Give The Future A Chance

Because I do not want to start another of those famous blog wars that bring trolls in masses to my comments, I’m not going to mention the name of the blog or link it here.

I’m just going to say I have a policy of following links that point to my blog and get me more than half a dozen hits, and while doing that, a couple of days ago, I happened on a rather strident post shrieking that yes, Amazon is the big bad, that yes, it needs to be brought under the heel of the government, or it will take advantage of everyone and everything and that yes, corporations are evilmeannasty.

Oh, and I’m a poopy-head for saying otherwise.

I have a short story due today (for the Baen Christmas collection) and besides I’m tired of this, and I’m just going to point out some inescapable truths.  I’m not going to go into the history of corporations, or the history of monopolies, mostly because frankly I don’t have time to pull up links.  Suffice it to say that monopolies don’t happen without active or passive collaboration from government, otherwise it is in the nature of all human institutions to go sclerotic and be surpassed.

And that brings us to the important and inescapable verity: corporations are composed of people.

No, corporations didn’t get here from planet zorg. Their leaders are not creatures unlike us.  They are exactly like us, with our virtues and our faults, and variable, of course.  Which means to begin with that a corporation is only as good or as bad as those in control.

And before you tell me that the rich are not like us – b*llshit.  That’s a Marxist fairytale.  They’re exactly like us.  They just have more stuff.  And more freedom.  And less freedom.  And no, that’s not a paradox.  In the time we made more money more effort was required to administer it.  At the same time, weekends away were easier and we were free to take them whenever.  (We didn’t take them enough, because we were busy administering the money.  It’s a vicious cycle.)  I grant you we’ve never made even a measly million let alone several a year.  But from our limited experience, we were still us.  Our priorities just shifted.  Our time became more precious than our money.

My experience is enough to see one end of the continuum where you are a poor man living in a hut, perfectly free to spend most of the day walking on the beach – and free to starve – and the other end where you’re the CEO of a multinational with every minute of the day scheduled, but you employ tons of people to do work you don’t want to spend time doing, and you can buy a luxury car for fun.

What does that have to do with corporations?  Well, as people’s priorities shift, they sometimes do lose track of things.  For instance, publishers these days think the point is to control who gets to read what.  They lurch around, in a fog, refusing to get that ebooks are game changers and that self-publication is easy – and not a great addition to what we’re already doing which does include everything from paying for editing to publicity – and demanding that things go back to the way they were.

That is a good example of corporations that had established a joint monopoly of sorts.  You had to go through one of them to get on shelves and to get any push.  Because of sweetheart deals and other concentrating movements in distributors, the publishers CONTROLLED how much you sold.  They picked winners and losers.  There was no wiggle room.

Which is why they lost sight of who their real customer was.  Which was why Amazon stepped in.

Do you see how that works?  Yes, corporations grow sclerotic.  Having seen up close and personal big computer corporations, I can tell you any company big enough behaves like a dictatorial regime.  There is enough room for the people at the top to make decisions that will not affect them, which means there won’t be enough bad backlash.  Which means, they keep doing more of the same.  There is room for illusion, self-aggrandizement and grand gestures that mean nothing.  Watching the death throes of MCI/Worldcom some years ago, it occurred to me some of the people in charge reminded me of nothing so much as the more decadent Roman Emperors and that it would have been much better if they JUST declared war on Neptune, instead, of say, getting rid of development teams and then demanding new software.

BUT when corporations reach that stage, they develop blind spots.  And in the blind spots newer, faster, more targeted corporations appear.

Hence, Amazon exploited the fact no one was really doing ebooks as they should be done.  And it has grown big.  (Though not yet big enough to have issues.)

When Amazon grows too big – and it will – and too senile – and it will – others will exploit its blind spots.

Calling on government to regulate it now is counterproductive for two reasons.

First, just like the corporations are made up of people, so is government.  Worse, once government gets its big long nose in, what you have is effectively the final phase of corporations, because government IS big, and by its structure, none of the individual bureaucrats is affected by the decisions made in regulating.  In fact, the only thing that affects bureaucrats is the existence of regulations.  It gives them a job.  BUT they don’t have to jump through the hoops they make for peons.  The DMV employees don’t stand in line for their licenses.  They just get them done quickly and early.

The “government” is not some disinterested entity run by angels.  It is made of flesh and blood people, many of whom are not insanely well paid, but because of that relish their power all the more.  (And no, I’m not suggesting paying them more.  They’re on a par with private employees.)  That means that they will exert their power to the utmost, and don’t care who it hurts because well… why would they?  It doesn’t affect them.

So, say we pass a law saying Amazon has to sell books at certain prices, so other companies can compete.  Do you know who wins?  First the bureaucrats who surf the net checking the prices.  Second, the largest companies.  Amazon, B & N, etc.

Why?  Because they have the money to hire the lawyers to deal with the wrong-complaints and the multiplicity of confused bureaucrats who will think my Soul of Fire and Ruth Long’s Soul Fire are the same book and must be sold at the same price – to quote one of many many other sources of confusion.

Do you know who loses?  You.  Me.  The multitude of indie publishers.  The readers who would never have got to read Ric Locke’s excellent Temporary Duty.

There is no way of proving that opportunities were lost.  If you regulate ebooks today, ten years from now I can tell you “yeah, we’re okay with these small publishers who are big enough to hire lawyers, but think how wonderful it would be if we didn’t need them.  Think of all the great books people might have put up on their own.”  And you’ll tell me “the indies would have made the very concept of ebooks repulsive. It was a tsunami of crap.”

I can’t prove otherwise.  No one can.  You can’t prove that it wouldn’t be “even worse” if there had been less regulations.

But we can look at the inevitable course of bureaucracy, stately and deadly like the black plague.  And we can look at countries that prize regulation over innovation.  Say, the USSR where there was a law for everything, and it was impossible to live without breaking the law.  We could ask the Politburo– Or then again no, since the USSR is no more…

And we can admit that government officials are no more and no less human than corporation CEOs.  And we can admit that the more divorced from consequences anyone’s decisions are, the more irrational/selfish or at best ineffective that person will be.  And government officials manage to be more insulated from the regulations they pass than CEOs are from the consequences of firing all of R & D.  And that’s saying a lot.

I might be a poopy-head (often) but these are inescapable facts of the human condition.  The thing about inescapable facts is that you can’t escape them, even if you choose to believe all government employees are good people, selfless and full of the milk of human kindness.  No, not even if you put your fingers in your ears and sing “We are the world” REALLY loudly.  The facts of human nature will still get you in the end.

And meanwhile in your misguided effort to regulate you’ll have squandered innovation and wealth.

You’ll have squandered the future: mine, yours and the whole nation’s.

Let’s not.

185 responses to “Give The Future A Chance

  1. ppaulshoward

    Amen Sister Sarah!

    • Hope Change

      Sarah Hoyt, I love you! You are so right, I love reading your posts and I love that you write something every day. I found you through InstaPundit. I love Glenn Reynolds, too. I also love Newt, who understands everything you’ve said here today. You are a light. Long may you shine.

  2. Thank you for posting this! Out of deference to your desire to avoid random trolls, I have *not* posted it to my facebook, even though I definitely want to share.

    • Oh, you can share. It’s not that I don’t want to be read — I just don’t want to pick a fight with a specific blog, because the last time this happened it took forever for the target to stop whining, and she wouldn’t even accept my challenge to a debate death match. (Some people!) It’s not random trolls I’m afraid of. It’s targeted ones. So, you want to share? Go for it.

  3. The lack of common sense boggles the mind. Maybe we should shut down Ebay too, I mean they have a monopoly on being the biggest online auction site, kind of like Amazon has a monopoly on being the biggest online book retailer.
    Funny, back when I went to school monopoly meant ONLY, but times is a changin’, and nowadays it means BIGGEST.

    • Monopolies can ONLY exist with either government fiat or inadvertently set up by the government’s regulations. A good example of monopoly would be USPS pre UPS and the others. And like all monopolies, once you allow competition it melts. JUST outcompeting everyone is NOT monopoly. It’s called, I think “winning”

      • But winning is bad, because that means there are losers to. Shouldn’t everyone have the right to be a winner? /sarc/

        • If you win, someone else loses, and that makes them feel bad. I don’t want anyone to feel bad, so I say we outlaw winning. Then we can all feel good about ourselves…er, or not.

          • Interestingly, when my kid first started her Social Skills classes (age… 9 or 10?), winning a game with the therapist/teacher(s) would make her very nearly as upset as losing — or sometimes more-so, because she didn’t want them to feel bad.

            Winning with grace and compassion is something that had to be taught just as much as losing with good humor.

    • Don’t give the government ideas. If the government tries to shut down eBay, I may have to start building nukes in my basement. Right now, eBay is the only way I buy stamps for my collection. I might get just a tad perturbed with the closure, and do unspeakable things.

      • Right, then. so long as you have your priorities straight.

        • My stamp collection has kept me sane through some VERY bad times (and still does from time to time), so I treat it with respect. I also think that one of the reasons I hate the government so much is that I’m totally dependent upon it for my livelihood. That kinda grates, especially since I truly am a very independent cuss. I probably won’t use nukes – it’s too dangerous to family and pets to have radioactive material in the house. I’ve been experimenting lately with tipping asteroids out of their orbit. Just wee ones – less than a foot across, but we all have to begin somewhere.

          • cat pee bombs. That’s where I’ll go, if I get really upset.

            • You fight dirty!

              I like that… 8^)

            • Binary weapons. Glass bottle with one chamber of cat pee, one chamber of Clorox. The first time I poured Clorox into an “empty” cat box that had some liquid cat pee standing in the bottom, I ran out unable to breathe, it might as well have been mustard gas.

              • Uh, yeah, that’s really dangerous, because of the ammonia in the cat pee.

                • Yup, theoretically it could be down right deadly. It makes a gas unfriendly to fleshly things that breaths. I remember being warned not to combine certain cleaning agents. I was told people have been known to be overcome because of an ill conceived attempts to ‘really’ get the loo clean.

          • Ever hear the filk song “Falling Down on New Jersey?” Something about disgruntled astronauts, an asteroid, physics, and gravity.

  4. One of the greatest problems of people “at the top” is that they are “protected” by underlings, functionaries and mid-level bureaucrats who view their most important function as ensuring that “the boss” doesn’t hear any bad news — especially, any news that would be bad for the underling. Ah, if the Tsar only knew is a refrain based on fact. I think I shall go and watch Danny Kaye in The Inspector General once more.

    • Even in a functional company, the people at the top are dealing with huge, abstract issues, where the company will be in the next ten, twenty years. Day-to-day stuff is supposed to be handled much, much further down. Problem is, the day-to-day stuff is what keeps the company going, and if it gets too far out of whack, it should reach the top and those at the top should understand.

      And even if people at top are dealing with bigger issues, I don’t respect the ones that don’t what it is to be at the lower levels. I haven’t seen too much of that directly – CEOs aren’t created fully formed with grey hair and suits – but I read too much of people who got their MBA at Harvard instead of working those lower level jobs, and I don’t think that’s an equal trade.

      • This is why I sometimes like to watch Undercover Boss, where the big boss goes in disguise and takes turns at various jobs in his own company. The eye-opening is occasionally amazing.

        The only thing I really don’t like about it is that they always wind up giving one or two people large sums of money because of the bad situation they are in, and I just think that that kind of thing is likely to breed resentment in other employees.

      • I read somewhere once that the optimum size of a company was 1000 people. More than that, and the executives were too insulated from the workers. Much less than that and it wasn’t running at its full potential. That seems to hold true in the companies I’ve worked for. Some companies HAVE to be larger — Boeing wouldn’t work half as well with 1000 employees. The problem then becomes keeping upper management aware of what the assembly line thinks and feels.

        A lot of employees in large companies become exceptional in what they do at the lower and middle-management positions, but have no clue how to plan for long-term. If they get promoted beyond their level of expertise, they become unable to truly compete, and begin playing political games to achieve advancement. I’ve also seen THAT happen. It’s not pretty, especially when it happens to people you once respected.

      • If I recall correctly Beoz, founder and ceo of Amazon spends atleast one day a year working the general amazon.com help line. Let’s him get a sence of what problems real users are having.

  5. Good post as usual ;-).
    Wish me luck. I am seeing a root canal specialist this morning plus we have been having two-three days of almost 100 degree weather.

    Cyn

    • Ahh, our weather is heading south. Glad I could share it with you ;)

      No need to share the root canal specialist with me, I won’t feel left out; promise.

      • Been dealing with an infection for over a week now. (on antibiotics) We get the weather at least one week a year and then we get the thunderstorms and then the fires.

    • Been there, done that, until I had them all out about 10 years ago. Now I don’t have problems with my teeth anymore, except when something gets under them and causes intense pain. And then I can always make a quick trip to the bathroom and rinse under the faucet.

