I published TWENTY PALACES (now only $2.99!) through Smashwords so it would also go to other stores through Smashwords’s distribution system. However, a week and a half ago I realized that, for whatever reason, Kobo wasn’t selling the book. They have my others, but not the one I published myself.
I emailed Smashwords about it the week before last and received a chirpy response that there was nothing they could do about it, and had forwarded the issue to Kobo. A followup email brought the same response. Cheerful nothing.
I know Kobo will let you set up your own account, so I assume they’re rejecting or delaying books submitted through Smashwords to drive people to them directly.
Because I don’t have enough to do.
When I finish this book and revise KEY/EGG, I may need to take a week off just for business stuff: find a new WP theme I like that’s similar to what I have, set up a functional store on my site, create accounts on all the book vendor sites to sell my stuff directly, and so on. Very annoying.
Added later: Fixed. I should learn to skip customer service and take my problems straight to Twitter through my blog. Timeline: Complain (late) on a Friday. Hear back from Smashwords on Wednesday. Still nothing by the Tuesday after that. Complain on my blog so company name is right in the automatic tweet. Fixed by the end of the day.
making books personal: a blessing of monsters moi? progress publishing
by Harry Connolly
So, this is a little embarrassing and I just have to come out and talk about it.
I haven’t released a new book in a long time.
Duh, right? It’s not like you guys don’t know this. My last novel was CIRCLE OF ENEMIES, which came out Labor Day 2011. What’s more, I’ve already mentioned that I finished the first draft of CoE in 2010, before GAME OF CAGES came out.
So what the hell have I been doing?
Well, the first thing I did is write A KEY, AND EGG, AN UNFORTUNATE REMARK, which I had high hopes for but screwed up badly. I could probably whip it into shape in a month or so once I figure out how to manage the voice, but it’s back-burnered.
There’s also the Spirit of the Century novel I wrote for the game company Evil Hat. Kickstarter backers have already received their copies, but everyone else has to wait for this fall.
And there’s some short fiction, which I plan to collect and release as an ebook next month.
So what the hell? Where are the books?
Here’s the thing: When I started THE WAY INTO CHAOS (originally titled A BLESSING OF MONSTERS–you can decide which title you hate more) I’d planned to wrap up the whole story in 120K words. One volume.
That hasn’t happened. I’m at 270K right now and the end is in sight. However, I’ve stopped forward progress and gone back to the beginning for a major revision. It’s taking up a lot of my time and driving me a little nuts.
The whole thing is taking too long. I need to finish this and move on to another project; it hasn’t even sold and I’m sick to death of it. Also, it can take a year or more from the time my agent sells something to the time it’s released. Do I want my next novel to hit the shelves in 2015? 2016?
That’s too long.
So, in order to get more done and focus in on this project, I’m going on an internet fast. It’ll be at least this whole week, possibly longer. I will check my email once a day, but that’s it: no Facebook mentions, no Twitter replies, no LJ comments, nothing.
In the meantime, I will be doubling down on this book. I won’t finish in that time, but I plan to double my progress, at least.
I’ll also have some time to do some much needed chores.
In truth, I really enjoy social media but I feel over-committed at the moment. It’s become a bit of an obligation, so I’m shedding everything for w bit. When I come back I’ll take stock and see what I’ll need to change.
Funnily enough, just as I decided to do this, a guy hit the internet with his big “I just took a year away from the internet, and it didn’t solve all my problems” article. I understood the dude’s urge to change his routine, but is it really any surprise that his problems were internal rather than external?
Anyway, I’m not trying to fix my life here. I’m just freeing up time to work. There will be a couple of blog posts that will go live while I’m away, but you know.
Wish me luck.
In response to the Strange Horizons analysis of male/female review statistics (spoiler: books my men get more reviews than books by women) a number of folks on Twitter have been contributing to a #WomenToRead hashtag. It’s meant to be a way to get female authors’ names in front of readers who have a habit of only buying books written by dudes, but I’m not sure how effective it is.
Reading through, it seems more like an exercise in frustration than genuine recommendations. In the better tweets, someone will say, “If you like [male author x], try:” followed by a number of names, or else writers will be listed by genre.
Unfortunately, while it’s great to point out what sort of books these women have written, they don’t really tell readers why they would fall in love with any particular writer’s work. When I see a laundry list of authors’ names scroll past, my eyes glaze over very quickly, especially when so many of them are Twitter handles.
