Roberts section up front, it had this gem: “Ebooks by Nora Roberts.” Those ebooks were the titles she wrote for Harlequin back in the day. Apparently, some not-so-brilliant exec figured that Nora’s fans who hadn’t read those books were undeserving of a paper edition.

Yeah, that’s pretty damn dumb. But I’m not seeing much intelligence from traditional publishing these days.

. . . .

I get emails all the time from writers like her, writers who are happy to have an agent for the book they want to publish through traditional, writers who like telling me that my head is up my ass for not promoting traditional book publishing, and—last week—a writer who asked, sideways, if I would be his agent for traditional publishing because I “clearly know so much about the business.”

What are these writers doing?

Well, not thinking for one.

But there’s more to it than that. They’re terrified of going down a path that they see as mostly untested. Never mind that many writers have been making a living at publishing their own books for a decade now. One of those writers, Lindsay Buroker, mentioned on Twitter last month that she’s been freelance for ten years now and has published roughly 80 books.

In the same amount of time that this other writer wrote one entire novel—and made zero dollars on it.

Examples like Lindsay’s, though, seem to make no difference to writers like the one I mentioned, because that writer is operating out of fear.

The writer wants someone to take care of her, and she’s not alone. She doesn’t want to learn the business. Like that writer who wrote to me, she wants someone else to learn the business so that she can…what? Be famous? Because writing clearly isn’t her passion, or she wouldn’t have wasted all this time on one book.

. . . .

But writers who want to go into traditional publishing feel they need several things. They need a curator—an editor—to tell them what they’re doing right or wrong with their books. They need an agent to “defend them” and do the messy stuff like learning contracts and dealing with money. They need a marketer to buy ads in all those (non-existent) places that advertise books. They need someone to handle sales and bookstores and…

They’re just too scared to do any of it themselves.

And that’s a shame.

The fact that there are vestiges of the 1950s and 1960s versions of publishing, where some of that stuff actually did happen, still around makes it hard for these folks to step out of their comfort zones and learn how the business is actually done these days.

And if these writers manage to sell something to a traditional publisher—a big if, as you can see from that writer above—they will sign away their copyright for a 4-figure advance, and lose their chance to ever have a writing career outside of what has become a small and narrow niche of publishing.

That niche is small and narrow. Bookstat with its narrow little focus on the big players in the bookstore economy found that of the 2.6 million books sold online in 2020, only 268 of them sold more than 100,000 copies that year. (I added that year because remember, traditional only looks at recent sales, not cumulative sales).

One blogger wrote this after she found that statistic:

As an author, this is distressing. If I can spend two to three years writing a novel and my best case scenario is having it sell a couple hundred copies on Amazon, perhaps it’s time to face the music and realize that writing books—like knitting or playing the harp—is nothing more than a hobby. Something I can do for fun on the weekends but should never hope to earn a living from.

Yep. Distressing.

Note all the fear in that paragraph. Two to three years writing one novel. What the hell? What is she doing the rest of the time? Actually playing the harp? Because real writers write. They don’t have people look over their shoulder, go over every word, churn out a paragraph a day, and then have agents ask them to rewrite the book to make it presentable for some editor who is going to lose their job in a year or so anyway.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Twelve Years

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

On April 2, 2009, I started a blog with this:

This post marks the beginning of an experiment. I will post sections of a work in progress—a book tentatively titled The Freelancer’s Survival Guide—here, on my website.

If you go back and read that original post, you can see how tentative I am about the whole concept of an online blog. Two friends, Michael J. Totten and Scott William Carter, had a meeting with me and Dean and talked to us about new ways of publishing.

In 2009, blogging—with a donate button—was new. This was before Patreon, before Kickstarter, before all kinds of innovations. And now, twelve years later, blogging the way that I do it has become…well, not passé, exactly, but not necessarily the preferred modern way to do things.

Old hat. Old fashioned.

Weird how time flies.

And it flies fast. I was going to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the blog, but Allyson Longueira, who runs our company WMG Publishing, got diagnosed with a brain tumor and was in surgery around that point. We weren’t sure if she was going to survive, and we had to keep the business alive at the same time.

Then, last year, on April 2—Well, you were all around in 2020. You know that’s when the entire world was shutting down. We were worried about survival once again, and certainly not in the way that we expected.

So here we are in 2021. Most of us are excited about getting a vaccine. We’re using words like “opening up” and “returning to some semblance of normal,” because the past year has been anything but.

Reflecting on that time and those changes is almost impossible. Trying to imagine this world from the perspective of 2009 is well, I’m either afraid I would have believed me and panicked or (more likely) I would have reacted like the character in Julie Nolke’s YouTube series “Explaining The Pandemic To My Past Self.”

Really, when you think about all that happened since January of 2020, well, yeah. Really hard to believe.

But the pandemic was easier to live through because of innovations we didn’t really have in 2009. The Kindle was just premiering then. We didn’t have Zoom. We didn’t have much social media (maybe that’s a good thing?) and we certainly weren’t as connected online as we are now.

