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Posts tagged ‘Dean Wesley Smith’

Reality bites, at least where traditional publishing is concerned

From time to time, I’m asked whether I think a writer should publish their book as an indie or try to go the traditional route. Depending on who it is, I might temper my response a little. By that, I mean I will tell them the decision is theirs to make. Then I ask them why they consider going the traditional route. Almost every time, the answer is the same: they want to get into bookstores. You know me. So you know my follow-up question is to ask them where the closest bookstore is, when the last time was they were in the store and how many books a year do they buy from there. Almost always, you can see the lightbulb go off over their head as they consider the question.  Read more

Water, water everywhere and more to come

I swear I am growing webbing between my fingers and toes. After a couple of years of the government in the form of the water districts telling us that we have to conserve water because we are in “the drought of the century”, we’ve had enough rain in the past week to fill the lakes. We’ve had so much rain that some lakes are actually releasing water to prevent flooding. What all the rain means for me is that I’ve spent the better part of a week cleaning up and drying out after three floods of the house — nothing major but nothing dries when we keep getting more and more rain — and now they are forecasting more rain for today and tomorrow. The result is that I’m tired — exhausted, really — and half-sick. Worse, my mother is sick and that amps my stress meter up even further.

All of this is a way of saying that I don’t have the brain cells left today to do a real blog post. Sorry, guys. However, I do have a couple of articles/posts that are of interest and that I’d like to hear your comments on. I will be back in a couple of hours — after I’ve gotten some sleep — and will answer comments and maybe be able to put up a real post. In the meantime, what do you think of the following?

The Top Five Dumbest Business Practices in Publishing by Dean Wesley Smith

Dean pretty much sums it up with this quote: “From the real world perspective, publishing is really, really, really known for its head-shakingly stupid business practices. But inside of publishing, these practices have become so common and set in “the way things are done” as to be defended by otherwise sane business people.” Go read the rest of the post and let me know your thoughts.

Inside Traditional Publishing: A Tale of Two Authors (A Cautionary Tale)

I know. I don’t often link to HuffPo without having much snark and laughter involved. But this article actually has some good information in it and does bring up several things every author should think long and hard about. “In a perfect world, every literary agent would be a fearless negotiator, working tirelessly to get the best possible book deals for his or her clients. . . But the world isn’t perfect. And sometimes an author’s career goes off the rails because their agent doesn’t have the knowledge, skills, or tenacity necessary to negotiate well on the author’s behalf.”

Then, finally, there is this article, Authors Debate Digital-First Publication.

Publishing digitally first can help authors to learn about the publishing process, make writers more critical of their own work and help reinvent an author. However, the author Stark Holborn warned that the format should only be used in the right context as there is “a difficulty in marketing something that has no physical presence”.

So, what are your thoughts? I’ll be back after a nap to see what you have to day.

No Business Like Writing Business

Sarah is away from computer today, so we’re being helpful Mad Geniuses and posting this for her. Hopefully there isn’t a rain of carp in our future. Although with carp, I could make a few recipes… Anyway, she did put this up at According to Hoyt, but we thought it was good enough she should say it again over here. 

So, some of you know I finished the Superstars Writing Seminar this weekend, which is why this will be a very short post. There’s a field trip today and I’m going. (And yep, this afternoon will find me typing away on Through Fire, because I was writing by hand at the Seminar.)

Anyway, it occurred to me that writing is such a strange avocation, pulling things out of non-existence and putting them in someone else’s head that writers – by which I mean true writers, not people who write so that they can get their next promotion in academia or what have you, but people who are compelled to tell stories – need these seminars and workshops, even if they learned nothing new at them. Why? Because we spend three or four days in the middle of a bunch of our peers and we start thinking we’re not the cursed outliers of the human race.

Now this is the third year I’ve attended Superstars. I’m not going to say there was no information. Among other things, we had the inimitable Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith as speakers, and even if you know the information, you always catch some nuance in what they say that lights up a lightbulb.

There was also a lot of info I’m not ready to use yet, and might never use – Hollywood, comics – but which is good to have in my quiver because one thing in this business your career is likely to do is take a sudden turn to the weird when you least expect it.

That’s all fine.

But the most important thing about it for me, this year, was feeling energized by knowing I wasn’t alone and even my peculiarities (writing a book while listening to talks) were shared by some of my peers.

