Long-term IP Management

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[W]riters should consider their IP a living breathing entity that has a lifespan all its own; IP is not something to be easily discarded or sold for a quick buck.

Writers who do that will live to regret it.

In the previous post, I discussed how the most valuable intellectual properties are the ones with longevity, even if they’re not the most famous properties. A property with a long history also has a long relationship with its fan base, something that businesses which license intellectual property for things like games and toys truly value.

. . . .

In May, Authentic Brands Group issued threatening cease-and-desist letters to wedding chapels around Las Vegas. The reason? ABG told the chapels that they were using Elvis Presley’s image, music, and iconography without permission.

I’d often wondered about some of these places. I live in wedding chapel central, not far from several chapels that have a silhouette of Elvis as part of their logo. Not a week goes by in my neighborhood without an Elvis getting into a Cadillac or a group of Elvises (Elvi?) standing around a fake grass lawn or Elvis hits wafting from the cupola of a nearby wedding chapel.

If I’d given this anything—and I really hadn’t—I’d assumed that these Elvis appearances were licensed. I do recall discussing Elvis impersonators in my recent Entertainment Law class in regards to some music copyrights: the Elvis estate routinely denies Elvis impersonators synch licenses, licenses that allow the impersonator to marry their video to Elvis’s music. I get that; the estate wants videos of Elvis singing to be Elvis, not someone else.

. . . .

When Elvis died, in 1977, there were no impersonators, no Vegas Elvis weddings, nothing like that. There were no laws on the rights of celebrities to control their own images. All of that—what little there is—was developed long after Elvis died, and is still changing and growing.

The Elvis impersonator industry, including the wedding chapels, evolved over decades, and the Elvis estate did not actively pursue imitators. So the industry flourished.

The Elvis estate fascinates me, because of its management history. Elvis essentially died broke, and when his ex-wife Priscilla took over, the estate had little ability to generate revenue. Priscilla, with the help of advisors, created Elvis Presley Enterprises “to manage all Elvis image rights and remaining royalties, which primarily included turning Graceland into a tourist attraction. Between Graceland profits, merchandising, image deals, and royalties from songs recorded after the RCA deal, Priscilla and her co-executors of the Elvis Estate helped grow its value to a reported $100 million by 1993” according to Forbes.

That year, Lisa Marie Presley turned 25, and was able to claim her part of the estate. Then things got messy.

I’m not going to go into the mess here, but suffice to say that Lisa Marie got her father’s business acumen, not her mother’s. She appointed a business guy, one Barry Siegel, to handle the financial affairs. He sold 85% of Presley’s interest in EPE and invested some part (this is murky to me) in a holding company that included American Idol and eventually went bankrupt.

. . . .

During this great financial upheaval, Authentic Brands Group acquired the rights to license and merchandise all things Elvis. ABG calls itself “an intellectual property corporation,” and it handles the images of Marilyn Monroe and Muhammad Ali, among others. The details of the deal aren’t easy to find, but suffice to say that this deal was made for money, not because EPE wanted to lose control of its cash cow.

. . . .

Bullying often works in IP cases because the costs of going to court are so very high. If a company like ABG comes after a small business like a wedding chapel, then the small business usually has no recourse but to cave. A long-term lawsuit on these issues can cost upwards of $100,000 or more. Very few small businesses can absorb that.

But ABG made a biiiiiiig mistake going after wedding chapels in Las Vegas. The wedding industry in this city is a two billion dollar industry, and Elvis-themed weddings are a big part of it.

So, when ABG went after the chapels (and not all of them, either), it screwed up. Within days, the chapels had banded together to fight this overreach, and had the entire city behind them. Eighteen-thousand jobs were suddenly at risk, not to mention all the other Elvis themed products.

ABG didn’t randomly pick this spring to go after the chapels. There’s a big Elvis movie coming out on June 24, and some person at ABG figured that would increase interest in Elvis. They sent these letters so that no one would profit off the Elvis revival but them.

Big problem, though. People have been profiting off Elvis for decades. Yes, EPE and the estate have occasionally gone after trademark infringers, but not in any organized way. Neither has ABG.

. . . .

This has serious implications for potential lawsuits. ABG expected the wedding chapels to roll over and either give up their work or pay hundreds of thousands without a fight. ABG did not want a legal fight, because they have not correctly defended the Elvis brand.

No one has. It would take years, but there’s a strong possibility that lawsuits over the IP could result in ABG and EPE losing their trademarks over Elvis. To maintain a trademark, you need to vigilantly defend it. EPE and ABG did not defend much at all. In fact, for years, EPE and ABG allowed this to go on, and so to try to shut it all down now might be impossible.  (Lawyers, feel free to correct if I’m wrong.)

Given the fact that ABG reversed course the moment the wedding chapels and the city got involved tells me that some higher up in the company blinked. I’m sure some junior lawyer has been fired and now ABG is trying to clean up its mess.

The clean-up is ugly as well. ABG is now trying to charge for a license, which they should have done in the first place. The charge went (in less than a week) from tens of thousands to $500 per year. No one has signed anything or agreed to anything, and if the chapels are getting advice from some of the good IP attorneys in this city, I doubt anyone will pay for a license.

. . . .

Why am I telling you this? Because Elvis Presley is the 7th highest earning dead celebrity, according to Forbes. The estate earned $30 million last year. Yes, some of that was Graceland, but it also included licensing a TV channel and a Netflix animated alternate history series in which (I’m not kidding) “Elvis will explore an alternate history where he faked his own death to fight crime with a secret government spy program.”

As I mentioned before, long-term IP is worth a lot of money. Even when it’s badly mismanaged, as the Elvis estate has been since Priscilla stepped away from it all. The dang thing keeps earning money. Clearly a lot of that money is going into the pockets of people who have no connection to the long-dead King, but that’s because of the mismanagement.

