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Being a Sadist

I don’t remember the exact quote, because I first heard it in Portuguese, so what I remember Heinlein saying is this: Only a fool or a sadist tells the unvarnished truth in a social situation.

I don’t know to what extent a blog is a social situation, but hold on to your hats, because I’m about to be a sadist.  I’m going to tell the unvarnished truth about traditional publishing.

I think it’s important to say it and to say it now, because not only are a lot of you pining for that traditional publication without knowing how the system works, and thinking it will all be skittles and chocolate because you’re “good,” but a lot of you are judging the (relatively) good with the bad and demanding a perfection the system can’t provide. Or demanding that people within the system act in a way they can’t do and survive.

So, let’s talk about publishing.  I’m going to use my career.  It’s neither unusual nor particularly bad.  I used to think I was fate’s punching bag until I found myself in a circle of authors who’d been published ten or twenty years longer than I have, some of them have had the craziest things done to them: like the well known female writer whose book sold out in three days (in paper before indie) and the house printed no more because it had met their sales expectations.  I’ve never had anything like that.  I’ve had more normal “your first book sets your destiny.”  Which…. never mind.  Normal.  Stupid, soul-grinding and painful, but normal.

Before I start I want to point out everything I say here is MY observations, MY career and the things I’ve heard and inferred about how the system works.  None of my co-bloggers are responsible or deserve blame if any of this upsets you.  None of my co-authors.  None of my — largely undeserved — friends in the field.

I’m being the sadist, not them. And frankly, I’m completely out of … you know what to give.  By the light of all my burning bridges I can sit and read a book.  And I don’t care anymore.

I started writing thirty three years ago, when my husband told me that writers wrote every day.  It’s a vice as well as anything else.  It helps me keep the imagination corralled. My husband wasn’t wrong in that — and I’ve forgiven him, anyway — when I’m not writing I’m a witch spelled with a b. And I can’t sleep at night for the vivid dreams.

My first short story I sent out got back a personal rejection and a copy of the magazine so I could see what they actually published.

I was shocked and upset.  I was raised on the myth of genius.  Given a sufficient amount of genius even Time magazine would publish a fairytale (besides politics) and Baen would publish a mystery.  That’s how I was raised, not that I knew who published what or how crazy it was to send an sf to a horror magazine.  Nor did I realize how STILTED my writing must have sounded.

I put the magazine and rejection in the drawer and didn’t submit again for seven years.  In my defense a lot of this is because I was writing novels (left to my own devices, I’d write a short a decade.  It’s not natural to me) and we couldn’t afford the $8 postage to send them out.  Also most houses wanted a “3 chapters and outline” submission, and I had no clue HOW to write an outline. Not a SELLING outline, which has rules and codes.  (I eventually learned because someone next to me was writing one in her pad at a class. Yep, I cribbed the rules from something seen over someone’s shoulder.)

In that time, most houses stopped taking submissions and started going through agents.  Those also wanted three chapters and outline.  I still didn’t know how to do it.

To make things worse, my novels universe was ALL ah…. gender fluid characters, which in the mid-eighties to mid-nineties was as welcome as a fart in church.  Remember Misty Lackey’s books had sticker-warnings that it had homosexual characters?

They probably still wouldn’t be welcome, because… well, because they weren’t “gender-fluid” for any political reason, but because I like biology and bio-engineering and wanted to explore a true genderless society.

Somewhere along the line, I think seven years in, in my mad quest for rules, I found a book that said one broke into SF/F by writing shorts.  Well, I don’t write shorts naturally, but if that’s what I needed to do to get my words out there, I’d do it.

I was so determined to do this, that over the next years I wrote something like 150 stories.  And got rejected.  Boy, did I get rejected.  It took me till 94 to make a sale, and then I sold that story (which I’d already sent out 80 times) 8 times (the magazine or the editor died.  Some stories are like that) before I sold anything else.

After that I sold a short story or two a year, which sounds fricking great, except, you know, I was getting 100 rejections by March, and most of my sales made me under $50.  We established a tradition of blowing my earnings on pizza.

In 1998, so 13 years after I started writing every day, I wrote Darkship Thieves. It got me an agent, but the agent couldn’t sell it.  (It also got me some interesting rejections, including an eight page one where the guy seemed to be mad at me for reasons I never understood, and which ended with “but send me your next one.”  Yeah, no.  Even I am not that crazy.)

In 1998 I went to the Oregon Coast Professional workshop.  An editor from Ace attended.  At this workshop they contrived to have a time for each of us to present what we had finished, and a brand new, written there  in outline.

I had by then twelve novels written, some of them fatally flawed, the others in a world no one wanted.  I had won two contests, one local and one national.

The editor wanted what became Ill Met By Moonlight (which was titled Down the Rushy Glen.)  I had a chapter and a very sketchy outline, because there was no access to the net, and I couldn’t get details.  But writing Shakespeare was kind of a natural thing to me.  I have a degree in literature (it came with the languages) but the only ones I ever loved were Shakespeare and Austen (of the ones they inflicted in school, mind.)

So I went home, bought 40 more books on Shakespeare, finished the novel in two months and sent it to my agent.  I assumed — as a sane person would — that she’d sent it on.  It wasn’t till a friend ran into the editor at worldcon, that she heard that this editor had never got my novel and wanted to know if I’d lost interest.

I called the agent.  She told me I didn’t want to sell to that editor (yes, names will be given but in PM.  Though it’s not hard to find.) That editor had a reputation for killing series either through malice or lack of due diligence.  Even the occasional bestseller she launched didn’t want to work with her.

Yeah.  The agent was right.  And wrong.  Sure, that publisher killed series, but back then your odds of being published were the odds of being hit by a meteor who’d lain in wait in an alley.  Even a crappy deal was better than no deal.  The proper strategy I now know would have been for that agent to make the deal then send the other two books of mine she had — Darkship Thieves and The Years Undone (mil sf, Red Baron) out and really push them on the strength of “she just sold a book.”

Why didn’t she do it?  My theory is that it’s because those two books were Baenish and she didn’t like Baen.  (Which was not unusual, as we shall see.)

I figured changing horses in the middle of the stream was bad, which might have been stupid, and told her to send it in.  Two months later I went to world fantasy and found another agent and dropped her.

Before that she made the sale and got me $5k which was the standard advance for a beginner.  Should she have got more?  Probably.  I figure she wasn’t a top flight agent though, but I only figured that years later.  And your agent (and your agent’s idea of you) determined your advance.

Coincidentally a friend sold her book two months before me.  (More on that later.) She had a top flight agent (she got him after the workshop, on the strength of “I have this book all but sold.”  I had one before, so inferior.  She also got $5k. However, her agent started immediately trying to sell foreign rights.  Nothing came of it, but he tried.

$5k wasn’t amazing, but it was money.  It was the first significant money I made from writing.

My next agent sold two sequels to the now retitled Ill Met by Moonlight.  But before he sold them, he made me completely rewrite the second book.  That agent (not just a writer himself, but the author of apparently now 2 or 3 books on writing) had a formula.  You had to write to his formula, which is thrillerish and fits about as well with a Shakespearean fantasy concoction as a model’s dress on a cow. NEVER let anyone who is also a writer edit you.  EVER.  Particularly NOT if they have a ‘formula.’  I try really hard to make people figure it out themselves, but it’s fairly rare.  I should not have rewritten to specification.  That book, All Night Awake, remains my worst-selling book ever.

Mind you, he was right on a TON of things, like the fact I tended to have pages and pages of thoughts with no anchoring physical action, and if he’d just made me change that, he’d have improved the book.  Unfortunately I had to write it to his formula.  He promised if I did that it would sell for over 20k, and I’m an idiot.  Oh, he probably didn’t PROMISE as such, but there was a ton of talk about “a year’s wage” which at the time in my head was about 20k. Because it’s what I’d made as a college lecturer in NC in 1989.