. . . .

Just today (as I write this), I got an email from a friend who is very invested in traditional publishing. He’s worried about how something he published will play “in the field.”

I stared at the email. What field? I wanted to ask. Because you can play in the remaining sandboxes of traditional publishing, but that “field” has gotten narrower and narrower.

Since it’s no longer a monolith, and it’s possible—no, better—to publish without it, the very idea of worrying what the curators think startled me.

Yet, when I reread the original post that started this entire publishing blog, I see that attitude underlying every sentence.

I was writing a blog that would become a book, and doing so with the online support of the readers. I honestly didn’t think anyone would read the post, let alone send in a few dollars to back what I was doing.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG’s brain doesn’t do anniversaries very well. Ditto for birthdays. BC (before computers) whenever he got a new paper calendar/schedule book at the beginning of a new year, he copied all of his annual reminders from his prior calendar into the new one.

Now, of course, he has recurring annual reminders on his digital calendar (and still fumbles an annual event once in awhile).

The them of Kris’ post got PG looking back and he discovered that he started TPV over ten years ago.

His first post referenced a web post that is still up – here’s the link

His only observation is the more things change . . . .

Because They Are Hard

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Last night, I spent an hour trying to find a word. Not because I’m having cognitive issues or because I’m being exceptionally picky. I was doing my Spanish homework. The professor gave us a definition for a word in the story we had read, and wanted us to find the word to go with the definition.

I understood the definition. I thought I understood every word in that story. Could I find the word she wanted? Hell, no. As you can tell, I’m still a bit frustrated by this.

And midway through that frustrating and ultimately futile search, I heard myself think, I’m 60 years old. Why am I putting myself through this?

That thought came up a lot yesterday. I’ve revamped my system so that I’m pushing myself in a couple of areas. I have set deadlines that I could have easily met once before in my life, but haven’t strived to do in years, partly because I had been so ill for so long. (See the recent post titled “Deadlines.”) I had gotten into the habit of thinking I can’t or I can only instead of why not try?

2021 has become the year for me to try. I’m working on revamping my thinking in a variety of areas, from what I’m capable of to what I want to do. It’s a whole different way of approaching life, one I haven’t had the ability to do for nearly thirty years.

. . . .

I sure understand now why so many adults want to coast. I could do so. I could let my professor give me a pass on a number of things, from my dyslexia to my lack of time. But I’m the one who chose to take the class as a student, not audit it, and I’m the anal doofus who still wants to get good grades, even though I know (at some point in some class) a good grade won’t be possible.

Hence the striving. The hour spent on a single word when I could have been doing something—anything—else.

. . . .

A friend of mine went back to school for his M.F.A a few years back (required to do so for a job he needed to get) and he cut every single corner he could. He got dual credit for the work he was doing as work and also for class. I suppose I could do that, in a variety of areas, if I wanted to.

I don’t want to. We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

I realized that’s kind of my mantra for life itself. I get very frustrated when a writing student of mine or a writer friend of mine complains that writing is “hard.” I get even more frustrated when they get angry and want to quit after a rejection.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Tough Topics

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

To survive the first few weeks of 2021, I have read a lot. I have also watched a lot of television. And I’m writing on a project just for me, something I haven’t done for a long time. The project just for me does some things that long-time friends might not approve of. The project just for me discusses a few things that people in my world probably would prefer me not to discuss. The project just for me is a tiny and somewhat joyous rebellion in the middle of the cluster**** that has been our lives in the past year.

I can’t tell you how much I enjoy that little bit of freedom. I know quite well that the project just for me will eventually get published. In the past, I would have lied to myself and said I wasn’t going to publish that project at all.

But now, I know it will and, honestly, with all the horrors of this last year, I no longer care about the opinions of the minions that are quick to condemn or even about the opinions of the friends who, with a gasp, will wonder if I really should go there.

. . . .

I’m going there.

And it’s not really rebellion. It is a return to the writer I was before I became known. I have tried other ways of handling that return in the past. I’ve written under secret pen names. I’ve written in other genres. I have, as I mentioned above, written things I promised myself would never see the light of day.

None had that overall sense of freedom that this past year have given me.

It took a bit of analysis to figure out why. Right now, I have bigger things to worry about than my reputation. 

. . . .

Will our country survive this mess? Will our friends make it through the economic hard times? Will our business?

And so on and so forth. Much more important things than a ding to my writerly purity, if I ever had such a thing.

And no, I don’t normally allow critics’ voices in my head. But, no matter how hard I try to fight it, there is a construct of who I’m expected to be as a writer. Sometimes I like breaking that construct. Sometimes I like creating a new construct. But whenever I think about the construct, it takes energy. I either have to embrace it or push it aside.

For some reason, since things have gotten worse worldwide, the construct has crumbled. All of the constructs have crumbled. At least in my head.

I also find that I’m exceptionally impatient with the pushback against discomfort in entertainment. This thing in that story, it makes a reader uncomfortable, and for that reason, that story is suddenly questionable.

