Get Off My Lawn

Lately I’ve been feeling as though I come from a long lost world.

Over the last 20 years or so in the field, I’ve amassed 30 something published novels. Used to be this was a record that spoke for itself, but in a con…. five years? ago, I found myself giving my bio and the young lady next to me snorted.

Now, I know if I’d not been ill off and on for the last ten years I could have done more, but I wasn’t expecting the up and down of the shoulder and the snort. When she introduced herself, she pointed out she’d been doing a book a month for four years and had forty four books, because she’d missed a month.

Now, that’s a fair cop. She was doing a lot of hard work and, apparently, doing very well indeed.

However, I’d like to point out that there is a massive difference between traditionally published books and indie books. I’m not saying one process is better than the other, just that traditionally published books took more time and effort from the writer.

No, it’s not just the length of the books — I’ll point out that later I saw this young lady’s books on her sales table, and they probably ranged from 10k to 20k words, which made me snort, becuse I used to put out two or three novels a year, plus a bunch of short stories — it’s the process.

Again, I’m not saying this is in any way better. In many ways the indie process is better, at least if you’re a writer with a minimum of self discipline. You can write whatever you want, and whatever the length the story is, it’s the length it wants to be. And it either works or it fails, but it’s what you wanted to write, and its success or failure is on you, not someone who decides to give it a blah cover, or no marketing, or alternately pushes a huge laydown or whatever.

I’m really only explaining this for perspective. So you don’t look back at those who did what they had to do to get their books out under traditional publishing and go “Oh, those lazy asses, they wrote like a book a year.”

Let’s start at the beginning: In the beginning, there was the proposal, and the proposal was definitely not with G-d.

Let’s say you’re a midlister with a decent reputation. Not a stinker, not a “Drop dead” type of reputation. You were usually expected to turn in a detailed outline and the first three chapters.

Now, I don’t know how other writers work, but once I’ve done the outline and the first three chapters — worked through the plot, and found the voice — I’ve done half the work for the novel. All that remains is finishing typing the story.

Okay, so you wrote the outline.

Ah, if it were that easy. I mean, again, you’re not a newby. You have a book or two out, you have an agent, and maybe an editor whom you have worked with in the past.

But either you finished the arc of your story, or, as happened to me in 2003, you were caught up in a quarter where everyone had stinker numbers, and in the way of trad pub that means you have to start anew.

The normal number of proposals I wrote to sell a novel was three. The most was seventeen. Now the seventeen proposals (2003) were for series, each with five books worked out fully, and I had to have them in within three months.

It worked. I sold one, and later another series. But it was brutal, soul-breaking work. Particularly because you tried so hard not to fall in love with one of those novels in case no one ever came back.

Over the next five years I sold three of those proposals. But…. In the meantime, a proposal I’d sent out in 98 came back accepted. I didn’t even remember what I’d put in that proposal. I was certainly no longer that person. (And it was historical, and I’d forgotten all the research I’d done to write the proposal.)

Now multiply that by twenty years. By the last five years in traditional (nine years ago or so) I could sell a book on half a page proposal, so it wasn’t that bad, but you still had to come up with the concept and sell it well enough in half a page.

And what about other ideas that came? Ideas in series the publishers called dead?

They got written here and there, bit by bit.

However, even in the later years the rhythm of trad pub was brutal. You worked through everything, as hard as you could, and you’d be in the middle of a book, due next month, when a proposal was suddenly accepted for something you submitted two years ago. And they wanted it in six months. And then a revision for the novel you delivered last year came through. And it was urgent.

Look — was it better than digging ditches?

Sure. I was inside, in the warm. And I could be there when the kids came home from school, which was super-important to me.

BUT — to be fair, ditch diggers made way more. Most of those books I sweated and sacrificed over paid about 10k per. Some paid only 5k. The most I ever got paid for a book (non work for hire) was 17k. And the way the market was, most of those paid no royalties. (All the ones not Baen were taken off the market the minute they earned out.)

Most years I made somewhere between 10 and 30 thousand, but 5 thousand was not unusual, for what amounted to a full time job.

So, look… was it terrible. Eh. It could have been worse. Back then few other jobs would have allowed me to raise my own kids.

Was it better than indie? H*ll no. If you’re mildly self-disciplined and stick to it, you can not only do way better at indie, but keep your soul.

