Poor little rich girl


“Why won’t they love me?!”

It’s said that schadenfreude is an unworthy sentiment. But after reading this tearful piece, I must confess that my schadenboner is prodigious. Few things amuse me like watching a self-assigned moral and professional better slowly and painfully realizing that (s)he gets to be stuck in the marketplace just like the rest of us. There is no royal road to fame and fortune. No guaranteed path to glory. You dig it out of the mud like all of us, and if it doesn’t come with the first book or the tenth book, or it doesn’t come at all, that’s just the breaks of living and working in an era when more people are writing more quality prose — in the English language — than at any time in history. We also have more readers, too, thank goodness. But as Kevin J. Anderson once said, if publishing is now easier than it’s ever been before, success is still just as hard.

[my book got] more buzz than I’d seen for any book I’d ever written. People were telling me on Twitter that they’d bought three or four copies and were making all their friends read it. I heard from booksellers that the books were flying off the shelves. We went into a second printing almost immediately. I did a book signing in Chicago that sold a bunch of books. The reader response at BEA was surreal. It was magical.

Setting aside the fact that the author is talking about a non-fiction work of opinion, I feel like it’s worth pointing out that the advent of universal social media has also created universal concrete silos, into which many authors descend. These silos become perfect echo chambers: constantly reflecting praise and wonderment back to said author, until said author is sure in her heart that she’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. Get yourself a few hundred loyal sycophants, plus a cadre of like-minded peers — all sending you digital love notes every time you open your mouth — and it’s easy to perceive yourself as being on the crest of a wave.

This, I thought, is what it must feel like to have a book that’s about to hit it big. This was it. This was going to be the big one. It was going to take off. I gnawed on my nails and watched as big magazines picked up articles from it and it got reviewed favorably in The New York Times, and I waited for first week sales numbers.

Thing is, what does “big” look like? There are waves, and then there are waves. J.K. Rowling is probably the 21st century diamond standard, where Fantasy & Science Fiction literature is concerned. She’s second only to Tolkien, in terms of broad, deep impact. The whole planet knows Harry Potter just as the whole planet knows Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. If not through text, then certainly through movies — successful, big-money, silver-screen adaptations being the holy grail of all commercially engaged fiction authors.

But there are other waves, besides the 3,000-foot tsunami.

Not far south of me, there is a nice guy named Brandon Sanderson who is certainly enjoying his own wave. To my east and north is Larry Correia, who built his wave in just about the most difficult way I can imagine. Every time I visit a Utah authors’ conference of any sort, I bump into people who are riding different waves at different heights. I think you’d have to go to New York or the Pacific Northwest to find more bona fide successful authors crammed into the same geographical footprint.

Again, the era of social media has tended to create silos. Especially in New York publishing, which (as I noted in this space in an earlier article) tends to be a bukkake club of self-referencing, self-blurbing, self-praising, and self-promoting. It’s why so many authors — against all sanity — still make New York their home. Despite the crush of people, and the insane cost of living. It’s worth it to be “in the swim” as it were.

But even being in the swim, doesn’t necessarily translate to mass market traction.

I expected to see at least twice the number of first week sales for this book as I had for any previous book. The buzz alone was two or three times what I was used to. This had to be it . . .

But when the numbers came in, they weren’t twice what I usually did in week one. They were about the same as the first week numbers for The Mirror Empire. And… that was…. fine. I mean, it would keep me getting book contracts.

But . . . it wasn’t a breakout. It was a good book, but It wasn’t a book that would change my life, financially.

Reader, I cried.

Ohhhhhh, the heart bleeds! Her great political non-fic tome — which the whole world was squeeeeeeeeeeeing about, and lurving over, and Tweeting at light speed! — simply did average.

Again, I point to Larry Correia, who gets maybe a tenth as much New York press coverage as our plaintiff. He recently bought his family 50 acres on a mountainside. Over the next two years, he and his lovely wife will build themselves the dream home of dream homes, where they will finish raising a family, grow old together, and die.

I’d call that a wave worth celebrating. And Larry did it all by working his ass off, being entertaining, working his ass off, working his ass off, and oh yeah, working his ass off. 100 hours a week, or more; when he was still pulling down day job paychecks and writing full-time to boot.

Now, for somebody living on a New York City high-rise budget, Larry’s amount of “wave” may not go nearly as far as it goes out here in Deplorable Country. But that’s why I always encourage fledgling authors to use internal metrics and standards to create goalposts. If you’ve spent your adult life in the lower-middle class income bracket, a modestly successful series of books will change your financial situation forever. You will be rich! Or at least, you will feel rich. But if you’re from the silver spoon set, even a very nicely-performing book (or string of books) will seem like just so much chump change.

It’s been strange since then, because everywhere I go, people come up to me and congratulate me on the release of the book. It has the best reviews of any book I’ve ever written. People come up to me and burst into tears at the head of the signing line and thank me for writing it. It’s a transformative book for people. It’s a manifesto. It’s a book that’s even more relevant now after the election. It changes people’s lives. I’m very glad I wrote it, though it nearly broke me to do it.

Here again, the concrete silo. “How could my book not be a hit?! I don’t know anyone who didn’t buy it, and tell me it was pure awesome!”

Sort of like, “How could Hillary Clinton lose? I don’t know anybody who didn’t vote for her!”

