“No Irish need apply”

Well, we’ve been through that form of discrimination.

We’ve had ‘no blacks need apply’

We’ve had various other forms, especially in publishing.

The newest is no Indies or even genre need apply.

It always seems to work out SO well, that it was inevitable…

You know, it’s always a right royal pain in the butt to have to establish if your enthusiasm is being a trifle misplaced. Whether that really is Beluga Caviar at two thousand dollars an ounce or whether it is buckshot softened with fish-oil you’re being offered as a great treat. Without the label on the tin, it is possible to be confused.

Which comes down to how do you know you can trust the label? Well, here’s a clue, which I don’t just tell everyone, but as you are all willing initiates into the dark side (as writing is known among us aficionados) if you look in the small print on the side of the tin and it says (in Cyrillic script) : Prop. Dread Cthulhu and Assoc., product of the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, and it smells like that, it really is caviar. Trust me. The Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn brand is best.

Otherwise you can just as well make your own with buckshot and shark-liver oil.

Ahem. Having done my bit for the conservation of the sturgeon in Caspian and Black Sea, as well as having supported dentistry, I will now continue in a slightly more rational tone.

I said ‘slightly’ (just before any of you get pissy.). What I was talking about was the various ‘Imprimaturs’ giving official consent for people to like a book or a movie or piece of music. Before you tell me you don’ need no steekin’ imprimiwhatsit, keep in mind that a lot of people do. And yes, they are necessary (the lot of people, not the imprimatur) for authors to make a living.

Of course, there is word-of-mouth (the finest hallmark of quality) and advertising as well as marketing, by means fair, foul and financial. But you’re selling a brand – your name, and it helps if you can tie that to another brand the public know more widely than your name, and possibly trust for qualities that public is likely to enjoy.

Of course the ‘possibly trust’ is key. Imprimatur Brands like Hugo Awards are now regarded by the relatively few who know them as severely tainted, by quite a lot of the possible audience. But they still have their niche following, and if you sell into that niche, they may be useful. Any publicity is better than none, if you’re not going to lose readers by it. But brands – at all levels, from author to brand-of-brands — are rather like living things: It’s a race between growth and death. When they stop growing death starts catching up. It can take a while, because even if you’ve trashed your brand, not everyone has heard about it.

Of course the key with your brand – or brand-of-brands (Baen is an example of brand-of-brands that works as multiplier) is that it has to be in touch with its audience and their tastes. Which is great when you are, when the brand (and especially the brand-of-brand) keeps up with the changes and means you make better living. I was reading how Rotten Tomatoes has assumed a major role as a brand-of-brands in the movie world – with its aggregation of various publications and critics’ rankings.

The problem of course is a similar one to that that the New York Times bestseller list – which relies on sales from (supposedly) a secret list of booksellers. That’s a way of subsampling, and can be quite effective, so long as those booksellers are effective at targeting the entire spectrum of the US reading public. To put it broadly, if the bookshops sampled were all in one kind of area – say near liberal Arts college campuses – well, that’s going to mean books loved by… say serving military (a HUGE market. Certainly for me: A lot of being a soldier is long periods of boredom, followed by short period which made boredom really attractive. I read a lot of books in the boring bits) are under-sampled. Chances are the college kids are going to find the recommendations spot on, the Military way off. Rotten Tomatoes apparently skews heavily left in its sampling. Hollywood – which also skews the same way, respect it. Unfortunately that’s about a quarter of the US audience – Not a great ‘in touch’ recipe for a brand-of-brands. Movies like the new Ghostbusters did well on Rotten Tomatoes – and terribly at the box-office in the US. I see problems – and if ‘in country’ sales are going to remain relevant, either they’ll have to change their sampling – or the public will find another aggregator, with Rotten Tomatoes losing value.

Speaking of the NYT bestseller list and being out-of-touch – with the reading public always skewing to buying more of what is cheap – Mass Market Paperbacks, e-books… The NYT has decided to ‘improve’ its bestseller lists.

“Our major lists will remain, including: Top 15 Hardcover Fiction, Top 15 Hardcover Nonfiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Fiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Nonfiction, Top 10 Children’s Hardcover Picture Books, Top 10 Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover Chapter Books, Top 10 Children’s Young Adult Hardcover Chapter Books, and Top 10 Children’s Series. Several more including Paperback Trade Fiction, Paperback Nonfiction, Business, Sports, Science, and Advice Miscellaneous will remain online.”