Some of the points are real good ones. I’m tired of books in the canon of whatever genre that are filled with racist and sexist stereotypes. I think those books should be removed from what passes as canon. I think the books should not go away; I think that they should be studied as part of the historical past.

We can even build on them. Here: this racist story is the basis for that marvelous piece of modern fiction. Or: let’s read this original story filled with hate, and see how it was answered by this no-longer-marginalized writer. I think there’s a place for fiction that holds discredited notions, but that belief comes from my background as a historian and my love of the way things evolve.

. . . .

I recently recommended in my monthly recommended reading list a lot of stories from an anthology that includes stories from the past 100 years, but did not recommend the anthology.

The anthologist and I disagree about something: he is willing to put his name on a book that contains racist epithets in the title of a story, as well as making those epithets and their stereotypes the basis of that particular story.

When I edit an anthology, I figure there’s a better story that deserves my readers’ attention. I don’t need to be the person to keep something deeply offensive visible in the world. If someone wants to find that crap, well then, they can search the old anthologies and original publications for it. I don’t need to bring it into 2021.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

BookExpo, Bookstores, and Libraries

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

In 2020, BookExpo finally died. BookExpo was, once upon a time, a convention for booksellers, put on by the publishing industry. Back then, it was called The American Booksellers Association Convention, and honestly, it was marvelous. If you were a book person, it was like the best place ever.

Books everywhere. So many books in such large convention halls that you couldn’t see everything. You couldn’t even try.

Dean and I went as authors a few times, and always hoped to go back with our bookseller friends. If you had a bookseller badge, you got free everything. Free books. Free posters. Free autographs from famous writers. Free admission into fascinating talks. Everything but free shipping—because you got so much free stuff that you had to ship it back home, where you would finally have time to look at it, sort it out, and maybe make purchases.

In one long hallway at the convention, foreign publishers sat and discussed rights sales with agents and a handful of savvy writers. A lot of deals got made right there. And in a separate building, the small and specialty and regional presses lived. On the way, you could run into the new technology wing…which was filled with things that almost never came to fruition.

It was loud and exhausting and fascination. I remember watching a few of my out-of-shape bookseller friends treating their bodies like Christmas trees, hanging book bags off arms, shoulders, around their necks, and waists, staggering out of the convention hall to the even bigger parking lot to drop off the bags, then go back and get even more piles and piles of stuff.

No one does this anymore. In fact, no one has done this in…oh, maybe 10 to 15 years. BookExpo got sold to Reed Exhibitions in 1995, and the convention declined from there. Of course, bookselling changed too. There was too much consolidation in the 1990s, the book distribution system collapsed, and Barnes & Noble and the other chain stores took over. The small booksellers remained, hanging on by their fingertips.

Attendance at BookExpo got smaller and the freebies rarer. Publishers found other ways to introduce new books to the “trade.” And then in the past few years, Reed spun off the rights fair, which was, really the only reason to go. You could meet foreign publishers face to face and actually sell a few things, if you felt so inclined.

Ah, but let’s face it. The rise of the internet meant that all of the information that used to be shared in person could be shared quicker and in more depth over the internet. And it wasn’t as tiring as using your body like a Christmas tree or spending hundreds on shipping freebies that you probably didn’t even want.

For years, everyone in the industry complained about BookExpo, calling it a shadow of its former self. Reed Exhibitions moved BookExpo to the pop culture part of its organization and added BookCon, hoping to bring in “readers” (forgetting, I guess, that booksellers are readers). That didn’t work.

They canceled the convention in the spring, like damn near every other convention, and held a virtual convention on the usual dates, a convention that made little news or impact. And so, in December, ReedPop, the organization that now manages BookExpo announced there would be no BookExpo in 2021 or maybe ever again. BookExpo was “retired.”

The event director, Jenny Martin, issued a surprisingly candid (for this kind of business) statement:

The pandemic arrived at a time in the life cycle of BookExpo and BookCon where we were already examining the restructure of our events to best meet our community’s needs. This has led us to make the difficult decision to retire the events in their current formats, as we take the necessary time to evaluate the best way to move forward and rebuild our events that will better serve the industry and reach more people than we were able to before. We remain committed to serving the book community and look forward to sharing more information in the future.

I don’t really expect to see anything like this again. The annual meeting of a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers made sense when there were a lot of booksellers and a lot of publishers, thirty or so years ago. Now, though, in the traditional publishing arena, there just aren’t a lot of big traditional publishers.

And after this year, maybe not that many booksellers. The American Booksellers Association reported that 35 member bookstores had closed due to the pandemic as of October. Another 20% are in danger of closing.

Even those that are managing are struggling. They’re holding on through a combination of cost-cutting, online sales, crowdfunding, and PPP loans—which are (as of this writing) no longer available. Between April and June, the Book Industry Charitable Foundation issued $2.7 million in grants, and has given 443% more in grants than last year.

. . . .

