The world through fog-colored glasses

That’s the way I have started to think all too many in the publishing world look at what’s going on around them. I’m not talking about only those who work for the Big 5 Publishers. I have to include a number of authors, agents and members of fandom with a capital F. From e-book pricing to indie publishing to who is a “real” fan and what does that mean, the publishing industry is starting to remind me of those family reunions that always, ALWAYS ended with Uncle Billy trying to punch out Cousin David while someone else was trying to put the moves on someone definitely not the one they come with, if you get what I mean.

Frankly, if it weren’t so funny, it would be embarrassing. No, let me rephrase that. As a writer looking at what is going on, it’s funny because anyone with an ounce of business sense and common sense can see that what the Big 5 Publishers are doing with e-book prices is costing them and their authors money. We can look at what they say about declining e-book sales and know they are not giving us the whole picture. They still think authors are naive enough to believe that BookScan numbers are accurate representations of their sales figures. They still think authors are foolish enough to believe that most of their sales come from bookstores. Now, some authors do still believe that but even they are slowly coming to the realization that something smells and it isn’t Cousin Billy fresh in from the pig pen.

You have folks like Tom Weldon, CEO of Penguin Random House UK , saying things like, “One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximise revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”

Gee, do you think they are finally starting to realize that most readers are not going to pay hard cover prices for an e-book that the publisher says they don’t own? Yep, you read that right. Publishers do not want you to own that e-book you just paid $13.99 for. You are buying a license. (Oh, and the Amazon haters have put out yet another article about how Amazon says you don’t own those e-books you buy from it. Guess what, boys and girls, Amazon doesn’t decide whether you do or not. The publisher does.) But guess what else? Digital licensing isn’t anything new. Software developers have been using that basic business model for years. It is couched in slightly different terms but it is still there. You buy a license for that software or digital game, no the software or game itself.

And folks wonder why we hate DRM and so many people find ways to crack it.

Charlie Redmayne, CEO for HarperCollins UK, had this to say, “We should expect business models and publishing mind-sets to further adapt and change in 2016. Amazon’s growth into new business models such as Kindle Unlimited will continue apace and it will push even harder to put its publishing and new businesses front and centre, often to the exclusion of traditional publishers’ books.”

Gee, I hope the publishers are going to further adapt and change in 2016. If so, they might actually make it into the 1990s mindset. Let’s face it, the Big 5 has been operating on an outmoded business model for years, decades even. It has failed to adapt not only to the digital age but to the adopt technology that would better serve authors and publishers alike. There is absolutely no reason the industry should still be relying on a company that counts sales the same way it counts TV viewership. You count what happens in certain percentage of stores (or homes) and then use handwavium to determine the amount of books sold. In this day and age of inventory control, RFID technology, etc., that is inexcusable.

Funny thing is, I have yet to see any sort of push back from agents marketing their clients’ work to publishers to get away from this way of thinking. Instead of demanding accounting of sales by their clients, they do their best to convince their clients not to rock the boat. It is almost as if those agents who do so have forgotten who they work for.

Then there are those who want to tell authors what to write. Yes, yes, this could quickly become a Sad Puppy post and, in a way, I guess it is. But let me start from the reader’s point of view. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a book in my hand (not literally but you get my meaning). My parents were avid readers and made sure they instilled a love of reading in me as well. Even though they both worked full-time jobs, they made sure every night that there was time for us to read together. It wasn’t just bedtime stories. They would read me other books during the evening and, more importantly, they talked with me about what they were reading for their own enjoyment or education.

When I was old enough to read on my own, we would still have that time in the evening where everyone sat in the den reading and discussing. I was encouraged to stretch my reading, not just my reading skills but my areas of interest. We went to the library and we bought books. Reading was a way of life for us and one I still cherish to this day.

As a reader, I read for entertainment most often these days but there are times when I read to either research something for a project I’m working on or for education because even though my school days were a long time ago, I still love to learn. I will admit there are a few authors whose books I read simply because of who the author is. Yep, I’ll admit it. I have some favorite authors. Unfortunately, thanks to the way the Big 5 have mishandled their mid-list authors, that number isn’t nearly as large as it used to be.

However, and this will surprise a lot of the other side, most of the time I pick up a book to read based on the blurb and the preview. Yes, I’m one of those infidels who read primarily e-books these days. But more on that later, probably in another post. Anyway, back to the blurb and sample. That means you, the author, have a very short amount of space to grab my attention and convince me to read your book. What I’m looking for is the hook, writing style, formatting and whether or not there is enough there to give me a feel for what the book is going to be about. No, you don’t need to give me the entire plot in a few thousand words. But you do need to let me know its genre, basic conflict, etc.

If, on the other hand, you spend all that time world-building or preaching, your prose had better be damned good, good enough that you have painted a verbal picture I want to see more of. If it is a chore to read, I will pass on the book and look for something else. If the writing style is so stilted that it becomes hard to read, I will pass on the book. If I am reading fiction, I am reading to be entertained. Authors, you need to understand that most readers are as well.

Does that mean you can’t have a message in your work? Hell, no. Frankly, fiction with a subtle message woven through it is best, in my opinion. I want something that will make me think when I finish the book. Those are the books that will make me likely to recommend them to a friend. Why? Because I remember them. I read enough bubble gum fiction where the characters are interchangeable from one book to the next by that author and nothing really stands out. So put that message in but make it subtle. Your readers — and your pocketbook — will thank you.

Oh, I know there will be those at a certain site who will tear me apart for what I said. Not only because I suggested that the message be subtle but also because I dared to mention the bottom line. I won’t apologize for being a realist. I’m a working writer. I write because I enjoy it but also because it is my job. I have to make money or I can’t write. I would have to go out and get a job. Unlike a certain self-anointed critic who is supposedly writing his magnum opus on the government’s dime, I am doing my best to put out work the reading public wants to read. That means I have to pay attention to what sells and what doesn’t and why.

But guess what? Just because a book makes money, that doesn’t mean it isn’t “good”. That’s something a vocal few seem to forget. They think the author needs to suffer for his art. Sorry, I’m not a masochist. I like to eat and have a roof over my head. Of course, that capitalistic streak in me also puts me on the wrong side of the political spectrum as far as some folks are concerned.

So, I’ve made the transition from what I want as a reader to what I want as a writer. Funny how those two seem to dovetail with one another. Anyway. . . .

I am going to write what the story calls for. It is that simple. Will there be a message in my work? Probably. There almost always is. I simply try not to hit the reader over the head with it. I want the reader to enjoy my work first and foremost. Why? Because they will recommend it to their friends and family and be more likely to buy my next book. Then I want them to think about what I wrote. Again, if they do, they will remember it and talk about it and recommend it. Do I care if it fits the message du jour? Nope. In fact, I don’t want it to dovetail with the current message, whatever it might be. Why? Because the current social, economic or political trend will change with the wind. If I am going to spend months writing a book, I want it to be read for more than a few months or a year or two. Were I to make the message too pointed and pin it too tightly to whatever the current “cause” happens to be, I am going to artificially age the book even before it is published.

As for being a fan, well, I’ve been told — as have so many of my friends and fellow authors — that we aren’t real fans. At least we aren’t fans with a capital F because we don’t go to the right cons or serve on the right committees. How sad. I guess all those books I’ve read over the years, all the movies I’ve watched and all the times I’ve promoted science fiction and fantasy don’t really count. It doesn’t matter that I’ve gone to other cons — those not deemed as important as others — or that I’ve pointed so many others to the genre. I am still standing on the outside looking in because I haven’t been one of the cool kids.