Still, I understand the frustration: I personally feel invisible within the genre; I continue to get very nice emails from people who love my books but only discovered them well after the series was cancelled. My sales were so shitty that I don’t deserve to call myself “midlist.” To most people, I’m barely a hanger-on.
And yet I still got reviews in a number of places, and nice critical attention, too. Imagine how it must feel to not even get that much. Imagine how it must feel to work like crazy on a book for a year knowing that no magazine anywhere is going to bother reading it, let alone devote column inches to it.
There’s also this (please imagine replacing the word “math” with “writing.”)
People (mostly guys) have this weird idea that fiction written by women are all one sort of thing, as if it can all be lumped in as one type. There’s also the idea that, if a subgenre has a lot of women writers and readers, it has a yellow “Caution” tape around it to warn guys away.
For instance, two years after it was posted I still get traffic from this Tor.com article: Urban Fantasy and the Elusive Male Protagonist (let us turn away from the issues around the blog post itself, which I tried to address in the comments) and the comment section can be instructive/cringe-inducing/hope-for-humanity-destroying. To quote (copy & paste, so sic):
its come to the point where i wont touch a book with a female on the cover unless its been recommended by some friends or an author i respect.
it seems as if its all about alpha werewolves and master vampires in a three way relationship with an independant ass kicking woman, the majority of it could also be classified as soft-core porn.
For a lot of people, men write books in a genre (or in a tradition) while women all write the same book over and over with a few proper nouns switched out. What’s more, That Same Book is usually considered Someone Else’s Thing.
Anyway, I’ve been pretty up-front in the past that I don’t think reviews have much of an effect on sales figures, but it’s not just sales we’re talking about here. We’re also talking about the critical conversation within the genre (such as it is): how it changes, what’s becoming old hat, what’s offensive or wrong-headed. When women are left out of that conversation, their contributions become ignored.
So, to wrap up I want to make two points: First, if you’re recommending female authors, a long list of names, even if you break them down to five or six in a genre, are just going to make people skim. Pick one or two, give a good reason why for each. Make a specific pitch. Yes, that means people you know will be left out, but this isn’t a one-time thing, right?
(To that end, I’ll recommend Sarah Monette’s The Bone Key. I bounced off Monette’s epic fantasy series, but this story collection blew my mind. Kyle Murchison Booth is nothing like Ray Lilly, but the setting and tone of these tales are a fantastic antidote to the tentacle monster stories that dominate so much of the dark fantasy genre. And this shows why I’m crap at giving recommendations, because I’m always reading years–or decades–behind, so I’m never up on the current stuff.)
Second, if you’re one of those readers who glances at their bookshelves, sees nothing but books by dudes, then shrugs it off, it’s time to break a bad habit. There’s a wide world of great books out there to be enjoyed and no reason to hide from it. If you like awards, start checking out books written by women that win or get nominated for them. If most of your reading is off the bestseller list, start trying some of the female writers there.
The truth is, your results will be mixed just as with anything. Some writers you’ll hate, some will be meh, some will be new gotta-read favorites. Of those books by “gotta-read” authors, some will also have “a female on the cover.” Take chances. Grab things from the library or try the sample chapters on your ereader. It may take a while before you start finding new favorites, but if you’re like me, the favorites you have now took a lifetime to collect. Don’t give up quickly. Keep stretching.
Added later: As pointed out on LJ by user martianmooncrab, RT has a review section for SF/F but their numbers are rarely included in these surveys.
Added later: The Revenge: The author who started the hashtag explains her reasons.
It’s a shared-world anthology and I’ve promised to write a short story for them if they’re funded. Check out the premise and the other authors. I think it’s pretty cool.
making books The outside world: comics publishing
by Harry Connolly
C.B. Cebulski explains how a noob can get hired to work at Marvel as a writer or an artist.
In fact, if you’re published traditionally, they make it super-easy. Super-duper easy. If I had the money to keep current on the Marvel U, I’d mail one of my Twenty Palaces books in.
Check it out.
Apparently there’s been a bit of controversy surrounding Neil Gaiman’s speech at the Digital Minds Conference at the 2013 London Book Fair. Instead of hearing about it second-hand, you can watch it here:
Actually, you can probably just listen while you do other things, since it’s Gaiman talking at a podium. There’s no RSAnimate stuff going on, and no flow charts.