The lesson — for those adult enough to discern it — is that you can do everything right, play the game precisely the way it’s supposed to be played, do the bukkake circle and bathe in the admiration flowing from the fonts of prestige — and still turn in a so-so performance. Not terrible, mind you. But not earth-shattering, either. Just kind of . . . midlist.

Gasp! That word! Midlist! Horrors! The giant graveyard of egotists with swollen heads!

Or, if you’re sensible, the wide, fertile field of robust commerce. Where even folk of modest ability can still make okay money. Enough to pay a few bills. Maybe a car payment? The rent? The mortgage? Or more? There is no shame in being a midlist author who handsomely supplements a “mundane” primary income, with writing dollars. In fact, if you don’t have a bloated ego — really, I can’t emphasize enough how important this is — the midlist can be your Shire. Replete with rolling hills covered in green crops, where the Party Tree is always alive with happy Hobbits raising a mug and putting their feet up. They still have to work during the week, sure. But it’s not misery. In fact, there are few finer places in Middle Earth — if you’re not obsessed with thrones and heraldry.

it’s not making money hand over fist, I’m not quitting my day job, and while yes, it’s selling steadily and well, this is not the breakout book I was tentatively expecting it to be (not this year, anyway). It will likely earn out by the end of this year, based on what I know (though we’ll see. I’ll get royalty statements soon). But it’s hard to say this out loud to people when they congratulate me about the book. Lots of people would love to have a book that’s sold as well as it has. But that’s the sixth book I’ve had in print, and you know, you get tired of the emotional rollercoaster in this business after so many years of it (only five years! But egads, I feel that I’ve lived a lifetime of publishing bullshit in that time).

My first novel earned out during its first six-month period of release. My royalties have only climbed in the period since. Granted, my publisher was smart enough not to freight a first-time novelist like me with a dead elephant contract — the kind many would-be novelists dream of bragging about, until they later realize that earning out a substantial five-figure or six-figure advance is tough even for established pros with an established audience. Once more I ask: how big does your “wave” have to be, before you’re satisfied? Each of us must ask ourselves this question, and determine what we can live with.

I always advise optimistic modesty. Don’t quit your day job. Moreover, don’t work a day job you hate so much, that you can do little else besides dream of quitting. Do a day job you can like, or at least tolerate. Work out a writing schedule you can tolerate too. Set sane, reasonable goals. And each time a book is released, have sane, reasonable expectations. The novel earns what it earns. You’ll be amazed how even a small royalty check seems kingly, if you’re not living an aesthete’s life where writing is the only thing keeping your tummy full.

I have two non-authorly jobs. When I am not deployed, the military income stream is my tertiary, writing is my secondary, while healthcare tech is my primary. My pie-in-the-sky objective — over the next ten years — is to try to make my authorly income the primary, then I can make military secondary, and perhaps won’t need a tertiary? This outcome is largely beyond my control, because it’s predicated on one or more books/series becoming over-abundantly successful, to the point that all my debt is cleared, my home is paid off and fixed up entirely, and I’m sitting on a Smaug-sized pile of cash in the bank.

Sounds like I’ve set myself up for failure, right?

Nope. I’ve ensured that I won’t jump too early.

I’ve seen what happens when authors jump too early. They’re so desperate to escape their day work — either because they detest punching a clock, or they are ego-infatuated with the idea of being a full-time author — that they put the cart before the horse. Which is fine, I guess, if you’re single and lack dependents of any sort. Living in a garret is the luxury of being unattached. But if you’ve got mouths to feed? Little ones to clothe and shelter? Set the escape velocity high, and keep it high. That way you’re never having to explain to either spouse or children why they live like urchins.

It’s difficult to say these things out loud to new writers, that most of the books you write will mean a lot to some people, but that they won’t make you rich. They won’t even pay enough for food and health insurance. You will have to work two jobs, novels and day job, until you retire. And maybe even still then. We want to talk about the six or seven figure book deals, the breakout hits, the fairytale stories. But the majority of writers face only this: writing the next book and the next book and the next book, building an audience from scratch, from the ground up, hustling out a living just like everyone else does, cobbling together novel contracts, Patreon money, day jobs, and freelancing gigs.

It’s not difficult at all. It’s necessary. Burst that bubble early, and often. Keep re-bursting it. Put their feet in the soil. Get their heads out of the clouds. Again, the Shire is a wonderful place to live. If you’re not obsessed with thrones and heraldry. There are authors in the midlist making anywhere from the cost of their electric bill each month, all the way up to buying a new house with cash. I’m friends with folk all up and down that spectrum, to include some full-timers of the seven-figure variety. And even the seven-figure folk will tell you: being happy with a supplemental writing income is not a sin. It’s normal. And there is zero shame in being normal. Zero.

Certainly, any of my backlist books could still breakout at any time, but I need to acknowledge the emotional cost of that rollercoaster of hope and despair. We are all of us just working to put food on the table and revolution in the mind, working, and working, until death or the apocalypse or both.

I’m going to gently suggest that replacing the word “revolution” with “entertainment” might be the key to putting more food on her table. She’s spent far too long in her concrete silo.

People are less interested in revolution — even the Pussyhatters — than they are in being shown a good time. Revolution may sell well with zealots, but really, unless you ply your trade exclusively as a pundit at the Bill O’Reilly level, revolution is going to get you lots of praise from like minds — but precious few dollars in your pocket, as originating from wallets beyond your concrete silo.

