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Don’t Dread The Pirate — a guest post by Dorothy Grant

*This came out of a discussion over at my blog, and Dorothy sent me a guest post.  Because I’ve been sick, I haven’t done the roster for our rotating Friday Posters (Round and Round they go.  Where they stop, you’ll never know) so I’m using it here.  I promise to institute the rotation next week and tell you about it.*

Don’t Dread The Pirate — a guest post by Dorothy Grant

Why it’s silly to worry about piracy when you’re starting out.

Eric Flint, when starting the Baen Free Library, said “When you’re starting out, the problem isn’t piracy, the problem is obscurity.” Until you have a well-known name, the hardest part of expanding your audience and growing your sales is getting people to notice you exist long enough to take a look at your books!

There are ways to try to solve this – running ads on Project Wonderful or Facebook, targeted Google ads, showing up at a related event and trying to hand-sell your books, blog tours, etc. They work with varying (not at all to a little) degrees of succes. The best way to sell yourself is to write another book.

When authors start to have a pile of books out there, a common tactic is to offer the first in the series discounted, or permanently-free (permafree). This is solely to catch the eye of readers looking for something new, and hoping that giving away thousands of copies will result in a couple hundred readers deciding they like the series and buying the rest of the books. The authors often pay Bookbub, Pixel of Ink, or ENT to advertise that they’re giving away books for free. Why? Because the more people know you exist, the more people will look for you.

So, where do pirates fit into this? (Not the eyepatch and parrot kind, the ones who torrent copies of your book!)

There are roughly three kinds of people who pirate entertainment. (Books, movies, and songs.)

The first kind are the ones who can’t afford it. If it’s easier to get from pirate bay than the library, they’re pirating. If it’s easier to get to the library, the borrow. Either way, they can’t afford their entertainment, and you wouldn’t have gotten a sale from them anyway. However, broke is often a passing condition – and the people who borrowed/stole/listened to the radio/sat outside the concert hall where they could hear works earlier in life often buy the same things again, and everything else they like besides, of the artists whose work they were exposed to during that time. The Baen Free Library is a long-running experiment that proved you can get a lot of lifetime fans with one book free… and that you can sell signed hardcover editions to fans who first got FreeHold for free.

A subcategory of these folks are fans who don’t have access to your work. Just as HBO-cable-only A Game of Thrones is the most pirated television show, so, too, are books heavily pirated where they’re not sold. Several authors have found out, to their surprise, that they’re really big in Russia, with not only pirated English copies, but fan-translated copies being passed around. Oleg Volk, a photographer, notes that the severe problems in finding reliable and secure ways to transfer money between Russia and the USA leads to his work often being pirated by people who can not figure out a way to pay him. They enthusiastically praise him across the internet and send all the outside-of-Russia custom they can his way.  In the ebook category in America, this happens most often with folks who have a walled garden device, and want something only available in a different format. For example, they have an older nook that cannot support a kindle app, and your book is only available on kindle – or as a converted epub on pirate bay.

The second kind are people who refuse to pay for anything they get. If they can’t get it for free, they won’t get it. So if they get their hands on one of your works, it’s hardly a lost sale… and at best, if they really like it, they’ll often talk up your works to their friends. So they can become word of mouth advertising to people who will pay.

The third kind are kids who are in it to score points. They’ll race to see who can get the most stuff, downloading gigs upon gigs because they can. They’ll strip the spine and run book after book through OCR and upload, just to say they have. They really don’t care about the work, and will likely never look at or listen to most of what they have, because quantity is much more important than content. No, they wouldn’t buy your stuff, either, unless it’s to strip the DRM and immediately return for refund, so they can upload and say “f1rst w1th th1s b00k! Lulz!”

Yeah, they all have copies they didn’t pay for (or demanded a refund.) But how does it impact you, as an artist? That’s three chances for exposure, two chances at gaining a fan and word of mouth, and one good shot at having a fan who spends plenty of money on you when they grow up and can afford to… without you having to pay for advertising at all.**

That’s awesome!

*Note 1: there are downsides to permafree, as opposed to temporarily free or on deep discount price. It isn’t a silver buulet. The conditions, limits, pros, and cons could fill a post all their own.

**Note 2: this “piracy is not worth getting upset about” stance does not extend to sites that are selling pirated versions of your work. If they’re making money that should be paid to the artist, then they need to be hit with a DMCA takedown hard and fast. Money should flow to you, not to the pirates!

Archetypical WTFery

So I get home to a message from Sarah, and I quote: “I dare you to blog on this:

What can I say? Challenge accepted, of course.

My first reaction is pretty much, “I don’t exactly like to see the monoculture thing either”, followed by “but perhaps you’d like to tell me why some crappy writers who can’t imagine aliens or elves or dwarves or whatever as anything but a monoculture makes the humans (who usually get the ‘generalist’ role) bigots?” The next thing that hits me is that the person who wrote this article really, really has a bloody shallow understanding of people, archetypes and how they work. If there’s any anything resembling understanding going on at all.First, the quote that the author seems to think suggests that the humans are bigots:

Us humans, we can do anything. I can’t, for the life of me, remember the source of the quote, nor can I the quote itself, but on Star Trek, probably Deep Space Nine, there was a quote about humans that’s stuck with me. You take 10 Klingons, you’ve got 10 fierce warriors. 10 Ferengi, you’ve got 10 shrewd businessmen. 10 Romulans, 10 expert spies. But you take 10 humans, you don’t know *what* you’re dealing with. They could be anything.

Okay, that’s how the Star Trek races are put together. You add this forehead prosthetic, you get instant infusion of fierce warrior. Pointy ears and funny eyebrows gives you the logician. And so forth. It’s a freaking shortcut – and one the better scriptwriters in the various Star Trek franchise scripts played with in various ways. They didn’t push it too hard – they couldn’t – but they did show depths here and there, and different ranges.