Hmm. Pure genius. That’s DEFINITELY going to help their brand-of-brand value.

Traditional publishing, increasingly reliant on Hardcover sales will be pleased. I don’t think anyone else will be. Genre sales, and particularly Indies will have now never make the NYT list. No romance – but literary hardbacks…

Anyone want a bet we’re going to see the NYT Bestseller list decline as brand-of-brands?

I wonder what will replace it? That could be something of real value to help selling books, if it is actually in touch with the general readership.

73 Comments

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73 responses to ““No Irish need apply”

  1. They are appealing to a more selective readership

    The rest of us will go on broader rankings like Amazon bestseller lists

    • What is the endgame of that business model? Ragnarok? 😉

      • Ragnarok is too dramatic. It’s the gradual slide into oblivion, the driveway gradually more cracked, overgrown and muddy, the gates and fence rusting and rotting for a lack of paint and the kudzu growing up unchecked all over

      • More “Hollow Men”

        (For those not familiar, TS Elliot) Specific piece of which I am thinking:
        This is the way the world ends
        This is the way the world ends
        This is the way the world ends
        Not with a bang but a whimper.

      • Randy Wilde

        What is the endgame of that business model?

        “The Street That Wasn’t There” by Simak seems apropos.

  2. Draven

    So what categories specifically are they killing?

  3. I never cared for Rotten Tomatoes. It never really reflected my tastes.

    • I use it backwards. The higher the approval, the greater the retardation content of the movie.

      • jon spencer

        On R.T. I use the audience score to see if I want to see a movie, around 80% wait for DVD, 90%+ and I might go see it at the theater.
        And for that 90%+ score, it still is a big “might go see” for me.
        And I do not give a rats ass to the score from the critics.

        • Ryan

          I tend to look for the movies where the audience liked it (over 70) and the critics hated it (less than 50).

  4. Geeze, only one of my books is in hardback – all three volumes of the Adelsverein Trilogy in one massive tome the size of a concrete block, which we did only for the convenience of fans who wanted it that way, and libraries for the convenience. I hardly sell any copies of that hardback, and in fact it doesn’t even make a profit. It’s outsold by the paperback versions of those titles, and even more outsold by the e-book versions of all my books.
    Talk about looking for your keys in the street where you didn’t lose them, because the light is better under the streetlamp.

    • I’ve bought… two.. hardbacks in the last several years. One was non-fiction and that was the only format for it at the time. The other was by Larry Correia. I have a stack or two of paperbacks to-be-read and my Kindle overfloweth (well, not quite, but it feels like it at times).

      • I pre-ordered the next ‘Foreigner’, Cherryh’s series in hardback. I have the entire set and will continue. Otherwise, E-book. If it is priced at ‘mass-market paperback’ price, NO SALE, exception for Baen books.

      • Alan

        Hardbacks are justifiable for reference books, pretty much period. Very few of the books I buy for entertainment are going to be re-read so many times that the more durable binding is a reasonable investment.
        Similarly – I’m near-sighted, and trade paperbacks take more of the limited resource called “shelf room”, so MMP’s are pretty much what we buy in physical books.
        Took awhile to get started on Kindle books – hated to lose the feeling of having physical property in return for the money – but am now buying ebooks at a rate at least 5x as many as we were getting physical books.

  5. Uncle Lar

    I’m starting to have concerns about Baen as a brand of brands. The house is still head and shoulders above any other, but, all due respect to Toni, she isn’t Jim and some parts of his legacy are getting a might frayed. The hard stop at roughly fifty new books a year means that house best sellers can expect at most two new releases per annum while mid listers must be content with one. If that’s one’s output all to the good, but for anyone looking to support a lifestyle as primarily an earning author it amounts to precious thin gruel.

    • Here’s hoping that technology, be it more ways to distribute books, or a truly inexpensive POD system, will help break that bottleneck. I’m quickly reaching the point that at bookstores, I first look to see if there’s a rocket on the spine, then read the blurb.

      • Uncle Lar

        According to Toni herself the bottleneck is purely one of finding good solid editors to take rough draft to finished book ready for issue. Delivery from there is not the problem.
        But compare that to a recent experience of mine. An author friend’s muse nagged her into writing something she never intended to, but once done she sent it to me for final copy edit. Took me three days, and it was so good I did a less than stellar job with the edit. I kept getting distracted by the story. Sent the final draft back anyway. Another friend with art skills did a bang up cover for her. A week later the book was up as e-book on Amazon and earning. That same cycle with Baen or any other house can take upwards of a year.
        Point being that even if you are a Baen author, if you’re not one of the very top best sellers either don’t give up your day job or you must do a mix of Baen and some other outlet, usually indie as that has the highest unit return on investment.