Madonna and Ashley Judd didn’t become famous (or wealthy) by making batshit insane tirades whilst standing on platforms at marches. They became famous and wealthy being entertainers first and foremost, and they will remain famous and wealthy if they keep (or go back?) to the correct order of priorities. I know authors — cough, especially Left-wing authors, cough — like to see themselves as grand harbingers of the coming transformation of humanity and society. But here again, beware the power of ego. Of all the truly “transformative” books in the West’s considerable archive of same, precious few were ever written with the author thinking, “Yes, this book is going to change everything.”

Of the few who did set out to write such books — Karl Marx? — the results are often historically horrendous. So no, please, skip the revolution. Just forget it.

Take people on a journey instead. Lead them into the mines of Moria. Show them the Balrog. Let them cheer as the Fellowship fights off goblins and orcs. Keep your soap box tucked under your desk, as a foot rest.

And yes, don’t get your heart stuck on the idea that you’re waiting for The Hit. I know it’s hard, because every time we see somebody else enjoying The Hit, we wonder what it would be like to ride that kind of wave. But if you’re so caught up in waiting for The Hit you’re unable to recognize the good things you already have, when they come, what’s the point? Then your career truly does feel like agony! Because you’re perpetually progressing toward your far-off destination, without ever reaching it.

Better — I say — to set yourself up with a model for success which is quietly abundant. No Hit required. L.E. Modesitt, Jr. did it, and he lives better than sooooooo many New York types do. Like Larry (and Brandon for that matter) Lee was very practical and pragmatic in his approach. He has never, by his own admission, had The Hit. But he owns a whole shelf at Barnes & Noble, filled with books which are seldom out of print. And he enjoys a princely existence of productive retirement.

You could do a hell of a lot worse than Lee. Especially if you let your ego do the driving.

Don’t. You will be saner. And happier.

134 Comments

Filed under BRAD R. TORGERSEN, WRITING: PUBLISHING

134 responses to “Poor little rich girl

  1. Draven

    Basically, in her case, this particular book is going to be bought by people in her echo chamber. It really is the same as the people in- largely- the same areas as this books is selling, who are calling the rest of the country deplorables and insisting they can’t understand why people voted for Trump and refusing to see or understand that many voted against Hillary. This particular book is, imo, a special case.

  2. Her books are boring, overwrought, edgelord nonsense. SJWs don’t even like her crap.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      No kidding. I got a good chuckle reading some of the reviews of The Mirror Empire after the hype, and they were pretty meh.

      • I just read the linked samples, and … EVERY sentence sounds the same, in both books (which sound alike). It’s like the only thing it knows is this “invoke a sense of fable” tone…. which quickly turns potentially-lively fiction into droning sameness.

        As to the current bewailment… when you run out of the limited and perhaps shrinking set of “fans of the usual SJW suspects”, you run out of buyers. Everyone else sees the title and immediately knows all they need to know about the contents, so why read it?

        • I got to “Para, the Breathmaker” in the Amazon sample. Then I started hearing the theme from the old Mentos commercials in my head and had to stop.

        • *does sinal salute* mimicking a story telling mode in a format that it was not invented for is highly difficult (part of why I stand in awe of Kipling. He not only translated from verbal to written, but across languages with very different ways of expressing themselves!) Better to use a more modern mode with a few hints. (One of my areas of personal research, very slow, is verbal storytelling styles/methods. I do not claim expertise beyond ‘passing familiarity of the size of the can of worms I have opened…’ and it is a big one. *salt and source all in one*)

      • Randy Wilde

        I didn’t get to the reviews. I got to the part on the Mirror Empire page where it warned she was a two-time Hugo winner, combined that with her blog post and the title of her new book, and moved on (or back here, as the case may be).

        • Christopher M. Chupik

          WARNING: This author has won a Hugo in the past 15 years. Reader discretion is strongly advised.

      • John R. Ellis

        There’s a few of her fiction books in my local library. Always on the shelf. -Never- on hold, all copies checked out. Pure, unmarred pages. Covers pristine, like new. There’s a table in a corner for books that have never been circulated, with a message encouraging customers to check them out. Two of her books popped up there more than once.

        ….In contrast, Jim Butcher’s books are almost always on a waiting list and when they are on the shelf look worn out. To the point that the library’s had to purchase new copies more than once.

        ….there’s a message in there, somewhere. <_<;

      • This is the woman that is so political charged and annoying that she went after Neil Gaiman, the darling of the Tumbler crowd. She went full retard and alienated even the crazies.

  3. Sanford Begley

    You may have written the most accurate and true paragraph in the history of the MGC today. I cannot overemphasize how much I love this
    “Now, for somebody living on a New York City high-rise budget, Larry’s amount of “wave” may not go nearly as far as it goes out here in Deplorable Country. But that’s why I always encourage fledgling authors to use internal metrics and standards to create goalposts. If you’ve spent your adult life in the lower-middle class income bracket, a modestly successful series of books will change your financial situation forever. You will be rich! Or at least, you will feel rich. But if you’re from the silver spoon set, even a very nicely-performing book (or string of books) will seem like just so much chump change.”

    • I don’t have a wave, out here in Flyoverlandia, writing historical fiction and contemporary comedy – it’s more of a gentle ripple that just comes with every new title, every six months of a year. But it suits me very well, and pays at least some of the bills.
      Enough to buy some country acreage and build a little cottage on it is still a possibility, but at this point so remote that I’m not crushed that it isn’t happening right now. Paying a few bills is fine.

