making books The outside world: a blessing of monsters people publishing words
by Harry Connolly
Author Kameron Hurley
is procrastinating on her novel has written another interesting blog post, this one called UNPACKING THE “REAL WRITERS HAVE TALENT” MYTH. She makes a few points that are similar to ones I made in a previous post about talent and hard work, Teaching Writers To Be Talented, but she comes at it from a different perspective.
I especially like the way she emphasizes study as much as hard work. Sure, a writer can create page after page of prose, but unless there’s a continuous struggle to separate what works from what doesn’t, and unless there’s an open-minded willingness to study the form in depth, all that hard work may not mean actual improvement.
Yeah, it’s nice to have “talent”, whatever that is. I mean, I talk about talent in that old post I just linked to, but I’m surprised to see that I never used the term black box to describe it.
People call others “talented” based on what they create, but you can never really know the process that lead to that final creation. Was it a “natural gift”? Did they study the craft for years? Were they working in a parallel field then carried a few lessons over? Did they grow up in a home rich with language?
Even if you were to ask the author directly, you could never be sure their answer is accurate, not when writers say things like “I didn’t have talent. I had hard work.” and “I just sat down to write a book and a publisher picked it up!” People have a tendency to overlook important factors like years of fanfic/journal writing, or even something as simple as a house full of books.
Hurley’s post is worth reading, not least because she gives hard concrete examples of the way she learned. “Blindly groping along” I think is the way she put it, which covers so many of us.
To take this even further, consider artist Molly Crabapple’s post Filthy Lucre:
Meritocracy is America’s foundational myth. If you work hard, society tells us, you’ll earn your place in the middle class. But any strawberry picker knows hard work alone is a fast road to nowhere. Similarly, we place our faith in education. Study, and the upper-middle class will be yours. Except the average student graduates $35,000 in debt.
Artists too have their myths. The lies told to artists mirror the lies told to women. Be good enough, be pretty enough, and that guy or gallery will sweep you off your feet, to the picket-fenced land of generous collectors and two and a half kids. But, make the first move, seize your destiny, and you’re a whore.
But neither hard work nor talent nor education are passports to success. At best, they’re small bits of the puzzle.
It’s easy to ignore luck, privilege, and bloody social climbing when you stand onstage in a pair of combat boots. It’s easy to say that if people are just good enough, work hard enough, ask enough, believe enough, they will be [successful].
She’s coming at things from the fine arts, so her concerns are somewhat different. She needs funds to create her artwork, while for writers the main constraint is time. Time to read, research, write, and revise. Time to make the work and do it without interruption. For me and most writers I know, the major limitations on our time come from the paying work we must do to support ourselves and our families, and the time we have to spend caring for our loved ones (addendum: we need loved ones; being lonely can kill you).
Even with talent and hard work, there’s always a chance of failure. Money helps. Luck helps. Lots of free time helps. Supportive people help. Success comes from a mix of some or all of those things, and the more of them you have the better.
However, just to re-emphasize the point:
Hard work + self-awareness + perseverance = MAYBE
That’s a quote from Scott Lynch’s post from today. It’s another long one, but again worth reading.
The big takeaway is that, you have to work hard, you have to be lucky, you have to stick it out, but even if you do everything “right” there are still no guarantees.
Speaking of which, if you’ve read this far you’re entitled to a little news. Here it is:
THE WAY INTO CHAOS, aka A Blessing of Monsters, aka Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts, has gone the rounds of New York publishes and found no takers. The very last rejection came this morning, which is why I dredged up this post from the pile of unfinished ones in my dashboard.
The reasons giving in those rejections are interesting if not instructive. Today’s pointed out that the current market favors fantasy that’s very dark, while TWIC is not. (So much for being ahead of the curve).
In any event, yes, I will have to finish the book, then self-publish it (with some crowd-sourced help to pay for editing and cover art). That’s some weeks away still, but damn.
There are no guarantees.
The outside world: internet people politics publishing
by Harry Connolly
I’ve been following the fight over sexist content in The Bulletin and sexist content in the genre in general, but I hadn’t planned to comment on it any more than I already have.
However! I want to drop a couple of relevant links and make a point I haven’t seen elsewhere. First, the links:
My very complicated reaction to issue 202 of the Bulletin by Mary Robinette Kowal encapsulates a lot of what I’ve been thinking about the whole shit smear. SFWA is not required to put out sexist commentary and the fact that it does (or simply lets it slip through the editorial sieve) is a major distraction from the good work it does. Her whole post is worth reading.
Ann Aguirre came into the professional part of the field only a few years before I did, but the sexism she details is ridiculous. Worse, if you read down to the ETA on that post, you see that she’s still getting vicious emails that include rape threats. I can’t stand that this bullshit is still going on.