There are a lot of interesting ideas in there but nothing revolutionary: Try new things, be generous, accept that sharing without payment is how people find new things they love, books are great, books might not last, maybe people won’t be able to make a living as a “novelist” in the near future.
However, the big thing I take away from it is his talk about about “dandelion seeds.” The idea is that you release your work into the world and some of it goes nowhere and some lands in a fertile place and leads to something great: Fans, more work, new opportunities to connect with people, and so on.
That’s all fine, but I should say that it works best once you already have the sort of much-deserved fame that Gaiman has. He can stick a drawing under a rock and fans will run for blocks to fetch it. I can publish a book in every store online and off and few people would ever know. So, his perspective is his, and it works for him, but I’m not sure if he understands how different things are for low-level mooks like me.
Why does it matter? Because it’s not just creators who are blowing dandelion fluff into a strong wind. It’s also publishing companies who do this. Some of those little seeds represents a year’s worth of work for authors trying to make a career for themselves, and damn, if it doesn’t give me a chill to know that my toil and hope is someone’s offhand experiment.
making books The outside world: people publishing
by Harry Connolly
I want to follow up on Friday’s Hugh Howey post without actually talking about Howey (much). I briefly mentioned the idea of “punching down” in that post but Tobias Buckell talked about it more extensively in his post on the subject.
It’s worth clicking through to read what he’s written, but for those that won’t: “Punching down” is attacking someone who is weaker, more vulnerable, or has less power than you. “Punching up” is attacking someone who is stronger, more powerful, and more influential than you. Mocking a rich guy who locked his keys in his Audi is punching up. Mocking a single mother who’s just been evicted because she was laid off is punching down.
Needless to say, punching down is what villains do and I’ve talked about it here on the blog more than once as a way to make sure the sympathetic characters are actually sympathetic. That’s the context of a fictional narrative, though. Most of the time, when people talk about punching up, they’re talking in terms of politics.
Leaving aside the question of whether the offending conversation Howey described actually happened (which I hadn’t considered at first, but Nick Mamatas brought it up and now the whole incident seems just too perfect), Howey is a best-selling author with a serious movie deal and six-figure print-only contracts. He’s doing well. The person he slams is, according to his story, a social climber trying to make herself seem important by offering to connect writers with agents. What’s more, he makes her sound desperate and a little delusional. Is his story, as he himself tells it, punching down?
Absolutely. And yet, I’d bet Howey himself would be surprised to see it this way. I imagine he still imagines himself as the upstart self-publisher, the guy who has to do it all himself, with no help from anyone. I’m sure he sees that scorn, whether it actually happened or not, as the “punching down” he endures every time he goes online or meets someone uninterested in his books.
I’m sure that, to him, this woman had aligned herself with the supposed gatekeepers of NY publishing, and he felt free to take a swing like any hard-pressed hero.
I can’t speak for Howey himself but in my experience putting out a book, either by yourself or through a publisher, feels nothing at all like becoming powerful. Just the opposite, really: We do a shitload of work and then, finally, this thing we made goes out into the world alone. All our hopes for success and praise are mixed with the expectation that everything could collapse, that people might be bored or dismissive or contemptuous. Worse, they might not even know we’re there.
And readers often treat writers as though we’re faceless corporations, like Bounty paper towels or something. They tweet insults directly at the author and act amazed that a real writer with a publishing deal would react angrily.
Readers need to have the freedom to say whatever they want about our books–they deserve it–and a book culture where everyone is nice all the time would be toxic. So when people are kind to my work I’m grateful. When they’re cruel to it, I shrug it off. I tell myself it’s not personal even when it’s clear from the review that it was meant to be. As Toby says in the blog post linked above, when people talk shit about your work, it stings.
So, writer as a position of power? It might be for some, I guess. Maybe if you’re Guest of Honor at a lot of conventions, or you teach writing to eager young folks, or getting a movie deal with a profile in the WSF, or something, that might feel like power.
But the publishing part of being a writer, when you send a book out into the world, whether it’s through a publisher or on your own? That feels like vulnerability.
