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Let your folly be…

‘Word is to the kitchen gone
And word is to the hall,
And word is up to Madam the Queen
And that’s the worst of all,
That Mary Hamilton’s borne a babe to the highest Stuart of all’
(traditional folk song)

Now of all the things to have running through my head as an accompaniment to the delicate yowls and growls of a chainsaw biting and chewing She-oak, this song was not exactly a first guess… what made the mental connections trigger my remembering a song I haven’t heard for thirty years? Minds, memories, particularly mine are odd like that. I have a large anti-computer in my head, useful for turning vast amounts of information into garbage. It’s as good a reason for being a professional writer as any I’ve heard, and lot less pretentious than some. I have been listening to a number of my peers discussing donating their papers to various museums and curators, and the superiority of paper to electrons for permanency (I haven’t had the heart to mention the need for acid-free paper etc.) Huh. Mine will be collector’s pieces too. Sooner than theirs, in fact. The garbage truck comes around on Thursday. Perhaps I am just not as important, or as fashionably PC. I’m certainly no worse as a writer, and I am sure long before my bones are gone to clay, all memory of my writing will be.

And honestly I couldn’t care less. I don’t write for literary posterity. Huh. What has posterity done for me in the past, that I should want to help her out in the future? Anyway, she’s a fickle bitch. What endures even for a while is basically never what the present thinks will. Today’s social norms and perceptions of the future – or past (via fantasy) will mean little to folk in 70 years, let alone 200. Language too evolves (not always for the better – who said evolution was always ‘better’?) and unless someone ‘translates’ their deathless prose, it’ll be hard to comprehend soon enough, even if it was easy with the cues of current mores, settings and fashions. I suspect part of this SJW hero daydreams… but well, unless you were something totally different and exceptional (and probably outcast right now) all that prose will be… is yet another indistinguishable clone of the current more – of which there so, so, so many. Rather like the Mary of the song… it’s damned hard to push against the tide. It’s easier to go along with the mores of the time (and the Queen’s/Duchess etc. Ladies in waiting had a long history of not saying ‘no’ to their Sovereign Liege. It was probably not wise or easy to do so, even if you wanted to. And Queens etc varied in their tolerance, just as the Nobles varied in their generosity – my own ancestors have not one but two royal bastard daughters married off into the family (along with money and Royal favor to provide for them. Long gone now, alas.). The more I read of it, the more it seemed like that was pretty much an occupational hazard… but didn’t stop it being a very sought-after position (Not that kind of position, Kate!). That was the norm then. The only writing by one these high-born women that’d make it along to posterity would be one that didn’t just do what all their ‘sisters’ did. And who wrote exceptionally well, and probably meddled in politics well too.

Mind you: not everything changes. I thought how the power structure – and gossip channels – still resemble this so much in our modern world. If word – in modern Climate Science – reaches Madam the Queen (or their equivalent) of you doing/saying something naughty, like poor old Professor Bengtsson – you will be target. Likewise in SF circles it seems if you deign to have little Hugo Nom that isn’t ‘legitimate’ – ergo the offspring of one the officially sanctioned Queens… they’ll demand your head. On that topic I see to my wry amusement that for three of the Hugo Noms (for’ policy reasons’) they’ll only make pieces available. That’s okay surely? I mean you wouldn’t expect the voters to actually read the nom in its entirety to decide who to vote for? Next thing some silly sausage will say that voters ought to judge the book on how good it is (which I always do by reading a fraction of it, don’t you?) or that they should pay their publisher for the ‘privilege’ of making that decision. Good one, Orbit. Authors in traditional publishing would struggle to put the blame for this decision where it belongs because you might never work that town again… it’s another reason to be independent, if you can. At least your bad decisions are your own.

Anyway, the little children of my imagination are not via the sanctioned Queens, and I put them in tiny boats, and cast them out to sea, to sink or swim… but I hope they come back to me. I write for now. For readers. If I have a legacy in my words… it’ll be written in the memories and possibly genes of people I made feel a bit better about life, themselves and the world. Hey, we all need ambition. It’s that and money. Not only is the money the most sincere flattery a writer will ever get, but it buys the basic necessities that the land here doesn’t give, like coffee and chocolate.

15 Comments
  1. phunctor #

    Eh. “Write my name on water” said a lover of mine, long ago. I have not forgotten. One one sheaf of future histories your pamphleteering will be remembered. It stands to reason, donit? Just common sense.

    May 19, 2014
  2. Jim McCoy #

    One has to wonder if Orbit Books, which I’ve never freaking HEARD OF, might be better off doing whatever they can to help their authors win awards and grow in sales. After all, it would make more money for the author AND the company. I’m just sayin’.