    • For those who want to know, I have a crack down the root so I will have to have an extraction. I am waiting for a call from my dentist so I can get it done. Thanks for good thoughts.

      • Cyn, all my teeth are cracked so badly a dentist I saw said it wasn’t worth filling them. He suggested dentures. I haven’t gone there yet because I still have enough teeth to chew, and because the government dental plan will only pay for half of it. My teeth are cracked because I have TMJ, and because I hurt REALLY BADLY every once in awhile, and clench my teeth so hard they break off. I’ve had a couple of root canals, so I know what you’re dealing with. I’ll pray for pain relief!

        • My dentist says my jaw fitting is variable. (He muttered stuff about pythons.) This means I break my teeth REALLY easily. For a while, before he figured out what was wrong he thought I engaged in recreational chewing on rocks and metal filings. Couple that with my early very high fevers, which apparently destroyed the enamel, and it’s a minor miracle I still have most of my teeth. I love modern dentistry.

          • Nighttime teeth grinding. All writers do it. A dentist who has several writers as patients can usually spot which of the new patients are writers.

          • Thanks everyone – I think my one cracked tooth was caused by the fillings (amalgamate silver) that the Navy liked to put in my teeth. That tooth had been cracked once, but my dentist thought that he had saved it by crowning it. Anyway… I can feel a difference with all my other teeth.

            I also have problems with my mouth – in that it is TOO small with large teeth. They wanted to an impression of the teeth so that I could get a bridge (lower molar). I have a very small mouth. It was funny because I also have a gagger. And doing this stuff is always horrible.

            They had to break the tooth and pull it out in several pieces. I am in pain today, but I think I’ll be feeling much better in a few days.

        • Thank G- it is only one tooth.

      • I had that two years ago, followed by an implant. It went very well, although the dentist refused to paint the implant rainbow colors or silver-plate it for me, thpoil-thport. In all seriousness, it looks exactly like my other teeth, hard-water stains and all, and I’ve had no problems. The docs did warn that it can get a cavity around it, in which case the cure involves, well, I’ll spare you the details. More than just pulling it out.

        • I want to get an implant for the molar I lost while giving birth to Robert. Let’s just say I clenched down REALLY hard. Cracked top to roots. However our insurance doesn’t cover it, and I don’t have an extra 10k. Sigh.

        • I may get an implant. Not sure because I don’t know how much it costs.

    • …I liked my root canal, overall. (The one part where the nerve would not numb was a bit unpleasant, but nothing to compare to the toothache from hades…) At one point, I nearly fell asleep during it. I probably would’ve, if they’d had a prop to keep my mouth open.

      …this was also when my hypothyroidism was not diagnosed, so that may’ve had something to do with the sleeping part.

      • Here I’ve always thought myself the only person to have enjoyed a root canal. The dentist wasn’t able to numb fully for a filling and so packed me off to the oral surgeon for a root canal. I walked in, was put on NO2 and forgotten about while the surgeon dealt with scheduled patients. Happily, I had plenty of novel to read — Travis McGee. Two, three hours later the nurse was on the intercom frantically telling the surgeon I had been sitting waiting — on Nitrous — and needed to be attended to before they went home for the day.

        There are some who say I’ve never been quite right since, but I was never quite right before, either.

        • LOL. Actually I went to dental surgeon for root canal and it was okay. Completely numb, and they projected a movie on ceiling. Unfortunately movie was J Lo’s something or other about being a maid, so I got bored. If they’d had a decent movie, though — say Independence Day, or The Patriot, or The Incredibles — I’d probably have enjoyed it. I could just sit there and watch and wasn’t due to do ANYTHING.

  6. The “government” is not some disinterested entity run by angels.

    Well, crap. There goes ten years of research on a non-fiction book I was working on. Thanks a lot.

  7. Reblogged this on Jane Started It! and commented:
    If you’re a writer read this post by Sarah Hoyt. It explains so much. If you’re a reader, read this post by Sarah Hoyt. It explains so much.
    Take care–Susan Kaye

    • LOL

      I love bookending comments like that, whatever the context.

      • In the new world of books that’s coming, readers will have more work to do finding who and what they like. I think the more they understand how this new world is coming to be, the better choices they’ll make.

        I hope.

        • And that is why reviewers will exploit the blind spot and RULE THE WORLD! Mwahaha!

          Seriously, though, I expect that this would be a great time for great literary personalities and theorists to come to light.

  8. Your remark about “disinterested angels” is so on the mark. The system protects the system. Some individuals within the system are about “public service,” but that many any more. Publishing is an entity that has been digging it’s own grave for years. It’s still got a chance to get out, but it seems determined to stay in that hole.

    No pity from me.

  9. I’m still curious about what a “tsunami of crap” is, and whether it’s a bad thing. The nice thing about a surfeit of product (which is the better way of describing the phenomenon) is that the product becomes cheaper, and the cost of trial and error irrelevant.

    I remember succumbing to the publishers’ hype machine once, and buying a new book (in hardback, no less) because the subject matter appealed to me and it had been fulsomely praised by the Usual Suspects, so the $39.95 (!!!!!) seemed worth the risk.

    I got halfway through and realized that I was not only bored, but ANGRY at the lousy writing and tepid characters. So I dumped the book and started reading something else. Lesson learned: no work of fiction is worth $39.95. End of story.

    So if most e-books cost $1.99 or less, it doesn’t matter if you buy one and it’s total crap — you stop reading, shrug, and move on, for the same reason that you don’t make a fuss when a 99c toy breaks: what did you expect for 99c? Even better is when you find a $1.99 e-book which is wonderful; oh man, WHAT a bargain!!! And when you buy the author’s next book, and it costs $2.99, it’s okay because there’s no risk: you’re buying a proven product. So established writers can get $6.99 per book because there’s no risk in buying the new John Sandford oe Ken Follett. (I can’t wait for both the above to break the shackles of Big Publishing and go electronic.)

    This, children, is what’s known as “The Market.” The most pernicious idea for control of the market is that we poor consumers need to be “protected” from the tsunami of crap — that somehow, the Wise And Thoughtful (a.k.a. big publishing houses and the New York Times Book Review) know better than we do what we “need” to read or “should” be reading. Or that Congress would somehow have a better idea.

    Now THAT’S a tsunami of crap if ever I’ve seen one.

    • yes. Also frankly Amazon gives you samples. The truly bad “OMG, this has no grammatical structure known to man” is clear within three pages, much less fifty.

      Now, there is no explanation for why my husband LIKES getting those from the free giveaways and actually READS them — and reads the more fulsome passages aloud to me. But that goes to show everything has a market and a price — and sigh, in the case of the bad bad ones the price MIGHT have to be free — and a crazy person who will enjoy it, even if in reverse.

      • and the cost of trial and error irrelevant

        There are different types of costs, though. In fact, as Sarah mentions upthread, time becomes precious in many circumstances. Reading a bad book can certainly have it’s upside, much like anything vile probably has a silver lining, but after a surfeit/tsunami/cornucopia of crap, you reach a point at which you simply will not invest more time on unproven, likely bad material.

        • Free-range Oyster

          This is where you need guides instead of gatekeepers. My money is precious (for there is precious little of it) and I can at most buy one book a month. I’ve come to rely on reviews by those I trust (Elitist Book Reviews, for example) to help pick my next book, and usually works out well for me. We don’t need fewer options, we need more reliable information.

      • “Now, there is no explanation for why my husband LIKES getting those from the free giveaways and actually READS them — and reads the more fulsome passages aloud to me.”

        I can recall getting a free ebook (it sounded really good in the blurb, the outline was probably good) that even if I ignored the typos and grammatical errors, was so terrible, and so full of inconsistencies it was unbelievable. I actually finished the book, and sort of enjoyed it, but instead of reading it to see what was going to happen next, by a quarter of the way through the book, I was reading it to see, “OMG WHAT IS THIS AUTHOR GOING TO DO NEXT?”

        • I’ve graded papers like that. “What screamingly bad grammatical/ historical/ spell-check induced whopper awaits in the next paragraph? Only the professor knows!” And hey, some lucky reader may discover a work to replace “The Eye of Argon” at read-aloud contests.

          • Oh, I have one. But I don’t give the name in public because someone might sue. It’s known in our house as “the world’s worst book.”

            • My personal ‘world’s worst book’ in the historical fiction department is this one. http://www.amazon.com/The-Cobbler-Normandy-Otto-Berliner/dp/1419668404/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
              I agreed to review it, without (sigh) checking out the “look inside” feature. Last time I ever omitted doing that before I committed to review. I got to about halfway through, and a description of seekret underground room insulated with Styrofoam … and that’s when I threw it across the room. It damn near punched a hole in the wallboard, I threw it that hard.
              (Styrofoam wasn’t developed until the early 40s … in the US. During WWII the only thing it was used for was US Coast Guard life rafts. Yes, I checked.)

              • sheesh. You missed the seekret time machine! (runs.)

              • I probably would have ripped whoever wrote that from nose to toes. I spent quite a number of years of my life in “secure” vaults, ranging from the main Photo Interpretation labs of the CIA to secure vaults for SAC and European Command. I’ve also been in secure vaults belonging to Germany and England (shudder). One of the “freebies” I read had a spy satellite “parked” in one place, and then diving STRAIGHT DOWN to earth. Some days, I despair of the human species. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, PLEASE do some research!

            • Free-range Oyster

              Dan Wells referred several times in the early Writing Excuses podcasts to his terrible, terrible first novel. He used various elements from it as examples of exactly what not to do as an author. And then he went and published it. http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/76635 I haven’t read the whole thing, but it’s already my favorite terrible book ever.

        • THAT is what Dan does.

          • Yikes! I hope Dan doesn’t treat any of MY books that way! I try to make my books internally consistent, the characters act pretty much the same way throughout the book, and the plot consistent. I haven’t gotten enough reviews (TWO! out of seven books!) to know if I succeed or not.

            Yes, unfettered publication is going to allow a “tsunami of crap” to get through into the marketplace. The MARKETPLACE will relegate the material to where it belongs. That’s what marketplaces do – they reward success and punish failure. It’s only the worst of the sociology majors that want to set human behavior on its ear by punishing success and rewarding failure. It will all come to a bad end, but maybe not soon enough.

        • Yeah, bad, a bad that pulls you in. It can be like the trash movie that people refer to as a guilty pleasure, a kind of ‘charmingly’ bad. Or it could be like watching a train wreck or tornado, where you marvel at the destruction. But I suspect that two things it cannot be are dull or insulting to the reader.

    • Hi, Kim! (waving across the room) Yes, exactly – there maybe a great many useless, badly-written books out there, by indy writers as well as those perpetrated by the literary-industrial complex, in print versions as well as in e-books … but readers now have the ability to find them out for themselves, though sample chapters and the ‘look inside’ feature. And e-books eliminate the costs associated with printing and distributing a hard-copy book, so that checking out a book by a relatively unknown author costs about as much as a cup of gourmet coffee. If you like the book, then you’ll go and check out whatever else they have out there. Hurrah for free markets! Even hurrah for Amazon, who figured out all this early on, and structured themselves so as to enable the indy author and those authors who prefer to e-publish.

    • I beg to differ with only one thing. There are works of fiction worth forty dollars. There are works of fiction worth a hundred dollars. (That’s relative buying power factored in, of course – while I am not rich in the Obama sense I have plenty of money for food, shelter, and the occasional book.)

      The problem is that there’s no way to really know if a work is in that category until after you’ve read it multiple times and it’s had its full effect on your brain.

      If you said to me, “Give me a hundred dollars or you will never have read The Lord of the Rings and you never will,” I’d hand it over without a qualm. (Then I’d kill you, because nobody likes an extortionist. But I’d pay first.) I could think of lots of other books for which the “pay up” number is FAR higher than their cover price.

      • (Then I’d kill you, because nobody likes an extortionist. But I’d pay first.)

        I would think you would kill them because they obviously have either a time machine or a brain ray of some type. Either way, you could still be welcomed as our new evil overlord, wondering why the Lord Of The Rings geek was showing such Olympian restraint with said device(s).

  10. Oh, and by the way, hasten ye, oh my people, unto amazon.com and there partake of the nectar of Jeff K. Hill’s The Beggars of Azure. Complicated plot, complicated characters, time/space changes, and all to be found in… a bookshop. (?) Also by Jeff: The Last Courtesan.

    All fans of the French school of novel-writing (Dumas, de Maupassant, Flaubert etc) will love his writing.

    No need to thank me: it’s all part of the service.

    [Full disclosure: Jeff is not only one of my best friends; he also edits all my own novels -- he's easily one of the best editors extant, and all budding (and established) writers should use his services. Use him now while he's still reasonably-priced.]