It’s been more than a week since Hugh Howey posted his Bitch from Worldcon (now deleted) but I think it’s worth talking about anyway. Yes, it’s sexist rape culture bullshit for him to fantasize (even jokingly) about his big moment–which is apparently winning an award–standing in front of a crowd of people, and singling her out to say “Suck it, bitch” while grabbing his crotch.
Hello, small-minded fantasy of success. Hello, sexual threats to a woman he himself believes to be mentally ill. Hello, completely creepy behavior. I don’t care if he thinks it’s non-serious; it’s bullshit.
However, the real point of the post becomes clear right here:
Crazy girl asked who I was published with. “Self-published,” I said. No point in mentioning the Random House deal or the SFWA membership. Those weren’t what I was most proud of. The girl shook her head sadly and also knowingly. It was a complex bit of head shaking.
Bold added by me.
Who is Howey’s main audience? a) other self-publishers who have anointed him the next Amanda Hocking and b) readers who imagine themselves to be cutting-edge iconoclasts predicting the end of the old publishing paradigm. This is his “base,” and as much as he’d like to (and is) expanding beyond them, he’s still making the effort to hold them close.
On one hand, self-publishing is never going to have the legitimacy people want until they stop acting like they’re being assailed from all sides. I say this as a self-publisher myself. There is no revolution, only new opportunities. The people trying to get you to take one side or the other, whether that’s a “crazy girl” at a convention or a best-selling author featured in WSJ and Salon, are wasting your time and/or trying to sell you something.
What’s more, this post is a classic example of numbers #3 and #4 of my post about using social media to build a strong community of assholes. Howey isn’t sending his readers out to attack anyone–perhaps he understands that he shouldn’t punch that far down–but it’s still us-vs-them rah rah bullshit designed to instill loyalty more than inform.
It’s a shitty post. It’s not funny unless you’re looking to wave around pompoms with Howey’s name on one and Amazon’s on the other. It demonstrates that no amount of money or success will make you a better person. And it’s how a lot of authors create their brand.
Added later: Howey has apologized. Someone should explain that “I was just joking!” isn’t much of a defense.
Like a lot of authors who self-publish, I have work available on B&N’s website for the Nook. However, while they have made a single good decision (“Nook” is a great name for an ereader) they have consistently making terrible decisions ever since. Now, they’re turning their Pubit! program into Nook Press and it looks like they have made some awful choices.
Why do they want to make “100%” of my book available for free to people who log in to the wifi at B&N? Why not just a sample so they could, you know, sell the book? I would much rather limit the amount of my IP that’s available than their limit of 1 hour’s access.
I have to admit: it bugs the shit out of me that booksellers can change my prices at their whim. Yes, a store has the right to set it’s own prices, but if a store wants to sell a book for one penny, they still have to buy it at the publisher’s price. With ebooks, they’re the ones who are deciding MY price. That’s ridiculous.
As for the FastPencil stuff, I’m not sure what B&N is trying to do there. Do they want to be the new Wattpad? For those who don’t know, Nook Press is offering an online community space that includes a word processor. That’s right, they want to be the place where you WRITE your book, not just sell it.
What’s more, you can invite “collaborators”–other readers, editors, who knows?–to read and mark up your manuscript. So it will be a space where you can find editors, or crowd-source your copy editing, or get blurbs.
I’m just hopeful that there will be a way to turn off those invitations; based on my reading so far, that’s not possible.
Finally, you can’t update your files once they go on sale. You can only pull them completely and reload them as if they’re brand new. So, let’s say that a reader sends you a note about a couple of typos you missed, or maybe you have an “Other books by Hope Ful-Author” section that you want to update with your latest releases: you can’t change the book without also losing the sales ranking, every review it had received so far, and breaking every link to it from outside sources.
That’s so stupid it goes beyond stupid. I can understand why they want to take all pricing power to themselves, as unfair as that it. I can understand why they might think it’s a good idea to let readers hang out in the store and read ebooks. I can even understand why they let themselves be convinced by some consultant that they needed to make themselves a social media type community.
But why would you make self-publishers break every outside link to your product just to replace a file?
You know what they should have worked on? They should have fixed their search engine. The last time I looked at a Nook, you couldn’t search by author–typing in my name did a keyword-type search that showed you Michael Connolly’s Harry Bosch books before you found any of mine. Maybe that’s been fixed; I don’t know. One thing they’re still doing wrong is that there’s no way for me to claim my own books. There’s a photographer in Maryland who published under the same name as me, and his work appears next to mine when you click on my name on their website. Why is there no way for me to identify my own work and exclude his, for our mutual benefit? Amazon allows it.
I don’t know, you guys. It’s been a long time since I learned of a piece of news in publishing that has made me excited for the future.
Charlie Jane Anders over at io9.com has an update on the proposed plan for Skyhorse and Start Publishing to buy Night Shade’s author contracts. Short version: they’ve improved the terms of their offer.
It’s still not great, but it’s better. It’s much better, and the reason it became better was that writers talked to each other about the problems and they shared their concerns publicly. Just like with Hydra.
This should happen more often. What’s more, there ought to be a formalized way that, say, a writers organization could tackle it.
making books The outside world: internet publishing
by Harry Connolly
Many authors are taking a kick at Scott Turow’s NYTimes opinion piece called The Slow Death of the American Author. Yeah, it’s easy to roll your eyes at a guy who badmouths libraries and/or fantasizes about the ways libraries might damage authors and publishing. Turow seems to think that borrowing ebooks “to anybody with a reading device, a library card and an Internet connection” is somehow harmful. If only we forced people to physically go to their local branch!
Not all that long ago, I heard a rep for a publisher–Penguin, maybe?–complaining about library electronic lending by imagining a future with a single national library that would pay for a single copy of an ebook and begin lending it to the entire nation simultaneously.
Obviously, that’s a silly dystopian “If This Goes On!” style situation that would better suit the old ASFM issues I used to subscribe to, not anything like the situation we have now. I’ve always thought that people who argue against some terrible future outcome always did so because they didn’t have a sensible argument against what was happening right now.
However, that’s a digression I didn’t want to take. The problem with Turow’s argument here is that he’s lamenting the breaking of a system that can never be repaired and reinstated, even if we wanted to. The old paradigm that a reader had to go to a store or library to find a book available only through a publisher was a closed system. It was “safe” in the sense that, when a writer was getting screwed, they knew pretty much where the screwing was coming from and knew what kind of screwing to expect. Delayed royalty payments. Selling stripped books. Publishing in a market without the rights. They were bad things, but they were the sorts of bad things you could expect.
Now it’s different: selling used ebooks, piracy in easily-accessed international sites, and more are new (potential) dangers to authors’ careers and income, and the courts are too ponderously slow to keep up with internet era advances in information sharing. However misguided Turow is about libraries, he’s not wrong to worry about major corporations like Google and Amazon squeezing dollars out of writers’ work without compensation.
Yes, Google only shows parts of an “orphaned” work when you search for it, but they’re still selling ad space on works in copyright without sharing revenue. As for Amazon, everyone including their big boosters is waiting for them to start leaning on authors they way they are on other vendors they do business with, as I’ve written about on my blog many times.
The usual response to these sorts of concerns is to say that obscurity is a bigger danger than piracy, and that’s true, but the answer to that is not to close our eyes and think of England while Google earns revenue from our work while paying us in “exposure.”
Unfortunately, Turow is the wrong spokesman for these concerns: he’s afraid of everything new. He found too much success in the narrow waterslide track of Old Publishing and he sees every new development as a crack that might make the whole thing collapse into the pool below. Yeah, it’s a new world with new opportunity, but we need someone willing to fight back when creators’ rights are threatened.
making books The outside world: politics publishing
by Harry Connolly
One of the worst things about the Night Shade business is that a publisher going into bankruptcy takes all their books with them. Even if a writer’s contract specifies that the rights revert to the author upon bankruptcy, that clause can’t be enforced because the bankruptcy court seizes those rights as one of the few (if not only) asset the publisher has.
It’s a little more complicated than that, as stated in the link in my previous post on this subjects, but that’s the basics. If a publisher goes bankrupt, in all likelihood a writer’s publishing contracts will be sold off to a third party without any input from the writer.
That’s just a matter of the law, though, isn’t it? Couldn’t legislation change that?