Besides, just how much depth do you expect from something that’s written by a committee (the original scripts might not be, but what ends up being screened has gone through a bunch of people’s changes to make this less offensive, and show that “challenging” view because TV drama isn’t exactly cheap and the network executives are terrified of doing something that will tank the ratings). That’s why they use archetypes in the first place. It’s a nice easy visual cue to the viewer settling back after screaming at the latest round of idiot ads that they can expect this character to have these characteristics. There’s a limit to how much character development you can do in an hour timeslot that’s going to lose at least 1/3 of the time to ads. If the network execs aren’t letting you build character development over multiple episode arcs, you’ve got to use the quick methods – why else do you think heroes are usually cleaner and wearing lighter colors than the bad guys? Quick visual cue to who you’re supposed to side with.

Sure, like any shortcut it gets abused. Authors tend to abuse it for all it’s worth, particularly authors committing cast-of-thousands epics. It’s a heck of a lot easier for a fantasy author to have an Scots-analog culture and draw on the Scots archetypes for it than it is to build everything for that culture from the ground up for the sake of one scene where the hero is trying to negotiate a bed for the night. Just don’t make your leads archetypes. That’s all.

It’s not the case of the author’s response to the quote:

What you get is ten bigots. Because, see, humans, specifically the humans that wrote that script, look at ourselves as “people” and the other people, the ones with the pointy ears or the furry feet or the bony ridges on their foreheads, as “archetypes”

All people – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and include dwarves, elves, Klingons, Romulans, and yes, even dragons in this list – will classify everyone they meet. Depending on your experiences, your view of what “people” are is going to be wider or narrower. It will shift during your life, expanding as you meet. For all I know some of you folks on the other side of this screen are actually intelligent microbial swarms that communicate via smoke signals and have for some incomprehensible reason decided you like this blog. You’re still people because you’re interacting with the rest of us here by the same rules the rest of us follow. (Although if you are intelligent microbial swarms, you totally owe the Mad Genius Club a guest post because it would be awesome).

The shifting boundaries of what makes “people” does not mean humans are bigots. The human tendency to be amazing generalists and the large number of extremely specialized species out there suggests that yes, there may well be other intelligent species, and yes, it’s not at all unreasonable that some of them will have evolved to fill a specialized niche. Cultures do this too. Some are more generalists, other are more specialists. The generalists tend to be the “glue” that holds it all together so the specialists can push the boundaries and explore (and no, cultures in this sense are not the same as national boundaries. Some cross boundaries and others are among the many that exist inside a single city. Culture is neither race nor nationality: it’s a way of looking at the world that you absorb from those around you).

As for the authors “All X are…” comments, well, I’ve got to say if it took you this long to realize that there’s no way any of those statements can be true unless you make them circular (“all men are men”) or inclusive (“all men are human”), you can’t have done that much thinking. Because you’ve only got to look around and you can see that a statement like “all men are bastards” can’t possibly be true (for starters a good number of them were indeed born after their parents married).

The archetypes are there for a reason. The view of Scots as boozy, tight-fisted, kilted redheads got there because a hell of a lot of Scotsmen are all that. And with good reason, I might add: the way England raped Scotland over the years left a good chunk of the population desperately poor, and the desperately poor are going to hoard what they do have. When drink is cheap and the water quality is iffy (as was the case for much of Scotland’s history), drinking will happen. A lot. The redheads… they can thank the Vikings for that, and the kilts are a refinement of the clothing that used to be normal wear. That doesn’t mean there aren’t dapper, free-spending, teetotal Scotsmen out there. There just rarer than the other sort. And of course, there are Scots who cover the full range of human nature (just not all at once, and not all in the same person). But if you pick 10 random Scotsmen, chances are high you’ll get boozy, tight-fisted, and red-headed. If it’s the right time of year, and the right location you stand a pretty good chance of catching a kilt, too.

Just be careful about that. Your kilted Scotsman might have everything under it in perfect working order, and he won’t be too happy if you catch his kilt and not the rest of him.

First Page (and a Little More) critique of Manx Prize — by Laura M.

Okay, Laura Montgomery is a crazy woman, and so asked me to do a first page critique of her novel Manx prize.  She actually sent the me the first few pages, which is good, because I think she started it with the wrong opening.

Before I start this, though, please everyone remember these are just my opinions, and, at that, the opinions of a woman who hasn’t been very well these last couple of weeks.  I could be completely wrong.

Also, I want to say that what Laura has done is not bad.  It doesn’t read like beginner prose. Actually what it reads like to me is like she has worked it a little to hard, and fretted too much and lost sight of how she meant to start it.

To explain where I’m coming from: I broke in in the old slush pile days.  My training is to grab the reader as fast as you can and not let go.  To do that, in my experience, you need to situate the reader immediately.

I find it useful to find myself dropped into the main character’s head.  Where am I, what am I wearing, what do I smell, is it cold?  Bringing the five senses in on the first page helps.  Also, right at the beginning keep things spare.  You can always add information later.  Right at the beginning you want that old journalistic standby “Who?What? When? Where? and Why?”  But more importantly, you have to pick the one that’s the hook.

I did some editing on Laura’s first page, as I went (I couldn’t help it) and I have some questions, too, but then I’d start on the next page, and I’ll show (sketchily) how I’d do it.  Sketchily because I don’t want to get too detailed and make Laura feel like she should do exactly what I say.

So, first pass:

Manx Prize

by Laura Montgomery

© Laura Montgomery 2014

Chapter 1

“Hey, Ms. Fisher.” the security guard said as Charlotte walked into the building.