        • That almost sounds like a case where you have to turn the book upside down so you have to concentrate more on what the text is doing.

          • Uncle Lar

            Normally I would have already been through the story with first and beta reads. This one sprang full blown over the course of a week as I recall. What I should have done is read it through, then set it aside for a few days before the copy edit, but I’d promised a rush job.
            Great book by the way, and looks to be the start of a series.

        • Ja, that’s a big problem. My copy editor is so backlogged that instead of March, it might be May before I get something out the door.

          I was thinking of the slot problem people were discussing last year. My bad.

      • I actually stopped going to the bookstore, which is a worrisome thing for me. Reading stuff used to be my go-to place to hide from It All. Of late, I cannot be bothered. I’m writing my own stories, which eats up all my reading time. The only authors I’ve made time for recently (2016) are John Ringo and Neal Asher. When Larry C’s new stuff comes out I’ll read that. Even Baen isn’t putting out anything I want to read very bad.

        I’ve got David Weber’s latest, but I bounced off the first two chapters of infodump and now it just sits there, mocking me for paying hardcover price. And I -like- David Weber. I have almost all his books.

        My problem, (minor as it certainly is,) is a lack of recommendation. I can’t tell if this dissatisfaction of mine is all me, (probably) or if the market simply does not contain some more awesome for me to eat up. (Possibly.) I’m essentially waiting for the guys I know to make more of what I want.

        I know right where to go for what I don’t want, at least. That’s useful knowledge. If it is Big Five, chances are I’ll be lucky to find something that’s merely boring, trite and made of stereotypes. More likely it’ll be “You Are A Bad Person!!!” in some post-apocalyptic guise. Again. I’m getting -really- tired of “you are a bad person” as the major theme for everything. Seriously, its starting to bug me.

        Alas, it seems that there will be a lot more coming. All the Literati are screaming incoherent malice right now, after they recovered from the “literally shaking” stage, so they’re all jumping on their post-apocalyptic hobby horses and riding as hard as they can. In six to eight months, another tsunami of NAAAAAZI!!!!!! bullshit will wash over our bows.

        As has been pointed out by Kathy Shaidle today at her blog, commenting on the sudden “new” enthusiasm for 1984 and Brave New World among the kiddie set: guys my age, we are on our forth Nazi Apocalypse this year. Nixon was a NAZI!, Regan was a NAZI!!!!, Bush was a SUUUUPER NAZI!!!!!! and now Trump is a SUPER DUPER NAZI WE’RE ALL GONNA DIEEEEEEE!!!!! Oh, and Thatcher was a Nazi too, don’t forget her. But I’m looking out the window, and I can’t see the smoke from the soap factory, know what I mean?

        Frankly, I’m desperate to read something where I and my culture are not portrayed as a bunch of f-ing nazis. Seriously. I’m getting damn tired of waiting for Larry to hurry up, finish typing and take my money.

        What that means is a business opportunity. I cannot be the -only- guy stuck in this crack. Amazon Goodreads appears to be utterly useless for finding what I want, as it is infested with SJWs and their choices. The Baen imprimatur, while a hopeful sign, is no guarantee.

        There appears to be a hole in the market. A place for a recommendation service, something to sort the wheat from the chaff and put it in silos. Here’s a radical notion: what if instead of claiming a particular silo for “QUALITY!!!”, we name them for what the fricking stories are about? Space opera silo, monster hunter silo, horror silo, ‘I’m not sure but the main character is pretty cool’ silo.

        How about something so simple as sorting the reviewers by their biases? Everybody has a bias, I certainly have mine, why not STATE that up front, and then sort from there? Then the reader can pick reviewers that think as they do, instead of getting nothing but reviews from pink-haired sea mammals who luuuurve Kameron Hurley?

        Something like that ought to be worth some add revenue, surely?

        • SheSellsSeashells

          If it helps, I can recommend Holly Lisle’s “Tales from the Longview” stories, and the first one is free. 🙂 Adventure, mystery, and a total lack of attention paid to SJW concerns. All her stuff is pretty good IMO; mostly soft sci-fi or fantasy, but the characters are awesome and there’s nary a shred of societal guilt to be found. “Hunting the Corrigan’s Blood” and sequel(s?) are good sci-fi, and I recommend the “Secret Text” trilogy for awesome worldbuilding and various sorts of derring-do.