I sent the second book and proposal and outline in July 2000?  There abouts.  Maybe August.  Two weeks later I got a phone call. We had an offer of 10k a book (whoo-oo) and he advised I take it, because then I’d sell a lot more to that house.

I was stupid and took it.

Why stupid?  Because I KNEW better.  In the workshop, I’d been told the house will put into your book what it pays out.  I.e. if they have 50k (back then the magic was 25k) invested in you, they’ll do actual promo and push you.  Less than that, and you’re disposable: a loss leader.  You’ll be in “we also have this” in the reps presentation to the bookstore, and you’ll have maybe 2 books in most bookstores.  Which means if you sell one, you just entered the hell of to-the-net and your next book will have a lay down of one, and the third of none.

I KNEW this, but I thought “this agent has a great reputation and he’s the professional.  He tells me this is the way to do it, I’ll do it this way.”  No matter.  My stupidity and boy have I paid for it.

Meanwhile remember the first book, now titled Ill Met By Moonlight?  Its winding its way through and 2000 or so I hear it’s scheduled for October 2001, and oh, by the way, they figure it’s that good it will be hard cover.

More whoo whoo! right?  Yeah.  I was a dumb ass.  Hardcover just meant they’d recover my advance faster and without doing anything for the book, really.

To make things worse, they decided the book being “literary” had cross-marketing potential, so they wouldn’t have even FICTION on the cover, much less FANTASY.

My friend’s book came out Mass Market Paperback in May 2001 and it went to reprint and reprint and reprint, ending up selling 60k books.

I won’t blame Ace for 9/11 or the fall out from that.  And as a professional friend told me “it would have been worse to be on the planes.”  Maybe.  Well, yes, because I had kids to raise.  Emotionally… it’s another matter.  And career wise, my career died that day.  Or at least my traditional career.

Most of my books didn’t get unpacked.  I know, because we talked to the bookstores. I was new, remember?  I did drive by signings.  Part of it was that the publisher had paid for a dump before deciding not to invest in the book (maybe when the next two books sold? Who knows?) So they had orders to put it in a cardboard display, but there was no display and they only had at most two copies.  Most bookstores didn’t unpack them.

The ones that did didn’t know what to do with it, and it ended up anywhere from Theater to History to mystery.

I’m not going to tell you it was the best or most saleable series in the Universe.  One of my friends who is a lawyer said it was too difficult to read for her.  (Lots and lots of Elizabethan language.)  Some people love it.  It was fun to write.  Though by the third it was palling.

It also earned out its minuscule advance and about 2k more.

Whoo Whoo.  Not.

The next book also earned out its 10k advance.  And was taken out of print the day after.  Same for the next.  (The only house that did NOT do that at the time was Baen, and though I’d sent DST to Baen, I’d not heard in three years.)

This brings us to 2003 when Ace tried to fire me and I refused to understand and kept pitching.  The editor told me I could sell mysteries, then (somewhat peevishly) and to send her five proposals the next week.

So… I did.  The Musketeers series came from that.

Before that a friend at Baen whom I will not name, the same way I didn’t name my workshop instructors, because I don’t want them to have to take responsibility for either my career or this post, got me in to collaborate with another author.  That collaboration came to nothing.  In fact, every time I’ve worked with that author, he’s turned the manuscript down with no explanation. Since I first started selling novels those are the only ones I’ve had flat rejected.

BUT I’d started emailing Jim Baen, mostly with jokes (he started it) and one day he sent me an email saying “Sarah, I have a hole in the schedule.  Want to sell me anything you can have ready by end of month?”

I’ve written books in less time, but I had small kids, and was remodeling a house for sale (three so far, over 20 years.  Why?)  Still, I could sell sf/f again.  And it wasn’t literary.  Oh, yeah, I’d dumped the agent because he straight up blocked me demanding I write to formula, and I was shopping.  But all the agents who were interested wanted me to write “literary” because that’s where the prestige is. Conversations that went “you can get a college teaching job and–” ended in “click” on my side.

This was a chance to write non-literary.  So I jumped to it.  Only I THOUGHT — remember I was still green as grass — that Jim Baen must have read DST (it was on his desk for years).  So I sent him something I’d just started writing: an urban fantasy called Draw One In the Dark.  I sent him an outline proposal and three chapters and went for an hour long walk with my family.  When I came home, I had a contract in email.  12k.

Whoo Whoo, a raise.  Yeah…

Jim Baen was dying, which is the reason I don’t hold the cover against him.  He was probably having micro-strokes for days.  So I got, bar none, the most atrocious and inappropriate cover you can imagine. (The hard cover and paperback covers are almost completely different.) I can’t seem to find the JPG, but my kids were then in elementary and this cover looked like it was drawn by one of their less talented classmates.  It was very dark and for a light fantasy set in a diner it was a guy (for reasons of crazy wearing a sea shell) standing in front of castle with lightening rays behind.

My friend Kate bought a copy and her husband asked her if she’d taken to reading about zombies with an udder fetish. It was that bad and more.  I didn’t want to be seen holding it and it was MY book.  The only thing I can say for it is that it was better than the other cover (same artist) they wanted to foist on it which I nicknamed “anime butch lesbian with cats under her shirt.”  I actually fought for the horrible cover, because it was better than the other horrible covers.

The book hit the stores in hard cover with predictable results.  I think I sold 1500 copies.  I want to point out right now in ANY OTHER HOUSE I’d have been fired.  Yeah, none of it was my fault, but it’s always the author’s fault.

Baen gave me one more contract: for the sequel to the first book.  (Spot the reasoning flaw, but my fault, as I submitted the outline. And most writers have a limited number of series, and they’re not psychic.)

Meanwhile the first musketeer book came out and was picked as a book club alternate.  I’m actually mentioned in one of Carolyn Hart’s bookstore mysteries.  Things were looking up.  Whoo Whoo.

Only the house wanted to bring out three books a year.  And meanwhile I’d sold Heart of Light and the Magical British Empire trilogy which was written before 9/11 and when I was trying very hard to be liberaltarian.  Yeah.  This matters.  But they paid me 17k a book, baby needed shoes or books, or whatever.

This left me in the enviable position of delivering six books in a year.  “Sure, I can do that.” Even though they were all heavy research.

Before I sold MBE something interesting happened.  The house asked to see faxes of my statements on Shakespeare.  Remember, green as grass.  I thought nothing of it. I sent them.  It was maybe two years before I realized that any house could, at the push of a button, see my actual numbers: ie. what I’d sold.  So why did they want to know WHAT WAS REPORTED TO ME?  I have theories, but they’re just theories.  Plot it yourself.  I’m also NOT going into the fact that I sometimes got reports from different houses and all the numbers matched for books the same age (Different genres, different publishers, different covers, etc.).  They matched to the last digit. It’s not even deliberate fraud (probably.)  It’s using 19th century methods and incomplete figures to estimate how much you sold.  Like most of the industry it’s out of date and set in its ways.  It’s not even worth bitching about.

Meanwhile my friend with the 60k first book had sent in another, which went bigger and was a book club alternate selection.  The house then asked her for a bigger book.  She had no idea HOW to do that. She floundered.  In the middle of this, they suggested she write a Shakespeare book.  I objected through my third agent (who never sold anything for me and quit when I insisted on selling to Baen, so by the time DOITD came out, I was on my fourth agent.  Who tried to get me to quit Baen and write more “literary.”) They dropped the idea. I want to publicly apologize to my friend for this.  The house found another person to do “discount Shakespeare.”  She’s a best seller.

My friend fired her agent and turned in a book, in that order.  The book was larger, not bigger.  Not only was it rejected, but despite her STELLAR sales, they didn’t ever buy from her again.  I know she thinks I somehow did this, because I continued selling and she didn’t.  But other than object to Shakespeare from the same publisher, all I ever did is try to push her to every publisher I worked with.  To this day her walling off from the field makes no sense to me.  It’s possible the mega agent she fired poisoned the waters.  He was really big.  She insisted on firing him before getting a new one.  It was a kind of lethal honesty.