Well guess what? The cool kids proved at the Hugos this past year that they were the mean kids. They all thought they were being so funny and subtle with their asterisks. They continue to slap themselves on their backs and congratulate one another for keeping the riffraff out of the awards. Not once, to the best of my knowledge, have they stopped and looked at what they really did. I’m not talking about Vox. I’m not talking about the slander and libel committed against Larry and Brad. I’m talking about the impression they made on the readers. Readers who didn’t realize they could nominate and vote for Hugos as long as they paid the money to do so. Readers who suddenly felt themselves attacked because they nominated books they enjoyed. Way to go, folks. Good business sense there.

Not that they care any more than the Big 5 care about finding a real solution to their e-book problem. They will continue to look at the world through their fog-colored glasses, chanting that they are right and we are wrong and lalalalala. Maybe if they do it long enough, they will really come to believe it. Oh, wait, they do believe it and that is what’s really sad. For me, I’m going back to writing books that I hope entertain my readers and I will smile all the way to the bank, evil capitalist that I am.


39 thoughts on “The world through fog-colored glasses

  1. What they don’t realize is that they’re attacking the people who read in favor of the imaginary “other” who will be so refined and perfect. They also don’t realize that Sad Puppies was the only thing PROTECTING them from Vox. I don’t know if we still are enough to protect them, and at this point I know any number of people who say “May G-d have mercy on their souls” rather than try to defend them…

    1. Yeah, I find Vox Day a bit abrasive but honestly at this point I’m ready for him to eat them alive.

    2. Kate, Sarah and Amanda all seem to be doing a great job with SP. You all should be commended. And last year I followed Brad’s lead as a SP (though I didn’t nominate, I only voted as I discovered the controversy late).

      But this year I intend to follow Vox’s lead. My opinion is to heck with the Trufen. They’ve pissed in the punch bowl so they should be made to drink from it.

  2. Yay for the evil capitalists of the world! We’re the ones who get stuff done.

    I think they believe their hearts that if they chant their own BS long enough, it will come true. Like if people wish hard enough, they can save Tinkerbell.

    1. J.M. Barrie and some of Disney’s past efforts (“If You Wish Upon a Star” anyone?) have a LOT to answer for…

  3. I suppose my interests are far too casual for me to be a “real” fan. That’s alright, I’ve been living at mostly right angles to Reality for some time and it utterly fails to bother me that I might be too complex for some, or perhaps even completely imaginary.

    1. Film idea: ‘Orvan’ – Local eccentric Elwood P. Hoyt perplexes his family and friends by having conversations with an invisible bull companion. Hilarity ensues when his concerned sister Vox Simmons steps in a particularly nasty invisible cowpie when trying to commit Elwood to a sanitarium.

    1. Went to a football party last night. Not my usual thing, but good friends invited me. In my left breast pocket along with pencil, pen, and notecards was my fairly new Kindle Paperwhite. Footprint of a paperback but only 3/8 of an inch thick. Last year’s birthday present to myself, under $100. Haven’t really loaded it up, only a couple dozen books including some old friends I intend to reread at some point, Amanda’s latest Nocturnal that I jus finished (go Amanda! more please), and half finished with one of Kate’s vampire con stories. Device keeps a charge for well over a week of normal use. Could hold hundreds of books, but I prefer to keep mine organized on my computer and cross load to the Kindle as needed.
      Here’s the main thing: you know that sinking feeling you get when you finish a book? I’m done, what am I going to read next? Well I don’t get that any more, at least not for more than a few seconds, because I always have at least a double handful of fresh choices at my finger tips. And I don’t have to carry a book bag with the one I’m almost finished with and the most likely next two or three, not even on a long trip, because there they are living as cute little electrons on the Kindle. Uses the same charger as my cell phone, have a spare charger in the truck that runs off the cig lighter jack, and worst case should it fail I fall back on my old manual control Kindle, same form I just lose the backlit touchscreen.

      1. Yeah, I loved/love the feeling of “oh, I finished the book…on to the next one!” when my kindle worked. Unfortunately, I’ve had two, and both of them broke. I’m planning (I am a glutton for punishment/have a very short memory) on getting a new one, but I wish the d*mn things were a bit more robust, y’know?