Charlotte Fisher was almost too fretted to respond.  How did the guard know who she was? Charlotte Fisher couldn’t guess, when he provided security for so many different tenants in the massive building beyond Virginia’s Dulles ‘port, she couldn’t guess.

These cuts are for speed and clarity, mostly.  When you open with “Hey,Ms. Fisher” and tell me it’s the guard speaking it’s too much information.  I don’t need that.  I can infer it’s the guard from her reaction and then I’m safely in her head, and I know she’s the main character, so I’m not going to get whiplash.

That man leaving the building, for example, she had never seen in the five years she had worked there.  Take the unknown man leaving the building.  He was a stranger in a suit, looking like someone who worked in the District, not out in the wilds of Virginia.  She would have noticed him if she had seen him before:  he was blond and a good height for a man, namely, taller than her own five foot ten.  He was on his way out the door and her Her glimpse of him was far too fleeting for the aesthetics of him  but not so fleeting she didn’t know he was good-looking.  If she weren’t so worried about Texas, and Andy hadn’t been in the picture she might have felt more than the fleeting moment of appreciation.

Again too many words, but more importantly is this man going to be important?  I’m assuming so, so I work him into my “suggested first page” — but if he’s not don’t have him in at all.  And you’re working too hard to tell us he’s good looking.  Just say it and let it go.  BTW what color suit?  What color is his hair? How big is he?  If he’s going to be important later, we should have an idea.

“Good morning, Warner,” she replied, running her ID.  She ran her ID, her heart was pounding hard again.  It had started when she woke up, when the news feeder, set for reentering space objects, any space objects, shuttles, capsules, nominal and off, upper stages and scheduled gossamer burns, informed her that a random reentry had hit a car in Texas—a car, what were the odds of that?—killing two people.

You’re too late for the response to the guard by now.  The response pops us out of Charlotte’s head.  We were following the stranger down the street, we’re not going to answer Werner now. She runs the ID and she turns to matters of work.

This did not bode well for her “hare-brained scheme” to win a prize offered by a consortium of satellite and orbitat operators located on the Isle of Man, a $50 million bounty–paid in gold–for de-orbiting a piece of space junk.  Nor did the accident bode well for quieting her own demons, which were elephantine.

I MIGHT have continued reading, back when I was an editor, but only because I have friends who are similarly awkward about beginnings, and whose prose improves.  However, by now you’re giving me stuff about orbitat operators and the island of Man and I’m not interested enough in Charlotte or her problems to read all of that.  I feel like I’m in class, taking dictation and there will be a quiz later.  If this were the beginning of a book, unless I were stuck somewhere, I probably wouldn’t continue reading.  Sorry.  If it makes you feel better, my own beginnings often read like this.  Then I wait and clean up the beginning when I’ve finished the book.

Okay — Now, go somewhere where you can scream and call me names for a while, then come back.

Let’s think about this from the beginning.  Do we need the guard? The guy leaving the building?  I’m going to assume we need the guy leaving the building, but unless the guard is going to buy the farm in the next three pages, never mind him.  I have no clue what this building looks like — I barely know the area — so I’m going to make up stuff.  it will probably get you mad, which is good, because then you’ll have to go and break it apart and fix it:

Suggested First Page for:

Manx Prize

by Laura Montgomery

© Laura Montgomery 2014

Chapter 1

Charlote Fisher’s heart was pounding so hard, she thought surely the security guard would hear it, as she walked past.  She said “Good Morning Werner,” in what she hoped was her normal voice, as she ran her ID.

She’d woken with the newsfeeder squawking that a random reentry had hit a car in Texas—a car, what were the odds of that?—killing two people.  Okay, so she’d set the thing  for reentering space objects, any space objects, shuttles, capsules, nominal and off, upper stages and scheduled gossamer burns.  But the freakish incident seemed like a bad omen for what she intended to do.

As she pulled the door a man walked out, past her, leaving behind a faint whiff of cologne and the impression of height and blond hair.  Just a glimpse, and the thought that if she were single she might have taken more interest, and that brought Andy to her mind,.

She must win the prize, so that she and Andy–

And that brought Texas to mind again, and how badly it bode for her hairbrained scheme of winning a prize offered by a consortium of satellite and orbitat operators located on the Isle of Man.  $50 million bounty–paid in gold– seemed like a lot.  But the safe de-orbiting a piece of space junk without crushing cars or people wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

Her boss hadn’t thought they should do it, and this wouldn’t help.  She felt sick.  She wanted to continue, but the danger had just become clear and real.  There was no word yet on who had been killed.  It had been late at night.  Hopefully, it wasn’t kids. Let it not be kids.  Brawn might back off the project entirely.

Space debris wasn’t supposed to be a problem.  Most of it burned up in the atmosphere if it was in a low enough orbit to reenter at all.  The real problems were in orbit, where debris threatened lives and property.

From the early days when launch operators failed to vent the fuels from liquid-fueled rocket bodies left topside, and the stages exploded, to later collisions between satellites, and then the famously aggressive anti-satellite demonstrations by the Chinese, the debris environment had expanded, growing progressively more deadly.  Even flecks of paint posed a risk.  They cratered windows and worse.

<Okay, that’s it.  Remember that’s only my opinion, and all that and $5 will get you a cup of coffee.  It’s quite likely you’ll think my opening is awful.

Just step back, take a deep breath, and consider what is foremost on her mind, what is most important, and what is most likely to grab the reader.  I didn’t get the five senses in there, and I’d like to — but I feel like I’m taking liberties with your character.  Does she taste the black coffee which was all she drank this morning, because she was too sick to eat?  Does she realize she forgot to bring a coat as the cold breeze hits her on the doorstep while she’s running the card?    Not much — don’t dwell on it, just in passing.

Then set it up and go!