          • Good idea! I always liked Holly Lisle. Haven’t looked for her lately, what with being all bummed out and all.

            • SheSellsSeashells

              I like the fact that the only preaching I’ve ever been able to pick up from her has been “make up your own damn mind”. 🙂 And the worldbuilding is pretty damn awesome in places.

              Anyway, Longview #1 is up for free at her website, and #3 has just been published on Kindle, so I have to go download RIGHT THIS MINUTE.

        • Quick note on Weber: He actually wraps up the Charis vs. Church war in the latest one.
          Finally.

        • adventuresfantastic

          “Frankly, I’m desperate to read something where I and my culture are not portrayed as a bunch of f-ing nazis.”

          When I wrap up the current S&S work in progress, I’m going to be working on science fiction series that may be of interest to you. I tend to write at novelette/novella length, so I’ll be publishing most of my writing myself, starting later this year.

        • “How about something so simple as sorting the reviewers by their biases? Everybody has a bias, I certainly have mine, why not STATE that up front, and then sort from there? Then the reader can pick reviewers that think as they do, instead of getting nothing but reviews from pink-haired sea mammals who luuuurve Kameron Hurley?”

          That’s an interesting idea – possibly something like sort by ‘people who high-ranked 80% of the same books as me’ – this would work as well for fans of Hurley’s as for fans of Kratman. I like that, a lot.

          • Amazon has been doing that for years.

          • Tom Kratman

            That reminds me, Dave; your from ZA so may have some speial insights. Per Hurley’s insistence on the existence of Shaka’s dreaded female impis, what part of the perimeter did they hold at the Battle of Gqokli Hill?

            • fynbospress

              …I shall ask Peter [Grant] this. I look forward to the look on his face before he gives you his reply!

              • Tom Kratman

                No need; i believe Peter and I had a good laugh over Kam Hurley’s historical fraud at Libertycon, last July. I mention it here only because the silly bint needs to be ridiculed on her presumptions and called out on her lies as often as possible.

                • I believe they were the essential defenders of the cleft, Tom. (Having grown up in Zululand… do you know where women slept in the traditional hut? They served a great fighting purpose in traditional Zulu culture, that Hurley was unaware of.

                  • Tom Kratman

                    I am sure the silly bint read somewhere that Shaka organized impis of women and boys, but was too unbefuckinglievably ignorant to understand the difference between carrying the extra rations, sleeping mats, and cooking pots and fighting on the line. Ditto too ignorant to realize that the highest and best use to which he put his female impis was to marry them off to male impis, like cattle, once a given male impi had been given permission to marry.

                    • Tom – a woman’s sleeping place in the hut was where a night-attacker would have to kill her (or them) first – giving the man time to wake and respond. Valuable to their society ;-/. It’s a typical iron age social society. Women were expendable.

                    • Tom Kratman

                      I was pretty shure it would be something like that when you mentioned it. This, however, is somewhat different from picking up shield and iclwa and standing in line of battle. ..or running a very long distance at the speed of male impie to get there.

        • Uncle Lar

          For whatever reason Baen does not seem all that interested in space opera. I tried to get Toni interested in Stephanie Osborn’s new Division One series but there was a decided lack of interest so we wound up taking it indie. First book, Alpha and Omega, just up in print and e-book on Amazon. I’m working on an article for MGC on what we had to do after the manuscript was finished to get it up through Ingram Sparks in both formats.

        • Alan

          You’d think – a little bit of money for a subscription to a recommendation service, a pattern set by the first one(s) of being really transparent upfront, a variety of biases and ways of classifying books, maybe some crowd-reviewing to get a bunch of input quickly (with vetting of reviewers, maybe using a blog model) – create a profit opportunity, get some competition going. The best ones would win, fairly good ones could survive, those with no sense would hopefully do something else after a while.
          We’d all be better off with several choices to choose from, and a small-payment subscription model would allow us each to look at several. Win-win, I think.

  6. And Baen has its standards, for better or worse. They have never picked up one of Chris Nuttall’s series. I am sympathetic on editing. I recently did a line edit of a friend’s scientific monograph, ca. 200,000 words. The writing was fine up to the ‘what order should phrases appear’ level. I spent six weeks typing.

    • And Baen has its standards, for better or worse. They have never picked up one of Chris Nuttall’s series.

