“Untie for me your hired blue gown
Like you would do for one that you love”
Leonard Cohen – take this longing
This came out of talking to one of newer authors that I try to help as much as I can. Yes, even an idiot can teach, can support, can sometimes say the right things.
And the wrong things of course. I’m actually exceptionally talented at that. Beyond the ability of most mere mortal men. Anyway the author’s book is coming out from Baen and she was having a sudden not-used-to-Baen but the establishment traditional publishing/sycophant-of-the-same-world moment.
You know. Panic. Because it’s not quite… well, not at all like the way you thought it was supposed to be. Your book is about to be snippetted. Why, near half of it is going to be there for readers to sample… free. To the public. Those guys who just… show up. I mean not reviewers or anything. Just people.
And there are two things here. Firstly: “My book is not protected! It’s… it’s a public site.”
Our customers are not thieves – Jim Baen said. This fear by Trad Pub is projection, not reality.
No one steals half an egg. And secondly, the fear of theft is overblown one, trust me. If your product is a reasonable price (and from Baen it will be) the hassle factor of assembling a half-book from snippets is just ridiculous. Even downloading a possible-source-of-viruses for free is not something that the average Joe is going to do to save the cost of a couple of cups of coffee. Besides… in my experience the reader who enjoys your work… LIKES to reward you. If they feel it is worthwhile it makes them feel like they gave you a token of appreciation. Well, that’s true for me, anyway. Most readers when they discover that the author is getting 64 cents on that paperback are horrified. I’ve had not a few hit my tip jar saying the book gave them more pleasure than they paid for, will I get off my dead butt and write the next. Yesterday.
But what she was finding hard – after working long and hard on her book, giving it every ounce of her ability and all of her love – it’s a piece of her, and now she’s putting it out there for the public. Not an editor or a reviewer… just for anyone.
And this is the important part of writing, probably the most important part, which so many authors forget. A book that you offer for publication, or put up on Amazon is NOT to please you. Not unless you’re the only customer you ever hope to have. It’s NOT to please your editor, or the staff at the publishing house. They, bluntly, are yesterday’s men. Once they were the center of any writer’s universe. Peeve them and you were dead. If they belonged to a certain ‘tribe’ and kowtowing to that tribe was important to them, you kissed up or became a non-author. Not any more, although this hasn’t penetrated yet. New technology has made that an obsolete feature.
Pleasing a publisher and their hangers on, is now as useful as a buggy whip in a Mercedes Benz… if you fail to please the public. I have seen many a ‘I got wonderful reviews – but my series has been dropped – and it’s all coming from people who have been very loyal to their publisher and publisher’s tribal ideology.
They failed to engage with ‘just anyone’. With the PUBLIC. With the readers who could buy their book. That’s who you’re writing FOR. They give you money. They will buy your work – and these days, with, or without, your publisher getting a cut.
That is something that many authors fail to grasp – and not just new ones. I recently read a diatribe by Adam Troy Castro – who missed this completely (He was attacking John Wright, who seems to be engaging his readers… who aren’t part of his publisher’s tribe). I quote: “has been abusing his publisher in public and attacking his editors as people” which is a bad thing, according to Castro “being an asshole to the people who give you money is not a good career move.”
The latter part of that is certainly true. What Castro seems to have failed to figure out is that the money doesn’t actually come from the publisher. It comes from readers – the subset of the public who love your work. If you abuse them, you’re dead. If your publisher abuses them (which is a fair assessment)… lose your publisher. Reassure your readers that this is not your attitude. Your publisher being an asshole to the people who give you money. He takes quite a lot of that money for not being an asshole – and doing a good job (at least in theory, making sure the reader gets the best book possible. This is, sadly, is not always reality, as much as authors like to believe it.). Not being an asshole to people who give you money is good advice. But it is important to work out just who is giving money (the author is giving part of his income to the publisher and retailer. The reader is giving money TO THE AUTHOR that gets divvied up between the retailer, the publisher, and author), and who is taking it (the author, the publisher and the retailer. All need not to be an asshole to the reader. And the retailer and publisher need to be sure they provide value and manage not to be an asshole to author who actually produces the product. Parts of this are dispensable, and lousy value or bad behavior will mean the author who has loyal readers can do so). Traditional Publishing doesn’t seem to have grasped this nettle yet.
To move on:
As a writer – even an old hack like me, you are putting huge amount of yourself into your book. You are, like it or not, exposing yourself in a way that makes nudity look prudish. If you’re putting that book up there for the public, you can expect some of that public to read it. If you’re doing that, being that ‘naked’ about your innermost self… well if you’re doing for people you hate… you sure as hell don’t have much respect for yourself, do you?
When I write I do it as I would do for one that I love. For each and every reader who is, in a way, alone with me in their head. The reader who rewards me with the sincerest form of flattery for that. I do not write for people who are paid to edit it, or proof it, or even write reviews of it.
Write for readers. Love them, and you will succeed (and that’s not just about money, or numbers)
Talking of changing times, of obsolescence and the response to it… We’ve had an excellent post from Amanda Green , and Dorothy Grant about the change in e-book earnings. We’ve had the establishment lackeys pooh-poohing it, as they have to, because they write to please their publisher, to whom this news is anathema of the worst kind. However, perhaps it takes an engineer to see what is going on best. John Carlton does a great overview here – and brings up a fascinating reaction to these changing times, and the traditional publisher response to it.
You want to guess what a rational response would be?
Getting the right book to the right reader – matching product with customer?
Nope. A silly idea. The author has pleased the editor, that’s all that’s important.
Making e-books affordable and popular to save on the distribution and printing costs of paper?
Goodness NO! Their strategy is to PROTECT the print market by putting up the prices of their e-books.
Setting up a POD system in the remaining brick mortar stores so that people can have expert staff to help them find books?
Daft idea! Bookstore retail staff are not required to love or enjoy reading anymore. They must love retail.
Making sure that editorial, proofing, and marketing have a substantial edge on the services a self-publisher has, to make it worth Authors sticking to the Tradpub model, because their products sell enough units to make them more profitable at 17.5% of cover they get on those e-books as opposed to the 70% they get from Amazon?
Well. No. Editorial numbers are dropping. Proof quality is down. Publicity is mostly outsourced to… the Author, who is supposed to do it for free.
Moving from Manhattan to cheaper places for office space and livable staff salaries?
Wash your mouth out with soap!
No, they’re increasing their warehouse space – at huge expense, for paper books, by thousands and thousands of square feet.
Makes perfect sense… to someone. I am sure. Somewhere, someone MUST think it is a good idea.
Here’s my prediction: within the next five years, someone –probably Amazon – will drop the price of Print On Demand paper books to BELOW current paperback prices. They’ll probably offer you a choice of binding too (so you can have a hardcover if you want one) for considerably less than trade or hardback.
That will eat the remaining traditional publishers and chain bookstores AND all the warehouse space, just as the Indies are eating their e-book sales.
But don’t worry. They’ll keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market.