Don’t Step On The Wrong Square

Writers and artists and other obsessives are not very nice people, I’m afraid.  We will do anything to have our work reach the public.  Sometimes we will do anything to research for our work too.  Well, not anything, but I have stories.

My research mania is not so much criminal as odd.  At death’s door, I made notes, in case I survived, because I was going to need it for a novel.  I made a friendship because the (future) friend’s brother had just suffered an injury similar to that of the character I was writing.  I tracked that recovery more than if the stranger were a child of mine.  Stories strike suddenly too.  Once while following my husband into a massive dark warehouse of used moving boxes for resale, I said without thinking “What a great place to kill someone.”  The face of the poor girl leading us, as she turned back to look was a thing to behold.

Given these instincts and that drive, the oligopsony that was (and still is for those who wish only to go that way) traditional publishing is a corrupting influence.

Part of it is that the entire publishing world is designed to make things convenient (as oligopsonies do) to those buying.  Which means to a certain extent getting the crap bucket under you to keep quiet and keep each other in line.  In that way they are very similar to authoritarian governments, particularly those administered by invaders who have taken over the culture.  Makes sense, since those are in a way, also oligopsonies, even if no money is changing hands.  They are also similar to profoundly dysfunctional families.

I was talking with an unpublished — but has kicked around the fringes of fandom/wanna be writers forever, life just never giving her enough space for a big push — about the matter of political discrimination or lack thereof in publishing, and she said what I’d heard a million times before, but forgotten as I got published more, and frankly stopped giving a damn: when you start even thinking of getting published, people further along, both mentors and friends, and perhaps the inevitable ill wishers, caution you constantly “Watch how you behave.”  “They don’t like publishing unpleasant people”  “Don’t make waves” and “don’t associate with troublesome people.”

The feeling was familiar to me.  Portugal was never organized enough to be a proper totalitarian regime.  It went at it, both under the national socialists, the international socialists, and the summer of the Maoists, by fits and starts.  Kind of like publishing, because thought it was centralized it wasn’t organized.  You might get away with something, or you might get crushed like a bug (or in Portugal’s cases end up in one of those mass graves from the Summer of Maoists, which they unearthed in Alentejo a few years ago.)  There was no way to tell, and the only way to be absolutely safe was to behave like a little automaton all the time, say all the “right” things and endorse all the “right” opinions.  Also, if you were on the “right” side, you got to do ANYTHING.  By which we mean ANYTHING.

Which confused little beginner me, because when they tell you not to make waves, and one of the most notorious/famous/idolized figures in the field sues everyone, it’s bewildering.

You will say I assumed it was political because of my previous experience.  You’ll be wrong.  I’d decompressed a lot, both since Portugal had got relatively saner, and since I’d come to the States.  Like someone who has been through a great illness, recovers, and the last thing they want to think about is hospitals, the last thing I wanted to think about was politics.

My first year published, I was trailing behind Ginjer Buchanan, then my editor, while she talked to another editor (and I no longer remember who it was, sorry) and she said “If I get a book in that’s of that sort” — expression of “we both know” — “but it’s well written, I reject but refer them to Baen.”

I was so innocent and trusting, I had no clue what to make of that.  I read Baen.  Tons of it.  But I knew they tended more to the “fun and adventure” end of the spectrum.  Since I’d just sold a “literary fantasy” I assumed what she meant was “if it’s more popular fiction.”  It didn’t occur to me till years in, that EVERYONE “knew” Baen was right wing.  Given they publish everyone from conservatives to communists, this is not immediately obvious, unless you’re in a field in which allowing anyone to the right of Lenin to be published means you’re a “fascist.”

(My third agent dropped me because I refused to walk out on my only contract at the time… with Baen.  Yeah.  It’s like that.)

Also, it took me about two years to figure out that people don’t make the sort of jokes that were made in business situations, unless they’re sure they’re in the midst of true believers of their own stripe.  I can be slow, but I can read print when it’s ten feet high and written in bright red letters.  I’d figured out that the only opinions expressed were leftist, and that if you tried to correct some factual misapprehension at the bottom of it, you’d get looked at as though you’d let out a particularly sonorous fart in church before 2004 (when I’d been published 6 years) when the keynote speaker encouraged us all to cheer for Howard Dean “our next president” at a formal dinner that had bloody nothing to do with politics.

Oh, and…. most publishing houses have a “conservative” imprint (which often isn’t really) but none of them have “liberal” imprints.  Because “conservative” is the odd thing.  Everything else is from a liberal slant, of course.  The very existence of “conservative” imprints is a tell, as is the fact those authors never make it across to the main house in other subgenres, etc.

Oh, and there is a “young communists” club out and proud in my field (and none of them younger than 45, but that’s something else.) There are libertarian clubs, too.  We recognize each other by signals as elaborate as the hanky signs of gay males in the bad old days.  And it’s a relief to let go and talk frankly in safety, but that happens rarely and given the “Borgia court” atmosphere, you’re never sure someone isn’t a mole and won’t denounce you.  Oh, and if you’re an out and proud libertarian — waves hand in international ‘yoo-hoo’ sign — the last people who will talk to you are the closeted libertarians, because they’re afraid of being made.  In fact, they might be among your loudest critics.

Well, you know what?  I’d parroted back Marxism to get my degree, and I could do it again, right?

Writers will do anything to get and stay published.  And the thing is, they could stop publishing you at any minute, at whim, and there was no appeal.  As I found out in 2003, even if the reason they gave YOU for letting you go/ending your series was numbers (something curious about that, my friends, considering all 3 of the Shakespeare books earned out their 10k advance, and were taken out of print the day after they earned out, why were my numbers reason enough to let me go?  Don’t answer.  Oligopsony.  Doesn’t have to make sense.  As grandma would say “they have the knife and the cheese.”) the very fact your publisher dropped you caused a vast desert around you.

No one knew why you’d been let go (hell, you might not know why you’d been let go, not the real reason, and everyone in the field knows the craziest fiction the houses publish is their statements.  Yep, those of us who write for many houses and across genres, all had the experience of getting the EXACT same numbers on books published around the same time by completely different houses and in different genres.  And these are not approximate numbers, either.  They’re like, for four year old books, 131 copies sold.  Let me tell you the mathematical impossibility of that FAR exceeds any impossibility in our books, from FTL to transformative magic.)  You knew what the editor told you, but not what they told anyone else.  Or if they’d told something else to someone else.  And the law of the field was to stay away from those in disfavor, or you’d find yourself cut off too.