    May 19, 2014
    • Well, it is advertising for the author (not the publisher) and as publishers tend to regard authors as interchangeable widgets, and best kept that way, I can see the two sides having a different POV. Shrug. I’m not sure a Hugo translates into much of a sales bump — this requires that the award has a largely uninterrupted history of being a commendation to a broad spectrum of readers. Part of what Larry was addressing was that that is not so. I’m certainly one of those who regards most ‘award winning’ as a ‘do not buy’ warning ;-/, particulary in sf/fantasy. Still, if I was the author treated thus, I’d be looking for a different publisher (and finding better in trad publishing is not a sinecure). They’ll unfairly catch the flak about it, because many readers still believe authors have control, and many of them will not read the post I referenced. If Tim Holman wanted to support his authors he could preface the ‘excerpts’ with an explanation under his own name that it was his company’s decision, and that authors opposed it. That is what supporting your authors really means – not leaving them to take the hit for your, or your company actions. But I don’t think they’ve quite got that.

      May 19, 2014
  3. Tully #

    ORBIT is the SFF arm of the Hachette Group, which is one of the Big Five publishers.

    IMHO the real message from the publisher is that they believe that distributing 7,600* complete “free” e-copies of the works in question to the most likely buyers of same would quite potentially cannibalize their cash market for the works. The more limited they perceive that overall market to be, the less likely they are to give away copies for promo purposes. 7600 copies, be they paper or e-book, is a LOT of potential lost sales for most books.

    Hugo nominations and even awards do not seem to translate into a significantly large bump in sales. With a few exceptions that are arguable, Hugo award/nomination-related sales appear to be a blip on the bottom line. Whereas offering substantial teasers MIGHT result in some sales. And publishers are all about the money, or they’re not publishers for long. So they are probably thinking that the books will stand or fall on their own, both for awards and sales, and that throwing potential sales away to possibly win votes is thus not a winning money strategy for them.

    The writers, especially those with an extensive backlist who would be overjoyed to be “discovered” by a new set of readers, may well have a much different opinion. Especially if a goodly portion of said backlist has already earned out, and/or is NOT held by the current publisher of the works in question. 🙂

    (* — current number of paid LonCon3 attending/supporting members and thus potential voters who can receive the packet)

    May 19, 2014
    • Hmm. Tully, you have to be new here. I’m quite tired of explaining this lot. ‘And publishers are all about the money, or they’re not publishers for long.’ you state.
      Let’s start at the end of your statement -‘for long’ . As I have explained repeatedly publishing has until very recently been both an oligosony and an oligopoly. They have in past acted in a way which can be interpreted as being a de facto cartel, especially with distributors and larger book retailers. This is very short term profitable – but not long. It is also massively inefficient, and reduces demand to the bottom edge of necessity. It means decisions which make no commercial sense have no consequence. If you’re the only seller of flour, and you decide to package it in a way the consumers hate… they still need flour. You merely reduce your market to as little as they can get by on, and make up the difference by screwing both the suppliers and buyers. When you are in this position you can in fact make decisions which are anything but about the money or long profitability AND STILL MAKE MONEY. The publishing industry is an almost text-book example of what happens in oligosony/oligopoly situations, where demand has been substantively eroded (in about 1970 PB print runs for noobs were about 50 000 copies. Now we’d consider 1/10 of that good). Outside of the oligosony/oligopoly situation, yes those publishers would not have been publishers for long. Inside it… well they have endured, but slowly lost value. They haven’t had to make good business decisions to stay alive. This of course has changed as the oligosony side and control over retail outlets have changed with e-books, self publishing and the internet. Hugh Howey has done some good value posting on the subject.

      Conflating free copies with lost sales is a classic example of a poor business decision. In reality most of those were never sales. Let’s daydream at 1/10 – which would be high. For an industry that used to print 50K copies of Neverheadofhim’s first book (and probably 10 times that of any book that was up for a Hugo) to be sweating about losing 760 sales, for the loss in advertising and author goodwill shows just how low they’ve fallen. Hell, to be sweating about 7600 lost sales shows that.

      As for a teaser attracting sales… maybe it will. It’s IMO FAR more likely to a bad effect AS IT COMES WITH A BUNCH OF FULL BOOKS. And readers 1)assume authors have some control (wrong) 2)Do ‘punish’ authors (not the publishers, necessarily, although that happens too).

      Orbit is a (largely) UK arm of the publishing machine -which is why American readers probably wouldn’t have heard of them.

      May 19, 2014
  4. robfornow #

    Orbit may feel that way; however, in my cruising the Internet I note that many independent book writers are giving away the first in a series or a short story in order to gain sales. One lady, who gave away one of her books after it had been sold for awhile, similar to what Orbit is facing, stated that she is earning two thousand dollars a month off her books since she did that. 24K a year for a formally unknown writer without a publisher, cool. Vox Day (I know already) stated that he receives one sale for every five books he gives away. Since he gives away short stories and sells long expensive ones (comparably) his profit probably exceeds his giveaway by a large margin. People are going to read the full free books by other authors, and think ‘cheap’ about the Orbit tag on the partial book. Something tells me that Orbit is going for the fast nickle at the expense of the long dime and it will bite them on the ho-hum.

