The Business Rusch: Lines in the Sand
Here’s the bottom line for me today: I’m teaching a writing workshop for professionals. It’s the hardest workshop I teach—for them and for me. Tonight I have three hours of work for class, and only four hours in which to complete it, so if anything throws me off, I’ll get less than the necessary hours of sleep…which wouldn’t be a big deal, except my health has been dicey all spring, so sleep is essential.
Yesterday, I wrote 2,000 words of a blog. Then, as I was describing it to Dean, I realized that the blog topic I had chosen was one of those topics that would get this response: one third of you would ask for clarification; one third of you would think I’m brilliant; and one third of you would tell me to do something anatomically impossible (and half of that group would also tell me to do so while flying, also impossible).
This week, I honestly don’t have time to answer all of the responses I will get, so I’m tabling that blog post until either next week or the week after. When I’m rested, no longer post-teaching cranky, and ready to have a great discussion, I’ll finish that post.
Which leaves me with a busy day and no time to write a full post—at least of the kind I normally write, filled with research, links, analysis, and all kinds of other goodies.
Instead, I’m going to talk about something that’s bothering me, something I can’t change.
Just before I entered my office, I got an e-mail from a reader who also happens to write and publish her own work (at least in part). She was deeply upset that one of her favorite writers wrote a long blog post that about the fact that all self-published books are crap. By definition. Self-published equals crap.
The reader got so angry that she not only responded (politely) on the favorite writer’s website, she also wrote an answering blog post. It too is reasoned. It too is polite. It is what I would call quietly angry.
And she has a right to be quietly angry.
Just like romance writers and readers get angry when critics say the entire genre stinks.
Just like science fiction writers and readers get angry when critics say the entire genre has no heart.
Just like mystery writers and readers get angry when critics say that the entire genre trivializes crime.
Are there bad romance novels published by traditional publishing houses? Sure. Just like there are bad science fiction novels, bad mystery novels, bad literary novels, and bad fantasy novels.
Surprisingly few truly bad novels get published through traditional publishing houses. I say surprisingly because the volume is high. Traditional publishers publishes hundreds of thousands of books each year. Some stinkers have to be in the mix somewhere.
Usually though, it’s just a matter of taste. My biggest complaint with critics is that they often don’t know how to separate their own taste from a legitimate criticism. Until they learn that, their comments are essentially useless.
No genre deserves to be dismissed out of hand, just like no publishing method deserves to be dismissed out of hand.
Last month, I left a listserve of professional writers and editors that I’ve been part of for more than a decade. A goodly portion of folks on the list told me point blank that my blog hurts writers, and that everything I do to help writers is actually destructive.
Of course, I got mad. Dean and I have spent decades teaching new writers and professional writers, often for no money, and always (in our own workshops) at a loss. We bring in other instructors, we bring in diverse points of view, and we strive hard to help writers.
So I was offended on a personal level. On a professional level, I was also rather shocked that everyone who told me I was harming people had not read my blog. After all, a good portion of this blog is for long-term professionals. I try to help them survive the changes in this industry.
One person on the listserve even told me that I should understand people in that person’s situation, someone whose life simply does not allow them to learn yet another new thing. That comment made me shake my head, and was the one that convinced me (as others piled on) that the folks on that listserve don’t read my blog. Because that very thing had been the topic of my blog that very week.
So these people were judging what I did without reading what I did or even examining it. And then they were attacking me.
If you’re going to attack me, do so because we know each other’s point of view and disagree. I don’t expect everyone to read my blog. But if you have an opinion on my blog, then for godssake, make it an informed opinion.
I’m a grown-up. I can handle this stuff. I’ve been through worse when I edited The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
But the night of the kerfuffle, I found myself with a new train of thought.
I have friends who are Muslim, friends who are Jews, friends who are Mormon, friends who are Catholic, friends who are Protestant. I am on listserves with them, but those listserves do not discuss religion.
I have friends who are Republican, friends who are Libertarian, friends who are Communists, friends who are Democrats, friends who are Progressives. I am on listserves with them, but those listserves do not discuss politics.
The listserve I was on—the one that had attacked me—was filled with publishing professionals. When I joined in the 1990s, publishing was a uniform game. There was one way to practice it and one way only. We didn’t even have to discuss it. It was like the sky. It just was. Sometimes we wondered if the storm clouds in the distance could harm us, and sometimes we discussed how to survive a blizzard, but we never ever questioned the sky.