So I found myself in a vast desert.  And I almost walked away — which was/is the most common reaction for someone only recently published — but I’m that obsessive, and the stories yelled in my head, and no friendly time traveler told me there would be indie (damn it, why not?) so eventually I was pulled back in and sold a book to Baen, then a trilogy to Bantam.  And the friends who’d buggered off came back.  Only I’d never trust them again.  I’d seen their backsides as they ran away.  And I understood, sure, but I don’t forgive easy.

In the same way I understood friends who’ve gone suddenly and seemingly politically insane; friends who were soft left and now are making crazed struggle session sounds and turning on everyone they once hung out with.  I remember even ten years ago how panicked they were, how afraid of getting thrown off the wagon.  And things have only gotten worse, as publishing slots, advances and promotion all shrunk beyond what anyone would have thought ten years ago.

I understand them, and I don’t hate them.  Writers will do anything to be published, and to continue being published, and if they don’t perceive an alternative, they’ll sell their own mothers to a brothel in Cairo for the chance to publish just one more book.  I just won’t trust them again.  Ever.

And as the oligopsony grows tighter and tighter, people are watched more carefully and new “commissars” come in who decree the new hotness.

While at a con panel recently, with one of the teachers of Clarion west, she seemed bewildered that her students pounded on each other for having women or minorities in less than sainted roles in their stories.  She seemed bewildered and said “this is the atmosphere we write in, and I feel it’s a challenge, because of course characters without flaws can’t grow.  But it’s the atmosphere we right in, and we’re not allowed to give them flaws without seeming discriminating.”

I responded with my normal restrained manner that that was bullshit and racist bullshit at that.  If women and minorities aren’t capable of flaw or evil, then they are something less than human.  I’ve found myself on the receiving end of some true racists before (like the asshole who thought Portugal was a city in Mexico, and who consequently would not give me — and my black colleague — access to the store safe while giving it to everyone else, including the ex con… but who called me and the black colleague into the office FIRST when money went missing) but even they didn’t assume I was some kind of subhuman robot, incapable of the full range of human behavior, agency and emotions.

However, that’s how the field has gotten.

The tightness of the buys, and the continuous denunciations of “racisss, sexisss, homophobic” got so crazy that future generations will look in awe at the fact an icon of the field was reviled for using the word “lady” while indulging in some very soft-lighted remembrances of early female editors whom he obviously admired.

I left the carousel a while back.  I found that I might have submarined to get my degree (and I guess to avoid being killed, though in my defense, I never thought that was a possibility, until those mass graves came to light) but in my forties, with two kids, I had less and less patience for keeping my mouth shut, and things kept leaking out.  (My sons, who attended cons with us from a very young age and who being darker and on a larger frame than I were often not identified as mine, overheard things had given me the impression that my mask was nowhere as good as I thought, and I was at the very least grey listed, early on.  So did friends who overheard things.)

So, in 2011 when indie became a thing, I started orienting towards indie, and keeping only Baen, where at least my politics are never policed.

And I came out of the political closet, which allows me to sleep at night, and all that.  It also of course precludes the “big money” advance and the Hollywood deal.  Yes, there is still a price to pay.  But against sanity…

However, I’ve watched, and I have enough friends in the field that I get reports periodically.

I thought we were all afraid back in 2002.  I didn’t know what fear was.

These days the things you can’t say or do seem to change daily, depending on the orders coming from the “darlings” who proclaim what is politically correct.  Like mean girls dictating that no one wears yellow anymore, their dictates go out: now you have to have these many of this kind of characters in your novel.  But the villains and the victims are predetermined, and don’t you dare say the wrong thing.

As a commenter put it not so long ago, it’s the equivalent of crossing a floor composed of identical squares, and suddenly, out of nowhere, you get hit, and get told it’s because you stepped on that square. Yes, that one there. And you should have known better. And your only salvation, the only way to make the beating stop is to admit you did wrong and stepped on that wrong square, even though it’s indistinguishable from all others.

I couldn’t take it.  It’s no great and vaunted moral principles.  It’s just that I couldn’t take it.  I had enough of it and plenty before I entered publishing.  I couldn’t–

The whole denunciation and purge show seemed designed only to make writers abase themselves, to see how far they’d bend, and to increase the pointless power of those remaining at the top who — seeing the industry crumble under them — I guess needed to feel they were still important.

And the writers trapped in it…  It’s important to understand that most people have trouble changing the mechanisms of their minds, particularly after thirty or so.  Our minds have pictures of success, pictures of how things are done.

I was lucky I was never very successful at traditional publishing, because at least my mind hadn’t internalized what was “the thing to do.”  Even then, going indie was hard — really hard — psychologically and I don’t know how much of my slow production is because of craptacular health the last 6 years, and how much because my mind is fighting the idea.  Maybe equal parts.

For those of my colleagues who were more successful — most of them — it’s even harder, and they are in panic rat-in-a-sinking-ship mode.  It’s not pretty to watch, and I can only imagine the pressures.  And of course, the tighter the oligopsony gets, the crazier the dictates from above and the favored few.  And the more disconnected from the real market.

Eight years ago I told my husband I was giving up writing.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  He asked me to give it one more year, and then indie became available.

Now that the health is improving (minutely, but improving) I’m trying to retool the mind.  It’s not easy.

I understand those still trapped.  Perhaps they’re stronger than I.  I couldn’t have made it this far.

What I don’t understand is new writers, particularly conservative new writers, who hanker after the Borgia court.

I wrote this because it finally occurred to me they have no clue what is really going on behind the facade.

In an oligopsony the suppliers are treated as exchangeable widgets.  They’ll do anything to keep their position, even if it’s not very good. ANYTHING, even become a completely different person; even betray their innermost selves.