Bookstore owners all say they’re working harder for less money. The stores that are open are spending on cleaning and PPE, as well as dealing with the stress of ordering customers to mask. Some stores have gone to curbside pickup and what used to be called special ordering. Others have done fundraisers and are linking with other businesses. They’re hanging on, but just barely.

And they’re all worrying about the supply chain. They are smaller, so they often don’t get the bigger books as early as say, Amazon or Barnes & Noble, because of the limitations in the supply chain.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG notes that, during a major catastrophe that substantially disrupts the personal, family, social and business lives of many people at the same time, a great many people make predictions about what life will be like after the disruption is complete.

After the disruption is complete, some predictions are wrong and some are right. For PG, the most interesting post-disruption happenings are those that few or no one predicted.

One thing that often occurs is that business enterprises that were in poor or marginal condition prior to the disruption are more likely to be destroyed or, if they survive, substantially changed from their prior form. Often and unfortunately, a great many people employed by those businesses have to find another line of work through no fault of their own.

Examples of many such disappeared businesses will come to mind for most visitors to TPV, so PG will not list examples.

PG will, however, make one prediction that will surprise no one who hangs around these environs very often – the parts of the traditional book business that deal in the now-expensive process of creating and selling physical books will be much-diminished after the economy opens up again.

Traditional publishing and selling physical books are, in the 21st century, narrow-margin operations without a lot of room for error or financial difficulties.

Some may continue because they are owned or funded by those not overly reliant upon the book business for their ongoing financial welfare, but the status of an organization that is an expensive hobby, business or personal, is fraught. It is difficult for such organizations to attract and retain talent or intelligence when other opportunities look like a much better bet.

Morale among the employees of such organizations becomes lower and lower, to the detriment of the organization’s business operations and financial results. Those who can get out, leave.

Perhaps the owners of a business in a declining sector hope to find a greater fool to whom to sell the business, but even fools can often recognize a death spiral.

Considering the future, traditional bookstores are essentially just another retail business. They may sell something regarded as of more cultural worth than a load of gravel, but, ultimately, to quote an old phrase, when their outgo exceeds their income, their upkeep will be their downfall.

A traditional publisher is somewhat different in that its principle assets consist of intangible intellectual property, essentially long-term licenses that permit them to use the words contained in the works licensed to them by authors in a wide variety of ways. Much of the time, the author has only retained the right to be paid by the publisher for “sales” or licenses of the author’s work.

The author may hold the copyright to a book or story, but the publisher has exclusive control over all of the means by which that book or story can be used to generate money.

If someone acquired the assets of a publisher for a good price and that new owner of rights under the typical publishing contracts of hundreds or thousands of authors, if the new owner wanted to maximize its revenue from such contract rights, the owner has a variety of ways of doing so.

Under the provisions of typical publishing contracts used by large publishers and a lot of medium-sized or small publishers, PG opines that an unscrupulous owner could game those contracts in a manner that would minimize or eliminate royalty payments to some or all of its authors.

PG is not going to provide any details because he doesn’t want to see any author being treated poorly or cheated out of income she/he reasonably expects to receive from their art and labors.

He will only say that he has not reviewed a publishing contract that he could not game to the author’s financial detriment if he were suddenly had ownership and control of the publisher’s rights to that contract.

PG has reviewed more contracts of different types and used in different businesses during the centuries of his legal career than he can remember. He has reviewed and negotiated extremely well-written contracts prepared by highly-competent attorneys working for very, very wealthy organizations owned and operated by very, very talented and intelligent individuals. He has also reviewed and negotiated contracts prepared by incompetents and idiots on the other side of the deal.

Based upon that experience, he can say that traditional publishing contracts are close to the bottom in terms of precision, enforceability and a lack of ways a publisher could avoid its expected financial obligations to its authors without the author ever knowing about it. In the event the author discovered what the publisher was doing, if the publisher was careful and willing to game the provisions of the publishing agreement in its financial favor, it might be difficult or impossible for an author to persuade a court to help the author out of the mess.

But, as usual, PG could be wrong or, given the current world situation, have been driven crazy by Covid and its attendant distortions of nearly everything.

(However, through some sort of minor miracle, PG and Mrs. PG did receive their first of two anti-Covid vaccinations earlier today, so PG’s thoughts may be muddled by unreported vaccine side effects in addition to the usual causes.)

Wreckage (2020 in Review)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I have considered writing this short series for more than a month now, and every time I envision it, I see myself standing in a pile of rubble, surveying the landscape. It’s almost a movie scene, probably an amalgam of every disaster movie I’ve ever seen.

The camera focuses on a small section of rubble, which moves every so slightly. Then a hand emerges, nearly obscured by dust. The hand grabs a sharp edge of concrete, and holds tight. More debris moves, and a person eases out, so covered in dirt that every part of them—body, face, clothes, shoes—are all the same color.

. . . .