      Considering that Chris is making something like six figures per book with zero promotion, I’m going to have to come down on the side of “for worse”, in pure business terms.

      • six?
        Before the decimal point?

        • Yeah, smartass. And in dollars, too, not pesos, nor in Venezuelan Bolivars.

          • Yeah, Baen has its standards. One of them is that fantasy has cooties and must sit in the back of the bus. And for the most part, only *urban* fantasy is even allowed on the bus.

            • …fantasy has cooties and must sit in the back of the bus. And for the most part, only *urban* fantasy is even allowed on the bus.

              I’m afraid that’s not true. Within the past year, and off the top of my head: Sonia Orin Lyris’s debut The Seer got a big push; Ryk Spoor’s Phoenix Ascendent, third in his “Balanced Sword” trilogy came out, and got a fair amount of promotion; and Baen editor Tony Daniel’s own The Dragon Hammer was their headline release last July, and they tried to push that one quite a bit too. And none of those is urban fantasy, I don’t think.

              On the other hand, how much new space opera do they do? Apart from Weber and Drake, that is?

              • BobtheRegisterredFool

                Does Gannon count?

                • I confess I haven’t gotten to the Caine Riordan books yet. Might be. And so is Sarah’s Darkship series.

                  But look at how Baen handled the release of Through Fire — a botch from top to bottom. Accidental release of the ebook months before paper, zero promotion of any kind, and (if I’m remembering correctly) it wasn’t even listed among that month’s Baen releases in the promo materials sent to bookstores.

                  If there was a book treated like it had cooties, that was it.

              • Baen editor Tony Daniel’s own The Dragon Hammer was their headline release last July, and they tried to push that one quite a bit too.

                I should perhaps point out that their own editors are likely to receive better treatment than random authors with whom they are under no obligation to get along.

                Now, perhaps things are as you say and their priorities are changing; but for many, many years they were well known for giving short shrift to fantasy.

            • While Baen does tend to focus more on science fiction and urban fantasy, they do put out at a fair bit of fantasy as well. There’s that Freer/Flint/Lackey series, David Weber’s Bazhell series, Larry Correia’s recent book, Ryk Spoor’s Balanced Sword series, and P.C. Hodgell’s books.

              • Yes, they do that largely for people who are already Baen authors writing other stuff. But they don’t promote it much, and their editorial attitude has always been that fantasy is inferior stuff.

  7. Saw this on Drudge, and it seemed appropriate:

    http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/why-hollywood-as-we-know-it-is-already-over

    Yes, the link is about motion pictures. That said, there’s some observations about music and publishing, such as newspaper advertisement revenue dropped from $67 million in 2000 to 19.9 million in 2014.

  8. There are several of the writers’ associations that are upset about this latest trend in the lists. RWA has already put out a statement. It seems that not only is romance not allowed, but mass market paperbacks aren’t allowed either. Pure ebook-only is not allowed. Comics/graphic novels went away. Et cetera, et cetera. There’s also a HUGE discussion going on in some of the author fora about just how such lists are made, and it apparently only STARTS with actual sales numbers. Those numbers then get masssaged according to what the rankings team deems appropriate.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      It’s the New York Times. It shouldn’t be a surprise that noise covers signal, or that it is run for the benefit of some interest they have.

    • TRX

      I thought everyone knew that. Or maybe it just came up a few times long ago.

      Notoriously, the NYT has listed books as “best sellers” that hadn’t actually shipped yet, and this was in the days before Amazon and pre-orders.

  9. Making The New York Times and USAToday lists is easy, as Joanna Penn demonstrated last year:

    1. Contribute a novella to an espionage multi-pack.
    2. Price it at 99 cents.
    3. Watch it rocket onto the lists.
    4. Add “New York Times Bestselling Author” to your resume.

  10. If the NY Times really wants to make a significant change to their lists, they should consider dropping the hardcover/paperback distinction. The public reads books for their content not the thickness of a book’s cover.

  11. Reformed Trombonist

    > Having done my bit for the conservation of the sturgeon

    I’m sure Theodore would have returned the favor.

  12. JPDev

    I recall reading in the notes to the leather-bound Monster Hunter International that when he first had it out and was self-published, that a bookstore he knew (in Madison?) was carrying it, and selling a lot of copies. He said that NYT had pulled that bookstore as a source for their bestseller list and that MHI had turned up on it for a week or so, before he re-published it with Baen.
    JPDev