If you must go in, go ahead.  But remember, past those portals there is no absolutely trustworthy friendship.  There is no unalloyed joy for your friend’s triumph, because you’ll always wonder if it was stolen from you.  There is no trust between anyone.  And the slightest wrong word or look; not laughing at the jokes everyone laughs at; being the first one to stop applauding; any of it can get them to turn on you like a pack of rabid hyenas.  You’ll be subjected to struggle sessions that would make Maoists blush.  And your career is in someone else’s hands all the time, regardless of talent, ability, craft or anything you bring to the field.  And your very subject matter, your very art, will have to be watched every second for the wrong word, the wrong expression, the wrong simile.

You still want to go in, go, and G-d go with you.  But go with your eyes open and know that fairyland is all dark spikes of ice underneath the glitz.






  1. I’m so glad I never tried to get through the gates. Now, I know the gatekeepers wouldn’t let me pass. But I have a day job, and I have books that sell, and fans, and the skills to take on the world by myself without the crutch of a publisher. Start a whisper campaign against me? Concerned friends telling me about that? “behold my field of fucks, and see, that it is barren.”

    I’ve broken my own trail. It’s work, but it’s so worth it not to have that kind of stress looming over me.

    1. Same here. I did give it the good old college try, had some good interchanges with agents, but … nothing more than that. I had the advantage of an audience through blogging, and some assurances of fans buying my books there … but thank god for the development of POD, and Amazon … and now it is seventeen books later!

      1. I have a pressing need to write – I really, really want to buy a house this year. And it’s so nice to know that I can earn money with my spare time, and words. It’s not scattering bread on the water in hope that someday someone might get back to me, it’s a sound and stable investment. Put effort in, get money out. And buy a house! LOL

      2. This process Sarah describes has an additional bad outcome. It effectively pushes thise who are Neurodiverse further under the bus. When you have ASD, it is already extremely hard to read the social cues that Neurotypicals read so much more readily. When the “consensus” of opinion is changing rapidly, it’s mostly impossible. Combine this with geeky affect and social awkwardness, and the Mean Girls get easy targets.

  2. Can’t “Like” this because the situation Sarah describes is so sh*tty. 😦

  3. After hearing stories and such from several writers across the spectrum, I think I will be going indie. I don’t want to be constrained by fear imposed from others.

    1. Me, too. Though I’m trying to build up a little bit of a backlog so I have a buffer as I figure it all out. (This may be silly but we’ll see. Finish the current mess first.)

  4. This process Sarah describes has an additional bad outcome. It effectively pushes thise who are Neurodiverse further under the bus. When you have ASD, it is already extremely hard to read the social cues that Neurotypicals read so much more readily. When the “consensus” of opinion is changing rapidly, it’s mostly impossible. Combine this with geeky affect and social awkwardness, and the Mean Girls get easy targets.

    1. I’m very familiar with the tiled floor thing. I’ve organized my life around being able to get a new job at the drop of a hat. Also developed an extremely militant attitude toward people accusing me of stepping on that tile. Yeah, I stepped on it. Look, here’s me stepping on it again. Bring it.

      Neurodiverse does not mean poor wee victim. Sometimes it means “Oh shit, he’s turning white again! RUN!”

      Do not taunt the nerds, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

      1. “Do not taunt the nerds, for they are subtle and quick to anger.”
        Yea, verily so.
        And you won’t know how they did it to you.

  5. Reminds me of the cult of Nuggan in Pratchett’s “Monstrous Regiment of Women” that was perpetually adding to the list of Abominations unto Nuggan. Eventually the cult broke because the people couldn’t bear the weight of an ever-expanding list of prohibitions.

    I wonder if Sir Terry was thinking of the state of publishing when he wrote that book.

    1. Sir Pterry, a most acute observer of human behavior, no doubt saw this type of behavior in many, many places other than just publishing. See also: Pournelle’s Iron Law.

        1. Banning babies is the fastest way to extinction I know. Usually goes hand in hand with banning sex. Devilishly hard to recruit faster than members die off that way.

  6. I think that the thermodynamics of the consumers of SF&F are totally misunderstood by the Mean Girls table. Perhaps, they understand and are afraid.

    It is my perception that the vast majority of major consumers of SF&F, Romance, Mysteries, Adventures, etc., are far different in their tastes from what the Meanies would like. We want to be entertained and are pretty conventional about what we like, fun and escape in each genre’s terms. We wont tollerate real biggotry but being “woken” is not why we spend thousands of dollars a year for books, magazines, commics, movies, and digital access.

    Institutions can put up kinetic barriers to us getting what we want. But, like a tall dam made if mud and sticks, once breaches occur, it can collapse most quickly.

    The MGC has documented the collapse of the barriers in publishing. We are at the stage there where I see no reasonable way that the market for enjoyable writing won’t win. Thermodynamics is coming due in publishing as it has in gaming.

    The next dam to be breached, movies. I don’t know enough about the process but the economics of movie making are as opaque and back-assward as traditional publishers. If small countries can support movie industries, moderates, libertarians, & consrvatives can easily support their own digital movie industry. I spend a lot more on movies to see at home than I do in the theaters. When Amizon, Google, Nextthing put together the analogue of the kindle for movies, whoa, open the gates…

    I can’t see this taking more than a year or two given the extremely competitive nature of the etailers…. then, then, all that Indie book content will have its outlet.

    Hey, semiautomated book to movie via AI assisted tools is very close. Movies don’t need to be perfect to please viewers and make money. They just need to follow favorite stories well enough and have low enough production and distribution costs…

    How many startups do you think are already pursuing this vision? If not dozens, than GEEKS don’t want to get rich…

    1. I think it would be harder to create an indie movie than it would be to create an indie novel especially if it was a live-action movie.

      On the other hand, I’d be glad to be proven wrong. 😀

      1. Live action would be cheaper than CGI. And given the quality of cameras available to us in the modern era, Indie Movies could be considerably better filmed than some of the classics we all love. If you want to see what ‘fans’ are capable of, check out the little Lucas jumping spider trailers. So adorable, and the work of a very talented Indie, if I understand correctly. The capabilities are out there. It’s just a matter of time, now.

        1. Let’s see, a decent “film” camera would go for about $5k, lenses about another $5k total. Sound recording hundreds of dollars, computers? well say $5k once again. Software? Depends on what you need really. So for an initial outlay of say $20,000 anyone can get up and running. Figure most big budget “blockbusters” expenses are the star power and CGI. If you aren’t going for something like that, say maybe something along the lines of “John Wick” or even a film noir type concept you don’t need that big a budget or that much post production. In fact with digital it would be probably a hell of a lot cheaper post production, and faster, than film.

