Business Musings: Personal Paradigm Shift, Again

Business Musings Current News free nonfiction On Writing


As I wrote earlier this year, the changes in the publishing industry continue to smack me in the head. I learned the old publishing industry very well—the one that existed from the mid-1970s to the late 1990s. I survived the early 2000s, and then indie publishing came along.

I started this blog—in a different form and under a different blog title—in April of 2009. All of the posts I’ve written about business remain on this site. You can see the evolution of my thinking over time. You can also see the evolution of the industry.

For example, I post my blog on Thursday. I used to joke that on Saturday morning, I had to duck, because all the newbie expert writers from the Kindle Boards would be outraged! Outraged, I tell you! at something I wrote. I could predict it. If I disparaged Amazon or Kindle or The Accepted Way of Doing Things (2010-2011 version) on Thursday, on Saturday morning I’d get dozens of comments I could put on the blog, and another thirty to forty that were deliberate trolling.

These people were Righteous and Angry and Certain Their Way Was Right.

Most of these people have now gone on to other things.

Writing is tough. Those early days were a gold rush for a lot of writers, but as gold rushes do, the money settled out, paying a handful of early adapters very well, and a bunch of others not so much. The people who sell services around the gold rush—from editors to marketers to designers—make more money than many writers do now just like the owners of the general store and mining supply companies used to back in the days of the real Gold Rush(es).

I decided early on that what I needed to do was have a real business plan. I also realized I needed to continue to learn. I had a feeling this new world would be different from the old, but I didn’t know how different. I planned as best I could, and rode the wave on other things, making some mistakes as I went. Because I had a strong base under my business, the mistakes were never catastrophic (although several were annoying), and I learned from each and every mistake—sometimes pissing and moaning the whole way. (Okay, mostly pissing and moaning.)

What I find I have the most trouble with, though, are some embedded assumptions that come from learning a similar business inside-out-upside-down-and-backwards. When I rely on my old publishing assumptions, I often make the wrong choice—for me.

And I think that’s the hardest thing I face: There is no one shining path to success any longer. There used to be. You had to get an agent to sell your books traditionally—or you had to be really persistent to do it yourself. There were a lot fewer IP attorneys in the 1980s; that’s a profession that has just started to come into its own in the past 20 years. So hiring a lawyer was often a waste of money. It’s essential now.

Once you sold to a traditional publishing company, that company helped your name grow. I had sold 8 novels before my first hit print. All of those sales were multi-book deals, which I had fulfilled before my first novel hit print. Granted, they were with two separate publishers, in two different genres. Two of the books were collaborations with another new writer (Kevin J. Anderson), and the remaining six were in three-book contracts, all under my name.

Obviously, there were no non-compete clauses in any of those contracts, and I wouldn’t have signed those contracts had there been. (I wouldn’t sign one now, either.) Both publishers knew about the other, and they planned to work with each other to build my career. No one told me to slow down, no one told me to write less, no one confined me to a genre.

It wasn’t heaven by a long ways. There were problems. But it was a lot better than it would become by the year 2000.

When I started out, you could—and did—sell novels over drinks with an editor whom you had just met (or were friends with). Once the novel deal with struck—details to be determined later—you let your agent know, and he/she/it (yes, “it.” I stand by the “it.” Some of those agents deserve an “it.”) would negotiate those pesky details, bumping the advance to accommodate the agent’s cut (and more), and sometimes moving a book from a mid-list title to a frontlist title.

More often than not, though, the agent rubber-stamped the deal you agreed to over dinner.

You knew your editor, you knew your agent, you shared meals and drinks with them, you watched them work their magic at various conventions, and you knew what you were getting into (kinda sorta). Yes, there were writers who never left home, but they were the exception, not the rule. And they didn’t sell as much.

It had become essential, in an odd sort of way, to go to conferences and conventions to make connections. If you didn’t have much of a travel budget, it wasn’t really a problem because every state had conventions—often every town—and you would get an opportunity to meet editors there.

In fact, the first national editors I met were at a romance convention held in Madison, Wisconsin, in the early 1980s. I have no idea how big the convention was, but almost all of the writers were local Wisconsin writers. The editors came from out of state. I sat quietly and learned.