Slowly publishing changed. Multinational conglomerations started to run it. Friends who worked in publishing houses got laid off. Writers who’d had decades-long careers couldn’t sell a book. People on that list serve started to get frustrated, and sometimes we’d talk about it.
Other people on the listserve became bestsellers. Others went to Hollywood to survive. Some went to the gaming industry. Still others gave up writing or editing altogether. We moved along.
In 2008/9, change hit the industry so hard that we all staggered. I started the freelancing blog as a chapter-by-chapter online posting of a book. Eighteen months later, I had finished that book, floundered for a while, and then decided to deal with the changes in publishing head-on.
A lot of folks from that listserve had helped with The Freelancer’s Guide. I figured they’d transition to the publishing blog, and perhaps they did. I don’t know.
But while I was writing, the publishing community fractured. The discussions about self-publishing and traditional publishing had become fraught with tension.
Hell, we can’t even figure out what to call this stuff. I like “indie publishing” because it encompasses everything from the do-it-yourselfer to the small publishing companies that have sprung up from this new wave of technology. Some folks are mad at me for “coopting” the word “indie.” I just use it the way musicians do, because my training is partly in music.
I also prefer “traditional publishing” to “legacy publishing.” I don’t even know what “legacy” means in this context, actually. (And I don’t want to. Let it go.) So I leave that word on the table. Really, I often have to revise the blog because I often type “New York publishing” when that’s not accurate either. A good third of you read this in countries other than the United States. I’ve had to move the blog to an international outlook because of you—and because of the way that publishing is changing. So “traditional” is what I prefer.
I don’t like any of my options–traditional, legacy, indie, self—because none of them are accurate.
But that’s one of those minor arguments people love because it allows them to vent their anger at something else in the blog without addressing that something else. I’m okay with that.
I do want you to note, however, that things have changed so fast, we’re waiting for our notoriously quick-changing English language to catch up.
As I kept writing this blog, the tension filling publishing became sides in an argument. The sides in an argument hardened into positions. The positions became entrenched. And I didn’t even notice. I was watching the overall changes on a vast industry-wide level. I realized that folks with day jobs inside traditional publishing had a literal vested interest in maintaining the old status quo, and that sometimes led to bad behavior.
But I did not foresee the fact that these entrenched positions had moved beyond both “entrenchment” and “position.” They had become religion or political points of view.
And suddenly, I was on a listserve with a bunch of people of varying religions and we were talking about religion.
They assumed that because I discussed indie publishing, I hated traditional publishing. Of course, most of them failed to remember that I’ve published more traditionally than many of them. On another listserve that I used to be on, I got excoriated for being a traditionally published author. Of course, most of the folks there failed to note that I had published more titles indie than they probably would in the next five years.
The blindness, the anger, the vituperativeness came from having a religious discussion with true believers.
True believers exist in every walk of life. I have a friend with whom I do not discuss computers. That person believes that Apple products are for stupid people and PC products are for smart people. It is a religion for him.
In person, I will not have a political discussion with anyone about certain hot-button topics, because if I do and we disagree and we become entrenched, I will revert to lovely helpful sentences like “What kind of idiot are you?” It will take maybe ten minutes, and my friend and I might come to blows. The fault will be mine.
I like my friends. I prefer not to fight with them over things that we cannot and will not change about each other.
Unfortunately, parts of publishing have become that way.
Some indie writers are like those reformed cigarette smokers who pull a burning cigarette from a stranger’s mouth and then excoriate them for their personal habit even though they’ve never met before.
As a person who reads American history for pleasure, I was appalled at writing bloggers who called traditionally published writers “house slaves.” Yeah, yeah, I saw the argument that these bloggers meant Roman history. Fine. Well. Good. But the language is insulting and offensive. No matter what culture you pluck it from, the word “slave,” when applied to someone who runs her own business and chooses who to partner with (a traditional publisher? An e-book distributor?) is unnecessarily harsh. It takes the argument from polite to screeching in less than sixty seconds.
On the listerve I left, I got lumped with writers who use “house slave” and other derogatory terms to describe other writers. I never have. I never would. I’m appalled at the folks who do.
But the traditionally published true believers are just as bad. Saying that anything self-published is crap is as insulting as calling another writer a house slave. The terms labeled at anyone who publishes his own work might seem more polite—“unprofessional,” “amateur”—but they are just as insulting and just as inaccurate.
Writers have moved from having constructive discussions to arguing out of their prejudices. And once people argue from a place of prejudice, they’re impossible to reason with.
So I reluctantly left that listserve. Not because I was insulted—I was then; I got over it within a day or so—but because I don’t discuss religion with my religious friends.
I dislike dogma in any form. I avoid it.
If you hand me a history of your religion, some of its texts, and introduce me to its leaders, I’ll read the documents and listen to the leaders. Then I’ll make my own decision.
If you can still respect me the morning after I’ve made my decision, even if it’s different from yours, we can have tons of religious discussions. They won’t occur to change my mind or to change yours. Just to keep each other informed about our beliefs and the way we view life.
I’ll respect you if you respect me.
Right now, these lines in the sand, drawn by writers on both sides, disrespect the other side. The sides have devolved into making mud balls and lobbing them at each other.
Those of us who stand on the line, who are trying to watch for more changes in the distance, and trying to follow the correct path for us and us alone are getting pelted from both directions. Those of us who are blogging about it are stupidly standing up, so we’ve become targets.
I kinda feel like the late Rodney King. I want to go to a microphone and say to the writing world, “Can’t we all get along?”
But I’m not that naïve. This battle has become a religious war, and those things go on for years, if not decades (and in some places in the world, centuries).
I’m not going to argue with you. If you want to tell me how stupid I am for any part of this post, and you fail to do it politely, I won’t put the comment through. If you want to convince me to join your side of the true believer debate, I won’t even if I’m leaning in your direction.
Arguing solves nothing.
Drawing lines in the sand solves nothing.
Writing blogs on your website about how stupid other writers are and how crappy their publishing plan is (whether traditional or indie) won’t gain you fans. Readers really don’t care what company published a book.
Readers care about a good story. If your story is filled with typos and bad formatting, a reader can’t read it.
If your story is priced too high or out of print, a reader can’t read it.
If you can’t sell a book into traditional publishing, but you refuse to go indie, a reader can’t read that book.
It’s that simple.
What’s going on in publishing right now, folks, is a change in delivery systems. That’s all. It’s not the War of the Roses. It’s not the Crusades. It’s not the American Civil War.
So if you want to play soldier in a religious or political war, go ahead. But you won’t get me to play along.
I have novels to write. I have students to teach (this evening, in fact). I have books to read.
I don’t have time to waste trying to convince someone with a closed mind to listen to someone else with a differing opinion and an equally barricaded brain.
Fight among yourselves, kids. I have a career to run.
Speaking of comments, I will monitor the comments this week, but I’m going to be too busy to answer each. If you have questions or expect me to expound, I won’t be able to do so until Sunday or Monday.
The comments, emails, and donations keep this blog alive. I appreciate the links and the opinions. I use the donations to gauge whether or not this blog is useful. If I were a different person, I would have shut down after my realization that talking about the changes in publishing is like talking about religion. But I think those of us standing near that line in the sand, those of us who aren’t pelting each other with mud balls, need to continue our discussion.
However, I do write fiction for a living, and if this blog does not pay for itself, I will go back to doing fiction only. So I add the donate button.
Thanks for all the support.
“The Business Rusch: “Lines in the Sand,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
I know the problem. There are things I do not talk about to certain people, and never will.
I was traditionally published once. I’m about to embark on my indie publishing career. No matter what, it’s ALL scary, exhilarating, confusing. Thank you, Kristine, for being an anchor writers can tether themselves to.
You’re welcome, Annette. So long as I’m not the anchor that holds writers back, I’m happy. 🙂
Never! Keep up the good – um – everything.
1st things first: I’m no writer, just a reader. So maybe I shouldn’t even reply here 😉 but I do so because I wanted to thank you for condensing so much sanity into a single blog post.
Having said that: I found one of my favourite SF books as en ebook publication. Am I happy about that? Yeah. It was a great read worth standing next to my Asimov’s. The book in question has due to it’s success found it’s way into paper publishing. Am I sad about that? No why. This way it ‘ll reach people who still/yet/whyever are not comfortable with a digital reader. Giving them a good time and more money to the author. Everyone wins here.
I discovered at least 3 long ago started and paper-published series by established authors due to freebie ebook recommendation. Wouldn’t have risked to buy them blindly because of the (IMHO far too narrow) subgenre branding. Some of these weren’t even translated to neither my maternal language nor the language of the country I currently live in. I have them in English now and would never have considered to import them in paper, because of the additional cost, just to try a new author. Again: A new fan and forthcoming buyer won by new paths. Instead of getting frantic about how to publish authors should better keep their main concern focused on WHAT and kick it out every way opening to them – because at the end of EVERY distribution channel there are potential readers-to-be. Pouring oil into flame wars about which is the Right! WAY to publish is as stupid as the Liliputanian war about how to crack ones breakfast egg properly. In both cases the answer is: All which get the content into the consumer.
Thanks for your patience, along with my sincere apologies should I have failed expected linguistic standards of this place: English is tertiary language for me.
KS, thank you so much for this post. Of course readers can comment here. Readers are the folks we write for. And it’s soooo good to hear your perspective, particularly from overseas, where many of our English language books haven’t reached until recently. It’s possible to reach as many readers as possible now, and I think it important for us writers to do so if we can. And I love that comparison to the Lilutians. Thank you. 🙂
And then there’s a discussion like the one over on The Kill Zone on Friday, with some severe fear-mongering going on in the comments for us poor writers who are too dumb to understand business and why self-publishing will doom us forever!
Kris, I think you’re right about the religion comparison. There is some serious zealotry that can creep into conversations like this. I don’t get it at all. Can indie publishing give me herpes or something? Do I need to go get myself some cream?
LOL, Rob. Be careful. Cream sometimes has side effects. 🙂
Naw, Rob. It’s more of rash. You get used to it, though. =)
Wow. Thank you all for the great comments. Wonderful discussion. Only about five of you missed the fact that I wasn’t going to continue the war on my blog. Your posts got deleted because, as I said in the post, even if I agree with you, I’m not going to let vitriol onto this blog. The others of you–about 80 as of this morning–are great. Thanks for continuing the discussion without me.
Since I’m so far behind, I won’t answer everything, but if there’s a question or something that I feel needs a bit more discussion, I’ll continue.
Thank you all, though, for your thoughtfulness.
Perhaps the distinction between what is being called Traditional Publishing and what has been coined as Indie Publishing, might better be expressed in the terms Corporate Publishing and Entrepreneurial Publishing, respectively. Small Press might fall into either Corporate or Entrepreneurial depending on their business model.
I have to admit, Entrepreneurial Publishing is a mouthful. Perhaps something like EntreP–along the lines of Independent’s Indie–would catch on.
Just a thought.
I saw an article that suggested we should call ourselves authorpreneurs.
Except that all authors are entrepreneurs (whether they want to admit it or not). Shrug. The terminology will shape out, and most of us won’t like the words chosen. It always works that way.
I prefer just the term ‘writer’ myself. How these distinctions work for someone like myself Idon’t know. I publish my short fiction myself, but I also send it to traditional markets. I have a novel up I published myself because it was not mainstream enough to be worth going to traditional markets, but I expect I will submit a novel to traditional markets. I make money using a web site where I give away content for free, but get money from adverts.
In short I write each project then sell it in the way I think will make the most money for that project.
I don’t understand why anyone would commit to only one way of selling their work.
Me either, Thomas. I have a business. I do what’s best for the business. What’s best for the business is finding readers, however I can. [shrug] Anything else makes little sense to me.
Thanks for the post.
I love “Let’s keep it civil” posts that provide a model, through the very language of the post, for how to disagree in a civil manner. Thank you for writing this.
I think both groups are talking past each other and are invested in “their side.” The tone has usually been one of haughty condescension from traditional towards indie, and of victimhood from indie towards traditional. However, as the market is changing, the POV from which folks have come at the debate is also changing, and I think the tone has darkened.
The traditional world is not used to seeing those once considered not worthy as actually having some success with readers, and this has some feeling threatened(either monetarily as the market changes or through ego as they are forced to question whether their worldview was wrong to begin with). At the same time, a lot of indie folks are reveling in flipping the bird to the traditional market, thus closing off a potential avenue down the line and pissing people off for no reason other than to assuage ego. What makes it even worse is that too many who choose to go indie assume that now the path to success is assured because they’ve escaped the “oppression” of traditional. It takes hard work in either route.