          1. $5k? try $1k. Black Magic Design’s Pocket Cinema Camera (we have one) or Micro Cinema Camera, shoots 1080HD RAW onto (admittedly pricey top-end) SD cards. Shoulder rig plus monitor, $500. Basic set of cine lenses for it, $2k.

            Sound recording probably a grand esp if you’re using wireless mikes.

            Computer? depends how fast you want to render the raw footage.

            And yeah, you can afford *some* CGI.

            Just avoid the unions.

            Sound recording probably a grand esp if you’re using wireless mikes.

            Computer? depends how fast you want to render the raw footage.

            And yeah, you can afford *some* CGI.

            Just avoid the unions.

            And film. (keep in mind, most movies aren’t shot on film anymore either)

            1. I was basing the $5k figure on when I was pricing professional digital still cameras. And similar lenses to match. Should have guessed that there would be cheaper options out there.

                1. Joss Whedon filmed Much Ado about Nothing on three DSLR cameras and edited it on his laptop (as well as composing the music on his laptop)

                  The problem isn’t production, it’s distribution, getting the resulting movie in theaters.

                  This sounds very similar to the problem of getting books into bookstores, and the solution is also going to be very similar.

                  Instead of trying to distribute in theaters, find electronic distribution (Amazon, Netflix, etc)

                  1. it was shot on a Canon 7D, which was around $1500 at the time, and i guarantee it was using filming lenses, not DSLR lenses you but at Best Buy. More than likely, the cameras and lenses were rented anyway, and if you live in an area where you can do so, that’s what you do. Also, the limitations of the &d meant more than likely they *recorded* to an external media box, which at the time cost more than the camera but nowadays is $500. Fien for a little multi-cam,era character piece, but not what you want to do for SF. Also: the black and white? Done more so that they didn’t need complex color correction and to hide the fact that the camera’s color resolution and the resolution of most of the external recorders at the time was pretty low. (4:2:2 8-bit)

                    You don’t need to get it into theaters, you just need to get it on Amazon Prime and Netflix. Sound familiar?

                    1. he used a 7D and a 5D, but this was not with special movie lenses, it was with the high-end, but still standard DSLR lenses. Only one of the three cameras was rented, he had two available and started filming with the two, and added a third partway through.

                      They did not film onto any external boxes, just to the in-camera memory cards (SD card for the 7D, compact flash for the 5D)

                    2. The results work, and you don’t see any problems viewing it on the big screen

                      Remember, normal movies are barely better than HD quality (about 2Mp), filming on cameras with 16-24mp means you have a lot of extra capacity.

                    3. Doesn’t matter if the camera doesn’t record that data. once your image is converted down to that kind of format, you lose so much… like i said, if you need to do any kind of postproduction, it isn’t enough. He made the film he did because he was working around the limitations of his cameras, *including* the fact that he finished in black and white.

        2. There are some pretty decent live-action/CGI-combo films on Youtube for all the world to see, some made with a $200 camera and whatever came to hand. One of the low-budget fan-Treks did amazing things with greenscreen and free software. And fact is, we’ll forgive a lot of cosmetic flaws if the product is entertaining. I’d say the most essential component, after a good script, is a quality microphone (because bad sound makes anything unwatchable).

          Cripes, look at the long-lived popularity of Blake’s 7, which would have been a primitive production even in 1940 (to the point that my brain insists it must be in B&W), perpetually looked like crap and tokenized the physical action, but had great characters and stories.

        3. Axanar seems to me to be the best fan film ever. It seemed better than any commercial movie I’ve seen in the last 10 years. I would go to a theater to see it and pay top dollar.They industry pros working for them. If it wasn’t for the fact of using trademarked material It would be a hit movie now.

          1. Oh, indeed. It’s starting to happen. (My sister in law wrote the music for an indie piece. I need to see how it’s doing.) I don’t think it’ll go to quite the extreme that Indie writing has gone. Probably more small-press analogous.

      2. IIRC, there are people already doing indie-related stuff in live action shows and animation. It’s just not here in the West, or rather, it’s not in American markets. Comiket in Japan is THE showcase of indie work, not just indie doujinshi manga. They don’t just showcase manga or indie produced novels, they also showcase indie games, artists and singers.

        As for modern day indie animation – look up to Makoto Shinkai

        Shinkai is famous for drawing, producing, and even voicing Voices of a Distant Star himself and for the extreme success it had despite its humble creation. He has been referred to as “the new Miyazaki” by some, although he himself dislikes the nickname, citing it as an “overestimation” and asserting that their styles are quite different.

        In 2016, Shinkai’s 6th film, Your Name, became the highest-grossing anime film of all time worldwide, as well as the second-highest grossing anime film in Japan (behind only Spirited Away).

        These days there are plenty of tools more readily available for independent animation these days, including 3D. Open Source Software that handles such things include Krita (which now has animation capability) as well as Blender. Krita 3.0 ‘s release notes have more information on that.

        And no, I’m not going to pretend it’s easy – far from it. But it’s something doable, achievable, when before the only way to do it would have been to get to the big companies.

    2. “Movies don’t need to be perfect to please viewers and make money. They just need to follow favorite stories well enough and have low enough production and distribution costs…”
      Given that the Big Name Studios do such a lousy job of translating books to screen, maybe they will do better.

    3. Just my observation of an extremely limited sample size (my son going through the Keene State Film degree program). Instructors and ‘professors’ of Film courses are extraordinarily far to the LEFT. Progressive to a nearly rabid degree. (Pun intended.) The only way anyone of conservative leaning is going to successfully obtain a degree in Film, and hopefully the basic knowledge of how to film, write a screenplay, direct, produce, and several ancillary jobs that go with making a film; is to regurgitate the leftist rantings in their papers and projects. Difficult to do that for 4 years without making a mistake and outing yourself, or absorbing their philosophy and being seduced to the Dark Side. (And yes, son 2 did get seduced /sigh)

      Not saying there aren’t conservative indie movie makers out there, but they are going to be at least as rare as hen’s teeth. However, seems to me that with eBooks and indie publishing, the chances of one picking up a story by an indie writer now is a lot better than it would have been.