Finally, I just want to comment on this quote from Mike Resnick in his most recent column:
The next question is: is this an overreaction to attempted censorship? The answer is simple and straightforward: I don’t think it’s possible to overreact to thought control, whether Politically Inept of Politically Motivated or merely displaying the would-be controller’s personal tastes and biases
For the record, the “attempted censorship” is the online criticism he and the magazine that published him has received. Never mind that criticism is not censorship; the point here is that Resnick thinks that only his speech should have power. He seems to think the people who criticism are welcome to do so as long as nothing comes of their speech: no one can be swayed by the points they make, no one can have their minds changed. If Resnick’s editor sees the criticism, thinks they have merit, and ends the column, that’s “censorship” and must be fought.
Which is bullshit, obviously. Speech has consequences. Speech sways the opinion of others, and maybe–just maybe–that might have an effect on your life. Resnick has that power; he’s going to have to get used to the idea that others have it, too.
making books: a blessing of monsters progress publishing
by Harry Connolly
I’m a few hours from sending my much-revised book off to my agent. I’m writing this Thursday night but scheduling it for Friday morning. By the time this posts, I’ll already be sitting in a Starbucks, hunched over my laptop, taking contractions out of the dialog of two characters who appear spread out over 148K words. Fun! Okay, actually, I’m filled with misery over this, but this is the job and it isn’t always fun.
So: N things make a post.
1) Kameron Hurley takes up the subject of survivorship bias and the marketing of books. I really liked this post, long as it is, because marketing is something I know squat about and she covers a lot of useful ground for a noob like me. Also: pulp covers not as attractive to readers, apparently. Give that a read.
2) C.E. Murphy hosts a guest blog post by Judith Tarr on how publishing used to work and how everything now is so much better. Yes, there was more money when she started, but now authors no longer have to worry about vanishing if their publisher drops them. You can read the whole thing in one post here, or in part one, two, and three.
Why link to the same material four times? In this case, the comments. They’re worth reading. For example.
Anyway, it’s a concise summary of where we are now contrasted with a description of where publishing was back in the day from someone who was there. I’m a little annoyed at the “Mommy and Daddy” stuff, but people have to make their point.
3) Hugo-winner Lawrence Watt-Evans responds by talking about his plans for his upcoming books and how he intends to keep putting his work on the market. He was an early adopter of the model of posting a book a chapter at a time as donations came in from his readers.
4) Speaking of where we are now, Heather Shaw and Tim Pratt are trying to revive their zine FLYTRAP, and how are they doing it? Crowdfunding, of course. This is the way the future will work, guys. Check it out.
As a followup to yesterday’s post about our bias toward survivors, skill, luck, and the creating of luck, I wanted to make one little note here about how wrong I’ve been on one aspect of book marketing.
It’s often said that publicists and marketers will do all sorts of things to get the word out about a particular book, but they know that 90% of it will be wasted effort–they just don’t know which will be in the 90%, so they do it all.
For me and a lot of other people, I suspect, this sounds like a poorly-researched, poorly-planned activity. How can you not know what works and what doesn’t? Why not just find out what’s effective? Do polling/market research/whatever to answer questions like: Do book reviews in Locus sell copies? Do convention appearances? Do radio interviews?
Obviously, this wouldn’t be easy but it sounds doable. What’s more, there’s money on the line and if there’s one thing that begs for careful research into the acquiring of it, it’s money.
But that’s because I hadn’t really thought about it correctly. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, people who are lucky tend to put themselves into new situations often. They’re flexible. They don’t try to control situations. They try new things.
Yesterday, while I was mulling over the prospect that it was my own damn choices that made the Twenty Palaces books so unlucky, it dawned on me that the whole point of “90% is wasted effort” is that it’s luck-seeking behavior. It’s putting information out into the world hoping that it starts catching people’s attention in a big way. People will say things like “I took out an ad on Reddit Fantasy” or “I did a guest post for [Name Author]” or “I got a nice review on [Non-Book Site]” but that’s a kind of suvivorship bias, too. The book was marketed and publicized in a lot of ways, but those were the times that luck hit.
Maybe that’s obvious to everyone in the world but me, but this is my blog, so…
Here I’ve been thinking that most marketing is Not Useful. Maybe I should rethink.
If you publish your own work (and I do) or you’re thinking of publishing your own work, I recommend reading this post by Toby Buckell on Survivor Bias in the self-publishing world.
Seriously, I recommend taking a look at those posts. He has graphs! Everyone loves graphs nowadays.
There are a lot of comments I wanted to make on this, but this will be the main one: It’s not a lottery, but luck is involved.
The people who are in the far left of those graphs, selling a ton of books? They’re in that place in part because the books they wrote appeal to lots of people. However, that’s not enough. It’s also not enough for them to be marketed in all the right places and the right ways, to get a cover from a specific designer, or for the author to be online drumming up interest in their work.
There’s luck involved, too. You can do everything right and still not win. But since you can’t control luck, you have to simply create the circumstances where luck will flourish, and keep rolling dice.