And for the record, you’re a braver woman than I am, and you’re soooo close.  Trust yourself and your voice, stop overthinking it, and I bet most of the battle will be won.

So, let us know when it’s up so that we can plug it.  (And read it.)

Balph Eubank Lives

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of doing a guest post over at According to Hoyt. Like a number of authors and readers across the internet, I wrote about a HuffPo post by Lynn Shepherd. What sent so many of us to our keyboards after reading Shepherd’s piece was her contention that J. K. Rowling should stop writing if she loves writing. You see, according to Shepherd, Rowling has had her day in the sun. She’s seen success and has made buckets of money. Now it’s time for her to step aside so others can have their turn.

I’m not going to rehash my post from yesterday, at least not too much. However, the idea that anyone should step aside because they’ve had their turn in a profession and now they need to let someone else have theirs boggles my mind. My question to Shepherd is who she thinks stepped aside for Rowling? And why does she limit her ire — and envy — to just Rowling? Shouldn’t King and Patterson and Roberts and Correia and Weber all step aside? Does her thinking extend to music and movies?

As I read the post initially, I was reminded of Balph Eubank from Atlas Shrugged. Poor Balph was a literary dahling. The problem was that although all the “right people” loved him, the average reader didn’t. His books were printed by those sitting in their ivory towers in New York but sat on the shelves of the bookstores gathering dust. According to Balph, “plot is a primitive vulgarity in literature.”

Hmm, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

If that doesn’t, how about this:

The literature of the past … was a shallow fraud. It whitewashed life in order to please the money tycoons whom it served. Morality, free will, achievement, happy endings, and man as some sort of heroic being — all that stuff is laughable to us. Our age has given depth to literature for the first time, by exposing the real essence of life. … Defeat and suffering. … [Happiness] is a delusion of those whose emotions are superficial.

I’m sorry but, as a reader, I want to escape into a book. I want to have a plot that is fun and exciting. I want characters I can cheer for — and boo against. I don’t want cardboard cutouts. Nor do I want to be perpetually depressed by my reading material. If that makes me shallow or a fraud, so be it.

Seriously, though, it is that sort of snobbish thinking that helped make up summer reading lists for students over the last twenty years. Summer when kids want to relax and have fun. Summer when the last thing that want to think about is school. Yet here they have a list of books they have to read. Books that are “socially relevant” and “issue driven/oriented” that deal with drug abuse, mental illness, sexual abuse and nary a one hero to be found. Books that make villains out of boys and out of businessmen. Books that don’t celebrate, much less encourage, creativity or drive.

And then those who draw up these lists bewail the fact that our kids don’t read.

So, when a writer like Rowling comes along and gives us not one but a number of books that have not only our kids reading but adults as well, what happens? They become vilified because, gasp, they were successful. How dare they actually attain the goals they’d worked for!

There should be a law limiting the sale of any book to ten thousand copies. This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing. If people were forbidden to buy a million copies of the same piece of trash, they would be forced to buy better books. … Only those whose motive is not money-making should be allowed to write. … Ten thousand readers is enough for any book.

Yep, another Balph quote but, when looking at what Shepherd had to say, is it really that she was whining about? She wants to limit who can write what and when. Once an author reaches a certain level of monetary gain — note, I don’t say fame because I have a feeling she’d love any fame she could get — they should step aside and let someone else have their turn. But what makes the last quote so apropos of the article is “This would throw the literary market open to new talent, fresh ideas and non-commercial writing.” Non-commercial writing. In other words, not necessarily literary novels but also “message” novels. Novels that beat the reader over the head with whatever the author’s message is — usually as dictated by the few, the loud and the entitled — and that aren’t spoiled by something as crass as a plot.

Still, all is not lost. Shepherd not only outed herself as a pretentious literary wanna-be (sorry, writing what is nothing more than fan fiction and trying to put a literary spin on it doesn’t qualify as literary in my book) but she also outed herself as one who doesn’t do her research. She admits right off the bat that she never read any of the Potter books nor had she seen any of the movies. So, without knowing anything about how well they might be written (and yes, I do feel the later books were over-bloated), she condemns the fact they were being read — gasp — by adults. How dare adults read books not written for the adult market.

The response to Shepherd’s comments was swift and overwhelmingly condemning. Not that it gave her or a few of her supporters even a moment of pause. No, supporters claimed those condemning her comments were just disgruntled Potter fans. There were even comments on Twitter about how Rowling should be supporting not only bookstores but also the publishing industry as a whole with her money. Gee, I thought she had by simply writing books that helped keep publishers make a butt-load of money and sold a ton of books in bricks and mortar bookstores. But I guess that’s not enough. I guess she is supposed to give away her money to support the publishers so they can publish the literary dahlings that no one wants to read.

There is one response to Shepherd’s post that does bother me. Some of those most upset with what she had to say have gone to Amazon to leave one star reviews on her books without having read them. While I understand the sentiment driving these reviewers, they are still reviewing the author and not the work. I’d rather see them use the preview function and review the sample, noting that after reviewing the sample — and giving specifics — and after reading the article, they won’t be buying the book. Not only to they note why they are upset with her but they are also warning potential buyers that there is also something beyond the personal behind the review.

I dream of one day making the sort of money Rowling has as an author. But I know she didn’t just walk into a publisher’s office and get a contract right away. She was turned down time and again before finally being signed with a rather small publisher in England. Scholastic picked her up here — probably the wisest decision it had done in years. She paid her dues and no one, especially not someone with a serious case of literary sour grapes, has the right to tell her what she can or can’t write.

Despite her protestations to the contrary, Shepherd’s article is all about sour grapes. That is clear from the title of the piece. It is clear when, at the start of the second paragraph, she writes, “I didn’t much mind Rowling when she was Pottering about.”

[D]idn’t much mind.

