Topic Round-up

Wow, the New Year has gotten off with a bang — or, perhaps more accurately, the sound of air slowly leaking out of a balloon. Traditional publishing basically shuts down during the holidays. So there isn’t much coming out of the ivory towers to discuss. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on. Just the opposite, in fact.

The first to come up over the holidays and, in many ways, the most concerning was the announced closure of All Romance eBooks and its related sites. I’m sure most of you have heard about it by now. So I’m not going to spend much time on it. The basics are ARe, one of the distribution platforms for romance and erotica ebooks, announced it could not continue operating after posting losses during the year. So, giving its authors, small presses and readers less than a week’s notice, it said it would be shutting down the site. Oh, and those folks to whom it owed royalties? Well, if they agreed to something ridiculous like 10 cents to the dollar and promised not to sue, they’d get paid. Otherwise, good luck trying to get anything out of them.

For more information about this situation, I recommend several posts. Start with this post from The Passive Voice. Be sure to read the comments and then click through to the original post from BlogCritics. On New Year’s Day, PG posted two more times about the ARe situation. The first, also from Blog Critics, discusses some court documents that are very revealing about what had been going on behind the scenes at ARe. These documents show just how little authors and publishers know about the distribution platforms some of us rely upon to get our books into the hands of our readers. The second is a link to a post from Kris Rusch. I cannot say how important it is to read both the PG comments but to click through to Kris’ original post. Please, even if you don’t read the first two, read this last one.

The ARe situation is bad for everyone involved. Authors are being stolen from. There is no other word for it. The owners of ARe did not give their clients — authors and readers alike — warning there was a problem. That meant authors, who relied upon ARe to do as they contracted, could not make an informed decision about whether to continue the relationship or not. For readers, it pointed out the danger of trusting online distribution sites to remain up and running and to continue giving you access to the books you bought. This is why so many of us have long preached that you need to download and save to multiple back-up sources/media any e-book you buy. It is another reason why so many of us hate DRM that tries to prevent you from doing just that. So, the lesson for the moment is to download, back up and make your own decision about whether you will try to break DRM or not. I won’t say whether you should or should not because it is against the law in some countries and it does violate the terms of service for a number of sites.

And I would never, ever tell you to do anything to violate the TOS or the law. [required disclaimer]

The next topic I had considered for today came up New Year’s Eve. I’ll admit, when I saw the site where the piece was published, I knew it probably cried for some serious snarkage. After all, HuffPo isn’t known for being a staunch supporter of indie and small presses. I was right. After all, when the headline of the piece is Self Publishing: An Insult to the Written Word, you know exactly how the article is going to slant.

Fortunately for all of us, the king of snark, Larry Corriea, tackled the task before I could. Since there is no way I could out-snark Larry, I wills imply direct you to his post. Read it, enjoy it and know that he is completely on the mark with everything he has to say.

Next up, we have yet another call to have a year of publishing nothing but women. Yep, you read that right. Kamila Shamshie has called for 2018 to be the year of publishing only women. Now, I know what you’re going to say. Look at the source of the article. It’s the Guardian. I know. I know. Another bastion of, well, drivel. However, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen such calls, or something similar. Have you forgotten the calls for readers to give up on reading books by men — or non-people of color or other so-called marginalized groups — for a year?

One of the best responses I’ve seen to the Shamshie article comes from Dacry Conroy. These three paragraphs completely dismantle Shamshie’s argument:

Yes! I thought. We do need to take example from the suffragettes, we do need to stop being so polite and seize our own power, raise our voices and… That’s when she lost me. Because what Shamsie suggested we raise our voices to say to the publishing industry was, essentially, “Please let us in. You’re being unfair. Just for one year without any boys in the way and see if the readers like us. It doesn’t have to be right away, 2018 is fine, but give us a go? Please?”

I don’t see the spirit of the independent presses of the 70s and 80s in that. What I see is a spirit of dependence on an industry that infantilizes writers, making them grateful for any morsel of approval and attention, convincing them that a publishing house is the only way to ‘real’ publication. This seems to be particularly so of literary writers (a group to which I do not pretend to belong) who appear to have been convinced that even though they are the keepers of the “artistic flame,” they would not have an audience at all without the festivals, the reviewers and the awards the publishing houses so carefully close to all but their own.

Surely the lesson from the independent presses of the 70s isn’t to plead for someone else to start a press and offer better opportunities, it’s to stand up, use the technology available and become our own publishers. Many of us are already doing that.

Be sure to check out the rest of Conroy’s response at the link above.

Finally, someone stirred the waters and more and more posts have been appearing on social media about the evils of self-publishing. We need gatekeepers. We need editors. We need to serve our time as journeymen learning our craft the old way. Traditional publishing is the only way to do that. We’re flooding the market and writing books that shouldn’t be written.