Was it easy? No. And it really felt like selling away little pieces of your soul and Dave Freer and I are only now recovering from severe burnout (hopefully.)

And that’s without counting the length of the books. Most of mine had a minimum length of 120k, which is at least 2 and maybe 3 indie novels, depending on genre and story. But there were the goat gaggers. “No less than 170k words” Per contract. Those were complex, involved and deadly. Do not recommend. Contains live bobcat.

All of which is fine. It’s the way it was. Not the way it is. And I have nothing but respect for hard-working indies who make book. (And write a lot of books.) I’m a fan of several of them.

I’m just saying that if you lift your shoulder and snort at my bio, you’re going to get me to yell back “Get off my lawn” and you’d better pray I don’t have a dictionary to throw in your general direction. (The safest place to be when I throw something is where I’m aiming.)

Phaw!

56 comments

  1. There’s satisfaction in seeing water flow throw the ditch, and knowing with finality that the job is complete. Fresh air. Sunshine. Exercise. A shovel handle to lean on…
    And a complete lack of scraping your emotions raw.

    Having dug many ditches, and possessing a masochistic compulsion to tell stories, I have to say that ditch digging is preferable. (Unless you’re hung over. But even then, It’s a near run thing.)

  2. Pity you had not seen that rude lady’s works before she scoffed.
    The appropriate rejoinder would have been “sweetie, those aren’t books they’re pamphlets!”

            1. I looked at the terms for vella a while ago and it looks like you can’t have posted the stories elsewhere. A lot of them I have on WordPress (which I’m going to delete by the end of the year). I don’t know if deleting them from WordPress gets me back in line with vella’s terms, but I’m thinking it’s worth a try since no one know who I am at this point anyhow!

              1. It works for the main Amazon. I try to take every excerpt from a story down a week or more before I upload the final draft, and make certain to fully delete the excerpts. That means any search that turns up a cached link leads to a dead link. Only once have I left an excerpt up, and that one’s about gun safety, and is far less than the maximum percentage of story permitted by Amazon.

                Will it work for Vella? It should.

                1. That’s good to know. This is my big winter project, and I’m looking forward to seeing if I can make it all work.

          1. I’m not familiar. But because I publish both collections and the works in them, I can vouch for collections.

  3. Larry Correia has sold enough books to buy his own mountain, but was criticized as ‘not a real writer’ because he can’t draw 500 people to a book signing.

    Ignore artificial measurements of success imposed by others. She has lots of short books, you wrote fewer but they’re longer and you were sick, I have fewer still but I work full time, he has fewer still because . . . who cares? Are the books you’ve written any good? Are you satisfied with them? Do readers enjoy them? Do they sell?

    By those measures, Sarah, you are a resounding success. Revel in it.

  4. I’ve had some 50 books published over the last 21 years. However, I don’t consider myself special. For one thing every one was between 14,000 and 45,000 words with the median around 25,000 words. Plus, they were always written to a formula provided by the publisher. As Sarah says, any remotely industrious idiot could do that. (Like me.)

    However I am reminded of the old Aesop’s fable of the animals bragging about the size of their litters – I have had 4 said the dog, I have had 8 said the cat, I have had 12 said the mouse. They all turned to the lioness who declared “One: but that one is a *lion.*

    Look at Lee Harper with but one book. (Don’t get me started about “Send a Watchman.” It was just the first draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Quality matters as much as quantity.

    Regardless – and even though writing has never been the day job (except briefly during the Covid Year of 2020) – it is a lot of fun. It also brought in enough money to put my kids through college (mostly).

    Plus it is not how much you write, it is the audience you reach. I’d bet a dime to a dollar Sarah has sold an order of magnitude more books than the young lady with 44. (Probably more than me, with 50+) To me. at least, it is the audience reading your books and their influence on their readers that really matter.

    An example – James Hornfischer. He wrote but six books, and never wrote full time (he ran a literary agency). Yet his books were seminal histories. They inspired at least four novels that I know of, including at least one SF novel. That is writing. I still want to be James Hornfischer when I grow up. And I am 12 years older than he was when he died.

  5. I may be over-sensitive to spelling and grammar errors, and malapropisms. Oh, I see them in printed items, too. Sometimes, they are not bad enough, but often they drive me out of the story for a shorter or longer time, even permanently. I think, though, that I see them more often in indie e-books.

    What sort of glitches, asked no one. I have collided with genuine, published authors, authors whose pencils I am not worthy to sharpen, over the use of the reflexive. It must be “Grandpa bought Tim Hawkins tickets for Jack and me!”, not “… and myself”.

    Occasionally, I see errors from some failure I don’t understand, e. g., the Chinese character named Chih-li, switches to Chili. Perhaps it’s a visual slip, like splitting the *m in *homey for *horney.

    Then, there are words misperceived, either by speech-to-text, the author, or the proofreader. Perhaps it’s an error by the *arthur or the *profreader.

    Finally, I grind my teeth at ignorant usage of military terms. “The team wants to recognize our officer of the month. So, this month, the award goes to Lieutenant Commander Melanie Melonis. *Lieutenant Commander Melonis, please come up and say a few words, *Sir.” It’s “The team wants to recognize our officer of the month. So, this month, the award goes to Lieutenant Commander Melanie Melonis. Commander Melonis, please come up and say a few words, Ma’am.”

    Being a semi-idle retiree, other than grandchildren, complaining on the ‘Net, community theater, and searching for my meds, what have I to do besides nit-pick? Authors have threatened to saddle me with their texts, daring me to proofread 50,000 words (50K, is 51,200) in forty-eight hours. I double-dog dare ya, if you can afford it! Also, I’m sure that metal lamppost over there isn’t frozen yet. Stick out yer tongue, or send a bad guy “a la lanterne”.

      1. I’ve seen a real and noticeable decline the last 15 years, and I don’t really notice grammar/spelling/punctuation much. These are more like sentence fragments, where the author was going to do something, forgot, and then it was left there by “editing” because they didn’t actually READ the book. These are Name authors too.

      2. Oh, I’ve seen everything from semi-colons hung randomly in sentences like Christmas decorations to sentences that flat out don’t parse and leave the reader wondering, “What could you possibly have meant by that?” And these were in older works. If things have gotten worse in the 21st century, I don’t even want to see an example.

        1. A certain fantasy author had an entire chapter repeat, except for the first page. Oops! Not sure if that was an author error (copied wrong thing, or didn’t remove a draft after rewrite) that didn’t get caught, or formatting problem, or quite what.

    1. What I’m finding is in indy, you are in charge of finding people who can and will edit your books aggressively.

      So, it’s easy to fall flat on your face, but it’s also much more possible to find a top notch editor who does it and loves doing it.

      Why yes, I did thing discrete was the thing you did, nor did I realize transpace was an actual word. I also seem to be inflicted with PoV schizophrenia.

  6. “Get off my lawn” indeed. Increasing levels of disrespect for other people’s work, attainment, property and liberty is the hallmark of the modern age. Calling them out for it is becoming a necessity.

    Apropos, an interesting development. https://yro.slashdot.org/story/22/10/04/211255/the-onion-files-a-supreme-court-brief

    Not kidding, The Onion (which used to be funny but now its Lefty) is filing a Supreme Court brief.

    “Anthony Novak, spent four days in jail over a Facebook page he created in 2016 that mocked his local police department. He was charged with using a computer to disrupt police functions, but a jury found him not guilty. Mr. Novak says his civil rights were violated, and he is trying to sue the city for damages. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year, saying that the police had qualified immunity, and an appeals court upheld that decision. Now the high court is reviewing his request to take up the matter.”

    So the Onion is filing a support brief, because they don’t want to constantly be going to jail for mocking the government over the next few years. Because if the police forces of the nation can be found immune from prosecution when they clearly and obviously violate the First Amendment, then the Onion is out of business. Along with every other media outlet not owned and run by the current regime and its friends.

    Babylon Bee might want to get in on that action.

    Which boils down to “Get Off My Lawn!”

    1. Hey, they pushed it successfully in the UK, it’s spreading throughout Europe & other commonwealth nations — speech that is ‘hateful’ or ‘misinformation’ is rapidly being used to silence any speech the government / left doesn’t like at all.

      1. The American Medical Ass. wants DOJ to investigate and charge people for posting “misinformation” about various medical issues. Pay no attention to the mutable “truth” with respect to the not-Vax/ivermectin/masking, and so on.

        Even scarier is Paypal being willing to fine users for violations in speech, as determined by Paypal itself, with something like $2500 per violation. I’m glad my PP account hasn’t been touched (not sure if it was formally cancelled) in over 10 years.

  7. As an aside, the more I hear about how Tradpub operates the more determined I am to pass on their “services”. No wonder they’re going broke, even without the Woke bs. Holy freaking framistat.

    1. Likewise – I’m just thrilled at being able to be an indy author, and grateful at the development of inexpensive digital printing (as opposed to litho) and the popularity of eReaders.
      At this point, I’d think very hard about even accepting a Trad-Pub offer for any one of my books. Essentially, I like being the boss of my own publishing firm: should I ever make it big, and hire experts for cover, formatting, marketing, etc … they would be people who worked for me, and would have my best interests at heart. Not an organization to whom I would be just another hired content provider.

    2. I think at this point most of traditional publishers are really just tools for their corporate owners to engage in money laundering and bribing politicians. The odd book that actually sells well just helps subsidize such operations.

    1. Yep. Younger son dodged once and got hit in the face with a paperback. He still talks about it, like I abused him. (He was five feet away, and it was tossed overhand. Also paperback…)

  8. Note to self: Introduce self at cons by wordcount of novels (“I’m Mel Dunay, and I have self-published eight novels with a combined wordcount of 460,000…”)

    On a mostly unrelated note, inspired by one of Sarah’s posts on another website, I don’t think Rings of Power is AI-written. Its failings at a writing level are about what I’d expect from two inexperienced guys who’d sold an unproduced screenplay to Mr. Mystery Box and are being bullied by corporate stooges into doing certain things with the female characters that weren’t necessarily their original plans. The characters doing an emotional 180 for no apparent reason and some of the goofier maguffin angles, like the evil sword, feel like something I might have done in my lamer NaNoWriMo experiments, the ones I didn’t finish or publish. Dr Strange 2, now I would believe in that one as AI-plotted and embellished with okayish Raimi or Cumberbatch flourishes.

    A lot of the Uncanny Valley effect people talk about with ROP’s character scenes I think owe more to the fact that two of the three directors used for episodes so far are arty European types who speak English as a second language, and one of the two (Spaniard J. A. Bayona) is also a producer. The first two episodes, which he directed, were particularly long on that kind of stilted, spaghetti-western-only-minus-the-lip-flaps vibe.

    1. Be prepared.

      One day someone will solemnly observe that there aren’t that many words in the English language — you must have sold several more than once.

  9. I write pulp length, and I don’t worry about how many books I have out. I worry about getting the next one done, edited, and out! I inadvertently created voracious readers. Help!

  10. The point isn’t the length. It’s the entitlement/impoliteness.

    That said, my younger brother has a habit of checking the reviews on Amazon of people running writers’ workshops. A lot of these “experts” are barely published, and barely reviewed. It’s kinda weird.

    1. Yep, it’s just flat rude– and indicates an insecurity, to have to be rude publicly.

      Can’t forget that while Sarah was doing this, she was also being a mom in a family where dad was often working himself constantly!

      Or, as my mom put it at one point when a cousin was sneering about how little another did– “(cousin) has a family, kids, and a house with a yard; you don’t even have a goldfish, and your mom does your laundry on the weekends.”

  11. Fine I’ll say it out loud what I’ve been thinking for a while. Plenty of people can do a book a year. Or a book a month. And their books show it because they’re all copies of the same book or the same tropes over and over and over. You can dig through tons and tons of these book a month or book a year people and not find one original thought. Technically they’ll be fine. They’ll entertain, but it’s like having a closet full of beige t shirts when all is said and done.

    1. Um… None of my books takes more than 2 weeks to write, actually. And one year I did six books, which aren’t remotely the same book.
      People work at different paces. Tons of the “three year books” authors also always write the same.
      It’s the author, not the time.

      1. How long has Bowl of Red taken? Or Skippy’s story? Or the sequel to Witchfinder?

        Just because the days you are actually butt in chair, hands on keyboard might equal 2 weeks doesn’t mean they were consecutive, or that anyone interested in publication schedules is ever going to expect you to reliably or consistently sit down and have a novel two weeks later. Let’s start over and say “Including the ‘chasing yourself around and forcing yourself to sit down and write’ time, and the ‘getting sick and recovering’ time, and ’emergencies came up’ time… What is your average calendar time from starting to plan a book to actually ready to edit and publish?”

        On the other paw, you are absolutely correct that you did six books a year once that weren’t remotely the same, showing it can be done.

        The two objections I have to using your outlier as proof that it’s the author, not the time, are first that you did it Once. Burning the candle at both ends until it’s burnt out once is not the same as finding a system and a similarity that allows publishing 6-12 books/year for years.

        Second, you did it under the trad system, which forced them to not be the same book multiple times, because it wasn’t under the same contracted series. Indie, for better and for worse, doesn’t have that limitation. If someone has a series that’s doing well, then they have a monetary incentive to continue a known product instead of growing, stretching, and trying new series, worlds, or genres that will have an unknown return on investment… but will likely time time to find their feet and result in a drop in income (short term, possibly long term) for a lot more effort.

        …Note that I’m not saying my fecal matter smells like roses here. When I cut my calories too low in search of a smaller waistline, I only got two writing days in a month. So by the time this WIP is finished, it’ll likely have taken 45 days to write… but those days will be spread over a year.

        1. Sure. I do realize I haven’t been performing. I’m just starting to get a feeling for how bad it was.
          I don’t think I can just do books in the same series. And if I did they wouldn’t be the same, because there’s a … series arc.

      2. My point is that your rude friend is probably one of the people who writes and rewrites the same book over and over. It’s absolutely the author. There are some authors I’ll wait for and some whose mounds of manuscripts I ignore.

    2. Christopher Nuttall, when he was in good health, writes at a prodigious rate, because it is his job. Eight hours a day, six days a week. Very high quality, too. So he could do a book or two a month and keep to his high standard. Not all of us can do that, for various reasons.

      In the spring of 2020, I was averaging a book every six weeks (write, fallow, edit, release). But 1) Day Job was off kilter and 2) the Muse hit me hard. That combination rarely happens.

  12. THIS! This is what I realized as I started to see behind the curtain of publishing. Once I discovered about non-disclosures as successful midlist authors wrote for work-for-hire for celebrities or major properties, the more I was, “Oh, so this is what a ‘nobody’ will get, just drudge work-for-hire for peanuts.”

    And if I didn’t play that game with the house, the stories dear to my heart would be toast. I might get one book out of my own, but I’d be behind the scenes doing a Full-Time very stressful job with insane deadlines, all while having to have a day job.

    I saw the ‘brass ring” wasn’t even brass, it was brittle plastic.

      1. Indeed!! And the contract would kill any future. I remember listening to some authors laugh about another author, who was broken when her world was canceled by the house. Abusive work environment is what I realized. (Not to mention what happens to an authors IP when a publishing company goes bankrupt. Your IP is just an asset of the company to be used to resolve the companies debts, not yours.)

  13. Another Agatha Christie on sale for $1.99: After the Funeral (Hercule Poirot).
    So, yes, I’m happy with patience I can snag 1-2 still under copyright Agatha Christie’s per month at a reasonable price. BUT I do wish that TradPub would see how much $$$ they’re leaving on the table, although some publishers are a bit better, with selected books on KU (e.g. some Perry mason) or omnibus deals (e.g. 3 Margery Allingham mysteries on Kindle for $10).

  14. I don’t understand that kind of rudeness and she was rude. We all write differently. Shorter, more formulaic novels can be much quicker to write than 250,000 complex family sagas.

    So what?

    Different readers like different styles of books, different lengths, different genres.

    That’s why you need many different kinds of books! We always say that more people would read if only they could find the kinds of books that spoke to them.

    One thing indie does extremely well is allow wildly different voices tell very different stories.

    1. “There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
      And every single one of them is right!”

      R. Kipling “In the Neolithic Age”

  15. How much did this young woman CHARGE for these short stories? I have most of my work priced at $5, which is a fancy coffee. Most of us don’t have to stop and think if it will leave us short for the week if we spend $5 on something. Still… if you spend $5 for a fancy cup of coffee and it’s a nasty undrinkable mess you don’t forget it. My books run about 130k words and for $5 most readers need at least a full day to read them. Reading is a distraction and entertainment and time is a factor. You wouldn’t go to a theater for a ten minute show. The way the economy is going right now a lot more of us will be pausing and considering over a $5 purchase. I may have to drop my price in the face of raging inflation. I’m not sure these shorts will even be worth the 99 cent minimum.

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