So she did mind, whether she wants to admit it or not. She minded that Rowling was writing something with a plot that people, young and old, wanted to read. She minded that Rowling was making buckets of money off of it. She minded that it wasn’t literary. Most of all, I think, she minded that she wasn’t the one who wrote it and made all the money.

Me, I’m glad Rowling wrote the books. Just as I’m glad Meyer wrote her books even if I didn’t particularly like Twilight. But they, and others, have gotten a generation reading again and have shown that not every book has to be a “message” book. So, for Shepherd and others like her, get over yourselves and sit your butts down and write. Write something that isn’t a rehash of books more than a hundred years old. Work on your craft and, for the love of Pete, think about what you just wrote and listen to your friend when they tell you not to hit that “enter” button. They might actually have your best interests at heart.

Most of all, keep repeating to yourself that you are not entitled to anything. You are not entitled to getting ahead by forcing someone else to stop doing what they enjoy and are good at. You are not entitled to tell the public what they can or can’t read. You are most certainly not entitled to usurp another’s position just because they’ve paid their dues and you haven’t.

Grow up. Get over yourself. Get to work.


Unto dust

Ah. Just when you think it can get no more silly, we have an entry from someone who has me thinking that perhaps reincarnation is real. I don’t know if it is the actual ghost of P.T. Barnum, but there certainly seems to be a belief that one born every minute, and they’re not very bright. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, but really this is quite insulting to even luke-warm IQ’s like mine. A more flawed piece would be quite a find, but, as the author resorts to claiming logical fallacy in Howey’s ‘science’… let me point out the one which his entire thesis rests on:

“I don’t say these things because I am in bed with the major publishers. I fight with the major publishers all the time ”

I see. So given the above, and a heaven sent opportunity (via Hugh Howey) to get a better deal for the people he supposedly works for, from the people he fights with for them…
Does he blog… 1) Now there is evidence that self-published authors can achieve the same or better status and sales and a far, far higher income, I will point this out to them and to the publishers (that I fight with all the time) and tell them they’ve had a bumper year of profits, and unless they want to lose their authors, we’d better re-negotiate a much better deal on e-books. Or 2) does he pooh-pooh this analysis as ridiculous, and state that therefore authors had better cling to publishers and, as they’re obviously not going to increase the give to authors, authors should just suck it up. Does he claim without any supporting figures (but lots of handwavium waffle) that the other that e-book income is huge?* That “value of a guaranteed advance ** vs. royalty money that may or may not come along down the road’ is better? That the status quo is unalterable and good for the authors he claims to represent, because the publishers won’t change?

Logic 101 question. If 2) is true, and 1) false: can the statement “I don’t say these things because I am in bed with the major publishers. I fight with the major publishers all the time” be true? And if it is demonstrably false, how much of the rest is likely to be true?

The answer, having looked through it: not much. But as a lesson in how to spin, gyre and gimble The Brillig Blogger is indeed a nonpareil and could have a great future in political speech-writing if the ‘supporting’ authors in self-publishing venture follows literary agent-gatekeeping for traditional publishers down the rabbit hole. For example he tries to spin pricing into a death spiral myth. No one has ever suggested this — what has been said, and is true, is that self-pubs do not carry the vast overheads – New York premises, a lot of staff at NY wages, doing something… that has little bearing on and adds little value to the author’s book, and a need to pay huge advances — which may not be coming your way. Self-pubs can afford to undercut New York Publishing – and can turn a profit from far fewer copies.

Literary agents started as something quite different. They were luxuries that very successful authors had. So when Ernest’s publisher was late paying, either Ernest came back from the Bahamas with a bull-whip or his lackey went into the NY publisher’s office to kick some ass or chew gum during the national gum shortage. The whole ‘gatekeeping‘ lark was like the current venture into ‘supporting’ self-publishing. There wasn’t as much money in the lackey game as there had been, and not enough demand. And besides, they wanted more, had contacts… and you can see how it all flows from there. There are still a few in the old lackey trade, and some do it as a sideline, and use it as a lever. But publishers in general saw them as a great way to 1)get rid of slush readers and the pile, and 2)get out of the awkward personal contact with people you’re screwing over. And the authors get to pay the agents for doing this (if you believe that 15% is coming out of the larger advance they get you, I have some remarkable bargains to sell you. Just send me your bank account details and password. And thank you for proving P.T. Barnum right.) I will point out the relationship I have with my agent is different. It’s more like how JK Rowling started with hers. Mike was a first reader who believed in my books, read some of my proposals and partials, and became an agent to sell them. I backed him because I thought his taste and skill better than most agents.

The chance of ‘your’ agent engaging in a bit of dickering for a better deal with your publisher exists. It’s not high for the average noob, but it exists. The chance of him telling all of his main buyers something seriously unpalatable is non-existent. If he was YOUR agent he’d be in there kicking ass and maybe even wielding the bullwhip. But you are a replaceable widget to him. Authors – at least up recently – were queued up begging to be a widget. Publishers on the other hand were much rarer and getting more so.

Only I think ‘authors as widgets’ is over.

Logic says literary agents will continue to get subs… But who will they get them from and how tolerant and patient these submitters are, is a very different matter. Yes, they’ll still get from: 1) the terminally thick and bad; 2) the uninformed (a dropping number); 3) the vastly insecure and needing validation, 4) the reasonably good but-you’ve-got-four-weeks-and-I-sent-to-all-of-the-agents-at-once – which they at this stage won’t accept. 5) the midlister who fits ‘we got a deal before but never found an audience (PC, message, not much entertainment)’ profile = failures.