        1. My original kindle I only had to replace once–and if I charged the replacement, it would be working just fine. My kindle paperwhite is going amazing strong after almost a year of heavy use.

          Can’t say the same for what I’ve observed of the Kindle Fires, though. They sure seem to have issues, especially with charging–I must say that, while I may not buy another one in future, my iPad is doing just fine four years in.

        2. I’ve had my original manual Kindle for going on five years. It’s frozen up on me twice, but a quick trip to the Amazon Kindle support page to remind me of the reset process and it was back up and running. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Only had the new Paperwhite for a few months. Biggest issue for me was switching from manual controls on each side to full up touch screen, but I’m getting used to it.

          1. I was/have been worried about the touch screen bit; plus, it bugged me that they removed the “text to speech” functionality…I rarely used it, but it was nice to know that if I needed to I could have my kindle read to me. Both of the Kindles I’ve had were kindle keyboards, and I wrote reams of notes with those itty bitty keyboards, but I have rather large fingers, and touch screens are not friendly to them, generally speaking, lol. My first kindle, the screen went haywire on one side, and efforts to repair it and restart/reboot it were unsuccessful…then it just stopped responding altogether. My second Kindle just won’t turn on or restart. The switch doesn’t even light up when I flick it, and the battery ought to be charged, but it never glows green when plugged in…only orange, then it turns off. I even pried off the back cover to try a “hard” reset with the little reset button…and it still wouldn’t turn on. I’m a stubborn person, so I haven’t given up, which is the main reason I haven’t bought a new one, actually. But right now, I have a relatively expensive hunk of plastic and metal that makes for an extremely unsatisfactory paperweight. *grin* I tend to be a little hard on my electronics…dratted fragile things…

            1. The switch doesn’t even light up when I flick it, and the battery ought to be charged, but it never glows green when plugged in…only orange, then it turns off

              I had a problem similar to this where my Kindle refused to charge. For whatever reason it charged with a Motorola Micro USB Travel Charger a friend had. I bought one for myself and it works fine now. No idea WHY this should be the case, but it is.

      2. Simon & Schuster should’ve invented the Kindle. Or Macmillan. Or Penguin, etc.

        The fact that Amazon, the “everything store” beat specialized book publishers/distributors to the punch shows how archaic the Big Five’s thinking is. If they were stuck in the 90s it would be an advancement.

        It’s not like they weren’t warned. It’s Apple beating the record companies at the game they should’ve had in the bag, all over again.

        1. There was actually a science fiction book called “Cyberbooks” published back in the late eighties or early nineties that had a plot amusingly similar to what is going on now. The biggest difference I can recall is that instead of a plucky inventor making the “cyberbook” it was business juggernauts like Amazon.

        2. Having been a traditional publisher for a number of years, I can say with some confidence that nobody in the traditional paper book publishing / B&M retailing universe could have come up with the Kindle. It undermines or downright dynamites the foundations of the way books have happened for over a hundred years. Even the most forward-looking people in tradpub would have been worried about bridging the gap between conceptual models: How they could move to ebooks without destroying everything they already had as traditional publishers. This was also true in music, as Brian mentioned above: It took a non-music company to show the world how digital music should be done.
          We have to remember that the show isn’t over yet. New companies trying new business models will eventually shove the older tradpub firms aside. (Castalia is one to watch here.) I won’t even hazard a guess as to what form the new models will take, nor whether older tradpub firms will have the courage to adopt them. In ten years we should know.

  4. Having been a fan since I first started reading, having attended my first Worldcon in ’78, having helped with the ’86 Worldcon, I watched what went on with the Hugos last year with more than a little bit of horror.

    Yeah, there were always self-appointed SMOFs, the more holy-than-thou fans who were eager to put down others… but I never thought I’d see a time when THEY would be willing to rip down Fandom itself so they could stay at the top of a supposed mountain that was increasingly looking like a pile of unappetizing trash bags.

    And the publishers… (Facepalm.)