  4. George R Crichton

    Your point about L E Modesitt JR is well taken. He has published 70 books and he has more forth coming.

    • From what I recall, he treats writing like a day job. Checks in at 9AM, writes for a while, takes a lunch break, writes until 5PM. Obviously, not everyone can do that, but as long as the prose keeps flowing, it seems to work for him.

      • TRX

        A difference between a professional and a hobbyist is that the professional keeps working after the fun has run out.

        If you’re intending to make a living at the trade, as opposed to some pocket money, then it *is* a job and should be treated like one. You don’t tell the boss at the button factory or the data center that you can’t work today because the muse hasn’t posessed you. You show up and do the job regardless.

        • Yup. Writing is my job, I might be put off from having to put a couple o’hundred words on the current project, because I have to do some work on the project-for-pay for the Tiny Publishing Bidness, Even if because – the last writing project sold umpty-ump so many units, I still have to work on the next one. Because, Take a month or so off because the results of the last election has me soooo distraught. Pffft. Pussy, Amateur.

        • jon spencer

          Knew a professional hockey player and in the off season when he was “on vacation”, he would train somewhere between 6 and 10 hours a day, every day. He played in the NHL for over 15 years.
          A true Professional.
          The game was fun, the practice and training was work.

          For writers, I would think that some like the writing and some like the “being a writer”.
          And if you do both, I would bet that you are smiling (and cashing checks).

      • I think that’s the best way to treat it, if you’re a FT writer. Yes, there are times when you want to work ‘overtime’ and weekends, but you don’t want to do it too often, it’s a job, and you need to treat it that way.

    • SteveW

      I suspect that, unlike the subject of this article, Modesitt didn’t take a month off when his preferred presidential candidate lost…..

  5. ravenshrike

    Eh…assuming I’ve figured the bits he’s dropped on the subject of income correctly had Larry been writing in the 90’s he could have swung something like the Castle loft in New York.Not starting now of course but that’s because the New York real estate bubble hasn’t popped yet and won’t that be hilarious when it finally does.

  6. The oddest thing about that book is that it was considered to be a leading contender for a Hugo Nomination until it came out. Before anyone had read it. Why? Because she’d won a Hugo for a piece of nonsense that went viral. Hugo voters were looking for her work because of that, and still it wasn’t considered good enough for a nomination. Yet in her echo chamber it was the best book ever.

    Or, and this is most probably true, the way authors who espouse her kind of politics react to criticism means that she’ll never hear that criticism. Either no one will give her an honest response out of worry of provoking a social media jihad against them, or when they do give her critical feedback she chooses not to listen out of disdain for the kind of person giving the feedback.

    Heck, I sometimes worry that women who ‘support’ women are actually harming their art. Yes, they’re promoting it and saying it’s awesome but does anyone actually believe it? The person shilling it? Or the person listening to the shilling? How can you trust the review if everything is awesome if done by the right person?

    I do a webcomic and some webcomic creators try to push the idea that you can make a crap ton of money out of it, some who have made money by selling the secret to making money, but unless you’re at the very top there’s not a lot of money there. Ads don’t pay what people think they pay even for the big guys, and basically you need a large and dedicated following with a strip with marketing potential to make money off of it. Hard to do. I have a fair number of readers, the comic is pretty good, I’m having a good time making it, and overall I’m happy with the experience. But not making a lot of money.

    But I keep doing it, not out of a wish for that brass ring but out of a desire to keep getting better. When asked for the positives, I never talk about the money because it might be there and it might not, I talk about the experience and the work. Because even when it’s hard, and it’s a slog, and I can’t figure out tomorrow’s joke but I’ve got next week’s strips all mapped out in my head, I’m still getting experience. I’m still working. Still getting better.

    And every day when you wake up even slightly better at a thing that you love than you were the day before is a pretty damn good day.

    • …but out of a desire to keep getting better.

      I recall one thing in book about (and by?) an animator and that was there was an art instructor who used a line like, “Everybody has 1,000* bad drawings inside them. Get them out as fast as you can!”

      * It might have been 10,000…

      • Everyone has a story/song/joke/cartoon/painting that just doesn’t work. The more that you do, the less likely this happens. That said, you still get the clunkers, the ones you think are so terribly good and clever, but aren’t.

        Steve Allen, in his book Funny People, tells of the time Robin Williams salvaged an on-stage crash and burn by doing a stand-up comedian’s stream of thought live. In that one skit, Williams covered the insecurities of the artists, desperation to try something that works, and maybe more importantly, how a stand-up comic relies on audience feed-back. Basically it’s “Uh, oh: That’s not working. How about this?”

        I can’t give advice on how to be a success, but I sure can about failure. And the big thing is that the only opinion that matters is the one shopping for what you’re selling. And if you can’t sell it, it’s time to see why.

    • Birthday Girl

      Poor Little Kameron makes clear in the column that doing better is no part of what drives her. Having millions of readers and hand-over-fist income is what she is looking for. So, hers is a totally different “religion.” With no satisfactory afterlife short of Rowling-hood. Sad, but there is no reasoning people out of religions.

      • Even so, the drive to have millions of readers and hand-over-fist income should be enough to make someone want to try better.

        • TRX

          For some writers, it seems to be more of a “casino effect.” They keep putting their money down and spinning the roulette wheel, even knowing the house percentage is against them.

          Like a gambling addict, the occasional small win keeps them hooked while they run for the big score.

        • Mary

          Sometimes you want incompatible things, like millions of readers and hand-over-fist income without changing, even when you know that what you’ve got won’t draw those things.

    • I did a webcomic for a while. I quit when it became obvious that I wasn’t getting what I needed out of it—there was no money in it and I was only getting a comment or email once a month or so. It had become a chore rather than a joy, so I focused on other things.

      Mind you, I wouldn’t mind going back to it at some point, but the same caveat applies. I have to get something back or it’s just shouting into the void, and there’s only so long you can do that when you have limited time and energy.

  7. I went to the link – I have vaguely heard of Kameron Hurley, and …oh, my.

    • The entitlement, starting with ‘Intelectual Badass’ on the masthead! For that, I’d expect she’d given up her day job ages ago.

      Do the work. Do MORE work. Be entertaining.

      I’d like to get more people to TRY my work, especially if they like mainstream novels. But at that point, I also want it to succeed on merit, on entertainment value only. Not because I wrote it (though I’m proud of it), but because it fills and feeds a need in the READER.

      I don’t think she’s thinking of her readers.

      • Birthday Girl

        That Intellectual Badass boast stopped me for a few seconds, too, Alicia.

        “I don’t think she’s thinking of her readers.”
        Oh, she is thinking of them, but not as individual human beings reading a particular book. She thinks of them only if they number in the millions and the sad thing is they never will and she will never achieve her version of salvation.

        • I want the readers who like the way I put things – because they agree (or are open-minded enough to be intrigued) – and I’m tickled pink every time I meet one (like my self-identified Southern redneck friend) who is still in my tribe.

        • Being an intellectual BA is like being the fastest gun in the West. If someone’s lucky, they’re as good as they think they are, and even if they’re lucky, there’s always someone faster.

    • Another one of our outstanding public intellectuals . . . sigh. She needs to pull on her big-girl pants and get over it.

    • scottsaxbury

      Remember just before Mirror Empire came out, I’d been planning to buy it, since I hadn’t read many new fantasy series yet. Then, unfortunately, I read some of her essays on Locus. Killed that idea.

  8. Martin L. Shoemaker

    She should’ve listened to Kris & Dean on dreams vs. goals. She mistook a dream for a goal — or worse, an inevitability. Bad mistake.

  9. There is also the problem that even within the echo chamber enthusiasm does not equal sales.

    It’s easy to say, “Oh, yes, I would definately buy and read a collection of essays on the hard life of a female science fiction fan!” because it’ll earn you cool points in the crowd you hang with. That doesn’t mean that you’ll actually do it.

    It’s tough to tell people directly, “I think that’s a bad idea for a book and it probably won’t sell.” It’s tougher still to say, “You know, I don’t really give a damn about [the cause of the moment] and would rather spend my leisure time reading fun, action-packed books or [gasp] watching TV.”

    So I’m sure that the author of that article had people who–with the very best of intentions–lied to her about the potential popularity of her work. No doubt they considered it being encouraging, but what it comes down to is that she based her expectations on what her circle of acquaintances told her. She’s right, that is disappointing when it happens, but dealing with disappointment is part of growing up.

    I wrote a piece about the difference between what people say they want and what they actually buy a while back:

    https://mishaburnett.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/originality/

  10. I admit, I got a little too excited with the release of the lat book, in part because two very kind and generous people gave it some PR boost. And it has done far better on release than anything thus far (aside from the third Ivan the Purrable story). And then sales tapered off, as they do, and I had to go back to the real world of starting the process of getting the next book out the door. I didn’t like the let-down, but that’s life.

    • My books that I think will do well (by my standards) often have mediocre sales numbers, while a quick, fun, bridge book between larger novels is still getting enthusiastic mention. Authors aren’t good judges, especially if their egos get involved.

  11. A collection of lectures, with no attempt to even disguise them as stories, isn’t flying off the shelves?

    No way, dude!

    The sample is mostly a long-winded recital of the writer’s victimhood resume (“OMG! I had a relationship in my teens that didn’t work out!” Now there’s an experience that no other member of the human race has ever had…), coupled with lots of virtue-signaling and proxy measures for how good the writer supposedly is. Clarion! Master’s degree! Drinking in writing shacks all over the world! Just like Jack London and Hemingway!

    Show us that you’re a good writer. Don’t tell us.

    “Interrogating broken media is also key to teaching yourself how to make better stories.”

    No. One key to making better stories is learning to avoid ear-grating phrases like “interrogating broken media”.

    Even if I were inclined to buy a book of lectures, I sure wouldn’t shell out ten bucks for an ebook based on that.

    Pro tip for the Super Genius Publishing Professionals at Tor: since this is (allegedly) non-fiction, a working table of contents in the Kindle sample is important.

  12. sabrinachase

    The article is also an example of practical innumeracy, at least in the understanding of large numbers and estimation of size. It might be perfectly true that everyone she spoke to during a book tour loved the book and a significant percentage actually bought it–but how *many* is that? A few thousand?

    Similarly, not understanding that increasing the minimum wage by “just a few cents” adds up to a business not hiring a full person, because they can’t afford it.

  13. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to have social impact, but it is stupid to assume people want to be impacted by your message. If you want to have an impact, you have to get people to listen. For that, you have to give them something they DO want such as entertainment. It’s the same as with earning money.

    If you want to promote social justice, learn business.

    • And the messages that actually make the most impact are usually not the ‘deep provocative’ things that the social impact crowd want. Hope, courage, respect. People, by and large, want to be made more, not less.