Why would the successful bestseller keep one, except as a lackey, and why would a midlister with a decent following do so? Why would a go-getter noob put up with years of waiting? If they’re kept waiting they’ll self-publish, and if that succeeds they’ll perhaps need a lackey, but not a literary agent. So of those the agent gets the losers who fail at self-pub. Now of these 2) and 3) can produce some great books. Even the losers at self-pub can, with a bit of help. But 2) will leave as they get clued up. And as the stigma of being agented grows – yes I said stigma grows. It will, given what they’ll get, 3) will desert them too. So they’re left with the untalented and needing help.

Which is why you have the effort, especially from agents, to re-enforce the perception that self-published authors are inadequate and not nearly as good, and that well, publishing is rock solid and inflexible.

“Your advice to publishers is for them to (a) lower e-book publishers (b) give a bigger share of their lower revenue to the authors they publish. Obviously, the publishers are not going to take this advice. There is no business model for them in taking in less money while simultaneously giving more to the authors.”– The Brillig blogger

Really? Well yes. IF self-publishers were an irrelevant failure and not starting to eat the publishers’ lunch and doing much, much better financially than their traditionally published peers selling the same volume. IF authors continue to solicit agents despite this. IF authors (especially the successful ones with a following) are happy with a pittance, while paying agents, and having their publisher take the cream. IF authors ignore Hugh Howey data-trawl. Howey has published an expanded version, with a far bigger data set, and here is a post on it by Mark Coker of Smashwords.

Now that is something one can expect from Mark Coker. It’s his business.


Two years ago I’d have said there’d be about as much chance of this as of the Pope canonizing Richard Dawkins. But the winds of change are plainly blowing hard, and PW is looking to a future too.
There is a business model in keeping prices competitive (no, that’s not an ever-diminishing sum***), and paying authors a FAR bigger share, and providing a lot more service. It’s called the new ‘Do not follow the agents in bankruptcy’ model. It involves giving up that New York address, and expense account and all those ‘useful’ meetings. It involves really adding a lot more value to the work those incredibly valuable people. To the widgets you call ‘authors’.

As for agents – rather than looking at nice new New York premises — instead of worrying about the small if of contractors, they might want to look at the big IF above. Maybe they’d do better to take Mark Coker’s advice to publishers, and find some way to add value to authors, who can do without them. But that’s kind of down the track. The question is just how far?

* Trust me, to the author, it’s not. Just through webscriptions (a fraction of Amazon’s reach) sales I can tell this.
** Which could be on average oh, as much as $3000, and falling (it was 5K when I started). In three tranches (effectively 1K every 4-10 months. You can live on that, can’t you?), two of which will be late. Like your bi-annual royalties. If you ever see them in the opaque accounting, 12-18 months later. Trust me on this. An advance is good because it ties a weasel down and you may actually get all of it. But it sure is hard to beat that monthly trickle and transparent accounting.
*** “How elastic is the demand for books? Yes, at the margins, you can increase sales some by lowering prices. But after a point, that stops working. There are only so many people who like to read with only so many hours in the day to do it. You can’t have a never-ending price war.” – the Brillig Blogger. We have no idea on either demand via price OR subject/book type. So… we assume you have it right on the present track record? That’s hilarious and totally illogical. A coarse guess is that the traditional industry has lost around 3/4 of the possible market by terrible targeting, and probably another 10% by overpricing. But that’s the subject for another post. It’s not infinitely elastic, but it’s a LOT bigger than now.

There is no Glass Slipper — a blast from the past post 2/2011

*First, rest assured I AM better.  Just not better enough.  Second, I will do a critique of Laura M’s intro pages on Wednesday.  Until then, please forgive me.  I was told this had a long ramping up, and it does, and as impatient as I’m getting my energy has limits.  I’m doing a post for ATH but only because it’s a piece of nonsense Kate and Amanda (it’s all their fault) started last night. This is a blast from the past post from February 2011.  And not to get back into the trenches of the war that has roiled this blog these last few days, but this is part of the reason that the young writers are trying to prove their “righteousness” and themselves as being more deserving of writerly success than their elders.  It takes time and maturity to understand that to get success as a writer you don’t need some sort of moral high ground.  Being a saint is not the way to success.  This is not a fairytale.  To become successful as a writer, you just need to write interesting tales that people will buy instead of beer.  Scoundrels and outright reprobates have managed it.  Some saints too, but that’s rarer.  People don’t like being preached to.  If you manage to turn a professional association into some sort of Temperance League for Writers, you’re likely to be left holding the wrapper, while the “Gift” — i.e. any advantages the organization might have offered — slips away from you. *

Your life is not a story.

I mean, oh, of course, in a sense it is a story – of course it is – in the sense that things happen in chronological order, it has a beginning and one day it will have an ending.  You could also say it is divided in chapters.  In fact we often talk about “entering a new chapter” of life.

But there are differences.

I’ve told you – haven’t I? – that my final exam in Theory Of Literature, consisted of two questions.  The first was specific and required analysis of the use of commas by a Portuguese poet who wrote in blank verse.  The second was “Explain the difference between literature and life.  Give examples.”

Since I have a fraught relationship with punctuation I knew I’d get at best half the points on the technical question, so I had to get full points for the second.  So I spun from memory of my Philosophy classes a deal about Plato and the cave and how only through literature could we see life outside the cave.  I knew that would appeal to literature professors and, as most of you know, my morals are weak.  (If they weren’t would I lie for a living?  No?  What do you think fiction is?)  So… I passed.

However, my rather mendacious answer notwithstanding, or my wished-for answer which was “if I kill you in a book you’ll continue breathing.  If I kill you in real life not so much” the true answer is more complex than that, and more simple.

Life is not like literature because life doesn’t have to make sense.  (We’re reminded of this daily as we see what some of my colleagues post on facebook.)  More rarely we’re reminded of this as an impossible coincidence surfaces that makes us go “What?  That wasn’t laid out in the plot.”