Added: Wiseman speculated that what we call luck is actually a pattern of behaviors that coincide with a style of understanding and interacting with the events and people you encounter throughout life. Unlucky people are narrowly focused, he observed. They crave security and tend to be more anxious, and instead of wading into the sea of random chance open to what may come, they remain fixated on controlling the situation, on seeking a specific goal. As a result, they miss out on the thousands of opportunities that may float by. Lucky people tend to constantly change routines and seek out new experiences. Wiseman saw that the people who considered themselves lucky, and who then did actually demonstrate luck was on their side over the course of a decade, tended to place themselves into situations where anything could happen more often and thus exposed themselves to more random chance than did unlucky people. The lucky try more things, and fail more often, but when they fail they shrug it off and try something else. Occasionally, things work out.
making books The outside world: internet publishing TV words
by Harry Connolly
Check this out: Amazon is setting up Kindle Worlds, which is a way for people to write fanfic and sell it with the IP creator’s consent. So far they’re only going public with three of the shows (and all three are TV shows) they’ve licensed–GOSSIP GIRL, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, VAMPIRE DIARIES (yeah, I know the last was a book first)–but obviously there are going to be more.
Some thoughts: First, they’re going with their onerous 65% sales commission, which is understandable, I guess, since they’re paying the owner of the IP as well as themselves. Don’t forget that’s based on the net revenue. Quote: As with all titles from Amazon Publishing, Kindle Worlds will base net revenue off of customer sales price
Still, it’s good to see that they’re going to be paying monthly, which is the first of the five big changes Tobias Buckell hopes to see in publishing as a whole.
Second, the books will not be commissioned by Amazon. It’s all spec submissions. You can check out their rough guidelines for the program as a whole and see that they will not be accepting anything with graphic sex or offensive language.
They also won’t accept crossover works, or works that contain a whole bunch of brand names (presumably because they think the writer is getting paid to do so)
Third, they reserve the right to reject work for things like bad ebook formatting and shitty covers.
Yeah, that’s right. The authors are expected to create their own covers for work being published with the consent of Warner Bros. I can’t help but wonder if they’ll turn a blind eye to using actors’ publicity shots.
Fourth, I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming.
So… okay. The way it works is simple: You write (or more likely “have written”) fanfic within a licensed setting out of love for the show. Amazon opens its doors to Kindle Worlds. You create a cover and format an ebook file, then submit it.
At that point, someone at Amazon actually reads it–when they’re explaining that poor customer experience will get a book rejected, they say: “We reserve the right to determine whether content provides a poor customer experience.” I’m going to assume that means they have a reader on staff vetting projects before they’re published, not that they publish everything and take it down later based on reader complaints. Frankly, it’s what I would expect if I were Warner Bros.
If it’s approved, it goes on sale and you start getting the ka-ching (they set the price).
One thing I’m not clear about is whether they acquire all rights to your work on publication or submission. It’s not as though you can sell your GOSSIP GIRL novella somewhere else, but you could certainly change the names around once it’s been rejected for the sexy, and Amazon could make trouble for you if they have your submission in a database somewhere.
As for how I feel about it, honestly I’m conflicted. Some years ago before I was published, I wrote and submitted a story for an open Star Trek anthology. It was a prison story starring that transporter-accident clone of Riker, after he’d been captured by the Dominion and, while I was proud of it at the time and while my rejection was personalized (and quite nice) the damn thing was much too specific to file the serial numbers off.
I think it’s great to open up settings in this way for the fans, and I hope they take advantage. At the same time, writing tie-in novels used to be a way for writers to make a bit of money (and have a bit of fun) between their own projects. With luck, a successful HALO or Star Wars novel would draw in new fans to their original work.
So, does this signal the end of the pro tie-in novel? Probably not entirely, but there is going to be pressure on the market by people willing to write the books (and make their own covers!) on spec.
And for the people publishing their fanfic, it seems like playing small ball. Yes, there will undoubtedly be people who make good money through this program, but I can’t help but think they’d be better off in the long term by filing the serial numbers off and striking out on their own, as in 50 SHADES…
Personally, I don’t have any fanfiction I could even submit. (There was the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN thing I did in 4th grade) because I’m not part of that community, but it does open up other ideas: will authors be allowed to list their own IP with Kindle Worlds, allowing fanfic in their settings be sold online? Personally, I think that would be cool.
So we’re turning fanfic into media tie-in novels.
It’s an exciting time, isn’t it?
 Big surprise, right? Don’t bother pasting that mpreg into Caliber just yet.
 As my theater improv friends put it, the work will have to be “TV clean.”
 “I am Jack’s attempt to publish fanfic with an anti-consumerist message.”
 No way am I looking at it again.
 At the moment, the only IP I have available are my Twenty Palaces series. The first book is only $2.99.
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.
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.