    My max price for an e-book is dependent on the author, and runs around $7-8 or so. And it’s the rare one that’s that high. Most, after sampling are “Ah yeah… nope.”

    And when I see an e-book price higher than paperback or hardback prices, I don’t think “Oh, what a good value for the convenience, and I’m sure the author’s getting a big chunk of royalties off that one!” – I think… “WTF? No way.”

    Getting even slightly familiar with the publishing process, it becomes very clear very fast that an e-book is a LOT cheaper to store and distribute than a paper book. How much cheaper? You’re talking bandwidth charges, as in – okay, you’ve just sold a million copies of your magnum opus. Here’s your charge for bandwidth and server space – $3.02. Printing, warehousing, transportation, stocking and displaying a book is EXPENSIVE in comparison.

    So… does my refusal to buy hurt the publisher? Heck if I know. I know high prices make me buy fewer books, but then I’m the wrong kind of Fan anyway, to hear the ‘elite’ tell it.

    And if those elite want to crow on top of a pile of garbage and tell the world how wonderful they are… they can just do that. I’ll be over there in a story someone’s constructed that I actually enjoy, instead of something that’s pushed on me because it’s the ‘right’ author saying the ‘right’ things.

    ‘Cause I’m a WrongFan. And WrongFen have more fun!

    1. J, Yep. I am not going to pay hardcover, or even paperback prices for a handful of electrons.

  5. I’ve donated 2,000 paperback books during a move… Have boxes in the basement for want of shelf space and there are 500 books sitting on the expansion card in my mostly unused Nook.
    My main reading these days comes through Amazon’s KU program. Hopefully I’m reading enough there to insure MY favorite authors are getting a nice big slice of that pie!
    Paperback prices are a little steep for my pension budget, but used books that aren’t available on Kindle sometimes get funded if they are ( or were) good enough I can’t live without. Note: I live on a mountainside in MT, either library in the area needs about three gallons of gas for the round trip.
    Most publishers have shown their greed in the pricing game all too well.
    My habit of several books a week could be a small but steady revenue stream for THEM if the price was right.
    Guess I’ll just have to continue to read Indy authors and Baen.
    Not complaining, just an observation.
    Hint to other authors, get your less active backlist on KU and let that income help with the occasional dinner out.

    1. Author here. I was actually looking over my numbers the other night (for once) and got a look at how well KU pays.

      I was actually quite pleasantly surprised. I’d left it on there because I’d assumed that, like my usage of Netflix, some people wanted something similar for books. But I was surprised to see that with the current payouts (payment per page read) at the moment someone reading the whole of Dead Silver actually makes me about a buck and some change less than my royalty on the book.

      Personally? That’s great. My experience may be somewhat different, granted, as it was a fairly long work that was making that royalty, but I was happy with it. By all means I will be keeping my works on the KU cycle for the foreseeable future, seeing as someone who wishes to simply read them can earn me almost as much in royalty as a purchase. To me, that’s quite pleasing.

      1. As a reader, I’m loving KU. It’s led me to try out authors I would otherwise give a pass to–and if I don’t like their stuff, I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my money (and, depending on how far I got, they still get paid).

    2. I started off reading ebooks in Nook format, and bought some. One day I accidentally deleted three books. I got hold of B&N tech support and asked if they could restore the ebooks for me. No way, they said. They acknowledged that I had purchased them, but my mistake meant I had to buy again if I wanted to read them again.

      That was the last time I had anything to do with B&N. I switched to Amazon and have never looked back. If I have a problem, Amazon solves it cheerfully. They know a scary amount of things about me, but their world is so damn comfortable and convenient, I don’t mind.

  6. I really like ebooks but if a publisher is going to price them up to ridiculous levels I may just get the book used for 1 penny plus $3.99 shipping. If enough others do the same I wonder if that will get their attention?

    1. Exactly – if I can get it for cheap used, and I really want to read it, by gum I will, rather than pay the full cost of an ebook that’s the same price as a new print copy.