But we forget that too.  We forget it very often, particularly those of us who are dedicated writers – or readers.  We forget it as we think as though life WERE a plot, as though it HAD to make sense.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago while talking to a friend who is a beginning writer.  We were trying, somewhat ineffectively, to convince this person it’s best to go indie now, while this writer has no track record.  This writer was yelling back about wanting what I had.  (Apparently people HANKER after ten years of kicks in the teeth.) About how I was famous (Am too.  Right now I’m the most famous person at this desk.  Well, the cats have left in search of food.)  About how I was a real writer, and therefore I could now go indie with a clear conscience (I’m trying, okay?  I’m trying.  I need time, since I’m also still writing for traditional publishers.)

And then this writer explained that since childhood, the writer had dreamed of having books out “on shelves” and being able to tell friends to go and buy them at any bookstore.

Useless to tell this person that there was that year I had FIVE books come out with traditional publishers and you couldn’t find a single one on a single shelf in the whole state of Colorado.  In this person’s mind, that story from childhood, HAD to have a happy ending.

It’s conditioning.  As writers and readers, we are trained to pick up “promises” in the plot early on.  Some of you who have been following Witchfnder are unreally good at picking up on those promises.  I’ve had emails guessing at Nell’s origins, at the ultimate end of the book, etc, which are, at this point, GUESSES.  Have to be, since my cluing has been as hidden as possible.  And in one case the clue is not yet connected to anything.  And yet, people GOT it.

Unfortunately, we tend to reason about life that way, too.

This might be a case of chicken and egg.  I know that stories are what happens when we turn our mind lose on life and allow it to impose order on reality, whether that order is real or imaginary.  We tell ourselves stories.  And we tend to make stories out of our lives.  Perhaps that’s how we make sense of life.  Perhaps that’s how we remain what passes for sane.  Or perhaps not.

Perhaps life used to be more predictable, too.  I’m not betting on it.  I grew up in a small village, where people by and large, with minor innovations like electrical light and running water, lived the way they had for centuries, observed the same feast days, cultivated the same plot of land, kept the same farm animals as their ancestors world without end – in a place where Romeo and Juliet might have happened in the next village.  (I thought it had, the first time I heard someone talk about it.)  Looking back, life looked a lot more… well… ordered.  You knew the pool from which you’d choose your mate, more or less, you knew the places you’d see in your life, you knew where you’d be buried when you died.  You knew the kids who worked hard in childhood would probably make good, and you knew the class clown would probably have a checkered career, and the kid caught breaking into a neighbor’s house at ten would probably eventually come to a bad end.

But that’s from a distance.  If you increase the granularity and go life by life, person by person, you find it’s not like that.  That kid who worked hard in childhood, walking out his parents’ door one evening, gets run over by a car and spends the rest of his life as a paraplegic, having to be looked after.  The kid who was a bad lot?  Well, he gets drafted, goes overseas, becomes a hero, comes back and picks up a steady job, never has a hobble again… until he’s fifty when he embezzles his boss’s money, runs away and dies a millionaire in Brazil.

Even in the village, with its ordered cycle of life, people could surprise you, events could surprise you, things you counted on – like inheriting the family business – would turn out quite differently – when you found out the company was bankrupt, for instance.

After all, that small village produced me and – good or bad (and often bad) – you can’t say my trajectory was predictable.  When I was born to a rather traditional family in a traditional village and as a female (which in that culture means far less mobile) I can safely say that if some time traveler had told family, friends or extended acquaintances that not only would I survive (an iffy thing, since I was extremely premature, born at home, and not allowed access to an incubator) but I’d leave home and go live in the states on my own (no relatives, other than my husband) AND become a novelist in a language no one in the family spoke at the time (correction, my grandfather spoke it.  He didn’t write it.  But he had no one to speak it to) NO ONE would have believed it.

But even those of you who aren’t little vortexes of unstable fate can probably point out to events in your lives that were in no way “foreshadowed.”

However, it goes further than that.  MUCH further.  Right now, we are in a time of catastrophic change.  By that I don’t mean the intentional, phony and often strange change brought on by political moves.  I mean bone-deep technological change of the kind that leaves a mark.

Part of the reason that change is so difficult is that we are essentially two cultures.  One of them is  “the people who talk.”  (I’d call it “the people who think” but that is unwarranted flattery for most of them – for most humans, actually.)  These are the media, the academia, the people who tell stories whether fictional or fictionalized.  These people in general know nothing – or very little – about what the other culture is up to.  The other culture is “the people who fix”.  These are the people who know how things work, the people who can build and create.

For years now the people who talk have been ascendant.  We’ve been building a little reality of words, telling ourselves stories.  “This is the way things work” and “This is the way things will go.”  Actually, we haven’t been ascendant so much as we were the only ones saying these things, and the other people didn’t or couldn’t contradict us, so we thought we had it all.  Our story was undisputed.  Like the garrulous wife of a silent husband, we sat there for years making plans.  “And when we retire, we’re going to live in Miami.”  And because the poor sob across the table said nothing, we thought we could do as we pleased.

The silent people who fix and create things were, all along, quietly, often in an inarticulate way, pulling the rug out from under our feet.  While we were talking about our condo in Miami they were building an entire retirement community from discarded beer bottles, in the backyard of our house in Michigan.

So while we were creating our just so plots, the people who fix and create things changed the world on us (the bastages.)  While we were climbing the ordered ladder of publishing (such as it was) they were building ebooks, and even – gasp – places like Amazon to sell them.  They were creating the computer revolution which allows us to attend lectures from home (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, education is next in line for that change.)

So, now there’s a choice of courses for us.  The world is changing.  It’s called catastrophic because it resembles Atlantis subsiding beneath the waves.  We can’t change it back.  We can make phony political changes that will make things go a different route, and possibly a worse route, or we can shout into the wind, but it’s not going to stop the change.

