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:
If you've got a better photograph of a furious cat attempting to fire a cannon at an unsuspecting dog, then I'd like to see it.#Archives #Photographic #Orkney #SaturdayMorning #Caturday pic.twitter.com/H9xF9d0CEZ
— Orkney Library (@OrkneyLibrary) March 23, 2019
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.
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