    2. That’s the only way I buy TOR. It’s boycott safe to buy used. And cheaper.

      My top price point for epub is 6.99. (and it’s not Amazon. Ever. Kindle is not trustworthy.)

      At dragoncon last year, Toni W of Baen asserted in a panel about ebooks that production is just as expensive for ebooks as for traditional. I agree that’s OK for prepress, but NOT after. Bigass world o’ difference there. I have to think there are a lot! of costs for paper books that we shouldn’t be paying for electronically.

      I do commend Baen for generally better pricing than, oh, Tor.

  7. Baen webscriptions generally does eight books a month, four new release and four second release. I liken the split to that between hardback and paperback. I can get a full month’s issue for $18, or $2.25 per book. Even if you only count new releases that’s $4.50 per.
    And there is no bloody reason in the world that every other publishing house could not do exactly the same thing, or at least something very similar.
    But they don’t. Instead they price their e-books out of the market, giving incentive to either bootleg or wait and buy used. What a fine long term business plan that is.
    It would not surprise me at all if in ten years time, perhaps much sooner, the big 5 simply cease to exist and we are left with a few small houses and indie. And I doubt that the readers will either know or care.

    1. I like Amazon, but I prefer to buy Baen ebooks direct then I can download them in the format I wish to, For instance in my job I have dead time while Tests run but they would frown on my installing Kindle but I can read them as RTF files

    2. Uncle Lar. Yes. And another good point about the Baen monthly bundle is the chance to discover a good author you might not have read because their book is included in the bundle.

  8. I was reading before I started school, or so my Father says. Due to pain, my reading speed has dropped from 1500+/minute to about 3-500 words/minute, but I still spend my free time (such as I have) reading/writing. So, I am also a “non-trufan” according to DG and GRRM. In fact, I *love* GRRM’s excuses for not finishing his latest book. (“can’t get started.”)

  9. “Anyway, back to the blurb and sample. That means you, the author, have a very short amount of space to grab my attention and convince me to read your book. What I’m looking for is the hook, writing style, formatting and whether or not there is enough there to give me a feel for what the book is going to be about.”

    Yep, and a pet peeve of mine is blurbs on videos (both DVDs and streaming) especially when they waste valuable real estate telling me the last 3 movies each actor has been in rather than giving me a hint what the movie’s about. I’ve always liked to read the first page or so of a book in a bookstore. Only time I can remember going wrong was “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” The single cell preface was hilarious, but the book was at best mediocre and forgettable. I rarely go wrong with Amazon’s 10% sample.

  10. I read the ebook samples to see if the book interests me. That’s why I don’t like Mira Grant. I loved the sample for FEED. It looked like a new, creative approach to zombie novels, but once I bought the book I learned that immediately after the sample, the story becomes a typical liberal talking points story about “brave” journalists following a “brave” liberal presidential candidate on the campaign trail meeting “dumb” votes with the wrong type of political views. After several chapters with no zombies, I gave up on it. I don’t reward bait and switch artists.

  11. Have you noticed how much Hugo TruFans act like the Mean Girls Clique in High School, the group nerds and geeks were snubbed by, but never had a chance in Hell of being part of?

    1. It always reminds me of Mary Tudor. She was hounded, persecuted, threatened, abused every which way, because she wouldn’t renounce her Catholic faith. She understood, deeply and painfully, what it meant to persecuted for her beliefs. The minute she got her hands on some power, she murdered people who refused to worship the way she told them. Talk about the abused becoming the abuser …

  12. “Publishers do not want you to own that e-book you just paid $13.99 for. You are buying a license. (Oh, and the Amazon haters have put out yet another article about how Amazon says you don’t own those e-books you buy from it. Guess what, boys and girls, Amazon doesn’t decide whether you do or not. The publisher does.)”

    The only reason why I buy Amazon ebooks is because I established before I started buying that it was trivially possible to strip the DRM.

    I don’t buy anything that someone else can take away from me.

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