Had Lisa Marie handled everything—or let her mom remain in charge—that $30 million would go directly to the estate instead of others. And clearly, someone would have known better than to mess with the wedding chapels and Vegas, which have done more to keep Elvis’s legacy alive than almost any other group.

. . . .

Story number two is one many of you sent to me. Each one of you sent a different article, and all of those articles were different from the one I initially saw.

Yep, there’s a copyright lawsuit over the new Top Gun: Maverick movie. A lawsuit so serious that should some judge really want to, the judge could pull the movie from the theaters.

The lawsuit was filed in early June, and so far, the movie is still playing well, so I doubt that any injunction will happen. But what’s going on here is almost the exact opposite of what happened with Elvis.

In 1983, Ehud Yonay published an article in California Magazine called “Top Guns.” The original movie, Top Gun, was based on this article. In fact, Ehud Yonay received a single card credit in the movie, which I noticed when I rewatched the movie in late May.

Yonay’s involvement wasn’t hidden, like the involvement of so many writers. It was there for everyone to see.

Yonay died in 2012. In 2018, Yonay’s widow and son filed a notice to reclaim the full copyright…and notified Paramount Pictures that it was doing so. The rights reverted to the Yonays in 2020, and in January of 2020, they filed a notice of termination of the copyright with Paramount Pictures, knowing full well that the Maverick movie was in development.

The Yonays claim that Paramount needed to reacquire the film and ancillary rights to the article. In other words, they needed a new agreement.

Paramount claims they do not need to do that, since the movie was more or less complete before the notice of termination hit. The pandemic messed everything up, including timing here. The Yonays claim that the movie wasn’t completed until May of 2021, long after Paramount received notice.

This will be up to a court to decide. What’s happened in most of these 35-year reclamation cases is that ultimately the licensing agreements are renewed, with a boatload of money going to the copyright holder. Most of these cases are settled and the terms are not disclosed.

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.

How Writers Fail (Part 2)

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

Because of last summer’s move, we reorganized our books. We are in a smaller space than we were in Oregon, so we got rid of a lot of our books—the ones we didn’t need for research or the ones we liked, but didn’t love.

Now, we’re left with the ones that are actual favorites. It’s rather interesting to both of us to note how our tastes change over time. Dean got rid of works by a writer whom he once loved, but who became a factory, writing with others whom Dean didn’t like as well, and that colored his entire attitude toward that writer.

I got rid of over 100 romance novels because I either couldn’t remember them or they no longer spoke to me. That still left me with a rather large collection. Every time I look at them, I feel inspired, which is why they’re still in my life.

The hardest thing, though, the saddest thing, to me anyway, are the writers whose work just stops. Not because Dean or I got tired of reading them or the writer veered into territory we weren’t interested in. But because something got in the way of the writing.

We discussed one writer recently who was badly—and I mean badly—treated by Bantam Books. That highly acclaimed writer hasn’t written anything that I know of in the past five years or more. They could still sell books traditionally to a smaller company than before. They also have a wide open short story market. But I’m pretty sure that what happened at Bantam, which isn’t something I’m able to discuss, literally broke their spirit.

And, as an older writer, they didn’t feel like they could pivot into a world of publishing that is strange to all of us.

That conversation with Dean, combined with sorting and refiling all the books, and a line in an article I read some time ago about Liz Phair combined into this post.

First, the little passing remark from a reviewer about the musician Liz Phair.

I was reading the July 2021 issue Entertainment Weekly. I turned to an article on Liz Phair’s newest album and realized I hadn’t thought of her for years. She’s not a personal favorite, so I was aware of her work, but not following it.

My sense of Liz Phair, really? was an accurate one, though, because, it turns out the new album, Soberish, is her first in eleven years. She hasn’t been idle. She wrote a book, wrote for television, and did a variety of other things.

But she hadn’t produced an album in quite a while.

In the middle of the article, there’s this analysis:

Phair recorded the new album with Brad Wood, the engineer and producer who helped bring her ’90s albums to life. Their pairing is even more ideal three decades out; they’re not afraid to take chances, like starting a big comeback album on an uncertain note, as Soberish does when Phair asks “Is something wrong?”

The part that struck me is this: they’re not afraid to take chances. And, the reviewer, Maura Johnston, seems to believe this is because they’re not afraid because they’ve been in the business for a long time.

That might be true. It might not.

Because what I see from writers who’ve been in the business for a very, very long time is a lot of fear. 

. . . .

When you get burned the way that the Bantam writer above got burned, the natural human response is to try to prevent that from ever happening again. Some writers prevent that by refusing to work with that company or editor, or these days, by publishing indie.

Others stop writing altogether to prevent that kind of problem.

And then there are the writers who are on the flip side of the badly burned problem. Sure, they’ve had serious and frightening setbacks, but they’ve also had so much success that they’re afraid to mess with it.

The phrase we use in our house is that they’re “protecting their lead.” I learned it from Dean, and he initially used it to talk about tournament golf (which he used to play). A lot of players end up in the lead after 3 days of play because they were playing loose or freely. And then, they wake up on the final morning and become cautious.

They’re protecting their lead, and it often leads to failure, because golf courses, like life sometimes, require a certain style of play. If you change your style of play midstream, you’ll probably tamper with your success.

The writers who protect their lead write the same thing over and over and over again. They read their reviews, know what’s expected of them, and try to deliver it. I just read a book like that from a writer whose work I used to love.

Lately, his work has shown the tendency to write what he’s known for, which is (in some circles) twists and plot surprises. Those things only work when you’re not expecting them, and he’s been putting them into his stories like tinsel on a badly decorated Christmas tree. I hope he gets past it, I do, but I suspect he’s afraid of losing his success, so he’s trying to replicate it, rather than let the stories flow the way they want to.

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.

How Writers Fail (Part One)

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I keep forgetting that working in the arts requires a very specific sort of attitude. It’s an attitude that can be trained, but to do that, an artist must want to change. This is a complex and sometimes difficult thing to do.

First, the attitude itself.