      1. Yep. Had to do it. Pretty sure i outed myself several times. Still got a 3.85 GPA oh well…

    4. Well, a couple of the movies on the Best Picture list are “indie”, which means “not backed by a major studio” as well as a dollop of “likely to earn out if they’re in theaters for a few weekends.”

      The true indie film that I know of is The Wizard of Speed and Time, though unfortunately the bad guy in the movie turned out to be the bad guy in real life, the movie got shoved under the rug, the film stock got stolen, and none of the people got paid. (There’s a “best of the versions out there” on laser disc—remember that?—and Mike Jittlov has given blanket permission for anyone who wants to make a digital copy, since nobody’s getting paid from it anyway. Good movie for lifting spirits.)

  7. “don’t associate with troublesome people.”

    Ironically McCarthy-esque from people who would largely declare ol’ Joe as an agent of Satan.

    1. And this is why the trolls we get here, like the ones in Dave’s post below, come to point and abjure, and can’t be convinced by logic. To agree with us is to be excommunicated.

      1. I’m getting some really unwholesome satisfaction from beating those trolls today. Feels icky, you know?

        When I designed demons, I decided that one of the ways they tempted the characters was by getting the characters to hate them. The more you hated the demon and tried to kill it, the more demonic you ended up, and got sucked into the shadows after death, to beat them up some more.

        I’m getting the feeling of something like that happening here.

        1. Some of the recent stupid coming from the Left has got me quoting the word reputed to Arnaud Amalric at Béziers. That’s probably a sign I need to take a few deep breaths and step back for a moment.

            1. Actually, it’s a phrase “Kill them. For the Lord knows who are His” when asked about the difference between regular Catholics and Heretical Cathars.

              It’s the source for the phrase “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”

              1. Indeed, the papal legate was rather, er, forceful, in getting the Albigensian Crusade underway. It may be a Cathartic reaction, but not, perhaps, the best way to avoid decades of bloodshed. Or to be able to sleep at night.

              2. I am so there. But as solutions go, its a crap one.

                And God will be mad at you too. All that extra sorting, all of a sudden…

      2. So terribly true. One of my friends from a writers’ community now defunct gave me the cut in 2009 when I dared to make some comments on the RaceFail 09 mess that were other than fawning over the Approved Victims and utterly self-abnegating. I still wonder if she felt that she had to publicly give me the cut to avoid imperiling her writing career that was just taking off.

            1. Right? I have no clue what they think will happen to Fieldsy and wifey for being revealed to be conventional. Are they afraid we’ll reveal their own cozy conventional lives next?
              Dear Lord, they’re bizarre.

              1. They certainly are weird critters! All they’re really doing is proving me right: that being exposed as perfectly mundane people is so incredibly scary and threatening to their side, because then they’re not edgelordy and controversial.

                OMG! What will Fieldsy and Wifey Do NEXT? I accuse them of having a lovely dinner tonight, maybe takeout! And then controversially watching a bit of telly perhaps, with a nice tall glass of their favorite beverages! WITHOUT ICE.

                *dramatic hiss* Sssaaaacriiiillaaaaageeee~!!!!


                1. I dunno–imagine what would happen with a certain fellow who claims to be the voice of the people if it transpired that he wasn’t nearly as edgy IRL as he is on his blog. I think he’d lose a good chunk of his fanbase.

                  1. You know what? I don’t think he would.

                    Because, like I said, being SUPER EDGY AND PUSHING THE ENVELOPE all the damn time isn’t our schtick, it’s not important to us.

                    DeForest Kelly made his start in showbiz playing villains before he became the irascible Doctor McCoy he was later known for. Off set? Apparently he was rather shy and quiet.

                    In much the same way I don’t think I’d lose any of you lot as friends if y’all discovered I didn’t have pointy ears after all. =P

                1. Yeah, no. That’s what they say they think. They think they’ll be exposed as “non edgy” and that terrifies them. Which is why they’re focusing on a throw away line of Dave’s post.

                2. For course they are.


                  Skim until Offended
                  Disqualify that Opinion
                  Attack, Attack, Attack
                  Disregard Inconvenient facts
                  Make Shit Up
                  Resort to Moral Equivalency
                  Concern Trolling
                  When all else fails, Racism!

                  They’re at the Resort to Moral Equivalency and Concern Trolling stage. They disregarded inconvenient facts already.

                  The eight stages of the SJW attack sequence are as follows: **
                  1. Locate or Create a Violation of the Narrative.
                  2. Point and Shriek.
                  3. Isolate and Swarm.
                  4. Reject and Transform.
                  5. Press for Surrender.
                  6. Appeal to Amenable Authority.
                  7. Show Trial.
                  8. Victory Parade.

                  We’re getting 5 to 7 now.

                  *hat tip to Larry Correia
                  ** hat tip to SJWs Always Lie and Milo Yiannopolous.

              2. short answer: yes. they are afraid that their cool, ‘gender queer’ online personas are going to be revealed as a soccer mom driving a Prius with 2.1 kids and a mortgage.

                1. It says something about me that the first thing I thought when I read your comment was “I am thou… Thou art I…”

                  (For those who don’t get it, that’s the catchphrase in the Persona series of video games. Latest one being Persona 5.)

  8. We keep talking about how indie is going to take over next year, or (at least) soon, or maybe 2024, when in fact it’s pretty much taken over already. Part of the problem with seeing it is seeing it across the major genres. I don’t have any presence in romance or mysteries or westerns, but I know people working in those genres, and what they’re seeing in their critique groups is what I’m seeing in mine: Authors with talent and persistence are figuring it out, building an audience, and actually making money. Literally half the people in my group are already indie-pubbed, and most of the others are asking us questions and taking notes. The tide is turning, and turning *hard*.

    The demand for immersive genre fiction these days is ravenous. I know a retired woman who reads a mystery, a romance, or a cozy mystery every. damned. day. She haunts her library to see when new titles come in, but more and more she just one-clicks away on her tablet. Fewer and fewer of the titles she reads come from tradpub. I’m hearing it again and again, and it boggles the mind, given the hellfire rained upon indie by its enemies: Indie writing isn’t all bad. Some of it, in fact, is terrific. Finding it can be a challenge, but there are reviews on Amazon, sample chapters, discussions boards, blogs (like this one) etc. Some people find good fiction in an unusual way: They ask *me* what *I* read. They bought my books and like them, so they want to know what I consider good books. And for the most part (having had quite enough of the puppy kickers and their shibboleth-crippled tribe, thank you very much) I recommend indies, including many who write in this space.