This is something I’d like to see SFWA (and other writers groups, and writers in no group at all) take up. Surely there are legislators on the federal level who are sf/f fans. Does anyone know who they are? Who their favorite writers are? I would bet that a contact from a writer they admire might persuade them to introduce legislation protecting right of reversion contracts.
making books personal The outside world: internet publishing the boy TV
by Harry Connolly
1) I am not and have never been a Night Shade author, but it’s been widely known for quite a while that the publisher has been in trouble and has been working with SFWA to do right by their authors. Word about the new deal they’re offering authors has finally gone public in a public post (now deleted) on Jeff VanderMeer’s Facebook. For the click-phobic, NS intends to sell their contracts to another, more stable publisher, and not all of the contract terms are 100% wonderful.
What little I know about it is all second-hand, but a number of authors, VanderMeer included, want NS to revert the rights to their books before declaring bankruptcy. Unfortunately, that won’t work. The right to publish books is the only asset a publisher has and bankruptcy courts don’t play along when an entity sheds its assets right before telling their creditors they’re going belly up. In fact, it’s fairly common for publishing contracts to have a clause in them that would revert all rights to the author in the event of a publisher bankruptcy, but those clauses are typically overruled in bankruptcy court.
As far as getting rights back from a publisher swirling the drain, that last link is worth reading through to the end. I am not a lawyer, but it seems like a good place to start before getting actual legal counsel.
If there’s one thing I know about a terrible, messy situation like this, it’s that the proposed deal will be a benefit for some and a misery for others, depending on whether books have been turned in, how much money is owed, etc. Night Shade authors are getting together in a closed forum to discuss the issues and I wish them all the luck in the world. None of this is easy.
2) Writing has been at a near standstill while my kid is sick. He had two straight days of vomiting and was finally able to keep down a fair quantity of fluid last night. Today he’s still sketchy but basically okay. I’m glad the Cartoon Network has added so many of their shows to Netflix. We’ve also been watching the Naked Gun movies and, when his belly hurts too much to laugh, the most recent NIKITA tv series.
Of course, the real crime here is that he has no interest in superhero shows, so I still don’t get to watch Justice League, Batman Beyond, or Brave and the Bold. Man, the sacrifices we make for our kids.
3) Speaking of a sick kid, I spent an hour this morning at the grocery store hunting up bad tummy foods like oyster crackers and ginger ale, but one thing I couldn’t find was syrup of coke. All the stupid crap my grocery carries, but I can’t find the one thing that really settles an upset stomach? I left the supermarket confident that I could find a recipe online, and I did. Too bad I don’t keep lavender, star anise, citric acid, etc, etc around the place.
4) This post about humanities PhDs taking a third grade reading comprehension test is right on. When my kid was in kindergarten, they had those silly letter ratings on books. Most of the kids were reading books from A – D mine was reading books rated S. Sounds pretty advanced, huh? Except not, because he was only five and his reading comprehension wasn’t strong enough. Yes to the words. No to the sentences and paragraphs.
The worst thing was reading the teacher who thought kids ought to stay within the stupid letter rating, never going forward or going back. My own kid loves both Ready Player One and Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath books. He reaches for more adult fare when he wants to stretch himself (he just bounced off The Road which I knew would be tough sledding). And the idea that kids shouldn’t reread a book they love is poison.
Over at Change.org, there’s a petition requesting that Amazon end its practice of allowing people to “return” ebooks for a full refund after X days. I thought X = 3 but the petition says it’s seven. Here’s a quote:
Customers know within a certain number of pages whether or not they wish to continue reading the book. Seven days is excessive. There are too many people admitting that they abuse the policy simply because Amazon allows it. This is unfair to authors and publishers because this is how many of us earn our living.
Personally, I don’t worry about these returns much. However, I would support a program that let authors/publishers choose not to sell an author’s work to someone who has bought and returned it before. Want to return my work? No big, but I should have the right to not sell to that person any more.
Of course, if they did that Amazon wouldn’t get their cut, and they aren’t in the business of not selling things.
If you followed the link in my previous post to Mary Anne Mohanraj’s FB post, you’ll see someone popping up in comments to recommend she self-publish: “Huge Howley(sic) was making 8,000 a month just on his indie published Wool.”
We all know how much Howey has earned because it was in the news, and the fact that he was in the news is a strong warning against trying to duplicate his success.
I’m not saying absolutely never ever follow Howey’s path. I’m saying that being in the news should be a mark in the “con” column when you consider trying to duplicate his success.
To analogize: You are a new college student who wants to make a quarter million dollars a year when you graduate. Do you pursue an MBA or get a job as a Wall St. trader? Or do you read an article about a woman who found a painting at a garage sale worth twice that and think Oh, shit, I need to start hitting every garage sale I can find?
Nothing against garage sales, most of my furniture is second hand, but the reason a story like that hits the newspaper is because it’s a rare event.
Now, obviously, it’s becoming less rare all the time. Not long ago people wanted to be Amanda Hocking. Now they want to mimic Howey. What’s more, there are lots of self-published authors making decent enough money. That’s all fine and good.
There are also a great many writers earning good money through NY publishers, probably more than you think. The thing is, this doesn’t make the news any more than “Med student makes good living as surgeon after years of hard work” would.
Because it’s common.
I’m not saying people shouldn’t self-publish. I’ve self-published and I expect to again. I’m saying: Don’t point to news stories and tell people that’s a good path to success. I’m waiting for those success stories to be so common they no longer make the news.
No doubt many of you have heard that a dispute between Simon & Schuster and Barnes & Noble has led to an extraordinary curtailing of book orders from the vendor of S&S books. Orders of new books from big names are very light while orders for debut or midlist authors are at zero.
Stephanie Burgis is one of those midlist authors, and she has a new book coming out tomorrow. See here for her take on the fact that, as far as she can tell, no B&N in the U.S. will be carrying her book.
In a way, that’s nothing new. There have always been books that big chains passed on, books that had to sink or swim in the indie stores or online. Usually, that’s a sign that a series is doomed because sales are low.
That’s not the case here. As with Amazon removing the buy button for all Macmillan titles, this is a dispute involving contract terms: B&N wants things to be more favorable, S&S resists. The dispute will result in a short-term loss for both of them, but the long-term effects will be felt by authors with books coming out this month and next.
Remember back when Borders went bankrupt? They’d always ordered a fair number of my books, but when those orders disappeared, there was no new vendor to take up the slack. They shut down forever in July, CIRCLE OF ENEMIES came out in August. If you’re thinking that was a big hit to my sales, you’re right.
Maybe that seems unfair, but that’s the way it is. When an author’s sales figures come back, there’s no asterisk next to the number. There’s no footnote that reads: “Big chain collapsed”/”Contract dispute reduced orders”/”Global economic collapse” or whatever. There isn’t even allowance made for the errors the publisher makes itself, whether it’s a terrible cover or ebook price screwups or zero promotional work.
The one who takes it in the neck is the writer. No, self-publishing is not the answer, no matter how readily people jump in to suggest it. It’s not for everyone. (While I have issues with Charlie’s timeline there, his overall point still holds.)
We’re facing a great many challenges at the moment. Amazon, while offering a lot of selection and a (somewhat screwedup) distribution method for self-publishers, is still hurting the industry as a whole by operating at a loss. Barnes & Noble would be in a better position right now if they fixed some of their more egregious company practices (they ought to allow local branches to control their own orders, because duh. The local staff are the people interacting with their community), but at the same time the pressure from Amazon’s so-cheap-we’re-losing-money! discounts and the effects of the Great Recession are destroying the company, and who will be able to step in to take up the slack?
Not Amazon. Sure, their sales will certainly tick up, but like telecommuting, we’re learning that online book buying is making it difficult for readers to discover new work. (That link takes you to an Ursula K.Le Guinn essay, so go ahead and give that a click.) When you stand in front of a bookstore or library shelf, you’re presented with an amazing number of titles to look at; there’s no way Amazon or any other online seller could load that many covers in your web browser. It would be too much information.
It used to be that a new book in a series would be published at the same time as an earlier one would hit paperback, or get a small new printing. Now, the book pops up on a Tuesday blog post or status update as yet another new release. Maybe it appears in a stack of books on Scalzi’s blog.
It’s not enough. We need healthy book stores. Indies, yes, but also the big stores with the shelf space to carry midlist authors and a large enough enough staff that there’s someone drawing a paycheck there with knowledge of each of the genres. I like those big stores. I like browsing those huge, long shelves.
Barnes & Noble needs to become less ossified and decentralized. At the same time, Amazon needs to put the brakes on its competition-destroying business practices; if they won’t someone else will have to put the brakes on. Because it’s not the big corporations that are taking it in the neck. It’s the people who create the product those corporations sell.