After the seminar yesterday, a friend asked how she could finish her book really fast, and ramp up on her career (she writes romance) to where she’s making money.

I wished she’d taken the seminar (I tried!) but since she couldn’t this year, I am going to distill some stuff from the seminar for her.


  • Don’t stop. You can’t sell books you haven’t written.
  • Write through the distractions. There is never going to be a distraction free life while you’re alive and in the world.
  • Keep writing. Particularly in the indie game, but really in all of it, you need productivity to make actual money. As in, living and buying groceries money.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, pick yourself up and write again. This business is WEIRD and even the best get knocked down. The long-terms continue working through everything.
  • There is money in them there hills, but it is work to get there. So – as Kevin Anderson says – the books ain’t gonna write themselves.
  • Vary what you do. You never know what will hit. The more tickets you have the better the chance of winning the lottery.

And now, I’m going to go to my field trip and to write.

Reflections and predictions — sort of

As 2013 draws to an end, all I can say is “Finally!”. There was something about this year that had me almost constantly looking over my shoulder and waiting for the next shoe to drop. Without going into boring detail, let’s just say that on a personal level this was an “interesting” year and I am glad it is ending. On a professional level, it was a better year than it was on the personal and I’m hoping 2014 continues the good luck in the professional and brings some balance in the personal.

With the end of the year comes all the predictions for what’s going to happen next year. I’m always interested in what others think will happen in our industry. Sometimes I agree and sometimes I wonder if the predictor is living on the same planet I am. Some of the predictions are the same ones, or variations of them, from last year and the year before. Others are new. But there is a common thread in them all: indie publishing is here to stay. Legacy publishing is going to have to learn to adapt or it will continue to see authors “defecting”. Just how nasty the fall-out becomes remains to be seen but no one seems to doubt it can get bad and there will be bitter feelings on both sides as a result.

Let’s start with the predictions from Joe Konrath. You can find his complete list here. Because he also makes predictions about some personal projects, I’m going to skip those.

1. The end of Barnes & Noble as we know it. (He predicts a possible bankruptcy but definitely sees the closing of more and more stores and a possible demise of the brand.)

2. Indie bookstores will need to start selling self-pubbed books or perish.

3. Visibility (for indie authors) will become harder.

4. Self-publishing will witness a new support industry grow around it.

5. Big 5 mergers and layoffs and bankruptcies.

6. Amazon will continue to blaze trails.

7. Legacy will fight back.

Dean Wesley Smith responded to Konrath’s list, agreeing with some of what Konrath said and disagreeing with other parts of it. He doesn’t think we’ll see B&N disappear over the next year although he does think the Nook and sales wings “will change in some fashion”. Nor does he think we’ll see the demise of big publishers any time soon. As long as they continue to get the bulk of monies from book sales — instead of authors — they will hang on. Dean also points out that indie bookstores can already sell self-published books thanks to changes in policy by Baker and Taylor and Ingrams regarding POD.

Forbes also has its own predictions for the new year. Among them are the following:

1. Publishers will license or create their own e-reading apps.

2. Amazon will start playing nice with publishers.

3. Public libraries will increasingly buy access to large aggregations of e-books.

4. Publisher margins will be under pressure.

5. More publishers will start selling e-books directly to readers.

6. Self-publishing will continue to grow even as e-books sales at publishers stagnate.

7. Illustrated e-books will enter the market in greater numbers as costs plummet.

8. Amazon will continue to expand into publishing books.

9. Shift to tablets and smart phones will have a negative effect on e-book sales.

From Digital Book World come these predictions:

1. Barnes & Noble will close or sell Nook and go private.

2. Amazon will go the way of Barnes & Noble…and open its own physical stores in 2014.

3. Trade publishers will sell and acquire assets to “verticalize” their businesses.

4. The illustrated book business will become severely challenged.

5. More publishers will endorse the subscription ebook model by doing business with Oyster, Scribd and other similar services.

6. More publishers will launch magazines and websites catering to reader interests and start selling ebooks directly to customers.