    I consider myself a successful indie. A reader/fan recently chewed me out: “You’re 65 years old and you’ve only got five books? What do you do with all your time?”

    Have some Madeira, m’dear. We’re just getting out of first gear.

    1. I’ve got 17, officially, a dozen more which are only compilations of blog posts. Yeah, I can put out two or three a year, and I’m actually kind of lazy.

      1. You do westerns, right? How’s the market for indie westerns? Are any of the tradpub houses doing them? I don’t follow that genre and don’t know how it’s been doing in recent years.

        I hope to get two new titles posted in 2018, and can dream of three. Given my writing methods, it might be naive to attempt more than that.

          1. Well, if you bend down and squint kind of sideways at them, they are sorta westerns. Lone Star Sons and Lone Star Glory are a deliberate riff on classic westerns. The other books have all the classic elements of Westerns somewhere about them; the frontier, Indians, six-shooters, covered wagons, and cows. Lots of cows.

        1. Hi, Jeff – from the way that my first couple of books got treated when I was doing the trad-pub route – I had the impression that most of them treated Westerns as if they had a bad smell. I kept saying, no, I write historicals with a setting on the 19th century American frontier, which cut no ice with them at all. Some of the agencies were pretty snotty about it, too.
          Which is a pity, because there is still an audience out there, who have read all the old classic westerns and want to read new.
          Now I know of a couple of romance/historical writers who are doing very well with doing romances with a classic Western setting – cowboys and ranches and bandits and all. The romance market seems to be pretty much in touch with what their readers want. I can only guess that the mainstream publishers decided that Westerns were a niche market that they didn’t need to bother with, unless it were someone like Larry McMurtrey.

    2. “The more you hated the demon and tried to kill it, the more demonic you ended up,” … because we try to fight demons with their own weapons (flamethrowers) instead of fighting fire with water (much harder to do).

      Time to reread The Screwtape Letters.

      There is a saying that “God will not tempt you above that which you are able to bear,” meaning (since God doesn’t tempt anyone) that He won’t send you into an indefensible position (Refrigerator Magnet Wisdom says “The Will of God will not lead you where the Grace of God will not protect you.”)
      However, (long way around the barn), we usually end up being our own tempters, by seeing how close we can drive to the edge of the cliff, etc., and the devil takes it from there.
      So when we are fighting the devil, we are often fighting ourselves.

  9. Publishing has been going through a genteel (only in the sense that people aren’t being murdered out of hand; careers and even lives are being ruined) version of the Cultural Revolution. The ‘privileged’ are the new Counterrevolutionaries or kulaks, and being a straight white male is the ultimate Original Sin, having drunk the blood of the oppressed along their mothers’ milk,

    As a business model, that ideology leaves a lot to be desired: publishing has alienated a large percentage of the reading public. We are lucky to live in a time where a way to bypass the traditional gatekeepers exists, especially when the trads keep giving market share away by disdaining certain genres, keeping ebook prices artificially high, and listening to vocal twitter mobs that were likely never going to buy any books regardless of how diverse or “non-colonized” they were.

    I submitted my first novel to Tor books back in 2013; that move cost me $40 in printing and postage (Tor throws away the mss. after it’s done, so no SASE required) and five months before I got a boilerplate form rejection letter. Rather than go through that again, I self-published later that year. Twelve months and three novels later, I’d made rather than more than the typical advance first-time SF writers get. I didn’t have to submit to any sensitivity commissars (amusingly enough, though, my first novel might have satisfied them, since the MC is a fairly liberal female college student).

    It’s not easy, but it’s doable. And the best part is, unless one enjoys squabbling with SJWs in social media, one can easily pretend they don’t exist. Sure, you get the occasional 1-star review, but more often than not they’ll get you more sales from your actual audience. Their approval or disapproval becomes irrelevant. It’s like escaping Maoist China and arriving to the free world.

    1. “listening to vocal twitter mobs that were likely never going to buy any books regardless of how diverse or “non-colonized” they were.”
      I got that same feeling when the SJWs claim to be boycotting someplace they don’t shop anyway.
      NFL has also found out the hard way that their fans don’t come in one Ideology Box.

      1. Yep. It’s even worse in comics, where many if not most of Marvel’s writers and editors are openly hostile to straight white males – who happen to be the primary consumers of their product. A few years later, the more diverse audience failed to materialize nd stores are closing and sales numbers continue to plummet…

        1. Comics is unreal – it took longer to hit, probably because the audience is more traditional, but it’s hit with a vengeance. The books are so bad that record numbers of comic book stores are closing.

          And I can think of at least ten people on youtube that are making good money by making fun of the bad comics or illustrating the twitter drama. Makes for great popcorn viewing, but I really feel for the pros under attack, and the decline of some really great series is kinda heart-breaking.

          There have been some positive moves very recently, but I’m still wary.

      1. Yes! Lots of overlap between with MGC’s authors and the Conservative-Libertarian Fiction Alliance, plus Baen. Or as I like to call it, the better side of SF & F 🙂

    2. Your experience with Tor maps to mine…only you did better. I sent my first novel to Tor, having gotten a recommendation to them from another biggish-name writer whom I won’t identify; it’s not pertinent. The novel is an idea-driven hard SF action/adventure piece. It includes some libertarian themes, but I threw in a lot of twists on the ideology until I figured no one would recognize it.

      So. I sent the paper MSS. (This was 2002.) I waited for acknowledgement. I waited for rejection. I waited for a whole freaking year before I queried. No response. I waited another six months. Then I sent a registered letter withdrawing the MSS from consideration.

      No response from Tor. None. Not a note, not a single email. Nothing, nothing, nothing at all. Back when I was running editorial for a nonfiction press that may have been bigger than Tor, that would have been a firing offense. I made it clear to my editors: When an author queries, you answer, *without fail.* I told my authors that if they call or email one of my editors and don’t get an answer, to call me. Somehow it never became an issue.