Then Kevin dragged me to a science fiction convention around the same time period. There were two major differences—there were more men at the sf convention and everyone there seemed to be wearing long Tom Baker Doctor Who scarves (homemade, of course) instead of pink business suits. Otherwise, very much the same. Local authors, national editors, lots of business getting conducted over dinners and drinks and just standing in the hallway.

I’m not a naturally gregarious person. I am about as introverted as they come. I pretend to be extroverted and that mostly works for me, but I still have that zzzzzzt reaction (rather like touching a live wire) when I meet another person as introverted as I am. Often we can’t talk at all, because we recognize that we’re kindred spirits and we want to run to our respective corners.

I learned to survive and even thrive in that old environment. I love conventions, not because of the business, but because of the fans.

Once I became an established author, the only way to interact with the fans was to go to a convention. I met my readers there, and they told me what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what they wanted. Book signings were also nice for that, but less concentrated. Usually at a two-hour signing I met a handful of people who had actually read the book, and a whole bunch who wanted to sample the book. even when I had lines out the door, they were equal parts established readers and new-meet-the-author readers.

The internet crept in slowly for writing. I was an early adapter. I got my first website in 1996 or so (and put a notice of it in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction which I was editing at the time, getting the web address so hilariously wrong that a dozen readers wrote in to correct me). There was interaction back then, and growing e-mail from readers, but it wasn’t hugely significant. Most people weren’t on the internet yet, and if they were, they were interacting on boards rather than websites.

This is one area where the music industry diverged from the publishing industry. (Otherwise, they’re in a time-warp parallel—what the music industry went through 10-15 years ago is what publishing is experiencing now.) Musicians had MySpace (remember that?) and it helped start many, many bands and singers. YouTube became more influential over time, but in the beginning, MySpace was the go-to place.

Writers didn’t have that—except in isolated pockets. Dean spent a lot of time on the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds AOL board. I popped in and out of the boards for the readers of Asimov’s and Analog. But mostly, these were isolated communities. The community aspect of readership grew with Goodreads, but those readers (at the time) didn’t want to interact with writers; they wanted to interact with other readers.

Slowly this all changed. I get mail daily from readers now. I interact with a lot of them on Twitter, and on Facebook. I have a lot of interaction here on the blog.

In fact, the problems I’ve been having with the website come from growth. For the last few months, you’ve probably noticed that the site has gotten slower and slower. It’s because my webhost has a lovely feature: it throttles sites that get too big too fast, as mine is doing. I am in the process of moving to a dedicated server, which costs both money and time. My other choice is to move to another web host, but that too would cost both money and time. I investigated, of course, but it looks like (at the moment) staying the course is best.

What this means for you all is pretty simple: You’ll have to put up with a slow response from my site through early April as I migrate everything to a dedicated server. Then things should move smoothly again. (Sorry!)

The difference between my site and other author sites is the growth—and the fact that I’m doing it in public.

The growth is a good thing. And it’s been astonishing. The site hasn’t grown exponentially because of one blog or one major book. It’s grown over time into a go-to site for free fiction (on Mondays) and free nonfiction (on Thursdays).

I’ve been surprised by it only when it comes to my attention, such as these past few months. Just like my Twitter followers. They continue to grow. And so does Facebook—all without me pushing. But the response I get is good, and here’s the thing:

More people interact with me and my work on a daily basis than they did when I go to a convention. I was a Guest of Honor at MileHiCon last October and I had a blast. I love conventions. But MileHiCon had 1,000 attendees per day (spread over three days),  and not all of those people came to see me. I doubt that most of those people came to see me.

I interact with more people than that on social media every day, and they did sign up to see me or spend digital time with me. I’ve known that for years now, but it hasn’t really sunk in—and it needs to.

You see, I had one of those life realizations this month. An unpleasant realization, at least for me. As many of you who follow this blog know, I have a lot of chronic health problems. They remain under control when I’m at home because I can control my environment—most of the time, anyway.

canstockphoto12506218I have many allergies, and I have an allergy attack about three times per year, usually in restaurants or movie theaters. I’m so used to the signs now, I vacate before things get bad. However, at the anthology workshop this year, I had a severe allergy attack precisely because I wasn’t expecting it. I was deep into the reaction before I even noticed. I suffered the repercussions of that for more than a week.