Meanwhile not only did the sequel to Draw One In the Dark flop (remember, sequel.  Ordering to the net.)  For reasons inexplicable to me, Musketeers came out with the third cover identical to the first.  Same tone, same general impression.  Sure the letters and actual picture were different, but to this day I have to pay attention to figure out which one I’m signing.  There was also some weird revision in the text that makes me sound historically illiterate.  MIGHT have been in the page proofs.  I was writing six books that year, and who knows?  That book tanked badly.  The house “solved it” by changing the titles of the next two books out of “the musketeer” format.  The next one came in second (or won category? I no longer remember) the Colorado prize for the book.  It was called A Death in Gascony and is now The Musketeer’s Inheritance.  But it didn’t sell for crap, because no one knew it was in the series.  So by the fifth book I was asked to submit a substitute to the sixth book.  Hence, Dipped Stripped and Dead, under yet another pen name: Elise Hyatt.

Sometime before that, I’d started posting what I considered an unsaleable book — Darkship Thieves — in my conference in the Baen bar.  I got a letter from the publisher telling me to stop putting it out in installments, she was buying it.

Whoo Whoo.

I was really excited — I love mystery, I can write fantasy, I can make vague hand gestures at hard SF but I LOVE space opera.  I love the future history, the expansive universe, the life and death decisions. — until I found out how and when it was coming out.

It was coming out trade paper back in January.  Both of these were, under trad publishing rules at the time the kiss of death.  I realized then (and have said this sitting right next to the publisher, who made a face but didn’t deny it) that Baen had decided to let me down easy.

My sales sucked.  They felt forced to buy more books because — being more ethical than the other houses — they knew the first cover for them sucked rotten eggs. HOWEVER they didn’t want to keep throwing good money after bad, and by that time I had THREE failed series with other publishers.  (Yep, MBE disappeared without a ripple.  Though they earned out.  Of course they earned out.)  I was a bad risk.  But because they liked me, they didn’t want me to go away mad.  So a sacrificial book: space opera (which sells worse than fantasy and my fantasy was tanking,) in trade paper back which sells even worse than mmpb does now, and in January which was known as “the lethal month” (this has changed somewhat due to gift cards.)

Inexperienced people, some of them with the best intentions think that was terrible.  Well, it was certainly unfair, but by then ANY SANE PUBLISHER would figure either I stank or I had the world’s worst luck.  Which since the business is highly unpredictable, comes to the same.  Bad risk.

The book sold.  And sold.  And sold.  It stayed on the shelves.  The sane thing then would have been to buy the second ASAP.  But remember I had not just a bad, but a spectacularly bad track record.  And luck or lack of ability, the publishers are a tight margin business and can’t throw good money after bad.  It took a year and a half to buy the second book.  Which I know now (having published indie and seen numbers) means without serious promo, the SERIES was dead in the water.  And was a REALLY bad prospect for serious promo, so it never happened.  The series has limped along, though.  Not wonderful, but the first three have earned out and the last two (except Darkship Revenge which for reasons known only to the publisher isn’t listed on Amazon as part of the series) are going there, eventually.  Very slowly.

Nine years ago, I told my husband I was going to quit.  You can’t fight that long.  He said, fine, but give it another year.  Which brought us to DST winning the Prometheus, my first ever foreign sale, indie and firing my last agent, in a rather noisy and public display.  (I TRIED to make it amicable.)

The furniture refinishing series, under Elise Hyatt ran three books and then stopped.  BUT the house refused to give me the rights back.  My statements on those books are the most amazing thing, as the print run sometimes changes DOWNWARD.  Also when I started asking for my rights back, first the editor lied (she told me I had to go through the agent that sold it) and when I got an IP lawyer, started paying me just enough to keep the books in print.  (like $150 a year.)  I got them back two years ago and the re-releases made me 2k a piece, which never happens.  (Yes, they need paper editions and I need to finish the fourth.)

I have had some luck along the way, too — all my luck is my friends — and have now collaborated a couple of times with amazing writers.  I’m in the process of learning a ton from Larry.  Seriously.  He’s actually writing half the book, and beyond that, he’s one of those gifted plotters who can look at something I did and say, “this will take it to the next level.”  (Or as I’m told he used to call it “awesome it up.”)  Larry Correia is one of those writers I feel would be as big even with my luck.  Beyond the energizer bunny levels of work (yes, part of that is youth, but my damn stupid fault I took thirteen years to break in.  Most do in three years.  Yes, ESL is probably part of it, but honestly the different culture and terminal geek are worse.) he’s just gifted at reaching the audience.

Which I’m probably not.  I mean, beyond all the spectacular bad luck, and the fact my first series set the tone for the follow up, it took me a while to even write in a way that didn’t get in the way of the story (mothers, don’t let your daughters be ABTD in English.  Even if it’s ESL.  The literature classes are LETHAL.)

I found recently (and was surprised) that one of the under absolute seal of secrecy novels I wrote for someone else made her a bestseller and made her career.  (Others I don’t know about. These were work for hire, contracted double-blind, and paid like crap but no one was buying and we were paying on two houses.)

So, do I suck? Is it just bad luck?

No clue.  My indie book, an odd duck indeed, part regency romance part multiverse fantasy made me 20k, but that’s not crazy numbers because indie has a higher ROR.

I think, though, just based on records, how trad pub works, and the fact they’re becoming tighter and tighter and shedding midlisters like water, much less a midlister with my history, my only option now is indie.  So, we’re going to see.  I never wanted much.  Only to help support the family, and save for retirement.  I mean, the boys are grown up.

Is indie better?  I have no clue.  For all I know I’ll stink on ice.  But AT LEAST I’m not going to be held responsible for things like covers, poor distro or any of the other things I have no means of controlling.

I also will no longer have to be paranoid.  I still have no clue why my friend got dumped, without their even looking at her proposals again.  Other than “writers are widgets and trad pub can make them or break them at will.  Someone who dumped a high flying agent is likely to complain in future and will be unbearable if she becomes a bestseller, which she has the chops to.  Dump her now.”

Of all the houses I’ve worked for, Baen is by far the best, and I might have been able to make a career there if I hadn’t come to them with the stink of failure on me.

Could’a.  Should’a.

Won’t.

There is a village in Portugal that specializes in the Roman delicacy of Suckling Pig.  The mother pigs there give birth to litter after litter without having a single one last more than a day.  I used to feel very sorry for them.  Hell, I still do.  For the last twenty years I’ve been one of those pigs.

Worse, the fact no piglet survived clings to me and is now part of my resume.  Publishing is uncertain.  Houses do the equivalent of tea leaf reading before they buy and before they invest one red cent in promotion.  And no house, particularly in this day and age will invest in publicizing me.  Because it doesn’t make sense, whether my failures are bad (unsaleable is bad) writing or bad luck.

Knowing this, I know the ceiling of my career.  And I’ve been fighting like mad to even FINISH books, besides trying to die from auto-immune (which is stress caused) till I’m put on prednisone every three months.

I know what it does to my system (besides making me gain 45 lbs over a couple of years) and I also know that the progression of my auto-immune is dangerous, with the next step probably involving loss of kidneys or pancreas, neither of which are worth losing over this.

No, this is not a “I’m quitting” letter.  I have a collaboration that won the Dragon.  And one almost finished that I’m really invested in and love.  (Besides learning a ton from Larry Correia.)

I’m saying “it’s time I invested in indie and actually published regularly there.”  Which is what I’m going to do.

As for you, look to your interests.  But don’t expect trad pub to be fair.  It’s a highly risky business.  It can’t afford to be.  And don’t expect it to be school.  There is no such things as a “good” book.  There’s those that sell, and those that don’t.

And don’t condemn the good houses with the bad.  The good houses AT LEAST try.  Most of them haven’t adjusted to new publishing, because it’ hard to change institutions, but at least they try.

Well… the good house, though I’m sure there are others, probably in other fields.

Treat publishing as a business.  Look at what you’re likely to get from Trad Pub.  Don’t treat them as the king who picked the servant to be his bride.  These days you can go it alone, and trad pub should be used STRATEGICALLY only.

Don’t sell indie short.  My fledgelings are making more than I did in total in my first five years of publication in one year.  And that’s when they’re doing middling.

Maybe that’s not your metric.  Maybe you want to be in the bookstores (trad gives you a better chance, but it’s not guaranteed).  Maybe you want critical acclaim.  PICK your adventure, and pay the price.

Ultimately the only judge of success is who gives you their beer money.  And how much. Now go write and forge your own path.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

127 Comments
  1. Matthew #

    All I can say, Sarah, is thank you for persevering.

    September 5, 2018
  2. Thanks for your very thoughtful essay,

    September 5, 2018
  3. Well, I would never have published anything without your encouragement, so thank you. Even if you never wrote and published another thing (and I am raising an eyebrow and smirking, here), you’ve been a help to many young authors like myself. And this blog is a good resource for those who are walking the wild ways waving their tails alone.

    September 5, 2018
    • Allen Hunter #

      How does a writer grow readers?

      I came across you through your non-fiction writing in forums such as the Mad Genius club which I ran into somehow… I think through random web walking when I came across the puppies controversy.

      The deep insight I found in your libertarian writings led me deeper into your other non-fiction writings and, eventually, into your fiction. So, all of your frustrations with traditional publishing which eventually led to you speaking out about politics in SF fairly directly led to me becoming a dedicated reader of yours. [In fact, even if you had been pushed very hard by a traditional publisher it would have been unlikely to reach me as a reader, I either miss or tune out everything they say.]

      Mysterious are the ways of fate, indeed…

      So, while your struggles were terrible for you and your family, your growth from it did lead directly to at least one dedicated fan.

      Thanks for the background in this post and good writing now and in the future.

      Allen

      [As an aside, many of my current “must buy” authors I first found here at MG and its links into the related FB groups and the BAEN universe. Based on this experience, I now take membership in MG as strong evidence that I will like a writers’ other work and buy accordingly.]

      September 5, 2018
      • *muffled clanging and Power words emerge from a series of tubes* “Found it!”

        Your comment drops into the post with a clang, a cloud of dust that looks suspiciously like the carbonized remnants of torched spam, and a soot-streaked figure clambers out after it to bolt it onto the comment thread.

        “There’s out of the spam and into your proper place! And stay there!”

        With a cry of “WordPress Delenda Est!” the mod disappears back into the guts of the site.

        September 5, 2018
        • *looks at the site name again*

          Fitting.

          Even spam filtering results in flashfic/RPing.

          September 6, 2018
        • Allen Hunter #

          Oops! Sorry!!!

          September 6, 2018
    • Allen Hunter #

      Cedar and Sarah
      Reading your writing about writing, that of others I’ve met through here, and interacting on forums such as The Diner has also helped me understand how much further I have to go to be a competent SF writer. So, you are saving the eyes of a lot slush pile readers and tolerant friends too… 🙂

      September 5, 2018
      • Oh, eh. You should practice and inflict that on eyes of a select few you trust to tell you if it’s crap. That will teach you a lot more about what you should do better with the next revision or story.

        September 5, 2018
        • I’m still working on those I trust to honestly tell me it is crap, but not to tell me it is crap just out of the delight of sabotage (ie, writer’s groups).

          September 6, 2018
    • Speaking of encouraging writers, would you be planning anything, writing-wise, with the Tanager crew?

      September 6, 2018
      • There will be two more books in that arc. I’m planning to start writing Tanager’s Flight by the end of the year.

        September 6, 2018
        • Allen Hunter #

          Good News!

          September 6, 2018
        • Yay!

          September 13, 2018
  4. Wow. Just… wow.

    As an aside, I never saw one of the Lackey books with a warning sticker. They must be high-value collector’s items by now. (About the middle of the second book in that sub-series, I did want to slap the character to get the whining to stop, but that has nothing to do with orientation and everything to do with my pico-scule tolerance for whining [lower than miniscule]).

    September 5, 2018
    • lower even than nano-scule.

      September 5, 2018
      • Which is far, far smaller than any bascule I’ve seen.

        September 5, 2018
    • I picked up my first Lackey book, sans warning sticker, on a US Marine base in Iwakuni Japan. At the time, I was a little taken aback by the gay character, not because I didn’t approve, I had long decided that people are people are people, but because I had never read anything like it before. So it was more of a “whoa… THIS is different”. Eventually, I appreciated the experience because it showed me that I didn’t have to be afraid to write whatever I wanted. If a character was… whatever… I didn’t need to try to shoehorn that character into something more “acceptable”. I could just write the story how it flowed out of my brain.

      September 6, 2018
  5. Only a fool or a sadist tells the unvarnished truth in a social situation.

    I rather like that one– mostly because I’m usually that fool, when I’m not smart enough to shut my trap.

    A related one is that those who pride themselves on being brutally honest are usually more brutal than honest.

    Note, does not apply to this article– in part because you don’t seem to pride yourself on brutal honesty, just on being WILLING to be blunt when it’s worth fighting about.

    September 5, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      I just pride myself on being brutal. 🙂

      September 5, 2018
    • Luke #

      “Why is everyone suddenly silent and looking at me funny?”
      It’s an observation I’ve made more than I care to admit. (Not so much recently. Not because I’m increasing in wisdom, certainly, but because my long-suffering wife jumps up and down on my foot until she gets my attention.)

      September 5, 2018
  6. (It also got me some interesting rejections, including an eight page one where the guy seemed to be mad at me for reasons I never understood, and which ended with “but send me your next one.”

    ….My high school English teacher was an editor?

    So much is suddenly clear.

    September 5, 2018
  7. You’re a true inspiration to me. If I can help you with marketing, please do let me know. Not a ‘for charge’ thing, just payback for blazing a trail for me and others to follow.

    September 5, 2018
  8. I got them back two years ago and the re-releases made me 2k a piece, which never happens.

    In fairness, those books don’t exist, either.

    It’s zany-fun-mystery with no preaching.

    September 5, 2018
    • Synova #

      The Elise Hyatt books are far too much fun. Easy, light and entertaining.

      I suppose that they’d benefit from regular releases in the same series… it would be fun to see Dyce Dare eventually become a matron and mentor to some young sleuth that makes her look downright staid. “E” will need a babysitter eventually… and maybe a playmate just as precocious as he is… siblings…

      September 6, 2018
      • There will be regular releases, and another series “Orphan Kittens” about a woman with teen kids, who does kitten rescue and manages to get in all sort of trouble.
        Yeah, I did kitten rescue for YEARS.

        September 6, 2018
      • *envisions E’s half brother, roughly as smart but HUGE*

        Put that kid into training as a stockbroker. NOW.

        September 6, 2018
  9. So, do I suck? Is it just bad luck?

    No, you’re weird.

    It’s a good seasoning for most folks, but a poor meal.

    Except for those of us for whom the spice is life.

    😀

    (The Contessa[AKA baby #6, yes I finally chose a nickname] is on my lap, complaining if she’s not held exactly right, so much chattier than usual. Sorta sorry, not sorry?)

    September 5, 2018
    • Allen Hunter #

      There are a lot more “odds” out there than the Media or In Crowd would lead one to expect. Catching just a fraction of that audience is still a huge market!

      I’ve always thought that SF&F readers were, by definition, odd. That’s a good thing, I find mundanes pretty boring…

      September 6, 2018
      • A classic undeserved market…all the more because so many are much, much better at stealthing than you’d think.

        September 6, 2018
  10. Well Sarah, I don’t know about all that publishing stuff. I do know I have that unsalable Darkship Thieves book in my library, and even though I am a picky, picky bastard with what I read, I thought it was damn good. I have a few more of your orphans in the crypt along with it.

    I do know that I won’t be putting up with anything like what you’re mentioning here from agents and publishers. Not because I’m smarter or better than you, but just because YOU told me I don’t have to.

    Seriously, if I have to work for free, at least I won’t be putting up with any crap from somebody else. Fuck those guys.