Amidst it all, though, are intact buildings, beacons of light. Hospitals, overwhelmed like they are in a war zone, are still functioning. Helicopters fly overhead. People, most as dusty as the person the camera started with, are digging through the rubble, not the way that survivors of earthquakes do—desultorily searching for their belongings—but the way that construction workers do, clearing the rubble so that they can rebuild.

Somewhere in between, something the camera doesn’t catch, are all the rescue workers, combing the ruins carefully, trying to find survivors, anything that remains of their lives.

Somewhere in between, something the camera doesn’t catch, are all the rescue workers, combing the ruins carefully, trying to find survivors, anything that remains of their lives.

I wrote some stories—most in my Faerie Justice series—about Europe after World War II. The photos from that time keep coming up in my head: there’s a semblance of normal life, even in 1946, just after the war ended, but the backdrop is always ruin. There are streets, piled with rubble the way that streets in winter are bracketed by snowbanks.

Frankly, it was those pictures and that history which has gotten me through the past ten months. History is all about human resiliency. Terrible stuff happens, and people climb out of it. They rebuild. They create something new and fresh.

. . . .

I suspect that after this horrible year, we will all have those same kinds of images in our minds. We don’t even know what we’ve lost yet. We’re still in the midst of the crisis. Here in the U.S., people are dying at an alarming rate—more than in 9/11 every single day. The hospitals are at capacity, and in some cases over capacity, and still idiots refuse to believe this virus is real. They refuse to wear masks, refuse to social distance, and refuse to alter their behavior one iota.

But…the vaccine is here. Distribution has started. I figure that by summer, we will all be vaccinated. (And if you come on here and argue against the vaccine, well, I just feel sorry for you and your family. The world is offering you hope, and you’re spitting all over it, preferring to get sick and die. How very sad.)

We are emerging, one finger at a time, from the worst of the crisis. And then we’re going to have to stand on the piles of our own personal rubble and see what remains.

. . . .

We can’t rebuild until we have combed through the wreckage. And most of us (all of us?) don’t know what’s beneath the surface right now.

Twice today, I have seen that very idea float past me. The first time in a CNN.com article about the way that people are losing friends and family in this crisis—not just to sickness and death, but to disagreements about how to behave. In the article, a therapist, Jeff Guenther, said that relationships may be affected forever after the pandemic, and added this:

If that’s the case … that’s one of the many traumas to come out of 2020 that we don’t even fully know about yet.

. . . .

So, as I prepare to review 2020, I really can’t wrap my arms around the entirety of this crisis. We don’t know the entirety of it. All we know is that there is the bright light of hope off in the distance. That’s a vaccinated future, where we can hug our friends and families again.

What I’m going to do in the next few weeks, and that includes over the holidays, is look at segments of the industry, and see if they changed at all or if there will be some long-term impact.

Because, as I said, there are bright spots in the rubble. Or at least, survivable spots. Some places are even making money.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

One thing that PG has learned from reading a lot of history from the 19th and 20th centuries is that, without minimizing the pain and suffering that many individuals experience during and following major and difficult disruptions in their lives, humanity as a whole displays an extraordinary resilience following disasters.

After having their economies and infrastructure destroyed and losing many talented and productive young men in World War II, Japan and Germany experienced an astounding economic rebound that began 5-10 years after the end of the war. (The difference between East and West Germany, North and South Korea and Hong Kong/Taiwan and the remainder of China demonstrate that systems of government and their resultant cultures have a substantial impact on post-war recoveries.)

PG hopes and expects that the post-Covid world will see a similar recovery.

Reclaiming The Future

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

There’s something hopeful about going to school. School is about the future, no matter what your age. There’s a sense that you’re studying something because you’ll need it at some point. Or you’ll need the degree, and since you need the degree, you need to take these five classes whether you want to or not.

Sure, there’s the day-to-day drudgery of class, online or in person. There’s the day-to-day drudgery of homework and the frustration of testing. There’s a lot about school to dislike, and a lot to love—even in these trying times.

I think it was the return to school in the form of my Spanish class that started a realization for me, and then the calendars, as I mentioned in the last blog, cemented the realization.

The future will come, no matter what.

The problem I’ve been having—that we’ve been having, if the articles I’m seeing and the discussions I’ve been having are any indication—is that the future has been incredibly uncertain.

Not that we wouldn’t have a future. As I said, the future always arrives.

. . . .

 As with everything else, we’ve had to pivot a little, because the upcoming decade looks very different from the perspective of August than it did in January.

Rather than being discouraging, the pivot is bracing. Because it shows the students—and reminds us—that the best-laid schemes of mice and men, as the poet Robert Burns said, usually go awry. (or, as he wrote, “Gang aft a-gley”)

I’m old enough to know, though, that there are opportunities in the chaos, and that some will look at the problems and find a better solution for themselves than they would have had if they had stayed in the same old rut.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

PG suggests that, for most indie authors, their professional/writing lives were less impacted than the professional/business lives of those in many other businesses.

Amazon certainly faced challenges, but it has thrived and grown during the last several months of craziness.