That attack was the final shot across the bow. I’d been getting sicker and sicker when I traveled, but I figured I could manage. However, if I had had that particular allergy attack on a plane flight, I would have had to go to the hospital (and that was the best case scenario, even if I had used oxygen and an EpiPen). I finally, deeply, realized what Dean and various doctors have been dancing around for years: in 90% of the cases, I shouldn’t travel at all. Travel will now be an Event for me, something I plan like a military campaign. Usually it will not involve plane travel, because it’s just too dangerous.

To say I’ve been upset about this is an understatement. Part of the upset, though, comes from the Old Ways of Doing Things. I felt like there was no point—what would happen to my career?

If this were 1990, I’d be in serious deep doo-doo. I’d have had to work very, very hard to maintain some semblance of a career.

But this is 2016. I’m better off staying home. I can interact online with more people. I will have time to implement some things I’ve been wanting to do, like podcasting and other things. And I can continue the daily party that I love on social media.

Am I saying that writers shouldn’t travel for their careers? Heavens, no. Kevin J. Anderson and I have had parallel careers since we met in college. His has always been somewhat different than mine. We’ve watched each other from afar, trying to figure out if the other person’s way is better.

In 2016, Kevin will appear at 22 different shows, mostly comic conventions, promoting his work and the work of writers he publishes in WordFire Press, which he co-owns with his wife, Rebecca Moesta. I learned in 1992 that traveling almost every weekend is deadly for me: Dean and I did 26 shows that year, and it took years to recover from that, but I was younger then and my allergies weren’t as bad. (Nor were the chronic health problems.)

Kev is doing amazing things in his in-person promotions. He’s selling a lot of books, and managing to work on his own projects while on the road. He’s always been able to do that. He also does as much (or more) social media than I do.

Yet we’re equally successful in our various businesses. Our methods are different, significantly different now. We both have employees who help with various aspects of our career. His are focused on maintaining his business in his absence and helping with the conventions. Ours are focused on growing our online business and getting the business established so that it doesn’t need me and Dean there on a daily basis.

Similar goals, but different ways of getting there.

And that’s what I’ve been having the most trouble with these past two weeks. Once again, my brain has difficulty wrapping itself around the idea that there is more than one path to success in this new world.

I’m aware of it: Hell, I preach it here on the blog almost every week. But apparently, deep down, I’m still stuck in the (almost literal) ruts of my “upbringing” in traditional publishing. When I default for myself, I default to the One True Path idea—and I default hard.

So, this blog is really not for you. It’s for me. It’s a reminder that in this modern world there is no longer One True Path. There are as many new paths as there are writers. The internet has opened the world to all of us, and we can pursue the careers we want—or at least, the parts of the career we can manage.

You probably won’t see me at conventions from now on. But you will see me online, hear me in podcasts, and possibly see me on video podcasts. (I hope!)

I’ve finally made the decision I should have made years ago: I’m traveling rarely if at all. Fortunately for me, the precipitating event happened at home—and poor Dean didn’t have to take an emergency flight to some strange city in the middle of the night because his wife had to go to some strange hospital in an ambulance.

I’m still struggling with this. I know if I remain consistent and follow my routines, I’ll stay healthy. I’m good at consistent, as you all know. I hit this revived blog for 67 weeks now, even though I gave myself permission to take a week off now and then. Have I? Hell, no. I’m not that person. I like streaks and I’m good at them.

The biggest struggle for me with this decision has concerned those old career expectations. I really want to go to conventions, but they’re no longer necessary for the career, as I wrote last year.  I really want to meet my editors in New York, but most of my editors don’t work in New York any more—and I already know them. Or, in the case of my novels, I don’t have traditional publishing editors on those projects at all any more.

It’s a paradigm shift for me. And a true one. Thomas Kuhn, the man who coined the phrase “paradigm shift,” defined it as “a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions,” and that’s kind of how it feels for me.

I blog peacefully during the interludes, and I struggle mightily in the violent revolution. These last few weeks have been revolutionary for me, and I’m still dealing with the fallout. I’m slowly achieving the other part of Kuhn’s definition. In those revolutions, “one conceptual world view is replaced by another.”

I’m getting there, of necessity. But I’m getting there.