You get the drift.

I’ve been hearing this sort of thing since I first stuck a toe into the indie waters more than six years ago. I’ll freely admit there is some dreck out there. Hell, there’s a lot of dreck out there. But it isn’t all coming from indie authors. Remember, there is the traditionally published science fiction (erotica) where the male lead’s genitals are so dangerous they have to be chained. (Kate, quit laughing so hard. You’ll hurt something.) Then there is the traditionally published paranormal romance where the vampire groom marries his human bride in a church, drinks faux blood champagne and then, like a scene out of the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, flies off into the sunset with her in his arms. Sorry, vampires don’t sparkle, they don’t do sunlight unless they are really, really old and usually evil or insane. They certainly don’t go flying off into the sunset ala Superman and Lois Lane.

Every argument against indie books can be answered easily. We need gatekeepers. Guess what? The gatekeepers are the readers. They tell us if we are doing something right or wrong. They tell us if they want to buy what we’ve written or not.

We need editors. There are a ton of editors out there we can hire or barter services with.

We need professional looking covers. Easy peasy. We can hire or barter for services. And, btw, have you seen some of the traditional covers recently, especially for romance books? Can you say “stock photos”?

We need someone to format and convert our books. Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. Formatting is simply setting up a template and writing in it. Conversion is nothing when you look at what we used to have to do. I remember having to hand code a novel into html. Now? You can upload your Word file or a mobi or epub file. No problem. And print? That’s a bit more tricky but I can prep a print file in a matter of an hour or two now — the trouble is finding the time to sit down and do it because I would rather be writing.

And that, you see, is the real issue indie authors face. We would rather be writing. So some of us — myself included — tend to slack off when it comes to getting print and audio books out there. It is a matter of disciplining ourselves to do it — and that is my one resolution for the New Year. The other real impediment we have as indies is getting our books into bookstores. However, is that something we really need to worry about? Despite what the “studies” show, how many young people (age 30 and under) really go to a bookstore and buy a print book for themselves? How many bookstores do we have? In my town, none. The closest bookstore is about 8 miles away and is located in a very busy shopping area with lousy parking and even worse access. In fact, if you don’t know it’s there, you would never get off the highway or the main city street to pull into the shopping area to find it — and it is a Barnes & Noble.

As for the complaint that we are saturating the market, possibly. However, indie publishing has proven traditional publishing was not meeting reader demand — either in the number of new books being offered each month or in subject matter. How long have we listened to the old saw that science fiction is dead? Yet more and more indie sf writers are starting to make enough from their writing to consider quitting their day jobs.

What do you think? Are indies an anathema to good writing and reading?

51 thoughts on “Topic Round-up

  1. And print? That’s a bit more tricky but I can prep a print file in a matter of an hour or two now — the trouble is finding the time to sit down and do it because I would rather be writing.

    Saw a post approximately a month back where OP (Vox) mentioned that writers who have more than 3 books would be better served by using a publisher instead of remaining Indy. His point, I presume, is that writers with large catalogs will spend more time on administrivia than on creating new product (I.e., writing).

    Agree with him or not, there is a definite impact on diverting time to wrestling with Amazon about a file issue, chasing after X for Y, etc. Going Indy means the writer carries all of the burdens necessary to create the reward.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but more channels for distributing content (ebook, print, audio, ???) mean more time away from the keyboard. Maybe an author cooperative (6-8 writers pool their resources & hire 1-2 people who only deal with the business side) is a viable idea?

    1. *grins* You know what you call an author cooperative with employees? A publishing house with an overly complicated management structure and no clear leadership.

        1. *nods* that would work. Not sure if freelance business manager/administrator would be a viable concept, which is why spouses have filled the role in the past.

      1. I know, that’s why I was futzing around trying to describe the concept. Bartering might work for covers/proofreading/etc., but for an administrative assistant who would handle the administrivia so the creator can focus on creating? Its usually described as spouse or employee (and both can be fantastically wonderful or nightmarishly awful).

        1. What it still boils down to is who is publisher? That entity owns the rights as far as Amazon or any other retailer is concerned, and is the only entity entitled to receive sales numbers or payment for product sold. A true indie author remains their own publisher no matter what bits and pieces they might farm out to contract support. Once you relinquish that full ownership to some other entity you surrender both visibility and control.
          And when you place your trust in untrustworthy people you wind up in situations such as we are seeing with ARe. Based on credible information it seems that they started as a two person business until one owner cut the other out and started gutting the company of all assets. There’s currently a class action suit being formed, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that the culprit had absconded with everything of worth including the intellectual property of every author the business ever marketed.

  2. There’s an interview with Andy Weir at National Geographic, and pretty much, his reason for going indie was because… the trad pubs said his story wasn’t going to sell, so they weren’t buying it.