      I ended up selling the novel to a small press in 2005, and it’s done pretty well. I finally went indie with ebooks in 2015. Now I’m kicking myself for waiting that long. (And I will be forever grateful to Sarah Hoyt for getting me off home base.)

      Stonewalling polite authors who follow the imprint’s rules is the worst sort of unprofessional conduct, and when Tor implodes, that will have been a big part of it.

      1. Wow, that’s bad. If they stated they will not read unagented mss, that’s one thing, but their writer’s guidelines expressly say otherwise. Guess I was lucky to get a form letter back.

        And I’m grateful to both According to Hoyt and MGC; their posts on indie publishing played a big role in the decision to take the plunge.

  10. There is a kind of doublethink that is necessary to maintain in order to function in that kind of environment. You have to be able to turn on the sacrifice du jour instantly, without thinking, while at the same time uncritically accepting that those who have not yet been thrown to the wolves are blameless and would never do wrong.

    You know that anyone–absolutely anyone, including yourself–might be convicted of thoughtcrime and become an unperson at any time, and you have to be always ready to join in the feeding frenzy. But that can’t ever be acknowledged, even jokingly. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, and anyone who becomes “not one of us” has to be retroactively condemned so that they were never “one of us”.

    Paranoia becomes so much a part of your daily life and at the same time you can’t ever look like you’re waiting for the ax to fall. Any sign that you aren’t perfectly happy with the state of affairs can be seen as disloyalty. You learn to push the sword of Damocles out of your conscious awareness, like the townsfolk in “It’s A Good Life”.

    I think on some level only people who have lived like that can truly understand the mindset. When you’re in it hysterical overreaction is a survival strategy, because any square can be the wrong square to step on, and you can never afford to be the last one to condemn wrongthink.

  11. Well I see the same wreckage all around culturally, but the thing that really caught me in the article was the comment about “this would be a great place for a murder”! I think like that all the time though I don’t write real mysteries, (more like *situations* that include a dead body) so it made me laugh. And I love indie. I never even considered a trad publisher; I just wanted to write something (had to?) and my friends’ comments on it after I “loan” them a copy have been quite entertaining. If I succeed in finishing another book, what I read here will have been a great help, but in the mean time it’s thought provoking, useful, and fun.

    1. My mom does geocaching, AKA “using multimillion-dollar government satellites to find Tupperware in the woods.” She went on a trip a year or two back where she refrained from going for one cache because it felt too much to her like a news story that would start like “[Mom] was geocaching when she found the body…”

      (Further note: she was the one to check on a friend who had dropped offline for a couple of days and she was the one to find out that he’d died. So she said “Finding one body is enough.”)

      1. Indeed … I was the one who discovered the body of an employer and friend, who had died the night before of a massive heart attack. He home-officed (usually went out to his clients, as he was a computer tech with a substantial clientele) and I stopped to pick up my paycheck.
        On the upside – I could tell everyone with absolute truth that it seemed to have happened without warning and very little pain.
        The other odd thing – all his family came from out of town, and his other employee and I did a quick clean-up and sanitization of his place. (as he was gay and we had no idea if his family knew – it turned out they did and did not care a bit) – and this chore proved to be rather comforting to us. Straightening things out, doing loads of laundry. He was a great guy, and I went on missing him for years,

  12. …and know that fairyland is all dark spikes of ice underneath the glitz.

    There’s some tune I hear via Muzak/PA from time to time where the gal sings the line, “Fairy tales don’t always have a happy ending.” I wonder how many around me are not expecting my reaction, “Well, of course not. The Fae are involved. Things with them seldom end happily.”

    1. The truth is, of course, that “fairy tale” is a misnomer — the most common feature of them is talking animals, not the — ehem — Good Folk.

    2. Into the Woods is great for that. There are four known fairytales (and one new one) that all wrap up with “and happy ever after!” Except… that’s the first act. The second act goes into the repercussions of the first act’s happy endings. (I have seen it performed as a youth production with only the first act, which works with no further edits aside from removing the Narrator’s “to be continued!”)

  13. If I could suggest a topic for a future column, have you guys considered writing anything about short fiction? E.g. is it good for the practice alone (easier to hone your craft with 5,000-word stories than 100,000-word novels)? What do you think are the best venues to send short stories to? Is there any way to make money from it? What’s your favorite short-fiction reviewer, 🙂 etc.

    1. Bouncing off this idea a little: suggestions on how to handle web serial subscriptions in the Western market. They seem popular in Japan and China for indie / self pub web novels and I’m curious how it might work here. From what I gather folks subscribe (either paid or otherwise) and then get alerted when new chapters are uploaded (either to be viewed online, behind a subscriber’s wall, or downloaded.)

      1. One issue with English-original webfiction, compared to the Asian markets (AIUI), is that Japan, China (possibly including Taiwan), & South Korea all have major primary publication/aggregator sites.

        The vast majority of Japanese webfic that reaches an audience (*any* audience) seems to do so from Syosetu, China has Qidian (or whatever they call their site, is their official translation site, & they do TradPub too I believe), & Korea has Munpia.

        They presumably have other, smaller sites too, but those are presumably more niche markets.

        English webfiction mostly seems to be on the authors own website, often *after* they’ve pulled it off one of the larger sites where people could track more than one work at a time.

        But even when it’s on an aggregated site (of which there are quite a few), it may not be overly accessible… (I’m thinking here of a site I visited ‘cos Cedar Sanderson mentioned her oldest child was reading fanfic there on her blog once, it may be usable with their app on a phone or tablet, but as a website I found it’s UI/UX execrable(sp?), which is why I’ve forgotten who it was, don’t think it was though [‘cos I went in search of non-fanfic & did find a number of stories I wanted to try & read]).

        One thing that seems to be particularly common (especially in the LitRPG & GameLit genres which is most of the English-original WebFic I’m reading these days, almost exclusively on Royal Road Legends) is writing a WebFic, reading the feedback, then revising the work, getting it edited, & pulling it down for a month or so while they launch the improved version on Kindle, often straight into the KULL collection.

        Something I almost forgot to mention is that a lot of these authors seem to be getting at least a little money from donations & subscriptions (be it PayPal, Patreon, or something else) while they write (which may even be how they’re funding the getting their product ready for Kindle release).