It’s a combination of optimism and pragmatism, with a bit of cynicism mixed in. Yeah, I know, confusing. So let me give you the example that sparked this small series of blog posts.

Moving to Las Vegas four years ago now enabled me to get in touch with dozens of artists in very different fields. I haven’t had that experience on a daily basis since I left Wisconsin mumble-mumble years ago. When I lived in small-town Oregon, going to conferences and conventions provided some of the contact, and the openness of the internet both helps and hurts, but nothing replaces an in-person experience, particularly with other art besides writing.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been taking a series of classes. Some of them are in disciplines that I wasn’t able to practice due to that West Coast move, although I kept my hand in through online study. Some I simply needed to do in person for me, to get the feedback that comes from an audience and/or from an onsite instructor.

. . . .

But, about a week ago as I write this, I sat in the first class of a discipline that has changed a lot in the past forty years, due to the internet and the connectivity of the world. I’m being deliberately vague about the discipline for a variety of reasons, not the least is that I don’t want a bunch of people (on Facebook or here on the blog) asking me why I’m abandoning writing.

I’m not. I’m just reviving some other parts of myself.

. . . .

What type of class we’re dealing with isn’t exactly relevant to the story. I was sitting next to another person who desperately wants a career in the arts. That person had confessed as much to me.

We sat through the same presentation. We learned a whole bunch of really cool stuff. By the end of it, my internal optimist saw so many opportunities that had I not already chosen a writing career, I’d have been jumping on all of those opportunities. As it is, I’m looking at how to use what I learned just in the first class in my own writing career. (You’ll see posts about this scattered throughout what I’m doing the next few months, as I learn more.)

I was so excited. I’m still excited. The entire class made me realize I had felt this way when the indie publishing movement started—the whole popcorn kittens feeling. That feeling is essentially so many cool ideas that it’s almost impossible to corral all of them.

. . . .

So many opportunities! So much choice! How can I best use all of this to the advantage of my various businesses? How can I add more without losing something that I want to do?

After the class was over, I turned to the person beside me.

“Wow, this is incredible,” I said. “I hadn’t realized there were so many possibilities.”

The person made a sour face. “I don’t believe any of it,” the person said. “They’re going to have to prove to me that these opportunities exist.”

Prove? Heck, it was obvious to anyone who looked. It was obvious through just by going through daily life. And the class itself was obvious: It was being offered by people who worked in that discipline. If there weren’t opportunities, there would be no class.

Instead, if the opportunities did not exist, those who had the expertise would jealously guard that expertise so no one else could even attempt to participate. That’s how doors close, particularly in the arts. You have to break them down or sneak in sideways or be even better than anyone already practicing that art.

That was how traditional publishing was back when I first broke in. It took work, perseverance, and a willingness to ignore the word no over and over and over again.

. . . .

So, I said, in response to this person, “Prove it? What do you mean? It’s obvious.” (And sometimes I’m oblivious.)

The person said, “[this particular discipline] has never been open, not when I first tried it years ago. I doubt it’s open now.”

We’d just sat through a long presentation about all of the opportunities, and the instructor even talked about the way this discipline was once the most difficult to break into in the country and is no longer.

I opened my mouth, closed it, and finally got a clue. This person did not want to hear that they had just walked into a place with a lot of opportunity.

I said something polite (God knows what) and turned away to talk to another person who wanted to reinvent themselves because they’d lost their job in the pandemic. That person was very excited, as was an artist in another discipline who joined the conversation. That artist was trying to figure out—as I was—how to blend what we had just learned with what we were already doing.

We didn’t see dollar signs: we saw opportunity.

The first person? Opportunity had just given them an hours-long presentation, and that person turned their back on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that person does not show up to any future classes.

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.

Endings

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

For more than a decade, writers have asked me what they can do to sell their existing books. I always tell them to write the next book. Some writers don’t have time for promotion. Others don’t have the constitution for it.

. . . .

The one thing that will sell your next book is the ending of the current book.

If your book ends well, leaving the reader satisfied, then they’ll want to repeat the experience with your next book. If your ending falls flat, then some readers won’t care about your next book. If your ending is truly awful, the readers will avoid your next book completely.

What made me think of this was a movie that Dean and I watched on Amazon Prime. The movie is called Parallel. We knew nothing about it before we watched it, except for the bit of advertising copy. The movie’s about multiverses, which we both love, and it looked promising.

When we watch something together, we have a rule: either one can veto the movie at any point in the movie. We figured this one would be an early veto. Instead, it was a good way to spend an hour-plus. The script was tight, the characters—though unlikeable—were well drawn. There were some quibbles (no way could those bodies have been disposed of easily), but they were minor.

The movie hummed along. It even had the perfect ending. I was enjoying it…and then some idiot tacked on a scene with a minute and a half left.

That scene ruined the movie. I have since looked at reviews, and everyone calls the ending a jumbled mess. Yeah. It is. But had the movie ended a minute and a half earlier, it would have been just fine.

Here’s what the ending did wrong:

  1. It introduced new information that contradicted the information in the movie.
  2. It threw in a plot twist that literally made no sense.
  3. It was pointless and emotionally flat.
  4. It did not match the tone of the rest of the movie.
  5. It raised questions that could not be answered.

What that last scene was going for was a gotcha! sequence that you often see in horror films. You think everything is fine, and then—nope—there are little plants growing in suburbia (as in Little Shop of Horrors) or a hand rises out of the grave (as in Carrie).

But Parallel, for all its terrifying moments, isn’t a horror film. It’s a science fiction film. It even tells you that midway through by quoting Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein.

The gotcha! ending doesn’t work in a science fiction film. The movie needs to be about the ideas and the characters, which it was, until 90 seconds before the end.

. . . .

Endings are really important. They have to be done right or the reader/viewer is going to be turned off completely.

What does “right” mean?

