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.