The metaphoric oceans are coming in.  You can choose to stand there going “I’m despondent.  My life is over.  I want my beach back.  When I was little I dreamed of a condo in Miami.”  Heaven knows I’ve done a bit of that myself and still have instances of it.  HOWEVER that is not a survival-enhancing behavior.  Those who will survive – and many who will thrive – are already running for the hills, scouting out the now-barren peaks that will be fertile islands when the change is done.

I know it hurts.  It hurts like heck.  We want our stories to make sense, and we want our life to be a story.

But you have to be aware that at some level it was always a lie.

To the extent that you need stories to survive, make this one be about the plucky author/educator/artist who survived catastrophic change – who got out ahead of the mess and the turmoil and came out much more successful than traditional routes allowed.  Make your prototype that of the mythological (but then so was Atlantis) sage who got in a boat ahead of the continent sinking and went to other lands to teach what he knew.  And who was treated as a god in the new land.

You’re not Cinderella.  There is no glass slipper.  BUT if you’re good and pro-active and if you stop lamenting and start looking to the future, there MIGHT be a fortune in canned pumpkin or trained mice.

First let go of the glass slipper dreams.  It was never very comfortable and it came off when you ran downstairs.  Then shake yourself, look around, and find new dreams.  You can do it.  Remember, the best stories change direction halfway through.  Why should your life be any different?

Basics of Publishing

Note to Mad Geniuses: yes, this is very simple, basic stuff, but it won’t hurt you to look at it, and there are many new readers who may be very interested. Also, I’m giving a talk today, at Chapters Books in Lebanon, OH, on this topic, and for those of you who will have seen me and I gave you the link, welcome!

There are, generally speaking, three roads to becoming a published author. The first one most people think of is the traditional way, where you write your manuscript, shop it around to agents, and then, if you are lucky enough to become agented, they shop it around to publishers until one decides they want the manuscript. Note I am not saying “like” because often the decision has nothing to do with the quality of the book, but more on that later. This whole traditional process can take, and likely will take, years. There are a few, very few, publishers who will take unagented manuscripts, but they are rare.

So, let’s say that years have passed, and you get that fateful email or phone call. Your book has been accepted. Hopefully, you continued writing and submitting during that time, so this may even happen more than once. Yes, you’re terribly excited, who wouldn’t be? But it’s time to take a deep breath, pick up that contract, and read it. If you can, get a lawyer who specializes in IP law and have him read it. Publishing contracts are often very unfair, and will take rights to your own work away from you, often for the lifetime of the work being in print, and with ebooks, it might never go out of print. Also, you can expect perhaps $1-2000 for an advance, and royalties are unlikely.

I’m painting a gloomy picture, but bear with me. It’s going to get darker, and then I will show you the light at the end of the tunnel. The second option for becoming published is vanity publishing, or what is still sometimes called self-publishing. This is where you pay a company hundreds, or thousands of dollars to get a book in print. Often, you the author will be required to buy hundreds of copies of your own books, which you must then find a way to sell. The products I have seen coming out of these companies, such as Publish America, are shoddily made, from their design to the physical print copies of the books.

There is a saying in the industry. Money (and control) flow to the author. If you are paying out this much money, then there had better be results showing for it. Professional-level editing, a great cover design, a well-formatted ebook… but that’s unlikely. Most places that want to sell you a ‘package deal’ are little better than scams. Before you do business with a company, google them, and look for reviews by former customers, BBB reports, anything at all. And if you type the company name into google and the autofill puts “scam” at the end of the search string without prompting, run!

Now, for the good stuff. You can get your work into the hands of your readers. You don’t have to wait for years, never knowing why it’s been rejected, and earning a pittance of what the actual sales of the book are. It’s no guarantee of success. Your book might only sell a few copies, at first. But you will be in control. Independent publishing means you are the publisher. Yes, this is more work than passively handing a manuscript over and going back to writing. But if you are wanting to become published in any way, you must realize you are also becoming a businessperson. If you do it on your own, or with a publisher, you will have to market your books, you will have to interact with fans, and so on. But as an independent, you have the control.

Most people don’t have the skills to do it all on their own. However, you can find people who will edit (know the difference between structural edits and copy edits, before you hire an editor. There is much more information on this elsewhere on the Mad Genius Club) and once you have references for a good one, you get to hire them, and tell them what to do. You get to have a cover suitable for your book designed (I do them, and trust me, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to a book cover). You get to decide how much or how little you do to market your book. There is a thriving network of indie authors growing up online, leaning on one another for help and advice, seek this out and jump on in.

One of the arguments I hear all the time against going the independent route is “Oh, I want to have a publisher tell me how great I am!” This is the gatekeeper fallacy. Here is the truth of it. Books are accepted by publishers all the time not because they are good, but because they filled the need of the moment. Books that are absolutely wonderful are rejected every day because the publisher didn’t have room to take them, or because they weren’t the latest sparkly witchy vampire hots story of the week. The only way to really know if readers will like your book is to put it out there and see if people will buy it.

It might start slowly, a few sales, a review here and there. Or it might hit with a splash that ripples outward for a long time. One thing is for sure, if someone is willing to pay their hard-earned money for it, they deserve the best product you can give them. Don’t skimp on making sure your book looks good, both in print and as an ebook. Then, rule second (or are we doing rules? nah) keep writing. The more books you have available, the more people will discover you. And then, who knows? I don’t. But I can tell you this. Then, my friend, you are a writer.

Second note: to those of you who are semi-local to Southern Ohio and would like to have me come give a free talk at your local library or independent bookstore, if you are willing to broach the topic with your friendly librarian or vendadora, I am willing to travel as long as I can do a signing after the talk with booksales.