The Business Rusch: Attack of the Popcorn Kittens!!!!!!!!!!

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Business Rusch logo webI’m going to try to give you a peek inside my mind. It’s really a strange place, as you’ll see. But in order for this post to make sense, you need some insight into how messy my subconscious can be.

Over the decades, I’ve learned to listen to my subconscious, which is where all my best ideas come from. My subconscious communicates in imagery, metaphor, and music. In fact, I joke that there’s a jukebox in my head. What most people describe as earworms, I recognize as Ye Olde Subconscious sending me a message. I try to pay attention.

Almost two years ago exactly, I wrote a blog post called “Popcorn Kittens.” In it, I used a YouTube video to explain how, with the advent of indie publishing, I’m feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work I’ve left unfinished due to the vagaries of traditional publishing.

I’ve included the link to that post here, but in short, when I realized that the rules of traditional publishing no longer applied to me, and I could publish whatever I wanted, all of the projects I had put on hold rose inside my mind at the same time, all demanding attention.

I compared the atmosphere inside my head to this video of kittens, which I had received from writer Dayle Dermatis. Times have changed so much that I can now embed the video into this post, something I couldn’t do two years ago.

Here are the kittens and/or the inside of my brain: [youtube][/youtube]

Among my writing friends, the phrase “popcorn kittens” has become shorthand for feeling overwhelmed by good things—all of the possible projects, all of the time it will take to publish them, all of the things we want to do to let folks know the projects exist, and all of the things we need to learn to survive in this world.

Over the past two years, I thought I had found ways to corral the popcorn kittens, to put them in that caged area you see in the video, taking only one kitten out at a time. Occasionally, they’d all wave their little paws at me, but usually, I found ways to deal with them.

I did this mostly by making a pact with myself: I wouldn’t do some projects until I could do them better than my traditional publisher did. In some cases, that wasn’t a stretch. I could reach the same—or a greater—number of readers than my traditional publisher did just by publishing an e-book. Time has borne this out, and I have now sold, of several of my series, more copies than my traditional publisher(s) ever did.

In a few cases, I wanted to go all out with my series. I wanted the kind of attention that traditional publishers only reserved for the bestsellers. And I knew that it would take a coordinated effort of several people besides me to achieve that. This meant waiting until I understood the new world of publishing better, what opportunities existed, and how best to use those opportunities for my work.

I’m only now getting to that point.

Those rules—for the novels, at least—have helped keep the kittens under control.

I also learned that some subsidiary rights had to wait. I went with Audible for audio rights after a lot of research because Audible is 60% of the market. The projects Audible didn’t want directly went through ACX, but…even though I have the chops to produce my own audio books because I was a radio journalist for nearly a decade and I wrote and produced scripts for several national companies, I knew that audio took hours and hours of work. Not just the recording, but the mixing, the listening, the production itself.

If I gave those hours and hours to audio, I would write less. And so, for the first year of ACX, I ignored it.

Dean and I finally decided to start another publishing company—WMG Publishing. We’re owners of the company, but we don’t work there. And WMG publishes writers other than us. The company now has a staff of five, and is growing daily.

When WMG got an audio department run by the talented Jane Kennedy, I trusted her to do work I could easily do myself. She’s doing a great job, but she spends hours leaning over a computer, editing or listening or fine-tuning, hours I just can’t afford.

Audio was a single kitten, and it’s under control.

On the fourth of July, I blogged about another small family of kittens—rights in translation—and because of that post, I was able to set those kittens aside. I’ve decided that with the languages I’m familiar with, countries in which I know a group of translators and publishing professionals, I will eventually indie publish my work. I will sell my translation rights to any other publisher in countries that do not fit that criteria.

What does this mean? Someday WMG will have a rights in translation department, but not at the moment. In all but a handful of countries, traditional publishers can contact me directly about publishing works in a language other than English.

I was so proud of myself. I had set kitten after kitten aside, thinking I was finally getting them under control. I had a list of projects coming next, and I knew how to get a handle on them.

Then a few things happened simultaneously.

First, a surprising and almost forgotten side effect of success: when  your name is out there and people are actually reading your work, they want you to do things—write articles, write stories, write novels. I try to accommodate all but the novel part (you’ll see why below), but I’m behind. I have quite a few short stories that I want to write for my favorite editors and for myself. I’ve written more short stories this year than any other year since 2005, and I’m still feeling behind. And no, I’m not complaining. None of this would be possible without the indie publishing. Well, some of it would be—the short fiction in particular—but the rest of it? Not so much. I’m grateful.

Second, requests for personal appearances have gone way up. I’m still turning those down. My health limited my travel in the past year, and is still doing so, although things are improving.  The requests, though, have surprised me and made me feel honored.

Third, in the spring, I finished my last traditional publishing deadline for novels. I have no more traditional publishing novels through major companies in the pipeline. It’s just not worthwhile for me to accept a five-figure advance any more. I can maintain my copyrights, do a better job than traditional publishers on each book, and make more money than I would with a traditional book publisher. In fact, I can make that five-figure advance on the book in the time it would take for the contract to pay out the so-called “advance” (which now generally takes about two years). There’s no reason for me to go into traditional novel publishing right now.

Please understand me: I’m referring to English language books only and books only. I’m still writing traditionally published short stories, and as I said above, I’ll work with traditional publishing houses in countries not my own. Not to mention other sub-rights publishers like Audible. So this is traditional book publishers.

What I didn’t expect from this is the amount of freedom I feel. I feel like a burden has lifted. I also feel like a woman who had a day job who is now a full-time freelancer: I’m responsible for my own schedule. I don’t have to build it around someone else’s timeline. And I’m having the same response early freelancers do: I’m stunned at how hard it is to organize my time without those benchmarks. (If you don’t understand what I mean, look at this Freelancer’s Survival Guide post.)

Fourth, last week, we hosted the Advanced Master Class. I say “hosted” because Dean and I didn’t teach all of it. We had ten instructors and 32 professional writers from all over the world attended. Dean and I designed this course as continuing education on the publishing business for professional writers only.

We hoped the class would be spectacular, and it was. We learned from the attendees; they learned from all of us. At any given moment, you could look around the room and see the instructors who were not speaking taking copious notes.

We had 10,000 words of bullet points to hit during the week; one attendee told me that she had typed 600,000 words of notes into her laptop.

That’s how informative it all was. From the presentation by Mark LeFebvre of Kobo discussing all the opportunities for indie writers that this Canadian company is coming up with, seemingly daily, to nationally renown bookseller Sheldon McArthur’s talk on how to work with independent bookstores, I learned tons and tons. And that doesn’t count the presentations Scott William Carter did on promotion or Jane Kennedy’s discussion of the still-untapped opportunities in audio. Nor does it count all of the things the attendees added from their experiences.

We did a lot of learning.

So…on Sunday, after the class ended, and I was so exhausted I could hardly stand, I walked into my writing office to drop off some documents when I got attacked.

Remember how crazy my brain is. It seemed to me that my office was filled to the brim with popcorn kittens, and they were singing—in unison (thanks to the jukebox in my head)—the first four lines from the Queen song, “I Want It All.”


If I had time, I would actually get permissions to use the song in a YouTube video filled with kittens singing. But I trust you all.  You’re writers. You can combine the Queen video with the popcorn kittens video in your own head.

Welcome to my world.

All of those previously quiet kittens have popped back up. You see, we now know how to do all of this stuff I kept telling my subconscious that we didn’t know how to do.

And honestly, I’m overwhelmed.

In a good way.

This is one of those problems I would have traded up for 15 years ago, only this wouldn’t have been possible for any class of writer 15  years ago.

If I had become a JK Rowling level bestseller 15 years ago when traditional publishing was my only option, my traditional publishers would have fought me tooth and nail to write the same thing in the same way over and over again.

Even now, after I wrote last week’s blog about the pushback Rowling got for her courageous foray into pen names, idiots are still writing about the only way for writers to sell books is to have a platform. (Read: Writers must have a name before developing a name. How’s that for a Catch-22?)

I am so happy to be here, able to write what I want when I want to write it.

When I mentioned how buried I felt on my Facebook page this week, the always marvelous Pat Cadigan wrote this little gem:

Kris, you’re looking at it wrong. I see it like this: I was put on this Earth to accomplish a certain number of things. I am now so far behind that I can never die.

I love that attitude. (Just don’t tell the kittens…)

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“Attack of the Popcorn Kittens!!!!!!!!” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


26 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Attack of the Popcorn Kittens!!!!!!!!!!

  1. As one of those writers at that workshop, I completely understand the brain explosion problem. I went there thinking I was in pretty good shape with the new world. After all, I’m a techie and the transition to ebook formatting was fairly easily. I’d checked into audio and had a decent idea about what to do. I’d been in executive management for over 20 years and figured I had the business side down. I’d finished creating a publishing cooperative, an ecommerce site, and had a writing schedule set through 2015.

    Uh, no. Not prepared. Still had a mind explosion. The brain trust was, as always, amazing. The nuances of the new world are numerous and still working themselves out. My well-ordered to do list expanded ten fold. I spent the entire first week back dreaming, or should I say having nightmares, of popcorn kittens procreating like rabbits. I spent an entire week not moving on anything.

    Fortunately, the second week I did what has always gotten me through times of mind explosions. I took the first thing on my to do list (writing the next book) and concentrated only on that. Then I took the next thing.

    I wish I could say the kittens are tamed. They are not. But I’ve shut the virtual sliding door which has a gauzy screen over it. I know they are there, but I have to look really hard to see them. As long as they don’t yank down the blind I’ll be fine for awhile. 🙂

  2. When you mentioned the audio books, I went on high alert. There’s so much info out there about writing, but very little on making the leap to audiobooks, especially from a trusted source. I’d love if you’d do a post on what we need to know about this subject.

  3. Thank you! Those kittens made me smile! (And I love the Maple Leaf Rag.)

    You’re spot on, as usual. I have my own batch of kittens mewing at me.

    Good problem to have.

  4. Ah yes, the popcorn kittens. I know them well, since they regularly attack me, too. I’m swamped not just with new story ideas, but also with stories I abandoned ages ago, often bcause there was no real market for them under the old publishing paradism, and which are now begging me to finish them.

    What is more, I should really translate more of my stories into German. I translated two stories into German as an experiment last year. And since the experiment was successful and the stories sold well, I translated more of them. However, I am far behind with translating my backlist, because the translations cut into my writing time.

    Then there’s getting my longer works into print, finding new venues to sell my works, the occasional bit of promotion and so on.

    Still, it’s a great problem to have.

  5. In the words of a very wise man – “Life is like a box of popcorn kittens.”

    An indie writer had better get used to juggling well-oiled baby seals if they want to get anywhere in this crazy business.

    The best way to get used to ANYTHING is to figure out how to have fun with it while you are doing it.

    There’s darned few things in this life that are funner than popcorn kittens.

    Great post, ma’m.

  6. Congrats, Kris. That’s a great position to be in, even when it overwhelms. I don’t have nearly as many projects in the queue, but I love having ideas waiting to be written/published. I haven’t dipped my toe into audio yet, but that’s coming soon…

  7. Sometimes the solution is present in the problem.

    It took me until now to realize that so many of my unwritten series are unwritten because they are suited to novella length stories. When I came up with them, there wasn’t a big market for an ongoing novella series. So I pushed and prodded to fit my imagination into making novels out of them.

    The result was that I had SO MANY series backed up in my head that I felt like I was in gridlock. I wanted to write them all, but that meant years trying to move all those series ahead one novel at a time….

    And I only just realized, I don’t have to turn those books into novels. I can let that one series be traditional novel length, and all the rest can be novella series! (Just like Nero Wolfe! Or a TV show!)

    For the first time I can actually manage all those kittens and have it all. (And I don’t even have to spay or neuter them.)

  8. Popcorn Kittens! Ahhhh! I’m about ready to stick them in a “Cat in the Hat” hat and pull them out one at a time. Prioritizing seems almost impossible when they all seem equally important and when they can all lead to additional income streams.

  9. My friends and I refer to too many choices and opportunities as “quality problems.”

    When we complain about having too many quality problems, we say, “Oh no! I spilled champagne on my cake!”

    What a difference a few years makes, huh? 🙂

  10. I’m a combination: inside my brain, it’s popcorn kittens, but once they get out, I’m like Ilsa’s cat-herders (The latter is my favorite TV commercial of all time.)

    My earworms, sadly, are entirely externally driven. Yours are a jukebox; mine are Muzak (I didn’t ASK for this! I don’t WANT it!)

    Somewhere, I have a refrigerator magnet with the same quote Pat Cadigan used. The popcorn kittens probably swatted it under the fridge.

  11. Kristine, great post. It’s really nice to hear about your journey, what you’ve done, what you’re going to do. I agree that having some outside-imposed deadlines can be a good thing, because it forces us to get organized. I’m going to be retiring from my day job late this year, and I’m a tad bit worried about having all that free time. I know it will be very easy to say, “I’ll do that tomorrow.” I’m hoping I can keep a leash on myself and still get things done, leaving time, of course, to dance with the popcorn kitties!

  12. OMG yes. There is so much I could be doing, and I want to do it all! (Well, I’d love to be able to punt some of it off to minions, but I can’t afford minions, sadly.) But I have a day job, so that limits my time, too. So I’ve had to start prioritizing:

    1. Write stuff (and finish it)
    2. Produce covers myself (doesn’t take me too long at this point, and saves a ton of money)
    3. Make my own ebooks (see #2 parentheses)
    4. Make my own print books (takes me awhile, but much cheaper than paying someone)
    5. Audio (ummm)

    I’m working on audio. Problem with audio is that it takes sooo much time, and items 2-4 are already encroaching on item 1, which is the most important of the bunch. And I’ve done some video production before, so I know I’m one of those people who get caught up in minutia no one else notices, so audio will take me even longer than it probably should. So for now, audio just keeps hanging out giving me sad kitten eyes.

    But audio is SUCH a pretty kitten. And I can’t afford to pay someone a flat rate, and I’d hate to give up royalties on something I’m perfectly capable of doing myself…

    And this doesn’t even touch all the freaking STORIES that are jumping up and down in my head, much less the website, newsletter, updating Goodreads… My poor husband keeps telling me I need to do less or I’ll give myself a coronary, but there are so many kittens! SO MANY KITTENS!

    (And on top of that, we just adopted a lab puppy. OMG, the zoomies!)

  13. Kris,
    This post really speaks to me right now. All these years my popcorn kittens has been locked up by the day job. I’m going to retire in 101 days and the kittens will be on the loose. There are so many books and stories in my head it’s difficult to know where to start. I’ll have to structure my days, I know. I will definitely be consulting the Freelancers Survival Guide.
    Janet Dawson

  14. Thanks, Kristine for allowing me to not think I’m having a nervous breakdown anymore. I’ll just chalk it up to having “Popcorn Kittens” in my head. Who are so cute, btw.

    One day, one kitten at a time.

  15. Kris,

    Your enthusiasm comes thru loud and clear in this post, and it’s a great thing, not only for you, but I think for those of us out here who haven’t been writing for all that long. Because, as I see it, you give us hope that we’ll be able to do the get up when we want, set our own timelines, and do what we want thing.

    I never thought I would get to that point. Ever. I was caught up in the Corporate America thing, and that’s all I thought about for a long time. Funny how your perspective changes when you’re dumped from a job and are on unemployment for awhile (and going thru other major life rolls at the same time, yeow!).

    The headaches are worth it when you’re doing what you love. And getting paid for it! 🙂

  16. All of the above tenfold once indie authors start REALLY accessing the global market, whether selling their ebooks in English in great quantities in Thailand and Argentina and India, or selling them in translation in French, German, Spanish, etc.
    this will be a new paradigm. Currently, when you sell to, say, France, you will pay 25% of your earnings off the bat to your agent (15%) and your agency’s subagent (10%). Your book can and will be cut (check your foreign rights contract–99% of them say they can cut up to 20% of the novel) or subdivided. You will rarely get royalty statements and royalty payments.
    Contrast that with having yourself translated by one of the excellent translation agencies specialized in indie authors such as Language + Literary Translations –
    or the Libelli Agency
    Help with foreign promotion will soon be available as well.
    It’s all coming and it is indeed a brave new world.

  17. Oh, Kris, didn’t you know what happens when you leave kittens in the barn until you can deal with them later?

    You get lots more kittens.

    Lots and lots and lots more kittens.

  18. I’m laughing, because I just blogged about my own case of popcorn kittens last week. With links to your blog, of course. 😀

    Since I’m at the very beginning of my career, my kittens don’t have the wealth of opportunity that yours do (series to continue, foreign translations, etc.), but it’s enough to make me want to clone myself!

    Mostly I’m focusing on the bounty rather than on the overwhelm.

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