It means offering an emotionally satisfying ending, one that says “The story is over, and here’s the emotion you’re left with.” Sure, we all know that the couple in a romance will marry, have kids, fight before bedtime, and occasionally storm through the house. But they’ll still be together at the very end. They’ll probably die on the same day around their 100th birthday, hands clasped and declaring their love for each other in whispery voices ravaged by time.

The mystery ending will put order on chaos. Not every mystery ends with the killer behind bars, but at least we know who done it. And we know what the repercussions are.

. . . .

The real key to all fiction is an emotionally satisfying ending, one that ends, and does not leave things hanging. You certainly can’t introduce new ideas in your last chapter that changes or contradicts what has come before.

If you are going to change or contradict what has come before, you must set the seeds for that earlier. Little teeny hints of things not being as they seem.

And if you kill your protagonist, well, we need to know that on page 1, paragraph one, or even in the title.

“On the day that Devon died, he discovered the secret of the universe….”

Usually readers forget that you told them Devon would die, but when they get to it, they go “oh, yeah” and are okay with it. If you have Devon discover the secret of the universe and then hit by a bus without any warning at all, no one will read your next book. It’s that simple.

So the conundrum comes when you’re writing a series or linked stories. Most writers opt for the stupidest and least effective way of handling it.

They just end the action, with nothing resolved.

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.

Focus Again

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

The other challenge I gave myself in 2021 was to work on the Fey. I had blamed traditional publishing for the fact that the next series didn’t exist and while that was true, it’s not the whole story.

I have a lot of baggage on that series. A lot. All the bad things that can happen in traditional publishing happened to me on those books.

. . . .

An editor rewrote me horribly, and did some of the work without my permission to make chapters shorter. So the rereads were traumatizing. I did them by hand, so I had to put in the corrections and restore what I could (because some of the original files were lost). I stalled out.

But I kept writing on the Fey project. Since I write out of order, it took me most of the year to realize I was writing outlines for the next several books. I’d write maybe 100 pages of the book and then outline. I’m good at writing something that seems like fiction, but really isn’t.

That’s what I was doing.

I finally sorted out that mess, but the story just wasn’t flowing. I blamed the pandemic. Then I found the novella at the heart of everything, figuring that would solve the problem. Nope.

. . . .

Until one morning, I woke up and realized I needed to schedule my writing year. I hadn’t over-scheduled my writing year in maybe ten years. First, I was so sick that I didn’t dare. (I underscheduled then.) Then, I stopped trying to schedule at all. (Nearly died, so was focused on just finishing words.) Then we moved (always disruptive). I got better…and the damn pandemic hit and ate my brain.

So figuring out the schedule made Dean happy. (“You’re back!” he said. Yeah, maybe he’s right.)

But it also made my subconscious happy.

What does figuring out the schedule mean? It means I had to figure out what I was writing when. Then I had to figure out a realistic word count for the week/day. Then I had to do math to figure out when I would finish Project #1 and so on and so forth.

I know myself well enough to know that I can’t write the same subgenre for each and every project. So I had to switch off.

I outlined it all…and I not only mentally relaxed, the stories started flowing. I was able to get lost in them. I would wake up and there, in my brain, was the solution to some problem I hadn’t even realized I had in the book(s).

I’m excited about writing again.

I think this is because I believe I have a future. Or we have a future. Or as much of a future as the human race always has, subject to the whims of crazy leaders and stupid viruses and personal emergencies (note the word personal, not a worldwide emergency like we’ve been living in).

It’s not normal. As some grumpy pundit said about the whole returning to normal movement: there was no normal before the pandemic. There was just what we were used to.

My brain has transitioned into a world filled with Covid and other problems. I feel less of a need to be hypervigilant about the world around me, and I’m able to escape into a world I invent.

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 Final Brandon Sanderson Post

From Kristine Kathryn Ruch:

Well, Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter is one for the record books. It became the highest grossing Kickstarter about a month before his Kickstarter closed. And then it continued to make money, finally ending at $41.7 million.

Brandon himself estimates that when this is all said and done, and every one of 185,341 backers have received their books and swag, he will get roughly a high-end novel advance for each book. That’s disingenuous, though, because these orders on Kickstarter are pre-orders.

I have no idea how many of his readers didn’t want to spend money on Kickstarter or lived under a rock somewhere and somehow didn’t hear about the Kickstarter. Those folks will buy the books in a bookstore, either online or brick-and-mortar. Libraries haven’t picked up their copies yet, and to my knowledge, no foreign sales have been made yet either.

The earnings potential for these books has just started, and they technically aren’t published yet. (I dealt with that in my first post, oh so long ago, on this Kickstarter.) One more thing about the way that Brandon will earn money on these books: the publicity for this Kickstarter alone is the kind that money can’t buy. He’s been all over TV and the financial media, talking about the Kickstarter.

Of course, this has sparked a heck of a backlash, particularly from those who work or have worked in traditional publishing. Some regular readers of this blog made me laugh out loud with their private letters, telling me that Brandon won’t know what hit him at tax time and that this is actually bad news for writers because it gets their hopes up.

I dealt with a lot of the jealousy and the willful blindness in this post, but let me simply say this: Brandon knows business, and I’m sure he’s aware of the tax consequences. I’m also certain that he has advisers who will help him through the financial maze ahead of him, especially considering he’s done this before (albeit on a much smaller scale).

The jealousy, the back-biting, and the fear from traditional publishing folks was to be expected, I suppose. A lot of people don’t want to see success.

And as I predicted at the beginning of March, the bulk of the argument against (against!) this Kickstarter is that Brandon is a unicorn.

But he’s not. Any writer who wants to spend the time cultivating their fanbase can grow a huge Kickstarter. Brandon put a lot of time and effort into his. He does things that I know I could do, and over the years I have actively chosen not to. Not because I disapprove, but because I know who I am and how I work best.

That’s what writers do.

But let’s move past the pettiness and the stupidity to something much more important.

The fact that, no matter what the trad pub folk want to believe, this is a game-changer.

I’m writing this in early April. A few days ago, I read a thread on Facebook filled with my trad pub pals—some writers, some former editors, at least one publisher, and to a person they agreed that no other writer will ever have success at Kickstarter. Ever, ever, ever. It’s sad too, because (these folks said) now writers will become even more disillusioned than before.

Here’s the thing: as is often the case with traditional publishing, these folks were going with their gut and not looking at the facts.

Because as they were pontificating, writers were making more than their usual novel advances on Kickstarter.

Kevin J. Anderson made $46,000 for the next book in his Dan Shamble series. The series, which he is now doing indie, originally started in a New York house. He never made that much as an advance on any of the Dan Shamble books. Kevin was doing it for the love. And as with Brandon, the earnings have just started.

Christina F. York set a modest goal for her Christy Fifield mystery novel and as of this writing it looks like she will triple it. She was dipping a toe into Kickstarter with an already finished (but unpublished) book, and has been surprised and pleased at the response.

Over two Kickstarters, which we conduct through WMG Publishing, we’ve made $54,000 so far in 2022—at least according to the front-facing data. We made so much more, through other means that the Kickstarter (um) kickstarted.

. . . .

A quick search of the publishing category on Kickstarter, sorted for active campaigns, showed me book projects that have funded and brought in (so far) anywhere from $50,000 to $500. The bulk of these are in the $10,000 category per novel…which is, roughly, what any new writer can expect from traditional publishing these days.

Of course, if the writer goes traditional, their advance will be split into (at minimum) three payments. I also have to assume that anyone who is going traditional also has a book agent, and they’re paying that person 15%. So, instead of getting the money up front, these traditionally published writers are getting 85% split into payments scattered over a year or more.

. . . .

What it means is that he is teaching his backers to look through Kickstarter as another way to discover books.

That’s 185,000 people who now know that they can find good books on Kickstarter. Often, those people can get the books early or at a discount or both.

Not all of those 185,000 people will ever back a Kickstarter again. Some of them will only back Brandon’s Kickstarters. But there’s a goodly percentage who will now browse Kickstarter as a way to discover new books.

The fun thing about Kickstarter is that it’s a great way to gauge reader interest in a project. We did so with Fiction River ten years ago. I was sorta kinda doing it with the Fey. I was wondering if readers even remembered the books, since they had been published so long ago.

We got a great response.

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: Copyright Fun Part 3

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Let’s talk money for a minute, because really, copyright and copyright licensing translates into money, if you do it correctly. Copyright is one of those lovely assets that will continue earning for writers if the writers manage the copyright correctly.

A short story can become a novel (more money, different licenses), sell in foreign editions (more money, different licenses), become an audio book (more money, different licenses), be reprinted in anthologies (more money, different licenses), become an hour-long TV special (more money, different licenses), become a TV series (more money, different licenses), become a movie (more money, different licenses), become a video game (more money, different licenses), become a board game…

Well, you get the idea. And the writer really doesn’t have to do any more writing after finishing that short story. Everything I mentioned above is licensing little snippets of copyright. Once writers start understanding that, then they can manage their assets for the rest of their life…and beyond.

. . . .

One thing we all know, because we read books and watch TV, is that lots of money makes people crazy—both in fiction and in real life. Financial expectations, even in the smallest instances, can cause some people to become homicidal when those expectations go awry. That’s the basis for entire subgenres of mystery fiction.

In real life, few people kill over financial matters. Most people go to court, and those court cases drag on for years.

As an example that hits the publishing industry, let’s take a look at the big shocker that happened to the supposed heirs of Scholastic Corporation in June of 2021.

For context, Scholastic Corporation grew from a magazine published in the 1920s to a $1.2 billion dollar corporation with most of its revenue still in publishing. Scholastic has had amazing success over the years. They publish Clifford: The Big Red Dog, Captain Underpants, The Hunger Games, and…oh…some little series called Harry Potter. Their contracts, while not draconian, aren’t really writer-friendly either, so all of that merchandising you see for most of the big series that Scholastic publishes? Yeah, that money mostly goes to Scholastic, not to the writers.

Scholastic has done some great things for literacy and for children’s literacy in particular. It also has worked with schools for more than fifty years to make sure that kids get books to read. I still remember Scholastic Day at my school, and I looked forward to it.

Corporations aren’t really soulless things. People exist behind the corporation. And in this case, Scholastic was a family business. That little magazine was started by Maurice R. Robinson. His son, M. Richard Robinson Junior took over the company as CEO in 1975, and ran it until 2021…when he died suddenly while on a walk with one of his sons.

Richard Robinson was 84 years old, so there’s sudden and then there’s well…not as sudden so much as unexpected right now. He did have a will, however, and rather than leaving his estate and his interest in Scholastic Corporation to his sons, he left everything to his girlfriend.

The will wasn’t new though; it was executed in 2018.

Let’s ignore the family drama part of this—that all of his belongings and such and his personal $100 million fortune went to his girlfriend. The real interest are the Class A voting stocks in Scholastic Corporation. Robinson owned 53% of those stocks, which meant that he had a majority on the board of directors. He could outvote all of them, and now his girlfriend can.

This isn’t as random as it sounds. She is Iole Lucchese, the chair of Scholastic’s board,  as well as executive vice president and president of Scholastic Entertainment. In other words, she knows business and she knows the company very, very, very well.

The adult sons are contesting the will. Neither of them works in the family business. At a quick glance, it doesn’t seem like either of them ever did.

As a number of experts have said in the various articles about this battle, companies are difficult to run when the ownership of the company is under dispute. And these cases can drag on for years.

. . . .

Music copyrights are extremely complicated. Some portions of them are regulated by U.S. law, including royalties and percentages that must be paid to the songwriters by cover artists. Music copyrights fall into several categories, which make my head hurt when I think about managing them, even as a low-level musical artist. I’m not going to try to explain them here.

Just put a pin in complicated.