    May 19, 2014
    • Tully #

      I know *I* don’t feel that way. Discovering the Baen Free Library resulted in me buying LOTS of Baen titles over the last several years, in all formats. Including Dave’s work. And buying direct from Baen, not through other sources. Likewise with getting the Hugo packet. It’s let me discover some writers I might not otherwise have read, and resulted in some sales to me of their other works.

      I think it does imply that Orbit believes their market for the three nominated titles in question is somewhat limited, and it doesn’t indicate a lot of faith by Orbit in their ability to capture future revenue from the writers’ other works either. Which if you’re one of the writers has to sting a bit. 😉

      May 19, 2014
      • Yes, it must sting. And the fact they announced it, instead of the editor accepting responsibility for the company’s actions, and the author having to defend the company and editor, instead of the other way around would leave me spitting rocks in the same position. It’s part of the oligosony problem. Of course some authors are still better off eating the cr*p handed out to them, than battling on their own, or trying to find a new and better publisher.

        And I do apologize if I came across as biting your head off, above. I’ve just had that ‘oh it’s just business/ about the money’ answer to the behavior of the publishing industry trainwrecking the genre I love in chunks. Baen – probably more than any of the others IS about money – ergo they have writers from all over the political and social spectrum. The rest… no. I don’t care where you sit on that spectrum, a desire to make money means being willing to cater to your wants.

        May 19, 2014
        • Tully #

          No worries, Dave. 🙂 I do understand the publishing business models of yore and the oligoplist/oligopsonist nature of the old market, and how the last several years of market “evolution” have completely steamrolled the Big Six Five dinosaurs. And I do get the frustration.

          I’m also aware of Hachette’s current problems (close to all-out war) with Amazon. I suspect that particular ongoing situation also played some part in this latest decision. If I were a Hachette/Orbit author I’d probably be tearing my hair out right now for many reasons.

          May 19, 2014
          • Yeah, the Hachette mess is hurting and upsetting I gather. The publishers seem to be responding in the usual ‘anything but your actual competition’ (for customers or authors). It seems obvious to me that being able to buy directly from the publisher (as Baen did successfully) and using your authors – via a percentage referral system (as in Amazon Associates) to market such a set up would either force a price war, or more likely result in them having more negotiating power. Right now all they’re doing is making it more attractive for authors with a following to jump ship and go indie. They plainly don’t think that matters.

            May 20, 2014
    • There’s pretty little doubt that it is a mistaken policy, and one which, sadly and most unfairly the authors will get the caning for.

      May 19, 2014
    • Yes. Any month I give away a short story doubles my NOVEL sales. I’m about to embark in an experiment with the DST universe and will need Baen to tell me if it has an effect, but from what I’ve seen, I think it will.

      May 20, 2014
  5. Eamon #

    The most telling bits for me from the Hugo link are ‘don’t harass anyone, the case is closed’ and ‘don’t harass anyone my publisher might drop me.’

    First, this ain’t a command structure, it’s a business relationship between supplier and consumer. As such, and since I’m the consumer, I’ll decide when the case is closed. The business is free to ignore my input, of course, but they shouldn’t presume to tell me my input is not needed. Else I may agree, and they’ll receive no more.

    Second, that the author may fear his sucess is threatened because the consumer dares express an opinion regarding the short-sided, business ignorant decisions of his publisher is not reflective of a business relationship. It’s much more akin to an abusive relationship with a childish martinet in the power seat.

    But, this is what I’ve been lead to expect from publishing.

    May 19, 2014
    • “It’s much more akin to an abusive relationship with a childish martinet in the power seat.”
      This. And moreso, one that has been going on for both parties entire working lives in this industry. Which leads to Stockholm syndrome, and perp – when it falls down (which it will, now there is an out) muttering about how they never told them they weren’t perfectly contented. And they only did it for the author’s good… I think trad publishing can be fixed, does some valuable things. But this is what has to change. They’re middlemen — and need to be responsive to both producers and end buyers. They can add value to both sides, and make a small profit, as a result of improving the product and access to that product. But they have to do it better, easier and more profitably than the author can, for the author, and provide better quality and wider range for the buyer. That’s not really the case right now.

      May 20, 2014
      • Eamon #

        Without looking closely one might expect what you outlined to be the natural business model.

        With a close look — I’m not sure anybody’s articulated anything so crass as a business model for that mess lately.

        May 20, 2014

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