In the days when everybody started fair, Best Beloved, the Leopard lived in a place called the High Veldt. ‘Member it wasn’t the Low Veldt, or the Bush Veldt, or the Sour Veldt, but the ‘sclusively bare, hot, shiny High Veldt, where there was sand and sandy-coloured rock and ‘sclusively tufts of sandy- yellowish grass. The Giraffe and the Zebra and the Eland and the Koodoo and the Hartebeest lived there; and they were ‘sclusively sandy-yellow-brownish all over; but the Leopard, he was the ‘sclusivest sandiest-yellowish-brownest of them all–a greyish-yellowish catty-shaped kind of beast, and he matched the ‘sclusively yellowish-greyish-brownish colour of the High Veldt to one hair. This was very bad for the Giraffe and the Zebra and the rest of them; for he would lie down by a ‘sclusively yellowish-greyish-brownish stone or clump of grass, and when the Giraffe or the Zebra or the Eland or the Koodoo or the Bush-Buck or the Bonte-Buck came by he would surprise them out of their jumpsome lives.
How the Leopard got his spots, Rudyard Kipling, JUST SO STORIES 1902.
Now it’s not entirely true to say I’m as mean as cat’s wee. But it’s got its moments of truth, I’ll admit. My parents – especially my father who came out of a relative affluent childhood straight into the Great Depression — were shaped by that, and some of that plainly rubbed off on me.
The Scots part of my heritage merely relates to sheep. My clan are generous to fault, especially with English Sheep.
And the one place it really, really shows is that I absolutely hate wasting cartridges. Because of how we live (in a remote, rural place) I shoot much of our protein. I’m no great shot, but I very seldom miss, because I stalk well and patiently. I have a bipod rest, a good scope, and lots of discipline. I only do head shots because I like clean kills, it doesn’t waste meat, and I can. It’s not ‘sport’, and I never try to give anything ‘a sporting chance’. I’m sure my noble British ancestors are doing 50 thousand revs in their graves at my bird harvesting, especially when I climb trees and pull down sleeping turkeys at night. The rest of my ancestors – who always regarded the British ones as targets in red coats – would cheer.
So: if there’s one thing I really hate it’s the moving target. In particular I hate it if I’ve leopard-crawled a long way in the mud and wet grass, and it doesn’t even know I’m there… and it decides to go somewhere else. I’ve never seen the point of that hasty shot, although I’ll admit I’ve made a few.
I don’t like waste, and I don’t like missing and I really don’t like not being in control and having to still have a go.
Of course has a fair bit of similarity to current publishing and writing (How did you guess, just because this is a writing site?) The problem is our whole genre, all of publishing (both indy and traditional) and the business of writing are moving targets. Even the audience is moving and changing. And they’re not moving predictably, but like a cheetah full of amphetamine, LSD and blindfolded too.
Which is all rough on the painstaking ‘stalker’ – the author trying to set themselves up for the ‘kill’. It’s certainly resulted in some very wild shooting – some innocent bystanders hit, lots of prey (AKA sales) disappeared into the scrub never to be seen again. I mean, once upon a time you simply had to kiss up to the right editors, loudly espouse the correct SJW cause de jour and you were in every B&N from here to Timbuktu, and on NYT bestseller list… and life was sweet. Now you can do all that, impeccably, win a Nebula and a Hugo, and be in the surviving book-stores… and still be a sales failure. Readers are being considerably more difficult and relying on Amazon, are more price aware, and more inclined to sample on KU.
My suspicion is that this is just the beginning. I’m willing to bet that by the time the current US election cycle is over, a considerable number of authors (particularly in traditional publishing) will have alienated some readers forever. It looks to be heated, and divisive and very much on social media. And, honestly I don’t think Indy authors’ readers – or the environment – is staying still either. Amazon is shifting, and, while it’s still a much better payer with more transparent accounting and sales control, it is also heading towards a monopoly. Buying tastes are changing, constantly, too.
So: given that game is moving off into other spots, how does the Leopard cope? Well, the author. We are more like the Leopard than the Ethiopian. The Ethiopian was grown up and used long words which meant just the same thing as the Leopard, but was less easy to understand.
The first step I think is accepting that game has moved. I think a lot trad publishing just can’t get their head around that, and will starve.
However according to the wise Baviaan, the rest of us will take steps – following the game and adapting to the new circumstances. Going into other spots ourselves.
My less-than-wise monkey ideas go as follows (I would be delighted to hear yours):
Use a scattergun approach. You’re going to have to move fast and shoot (write) often.
Work towards independence. Build your own social networks to advertize on, find your own editors and proof readers, learn where to get, or make covers. Learn how to format your own e-books.
Be as cash positive, low debt, and expectation free as possible.
Work towards either a broad spectrum or an underserved part of the market.
Keep looking, learning, and trying to anticipate. Don’t just trend-follow. (Doctrinaire PC and militant feminism were successful trends. Once. By the time the media, churches and politicians get onto anything, it’s usually past apogee.)
Watch the economics – that’s where things change first. You can’t drive price change (as trad publishing are trying with e-book prices), but you can respond fast to it. You can move into new markets, and experiment with different formats – without losing your shirt in the effort.
I think authors would be wise to start accumulating mailing lists of their loyal readers. Firstly for advertising, and possibly offering books at pre-public sale discount seems smart to me. – you can discount by 20% and still beat Amazon.
I think looking toward writer’s co-ops would be smart.
An interesting area is going to be translation: it’s still entirely pwned by SJW publishing and a large source of the incomes of their authors – how that will work if Europe goes from zero to jackboots (or even part way) is a moot question. I have little doubt the current source would not be popular in that scenario.
I think the red/blue (or rather, blue vs the rest) divide in public life, including book sales, is going to become pronounced. As I’ve said before the ‘blue’ side has sold successfully to the rest, while refusing largely to buy the ‘red’ – and pillorying and attacking them. I think they’re going to push that, hard, without realizing what that does to a pendulum.
All of this will open gaps, and make for my least favorite kind of shooting. But whatever you do: don’t stay still. The game is not coming back. Change – as little as the denizens of File 770 or Tor books like it and try to stop it — is happening. And it won’t co-operate as to direction or speed either, not for anyone.
Then said Baviaan, ‘The aboriginal Fauna has joined the aboriginal Flora because it was high time for a change; and my advice to you, Ethiopian, is to change as soon as you can.’