I’ve done a lot of work with the heirs to writers’ estates. When the superagent Ralph Vicinanza died suddenly and his sister initially handled the estate, a bunch of writer heirs—who had been relying on Ralph to handle all things writing and publishing related—contacted me. I couldn’t say anything bad about Ralph at the time (except to hang up or walk away from my email cursing the contracts he had gotten them all into, contracts that benefited him more than the writers), so I listened.

And realized that these people, who were farmers and professors and stay-at-home parents, had no idea how the publishing industry worked and worse, had no real interest in learning it.

They just wanted Mommy or Daddy’s royalties, which to them were like a stock annuity, an income they could rely on so they could continue living their lives.

Publishing contracts and licensing agreements for novels and short stories are so easy compared to music industry contracts, copyrights, and licensing agreements, the differences are like this: Publishing is arithmetic; music is calculus.

. . . .

Cashing in is a really good idea for older musicians (and even some younger ones: John Legend has sold his copyrights for music he composed between 2004 and 2021.   Legend is 43 years old, and presumably has decades of composing and recording ahead of him. None of those rights in future compositions were sold.

John Legend makes money on more than his music. As Bloomberg helpfully explained,

Dubbed “Music Mogul of the Year” by Variety in 2020, Legend … has gone on to expand into other areas of the entertainment field, in part through the founding of a production studio that’s created shows for Netflix Inc. and ABC. Variety estimates that Legend, born John Roger Stephens before adopting his stage name, takes in between $50 million and $100 million annually from his various enterprises, including LVE, his Napa Valley wine brand. 

Legend made a business transaction. I’ll wager he and his advisors are thinking that the payments for music catalogs will go down by the time he’s Paul Simon’s age. Better to cash in now.

This is how you leverage copyright. What these musicians—these business people—are doing. They’re looking at the value of their complicated music catalogs to them over the next ten to twenty years or the value to others. Given the estate benefits as well, these deals will (with luck) protect their legacy in this way:

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.

Copyright Fun Part 2

From Kristine Kathryn Rus ch:

What I want all of you blog readers to do is to think about possibilities. The possibilities exist on two fronts:

  1. What can you do before signing a contract to protect yourself and your copyright?

And

  1. What can you do after you signed a (bad) contract to protect yourself and your copyright?

Copyright law is a constantly changing beast, particularly here in the U.S. How we make money, as artists, is through the licensing of our copyright, not by “selling” our books. If you don’t understand copyright, guaranteed you will get screwed, maybe many times, throughout your writing career. This is why I recommend that writers buy The Copyright Handbook and read it.

I would also suggest that you learn to become a copyright geek, like Dean and I are, excited about the things you learn about copyright each and every year. Take a look at Part One of this series to see some ways to make your copyrights work for you.

This post, and the other two in this limited series, come from the copyright coolness that occurred in 2021. I was going to put this information in my year in review, but there’s simply too much of it. (If you want to read the year in review, start here.)

Copyright law in the United States comes from our founding document, the Constitution of the United States. Lawmakers have made significant changes to that original law throughout our history. Some of the changes are major. Others are minor until they’re used properly (or improperly) by someone.

We’re going to step outside of the book writing sphere to examine a few cases that have sent shivers through the spines of major corporations in 2021.

First, let’s talk about current law. The Copyright Act of 1976 gave creators the ability to reclaim their copyright, lost to a contract or some kind of agreement, 35 years after the agreement was signed.

This 35-year rule, as some call it, nearly upended the music industry as creator after creator tried to reclaim their copyrights from the music industry’s egregious contracts. Some major players in the industry stood to lose entire catalogs of works from artists like Billy Joel.

There were a lot of speculative articles written about 10 years ago, talking about the death of the larger music industry because of this. That was before the industry fought back, with all kinds of expensive lawsuits. The fight ended up being major, especially for artists who did not have the financial (or emotional) wherewithal to handle protracted litigation.

Billy Joel lost his case. Duran Duran lost theirs in 2016 and it made major international news, because the courts held that the British contract governed their copyrights, not the U.S. contracts.

After a bunch of high profile cases, the lawsuits went underground. No company wanted to be known as a company that would allow artists to reclaim their rights. So there are non-disclosures involved with artists who have sued and won, and no major press releases for artists who sued and lost.

(I went deep down a copyright rabbit hole as I was looking at these, and found a bunch of fascinating cases, including one between Cher and Mary Bono, Sonny Bono’s widow. Mary Bono is trying to use the copyright termination to stop paying Cher 50% of the Sonny and Cher royalties. It’s a complicated and probably bitter mess, and one worth keeping an eye on.)

Other industries have either fearfully watched the music industry grapple with this or chuckled behind their hands as they saw the lawsuits going by. But, they shouldn’t have chuckled, because they’re facing some serious issues on their own.

Under U.S. law, there’s a difference between works made for hire, and works that are independently created. Both can become, say, the basis of a movie or a comic book, but the question becomes who owns the copyright to the work.

A work made for hire is owned by the person who employed a writer to create the work. The word “employed” is essential here, and has specific definitions under copyright law.

Quite frankly, some of the book work that Dean and I did in the 1990s does not meet the standard for work-made-for-hire, even though the contract said the books we created were work for hire. That would take a lawsuit to settle, and there’s not enough money in that.

Some of the other books we did as work for hire (which we’ll now discuss as wfh) did fall under that definition.

Works made for hire do not (generally) fall under the 35-year rule, because the writer never owned the copyright in the first place. The writer was playing in someone else’s universe, under the guidance of the universe’s owner (or one of their employees).

But, wfh is not always easy to determine. And sometimes, big corporations just claimed product was wfh when it was not.

With that in mind…

In September of 2021, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case concerning the Friday The 13th franchise based on both the termination clause and California labor law. The 2nd Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision that the screenplay that Victor Miller wrote was not work for hire.

The decision had to delve into the various ways that employment was defined in California, not just the way it was defined under copyright law. In other words, the court had to determine whether or not Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay.