        1. Harry, I suspect that was WattPad, which the girls even say is horrible to read on, but there’s a dedicated group of writers who post there and that kept them going back.

          1. Yeah, that was the one, thank you. Also recommended by my best friend’s kid, unfortunately for me she didn’t warn me about interface.

            (Yes, I realise it may look creepy that I’m taking reading advice from teenage girls, but almost all my peers whom I discuss reading with are usually asking _me_ for recommendaations as I have more time to read than they do [the exception is someone I mostly discuss anime, manga, & fanlated Japanese webfic with]. Plus younger people are more likely to know what’s *new* than those I hang around with).

        2. IIRC, has a sister site for original fiction called Fictionpress; which is good for fanfic writers who then also write original. I don’t know how popular it is though, so there’s one. And there’s as mentioned by Cedar, Wattpad. (Bad UI, crap security too, from what I’ve heard.)

          Still… it’s a thought, because focusing only on Amazon as an outlet feels a little limiting sometimes, and I think we should always look beyond there for options.

    2. I learned short stories because I thought that was the way to break in. They’re not — duh — my natural mode, but I got really good at them. And they were useful to extend the reach and expose me to new audiences.
      Now… I’m not sure? I do them because they’re easy and people ask.
      … I’ll think about it. I have loved some short stories, but I also find myself reading them less in electronic. Not sure why.

    3. When offering them for sale, offer them individually, yes, but also package them together in economy-sized batches. I do collections, and they sell better than individual stories.

      1. That’s possibly a psychological thing, about “value” — maybe we should have an online format of a penny a word, just like the old serials.
        Funny story: Erle Stanley Gardner wrote westerns as well as his Perry Mason (and other) mysteries. His heroes always took the full 6 shots from their revolvers to nail the villain. When someone asked him why they were so incompetent, he answered that he got paid by the word.

        1. … maybe we should have an online format of a penny a word, just like the old serials.

          Kindle Unlimited pays authors by how many pages the readers actually read now, so… we kind of do have that. Comes out to less than one penny per word, I’m sure, but unless your average word size per page is VERY different from anyone else’s, you’re still essentially getting paid by the word as long as you can keep the readers’ interest.

    4. Give you my honest opinion on this, Greg. And this is coming from someone who LIKES short fiction, who considers it the finest training for novelists, a great way to find authors you enjoy and the second hardest thing to write really well (Poetry is harder. That’s why most of it crud, but what isn’t, is diamond) – I think short fiction is on life-support. It hasn’t got a huge audience – most people seem to prefer novels, it seems. Anthologies still sell a bit… Magazines (shakes head) I just don’t see it. Authors – with recognition CAN make a bit of gelt out of particularly Novellas within existing universes.I’ve made a few grand out of the Novellas set in RBV universe, which is I would guess around 3 times as much as best-selling of my non-universe stories.

      1. Agreed. Markets are drying up (and many who aren’t are ruled by Mean Girls), Amazon’s pay scale is terrible for shorter works, and, worst of all, there is very little interest among readers for it, as far as I can see. I’ve written one anthology and participated in another, and both are among my lowest sellers. The single short I have on Amazon has made me less than 1/10th what my worst-performing novel has – after adjusting for time spent writing it, word count, etc (i.e., writing enough short stories to match the word count of a novel would generate a tiny fraction of the return of said novel).

        1. I’d be curious to see how Patreon worked for prolific writers of shorts. Someone like me, who writes a couple a year, probably wouldn’t bother with it. I’m currently serializing a short on my blog as a reader cookie, but I don’t expect it to make me money.

          1. I think that, art, webcomics, & basically anything where the author is continuously and/or regularly providing output (or thinks they can at least) is what Patreon does the “per update ‘donation'” for, & it must do pretty well, ‘cos it was them they focused their explanations on when trying to sell their changes to the fee structure at the end of last year…

          2. Yes, Patreon and similar crowdfund sites are probably the best bet for short and serialized fiction, A subscriber service works a lot like old school periodicals, except the writer doesn’t get paid late, badly, or never. The difference between internet-based, cash on the barrel publishing and the “we’ll pay you when we feel like it” trad publishing model is striking.

          1. Most YA is in the short novel range, isn’t it? I think YA is the major genre market at this point, at least if I go by the relative sizes of the sections in my local library.

    5. I’d like to hear a bit about indie publishing short fiction, with what would be reasonable charges (based on length and the minimum price you have to hit to have it make any money.) It’s not so much working to a market as “well, if I have this sitting around anyway, I might as well publish it…”

  14. We recently (within the last couple of months) opened a new building here. The Police & Safety Office got a tour just before it opened since we’re the ones who’ll have to respond to anything out there. One of the SGTs remarked something like “I know where I’m disposing of my next dead body” and got quite a shocked look people.

    So Sarah, the next time you need to dispose of a body, just call me. We have a brand new Vet Diagnostic Lab, complete with a couple of large stainless steel necropsy tables and an incinerator large enough for the equine and bovine subjects they are working on.

  15. Baen publishes Communists? Like who? I’m genuinely curious because I always knew Baen as either an Adventure Story Publisher or Right-Wing Publisher.

    1. Eric Flint is a self-professed communist, and, last I checked, is still published at Baen. Baen is a publisher of all things it thinks it’s audience will find entertaining. (At least insofar as their publishing schedule will allow.)

      1. Eric self describes himself as spending much of his life as “a socialist political activist … on the shop floors of American industry and in its union halls, not in the ivory tower.”. Quitting his PhD program in African History to work in a whole list of union manual labor jobs for about 30 years. Until he decided to retire from activism to try his hand at writing. See his bio on his own website and he is equally willing to talk about it in person.

        As for actively being published by Baen he had a mmpb in January, a hardback coming out Tuesday, another mmpb this April, another Hardback in June, a mmpb in July, and a trade paperback in August and that is as far as the Baen schedule is posted :-).

          1. You know, he’s the only Communist I’ve ever encountered (in RL or online) who isn’t an oikophobe – his love of country shines through everything he does.

    2. you “always knew” because the fact they publish people to the right of Lenin is enough to make them “right wing” in this field, even if they publish others too. Which tells you all you need to know, doesn’t it?

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