  14. Perhaps I missed it, but it appeared to me that the identity of “her” was (perhaps wisely) not mentioned. I am sure I can survive in continued ignorance.

  15. Keith Glass

    I know of exactly THREE authors who have successfully transitioned to quitting. Larry Correia, John Ringo, and Chris Nuttall.

    And they are ALL writing machines, constantly working on SOMETHING.

    Hell, the ILOH has an integrated merchandising set-up, a small part of why he and the International Bride of Hate are working on their mountain redoubt, and both moats and flame-thrower tanks have been discussed. . .

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      And Chris just paid for a family trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (from Scotland) because his wife wanted to visit her family.

      I “wish” I had enough money for that. 😀

    • Hunting Guy

      I believe Gail Carriger made the transition to full time writer.

      This sounds like Larry’s advice.

      “1. Work Writing

      Both the hardest and most common, this is the type of writing that feels like sweating blood. This is when I sit down and squeeze out the words, one after another. I try not to question myself, and just do it because I must, because it’s my job, and because I have a deadline. I make up games and bribe myself. I’ll do lots of silly things just to force myself to write those 2000 words for that day. When us authors talk about “training writer muscles,” this is the kind of writing we mean. The work of it. The business of it. If you want to be a career author I devoutly believe you must learn how to execute this kind of writing and never to rely on the other two.”

  16. I found the article rather annoying as well. Yeah, being a writer isn’t easy. Achieving any measure of success takes a great deal of time. And making a living at it is even harder. This is news?

    One thing is clear: critical acclaim doesn’t buy groceries. The market of people looking for transformative manifestos is not all that big. Most readers want to be entertained, not transformed or lectured at. That’s strike one right there. Maybe creating compelling stories and characters pays off better than scoring points in the war against the White Patriarchy(tm).

    I admit, I’ve been fairly lucky in my own forays into writing, but the journey wasn’t quick or easy.

    • adventuresfantastic

      “Most readers want to be entertained, not transformed or lectured at.”

      This. A thousand times this. Even though I’m a devout Christian, this is why I don’t go see movies marketed to the church going crowd. I want entertainment, not a two hour sermon with background music and bad dialogue. If I want a sermon, I’ll either stream one or read one in a book (and often do).

      It’s also why so many of the writers promoted in certain circles are on my never read list.

  17. I commented on this a few days ago, I see that my thoughts follow along with Brad’s fairly closely. http://phantomsoapbox.blogspot.ca/2017/01/the-geek-feminist-revolution-not-huge.html

    Kameron’s big problem is she’s inside a bubble. Inside, there is only positive feedback and lots of love for what she’s doing. “Everybody” is all abuzz with the awesome.

    Unfortunately, it is a rather small bubble. She has probably achieved full sales penetration of her market. Pretty near everybody who would be interested in the book knows about it and has one.

    Outside the bubble, of course, zero sales. Because who the f- wants a book called The Geek Feminist Revolution? I’d be wanting eye bleach, I’m pretty sure.

    This phenomenon can be seen today played out at the nation’s airports. JFK airport is shut down by anti-Trump protesters today. Sioux-Falls South Dakota airport, Buffalo NY airport, not so much.

    The outrage has a definite geographic distribution, let’s just say.

    So, if Little Kameron wants a breakout hit, she’s going to have to get out of that bubble first, and take a look around to see what people are paying money for these days. I won’t hold my breath.

  18. John R. Ellis

    “It’s a transformative book for people. It’s a manifesto. It’s more relevant after the election. It’s changed people’s lives. The ink glows with celestial light as each and every word is a direct conduit to the Gods Themselves. This one person read a page a day and all their boils -vanished-!”

    There’s a danger in believing one’s own hype. It was a book, not a movement or a religion. No wonder she’s so downcast.

  19. Hunting Guy

    And she says,

    “Then the election happened, and we all lost a month to readjusting to the new reality.”

    So she lost a month of writing because of an election? Too bad. She needs to grow up. I couldn’t take time off so I could readjust to the Clinton or Obama elections because I had housing payments to make and food to put on the table.

    I have no sympathy for her.

  20. As usual, Brad nails it. Reading her blog post was painful on several levels. This should be Somebody’s Law: Anyone who calls herself an intellectual badass probably isn’t. And there’s no cheese ever made that could pair with that strong a whine.

    I’ll contribute here from a publisher’s perspective. (I ran editorial for a successful tech book company back in the 90s.) It’s relatively easy to pick and plan midlist. A-list comes out of nowhere, and surprises everybody, author and publisher both. You can buy sales to some extent with retailer coop, but if what matters is profitability, it might be better to publish nothing but midlist than to pin your hopes on runaway bestsellers that usually end up running away in the other direction.

    I’ve had one breakout book in my 32 years as a professionally published book author. Scott, Foresman had an empty slot in their acquisitions plan matrix, and asked me if I could fill it. I said sure. I wrote the book they wanted, put my own spin on it, and turned it in so I could start writing a book that involved topics I knew and liked better. I didn’t consider that by-request book to be my best work, and I was skeptical that the demographic they wanted it to reach even existed. Well, it did. The book was published in 1989, caught fire, and has been in print ever since. It even outlasted the publisher, which was bought by Harper Collins in 1990 to be engulfed and devoured. I sold it to Wiley in 1991, where it’s been ever since. Nobody predicted that success. Nobody could have.

    We had a couple of breakout books at my publishing company, and once again, nobody predicted them. We made our money by aiming for midlist, by publishing what we suspected people wanted, and by not spending too much money on primadonna authors or gonzo experiments. Oh, and we were 2500 miles from Manhattan, which never hurts.

    There’s a lesson here for indies, who are both author and publisher. Write what people want, and if you get a breakout book, it’s gravy. Once you’ve got a Silverberg-level backlist, you can probably live pretty well on it, especially since indies don’t have to fuss with Thor Decision tax accounting or the deadly print publisher cash-flow trap. I consider Larry the new Silverberg, and Sarah’s heading in that same direction. I’ve learned a lot watching and reading both of them, and many others among the indies.

    Kameron Hurley may do better once she has another 25 or 30 novels in her backlist. She may, if in fact her demographic exists, and like most of us here, I’m skeptical about that. But that’s not her problem. Her problem is that she feels entitled to a breakout book, and that’s not how the system works, on either her side or our side of the Message Pie Divide. If that shuts her down, it won’t even be sad. It’s just what happens when you believe your own echo chamber.

    • TRX

      Most publishers don’t seem to be in the business of…business.

      Given the notoriously fickle market, any sane company would spread their risk around a dozen midlist authors and generate a steady income. Instead, they act like they’re relying on one hit per season and some shelf filler.

      • It’s like current Hollywood – putting everything on a blockbuster – where for the price of that single blockbuster (which might earn back and then some) they might have been doing ten or a hundred movies with a limited budget – with the odds that some of them would have been wildly successful. They’re betting everything on one single throw, whereas a great many modest bets on a wide variety of projects might have put them farther ahead in the long run.

        • Joe in PNG

          When they do a movie that isn’t a big budget blockbuster, it’s usually some sort of self indulgent Oscar bait that allows directors and actors to play at the serious artiste.

    • “Write what people want”

      And if you can’t figure that out, at least try writing what you want, because there’s a chance someone else will like it. Of course, if what you like has an infinitesimal market, expect sales accordingly.

      • adventuresfantastic

        Some of the most successful authors in history started out writing what they wanted to read because no one else was writing it.

    • Robin Munn

      This should be Somebody’s Law: “Anyone who calls herself an intellectual badass probably isn’t.”

      Call it the Dunning-Kruger Corollary.

  21. When I decided to ‘quit my job’ I was already doing okay as a writer. Now that I’m a full-time writer I’m still doing ‘okay’. However at my ‘usual’ full-time job I was doing considerably better, and while I can cover all of my bills now there are times when I think about going ‘back to work’.

    The decision for me to go full-time as a writer wasn’t an easy one, but at the time I was doing a contract far away from home, I was dealing with a large amount of stress (I was doing the work of four people because they didn’t want to hire the promised help seeing as I was doing so well for them) and then I was hit with a death in the family which required me to take two months off from work anyways to deal with.

    So, I keep plugging along here with the hope that my ship will continue to slowly rise as my backlog increases and I slowly increase my fanbase. I’m looking to move to someplace less expensive, and to be honest, at my age I’m not as interested in all of the fancy toys I once was. I also don’t miss the hour long (or longer!) commutes to work, being away from home for weeks or months at a time, or the stress (I always end up in very high stress positions, because I have a history of performance in them). About the only thing I do miss is the socialization aspect of being in an office. You don’t get much of that working from home.

    And while being a self-pubbed author can be stressful, it’s no where near as bad as what I’m used to. No one is going to die or go out of business if the next book is late. The lack of office politics is also a nice change. Now if I could just get the dog to stop barking at the mailman…

  22. I love having modest goals. “If this comes in, I can take my bike in for a full extensive tuneup.” “If this unlikely thing happens, I can pay for all the tree removal myself.” “Ooh, look, I can buy more Girl Scout cookies!”

    • Draven

      “I can afford to move out of CA”

      • That’s not a modest goal for us. Here’s where the extremely well-paying job is. (I also grew up in the area and have a lot of ties, and it’s a good place to raise kids. This very specific location, not the state in general.)

        • Draven

          I moved here for a well paying job, then learned what the term ‘production layoff’ means.

          • Ouch. My husband’s job is interesting in that part of what he does is in the job description, and then part of it is not—but everybody knows that he does it. (Basically fixing really weird issues and procedural design, and some other things that it’s hard to put in a job description. “Baffled? Try this guy.”) It’s a very good company to work for, one that thinks that if you’re on salary you should be able to finish your work in a reasonable period of time, and people who work 60 hours a week are seen as having trouble. And the time off policies are fantastic—they really don’t want you to come in sick.

            So yeah, really hard to replicate elsewhere. If money were to fall from the sky, we’d move, but right now it’s the buckle down and save for retirement phase.

  23. “People were telling me on Twitter that they’d bought three or four copies and were making all their friends read it. ”

    If you can’t trust your own Twitter followers I don’t know who else you can trust. /sarc

  24. Bob

    Ah, Hurley.

    Here’s the thing: I’ve read Sheri S. Tepper (for much the same reason as I read John Norman Gor books: they’re so ridiculous they’re practically self-parodies) and if you know anything about her, you know what you’re getting, you know who the villains are going to be and you can guess very quickly who the heroes are going to be, and the book will probably end with men wiped out/emasculated, with aggression bred out of the human race through covert eugenics, or with humanity wiped out or forced to regress down the evolutionary ladder back to beasts, the only question is HOW Tepper will go about it.

