Business Musings: Outrage Fatigue

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Every time I log onto my Twitter feed, everyone is screaming at everyone else about something. Even my go-to writers are angry right now. I logged onto #Caturday last Saturday, terrified that the silly cat pictures had devolved into some kind of war between Siamese and tortoise shells, but I haven’t found that so far. Although this photo gave me a moment of concern:

Granted, there’s a lot going on right now. I have friends going through some serious life rolls. I went through one myself recently. I’m active politically and the groups I belong to are talking about “triage” and “picking your issue,” because there are too many issues for one organization to cover. (I’m writing this right now, because I chose not to attend a meeting on an issue that concerns me, yes, but not in a hair-on-fire kinda way.)

And the political upheaval isn’t limited to the United States. My British friends are dealing with Brexit. That uncertainty simply makes my business brain hurt. Not knowing day to day what the economic structure of the country is going to be? And how it will work? Oh, my. I can understand the turmoil my friends are going through. And, I’m sure, my friends in the EU who regularly do business with Britain are feeling the same thing.

But it’s not just politics and the state of the world, or the state of my world, with sick, dying, and struggling friends. The problems seem to be everywhere.

I had a mild temper tantrum as I got ready to write my blog this week. There are several issues that others have brought to my attention or that I have found in my various reading, things I would normally blog about—and a few things that I wouldn’t.

On the “wouldn’t” side of the equation are the fights going on over two different awards in two different genres. The finalists lists for the Nebula awards and the RITA awards came out in March, and there’s a lot of controversy over both. (Note: I can’t find a good comprehensive link to the sh*tshow that the RITAs have become.)

I’m not going to wade in, except to say two things: when awards are given by jury or voted on by a small group of people, those awards can be gamed. The awards will also highlight the biases in any small group.

I watch the Oscars every year to remind myself that awards are not perfect. They have issues. The Oscar issues always dominate the news. For the past few decades, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences has struggled with its aging white membership, voting for films that were either predictable Oscar fodder or had other problems. The Academy has been making changes in the past few years which resulted this year in Spike Lee getting his first Oscar while the controversial Greenbook won best picture.

I use that template as a reminder whenever I look at awards, even the ones I revere.

It was sadder for me to learn that bestseller lists could be gamed, and I learned that in the early 1990s. I crave an unbiased, simple way of finding what everyone likes, or of discovering quality literature. My dream is just that—a dream.

But the other controversies that came up in March really should get my back up. David Simon’s wonderful screed on agents and the talent agencies in Hollywood should be fodder for several blog posts. Follow the link and read the comments as well. Simon is getting a lot of attention for this (and rightly so). In fact, since I first wrote this post, the situation has progressed dramatically. Read these posts on the new submission system and on the changes.

The thing is that I’ve written those agent posts in a variety of ways, only dealing with publishing, not with the film/TV industry. The level of venality in the agenting/management class is breathtaking. They steal from creators, and that makes me angry.

Or it usually does.

When I posted a link to the Simon post on Twitter, I got responses from several other professional writers, many of whom have interactions with the film/TV industry. All of them are not surprised. And neither am I.

Maybe I’m too jaded.

But really, I think it’s outrage fatigue.

What led me to that theory was a letter from one of my regular readers. This reader sent me links to a new ghostwriting practice that breaks my heart. Writers write their own novels in their own worlds, and then sell all rights to these new indie marketers who call themselves writers. Those indie people slap a name on the manuscript which they own completely now, and market it, and place it in their marketing machines.

I’d seen some stuff on this, mostly through the #CopyPasteCris controversy and on Nora Robert’s blogs about it, but I didn’t think about it too much. I figured it was a few bad actors, who have money, who have become all-rights publishing houses (essentially). The “ghost” writers (the actual artists) are making anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 per manuscript.

I get the need for the cash. I do. But it appalls me on a very deep level, because of the loss of the art. These writers will get nothing if that book becomes a film or sells to a video game market or gets translated into another language. Someone else will make millions off these “ghost” writers, and the writers—themselves—have given up all rights to their own work. They can’t reclaim those rights for 35 years and by then, that loophole in the copyright law might be gone.

The money certainly would be.

The reader who sent me this information mentioned how this behavior is becoming normalized in the indie world, and included links to the Kindle Boards, where this is being discussed.

Here’s the thing:

Writers who sell their work for a few thousand dollars and lose all rights to that work are making a huge mistake. And before you folks come on here and tell me that I don’t understand what a few thousand dollars means to your household or that I don’t know what it’s like to have unsold manuscripts or to be unsuccessful, well, let me say a few things.

I’ve been so poor that I had to make watery soup from vegetables from a friend’s garden and eat that soup twice per day for an entire month. I’ve been so poor that I couldn’t pay my rent, not once, but many times. I’ve struggled—hard—and I’ve been one paycheck away from homelessness several times. I know how much money even $500 is. Okay?

I also know what it’s like to have unsold manuscripts. I started in this career before indie, when every publishing house could (and sometimes did) turn down books of mine. I also know what it’s like to be unsuccessful, in this and other fields. I even know what it’s like to be unsuccessful right now as an indie, because I have some pen names you don’t know about that aren’t selling well. And by that, I mean not selling much at all—certainly not enough to give me much more than a weekly latte at Starbucks.

So yeah, you’re not as successful as you wanted or hoped to be. But you’re also not thinking. What happens if that so-called indie writer (scam publisher, imho) who bought your book manages to get some traction on that book and sells all kinds of subsidiary rights? What happens if it becomes the new Game of Thrones or, more likely, has a moment in the sun like The Dresden Files did?

You will get none of that money. Not a penny of it. Not even if you manage to get your rights back in 35 years. Yet you wrote the underlying book and came up with the story that got all the interest. And you probably signed an NDA that won’t let you even talk about that.

Because here’s the point, people: you’re better off jumping through all the hoops in traditional publishing than you are ghosting for these indie scam publisher/writers. Traditional publishing at least lets you keep your name on your manuscript. You’ll also get more money than your initial advance if the book does well. And, if you handle your contract right, you’ll get money from all the licensing that you will have if the book is successful—including film/TV money.

Yeah, you won’t have $2,000 today, but you’ll have a contract. And a legal defense should something go awry.

Why am I putting the word “ghost” in quotes when I discuss these “ghost” writers? Because ghost writing is something different than writing your own novel and making up the world from scratch. Ghost writing is writing in someone else’s universe. That someone else already owns that universe; they made it up; and they have the rights to it. They’re paying other people to play in their world. Writers ghost in other people’s worlds, usually so that the writer can write in their own world and keep their name on their own world.

There’s a lot of money to be made if you’re a good writer who has your own world. We’ll be dealing with licensing and all that it entails in June, after the Licensing Expo here in Vegas. And that’s just one little corner of a writer believing in herself.

I understand writing in other people’s worlds to make money. I did for years to repay some pretty hefty debts. But I also continued writing under my own name, and I didn’t sell those rights. Ever.

And…why am I calling the indies who pay “ghost” writers scam writer/publishers? Because they’re buying all rights, which automatically makes them a scam publisher not just according to me, but all writers organizations. And these are fly-by-night folks, many of whom weren’t even in the business five years ago. Where will they be in five more years? Ten?

I know, I know. The loss of a manuscript means nothing to some of you. But it’ll mean a lot if and when that manuscript has some success out in the world.

And…oh, crap. I ended up writing about this stupid topic anyway.


I’m done.

Because, you see, the rant I launched into with Dean when we were discussing this blog post was this: I don’t write these blogs for people who don’t respect their art. I also don’t write these blogs for the scam publisher/writers who think they’re hot shit right now because they can game Amazon’s systems.

I doubt any of those folks read my blog anyway, and they probably think I’m old-fashioned and dumb if they do. Or as some of the “ghost” writers say, I’m “lucky” because I managed to have a career.

I managed to have a career because I was dogged and patient and learned my craft and tried again when I failed and worked hard to have some success.

I respect my readers and my craft and my business. And people who respect their readers, craft, and business are the people I write this blog for, not the get-rich-quick idiots who’ll go on to another scheme in a few years or the people who believe that just because they finished a few manuscripts they deserve success as much as Nora Roberts has.

I’m also getting really tired of people who game the system—whatever system it is.

The people who game the awards systems bug me, because if they win, they know that they got that win through cheating, so the win means nothing—at least to me. Someone offered to help me buy an award in 1990 or so, and I told him off in no uncertain terms. I told him that if I won an award, I would do so on the merits.

He wasn’t a writer. He said there was no such thing as the merits. And in some of these awards, that’s true. But I like my illusions, and I also like to be recognized by people who truly want to recognize my work, not people I conned into helping me win some prize.

And speaking of cons, those damn agents and managers and packagers. I’m so tired of the way that they’re screwing writers. Every month or so, I glue some writer back together after they discover that their once-perfect agent/manager/packager fucked them blue. I get asked all the time what a writer can do, and usually the writer can’t do anything. Because they signed an agreement, and didn’t read the fine print. Or they didn’t realize they were being scammed. Or they learned about the problem long after the statute of limitations passed.

I’m happy that the WGA is finally going to start to address the agent/manager/packager problem in Hollywood. I sure wish some organization would take on book agents, but that won’t happen. Most of the writers organizations love their relationships with agents, no matter how often someone like me screams about the fact that agents aren’t lawyers and shouldn’t be in the middle of deals at all.


Maybe this is outrage fatigue. But I don’t think so, since a few paragraphs up I managed to channel my outrage into some coherent sentences. I am tired of being outraged, but more than that, I’m tired of the willful ignorance on the part of writers.

I’m also sad that the scammers and con artists have found their way into indie—and that their scams and cons are worse than the long-standing ways that traditional publishing uses to screw writers.

I had hopes that indie would remain pure, but I think I’m an optimist at heart. Which is probably why my heart can hurt each and every day—when I’m thinking about how writers get hurt, how people get hurt, how the system (political and otherwise) destroys…

Oh, never mind.

Some of you will blame this fatigue on my social media habits. But I do spend more time with fun videos and cat pictures than I do following angry people filled with outrage about something. Some of you will blame my news consumption which is, I must admit, over the top and always has been. But I learned how to cope with the effect of too much news when I was a reporter, and I take a lot of time off from it, no matter how bad the situation is.

I do think I’m fatigued, but I’m fatigued by two things: the horrid venal corruption that coats all aspects of publishing, indie and traditional; and the way that writers continually line up to get screwed, simply because they refuse to learn business and refuse to understand patience.

So, every now and then some of this stuff just gets to me. This whole “ghost” writing thing is one of those. Because no one is redeemable here, at least as far as I’m concerned.

The writers don’t believe in themselves and are willing to make a quick buck. The scammers don’t care who they hurt.

So I’m going to do what I always do when the nasty people of the world find their way into my consciousness.

I’m going to share a cat picture.

Here’s Gavin, after a long night of trashing my kitchen. Enjoy.

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“Business Musings: Outrage Fatigue,” copyright © 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / kvkirillov. Photo of Gavin copyright 2019 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


17 thoughts on “Business Musings: Outrage Fatigue

  1. I’ve followed your blog for a long time. I’ve learned a lot, and your weekly short stories inspired me to write shorts and post them online.
    I’ve decided to bite the bullet and get your book about copyright – it’s a little pricey, but I think it is worth the investment. I don’t want to fall into a contract trap once my book is finished.

  2. Am essential column. The vultures constantly search for ways to predate on writers who do not realize that scammers see writers as edible cadavers.

  3. It’s actually much worse for authors of textual works than it is for screenwriters, for a simple reason: Authors of textual works (at book length, anyway) are ordinarily independent businessess, and therefore prohibited from collusion like banding together to demand that agents and packagers not breach their fiduciary duties to the authors. Screenwriters, however, statutorily are employees, and therefore are allowed a special kind of such collusion — it’s called a “union.” As Our Gracious Hostess may remember, I’ve blawgged on this extensively in the past.

    And if you don’t think “packaging” is a problem for written works, try to figure out who ACTUALLY WROTE any Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book. Hint: There never was a Carolyn Keene or Franklin W. Dixon… or, more recently, James Frey

  4. Thank you, Kris, for sharing this. Forewarned is forearmed. There are all kinds of schemes in Germany, too. I make a mental note on them, keep away, and look at professional writers like you and Dean for advice. I know, like no one else, how it feels when other people get ahead in their career because they know the right people. And I know how it feels when objectively less competent people win prizes and fellowships and stipends. It was and still is a common practice in Ukraine where I come from. But at school I won very prestigious prizes and fellowships with my own head to prove that it was possible to get ahead on values like hard work and competence. When one of my school teachers asked me „How much did your mom pay in order for you to win a fellowship from the U.S. Department of State?“, I broke into tears and ran away. I had prepared for that competition for three years, every single day! But people thought that I just got lucky.

    And yes, the vegetable soup… I was raised on the beetroot soup, and I still eat some kind of veg soup for lunch and dinner. For me, it was normal, and everyone around ate a soup, too. Back then, I just didn‘t realize how poor we were after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And my mama concealed our desperate situation well from me, borrowing money from neighbors to buy me books and bananas.

    1. The rights grab isn’t new. It’s a potential grab, that has always been in their TOS. The reason I don’t do anything with my fiction on Patreon is their TOS. But they’ve been having some interesting troubles with their business model, including delayed payment, so I’m keeping an eye on them.

  5. There’s no comprehensive write-up on the RITA sh*tshow because it happened in our private member forums. That’s exactly what it was too. I think a couple got kicked out, and a couple more left of their own volition. I’ve been libeled by someone who watched it, but have chosen not to pursue it because there was no personally identifying information attached.

    It was ugly and nasty on EVERY front. Every side went as low as you can possibly go. And ended up solving nothing. It was really sad to watch what it degenerated into.

  6. Over and over again, I warn writers not to sell all rights, but they just don’t listen. They think they’re really smart because they’re getting money now. They may even claim that they are saving their best ideas for themselves. The truth is, they probably have already sold all rights to their best ideas, and what lies ahead for them is poverty and the ill health that poverty exacerbates. They’ll be bitter about it when it happens, but they aren’t listening now.

  7. Hey Kristine.

    I can feel the frustration in your last post and wanted to share a positive result of your influence. I dreamed of being a writer back in my college days but never pursued it seriously. I got married, had children early and my hobby of writing succumbed to struggles of reality. It was not a conscious pen drop, but it was a pen drop none-the-less. I spent the next twenty years in the corporate world, building a decent career and a good salary, but as my children entered college I kept telling them to follow what you love, not the money or you will end up like me. I wasn’t sure at the time why I said that but I just knew it to be true. Just over two years ago the bug hit me again, harder than ever before and it all clicked. I knew why I was feeling out of place, why my hard won position in the corporate world didn’t feel right.

    It started with writing a blog for work, and listening to pod casts on writing. I became obsessed with learning all I could to fill in the gaps that were created from my youthful inattention during English classes. Then I attended my nieces wedding where an origin story developed in my head during the ceremony. I hacked (a very accurate word) my way through it for a little over a year being motivated by family and friends as well as the many pod casts. Finally, I accomplished something I had never done before, I typed “The End” which I could barely see through eyes blurred with tears. I could literally feel the change, see a new path opening up.

    My plan was to get an agent, and take this one all the way. I put it in a drawer for its required cooling off period and started on my next idea, then started the first round of edits. I contracted with an author / Podcaster to perform a review and his feedback was promising and gave me direction to make it even better. i saw the benefits of self publishing but still had the deep seeded need for the approval that came with the traditional publishing process.

    My turning point (dare I say plot point 2) came while listening to you on Joanna Penn’s pod cast. It was the first time that someone clearly outlined not just the positives of self publishing, but the potential dangers of the trad route. You had me teetering, unsure for the first time. Then came the infamous seven part Business Musings on planning for 2019. I leapt off the fence like a cat caught on the fish tank.

    My path has become clear, — although with my control freak personality I should have known earlier– and my goal is to launch in the fall. I will be going wide as Joanna preaches, and deep from a platform perspective with eBook, print and audio at once (if possible.) Whether I make it big, barely cover expenses or anywhere in-between, it will be mine. My success, or my failure, and so far I am really enjoying the process. I have connected with a local editor that I am thrilled with, I have my son and nephew (both visual arts majors) working on book cover designs, and I’m writing prequel novella’s for my website that I setup. As a side note I learned HTML, CSS, PHP, and JavaScript so I could do it myself. Told you I’m a control freak. While I credit my family especially my wife, along with the podcasts for the motivation to finish, I credit you for putting me on the Indi publishing path.

    Where ever the path finally leads, this is where I belong. So, thank you for guiding me there.

  8. Thank you, Kris. I went to your site to get the ghost-writing post from 2 weeks ago so I can direct the FB victims of my outraged rants to a more cogent expression of what I meant to say, but this is even better 🙂 Now, interestingly, the “have nots” in Indie are screaming at the more successful indies because they are trying to “get a leg up.” Or have marketing schemes. Or are part of a paywall writer’s group. Now that you’ve expressed the hurt and frustration I felt at 2am last night, I can get back to writing 🙂 (((hugs)))

  9. Gavin is a cutie! I can’t believe writers are selling their manuscripts like that. I mean, you lose it forever for a few thousand? That is heartbreaking. I’d rather work a minimum wage job, which I have done, and keep my manuscript.
    I started reading you blog, as well as Dean’s to learn more about doing good business as an Indie author, and not making such crucial mistakes.
    I also hoped Indie would stay pure and not get tainted. Thank you for all the great info and advice you always provide. It helps so much.

  10. I last read a kindle boards thread about ghostwriting a few months ago. It beggared belief. There were people (who are not writers) sharing their plans to offer to buy all-rights for 1c a word, and 1.5c once they had a relationship with someone who produced quality. This 1.5c, they thought, would be an incentive for the writer to stay working for them. They seemed to think themselves savvy business people who were paying quite well. As someone who submits to short markets, I felt like I’d fallen into an alternate universe.

    I didn’t know who to be more astonished by: the cheap, smug buyers or the writers who sold their work because they ‘didn’t have time to do their own promotion’ and need the money now. They are writing incredible amounts. I think I posted one time and said, if you can write that much, write some short stories every week and start sending them to pro markets. 6c a word. And you keep your rights. Someone who is writing 10,000 words a day isn’t rewriting or dithering, and they’re getting lots of practise, so I figure they must have some skills. They could sell into the short market if they learned the form. But it seemed like those writers wanted a sure thing at 1c a word than to submit to short markets.

    Which makes me feel like I’m going to start channelling Harlan Ellison. If all these people refused to sell their work so cheaply it would stop a really stinky part of the industry. Because these book packagers or whatever they are can’t write. They would all move on to some other quick-get-rich scam.

  11. I learn so much when I read your blog. Thank you!

    I’m not at all successful, yet, but I’m in there plugging away. I’m appalled at the events in the Indie Publishing world. But it seems to me that it’s part of a much larger pattern — big fish eating little fish. Well, this little fish is very glad to have someone with your knowledge sharing your experience. Might just keep me from become somebody’s snack.

  12. Kris,
    I’m sorry.
    I’m sorry that you’re feeling so bad. You have a right to, but still, you feel bad.
    The worst part is, you feel bad for writers who won’t learn how to take care of themselves no matter how many times you tell them about a better way.
    You can’t change the minds of people who won’t listen, but, still, you try.
    That makes you a good person.
    As I hear about all the bad things in the world (and there are so many bad things right now), I feel the outrage, too, and the outrage fatigue. And I wonder what happened to all the good people. There have to be some. At least, I hope so, but sometimes I have my doubts.
    Will things ever improve? I’m starting to lose hope. Or maybe it’s the outrage fatigue.
    Keep up the good work, because that’s what you do. And enjoy your cats. I like ducks, myself. 🙂

  13. This is why I personally try to stay apart from most indie groups, discussions, etc. I’ve seen my fair share and my patience, nor temper, can handle it. Otherwise I’d spend more time ranting and then I’d have those folks coming after me trying to point out my wrong. As you’ve seen with the comments to your success. At the end of the day, you’re successful because you’re writing and never giving up. You’re not trying to scam your way, you want to write because you love it, and your readers. People want the quick buck now. It’s all now, now, now. And when now fails, how else can I quickly DO to earn instead of just writing, learning good business practices, and improving. Also not giving up.

    As a quieter follower who simply focuses on my writing more than following those fads, you ARE helping those of us who are thinking long-term. Those awards always bug me for that reason. They are always gamed. I see them on Facebook too. “The author with the most likes, we’ll highlight in our blog!” No, the person with the most they can con into liking whatever will get featured. After they like the page, of course. “Your favorite!” No, the person who has the loudest, “go say I’m your favorite!” Cynical sounding, I’m aware. Just seen it too much. I want a real award system, not the gamed versions. Not sure it can happen.

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