    September 5, 2018
    • True that. Mrs. Hoyt has a unique voice. She rivals Mary Stewart in her ability to create a sense of place that you want to visit. I tracked down and purchased hard covers of the shifters series because I want sturdy re-readables. Indy. Baen. The Alien Consortia from Alpha Centuri. Whichever one gets the words to the page and the pages to us is golden.

      I’m still working (off and on) on My Favorite ATH posts collection. Because I re-read nonfiction and essays for fun and I’d like to have a selection that don’t require eye-aching pixels to enjoy. And I will, when the project is done, because book-binder.

      September 6, 2018
  11. Uncle Lar #

    Having been a fly on the wall for a fair bit of what you speak, I can observe with some authority that while you speak the plain unvarnished truth, you’re circumspection has left out a great many gory details.
    In any case I look forward to your current, continuing, and ever greater success in your chosen field. And hope that I can continue to contribute in my own small way to your further efforts on the indie trail.

    September 5, 2018
  12. Jeff Greason #

    “Maybe you want to be in bookstores”

    Really? Why not YMCA outlets? Or churches? I mean — there are far more YMCA locations than there are chain bookstores, and far more churches than YMCA locations. The chain bookstores are dying. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/technology/bookstores-final-shakeout.html While the number of “independent” bookstores, long in decline, is on the rise. https://www.npr.org/2018/03/29/598053563/why-the-number-of-independent-bookstores-increased-during-the-retail-apocalypse

    Anecdotally, I hear that “traditional” publishers are just not pushing titles to the “independent” bookstores.

    So publishing, as a business, faces two evolutionary paths to success — not exclusive, as both can coexist.

    E-books will probably continue to be dominated by online sales.

    Print books for fiction will either go away, or a network will be established between “indie” publishing and “indie” bookstores. There’s a real business opportunity there, by the way, analogous to how NASDAQ created a “stock market” out of independent stock brokers and companies that weren’t listed on NYSE or AMEX — in creating an on-line “middleware” outlet that connects indie bookstores to indie-published books. Hardbacks are likely to be an increasing part of the “print” book world because of their purpose as home decor.

    (the story for technical books is even less clear — the market there is highly distorted by academic textbooks which are very far from a ‘market’ in the conventional sense).

    So in no possible universe that I can see is making it on to “chain” shelves a growth path.

    (by the way, I happen to prefer paperbacks because of the decreased shelf space requirements, and I enjoy them more than e-reader versions. But I don’t confound ‘what I like’ with ‘what the market is rewarding’)

    September 5, 2018
    • I like ebooks.
      Yah, also trad doesn’t guarantee bookstores. BUT this is most often what people tell me they want.

      September 5, 2018
    • Hm….some sort of a kiosk that local bookstores could put up, so they can sell e versions of the books they can’t physically stock….

      How would you make that work? Some sort of a download? Memory chips would be prohibitively expensive, as would email– maybe plug in your phone/ereader?

      September 5, 2018
      • they need espresso machines. Insta book makers. Probably misspelled.

        September 5, 2018
        • I have been wondering when the first POD coffeeshop/bookstore will open. You go in, same the wares on the self. One very thumbed copy of what they want to push/sells well plus a kiosk of more options or maybe an app. You order your coffee and book together, get coffee, drink coffee, get book.

          Maybe read the self copy while waiting for yours and some cute bookmark comes with every purchase so the staff sees you reading the shelf copy and brings your book directly to you so you can mark your place as you leave in your new, shiny, not beat up copy.

          September 6, 2018
          • Hell, Herb, if I had the money for initial investment I’d already have done it now.

            September 6, 2018
            • Are the POD presses ready for that quick of a turn around is my principle question.

              September 6, 2018
              • Yep. look up expresso or espresso book making machines. Or instant book machines, or something like that.
                They aren’t even that expensive. They’re about 15k

                September 6, 2018
                • You are a bad, bad woman….*wanders off to do spreadsheets about ROR, time to profitability, etc*

                  September 6, 2018
                • Allen Hunter #

                  Oh Oh, I’d guess that opening a bookstore is much like opening a restaurant. It better be a work of love and you’d better be well off because few things burn through money faster….

                  Now, an InstaPrint Book Kiosk at a Pizza Shop or Pharmacy might work very well…

                  September 6, 2018
                • Azure&Green #

                  Okay, I need to check into this too–especially if we are talking hardbacks!

                  September 9, 2018
      • Jeff Greason #

        I’ve been quite surprised at the slow adaptation of “brick and mortar” to e-commerce along that same line as Foxfier suggests. There are many elements to a purchase decision. Look and feel. Emotional tie. Ability to connect with the product. Some things have a “fit” element — clothes and cars. The ability to browse and check out alternatives and ‘try things on” is an actual value for in-person presence.

        So .. charge for it. And if you can’t compete with e-retailers on price — don’t. Charge for the service of browsing, and trying things on.

        On books, for example, no question that I’d walk in to a “promising looking” bookstore with a “$5 minimum cover charge” — walk in and you owe them $5 for the privilege of shopping there, waived if you buy at least $5 of books. And yes, the coffee machine and comfortable, well lit reading chairs are part of that experience. (The cat is optional, though I can’t think of a really first-rate bookstore that doesn’t have one….).

        Same for cars, and clothes, and so on. All you need is the “showroom model” — if they just can’t wait, they can drive it off the lot for a surcharge and you’ll order the replacement. If they can wait, you buy it from Amazon or equivalent for them and it will be delivered as usual.

        The point is that retail *still has a valuable service to offer*, but they are still only selling that service “bundled” with the act of actually stocking and selling the product — which leads to ‘free riders’ who use the shopping service, then go home and buy from an online source if the online source is cheaper. If the service were sold ‘unbundled’, I think there’d be a business there — though you’d need smaller retail spaces as they don’t have to be attached to a large warehouse.

        September 5, 2018
        • On books, for example, no question that I’d walk in to a “promising looking” bookstore with a “$5 minimum cover charge” — walk in and you owe them $5 for the privilege of shopping there, waived if you buy at least $5 of books.

          You’d have to offer a free membership that gave you, oh, one free visit a month and a discount on the cafe that’s roughly the same as the local tax on the same.

          Too many book stores have earned a reputation of having nothing you’d WANT to buy.

          Amusingly enough, I reverse engineered this idea with my son’s last shoes. He fell in love with a pair that were cheap, and neat, and fit like a glove…which is an issue in a 5 year old boy.

          Three weeks later I ordered the next size up on their web site, because it was on sale.

          But I would’ve done that, at full price, and probably bought two if they’d made it so I COULD do that easily in the store.

          September 5, 2018
          • Synova #

            It’s the sending back remainders thing… not sure when that dates to. But it means and has meant that if you “miss” your book when it came out you were completely out of luck. That’s if they ever had it or shelved it at all. The books store sent all the books you wanted back to be destroyed.

            I realize that it might not make an enormous amount of sense to keep the shelves full of inventory that just sits there but back before I “quit” bookstores (for all intents and purposes) there were maybe three occasions in a row where I’d “discovered” an author (one was Sarah) and gone to a bookstore specifically to look for a book and they not *once* had the author I was looking for.

            So you ask and they say they can order it. But now you can just buy it on Amazon anyway so why get it in the mail from Barnes and Nobel when they didn’t have it on the shelf anyhow?

            September 5, 2018
            • I still remember when that happened. It used to be that publishers could hang onto stock for many years and depreciate it over time. But the tax law changed and it no longer made sense to hang onto inventory. For example, I bought a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land more than ten years after it was published and still got a 2nd printing from the publisher.

              When that went away, the publisher had to depreciate the books in a short period and then sell them for whatever they could get.

              September 5, 2018
              • The tax law changes have been murderous for books and anything else that could lay in a warehouse/parking lot for years and still be perfectly fit to be sold when demand increased again. I really wish we could get the government out of more of our lives.

                September 5, 2018
                • David #

                  Thor Power Tool Co. vs. Commissioner, 439 US 522 (1979) US Supreme Court decision on how to depreciate inventory.
                  Kevin J. O’Donnell, Jr.’s take on this back in 2005. Though the first explanation of this I remember was Jerry Pournelle’s on Chaos Manor IIRC.
                  https://www.sfwa.org/2005/01/how-thor-power-hammered-publishing/

                  September 6, 2018
            • Way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I was an very very assistant manager at successful Waldenbooks, we kept an overstock. Successfully managing the SF&F & children’s sections bit was what got me the promotion from floor drone (that and being really good at hand-selling)

              When did that change? I left for library-land in the early ’90s

              September 6, 2018
      • snelson134 #

        B&N tried that with the Nook. However, you have to have someone on the staff who can provide at least intro level tech support, and you’ll probably need more bandwidth than (at the time they got started with it, not so much now) the standard store network package. Plus the usual B&N competence with tech.

        September 5, 2018
        • B&N was perfectly set up for a smooth transition to eBooks, and flubbed it. Of course, Sears was perfectly set up for a smooth transition to online sales and flubbed that too, really hard.

          September 5, 2018
          • I am still floored that you can look at Amazon taking out Sears as Sears of today being destroyed by Sears of 1900.

            Yes, yes, I know Amazon isn’t really a 1900 catalog store and is about modern logistics and all that but still, there is an element of “Sears, you built yourself on this…how did you get beat by them.”

            September 6, 2018
        • Allen Hunter #

          My employer has signed a exclusive supplier with B&N. Sigh!!! I looked into custom print on demand through Amazon for my class materials and it would have saved my students a ton of money over laser printing them themselves or having the Bookstore print and sell them. They could also be instantly updated. However, since we have the B&N contract, I would have to use their platform, such as it was, and the extra work and cost to the students just didn’t make sense…

          September 6, 2018
    • Azure&Green #

      I tolerate ebooks. I love well bound hardbacks. There are not for show. I enjoy reading them and the easy tactile memory of where things are in them that comes naturally from doing so. I like things that last. I wish there was a service that would allow me to send an ebook I own and get a hardback of it printed with whatever additional author compensations was required.

      Sadly, I haven’t found anything like that and the binding quality of hardbacks continues to decrease, in my experience.

      I have had some luck printing pdfs in hardback via Lulu, but it’s not trivial technically (Adobe Acrobat and some knowledge of print formatting is required) and you have to be careful about copyright–some things are just off limits. Still, it was fun to pull it all together and create the covers, even if I have the only copy that will ever exist of that “edition” of my eclectic compilation.

      September 5, 2018
      • If you have the money and are interested you want to get hooked up with a proper bindary. I don’t know off the top of my head who does our library system’s manga, but I was just double-checking the Black Bird series and at 80 check outs it was still like new. I only have to replace them when the paper itself ages out.

        September 6, 2018
      • Allen Hunter #

        Cool idea, I never thought of custom printing my own edition… Copyright is a key point since we can’t cheat the golden goose but the pain in the but seemed practically very bad too…

        September 6, 2018
        • Azure&Green #

          I would be happy to give you some pointers if you find yourself stuck getting a pdf/X out of Acrobat DC that Lulu will take. Just drop me a note.

          As for copyright, a lot of pdf only publishers are fine with POD printing a single copy for your own personal use. That was my case anyway, but you’re correct: the milage does vary. I would never do it if the author/publisher objected. As a note, Lulu let’s you upload and sell only to yourself, so what I’m talking about are unlisted and unavailable books to anyone else.

          September 9, 2018
    • The problem with paperbacks is that even with duct tape and rubber bands, they fall apart. A well-bound hard-back lasts.

      My yard ape is currently taklng My First Reference BookTM from when I was 8 to class.

      Meanwhile I’m on copy 3 of The Screwtape Letters.

      September 6, 2018
      • Allen Hunter #

        I use clear packing tape to make custom hard(ish) backs for my favorite paperbacks. It works surprisingly well!

        September 6, 2018
        • I… actually have an account with Demco. So I do something similar now.

          But some of these books date back almost half a century.

          September 13, 2018
    • TRX #

      If your business plan as a writer depends on chain book store sales… you need a better plan.

      There are now *zero* chain stores in my town, or any of the adjacent towns. The chains are focusing on high-density urban areas, so each store has the maximum customer base… but they’re all the same basic customer demographic, and the rest of the country is left with Amazon.

      And as the urban stores devote more space to coffee shops and tchochkes, their customers are moving to mail order too, because why would they want to make *two* trips to the store and wait a week, when the mailman will drop it in their box day after tomorrow, and they don’t even have to leave their chair?

      September 6, 2018
      • Let’s be honest…how many writers have business plans?

        I’m trying to write one and, to be honest, looking at the costs for what I’m told I “must” do to put out a decent indie book, the banker side of me says, “Poor investment”.

        Has anyone seen an honest to gosh indie business plan, like a spreadsheet with dates, project costs, projected cash flows, cost account on individual books, estimated break even and profitability dates, etc?

        September 6, 2018
        • It was impossible to have a plan, when we were dependent on the whims of publishers.
          NOW I can have a plan. Working on it.

          September 6, 2018
          • Azure&Green #

            I really hope you will post some details. I do know how to write a business plan, but how does one even begin to approach ROI for an unpublished new indie writer like myself? KDPRocket helps, but I feel I tent to look at my plan as a budget that produces a lottery tickets to potential revenue–and that’s bad because it keeps me from taking it seriously.

            Would also be valuable to know what you plan to do yourself and what you budget for steps you outsource. Do you have an editor? And if so what types of edits to you have done: content, line, etc. Do you plan to pay for covers or plan make your own, etc.

            It would be wonderful if everyone chimed in on this topic!

            September 9, 2018
        • TRX #

          No, but I kept track of how much time I spent writing, vs. how much I got paid (poorly), and phone and postage expenses, and kept track of what I’d submitted and when.

          The two technical books I sold got me another day job at a much higher salary than I might otherwise have expected, so you have to figure that somewhere…

          September 6, 2018
        • I wrote business plans for 2016-2020 before my first book came out two years ago. In the writing courses I teach that’s the first thing I tell people to do. It’s just a rudimentary plan, true, but a plan nonetheless. And so far I’m hitting about 85% of the net revenue target. It would be higher but I’m spending a lot learning the marketing of being an indie.

          September 6, 2018
          • I should also say that while I have a small press publisher, they split ad costs 50/50 so the net effect is like me getting the full 70% royalty for marketing purposes

            September 6, 2018
          • Sweet…

            September 6, 2018
        • Synova #

          Frankly, “how to write a business plan” seems like a fabulous set of guest posts. I think that most people have no notion how to organize something like that, how to set up a spread sheet and what fields might be necessary in the future, what elements to track, stuff like that.

          Similar to how to keep track of production and progress, too. File systems!

          September 7, 2018
          • Writing it isn’t too hard and I guess I could pitch the idea to one of the regulars.

            What I am working on learning is the various numbers. I don’t want to garbage in/garbage out.

            September 7, 2018
            • No need to pitch. Write it up with theoreticals (having real numbers would not be useful because People Do Not Read) and send it my way at cedarlila at gmail. dot com, I’ll make sure it goes up. Thanks for volunteering!

              September 7, 2018
  13. Oh, wow … I am so glad I only gave the trad-pub game a couple of years and maybe a couple of hundred in postage, including the agency hunt.
    (Most of which agencies said something snotty about they didn’t ‘do’ Westerns. Well, fine – it’s historical fiction set on the 19th century American frontier. Still didn’t butter any parsnips with agencies. Oh, well – their loss, I guess.)

    September 5, 2018
    • Buttered parsnips. Mmmm…

      Also, I like Westerns. I’m named after a minor character in one, so it’s in the blood.

      September 5, 2018
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        Buttered bunyips are better, but hard to find.

        September 5, 2018
    • If somebody’s business model includes being snotty in writing, do we really want to be in business with them? I mean, there’s money involved here, right?

      September 5, 2018
    • Synova #

      My understanding is that Westerns don’t sell a whole lot and for a while not at all… but I loved Louis L’Amour when I was growing up, and even read all the Zane Gray in the school library and the regular old cowboy story has a readership. It still does. And someone out there is desperate to find a new “historical fiction set in the American West”. Desperate for it.

      September 5, 2018
      • Classic westerns, and even modified Westerns do still have a die-hard audience – as I can testify. The suits in the NY Literary-Industrial Complex don’t see it, of course. Their loss.

        September 5, 2018
        • The most prolific author in American history (I think) has written hundreds of westerns, and still does. Robert J. Randisi.

          September 5, 2018
        • The problem is they don’t have a die hard audience that the milk-shake toast, Sex in the City girls want to be associated with.

          Kind of like the SciFi Channel became SyFy. It was about being embarrassed about their audience despite owning a profitable niche.

          September 6, 2018
      • Hastings out here used to have one whole long section of nothing but westerns of all sub-flavors. There was also a used bookstore that specialized in nothing but romance, westerns, and sci-fi. Romance and westerns kept the place in the black.

        September 5, 2018
      • I remember when Target used to have a full 6′ shelving unit of nothing but westerns, mostly L’Amour and Grey.

        September 5, 2018
        • Amazon does pretty well out of Westerns and Western romances. And so did the truck stop bookracks.

          September 5, 2018
      • TRX #

        Yeah, I kept hearing that… but every used book store I saw, the pitiful selection of well-worn Westerns was kept right up front to prevent shoplifting, and each and every one was “collectible” and priced accordingly.

        “Sales are down… of course, we haven’t published any of those in decades, but it’d be stupid to print more, because we’re not selling any…”

        I never cared much for the genre, but Westerns were *huge* from the late 1800s to the mid-1960s; Gene Roddenberry famously had to promote his “Star Trek” concept as “Wagon Train in Spaaaace!” And then…basically, pffft. They didn’t vanish completely, but by the 1980s they were a single-digit percentage of their previous number.

        My (absolutely untainted by any actual knowledge) theory is that some large studio or publisher was top-heavy with Westerns and made a big cut. And then the smaller fry saw them do that, wondered if They Know Something We Don’t, and did the same, crashing the market. And then we all know how at least the publishing industry responds to genre sales fluctuations…

        September 6, 2018
        • And part of this was the overarching lefty narrative “People no longer believe in the frontier.” Probably where the “doesn’t sell well” myth started.

          September 6, 2018
      • Allen Hunter #

        Cowboys vs. Aliens was a classic western!

        September 6, 2018
  14. Sarah, you are going to do very well going Indie. I know it’s scary when you have to click on that last button. But everyone is going to like the results.

    September 5, 2018
  15. The crazy part is in knowing that as weird as publishing is, it’s still got nothing on the music industry for shenanigans. Or Hollywood accounting, for that matter.

    September 5, 2018
    • It’s been… converging over the last thirty years or so.

      September 5, 2018
      • It’s kinda painful to watch as one group (music publishing/distribution) makes pretty much every mistake in the book… and then see the next guys go “but we aren’t music, so..” and make the same set of mistakes, and then the next guys repeat that and… so on. I suppose the clip of Danny DeVito’s character going on about the buggy whip makers would go here, but I’m not going hunting for it.

        There were once so many wagon makers. Exactly one had any length of success in the transition to the automobile. And right now I wonder if there any Studebakers in the whole lot of what’s around now. One could argue Baen, but they started late/recent by comparison and might arguably be called Transitional rather than Traditional.

        September 6, 2018
        • Danny DeVito… buggy whip makers…

          This one? 🙂

          September 6, 2018
        • Allen Hunter #

          I don’t have any experience inside the industry but do from the consumer perspective.

          It seems that Tor, etc., are run by the question, “what should people read”.

          BEAN seems to be run by the question, “what does my demographic of customers want to read”…

          September 6, 2018
  16. James Resoldier #

    Thine efforts do not go unnoticed. We still love you!

    September 5, 2018
  17. Most of what’s wrong with tradpub has come about because of corporate consolidation, as has happened in a lot of industries. When there were hundreds of independent publishers, each of which had to stay in the black to stay alive, they stuck to the knitting, kept costs under control, and kept the book pipes full. Now there are just a handful of book publishers, which own all of the smaller publishers, which remain on corporate life support at the whim of the people at the top. The signal-boost effect of the online world changed tradpub from a steady midlist business to a psychotic business model that must constantly search for monster bestsellers. This is why publishers test and discard authors so readily: Their business model requires it.

    As does their Manhattan-dominated culture. Publishing in NYC runs on corporate money and magical thinking. Nobody knows in advance what the next breakthrough book will be, though everybody pretends to. Especially people who have no connection whatsoever to the bulk of their readers, and quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) hold them in contempt. Our ever-more-distant elites control book publishing, through a mere handful of corporate concerns. They have a way of doing business and will hold onto that way if it kills them. Which it will, and is doing so as we speak.

    You have enough enthusiastic fans already to make it big in the indie game. If you’ve never read Kevin Kelly’s essay “1000 True Fans,” please do. He thinks you can make a decent to excellent living if you have 1000 fans who will buy most of what you put out. I think he’s right. You can crank out solid page-turners like few other people I know. I think you already have 1000 devoted fans, or close to it. Sure, it’s easy for me to say, but I will: Go for it!

    September 5, 2018
    • I had a theory I was thinking of writing a blog post on that is similar.

      What if the leftist taint of publishing and universities is an unintended consequence of something else: bureaucracy. Basically, both publishing and universities are top heavy with admin. Despite the rising cost of college more and more classes are taught by adjuncts who make squat. The cost group is for various administrative BS.

      Given the first rule of bureaucracy is that your first task is to prove you’re overworked and need three assistants it turns into a pyramid scheme. When you’re hiring for a pyramid scheme quality goes out the window and since both institutions are driven by the “must have college degree” they wind up hiring from the unsalable skills pile: “studies” degrees and certain humanities.

      Bingo, all of a sudden everyone is a leftist. Even universities, with famous leftist faculties, didn’t put up with the BS we see today 20 years ago when the boomer lefties had taken over. Why? Because shut downs did profs no good, but they allow admins in student life, Women’s/$RACE/LGBTQIAA+ centers to claim they need assistants to deal with the issue and so on.

      So, the Leftism isn’t the goal, just a byproduct of traditional bureaucratic behavior.

      September 6, 2018
      • I worked for a monster publishing company for a couple of years, and I owned my own for 13 (oh, that number!) and my response to this is that yes, you’re right–and the reason you’re right is that big publishers have too much money, or (for small presses with corporate parents) something like a rich-kid trust fund. Bureaucracy happens because the money is there to support it. My CEO and I made damned sure that money was not available for empire building. Shazam! We had no empires.

        September 6, 2018
    • I do like Kevin but I think he is an order of magnitude off…whenever I run the numbers and include taxes and overhead you need more like 10K than 1K.

      The basic idea, however, is solid.

      September 6, 2018
      • I don’t think I have anywhere close to 10k. Then again… I haven’t published enough.

        September 6, 2018
        • See my math below. I think based on numbers you posted above you have at least 4K (based on certain assumptions I suspect are conservative).

          September 6, 2018
          • It depends. About half of that the book was priced either at 7.99 or 6.99 (I don’t remember. It’s been five years.)
            But there were some 99c sales, so it probably averages way lower.
            AFAICT I sold 2.5k maybe 3k books.
            Yes, Dan probably has the exact numbers, but he’s in the middle of MY quarterly taxes, and I’m not going to bother him for them.
            Now that’s not wonderful, but keep in mind that the book is WEIRD even for my fans, being as I said part regency romance, part multi world fantasy. The publishers didn’t know what to do with it, which is why it was available to finish on the blog and then publish.

            September 6, 2018
      • Yes, the math is more complex than he makes it out to be. It’s possible to saturate even a ravenous market if you don’t produce enough quickly enough. And I’ve observed that the fanaticism level in fans is a wide-ranging variable. Not every fan will buy everything you put out. And where you live makes a massive difference: I think his math fails utterly for places like SF, SJ, & NYC.

        September 6, 2018
  18. 23 skidoo

    September 5, 2018
  19. OldNFO #

    One of the reasons I’m plodding along as an indie… I can only say I’m amazed by your patience and fortitude to continue fighting the battle as long as you have.

    September 5, 2018
  20. I will give you my hearty approval to indie experiment. Darkship and Shifters are two of my favorite series. You’ll do fine I think. Keep writing. (I can’t believe you wrote Darkship Thieves in ’98 and it didn’t get published right away. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!?)

    Go get ’em!

    September 5, 2018
    • Not till 2011, and then only because the flies went badgering Toni to read it i my conference.

      September 5, 2018
      • I started dispatching in ’98. It was a year of real change for me, as I worked two full time jobs for nearly the entire year and got me set up for the things I’d continue to do to this day. It’s hard to imagine it was 20 years ago sometimes.

        September 5, 2018
        • Yeah. I wrote DST in a month. Meanwhile I was writing a short story a week, and relaxing by writing Austen fanfic. All this while watching the kids because Dan had a traveling job.

          September 6, 2018
      • Given that is my second most commonly given away books anymore (well, third, but one is non-fiction and highly specialized) after Expanded Universe they really missed the boat.

        September 6, 2018
        • BobtheRegisterredFool #

          Highly specialized non-fiction? Care to tell?

          September 6, 2018
          • SM101 by Jay Wiseman. I give to any newbie who will listen.

            It is a bit dry (although the margin quotes are a riot), but covers everything important about not doing stupid things as well as give you a good overview of what’s out there.

            September 6, 2018
  21. Azure&Green #

    Thank you for this look into your publishing life. I was already vaccinated against traditional publishing, but now it’s a closed topic. What a bunch of captious snakes.

    In any business, controlling the means by which you produce your product is critical to your success, to adapting to market demands. It wasn’t possible before for writers to do that, but wonderfully, it’s now the publishers that are mostly no longer needed, and editors whose skills are a commodity.

    [Back to Swain…]

    September 5, 2018
  22. So far, everything about the publishing industry that you’ve been saying has lead me to think about GM.

    GM, the joke goes, is a pension plan and lobbying group that occasionally produces car. The publishing industry in New York seems to be built to deal with the mega-authors that they create, act as an advocacy platform, and perhaps as somebody’s tax shelter.

    Unless somehow I get the Perfect Agent, I don’t see myself as being anything but indie. And, gosh darn it to heck, that’s a good thing.

    September 5, 2018
  23. CCO #

    I started to say your writing career sounds like my engineering career, but that’s ridiculous since I never really had one (degree, technician, fizzle). Then I thought it could compare to Michael Jordan’s baseball career ( Little League, ? , ?, AA*) which did remind me of a book I glanced at in a used bookstore “Why Can’t Michael Jordan Hit a Curveball?” but that’s not right either. You’re in the majors. You’re a .280 hitting, reliable, utility infielder who usually plays second base.

    _____
    * Birmingham Barons, 1994

    September 6, 2018
  24. Your compelling, moving, and emotional reflection touched my heart. I enjoyed A Few Good Men, and now I know why I can’t find your books in Forbidden Planet. So I went and searched for them on Amazon: as the saying goes, I have a little list.

    September 6, 2018
  25. TRX #

    > My first short story I sent out got back a personal rejection

    Hey, I sent off at least twenty before I got a rejection! It felt like a win; even a “fribble off!” was better than nothing…

    September 6, 2018
  26. Sarah, I for one hope whichever direction you go, you finally have all the success you deserve.

    While I’m not into everything you’ve written, but I do like a lot of it. I loved DST and Shifters for instance, but couldn’t seem to get into the Musketeer books, which actually surprised me because I (vaguely) remember reading some Dumas as a child, and while I don’t remember a lot of it, I’m pretty sure I liked it because Musketeers was a big play subject for a number of years afterward (I totally had a sword and everything… ok, it was a stick, but you get the picture). Based on the feelings surrounding it, I was probably in third grade when I read it. We moved the next year, and the memories from the new place feel different (if that makes any sense).

    I am SO TOTALLY waiting for MHI Guardian to finally release! I’ve bought hearing protection for the entire family in case I’m SQUEEEEEEING like a deranged fangirl the entire time I read it. Based upon the Grant Fan-fic, it’s a distinct possibility.

    I did notice one thing. Other than MHI Guardian, I don’t know what’s coming in the future from Sarah Hoyt. I know three or four of the next books coming from Larry Correia, I know at least that many from Christopher Nuttall (Hope his health improves). What ARE you working on? (that is if we are allowed to know).

    September 6, 2018
    • Oh, it’s all indie. I’ll announce release dates as I send them to beta.
      Right now:
      Alien magic – space opera with magic. Yes, it’s more involved than that, but that’s the general concept.
      A Well Inlaid Death – 4th refinishing mystery.
      Blood Royale – second musketeer vampires (you sure that’s not what you read? It’s not for everyone.)
      if I can at that time, I’ll squeeze in The Musketeer’s Confessor. That series has been “dead” so long it might not come back to life, so that book is the test for “more or no?”
      After that in no particular order a series called Mirror Play and a series called Lucky.
      Um… first is deep history, parallel worlds, ancient civilization, and a ton of adventure. The second is space empire, aliens and plots. Basically space opera.
      After that I’d like to find my Red Baron mil sf and see if it’s publishable.
      And then…. I have a list of forty.
      The first three are all hanging by a few days, and should be done soon since health seems to be holding for longer periods, at least.

      September 6, 2018
      • OK, now I feel like a total slacker. 🙂 (Well, in some ways I am, but being extroverted and on stage for 4-5 hours/day wears me out a little.)

        September 6, 2018
        • I think you’re going to find that Indie is pretty great, but also a sea change from trad. Marketing is the biggest difference, but you can also afford it better when you’re getting 70% royalties. You, Sarah, already have a large, loyal folllowing and I have no doubt you’ll kill it as an indie. If a relative newcomer nobody like me can sell as many books as I’ve sold, you’re going to wish you’d done it years ago.

          September 6, 2018
        • Don’t. I’ve been spinning my wheels for years, because I was blocking on books for publishers. We’ll see if the grand plan works. So far it’s glitchy.

          Also, I swear I’ll get you cover soon. I’ve been dealing with “family things” tm.

          September 6, 2018
      • Alien Magic – Space Opera YAY!!! I’ve been wanting to understand that genre better. I know I’ve liked other things that were described as Space Opera.

        Refinishing Mystery series – I haven’t picked those up yet (probably because I couldn’t seem get my brain around the idea.) I’ll add it to my between other stuff list. I read a lot faster than my hand-full of favorite must-read authors can usually release books, so there is always between other stuff time.

        Musketeer Vampires… Hmm… you might have a point. I guess I didn’t realize there were two Musketeer things. I’ve been meaning to give it another try (since I thought I should have liked it better in the first place). I’ll make sure to pick up the right one this time. It probably wouldn’t hurt to give the other a re-try. What I’m in the mood for varies widely. They say I could medicate for this, but what’s the fun in that?

        Sounds like I’ve got a lot to look forward to reading! YAY!

        September 6, 2018
        • NO, my mood for reading this or that varies widely. When I’m fried I read the stupidest stuff, too.

          September 6, 2018
  27. I think the numbers you supply prove you have great indie potential. Even taking into account the different payout to 5the author if you make $20,000 on one book that means, even at Baen eBook prices ($6.99 call it) you sold nearly 3x the copies they printing on your first Shifters book (love that series BTW) and I suspect you didn’t price it at $6.99.

    So, I’d say you have a solid 5k fanbase given the numbers you supplied.

    You just need to give us more to buy 😉

    September 6, 2018

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