    And Hurley ain’t no Tepper.

    And the really painful thing is: if Tepper (and presumably Hurley) would just drop the man-hating, humanity-hating, heck, even WOMAN-hating, since a running theme in her books is that stupid women don’t know what’s good for them, and fall for bad guys, and so need to be controlled by an elite cadre of women in positions of power (who will in one example use their control of health care to covertly abort all alpha male babies and replace them with artificially-inseminated beta-male babies) and just concentrate on pure entertainment, she’d probably be leaps and bounds more popular. I recall her saying in an interview once that he first series of novels was straight sci-fi fantasy without any ideology in the forefront at all, and they did better than her later stuff and got her in the door in the first place.

    But whatever else you say about her (and there’s a lot) she produced an impressive body of work, and she went as far as you could go with feminist/eco-feminist sci fi (much like Norman with his ideology of male supremacy in sci fi).

    It’s a long, hard road regardless.

    • The only Tepper I’ve read is Grass, and when I got done, I found the suggestion of an unwritten sequel exploring the ruins of the lost civilization of the Arbai more interesting than the book we have. And even the one we have, I think I would’ve enjoyed a lot more if she’d focused on the biological mystery of the native Grassian sapients and their “domestication” of the aristocratic class via the Hunt. Yes, the oppressive religion of Sanctity and the double-binds they created were appalling, but the level of detail devoted to it was tedious and better left on the edges of the story. Neither major character’s story really starts until they get to Grass, so their personal experiences with Sanctity could be handled as backstory.

      • Bob

        Grass is probably the least ideological of her books and the one that best stands as itself rather than as unaware self parody. You’re probably right about when it should have started, but I’ve got a weakness for worldbuilding and crazy ideologies.

    • Her first series would be the True Game stuff, right? She has ideology sneak in here and there, but she also has an interesting sequence in one of those books where the protagonist finds a town that has a known predator-human in there, but they keep him in comfort when he’s in jail, and let him out shortly thereafter, because to do otherwise would be inhumane. The protagonist thinks that’s bunk, offs the predator, and then steals all the children of the town one by one, placing them with families far away who have nothing to do with such nonsense.

      I’ve always wondered if that got through because the predator was preying on young women, or if she were merely staying true to the character of the protagonist, who is very pragmatic.

      • Mary

        Remember that the heroine told the people that she stole the children because they regarded the killer as human. That selected human beings are not, in fact, human is a theme that increased.

        • Bob

          To be fair, the theme that one can forfeit one’s humanity through continued violative acts against the good or the way things should be is a common theme in fiction of all political persuasions, as is the idea that a nonhuman might gain or be given sentience and some form of human-equivalent status, from Pinnochio where the puppet becomes a real boy while the bad kids are turned into donkeys to Narnia where mice who helped chew through Aslan’s ropes are granted the ability to talk, while the cat lost her sentience and articulence in The Last Battle.

          Thing is, I prefer the ‘can’t be considered human’ to only be invoked in extreme cases and with suitable horror, since it can also justify harming people you just don’t agree with.

      • Bob

        At least it fit with the story and was consistent with the characterizations, which still makes her leaps and bounds above the current crop of writers.

        A sad state of affairs when even the quality of SJWs has declined.

    • TRX

      > Sheri S. Tepper
      > John Norman

      Two fantasy authors of approximately equal output.

      One is little-known. The other is has sold between six and twelve million copies (so much for accurate royalty accounting…), has been been reprinted dozens of times, and spawned a whole subculture.

  25. “Geek Feminist” could be an interesting non0fic book: If it were a set of bios of successful female scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Otherwise, not so much. Writers who do not want to see critical analysis of a book should not read my review of The Fifth Season in a forthcoming Tightbeam.

    I confess that I am surprised to see reviewers of a list of award nominees starting by discussing the sex or race of the potential awardees, as opposed to the quality of the works. As the Editor of the new N3F fiction zine Eldritch Science, I can promise I will not inquire as to the Family or Genus, let alone Species, of my writers.

  26. ChuckC

    Nonfiction? Hmm. An insult to the genre. New classification needed! Fake Nonfiction? SJW Lies? Deluded ramblings?

  27. The problem with getting “the Hit” is that immediately afterward, everyone asks you, “What have you got next?” You don’t hit big and quit.

    • John R. Ellis

      The trueism “An overnight success after twenty years!” does contain more than a grain of truth to it.

    • That’s not quite the problem. The problem is that people want something exactly like The Hit, only different. The Hit, in other words, raises expectations that are impossible to meet, unless (maybe) you’re Madame Rowling. And if you don’t in fact write something exactly like The Hit, only different, they stop reading you.

  28. Okay, I have TWO things to say:
    1. Why does she think she has the RIGHT to claim her work as the Geek Feminist Manifesto? There are PLENTY of Geek Feminists here with us right at this very moment, but they don’t adhere to the ‘Manifesto.’ Even if you don’t accept that those of us with an X and a Y chromosome can be feminists, I frappen DARE you to deny (for example) Cedar and her mama and her grandmama either their geek or their feminist credentials. So, BITE ME!
    2. For some reason, while I was reading her work, I kept thinking about the difference between making love and prostitution. I have a deep, abiding, and sincere appreciation for the act of making love. But I don’t want to be a prostitute. With her writing, if she is only about the Benjamins, doesn’t that mean, well, that she’s a literary …..I can’t say it. It’s just too trite. So, BITE ME!