If he was, then he could reclaim his rights to that screenplay.

The 2nd Circuit determined that Miller was an independent contractor. He could reclaim the rights to the Friday the 13th screenplay and the way that screenplay was used under U.S. law.

What does this mean? Well, for the franchise, it’s a scary moment (pun intended). Because he could pull their right to use that screenplay, which means they might not be able to distribute the movie any longer.

It’s doubtful that will happen, for a variety of reasons, most of them financial. As The Hollywood Reporter wrote in its coverage of the case:

And there’s still reason for settlement given that the producer retains (nonexclusive) foreign rights as well as intellectual property derived from Friday the 13th sequels, including maybe the monstrous “Jason” character that showed up later in the franchise

In other words, if there is no settlement, then someone would have to figure out how to keep the movies out there, how to handle the foreign rights that probably do not belong to Miller (or maybe that’s a separate lawsuit) and how to handle all the derivative rights to characters, merchandise, sequels and more.

I couldn’t find much on the state of the case at the moment I write this. I’d be surprised if the Friday the 13th franchise lawyers fail to settle this.

I actually hope they do settle, because that’s the best way to handle something this complicated. But the settlement will benefit Miller, because he’ll be asking for a new (and probably much bigger) payday for his 40-year-old work on the franchise.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

As regular visitors to TPV know, PG usually doesn’t include the links in the OP from which he excerpts his posts here. PG has followed this practice for many years for a couple of reasons:

  1. He would like it if his excerpts sent visitors to the location of the original post if the excerpts tweak their curiosity. PG has received more than a few emails over the life of TPV that say something like, “I couldn’t figure out why my blog traffic went crazy until I learned that you linked to a post I made there. Thanks!”
  2. He works to to be confident that his excerpts will fall under the Fair Use provisions of the United States copyright laws and similar laws in other nations.

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.

Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve owned a lot of businesses. I have some ethical issues that do not benefit me as a business owner. There are business practices that I do not like that, if I did them, would make me a lot more money than I am making right now.

Those practices are stupidly easy to do. They rely on the gullible side of human nature. People want to believe that the other people they’re doing business with are good-hearted and have their best interests in mind. Many business people do not have other people’s interest in mind. They only consider their interest.

So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.

As a business model for a publishing or related industry, exclusivity makes complete sense. The more a business can bind an author to that business, the better off that business will be, particularly if the author is famous.

The problem with publishing businesses is that they don’t create anything. They buy other people’s creations and then put those creations in a form that can be distributed. Generally speaking, a writer or an artist who licenses their work to a publishing company is relying on that publishing company’s expertise in design, marketing, and distribution to get that book/project/writer out to as many readers as possible.

This is the deal writers make with traditional publishers. With the Big Five, and others that operate just like them, the writers have been brainwashed into believing those companies are the only route to distribution. And they were once, but ironically, they licensed fewer parts of the copyright in those days…when a writer, by necessity, had to be exclusive.

Now, though, there’s indie publishing and a million other ways for a writer to maintain their rights and distribute their work, if the writer is willing to run their own business. Which means that distribution companies, publishing companies, streaming companies, and others must up their game if they want bestselling writers in their fold.

. . . .

As long-time readers of this blog know, the writing business is not linear. Fortunes rise and fall. They never really go down to their lowest level. The rise always results in a much higher floor than the writer had before, but the rise itself is never permanent.

So, at some point the most popular writer in Company A will be superseded by some other writer who will sell more or whose product is fresher or more attuned to the moment. The original popular writer will still be popular, just not the Flavor of the Month. And slowly, ever so slowly, the original popular writer will be neglected.

Company A will still benefit from original popular writer’s latest releases, but original popular writer will run into new problems.

And that’s charitable. Sometimes original popular writer will fall off a cliff.

First, let me give you an example from my own business. And then, I’m going to show you some other ways that permanent or superstar or long-term exclusive can go horribly wrong.

My example has to do with Audible. Fifteen years ago, Audible was not just new(ish), but it was the only real digital audio player in the game. Unless a writer had access to a recording studio—and had the chops to read a book—the writer couldn’t even record their own work, let alone distribute it.

I’d had some audio books—on tape—from some of the best companies in the business…whose business soon got subsumed or at least offered through Audible.

Audible came to me with a great deal. I got up-front money on all of my books including backlist (under Rusch only at first, and then Nelscott, but never Grayson). In addition, I got paid a hefty bounty for each book sold, a bounty that did not get counted against that advance money. I got royalties and a bounty, and all of that translated into tens of thousands, and in one case hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I had my eye on it, though, and I had voice training. I knew that Audible would eventually get real competitors. One of my main priorities in setting up WMG was setting up our own recording studio, and we did it just as ACX got started. I was going to run the recording studio, but I got sick. We hired an audio director who turned out to be horribly unsuited for the work. (My fault: I thought she could grow into it. I was wrong.)

Had we followed my lead at that time, we would have had a lot of WMG-produced high quality audio that we could still market now.

But I was sick, the audio program fell apart, and so I relied on the money that Audible provided through the equivalent of its superstar program.

Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.

My editor at Audible moved, a new editor got hired and then fired. He was replaced by one of those corporate employees who comes in as some kind of hatchet man—someone who wipes out all trace of the previous employees. I can’t even get my new editor on the phone or contact him by email.

Needless to say, Audible and I have parted company on new work. The old work has pretty good contracts—I can get out of them at any time—but that would make my backlist unavailable in audio, something I’m not currently willing to do.

It’s a mess, and it’s one I need to clean up.

Audible asked for exclusive, I granted it, and now, fifteen years later, I have a major mess to clean up. Part of that mess are my audio fans. There are a lot of listeners who don’t have time to actually read a book, so they listen on their commutes or whatever. And all that reaching, growing, and developing will fall by the wayside if I don’t do something in the next few years.

Yes, it’s on my ever-growing to-do list.

Here’s the thing: I benefited from Audible’s superstar program back in the day, but I’m paying the price now.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and here’s a link to Part 1 of her two posts.

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.

New Tools: Indie Publishing

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A theme of this year in review has been the hard split between indie publishing and traditional publishing. That split became clear in the numbers in 2021. The industry is no longer one industry. It’s at least two, maybe more.

But for now, we’ll go with two—indie and traditional. And one thing that has always separated these two industries is their willingness to grow and change. Indies are willing to change; traditional publishers are not.

One reason is that indie writers, in particular, are nimble enough to try new things and not have those things wreck their businesses or their business plans. An indie writer can take a book and make it exclusive in a new service for six months, and learn something. A traditional publisher has to make a legal commitment and usually cannot leave whatever service they’ve joined for a particular amount of time.

That makes sampling new tech and new software very difficult.

Also, much of the new tech is designed for the nimble indie, not for the big bloated traditional publisher. Which is why the new tools section is part of the indie publishing section of my year in review.

Many of these new tools are useless to traditional publishers. Others are impossible to sample, because the licensing agreements (contracts) those publishers have with their authors did not envision the latest, newest grandest thing. (That “any new tech anywhere in the universe” clause usually doesn’t cut it.)

. . . .

Bookstores

Generally speaking, the bookstores that survived that initial pandemic shut down from March to mid-summer 2020 are leaner and a lot more tech savvy. These stores, for the most part, are run by younger people. The older bookstore owners retired in that tough period or sold their stores. A lot of stores closed, particularly used stores. (Which is the position that Las Vegas is in. We had three used bookstores before March of 2020, and none now.)

Again, generally speaking, the new younger booksellers are more open-minded, a lot more willing to use the internet for everything from ordering to shipping, and receptive to local authors, even those not traditionally published.

All the information I have on this is either anecdotal or from the mists of my summer business reading. The good news here, though, is that indies who have paper editions can probably get them into a local bookstore, if only for a short time, provided the books look good (so many indie-designed paper books do not, even with all the best tools in the world), and provided the indie is willing to work with the store.

. . . .

One other U.S. bookstore development features Barnes & Noble, a company that seems to me like a mash-up between the Black Knight from Monty Python and The Holy Grail (“I’m fine”) and another Holy Grail sequence (“Not Dead Yet”). Barnes & Noble’s CEO since 2019, James Daunt, used the 2020 bookstore closures to remodel and remake the stores.

Then he did something rather brilliant—he returned control of each store to the local managers. They are now stocking books that locals ask for and want, rather than relying on corporate for ordering. Relying on corporate for ordering allowed B&N in the bad old days to get deep discounts on books, but it also meant that each store looked the same no matter where you went. And if a local author’s books were not in the store, nothing anyone could do would get them there. A special order only brought in one copy.

That’s changed, for right now anyway. Anecdotal reports are that the bookstores look bright and clean and full. The content is different from store to store, which makes the stores interesting.

From a writer’s point of view, suddenly the local chain store might be willing to order copies of a good-selling ebook or of a local author’s work for their local author section (if they have one). Writers actually have a chance to get their books into a brick-and-mortar store, at least one near their home.

Does all of this mean that B&N will stick around? Hell if I know. I don’t know if their balance sheet is good or bad anymore or what the changes mean.

But for 2022, anyway, the outlook is bright for anyone who wants to get their books into a nearby B&N. For what it’s worth.

Ebookstores

There are so many now that I can’t keep track. Companies here, there, and everywhere. Any indie who is not using tools like Draft2Digital to upload their books to very small e-retailers is missing an important cash stream. It seems that every time I go on D2D or, more often, use its referral arm, Books2Read, I see yet another store I haven’t heard of.

So the continual growth of e-retailers is something that has gone on for years now. But the biggest change on this front isn’t the retail companies. It’s the success of retail stores on individual author sites.

This is anecdotal, of course, because there’s no way to aggregate it. But the pandemic changed buying habits, introducing a lot of reluctant people to buying from sites other than the big retailers like Amazon and Walmart. That change in buying habits means that a lot of readers want to buy directly from the author.

So individual online bookstores went from being a silly waste of time to something that provides writers with their purest income—no one takes a percentage from their online store. The writers can control pricing, sales, and everything else.

It helps that online stores are easy to build now. There are a lot of tools that reduce the build to an easy upload, and a click or two. These programs also provide a secure checkout as well.

If you haven’t tried any of the online store programs for the past five years or so, then you’ll be surprised at how easy it all is for writer and consumer alike. I personally think this will be one of the major growth areas of 2022.

If there are only one or two things you can add to your plate this year, make designing and maintaining an online ebook store one of them.

Book Design Tools

Every few years or so there is a major improvement in indie book design. The last one I was aware of was the arrival of Vellum, a software program for Macs only. At first, Vellum was only for ebooks, and then it expanded to paper books. The Mac users swore by it, and I know that WMG changed a lot of its templates so that we could use Vellum, saving hours and hours of work on each book.

But, as I said above, Vellum is Mac-only. PC users bitched about that. There was a workaround—they could use Mac on cloud, but it had problems that made the workaround uncomfortable at best.

Now there’s Atticus, which works on all platforms, or so it says. The PC people are excited about it for that reason. But I’m also hearing that it’s a good design program.

Honestly, it really doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. Because next year, there will be another program, and two years from now, another. We’ve moved out of the stage where everyone who is publishing indie is using the same tools for the same work. We’re not even doing the same work—which is probably a topic for a future blog post.

As I’ve mentioned in this series, the longer we indies exist, the more companies try to cater to us. Or rather, to all of us in the arts. For a long time, Adobe offered the best platform to help with design and producing ebooks.

Other products either didn’t have the reach or the level of protocols. That’s changing. Affinity has become very competitive, and I know of several designers who prefer their ecosystem. I’m sure we will end up with more such tools as the decade progresses.

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.

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.