7. More price experimentation.

8. The “big five” publishers will make their full e-book catalogs available to libraries for purchase.

Even Smashwords got into the prediction game. You can find the full list of predictions here. However, here a few of the more important or interesting ones:

1. Big publishers lower prices.

2. When everyone is pricing sub $4.00, price promotions will become less effective.

3. E-book growth slows.

4. Competition increases dramatically.

5. E-book market share will increase.

6. A larger wave of big-name authors will defect to indieville.

7. All authors will become indie authors.

8. Traditional publishers will re-evaluate their approach to self-publishing.

If these lists leave you scratching your head, join the club. I think one thing is clear. No one really knows what is going to happen. We can make guesses, some educated guesses and some just wishful thinking — and some that leave you wondering what the predictor was smoking (like all authors becoming indie authors in 2014). For me, my list is pretty simple. Things are going to change. Legacy publishing is going to continue to try to hang onto all the rights it can, refusing to revert rights without legal action being threatened and squeezing authors on royalties. E-books sales will continue to be incomplete and will, therefore, show a slow in growth because small press and self-published e-books aren’t included in the sales figures. Prices will fall but not to below $4.00. There is still the reader perception to keep in mind and a vast majority (in my experience) are willing to pay $4.99 – $7.99 for a novel and think that e-books priced in that range are more “pro” than those priced in the $2.99 and less range. B&N is going to change but I don’t think we’ll see it go belly up this year. Amazon is going into bricks and mortar — but this isn’t new. They announce this months ago. And yes, indie authors do need organizations to help them. Heck, all authors do. We’ve seen over and over again for the last few years just how ineffective the “professional” organizations have been to assist authors and protect their rights against large publishers.

In other words, our industry is changing and we are on the front lines of helping guide where it goes. The battle isn’t always going to be easy nor will it be pretty. But change rarely is. For me, I’m going to keep my eye on what’s happening as I write. My own writing goals for the New Year are much higher than they have been before and I don’t know if I will meet them. But I’m going to do my best.

How about you? What are your predictions for the New Year and what do you think about the predictions the others have made?

Saturday Links

I’ve gathered some links of interest and thought I’d share. But the catch is, I’d like you guys to share your own publishing links of interest in the comments section. Of course, I’d also like to hear what you think about my links — sorry, no coffee yet and about to head out to get my car worked on. So I’m hoping this makes sense. Have I said I don’t like mornings?

Amazon is apparently the leading contender in the race to acquire Dorchester Publishing. The auction for the publisher’s assets will take place in August and Amazon has already expressed its interest. Depending on what source you read, it’s either a done deal already or Amazon is only one of any number of companies/persons looking to bid on the publishing house. I’m waiting for the howls of outrage to begin if Amazon does buy Dorchester. Will it make the brand an active publisher again — which will be direct competition to other publishers — or will it simply bring out Dorchester’s backlist? Either way, it will be another change in the publishing landscape and will begin another round of outraged cries against Amazon. I’m reserving judgment until I see exactly what happens with the auction and what Amazon does if it does place the winning bid.

I’ve been asked several times by a certain “dragon” if there is any intelligence or common sense in publishing. There is and it is on display in this discussion about what publishers need to do in the face of the Department of Justice price fixing law suit and other changes in the industry. In my opinion, Don Lin hits the nail squarely on the head and I hope there are others in the industry listening to what he has to say.

Dean Wesley Smith has a great post up on pricing. Read it. Think about it. Read it again.

Also go read Kris Rusch’s latest post. Please, read it and think about it — especially if you are a writer and have been worrying about what to do about what you see are bad reviews of your latest work — and then think about it some more.

So, what are your thoughts about these posts? Do you have other links you think would be of interest?

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 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.

Saturday Links and Open Floor

Here are some links that may be of interest.

Kris Rusch has a great post on “Scarcity and Abundance” and how publishers are still trying to operate under the scarcity model, doing things like adding non-compete clauses into authors’ contracts. This is a must read, as are all her posts.

Dean Wesley Smith has a few words to say on the Scott Turow Authors Guild letter. (If you haven’t seen the letter, I discussed it here last weekend.) Dean doesn’t mince words about his feelings for Turow regarding this issue. He also links to Joe Konrath’s post about the Turow letter and to Turow’s response. I recommend you read them all. Then decide for yourself just who is in the wrong.

If that isn’t enough to think about and discuss, we’re throwing the floor open–no, don’t go too near the center or you’ll find yourself falling into the dungeon–to your questions, comments and future post suggestions.

The floor is now yours.