    So he popped it up on his site for free. People wanted to read it on Kindle, through word of mouth, and he popped it onto Amazon because his readers wanted to read it on Kindle.

    Much later, tradpub comes offering him a deal.

    This is the summary of a number of VERY good stories these days. SAO? Indie. Gate? Indie. And lots more, that I can’t remember off the top of my head.

    So no, indie is not an anathema to good writing and reading. If the Western pub industry was smart, they’d make a Comiket, but they’re snobs.

  3. Indie is as much an anathema to good reading and writing as is trad pub. There’s some appalling indie stuff, but badly written and because the subject matter repulses me (but its out there for readers to find.) I’ve been grumbling about trad pub fiction because more and more of it has typos, pagination flaws, isn’t edited beyond Spell-Check, and the writing is . . . meh. And some of the subject matter repulses me, and not just because you cannot write a kind, fluffy history of, oh, what happened in Anatolia in the 1910s, or the Balkans in the 1990s.

    1. Most of the pieces of history people tend to find fascinating are not the times in history that can be made kind or fluffy. (note general trend: Individuals find all sorts of things interesting that would bore other individuals to tears.)

    2. “I’ve been grumbling about trad pub fiction because more and more of it has typos, pagination flaws, isn’t edited beyond Spell-Check,”

      I’m reading Weber’s latest Safehold book right now, and the number of typos, switched words, and inconsistencies that got left in there is mind-boggling.
      Admittedly, it’s a big book, but still.

  4. Hell, HuffPo isn’t even a staunch supporter of paying their own bloggers . . .

  5. I want to point out to the writer of the HuffPo piece that Milo Yiannopoulos is going to be professionally published by her vaunted gatekeepers, and that he has already sold more books than she has in her entire career.

    But I want to do it to her face.
    I want to see her reaction.

    1. Aren’t his pre-orders higher than the total number of books Hillary Clinton sold?

  6. It’s called “Dangerous” – and Simon & Schuster haven’t even released a blurb for the preorder, but it hit #1 in the kindle store. (Currently #23 in books, #905 in the kindle store, which is both an amazing testament to star power, and an interesting not on how many ebooks vs. print books moves.)

        1. I could definitely see both. Not that I see either Milo or his publisher objecting to either plan. Money is green and spends the same whether spent out of spite or interest.

  7. “The other real impediment we have as indies is getting our books into bookstores. However, is that something we really need to worry about?”

    Speaking as a reader, not a writer, I would say No. I actually bought a new dead tree book last month (2 of them!) – a Christmas gift for a man who will never ever consider ebooks in any form. I literally cannot remember the last time I bought a new dead-tree book. If pressed, I would have to guess it was the purchase of a handful of “how to do it” books to keep on hand in case of TEOTWAWKI. I will occasionally buy used dead tree for an out of print title, and I continue to use my existing credits at paperback swap. And I did not buy that Christmas gift at B&N – I got those 2 books at an independent Christian gift shop/cafe that is not on anyone’s sales radar. Which is just to say, I don’t think dead tree books sales are our future …but you already knew that.

  8. As I delve ever deeper into the business of publishing, indie, small and large press, several things are becoming much clearer to me.
    A complete lack of visibility between retail vendor and author seems to be a feature designed into the system. Sales numbers are reported to, and revenues paid to the publisher who must be trusted to provide accurate and timely accounting to the author. I’m seeing far too many instances where that is simply not the case.
    As for the current bemoaning over the lack of quality with indie publishing, I can only observe that Sturgeon’s Law still holds true. For those unfamiliar, here is the original comment that Ted Sturgeon wrote in the 1958 issue of Venture:
    I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.
    Which apparently stemmed from a remark made by Rudyard Kipling back in 1890, so I sense a trend here. What it does mean is that there is a crying need for a mechanism readers may employ to separate the wheat from the chaff, keeping in mind the infinite variety of opinions over which is which.

    1. “What it does mean is that there is a crying need for a mechanism readers may employ to separate the wheat from the chaff, keeping in mind the infinite variety of opinions over which is which.”

      I used to use the Hugo Awards for this sifting service. In most years prior to Sad Puppies, anything that got a nomination was guaranteed crud. Luckilly, the CHORFs have labored mightily to gerrymander the voting system, so that once again the Hugos will function as a do-not-buy list. Jolly good of them, what?

      What we need to keep in mind is that these calls for gatekeepers are coming from people who are determined to enforce -their- opinion as the gold standard for the entire industry. Left to their own devices, they would certainly make independent publishing illegal. We’d all be applying for an Artistic License.

      Such people have always existed. They are the descendants of the sons of beeotches who gave Gutenberg a hard time.

      1. Problem with the Hugos (and all of the other awards) is that they filter perhaps a dozen total “do not read” items out. Some help, true, but there are thousands out there.

        Now, more than that if you are willing to tar an author for life because they were nominated, or won – but I’m not quite willing to do that. If someone like Oldeveult (sp?) ever gets a handle on managing the suspension of disbelief, he could actually be a writer worth adding to my library.

        1. TOR has been working very hard to make their whole catalog “do-not-read,” but because they are idiots they still have authors like Weber and a few more.

    1. Even if, like me, you still distrust the conversion from a word processor (there is an absolutely amazing amount of garbage in their files, even OPF). It’s called a macro – goes into simple HTML with a couple of keystrokes and I check that file.

      I am still digging to find the old printer’s reference I have – the whole “language” of odd squiggles, some very similar to each other, that a writer had to learn to mark up a galley proof; now THAT was difficult.

  9. If indy saturates the market, and trad pub precipitates out, I am not going to be shedding many tears. Wouldn’t have happened to an industry that wasn’t destructively mismanaged.

  10. I mean, personally, I still prefer print books. But I know I’m odd. The only thing I’ve ever published is e-book only, and I’m probably going to continue down that road for a while. My biggest issue is actually making decent covers.

  11. “We need gatekeepers. We need editors. We need to serve our time as journeymen learning our craft the old way. Traditional publishing is the only way to do that. We’re flooding the market and writing books that shouldn’t be written.”

    Of course we are. I plan to write a bunch of books that will have Guardianistas screaming for their smelling salts. Books where free people make decisions for themselves, and tell the Powers That Be to cram it up their butts. Books written by a free man, for free people to read, sold on an open platform, to sink or swim on their own merits.

    SJWs don’t want that. They want gatekeepers. They would very much like to be able to force me to either do it their way or shut up. Because stories about free people making their own decisions are very dangerous to SJWs. They might Do It Wrong! Egad!

    I find myself disinclined to cooperate. Particularly since I have my very own printing press right here in my lap.

  12. Well apparently formatting is so hard and expensive that tradpub needs to charge more for a ebook than a paperback….

    1. From what I’ve seen in tradpub ebooks, most of their employees are trained monkeys. Formatting? As if. They dump a raw .txt file on the web and charge $17 for it. If you’re lucky it has line breaks and paragraph indents.

      A sure strategy for success.

    2. Humanities majors fresh out of college. You want computer science majors.

        1. I know a high school kid who could write that applet and get it running on a phone. Kapow, job done. This stuff isn’t difficult.

          But the big publishers can’t seem to manage. That level of incompetence is probably unrealistic. Therefore I must conclude they A) just don’t care at all, or B) do it on purpose.

  13. “How many bookstores do we have? In my town, none. The closest bookstore is about 8 miles away and is located in a very busy shopping area with lousy parking and even worse access.”

    That sounds like my place, except it’s closer to 12 miles and through a bottleneck. Also a B&N, which has never impressed me as to its F&SF section.

    My town has 160,000 people. It really sucked when Borders went under. (What also sucked was not acquiring a truck until a couple of months after they sold off their lovely shelving.

    1. One B&N (RIP Hastings 😦 ), a few places that sell used, and a hole-in-the-wall used westerns-n-sci-fi-n-romance books shop that will close in 18 months when the owner’s husband retires and they relocate. For 180,000 people, more or less.

    2. My county has over a million people. The only bookstores are B&N stores. The mandatory $15/hr wage ran ALL of the other bookstores out of business.
      They’re all gone.
      And there aren’t that many B&N’s here either.

      So if you want to buy a book, it’s pretty much Amazon here.

    3. Your description sounds like a B&N I’ve visited that’s just across the highway and a block or so down from a major Half Price Books.

      There were two Hastings where I live, both gone of course, and a B&N at the mall, still there for now, plus the one on campus. When I moved to the Great Flat seven years ago, there were at least half a dozen used book stores, plus the permanent friends of the library sale in the basement of the main branch. The last second hand shop just announced it is closing. There is supposedly a buyer who will reopen around March, but I’m not optimistic. The library sale is all that’s left and a small second hand section in one of the comic shops, and I’ve picked both clean.

  14. > Authors are being stolen from.

    As I heard the story, one of the key events leading to the formation of the SFWA was two Ace authors who received substantially different sales figures (and royalties) for the same Ace Double.

    I don’t think that’s the sort of thing the SFWA worries about nowadays.

  15. What do you think? Are indies an anathema to good writing and reading?

    Anathema? It’s interesting that we’re going back to the good old ways of proscription and excommunication! Of course, one problem… we haven’t got a Pope who holds the keys to writing, we’ve just got an Amazon spreading water over everyone. I suspect the trad pub would feel better if they could interdict all the indies and have anyone pay attention to them, but… someone already nailed their disputation on the door, and broke it wide open.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: