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Posts tagged ‘According to Hoyt’

Who are the real gatekeepers?

Over the last couple of days, I’ve seen a number of posts by authors from both sides of the traditional vs. indie publishing discussion (yes, I’m being nice here. In most cases, discussion doesn’t exactly describe the content. Argument or even screaming hissy fit usually comes closer). This comes on top of a long thread in a discussion group I belong to where a couple of folks flat said they would never read anything not from a traditional publisher because anything else never rises above the level of dreck. Pile on top of that a blog post I read this morning from an agent discussing the role of agents in the current world of publishing and, well, my head has exploded again.

It still amazes me the number of “authors” who still foam at the mouth whenever they hear the words “indie” or “self-published”. These authors sneer at anyone who hasn’t “proven” themselves the same way they did. In other words, if you haven’t sent in your submissions and included your SASEs time and time again until you find an editor ready to accept your prose, then you aren’t a “real” writer. That’s right. SASE. I actually read a post this morning where an author castigated anyone who hasn’t done this and who might not know what SASE stands for. Let’s forget about the fact that most major publishers now allow for digital submissions and, even if they don’t, they often don’t require the SASE. But not having sent out your SASEs is a sticking point to becoming a pro according to this one author.

Then you have those who believe that those who go the indie route won’t have their work edited and proofread by “real” editors and proofreaders. According to them, indie covers are all hysterically bad and indies are all wannabes who have tried to cut to the head of the line without learning the trade and taking their lumps. To support this, they point out that the professional organizations like SFWA don’t recognize indie published books are real books and, therefore, indie authors can’t be pro authors.

Why do I have this image of an ostrich with its head buried in the sand?

Look, I’ll be the first one to admit that there are those out there who publish indie because it is the easy way. They throw together a book — and I use that term loosely — and put it up on Amazon or Smashwords or any of the other outlets that allow access to indies. But these are also the ones who, after a few times of doing it will realize that they aren’t making the millions they thought they would and who will go away to either perfect their craft or to another hobby that doesn’t take the time writing does and that might have a better payout.

But there are many wonderful authors out there who have tried going the traditional route and haven’t been able to break in. It has nothing to do with how well they construct a sentence, how good their understanding of punctuation is or how strong their story structure might be. It has everything to do with the fact that the vast majority of publishers require an author to have an agent to get through the doors to even be considered. Agents choose clients based on personal reading taste as well as on what they think publishers want. The problem is, they are looking at something written today that might not see its way into print for two years or more and that, by then, won’t be the next big thing in publishing.

But even if you have an agent, that doesn’t mean you are going to be published. It means you have a chance, better than without an agent but still small, to break into a traditional publishing house. Let’s be real here: there are more authors trying to get their work published than there are slots available for them. Publishers don’t accept every good book that comes through the door. They listen to their bean counters who tell them that the latest best seller is about dinos into bondage with aliens from Zunev. So editors go out looking for similar books. That means your incredible family saga novel is going to be passed over because it doesn’t fit the current best seller matrix. It has nothing to do with your skills as a writer, only with the fact it isn’t following the latest trend.

So, tell me again why I have to go through a traditional publishing path to be considered a “pro”?

Oh, yeah, because SFWA and other organizations don’t recognize me as one. SFWA, an organization that presents itself as the moral compass of the SF/F community and has no problems attacking members who don’t conform to whatever is the current politically correct stance du jour. SFWA, the organization that for years has said it can’t do anything to acknowledge indies and others who publish through non-traditional tracks (read no large advance) without changing its bylaws and constitution. Although, it now seems like they have formed a focus group or something similar to look into it. SFWA who is behind the times when you look at how quickly RWA adapted their rules to include digital, non-advance publishing credits.

Then there’s the allegation that indie’s don’t have their books edited. Excuse me while I go giggle in the corner. Okay, I’m giggling a bit hysterically but many of you understand why. You’ve seen the lack of quality edits that have come back to you, the author, from one of the Big 6 — now Big 5 — publishers. You’ve seen how your editors and copy editors have changed the entire meaning of a sentence or a paragraph, fatally flawing that paragraph or even entire scene, by using a modern term in your historical romance. You’ve had copy editors or editors tell you that your characters couldn’t be in X-church located at Y-location because that’s not where it is. Well, that might not be where it is today according to Google Maps but 100 years ago, it was exactly where you have it. How do you know? Because you didn’t rely on Google Maps or its alternative but you went to maps from the time or descriptions of the area written back then.

Still not convinced that editing can be as bad, or worse, in a traditionally published book than it is an indie book? There are authors who are just now starting to talk publicly about some of the politically correct changes they’ve been forced to make to their books. Characters’ nationalities and race have been changed. Their sexual orientation have been changed. Changes that have nothing to do with making the story better and everything to do with pushing the current politically correct stance of the publishing house.

Then there are the authors, some of them best sellers, who hire editors to go over their work both before and after their publishing house’s editor sees it. Why? Because the quality of editing isn’t, on a whole, of the same level it once was. When publishers started cost cutting years ago, the two areas hit hardest were publicity and editing. So tell me again how traditionally published authors have better editing than indies?

(As with most everything I have to say about legacy publishing, there are exceptions. When it comes to editing and how they treat their authors, Baen Books is the exception. Their editors actually read a book and edit it before it is published and they do treat their authors as partners and valued members of the team, not as an asset or chattel like some publishers do.)

So, how do indie authors get past this stigma others in the industry, especially their fellow writers, seem to have about them? First, indies have to quit worrying about what the so-called pros think. Many of those who were the loudest to condemn indies back when Amazon first opened the KDP program are now indie publishing. Those who still condemn indies are either parroting what their agents and editors tell them or they scared to give up that upfront advance and strike out on their own. They are like the folks in the discussion thread last week who see only the bad in indie and don’t recognize that there are a number of excellent authors out there, more and more of whom are starting to make a living from indie publishing.

But, as an indie, you do have to know the tools of the trade. You have to be able to write a sentence with proper grammar and punctuation — just as you have to know when to break the grammar rules. You have to know story structure. You have to make the commitment to have your work look as professional, or more so, than what is coming out of the traditional houses. That means getting it edited and proofread. It means having a professional looking cover. In other words, you have to be as professional as the naysayers think they are.

Does that mean you will become the next Stephen King or Amanda Hocking? No. But it means you have a chance to find readers who will enjoy your books and recommend you to their friends and family. And they, in turn, will recommend you to another group of readers. That is how you start building sales. As that is happening, you should be writing. Write the next book or short story. Set your own publishing schedule and keep to it. Make sure that when a reader finishes something and likes it, there’s something else of yours for them to buy. If there isn’t, at least have an announcement of when your next book will be out.

As an indie author, you are in the business of writing. That means you have to be your own bean counter and PR guru and editor. It means you have to find and use resources for not only research but for editing, proofing and cover creation. You have to keep up with what is being sold by the legacy publishers and how they are packaging it. Why? Because if your cover has the same basic look as traditionally published books in your genre then the reader won’t automatically go “indie!” and move on. It is a game of appearances.

Most of all, quit listening to those traditionally published authors who say the only way to break into the industry is to do it the way they did. The industry has changed since most of them sold their first book or short story. The rules they had to follow no longer apply. So choose the path you want to follow — heck, follow both if you want — but write and don’t worry about whether you qualify for “pro” status in the organizations or not. What matters is if you are writing books people want to read and are willing to pay for.

Don’t believe me, go to Sarah’s post yesterday at According to Hoyt to see an example of what I would have thought a joke last week but now know is a real sub-genre that is making money for the authors involved. There are folks out there begging for books, books that will never be published through traditional houses. The gatekeepers are no longer the agents or the editors. They are exactly who they ought to be — the readers.

Again a Still, Small Voice

by Sarah A. Hoyt
Cross-posted from According to Hoyt

A year and a half ago I blogged about Lloyd Biggle Jr.’s novel, The Still Small Voice of Trumpets.

I’ll confess I was not perfectly straight forward with you, when I did that.  If I remember, I wrote from the perspective of a reader, and how happy I would be to see the writers who had vanished, how happy to rediscover them.  But I couldn’t close that circuit and make that connection.

I couldn’t do that because at the time I was still agented.  I was still not writing for indie.  I did not know if I could be or would be at any time.  And this imposed certain controls on my tongue.

For those of you who have never read Biggle’s The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets, some spoilers follow.  I’ll just say that despite the spoilers, despite knowing how it will turn out, you should still read it.  It’s one of the classic space operas that is near and dear to my heart.

First, to give you space if you wish to read no further because of spoilers, let me tell you that the proximate cause for this post is a comment by Robin Munn about how, due to the horrible contracts houses are now forcing many writers to sign, until publishing collapses and something else rises phoenix-like from the ashes, many writers are going to disappear for ten years or so.  (It’s in reply to this post.)

My answer said something like “yes, but writers have been disappearing randomly, strangely, for fifteen or more years now.”

I’ve talked about this elsewhere, and I won’t go into the mechanisms.  If you wish to read my old post He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher, go for it.  If you don’t – and I’m not the first person to describe this mechanism.  Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch have described at least parts of it – I’ll give you a quick summary.  At the end of the eighties, sometime, while I was laboring largely in vain to break in, the publishing landscape underwent a marked transformation.

It was mostly a revolution in retail.  I remembered reading at the time about the bright future ahead, now chains were displacing indie bookstores, and how there would be more books and cheaper for the public.

This was true to an extent.  I was very happy when a Borders opened here in town, because it had a much bigger selection than anyone else, and I could go out and buy anything, even late at night…

Except–

Except the book trade is a specialized trade.  If the people who were running, managing, distributing, etc, had been readers, true book people and/or if the publishing industry hadn’t itself gone through a convulsion of mergers and buy outs that left management quite removed from the day to day business of publishing… or had most publishers the most rudimentary understanding of economics, the chain bookstores would have been a very good thing.
If ifs an’ ans were posts and pans no one would ever be hungry.

However, the conjunction of book retail being treated as just any other retail “by the numbers” and of the publishing houses having clue zero why it would be a bad idea to control the numbers from the inside out… was a very bad thing.

Sorry, I’m so used to the situation that I just realized I might need to unpack it further, for you.  See, to some extent, publishers always had some control over how much “push” a book got.  To an extent.  The book reps – the people who went door to door, bookstore to bookstore, drugstore to drugstore, everywhere that stocked books saying “hey, you want to stock this because” – tended to be (I think, this was before I was in the industry) readers.  But they also got marching orders – of course – from the publisher.  If told “We’re pushing this book to be big” they’d go out and lean on the stores to stock a lot.  Did it work?  Eh.  Sometimes.  And sometimes, no matter how much they pushed, the retail managers, who back then were by and large readers, would read the book and go “Joe, this is a stinker.  It won’t move.”  And sometimes the reverse happened to.  You had “surprise bestsellers.”  A book that was slated to go down into obscurity would catch the fancy of retailers, and they would hand sell it.  It would reprint, and reprint, and reprint.

That was before retail became consolidated into three big chains and before Borders brought its innovation of “computer numbers” and “ordering to the net” to the business.  Ordering to the net is ordering to the last “net sold” number of books by that author…  No matter the genre, the subgenre or the author’s growth.  (And let me tell you right away that there is no writer – not even Heinlein or Pratchett (genuflect) who never wrote a stinker.  And there are few writers so bad – one or two – who never wrote a book I like.)  Or… what was on the cover.  Or…

What the “computer numbers” system was supposed to do was streamline ordering and give the retailer a real basis for re-ordering.  What it did was provide cover and allow both retailer and publisher to play the numbers.  Let me put it this way – if you had only two books on the shelves per store your chances of selling more than half were almost none.  Your chances of reprint were less than that.  And your writing name would have to be changed within three books.  The alternative was you gave up writing and retired in disgust.

BUT the publisher didn’t have to think about “did we use the right cover?” or “If we bought it, how come it didn’t sell at all” or even “Should we have pushed more.”  No.  They could say “the numbers were bad” and cut the author off.  It was ALWAYS the author’s fault.  Even when the book didn’t even make it to the shelves.

This is what made me think of The Still Small Voice Of Trumpets.  In the book – spoiler warning! – our hero finds himself in a world of people with a mad appreciation for the beautiful.  The most valued art form is music and the type of music is the harp.  The world is ruled by a mad king who periodically – for no reason anyone can divine – has an harpist mutilated by having an arm cut off.

This makes it impossible for the harpist to play again and though the harpist might have been very popular, it effectively erases them from public view and public consciousness.  They disappear into the villages of the one-armed men, where they are in fact untouchable and “dead” to their fans.

In the interest of fomenting revolution, our hero invents a trumpet that can be played with only one hand and teaches the one-armed men to play.  In one of the most moving scenes of the book, the one-armed men march into the capital, playing their music and all their former fans, suddenly, remember them and realize how unjust their condemnation was.  Which starts the revolution.

When I wrote that first post, a year and a half ago, I was thinking how much traditional publishing was like that mad king.  I know of an author who sold very well and had the door slammed on her face because… she dumped her agent – one of the big names in NYC.  I know of authors who gave up in despair after two or three series died without their being able to do anything.  I know of authors who never got started, because they saw how their “older” (in the field) friends and mentors were treated.  And I know of authors who suddenly wouldn’t be bought and never found out why.  The wrong word at a party; the wrong blog post; the wrong expression when a political joke was told…  And it all came tumbling down, and you were banished from publication and from the shelves.  And your fans forgot you.

(In here, because the commenters asked before, I should say that it’s an open secret in the business that if you’re writing for Baen “you’ll be okay” – partly because Baen is in many ways a family enterprise, and not run strictly by bean counters.  OTOH when, like me, you like to write many different genres, it’s rather a lot to ask Baen to start a mystery line just to keep you happy.  So at least one of my pen names – Sarah D’Almeida – was sent off to the village of one armed men.)

If you’re like I used to be, before entering the business, you just went “Well, I guess so and so lost interest in the series; stopped writing; retired.”  If we were still writing – in other genres/under other names – we HAD to abet the deception.  In the interest of continuing to be published – not angering the mad king – we lied to you.  We said “Oh, I hated that series.  I’m much happier with this one.”  We said “Oh, that just never went anywhere.  I didn’t know what the next book would be.”  We said “We always just wanted to be myster/fantasy/romance writers, so we crossed over.”  And what the heck could you do but believe us?

But now we have our trumpets.  Indie publishing allows us to bring back dead pen names; to start writing again; to start writing at last.  We’re no longer dead and gone, banished to the unseen villages of one-armed men.

We are, more and more, marching into the capital, playing our trumpets.  Our fans are remembering us.

In the revolution that follows, a lot of mad kings will be deposed.  I agree with Robin that what emerges will be completely different.  I’d like to believe that as at the end of a fairytale the good are rewarded and the bad punished.
It’s more likely to be like the ending of Romeo and Juliet: “All are punished.”

Rough waters are ahead.  Revolutions are always hard.  But I think in the end, the system will be a little less closed, a little less insane, and a lot fairer.

Listen.  Can you hear it?  The sound of indie publishing is the Still Small Voice of Trumpets.  And they’re ringing freedom.

Welcome to the real world

by Amanda S. Green

For those of you looking for Sarah’s workshop, she sends her apologies. Between not feeling good this past week and having to leave earlier for Denver this weekend than she expected, she wasn’t able to polish her post for today. She said to tell you that she will put the next installment of the workshop up Wednesday and will then get back to the Sunday schedule.

Yesterday I wrote about why I’m a Human Waver. I want to thank everyone who has so whole-heartedly jumped into the conversations this week about the new Human Wave Science Fiction, starting with Sarah’s post, Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, over on According to Hoyt and continuing with What is Human Wave Science Fiction here on MGC.

For me, part of my desire–no, my need–to embrace this new movement, for lack of a better word, goes far beyond just wanting to be able to read books like those I enjoyed so much when I was younger. It is a reaction to the legacy publishing industry, the same industry that has told so many of us that our stories aren’t deep enough or socially relevant enough or don’t carry the right message.

I’ll admit, part of the reason for this post today is because several of us involved with Mad Genius Club have been told that we are getting too serious on the blog. We’ve been asked if we are trying to cut off any chance we might have to work with the NYC publishers. In short, we are questioning the status quo and that just isn’t done.

Then, earlier this evening, I read a comment on a discussion board I frequent–several comments actually–where the posters made sweeping condemnations of authors who are taking paths that don’t lead through legacy publishers. According to them, there is a cache that comes with being published by these folks (And, for the record, I am exempting Baen from this conversation because I know their process and it isn’t that of the “big” publishers). This cache includes things like editing and copy editing and promotion and support for authors, etc., etc., etc.

All of which is bull. But we’ve discussed that before. In fact, I’ve been accused of harping too much on it. So I simply suggest you go back and look at our earlier posts about just how much push and promotion all but a few big name authors get. Compare the level of editing and copy editing and proofreading of books, paper and digital, today as opposed to twenty years ago. Ask most authors about what sort of support they get from their publishers. After they stop laughing, be prepared for a lesson in real life publishing.

Again, Baen does not fall into this category.

No, this post is aimed at those who feel we are being too negative and confrontational in our comments about legacy publishers. What these people don’t understand, mainly because they aren’t living the writer’s life, is that this is how most of us feel.

Publishing is changing and the many of the players are running scared. Publishers are trying to hold onto business models that should have evolved years ago. They are grabbing for rights to books that weren’t even dreamed up at the time contracts were signed. They are refusing to relinquish rights for books that have been out of print without the threat of litigation. They are insisting on non-compete clauses in contracts that can prevent authors from not only submitting work to other publishers but from also self-publishing something, even if it isn’t the sort of book the initial publisher puts out.

Worse, you have publishers fighting for a pricing scheme (agency pricing) that they admit makes them less money than they made under the earlier pricing policy. WTF? At a time when they are struggling to survive, they are fighting to make less money. Why? Because it would, in their minds, screw with Amazon. They aren’t looking at the bottom line for their companies or what this means to authors. And, authors, if the publisher makes less money, you’ll make less money.

Then there are the agents who are now acting as publishers or assisted publishers or whatever. Agents who are supposed to be representing their clients’ best interest are now going into a part of the business that, at least on the surface, looks like it could be a direct conflict of interest.

But it’s worse. There is what I am tempted to call a conspiracy of conformation taking place. We saw some of it last week on Sarah’s post, War is Hell. The trolls came running to the blog to beat her over the head because she wasn’t toeing the correct line. Her facebook page was hijacked when all she did was repost a Heinlein quote.

Folks, like it or not, but there has been a movement to keep writers in line. If you don’t believe me, listen to what editors and agents say at cons when they think they are in “friendly territory”. It hasn’t been more than a month since someone I know overheard an editor talking about having to drop someone because they’d found out this person was, gasp, conservative. If they are dropping friends for not being of the “right” political bent, believe me, they are dropping writers for the same reason.

Why else are writers having series dropped by editors with such questionable reasons as the series never caught on with the readers when that series is still on the shelves in bookstores more than two years after publication? Go ask anyone who works at a bookstore if they keep books in stock, much less on the shelves, if it isn’t moving. They don’t. And yet editors seem to think writers aren’t smart enough to check for themselves if their books are selling.

For years, writers have bitten their tongues and have made changes to their manuscripts in an attempt to keep their editors happy. That ought to be a red flag right there. Keeping the editor happy instead of the buying public. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?

Writers are frustrated and, to be honest, we’re just as scared as the publishers. We don’t like change any more than the rest of the world. Worse, we’d really just like to be left alone to write. But we also want, and need, to make a fair wage for our work. That means publishers need to adjust their royalty schemes–or once more give that cachet of benefits that reader thought they still did. It means agents need to adjust their mindsets as well and remember there are legitimate options for their clients that don’t necessarily mean going with a legacy publisher.

Have I wound up severing any chance I had of landing a contract with a big publisher? Possibly. With an agent? Again, possibly. But I couldn’t get one to accept me as a client or author before Naked Reader Press. I’ve had agents forget I’d sent back edits they’d asked for and, when I did finally ask about it, they asked me to send another round of edits, WITHOUT FIRST SEEING THE INITIAL EDITS and without offering representation. I’ve had editors give me great feedback but tell me my books just “weren’t right” for them. That’s fine. I’ve found other outlets and I make pretty good money from these outlets. So, much as part of me would like a contract from a legacy publisher, I’m not going to cry if I never get one. (Of course, I still want a contract with Baen, but that’s because it is the only “major” publisher that consistently publishes books I like to read.)

So, have most of us at Mad Genius Club been negative? You bet. We’re human. We’re writers. And, like so many other writers right now, we have had enough. We want to be able to write the books we want to write. Books and short stories that fall squarely into Human Wave Science Fiction. We want to be able to bring these books and short stories to our fans. More than that, we want to be able to expand the Human Wave from sf to fantasy, mystery, romance, etc. Is that so wrong?

(Cross-posted to According to Hoyt)