The Kickstarted Game Changer

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

For decades publishing has been a stagnated industry, relying on fifty- and sixty-year-old methods to sell books. Most of the practices within the industry are also at least fifty or sixty years old. Sure, the industry has made some modifications to accommodate innovation, like the ebook, but those are minor tweaks.

Those tweaks do not take into account the actual changes in the world. What traditional book publishers could do for writers in the mid-twentieth century was vast and impressive. What traditional book publishers can do for writers now is pretty minimal, and getting more so, thanks to the damn virus.

If you’ll notice, most of the repeat New York Times bestsellers (even at the small numbers that it takes to hit the list) have been around for at least ten years. And that includes Brandon Sanderson.

Sanderson provoked this mini-series of blog posts when he launched a Kickstarter this month, and it flew past a million dollars within a day. This is important for a variety of reasons, a handful of which I explored in the previous post.

The real reason this large Kickstarter is important is that, if we writers do this right, the Kickstarter is the game changer that the industry needs.

I’ve long had the sense that the publishing industry is moving at lightspeed—away from traditional publishers. If there’s an innovation, it comes from the indie (self) publishing side.

. . . .

The opening line of this very silly sales pitch from a promotion company is this:

Nowadays, some traditional publishers won’t even consider signing an author who has less than 10,000 email subscribers. Even indie authors see a big jump in sales after they build an email subscriber base…

Even indie authors? Even indie authors? This technique for building sales came from indie authors. They’ve refined the email marketing list long past what this particular article proposes. The things it espouses were hot in the mid-teens, and aren’t effective now.

Except, maybe, to get a traditional publishing deal, which pays increasingly less money for scooping up most of the copyright. That copyright detail will become important in the third and final installment of this miniseries.

Traditional publishing is floundering. Its overhead is top-heavy, it’s still locked in expensive production contracts, it’s also paying New York rents, which, as of January of this year, had the second highest rental prices in the nation (only San Francisco cost more).

I’m sure a round of layoffs is coming in traditional publishing which follows the last-hired-first-fired method of getting rid of people. Which means that the innovators—the young people—will disappear.

And now this.

Brandon’s Kickstarter should send waves of fear through traditional publishing for a variety of reasons.

1…The monetary size of the Kickstarter. As of this writing, the Kickstarter has earned well over 5 million dollars. It will cost money to fulfill the Kickstarter, not just for the items promised, shipping, and the salary of the staffers who will handle fulfillment (or the cost of a fulfillment service).

But for the sake of argument, let’s say that this Kickstarter finishes at 8 million dollars (which is what Dean is estimating, based on the way the Kickstarter is going in the middle here). Let’s use super huge fulfillment expenses and say that it will cost half of the earnings to produce and ship the rewards. (It will cost significantly less, but go with me here.)

That still means this Kickstarter will clear 4 million dollars.

In today’s market, no publisher can pay 4 million dollars for a book advance. Even if some publisher did manage to cough up that kind of money, Brandon wouldn’t get it all at once. He’d get it, probably in 5 (or more) installments—signing, turn-in, copy-edit, page proof, hardcover publication and paperback publication.

The most would be on signing—maybe a million right there or maybe not because again, I can’t see a publisher shelling out that kind of cash in 2020. The rest would be split in payments under $500,000, with at least 15% taken for the agent.

All in all, it would take three years to get the four million dollars for the book—if the publisher moved at lightspeed. Even then Brandon wouldn’t get the full 4 million. He would get 3.4 million, with $600,000 (minimum) going to his agent.

With this Kickstarter, he’ll get the full 4 million sometime in August. (This assumes that Kickstarter’s 5% fee is in the 4 million I set aside for expenses.)

Here’s the kicker though: This Kickstarter is for a single license—a leather-bound hardcover with beautiful interior art. Not for paperback rights or standard hardcover rights or ebook rights. Not for audio or anything that you might find in a standard traditional contract.

Just one little slice of the copyright.

In other words, the fans on Kickstarter are paying for just one version of a book many of them might have already read. There are still other licenses out there that could be monetized should an author (not Brandon) want to do this.

So if Brandon can clear 4 million on one slice of the copyright pie, think what would happen if he decided to Kickstart his next hardcover novel. Then Kickstart the paperback. And Kickstart the audio book.

Not all of them would earn 4 million, but that doesn’t matter. If he makes $500,000 on each of those Kickstarters, he would add another 1.5 million to his Kickstarter total (9.5 million) and since we’re saying it would cost half to fulfill, that’s another $750,000 up front, not counting the money that would come in from the ebook (which I haven’t listed here) or the sales to the general public.

Instead of 3.4 million over three years on a book, he’d clear 4.75 million in about a year (or less).

2….The backer size of the Kickstarter. As of this writing, over 19,000 people have backed Brandon’s Kickstarter. This is a tiny percentage of his fan base—and that’s a good thing.

Not everyone who reads books goes to Kickstarter. Not everyone who reads Brandon’s books buys them. (They’re also in libraries and other such places). I couldn’t quickly find the sales figures for Brandon’s solo books. (We can’t count the Wheel of Time books he completed for Robert Jordan.) But I do know that Brandon’s sales are in the millions of copies.

With that measure, 19,000 backers is a mere drop in the potential bucket.

Imagine if Brandon self-published all of his books, not just a handful of them. His fan base is not going to diminish. It is going to grow or at least remain the same.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Holes in the Economy

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Our business has scaled back. We did that at the beginning of the pandemic, angering some folks who thought we were overreacting. We cut projects. We’re in the process of closing our large office building, selling most of our collectibles, and renting two smaller spaces (one in Las Vegas—future home of the in-person workshops) and one in Lincoln City for the staff who still lives there.

We’re doing all right, because our business is built on many foundations, but we have lost one entire revenue stream. The in-person workshops are on hold, something we chose to do at the beginning of the pandemic. Like Cirque and other companies, we know that the in-person workshops will return, but there’s no point in marketing them now or even promoting future ones. We don’t know when we’ll be able to hold one again. Sometime in 2021, most likely, but when? None of us know.

Writers aren’t like musicians, who are dealing with their own ball of ugly. (Most musicians make no money on album sales; they made all of their income touring…which is not happening right now.) But some writers were making a small fortune on appearances—public speaking or talking as an expert to groups like Bankers’ Associations.

All of that revenue is gone and may stay gone. I saw an article—now lost to the DDoS information overload—that projected that a lot of conferences will never return. They either cost too much for no real gain or they are better online or the organizations that hosted them have gone out of business.

I’ve seen this before. One of our favorite writers conference, Southwest Writers Conference in Albuquerque vanished after 9/11. Their timing was bad (right in the middle of the grounded planes part of that horrid event, if I remember correctly), and they never really recovered.

We’re going to see a lot of that.

These economic holes won’t get repaired. They’re like potholes in a poor town. We’ll either bump over those potholes for years or someone will build a track around them. They’ll remain.

And I’m not sure what kind of impact that will have. I’m going to dig into the economics of it all, for my own sake, but what I do know is that the arts economy—hell, our world economy—will never be the same.

One of the major bright spots, though, is book sales, especially for indie writers. There’s not a lot that we can do as species right now that’s entertaining and fun. So we read. Our book sales have doubled. I know other indie writers are doing well also.

I also know that writers are getting discouraged and quitting because their sales are down—primarily because the books they have on the (virtual) shelf aren’t what the public wants to read right now.

But keep writing. Keep publishing. People will find the books they want to read.

We writers need to count our blessings. We’re not performing artists. Our work in the entertainment world depends on our ability to finish a novel or a short story, and then to get it before the public. That’s within our control. We don’t need our audience to sit in the same room with 999 other people. We can reach a global audience with the click of a button.

I know a lot of writers, seeing the suffering and death all around us, think that the work they do isn’t worthwhile.

But it is. The human species needs to relax. We make better decisions when we’re not stressed, when we have a chance to escape our world for a little while—not just in (restless) sleep, but through our imaginations.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

Book Promotion 2020

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

They worked in Manhattan, which was too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter. They didn’t make enough money to buy their own apartments downtown, but they’d never think of moving to Brooklyn or Queens or any of the outer boroughs. Mummy and Daddy had the money, boatloads of it in many cases, and Mummy and Daddy believed in appearances. So, if Second Son needed a place to live, well, then let’s just buy him something in the right neighborhood, so that he can live in relative comfort.

Second Son had use of the summer house upstate or in the Hamptons (before, y’know, it got discovered by [sniff] celebrities) and in due time, Second Son and the wife would move to Connecticut to raise the kids, commute into the City to do Important Work.

What Important Work? Publishing, of course. Perfect work for the Second Son or the Third Son or the Fourth. Perfect way to use that expensive education without really going into Trade or soiling the hands on something a little less…dignified.

Most of the people running publishing companies in those days were the children of old money who were not expected to make a profit at what they did. They were expected to do good work, to influence the culture, to put their minds and hearts behind good (or at least the right sort of) causes.

The people who started or ran the companies were, for the most part, male. All of them were white. And only a handful—the most innovative (and the most underrated)—were not from old money. Ian and Betty Ballantine, for instance, started Ballantine Books in their apartment in 1952, which was not the way most publishing houses started in those times. Ian and Betty were the anomalies.

The children of old money were not anomalies. Their influence pervades publishing even now, when all that remains of their companies are dusty old names that have long since been sold to corporations.

When I came into the business, though, handshake agreements were common, particularly with agents, who talked about things like “gentlemen’s agreements,” and “honor,” even though most of them had as much honor as any thief.

The publishers, though, the publishers truly were not interested in making a profit. They wanted enough money to keep their Manhattan offices, and to publish prestige products. They liked bestsellers, although they often manipulated the lists so that the worthy books could be considered bestsellers, and they really liked dominating the conversation around the entire country.

The books that made profits for the publishing houses—well, we don’t discuss those much. The “trashy” novels. Science fiction. Mystery. Romance. The [sniff] genre titles, they funded the literary titles, and made the prestige books possible.

But, long about sixty years ago, the culture was changing. The masses—always a problem when it came to prestige products—had a lot of disposable income, and wanted—not the most prestigious book—but something fun to read. Sure, they bought the prestige book, and displayed it on the coffee table so that their neighbors thought they were erudite, but the books they read lurked in the bedroom closet or the enclosed end table or the basement, and those had lurid covers and shocking subheadings.

The problem was that a lot of the racks around the nation that handled books wanted books to sell, not books to impress. The handful of bookstores weren’t enough to make the requisite amount of sales, so somehow, these publishers had to convince the department store book departments and the grocery stores and drug stores and the truck stops to take prestige books.

Truck stops never did, and neither did drug stores, but department stores…they could be lured by prestige. Just like university bookstores and libraries—with the right promotion.

What was the right promotion? Well, that was the question, wasn’t it, in a mass market world. How to make books that are good for you, or at least books written by the right sort (our kind of people) sell better than they naturally would.

The editors who actually believed in the product, and the sales force who were, in those days, an actual force, unique to the company, had the job of making those books profitable. And sometimes, that was impossible. 

. . . .

A lot of things were tried, and a lot of things failed. But the successful things, well, some were done utilizing the Right People Who Had Jobs in the Right Places, things such as:

  • Convincing that one reviewer to read the book and maybe, in exchange for a lovely lunch, write a slightly more positive review than usual.
  • Planting interviews in the right magazines and newspapers, read by the right people
  • Sending copies to the influential bookstores ahead of publication, so that the store owner felt involved in the process and might encourage the influential in the community (including the reviewer at the local paper) to cover the book.
  • Sending the author to universities, to talk to professors and other influencers (although that term wasn’t used then).
  • Sending the author, and copies of the book, to the influential bookstores. Initially, the authors gave lectures there as well, but most authors are dull as dishwater even when someone poured a lot of liquor into them, so the talks evolved into signings only, and more than one per day.

. . . .

But for the most part, the book publicity you still see today started around 1955 or so, and changed only as book buying changed. The sales force went away—why have a sales force when all you had to do was sell to the single buyer for the nationwide chain? And then the right magazines became shadows of themselves, the struggling newspapers cut their book sections, and the author tour became a way to get bookstores around the country to order enough copies of the book to get on the New York Times list.

But that was that.

Ads on television, still in its infancy in 1960, didn’t really work, especially with Our Sort, because television by its very nature appealed to the masses. Jaqueline Susann, author of Valley of the Dolls, revolutionized book publicity, but it was commonly accepted that she wrote trash, and the techniques she used were unique to her.

(They weren’t. They were the same techniques most companies used at the time to sell any brand name item. Techniques all snubbed by traditional publishers at the time because of the whiff of the masses…snubbed until they actually needed those techniques to get their books on the shelves.)

Book publishing rolled in a few more techniques—the book fairs, like the LA Book Fair and a few other “accepted” methods of promotion—but for the most part, until January 2020, the promotion done for books by traditional publishers was the same kind of promotion done by traditional publishers 60 years ago.

. . . .

Only now, the Right People don’t control the media. Corporations do. And there’s too many diverse voices and too many influencers not under the control of Our Sort.

The right magazines are gone. The newspaper book sections are gone or styled back to one review.

But that doesn’t matter. The booksellers…they’re Our Sort. They will come through. We can market to them, support them against the Big Evil Amazon, and our books will sell enough to make a decent profit, enough to keep our little division of our books in the black.

Let the authors handle the online promotion. We’ll set up a book tour, and maybe some direct-to-bookstore marketing, and all will be well.

But problems lurked on the horizon.

Bookstores were struggling. Big or little, it doesn’t matter. Barnes & Noble, the last big store, was being mismanaged into oblivion. The little stores were hanging on by finding their niche, but that niche wasn’t always The Right Book. Some of the most successful stores were genre—mystery, science fiction, and quite often, romance.

Even so, they weren’t making a big profit, and it had become a sad ironic joke in the industry that book buyers would use the stores to pick up a book, maybe read the opening, and then order the ebook online. Or the hardcover from Amazon, where the price was half of what the bookstore was doing.

Still, the book tours continued and the promotion wheel geared up, and writers occasionally appeared on the Today show (but not on Ellen or any of the talk shows, which were more focused on performing than ever).

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG keeps thinking one day he’ll disagree with one of the posts Kris writes about the book business, but he’s probably wrong.

The “business” end of the traditional book business is full of people who would have a difficult time being hired by any revenue-generating employer other than a publisher. Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, they genuinely believe they are good business people despite growing evidence to the contrary.

Jeff Bezos knows how to sell books. Random House, not so much.

For visitors to TPV who may be aghast at PG’s opinion, he would ask how many books Amazon sells each year vs. how many books a traditional publisher sells each year.

Ditto for how many books Amazon sells each year vs. how many books Barnes & Noble sells each year.

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