Traditional or indie is a very personal decision for each writer, and one that must be made with deliberation, not out of misplaced loyalty to one or the other. Some will see it as an artistic decision, while others will see it as a business one. To get so worked up over which way one person decides seems a bit silly to me.
“What’s going on in publishing right now, folks, is a change in delivery systems.”
I’m scientist, so in new unknown areas my instinct is to do experiments. That’s why I published my new story collection, ANOMALIES, reissued HEART OF THE COMET with David Brin, and will reissue novels like COSM soon — by myself. While also publishing BOWL OF HEAVEN this October with Larry Niven, through Tor. I can track all these sales and yields and see what parallel experiments teach me.
Phrase it similarly, Kris, and I think even those on the listserve (which you were smart to leave) might understand.
I love that analogy, Greg. That’s how I went to indie publishing too. This blog was an experiment in 2009, and it succeeded beyond all expectations. The first books we published indie were an experiment, and they succeeded as well. I was, in fact, stunned. (Still am, sometimes.) But experiments they were, and if they failed, then [shrug] they failed.
Thanks for this.
I had to comment on the “House Slaves” thing. I was so offended when people compared writers who willingly jumped through hoops to get and stay published, to 100 million+ people who died in the slave trade.
My ancestors were raped, hanged, beaten, burned alive, and killed…Traditional publishing can’t be that bad, can it? Just leave.
As someone who writes books set in Ancient Rome, I thought the analogy wasn’t that bad – IN CONTEXT. The problem is people skipped the context. In Rome, servus (slave) was a legal status with its own set of laws and protections. Some people actually did voluntarily become slaves, either to clear a debt or because it was a path to citizenship. (One of the very few paths open to non-Roman women, in fact.) Many more did not volunteer, but again, context. We’re talking about a small subset of slaves, not ALL of them.
Still, Mercy, most people don’t have the education to put that into context, so they hear the word “slave” and they think of the American South. It’s a bad word, a bad analogy. Writers always need to remember their audience, and most people know nothing about Ancient Rome.
Frankly, I don’t like the Roman analogy either. Better to not use that at all.
This is why I love your blog so much, Kris. Posts like these.
Not everybody feels the necessity to draw lines in the sand. Just last week, I picked up Cathrynne M. Valente in my cab at the Asheville Airport–she was in town for a writer’s workshop.
She’s a hugo-nominated writer, with eleven novels out and a hugo noinated novella this year, and I’m a hopeful indie writer just starting out on smashwords.
But she treated me with friendly camaradarie, and she even mentioned me positively in her twitter feed.
Of course, she’s talented enough to feel secure in her own situation without external validation, so she can afford to be gracious to others. That’s probably the key to the whole mess right there…
I share that perspective with her, to some extent. My writing may still be a little rough around the edges, but I genuinely think I have something to offer.
You have to have a bit of ego to be a writer, perhaps.
But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion…
Always late to the game, lol. Ah well.
Writers have moved from having constructive discussions to arguing out of their prejudices. And once people argue from a place of prejudice, they’re impossible to reason with.
I belonged to a writers board for several years; it felt like a family. I would go there to see people’s triumphs and their downtimes (being passed on by agents or publishers). I shared their elation and their blues. For those questioning about scam agents and/or publishers, I would actually go out of my way to see if I could dig for some info and save the money in their wallets.
It all started to change when the ebook evolution came along. All for the worse, unfortunately.
I soon, sadly, came to see that board as a war zone. Still plenty of helpful people, but it just wasn’t the same.
And, just as sadly, I decided to leave and have not gone back. ::sigh:: It didn’t have to happen, but it did, and it continues on other blogs and sites to this day. I want no part of it. As you have said numerous times, Kris, what a lot of these flame throwers are missing is that lovely word CHOICE. Writers, newbies and professionals alike, now have a choice as to what they want to do with their writing. They can go trad. They can go indie. They can go with regional presses. They can do all three if they want.
Is it any wonder that professionals like you, who have a lot of titles, love all this? When there was only one path, you had to take the good with the bad, and if you didn’t like it, too bad. Try to publish books on your own, and have that proverbial garage filled with dusty books.
For me, I will look at everything with open eyes and decide for myself which route I will take with any particular book. For now, it makes sense to go indie, because I don’t (yet) have enough product up. But we’ll see. Just like I don’t want to put all my eggs in the Kindle basket, I don’t want to feel I have to cleave onto being an indie just because I started that way.
Thanks, Kris, for letting me go on with this longish comment. This has been a tough week. And thank you again for this site and Dean’s site. 🙂
Your story gave me images of scabs, is that what they’re called, who refuse to strike along with their fellow union members. This is a swirling, hot topic everywhere in the literary world. In fact, I was directed toward your blog because of ANOTHER blog that mentioned your article (in a flattering way). I’m going to subscribe to your blog, as I’m interested in workshops. I wonder if you offer webinar workshops. I attended one last weekend, and it was phenomenal, so I’m craving more.
We’re working on webinars, Dawn. They probably won’t happen until 2013, but they will happen. Right now, we have a lot on our plates, and we need to clear some of it first–keeping in mind, of course, that the writing always comes first. Thanks for this.
This is fantastic news. Would love to see your workshops offered online. Very cool.
90% of them will still be in person, because the teaching method we use can’t be done on the web or in any taped format. It must be done in a live setting. But a few might work as webinars, and that’s what we’re investigating. We will do something, but it’ll be nothing like the in-person classes.
Well, then it looks like I’m still going to have to get my butt out west one of this days. 🙂
My experience has been that people arguing from prejudice (immovably, fiercely, blindly) are experiencing fear.
It’s a big scary world, and it’s changing.
Some people find fear more bearable if they have an enemy they can see and name(call).
I think you’re right to leave them to it. Your efforts to grapple with their fear will not change their minds. You’re addressing the change by trying stuff, being persistent, and sharing. They’re frozen with fear. They can’t imagine doing what you’re doing. Their loss. Move on.
“people arguing from prejudice (immovably, fiercely, blindly) are experiencing fear.””
And here’s what I don’t understand about (yes, I agree) the fear we see ricocheting all over the industry these days, including among writers: Was I the only one among us who has ALWAYS been scared and who is therefore completely accustomed to fear being a normal daily part of my profession?
I’ve been a full-time, self-supporting writer for 24 years, with no other professional and no other real form of income or maintenance. It has ALWAYS been scary. Unstable. Changing. Unreliable. Full of challenges.
That’s the professional writing life. (And, having grown up in a writer’s house, I knew this–and it was precisely why I tried really hard NOT to be a writer. So much for my sane intentions.)
Why are people suddenly scared NOW–or behaving as if NOW is the FIRST TIME they’ve ever been frightened or felt their livelihoods threatened as writers? I’ve been frightened and feeling my livelihood threatened as a writer since the day my first-ever editor left the company without telling me and my first-ever book was orphaned…. Oh, wait, no, I felt threatened before that, when I realized before even making my first-ever sale that the literary agent who’d offered to represent me was a crook (albeir a prominent and legitimate literary agent) and I refused to sign his egregious agency agreement; his associate threatened me with legal action and promises that I’d never work in this town, etc. (Blah blah blah.)
Where was -I- during the halcyon era which apparently existed when, uh, other writers did NOT feel scared and find their livelihood constantly threatened? Have people behaving badly now REALLY never been scared before or wondered how they were going to keep paying the mortgage? I’ve spent -24- years feeling scared and wondering how to pay the mortgage… so I guess I’m just used to that feeling–and therefore I know not to panic. This state of stressed-out anciety and doom is perfectly normal, nothing to get my knockers in a knot about.
But I’m nonetheless so envious of people who are just frightened NOW for the first time. Having felt threatened and on the verge of disaster for, oh, 24 years, I’m sometimes a little tired. It must be so reserful to have spent the past 2-3 decades totally oblivious to the daily fiscal risks of being a writer and only give thought to that subject NOW, for the first time.
Laura, I just have to say this here.
Rejection, Romance, and Royalties was, when I first read it, the scariest freaking book I’d ever read. ‘Cause I was just getting started in publishing short fiction (I was shopping a novel), and it really made me look hard at the myths I had accepted as truths. This was before I found Dean and Kris, and PG wasn’t blogging yet.
So thank you. It made me realize I’d been scared of all the wrong things.
No, Laura. You weren’t the only one who was scared. Writing has always felt like standing on a precipice on one foot, arms pinwheeling. Thanks for this.
Yes, it’s a scary world all right.
Some of us, perhaps, might take a little comfort from the folloeing anthem:
What’s going on in publishing right now, folks, is a change in delivery systems. That’s all. It’s not the War of the Roses. It’s not the Crusades. It’s not the American Civil War.
This. It’s not a religious war, it’s a change in how our books reach our readers. My choices needn’t be your choices, and your choices certainly don’t need to be mine. Let’s show each other a bit of respect and get on with our writing.
Publishing as religion? All I know is that I write books. Sometimes I publish them. So long as I can make a living at it, I’m happy.
Thanks for another great post! I look forward to next week’s. 🙂
Excellent post, one that definitely needed to be said.
My morning blog crawl has shifted quite a bit over the last few months as more and more of them have been drifting away from being informative, and instead are becoming little more than rants. Some have become outright commercials for their choice of publishing path. It makes me wonder if the promotion was part of their publishing contract. That’s a bold accusation and I shouldn’t make it so lightly, but the intensity in which some make their arguments can’t help but make me question it.
Religion is the perfect analogy and I can’t agree with you more. What I’m seeing is a shrinking amount of pleurisy. This lack of an ability to accept more than one point of view will only hurt those who adopt it. The fear of change is tantamount with a lot of these bloggers. Many of the views expressed seem to be leading to the natural reaction to form a group or pick a side. Some have already made a choice and are looking for followers while others are actively looking for a gang to join. It’s the whole safety in numbers thing. It reminds me of the military in a way. A group of new soldiers will cluster together when shot at for the first time, while the veterans will spread out. They know they are better off keeping their options open and not drawing the fire that a group will. The veteran soldiers die one at a time; the new soldiers will all die together.
A lot of people in history were unable to accept more than one point of view; Hitler, the Taliban, the Klan, Stalin, Bin Ladin. It doesn’t seem to work out very well for them.
I’m still in the beginning stages of my self-publishing career, but I’m keeping my eyes and ears wide open. Making sure that I never close off an option or burn any bridge on the way.
And I’m watching what the veterans do with an open mind.
You know, I think you got to me straight away with a line in an email “write for your fans.” Since then I’ve oriented my work that way. I actually don’t yet have any novels indie. I intend to, but the books I’ve written, including the on spec ones, when I asked myself the question “Where will this book find its fans” the answer was traditional publishing, so they went that way. I have other novels in the works that will do better indie, and they shall go that way.
Now, yes, there is a point at which I have to sit back and go “Do I want to sign this terrible contract just to get the book to the fans it deserves?” And the answer is “Depends. Can I live with the consequences?” For some books, in some ways, I judge the benefits to be more than the admittedly terrible consequences. And I reserve the ability to change with the next book. (Which means a clause owning me forever is a no-no.) For other books — say in genres in which I don’t already have a footprint or in genres in which the houses I’m willing to work with won’t get me much lift — I won’t even consider traditional.
BUT that’s basically what I’m doing. “How will this book best reach its audience.” And yep, so far I’ve got it from both sides, though my favorite are the idiots who can’t be bothered to look me up on google or amazon and refer to me as “indie published trash” or other charming terms. When you consider even the short stories I have out indie WERE published in magazines before, that’s delicious irony.
I’m not sure it’s really a religious war. I’d say it’s a political war. A lot of people – we almost had to, as hard as it was to break in — invested their PRESTIGE and their thought of themselves as “worthy” in being traditionally published. Just as many invest their view of themselves as “sharp business people” in being indie published. So when anyone attacks either side, they’re attacking their sense of self.
I might even have fallen into it, without that advice “Write for the fans.” Really, that’s what we should have been doing all along, isn’t it? It’s just that the need for distribution, and there being only one way to do it obscured THAT part.
If in each circumstance you try to reach the most fans, you’ll probably come out okay, even through the inevitable mistakes, which, yes, you will make. (At least if you’re human. If you’re a super-human you’re exempt.)
Of course I entered the field to tell stories and to make a living, more or less in equal parts. People who entered the field for fame and prestige (And yes, they exist. I know at least one unpublished author who refuses to consider indie even in a minor way because it’s not “prestigious”) will have different priorities. And that’s okay with me. I’m not their mother, their father, or even their older sister. I’ll continue to be friends with them and wish them well in attaining their goals. WHY should I care HOW they achieve them, or even what their goals are (provided they don’t harm me or mine?
I chuckled when you said it’s political not religious.
Too much politics strikes me as “religion”. [Sad Smile]
Thank you for that, Kris. As someone who is just trying to start his career, understanding all the market changes is made more difficult by all the vitriol. It’s good to read that there is still sanity in the profession.
It hurts being right, doesn’t it? So glad you’ve got clear vision and are concentrating on getting a good story to the reader. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
And I personally don’t feel “damaged” by any of your advice, in person or on the blog. Keep up the good work, Kris! We need people like you and Dean who aren’t afraid to call it like it is.
This is the absolute best article I’ve read about the publishing industry in ages. Thank you. 🙂
People get so angry about this stuff. I do sometimes but mainly when I see someone else is being attacked. I just had a huge argument on a forum about someone who called Dean a scammer for a recent blog post which made me furious and the funny thing was I didn’t particularly agree with part of what Dean said, but the attack made me SO angry. Not that Dean needs someone to defend him which also makes it ironical. I doubt he would have cared what was said by someone who knew nothing about him.
Anyway, my point is that this whole topic gets just overheated.
It would be nice if people could have differences of opinon about publishing or take different paths without getting angry. I am strictly indie. I intend to stay strictly indie. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect you while you have a foot in both camps. No so much the ones who are totally traditional because so few of them give me any respect and that’s a problem. I avoid trad published writers pretty much at all costs because it’s not worth the grief.
*sigh* Anyway, I have a novel to work on so good luck with your class!
A wonderful post — thank you. Even as some of your former communities have apparently become unwelcoming, new writers like me are just discovering your contributions to the publishing community, and are appreciative!
Thank you, Becca. I’m slowly realizing that. I appreciate it.
Needed to be said, and said well. Five stars.
Nicely said. I was a traditionally published mid-list author who got dumped by my publisher, ended up with a very small press with a different sales model (libraries only) for 10 years, and recently signed with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint just so I could get my books back in front of a reading audience.
Does my deal with Amazon make me self-published? No. Does it lessen my value as an author? Some would say yes. But I’ll probably make more money than I’ve ever made as an author because readers will finally be able to find my work.
Professional groups like the Authors Guild and MWA should be supporting these alternate forms of delivery, not condemning writers for using them to reach readers. The whole point, people, is to get people to read. More books, by more authors. Digital delivery has made that possible.
I enjoyed reading the post and the comments from the posters. I’m getting ready to launch my website and self published books soon. The idea of starting up from scratch, marketing your own brand, and all that sounds exciting to me. It is almost but not quite as exciting as having a reader entertained by a story you’ve written.
I think a contributor to the resentment is jealousy. Each side wishes they had all the perks of the other, though neither wants to admit to it.
Someone who is fishing from both sides of the boat.
GAWD I love it when someone uses logic effectively.
Arguing solves nothing.
Drawing lines in the sand solves nothing.
Kris, you and I think so much alike on this stuff. I’ve addressed this same issue of people’s seeming inability to understand nuances and live with ambiguity on my blog and in responses to people’s posts. It does no good. People would rather die being right than accept change, it seems. You did well to leave the listserve.
The core problem, I think, is that in changing times people feel their actual identity, their sense of self, of who they are and what their place in the world, is threatened. They cleave to the old, can’t adapt. It’s fear. And our society is geared up to reward dualistic thinking and ‘sticking to your guns’, when the smart thing to do is adapt to reality. Holding onto a rock in a tsunami ain’t gonna save you.
Don’t stand in the doorways! Don’t block up the halls!
That said, the problem of quality in self-published work is a very real one. Maybe the market will take care of it, but in the meantime it doesn’t help those of us who self-publish. In an ideal world there’d be some kind of minimum standard gate, a low-cost (to the author) one-star rating or something that you can slap on your title and which guarantees the reader that the work meets minimum standards of formatting, readability, and maybe even content; can of worms, ain’t gonna happen. But in the meantime, it’s impossible to even get reviewed if you’re self-published–literally impossible, at least until you get so big you hardly need reviews. This is IMO an ugly state of affairs.
It’s a big problem.
UGH, sorry about the italics, formatting error.