It’s just amazing to me how deeply the old worldview has held my subconscious, and how hard I have to work to dislodge it. As an observer of my own process, I’m fascinated. As a person deep inside that process, I’m frustrated. If only change happened quickly and easily.

If only.

Click to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: Personal Paradigm Shift, Again,” copyright © 2016 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/lenm. Image in the middle of the blog copyright © 2016 by Canstock Photo/norwayblue.

39 thoughts on “Business Musings: Personal Paradigm Shift, Again

  1. Sadly, I find myself commiserating with your retreat to safe environs. On the other hand, today’s society does allow for working effectively FROM the home. And playing too.

    I gave up my car on Remembrance Day in the fall of 2011. Gave up RENTING a car in mid 2013 and now leave my cave/house/castle only to visit doctors and do the occasional banking that I need. One of my closest friends is usually playing driver in those cases. And when she’s not galavanting around Central America, other friends and neighbours happily step in. I haven’t set foot in a convenience store or a mall in something close to three years.

    Visits to job sites? A thing of the past. Movie theatres? Hah! Same for ball parks and hockey arenas, both places I enjoyed as a spectator and as a worker in the past. I’ve become Howard Hughes, with some clothes and a lot less money. Oh, and I trim my finger nails.

    Sounds hugely horrible, especially if I started listing off a litany of my health issues. But it truly is not. I work from home and my employers like it better that way. In the past, a visit from me ALWAYS drove productivity down for an hour or two. No longer. I have stopped working off verbal instructions, which somehow got conveniently forgotten or mangled when things didn’t work to that spec. Now, email provides me with a work checklist. Like most home workers, I end up working more hours, but I do a job I enjoy.

    As for social interaction, my friends come to me. As do my doctor, my groceries and my family when they are in town. Everybody knows my needs and provides for them. Indeed, without the generosity of time and spirit from all of them, I wouldn’t have survived last year’s Post-Easter health crisis, which included my doctor involving himself in my care while on vacation in Singapore, a half a world away. The internet gives me information and entertainment as I continue to play Bridge with friends from all over the world. I do regret in-person events like representing my country in world championships, but no solution covers all contingencies for folks like myself. I could create a cocoon for myself and shut the world out as I slowly fade away, long forgotten. Instead, the world allows and accommodates my needs and requirements.

    It’s good to be alive. It’s even better to be alive in a time when I can interact with an author who has provided me with sooooooo many hours of enjoyment (and last year’s Book of the Year in my ratings).

    Thank you for reminding me that I’m not uniquely put upon by the fates. And that there are no excuses for not being a productive, happy member of the rat race.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Gary. It’s nice to hear from someone who understands. I’ve been worrying about hermiting, and then I realized that there is an upside to all of this. I get to read more (yay!) catch up on some of the cultural stuff that I’ve been missing (movies, etc) and still see friends. In fact, a friend just sent out a birthday notice and asked everyone to avoid allergy stuff, which I greatly appreciated. I’m learning how to speak up, and people are being great about accommodating.

      I’m sorry about your health issues, but I’m glad that you have found great ways to cope as well. And your letter is a nice reminder of how good life can be.

  2. FWIW: I don’t think you need to offer your Patreon supporters anything other than an easy way to support this wonderful blog. I am sorry that your allergies are getting worse.

  3. Now I’m feeling really guilty, Kris, as my mantra this last year or so has been an oft-repeated, “Thank God my allergies aren’t as bad as Kris’s. How does she manage?” The only even slightly positive thing I can think of about them is at least you don’t often have to be out among crowds of people. Huge minus, tiny plus… As I enjoy you and your books so much, I’m glad to know you’re protecting yourself and your health. A toast: To a healthy, happy, productive Kris!

  4. Your thoughts are right on. The fact that there is no “one shining path to success any longer” definitely makes it difficult on new writers too. It seems a little odd that more options make things harder, but one defined path would be so much easier than trying to determine which path to follow, or even how to blaze your own trail.

  5. Carradee, you mention Benadryl, but do you have an epipen (an adrenaline autoinjector)? With an allergic reaction this serious this is something to investigate asap. Even if you never need to use it – allergic reactions can get more serious as time goes and it’s good to be prepared. (I’m not a medical doctor, by the way, just a first aider.)

  6. I’m wondering whether you could set up a Spade / Paladin story in an online con? That would certainly be different but could be interesting, and maybe that could be a way of training your subconscious more quickly into the paradigm shift, and the idea that it is possible to go to a con without moving?

    Anyway, I’m sorry to read about your health problems and hope you can take care of yourself. That must be terribly disappointing but at least it is good that it happened in a time when you can still continue your writing career, and continue interacting with your readers. Your health is the most important wealth you have – and very selfishly as a reader I would love to be able to read your words for a long time.

    (And listening to your words as well, a podcast sounds great too, I’m looking forward to it!)

  7. I’ve “seen” Lee and Miller and Lackey at more than one con through the magic of video. Even Arthur C. Clarke once! There are several virtual cons nowadays that run for many hours thanks to authors/artists being in different time zones and countries.

    Thank goodness you and your allergies didn’t go to Spokane. If San Jose gets Worldcon, you can drive to that.

    I have to pace myself too. Even if I had the money (which I don’t) I couldn’t do more than 3 cons a year, and only one that involves flying a long way. I have to do as little possible the week before and nothing the week after.

  8. Hi, Kris, I, too, am deepening my health struggles in recent days. And the love and concern of family and friends is causing me to adapt to that most hated effort… texting. sigh. Dealing with people… no matter how much I love them… including family and friends…gets harder every year. I look forward to retirement so I can enjoy the interactions I have at my own pace. LOL.

    But I wanted to say thank you for this particular blog, which defines the term ‘paradigm shift’ in an easier way than has been presented at work. Each of the many paradigm shifts there in the last twenty years have more closely represented the first part of your definition, with periodic violent shifts, than any definition the powers that be tried to present. It’s so much more than merely changing a world view!

    Take care, and if we don’t see each other soon in the real world, which I hope we do, at least we’ll have the ether!

    Karen F.

  9. Sorry to hear about your allergies, Kris. I’ve had them ever since moving to Arizona in 2000. Hooked on Zyrtec. However, recently I’ve been using essential oils and haven’t needed to take a pill in weeks. Fingers crossed. If you contact me at Dog-Eared Pages bookstore in Phoenix, AZ, I’ll be happy to send you a sample to try. Who knows, right?

  10. Thank you! Being a hermit I knew nothing about this online convention until now. Have just joined. Not sure what to expect but I’m hoping it will be a little like the ‘community’ feel of the Nano forums. Looking forward to this. 🙂

  11. Aw. [hug] I get what you mean. It sounds as if we may have some similar issues.

    Any illness or fatigue leaves me essentially a shut-in thanks to allergies—I can go out, but then I’ll be ill for days. And there’s always risk of what happened just a few weeks ago, when I tried a new type of chips that theoretically should’ve been fine and discovered I was dangerously allergic.

    (Three cheers for keeping a few forms of Benedryl nearby. Boo for not recognizing the signs until my muscles stopped working right. That made it harder to get to the Benedryl, and I couldn’t breathe that great by the time it kicked in. Not the worst reaction I’ve ever had. At least nobody triggered it on purpose and insisted I must be exaggerating or I would’ve gone to the ER. [I’m literally allergic to hospitals.] …Er, I really hope your allergies don’t have the same cause mine do.)

    To help the paradigm shift, what about writing a quick quote or note to yourself and pasting it on the wall in front of your desk, where you’ll see it when you glance away from your monitor? Such a reminder should help it sink in faster. Theoretically. >_>

    May you recover quickly and stay healthy! 🙂

    1. I had a doctor tell me that the problems couldn’t be serious because I don’t end up in the ER. I usually don’t because I escape, take Benedryl, and run, run, run. So I understand what you’re saying, Carradee. Sorry you’re going through the same thing.

      I looooove your idea on the note. It will help! Thank you!

  12. raises hand Writer with chronic health issues here, too. I don’t do a lot of traveling either. One, can’t afford it. Two, it takes me a week or more to recover from just four days. It took me two weeks to recover from my first RWA Nationals last year. I’m taking the train this year, so I can start my retreating and resting as I come home.

    One of the things I love about the modern world of writing and publishing and going indie is how easily I can set my schedule to work FOR me instead of against me. It’s pretty sweet, and I’m doing a lot better health-wise.

  13. Even though you can’t travle, you don’t have to shun conventions entirely. Just the “traditional” conventions. I’m helping with the Brain to Books Cyber Convention, which is a multi-genre, global convention. It’s 100% online, so you don’t have to travel or pay lots and lots to participate. It’s free, since its on social media: Goodreads, facebook, google plus, youtube. Anyway, it’s April 8-10, and you can find out more in the goodreads group

  14. Thanks for letting us know, Kris. I was playing with my daughter at a local park, thinking, How would I feel if I physically couldn’t travel? Most of us moan about making the time or money or energy to go somewhere, but here you are, publicly recognizing that it’s going to limit your life now. But not your career, or your ability to teach, or edit, because you’ve figured out a way to do it better from home.
    I salute you.

  15. As a fellow allergy-sufferer, I totally understand. A person wearing too much perfume can incapacitate me for a whole day. Remind yourself that being healthy is the most important element to a good career. As a fellow rut-dweller I understand that automatic reaction is hellish to un-acquire. I have lived on a shoestring, done the starving artist life for so long, that now with a dribble of writing income I need to adjust. I can relax a little, but I need new rules. Old dogs can learn new tricks, they just have to want to.

  16. Do take care of yourself, Kris. Conventions will certainly be darker for not having your light there, but they’ll survive. I regret having missed the chance to see you in person, but perhaps it will still happen someday, at one of your own workshops. 🙂

    And I’ll be looking forward to the podcasts! (I’ve wanted to do one of those for years!)

  17. Great post! I appreciate your honesty and transparency into your life. Struggling with making a tough decision for health reasons is never easy. I wish you the best with taking care of yourself. Keep in mind that with technology today, you could always “be” at a conference the way Snowden appeared virtually. It’s not the same, but with social, like you shared, you can now reach out and connect with readers, editors or whomever all from your phone. It’s a crazy, crazy world. I still remember my first stories being written on a typewriter using whiteout to fix my errors. Now I’m writing in Google docs and sharing on Wattpad. Amazing to see what has changed in the last 30 years. I can only imagine what’s coming next!

  18. For a couple of years now, I’ve been calling social media The Permanent Floating Science Fiction Convention (hat tip to Larry Niven, of course). Even when I go to cons in person, my friends and I spend as much time together online both before and after (and even during): planning, sharing, reporting, strategizing. And the business that starts at the cons comes together online. So you’re at the big con, just not the little ones.

  19. Kris,

    I feel your pain. It’s a hard switch to make.

    I get asked to talk & teach at tech cons all over the world. Some of them are in really cool places, with really cool people, who don’t mind if I bring my wife and we take a few days before or after to see the sights. It’s how we saw Malta, and Paris, and California, and a couple dozen others.

    But time zone changes mess me up for weeks. The older I get, the worse it is. Even the comparatively small DST change has me screwed up. It’s been days, and my fubar body clock woke me up at 4AM.

    Was offered a free week in Tokyo a few weeks ago. I’d love to see Tokyo. But a 12 hour time shift, and then back, would probably trash me for months.

    Sometimes, you have to learn to say no. And it really sucks.


  20. First of all, best wishes with your health problems. I have read you for a few years now in this blog and your various books and i want to keep reading you for a very loooong time, so anything yo do for a more healthful Kris is a win-win for me.
    Also, congratulations on your paradigm shift! I’m in the middle of a more physical one at the moment (just married, leaving home country to live abroad, searching for a new day job, writing every moment I can… you know the drill) so i can understand your situation. And I’m completely sure that you will finish as a stronger and better person. Me, and many other readers, will accompany you all the way.
    On a sidenote, Paypal tips are good but I want to make our relation more stable. Have you considered creating a Patreon account just like your hushband? It will be my honor to patronize you both.

  21. I’m glad to hear you don’t need to travel to pursue your craft, and I’m sorry to hear you don’t get to travel as you’d like.

    Have you considered RV’ing? An uncle of mine, who is allergic to humidity, (mustard gas injury, I believe,) sometimes travels out here, from Arizona, in a camper.
    That is, assuming you can find a rental that doesn’t reek of the last renters favorite perfume or essential oil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *