Business Musings: Buggy Whips, Pollsters, Collisions, and Us

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  1. In Which I Explain Why I Nearly Throw in The Towel. Or Part of the Towel. Or One of the Towels. Or Something Resembling A Towel.

I’ve been very frustrated in the last several weeks because some of my preconceptions got blown out of the water. I’ve been dealing directly with some traditionally published writers for various projects, and some of the things I’ve encountered have been head-shaking. I’ll be blogging about a few of those things in the future, with the names changed to protect the—innocent? Ignorant?—I’m not sure which label to use.

Suffice to say some of the things I’ve run into are simply and completely unbelievable to me, in 2016.

At the same time, I’m being approached by a number of traditionally published writers who believe they will never get another book deal, and their careers are ruined forever. Ruined! They’re lowering themselves to consider self-publishing, and are wondering if I can tell them how to do it, step by step. They get peeved when I show them entire books on the subject, not just mine and Dean’s, but several other books.

And then there are the writers who are giving up their writing careers entirely, because they can’t sell another book traditionally, and they have been told by the agent who helped them self-publish their books that the books aren’t selling because of piracy.

There are teeth marks in my lips, deep ones. I try to be diplomatic. Honest I do. But I got so frustrated with one writer recently that I had to walk away from my computer. The writer’s career was hurt by theft, but the theft wasn’t the pirating site she had found: it was her agent.

But I’m not going to say that in e-mail, although I did point her to several blogs I wrote about agents and agent agreements and how easy it is for a middleman to embezzle and/or not send royalties she doesn’t know she’s entitled to, particularly when she signed documents letting the agent get all the paperwork.

She can’t even double-check her employee, to make sure that he’s handling the money properly. That’s Money Management 101. And she was flunking.

I walked away from that e-mail exchange and started a blog post with the title, “You Can Lead A Writer To Knowledge…” The rest of that saying is this:

You can lead a writer to knowledge but you can’t make her think.

I came up with it in the late 1990s when Dean and I began our classes for professional writers whose careers had stalled. So many writers came to the classes, took notes, eagerly asked questions, found solutions—and did none of it. Or, in the case of a few, did exactly what we had said would get them in the most trouble.

One writer actually said that they believed there was no way Dean or I could have been telling the truth about the terrible contracts, the bad royalty statements, and which companies/agents to avoid. So that writer decided to test all of that out themselves. And then ran to us when that writer’s career imploded a second time, all because they had done the opposite of what we said.

I washed my hands before Dean did. That particular writer was never going to learn. Unfortunately that writer wasn’t alone. There are a lot of writers like that.

And because I’m crammed right now, and the level of stupidity I’ve been dealing with on the traditional side has been so egregious in the past few weeks, that I decided to chuck it all.

Not the blog, not at all.

But writing the part of the blog designed to help the writers who remain stuck in traditional publishing.

I’m washing my hands of all of them, I said to myself. I’ve been doing this since 2009. They have had the information at their fingertips ever since—not just from me, but Author Earnings and other writers who talk about their freedom, their renewed income, their freedom, their renewed love of writing, their freedom – oh, and did I mention? Their freedom.

If writers want to earn a long-term living in fiction these days, the best way—and I’m beginning to think the only way—is to go indie.

So, I started to write that blog post with the “You Can Lead…” title, and stalled. So I tried it again another week, and stalled again. And I tried it this past week, because I was so damn mad at the sheer unwillingness of these writers to see what was going on—

And then, my weird brain kicked in, and I realized why these writers hadn’t gotten the memo.

I’m going to try to explain it to you, but you’ll have to bear with me. The only way I can do it is to show you how my rather bizarre thought processes work.

  1. A Peek Into Kris’s Brain

I’m highly distracted right now. In addition to my usual writing, I’m putting the finishing touches on an anthology which is due next week, promoting some projects (Storybundle! Thursday is/was the last day!), dealing with some business stuff I’d rather ignore, and preparing for a workshop that starts on Saturday and for which I have to read 250+ manuscripts by professional writers.

All this while I’m trying to keep up with the changes in the publishing industry, which occur damn near daily. I’m reading histories of other entertainment industries who’ve gone through some of this stuff ahead of us, and I’m actually wearing out pens because I’m underlining so much. (I read nonfiction in paper form; a lot of fiction in digital form.)

I’m also a political junkie, so I spend much of my “free” reading time on various websites about statistics and politics. I spend a scattered moment here and there texting my political junkie friends (because we don’t dare talk on the phone; we would get nothing else done).

Important Side Note: I will not discuss politics on this blog or elsewhere. If you make a political comment, it will be deleted. If you make more than one so only I can see it, you will be blocked from commenting here. I do not care what you think about U.S. politics. Got that?

When I’m distracted, everything collides in my head. I end up with a bunch of realizations, all of which come from the collision of ideas.

This week, the all of the realizations that came to me were about how difficult it is to dismantle a worldview even if it’s in someone’s best interest to do so. Even when the evidence is so overwhelming that it should be (note I said “should be”) impossible to ignore.

I read a mountain of political blogs every day. I consume political news on damn near every form of media. I listen to the bloggers and the radio commenters; I watch too many members of the chattering class on TV; I read newspapers and statistical websites, comment boards and magazine articles; and I talk to some of the people involved in the campaigns and the press because—hello!—I know them from my days as a journalist.

And lately, everyone—it seems—is talking about the fact that a couple of candidates are doing better than expected despite their lack of a “ground game.” A “ground game,” in American politics, means a local organization, one that will contact local voters to get them to the polls.

America is a huge country, with lots of regions that are as different from each other as the countries in Europe are from each other. The culture of one region of the U.S. isn’t just unusual in another; it’s often unknown.

So, in addition to a national campaign, a national candidate needs to appeal to the subset voters, the regional ones, the ones who are different from the ones he’s familiar with in his own subset.

Having a ground game sounds like a simple and sensible way to do that. But most of the things that politicians and their handlers define as “ground game” is definitely old-school—flyers in doors, buttons for supporters, signs for lawns. A lot of the poor ground-game workers are supposed to go door-to-door to get support for the candidate, to talk to the undecided voters, and make sure they decide for that particular candidate.

I am so struck by that this whole ground game concept still survives in 2016.  Politicians don’t need much of a ground game. Ground games are so 1950s. In some ways, you could argue that ground games are very 1850s (although that’s a terrible decade to point to, given what came next).

For many of us, the in-person political conversations have migrated online. As I mentioned above, I’m communicating with my political junkie friends—in Wisconsin and New York and Washington State. I have a political junkie friend in the town where I live. We’re on opposite sides of the spectrum and we don’t try to convince each other. We just inform or enlighten our sides.

But for the most part…online. I also see the casual stuff—who is supporting what, and why, and I can click through and find out even more on my own.

The chattering class often worries that “young people” don’t get their information the old-fashioned way, and mention “digital natives” which shows how stuck the chattering class is in early 2000s. Study after study have shown that the digital divide isn’t age-based as much as it is income based.

Poorer neighborhoods don’t have easy access to the devices that are internet portals. Old-fashioned ground games help in those neighborhoods, although a lot of people who live in those neighborhoods know how to get internet access—they just have to travel to it.

But the regional and neighborhood differences stand, and so do other differences. The campaigns that work datamine information. They also use the internet to go direct to the voters in ways never done before.

The ground game is no longer the be-all and end-all of campaigning like it was as recently as fifteen years ago. The chattering and political classes are confused, in a way that’s very familiar to me, the fiction writer.

Which was partly how this caught my attention.

That whole ground game/familiarity thought process was going on as I was reading a months-old New Yorker article by Jill LePore on the art of polling.

Public opinion polls came to prominence in the 1930s. They reached their technical zenith in the middle of the 20th century and have been on the decline ever since. The methodology used in most polls dates from the days when 90% of the people contacted actually responded to the poll. These days, according to LePore, “a typical response rate is now in the single digits.”

Yet there are more polls than ever, and with incredibly suspect methodology. It’s hard to contact people these days, ironically enough. Randomly calling land lines no longer works, there is no phone book for cell phones, and online polls are self-selecting (which really negates methodology).

This is why one set of polling in the 2012 presidential election showed on the eve of the election that Obama would lose—1930s technology doesn’t fit in a 21st century world.

And yet, everywhere you see polling after polling after polling “showing” the state of this race or that public opinion question. Not because polling is the best way to get the answers—but because it’s what people both know and are used to.

Polling is part of the infrastructure of modern life. But here’s what caught me in LePore’s article: I had never given the start of polling any thought at all. I work inside history all the time, and I’m trained as a journalist, and I just accepted the existence of polls, flaws and all.

Yet, when it started, polling was met with such great suspicion that Congress kept trying to investigate the pollsters. Much of what the article mentions—the suspicion, the fear, the nastiness—was because of the new technology, not the methodology.

It took years for polling to become an accepted part of American political life. Now, it’s ubiquitous—and mostly useless—part of the old-fashioned way that most people involved with politics still talk about politics.

Sound familiar?

While I was reading that, I’ve also been reading the Scribner hardcover edition of Greg Kot’s 2009 book Ripped: How The Wired Generation Revolutionized Music. I’m not that far into it—for obvious reasons, I think–but the book is one giant underline right now. The similarities in attitude of the music industry’s public response to the digital music revolution and the publishing industry’s public response to the ebook revolution are almost identical.

The little piece of Ripped, though, that collided with pollsters and ground games and the chattering class is this quote made shortly after Napster’s demise from guitarist and music producer Steve Albini:

Who’s going to control digital distribution? That’s like asking who’s going to control the sunlight. The Internet exists like air, and I and everybody else have very little control over its direction. The record industry is making a fundamental mistake by thinking they can lasso this thing and make it work for them. [P. 41]

The mistake the record companies made over a decade ago is the same mistake traditional publishing has been making the last few years. But that’s actually a digression because I’m talking about writers here, and what’s going on with them, particularly the traditionally published ones.

  1. Lost in an Ancient Infrastructure

Most people don’t seem to have the ability to step back, see change, and extrapolate what that change means. They are able to see the change. They might even know it’s massive. But they can’t figure out how that change will impact them even as it is impacting them.

I’m lucky that I’m a science fiction writer. I learned how to look forward for my job. Or maybe I write sf because I extrapolate forward. Or, perhaps, it’s because of the peculiar way my brain collisions work.

Who knows?

What I do know is this: The world we’re born into feels like the one and only world. It’s not. There are, depending on how you count it, 196 independent countries in the world, all different from each other. And inside those countries are smaller communities. Regions are different from each other, and customs are all different.

But humans are pretty much the same under the skin, and we, as children, learn to navigate that world we were born in. We understand that the world will change, but we don’t really understand it until decades later, looking back at what was.

We also don’t know, in depth, what happened before we got some kind of awareness of a particular thing. Writers who came of age after ebooks surged already have a different perspective on the publishing world than those of us raised in a monolithic publishing environment, where the path to publishing was so set that Dean and I could teach it in role-playing game form and be relatively certain our game mimicked the world exactly.

Many of us moved past that world quickly, for a variety of reasons. Some of us saw the writing on the wall and tried to figure out how to use the change to our advantage. Other people went to epublishing because their traditional careers were over. Still others finally felt free enough to publish their first book.

But we were the minority. We hurried to the new technology and struggled to understand it. Most of the writers in the world ignored it completely, letting their traditional publishers and agents tell them how the system “actually” worked.

That perspective was filtered through the ancient infrastructure by people who wanted to lasso sunlight. I keep thinking of it this way: It’s as if these people are hitting their Model A automobiles with a buggy whip in order to make the cars go faster.

And here’s how all those pieces came together for me:

When it came to political polling, I was, until last week, just like those traditionally published writers who can’t imagine a world without traditional publishers. I figured polls—with all their flaws—had been around forever. I hadn’t realized that they were a new innovation within my parents’ lifetimes.

But…I didn’t have that problem with the whole concept of ground game. Every time I hear some politician or analyst or journalist wonder why candidates are doing well without a ground game, I feel the same frustration I feel with writers who can’t see that the best path for a career in 2016 is indie publishing.

I do shout at the TV (I’m a very vocal political junkie), Move into the 21st century, idiots! Why am I shouting? Because the evidence is all around these people—and here’s the most frustrating part—these people (many of whom I know or have followed for years) are smart. They have brains. Those brains are simply too busy elsewhere to realize that the infrastructure we all grew up in has shattered and become something else.

It’s hard to see, I know. Because parts of traditional publishing are still useful. I work within traditional publishing. I understand what I’m trying to do there, and what benefit it will have to my career.

If I’m driving a horse-drawn carriage, I might use a buggy whip. I know they’re still being manufactured, so someone is using them. The difference is that most people do not use them.

Does that mean I believe paper books will go away? Heavens, no. I think they’re a good technology, unlike, say, CDs. Paper books will be around for a very very long time—which is why some of this stuff I’m reading about the music industry does not apply.

But traditional publishers? Their portion of the industry will depend entirely on how quickly they can dump that lasso-the-sunlight model they have in their heads and can actually work within the world as it exists now.

To work within it, they have to understand it. And they don’t.

4. Stop Worrying about The Towel

Which brings me full circle to the writers who are stuck in that traditional mindset. I have to write some of them off because they truly don’t want to think about the changes. Their heads are deep in the sand, and will never emerge.

But, I realized, I need to continue blogging for all writers, not just the indie ones. Because every now and then, some writer’s head will pop out of that sand, and they’ll need some place to start their journey into the freedom that is indie publishing.

And as frustrated as I get with them, I’d like them to start here.

Until I thought about those two other industries, I had forgotten how hard it is to see past the infrastructure when you have lived inside it for decades—and have known nothing else.

What I’m seeing, particularly in the political side of things right now, is an industry (and I do mean industry) that doesn’t understand the change it finds itself in. I’m hearing a lot of the smart people in that industry start to question not just the small things, but the infrastructure itself—why isn’t the ground game working? Why are the polls off?

Those questions are the beginning of knowledge.

Sometimes, I think everyone should move at the same rate on the same issues as I do. But writers are like everyone else. They start questioning at their own pace, and when they do, they’ll search for answers.

They’ll find some of those answers here.

I’ll be focusing this blog a lot more on indie topics (except for the Deal-Breakers updates), but I won’t abandon the traditionally published after all.

No matter how frustrated I get.

One of the innovations that has made it easier for writers like me to make a living is the donate button that follows all of my nonfiction posts. Since I started doing this, newer and better ways to support writers have come along. But I haven’t had time to set them up.

So, I’m sticking with the old new innovation instead of the latest and greatest innovation, and I’ll repeat what I usually say:

If you have gotten anything out of the blog in the last few weeks, please consider donating. Thanks so much!


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“Business Musings: Buggy Whips, Pollsters, Collisions, and Us,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/edharcanstock.

36 thoughts on “Business Musings: Buggy Whips, Pollsters, Collisions, and Us

  1. Thanks very much for the mention of Ripped, which I bought and read on your recommendation. Those aren’t my music genres so I was only faintly aware of what was going on in the industry. What a tremendous parallel to the book industry today.

  2. The internet brought great changes to various industries, and some firms and individuals are not adapting.

    The changes in the publishing and music industry gets discussed, but I don’t see as much discussion about the changes in the financial industry.

    In the financial industry, some companies have adapted, scubas the discount broker Charles Schwab. They have been in existence since the early 1970s. Their brokers did not give suggestions to customers like full service brokers such as Merrill Lynch. Schwab’s brokers mainly took orders from customers over the telephone.

    But then the internet emerged. Charles Schwab adapted. They embraced the internet and became an online stock broker. The commission online brokers charge are lower than commission from trades over the telephone. Charles Schwab enjoyed superb growth in the late 1990s. Today, Charles Schwab is a S&P500 company, that is, one of the top 500 US companies in terms of market capitalization.

    Charles Schwab could have acted pig-headedly and stayed with taking orders by telephone. But that would have meant eventual extinction.

    Firms, individuals, and other organizations (some political campaigns come to mind) are doing things in an old fashioned way, which are causing them to decline.


  3. I’m still in the process of reading this excellent post, but I wanted to chime in on possible “why’s” regarding the writers who take notes and then don’t follow through any of the steps you advise. The “You can lead a writer to knowledge but you can’t make her think.” problem.

    I’ve been struggling with self-sabotage for a long time, knowing productive actions I can take toward my nominal goals and then doing everything but, no matter how much I try to buckle down and force myself to do the work. What has helped me start moving (agonizingly slowly) forward is Ramit Sethi’s concept of “invisible scripts”, those unexamined convictions that form our subconscious view of the world and ourselves.

    Recently, while journaling, I realized that part of my identity, how I view myself, has been “someone who is not allowed to outshine anyone else” – based on a variety of childhood experiences where excelling at something led to unpleasant results. The day after confronting that realization, I finally started working on the draft that I’ve been thinking about for two months and frustrating myself by not starting. Baby steps, but still progress.

    Based on my personal hangups, I wonder if part of what the writers who frustrate you so much are experiencing is that their childhood subconscious models of the world are in conflict with the new model you are offering, not just their established professional model of how the world works. So even if they can intellectually see the sense in the new model, their subconscious refuses it based on how it sees the individual and their place in the world. If their formative years set them up to see themselves as needing an authority’s approval for achievement, or as needing someone else to take care of their money, for instance, then the professional model isn’t going to budge until the deeper level is shaken up…

  4. Great post Kris. Very much enjoying your insights. I like to think of Indie publishing as the writer’s equivalent of what punk rock did to the mainstream music business in the late 70s. The most important thing being (as you say) the freedom to do it – not that everyone should do it, but if you can and if you believe in yourself, the door is open.

  5. Kristine,
    I just came across your post in The Passive Voice — thank you!! As newbies to the publishing world (traditional and self), some aspects just don’t feel right — I really appreciate your insights. We also have an appreciation of your interest in the political ‘industry’ – and its’ consequences.

    I can FEEL your frustration – our experience has been the same during our careers in the political/national security space in Washington, DC. Why won’t people listen – when deterioration (not progress) of our Republic is as bright as day? … and history repeats…

    We left five years ago – but couldn’t give up the fight, so we began writing the Resurrection Trilogy (historical fantasy with a sci-fi twist), to address the very serious political-economic-social issues we’re facing in an entertaining format to reach our target audience —Millennials. Today – only in fantasy may one speak the truth. Some are starting to pay attention – but the message needs to get out there – and it’s really not as complicated as the talking heads expound.

    Like many traditional and emerging industries, publishing will continue to evolve due to the advancement in technology – and I truly believe that, in time, change will level the playing field and benefit authors…and they need to stand firm.

    I will check out your writings and look forward to your future posts.
    Thank you!!

  6. “One writer actually said that they believed there was no way Dean or I could have been telling the truth about the terrible contracts, the bad royalty statements, and which companies/agents to avoid.”

    I just love this. What possible motivation could the two of you have had to make this stuff up?

    Great post, Kris. Or should we just start calling you Cassandra and be done with it?

  7. I remember, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, doing a science unit on the body — specifically the tongue and taste. Remember the “tongue map”? Where salty, sweet, bitter, and sour tastes were supposedly registered on specific sections of the tongue. We did some actual experimenting in the class regarding that, using different foods, and I personally found the idea to be hogwash. I could easily discern something bitter on the very tip of my tongue, despite the map showing clearly it was the back of my tongue which registered that taste. Still, we learned the erroneous map, tested on it, and most people accepted it as fact. A study in 1974 proved it to be incorrect (a year or so prior to my elementary teacher inflicting it upon us in class, so I can forgive her for it ;-)).

    Yet, there are still people TODAY who believe certain tastes are only registered in certain areas of our tongues.

    Just like there are people who believe the only way to become a successful writer is to submit themselves to the abuse that is traditional publishing.

  8. I’d been considering self-publishing for a while, and your last blog post before this one mixed with the Feb. Author Earnings report had convinced me to give it a shot, though I was still worrying over it.

    And then I watched the movie Moneyball this weekend on a whim, and got really excited. If you’ve never seen it (or read the book) it’s about a similar shift in how major league baseball rosters are assembled: the old scout-driven method versus sabermetrics, a stats-driven rating system. I immediately saw the correlation to publishing, and a lot of the crusty old scouts and managers sounded exactly like the authors and editors who warn against self-publishing on twitter or wherever.

    So, keep blogging. You’re getting through to more people than you think.

  9. I would so love to be in your political junkie round robin. Not because I’m a political junkie, but because I’m an economics junkie (Thomas Sowell is a rock star in my world) but the two spectrums have a lot of overlap.

  10. The fundamental problem you are facing, ma’am, is Paradigm lag:

    As you pointed out, people internalize the rules of the environment they grew up with and identify that as “normal”. Deviations from that as treated as (hopefully temporary) disruptions and resisted fiercely. It is very hard to get people to adapt to one paradigm to another and well-nigh impossible to get them to adapt to two. And that is what tradpub authors are facing: two back-to-back paradigm shifts/disruptions in less than a decade.

    The first shift was the rise of online sales (in both print and digital) with the millions-deep in-print catalogs which not only undercut B&M retail (thereby devaluing the added value of traditional publishers who’s business had devolved into providing access to those B&M channels) but also extended the market life of the back list. (Remember all the angst last decade over Amazon used book sales undercutting the fresh produce model? That was the long tail model inching its way into publishing.) This shift dramatically increased the lifetime value of a book’s copyright, especially in the digital domain.

    The second shift was ebooks (and the price fix conspiracy) enabling the mainstreaming of Indie books. Now, not only is copyright control more valuable, it is more effectively monetized by bypassing the traditional channels and going direct to market.

    The challenge the old school writers face is they have yet to internalize the first shift–the enormous relative value of a century’s worth of copyright control versus the value of the “services” the traditional publishing establishment typically provide to the majority of authors. Without understanding that value proposition they are incapable of appreciating the full power inherent in the Indie career path. They must first learn to properly value themselves and their property before they can decide to to best exploit it instead of being exploited by the system.

    The leap they face is not unlike a 19th century Encylopedist firmly locked in a Newtonian/Maxwellian mindset faced with M-theory. Without a grasp of even basic quantum theory concepts like virtual particles and quantum foam will only raise their ire.

    You face a massive challenge.
    Throwing in the towel can be easily understood.
    To your eternal credit that you choose to persist in the face of the challenge.
    Good luck and thanks for you efforts.

  11. There are many roads up the mountain, and trains leave on the hour. 🙂 For what it’s worth, what you do here is great and has a lasting effect, and it’s evergreen material. When people are ready to listen, it will still be relevant. And as they say in some therapeutic circles, you can’t save ’em all. One of my best friends’ mothers used to say something like, “If you can’t help ’em on earth, hug ’em in heaven.” meaning some people, for reasons of their own, just can’t get past something, and all you can do is hope they find greener pastures elsewhere.

    I commented on Linda’s post above, but there are a lot of parallels in the Y2K changeover/lean manufacturing industry I recognize from my time there, and they may be more relevant than political punditry, because it’s a business that is somewhat less dependent on vapor than politics. You can actually see the difference in a process change. But as I detailed above, there are a lot of people invested in “the old way” because it fulfilled a promise that could be made to them with confidence, and kept to a degree, barring random acts of tragedy. The shift to Y2K and LM was NOT a random act of tragedy, it was something everyone knew was coming, but had no idea how it would play out. And some people were waiting for Old-Testament style miracles to save them (some companies got ’em, too–or thought they got a miracle when what they got was a LOT of people busting arse and working ridiculous hours to ham together a Hail Mary that actually worked). Others threw up their hands and said, “Screw it, I’m done. I’m cashing out my stock options and blowing this pop stand.” Still others weren’t able or willing to leave, but they were also not going gently into that good night and they became our involuntary stress-testing (you can teach an old dog new tricks, now let’s see if you can teach a rabid one the same trick).

    The parallels in publishing I see are the folks who embrace the technology are learning how to do new things with it. The changes both force them and allow them to innovate (and yes, some of the innovations fail). Some are hoping for miracles and it’s their publicists, assistants, helpers, and coworkers who are putting in the insane efforts to pull a Hail Mary from somewhere (or the editorial staff, sales reps, and PR interns trying to keep their jobs). Others are in the game but doing their best to tear up the field (writing hyperbolic editorials and crowing about misinterpreted numbers, etc.).

    The one place I disagree with you on, in your article, however, is the idea of the irrelevant ground game. I’m a bit of a junkie myself, and what I think is failing is the industry’s ability to interpret ground game, rather than ground game itself. I live in a swing state, and I have pollsters waiting outside the door when I come out of the bathroom :-/ Around here, ground game matters.

    In the end, it’s all about butts in seats (or fingers in voting booths, as the case may be). That kind of ground game is where the rubber meets the road–all the facebook support memes don’t mean squat if the millennial doesn’t show up at the polling place, or the boomer isn’t up on the newest voter registration requirements for their state. Or the WWII vet can’t get a ride to their polling place. THAT is where ground game wins. It’s just that the old interpretation models are no longer reliable (you can’t count on demographic groups to be monolithic anymore because none of us consume the same media, even if we share a worldview lens).

    In publishing, that really basic level of ground game is equivalent to our understanding of the building blocks–how to write a good story, how to put it into the formats readers will consume, how to upload to retailers, how to understand royalties, and of course, the almighty Discoverability. A lot of this stuff is the equivalent to butts in seats–eyeballs on words. That doesn’t change, only the predictability of getting to it does.

    And wow, sorry I wrote a book in your comments section. 🙂 Hope I gave you something else to think about.

    1. I agree on that part of the ground game, Athena. As I said, it’s less important than it was, but still necessary in some areas. In Oregon, we vote by mail. No driving to the polls at all. So the ground game is very different here than in places with polls and lines.

      No need to apologize about your book. Interesting stuff here. And if you folks haven’t seen her other post down (up?) stream, go to it. Good stuff.

  12. When you wrote about your interactions with writers who were making comments that they would like to change their situation, it reminded me of my mother declaring that she would be going on a diet at the start of the year. Having recently worked off 30 pounds myself, I thought that I could point out what worked for me. I starting talking about counting calories, and her eyes glazed over. “I don’t want to do that.” I began suggested filling, but low calorie meals, printed my two favorite recipes, which she promptly folded in half and stuck into a book. I have evidence that those recipes never left their place in the book. Before she left my home on that declaration day, I attempted to find out what changes she would be making. It seemed that the declaration itself was the extend of this effort. The world should accommodate her from that point on.

    Therefore, I can easily state that your blog title, “You Can Lead A Writer To Knowledge…”, is fantastic. Human nature is its own worst enemy.

  13. Kris, as long as you know where your towel is, you’ll be alright. A lot of these authors just haven’t found their towels yet. Keep waving yours and they’ll eventually figure out what they’re missing.

  14. Kris,

    I think many trad writers are like war vets, when people question the worthiness of the battles they fought.

    Getting into trad publishing was HARD. I have nothing but respect for people who battled their way into the trad publishing, and even more for those who made a living doing it. It defeated me. (My nonfiction doesn’t count: on the strength of three magazine articles, four different tech publishers sent gangs of thugs with nets and tranquilizer guns to hunt me down.)

    Maybe talking to you is how they’re trying to move on from anger and denial into bargaining.

    The point is: I can’t blame you for wanting to throw that towel in. At all.

    But as a trad author who went indie in large part due to you and Dean, I appreciate all your work. I’m making a living now because of your advice. (I’d still be published without your advice, don’t get me wrong. But the “making a living” part is new. 😉

  15. It’s hard enough to adapt to changes in the way things work. It’s even harder to admit that somethings is on life support and will soon stop working entirely. Trad publishing is there, complete with tubes and denials. Very insightful piece.

  16. LOL. Actually, on second thought, CRY! 🙁

    There’s nothing, IMHO, more frustrating than trying to help someone who simply won’t listen or make any attempt to do what you advise doing — even as an experimental control to test the validity of your advice. They want you to wave a magic wand and make everything OK. No concept of acknowledging the reality of a bad situation and accepting the responsibility to right it themselves.

    Basically, Kris, you have to accept that you’ve done what you could for someone, and if that someone doesn’t do what you recommend, it’s not your fault, and walk away. Tough to do, I realize, but that’s the only path to keeping your own sanity and emotional equilibrium.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts on this. Hope it’s cathartic for you and instructive to the rest of us.

  17. This: But, I realized, I need to continue blogging for all writers, not just the indie ones. Because every now and then, some writer’s head will pop out of that sand, and they’ll need some place to start their journey into the freedom that is indie publishing.

    That’s your very valuable public service, Kris, and no matter how thankless it must feel sometimes (or maybe often), you are making and have made a HUGE difference in the lives of writers who want to learn. Mine included.

    I attended one of those workshops you and Dean did back in the day where we played “The
    Game” and mapped out our traditional publishing careers. There were a lot of hard truths in that, and thank God for them. You’ve been setting the tone for decades in your teaching: Writing is a wonderful way to spend your days and your life. Writing is a business. No one will ever care as much about your writing career as you will. Etc.

    Thanks for keeping on. Because even though a lot of us mostly lurk and read, we, like the Whos, are here, we are here, we are here!

  18. Kris,

    Yes, it takes a lot of effort to shift paradigms. I recall the shock I felt upon realizing that tectonic plates were only discovered in the 1960s.

    This is one reason I use Twitter the way I do: to get a feed of a huge variety of voices and expand my bubble. This shakes up my world view.

    Aside: If you’ve never watched it, I highly recommend Adam Curtis’s 3 part BBC documentary “The Century of the Self.” It’s all about how Edward Bernays changed marketing, including political marketing, using his uncle Sigmund Freud’s theories. There’s more to the three parts, of course, but that’s the gist.

    Thanks as always for doing all of this research and sharing your thoughts and findings.


    1. Can’t resist this – geophysicist and a teacher, so forgive me – but continental drift the ‘forerunner hypothesis’ to plate tectonics was first posited in the 16th century and debated hotly (due to mechanisms proposed by Alfred Wegener and Arthur Holmes) in the early part of the 20th century but was pooh-poohed by physicists because they didn’t believe it was possible. The ‘proof’ came in the late 50’s and 60’s due to…wait for it…a leap in technology. Just a perspective. Don’t shoot me. 🙂 Unfortunately, there are still bright people who don’t want to accept it even today.

    2. thorncoyle said: I recall the shock I felt upon realizing that tectonic plates were only discovered in the 1960s.

      Plate Tectonics is so 20th Century. All the cool kids are in to Growing Earth Theory(GET). Look at James Maxlow.

      He’s taken the Earth back to half the size of the Moon, at 1/12th gravity. Thus all the big dinosaurs that are impossible today in our current 1G gravity make sense.

      It’s like in the 80’s, they realized that dinosaurs were birds, with feathers. 30 years later so many still find the concept controversial. Over the next 10 to 20 years you’ll start seeing GET discussed on NOVA.

      Until then, visualize T-Rex with red plumage, like a parrot, hopping along at high speed, like a kangaroo, jumping down on their prey with their slashing back claws.

      Death from above! GET it? HA!

  19. Interestingly, we’re discussing related topics in a webcomics creator forum I belong to. The consensus is “make money by pageviews” that worked ten years ago is dead. Affiliate income, which was big even five years ago, is also dead. The business environment changes fast…

    (and no, no one clearly knows how to make money in webcomics. It’s all experimentation these days)

  20. A number of a years ago, I worked for a place that upgraded their legacy software system. The system had been built during the Cold War, and they needed to replace it because no one was using the computer language any more. This was a major undertaking that affected a lot of people. The biggest thing that concerned management was how people who were directly impacted by the replacement because change is often very difficult. So much so there are a lot of business books on it (hmm. Might have to start reading some of those).

    Some of the people bad mouthed the new software, thought it would never happen. When they started training some employees, I heard a story about an employee who broke down crying and said she could never learn this. This kind of thing went on non-stop, and even other people from outside predicted–rather gleefully–that we were going to fail. When the software went live, people couldn’t deal with it and bailed out rather than deal with the change of learning a new job.

    It’s interesting you used the political backdrop as a parallel for what’s happening in indie. I’m in Washington, DC, so ground zero for politics. And I see fear of this change going on with the media and the politicians. The minute a bad poll comes in for this candidate or that candidate comes in, the media jumps over it saying, “It’s really bad news for XYZ,” and with great glee like those outsides predicting the software update would fail. The change terrifies them, so they’re itching to prove people wrong so that things can return to normal and ditch the fear. Except the change is continuing to evolve. I read a post recently about indie that flabbergasted me. The writer of it proclaimed that only 40 people were making a million dollars on Amazon, rather gleefully. Other writers were passing it around on Facebook–even indies–like the press does to the latest bad news, sounding the drumbeat of doom.

    I pointed out to a friend who posted that piece that the piece was bunk. Even the publishing industry doesn’t know what their real numbers are, and that Amazon is only one piece of all of this. They didn’t say anything, so I don’t think they believed me. It’s a weird dynamic because people are getting into indie, but it’s not for the right reasons. So not only do they not agree with the changes, but the fear them. It’s probably more like, “I can’t get an agent, so I’ll go indie.”

    It’s really important to have the right reasons for going indie, and also to be flexible. With writing you have more control than you think because you can surf the change in your own way and at your speed. With the employees at my company, they did have options for this change. Once things starting becoming available, they could have sought out the information and familiarized themselves with the software so it was less frightening. Instead, a lot of them waited right until the change crashed right into them, and then they were solely in reaction mode and not prepared for it.

    Ride the waves. Pick a cool looking surf board and enjoy where it takes us.

    1. Linda, it’s funny that you bring that up – I was thinking along the same lines. I, too, worked in the industry where Y2K compliance became not only a change, but an entire industry in itself. We combined Y2K with moving to lean manufacturing models. The company I worked for was one that trained the employees in very large companies how to use the new software to do business (which also necessitated an entire paradigm shift on how they did manufacturing). In every class, we had three types of people: Learners, Tourists (those who were there to just kill time off the floor and for free bagels), and Hostages. The Hostages didn’t want to be there, didn’t like you on sight, and would be the most disruptive people in the training room. Many were doubly irritated that they were there only because their stock options hadn’t matured far enough for them to retire.

      When you’re handling that kind of betrayal of a long-term promise on top of confrontational proof that the fundament of the world has changed, it creates a hostility born out of a deeper pain than most people acknowledge. It may be less of a “people being stupid” thing and more of a case of people (writers) unable to engage critical thinking skills because they’re in so much pain from such a deep betrayal (I worked hard, I did all the right things, and I had promises–some of them outright–that I would have [success] or at the very least, [enough]. But now the very same people who made me iron-clad promises have pulled the rug out from underneath me.” At the end of that thought-train goes into the problem they experience when someone like Kris comes along and tries to help. “And I’ll never trust anyone else again.”

      1. I love that description of the people in the group. 18 months ago, at one of the businesses I own, we got rid of the hostages and the tourists. It was very disruptive, but I hadn’t put that together with all of this until your post.

        And yes, the betrayal. It’s ugly. It’s worse when you tell these writers that the people they trusted–agents, publishers–did not have their best interests at heart, and in some cases, actually scammed you.

        Thanks for this.

    2. “only 40 people were making a million dollars on Amazon”

      I hate this, because it implies that making anything less than a million dollars is failure. By that measure, most jobs are failures.

  21. Your blog and Dean’s are the most business wise publishing blogs I have ever seen. I stumbled upon them one day and it was such an eye-opener, that I back tracked and read every single post you both published. What came out was a business plan.

    Ok, now some background 🙂 I’m from Poland. The publishing market here has five basic differences compared the US market:
    1. Publishers are very fragmentated: you could not form a “big six” even if you wanted to.
    2. There are three major chain bookstores that hold all the cards are dictate the terms. Publishers depend on them and have no clout in negotiations whatsoever.
    3. These three chain bookstores work with five big distributors ONLY. So basically, publishers are in a stranglehold.
    4. The digital sector of publishing is about 2% of the market (compared to over 20% in the US, or even more, depending what you use for calculations). Not much of Kindle penetration yet, but it’s growing rapidly. Print-on-demand is still too expensive for one unit.
    5. Market size – approx. 60 million. Very little, compared to worldwide English speaking market.

    Writers? They are so screwed. Only a handful of them are making a living on writing at all. Average print run for a beginner is 3000 (!) units. The publishers make a profit thanks to the large variety of titles.

    Conclusions? The situation in not ripe yet, but the revolution will strike in five years or so. So what does a little me see by reading your blog? An insight of the future. An opportunity.

    I write for fun. Every beginner would love to see his book on the shelf. Me too. But most are willing to sign a deal with the devil just for that validation. Not me.

    Thanks to the perspective you gave me, I realized that there’s not much a traditional publisher can do for me anymore. Even “making it” to the stores doesn’t mean money for the writer, unless it really make it BIG.

    Your blog and Dean’s are the most business wise publishing blogs I have ever seen. I stumbled upon them one day and it was such an eye-opener, that I back tracked and read every single post you both published. What came out was a business plan.

    Ok, now some background 🙂 I’m from Poland. The publishing market here has five basic differences compared the US market:
    1. Publishers are very fragmentated: you could not form a “big six” even if you wanted to.
    2. There are three major chain bookstores that hold all the cards are dictate the terms. Publishers depend on them and have no clout in negotiations whatsoever.
    3. These three chain bookstores work with five big distributors ONLY. So basically, publishers are in a stranglehold.
    4. The digital sector of publishing is about 2% of the market (compared to over 20% in the US, or even more, depending what you use for calculations). Not much of Kindle penetration yet, but it’s growing rapidly. Print-on-demand is still too expensive for one unit.
    5. Market size – approx. 60 million. Very little, compared to worldwide English speaking market.

    Writers? They are so screwed. Only a handful of them are making a living on writing at all. Average print run for a beginner is 3000 (!) units. The publishers make a profit thanks to the large variety of titles.

    Conclusions? The situation in not ripe yet, but the revolution will strike in five years or so. So what does a little me see by reading your blog? An insight of the future. An opportunity.

    I write for fun. Every beginner would love to see his book on the shelf. Me too. But most are willing to sign a deal with the devil just for that validation. Not me.

    Thanks to the perspective you gave me, I realized that there’s not much a traditional publisher can do for me anymore. Even “making it” to the stores doesn’t mean money for the writer, unless it really make it BIG.

    So the only reason that I would sign a traditional publishing deal today would be market exposure, considered an investment for the future, without much expectation for the money. And ONLY if the contract has a fixed license expiry date, no non-competes, a closed and limited list of rights licensed etc., according to your tips and deal breakers posts. If that’s a deal breaker for them – fine, because now I have an alternative.

    I’m a noob looking from a professional’s perspective, but a noob with a plan. And the plan is to create a variety of inventory for my “Magic bakery”, so I will be ready when the revolution hits.

    And when it hits, and it turns out it worked for me, then I will invest into translating my work into English. The world is too big to stick only in one corner. Wish me luck! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the update, Leszek! Does Poland also have rules regarding book pricing like some of the other EU countries? I know a writer can get into trouble in some places if the price isn’t the same at every retailer.

      1. Not yet, but they’re working on it. The law is being consulted right now, and there’s a lot of controversy around it.

        Basically, the current draft states, that in the first year after the book’s release, it’s price cannot be discounted. Intentionally, it’s supposed to help small bookstores, because a lot of the times these big chain stores would do a 10 or 20% discount on a new book to draw the customers in.

        Personally I’m against it and I hope they don’t pass the law. It’s not going to resurrect the small bookstores, but it WILL hurt the internet bookstores big time, and they’re the last real stand of independence against the chains.

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