  11. Funny thing about that much warned against “Tsunami of Crap” — it’s in bookstores already. I go to bookstores, I know about such things. All publishers offer is, as Firesign Theatre used to say, really GREAT crap!” Just because the publishers are offering “50 Shades of Crap” doesn’t improve the product, and they aren’t offering your money or your time back if you don’t care for their crap.

  12. Some of the scariest words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.” Then combine governmental helpfulness with the selfless narcissism of the people who really, really want to make your life better even if you do not want it improved and behold! Celia’s literary industrial complex appears, wafted into view on a cloud of “high quality”, blown by the zephyrs of “protective regulations” and heralded by joyful cries of “we’ve always done it this way” and “it’s for the readers’ and writers’ own good.” Just ignore the pox marks under Venus’s pancake makeup and the faint whiff of sulfur on the breeze.

    • I’ve decided the scariest words of all in the English language are “for your own good” – but I think the government quote is a corollary of that.

    • One of the most demoralizing experiences I had, when I was first trying to shop my first novel around to the usual agencies, was walking into a bookstore and flipping through the new releases at random, and thinking that the authors of every one of those pieces o’krep could get an agent and a publishing deal … and that I couldn’t even get anyone but the readers of my then-blog interested in my own book. It quite ruined my enjoyment of bookstores for a while.
      That first book (To Truckee’s Trail – about a pioneer wagon train to California, which a friend of mine says should have been subtitled “Wagon Trains for Dummies”) has since been my own best-selling book. It accounts for a third to a half of my sale totals, month in, month out, in spite of the fact that I hardly market it at all.
      That there are wonderful, original, quirky books out there by indy authors is a fact. That the literary industrial complex only notices them when they sell so-many-thousand downloads or copies in a month or so … their loss.

    • “Some of the scariest words in the English language: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.’”

      Mainly because they leave off the last four words: “– feel sorry for yourself”.

  13. “And we can admit that government officials are no more and no less human than corporation CEOs.”

    Though at least you can fire a CEO (and they do get fired, often). Government officials have tenure.

    “And we can admit that the more divorced from consequences anyone’s decisions are, the more irrational/selfish or at best ineffective that person will be. And government officials manage to be more insulated from the regulations they pass than CEOs are from the consequences of firing all of R & D. And that’s saying a lot.”

    Oh yes! RES pointed out a week or so back that socialism (and government is essentially socialist) doesn’t have to deal with costs. They think they have access to an un-ending source of funds, so their screw-ups don’t matter. A corporation that doesn’t understand its costs will go under in a hurry.

    And at least companies do go under when they go rotten. Government agencies go on forever (and yes, as you say, even the best of them start out close to the rotten stage to begin with).

    “No, not even if you put your fingers in your ears and sing “We are the world” REALLY loudly.”

    Snort. ^_^

    Amen, nothing to add here. You said it all.

  14. Our time became more precious than our money.

    Yes.

    (Though I think that Amazon has-been-in-the-past more-evil to independent authors, see signs that it wouldn’t have a problem going back to that (inertia would be the only protection) if the beancounters in Amazon thought it could, and am therefore unwilling to grant it exclusivity, and watch it with a gimlet eye and yell for more competition, dangit! Because with competition to keep it a little nervous, it is a fine and lovely tool.

    Without competition — and more, without competition early on (i.e., now, or possibly yesterday) — I’m less sanguine about the ability of anyone to uproot Amazon and its deep pockets. Unlike what Wall Street apparently thinks, for the prices that Amazon stock is going for, I don’t think Amazon will ever exercise much monopoly “price-raising” power. I do think, however, that like Wal-Mart before them, they would like to exercise monopsony powers on their suppliers, and after they’ve squeezed their non-indie publishers to the bone… who’s next? If I’m on the conveyer belt into the sausage factory, I want to keep my eyes open for when to hop off! ;)

    The question would then become whether anyone else could afford to try to compete against Deep Pockets — which is where government intervention may already be happening, if I correctly recall what restrictions the DoJ is putting on the publishers. It’s pretty subtle, but interesting.

    Now, if the other dadgum distributors would get off their dadgum BUTTS and start competing on customer experience… ARGH! Look, you idiot “competitors,” Amazon is still winning there! Get! A! Clue!)

    • For other people to compete, they need to start thinking “What can we do” instead of “Government please tie up Amazon so we can go back to business as usual.” Just saying.
      Actually I don’t think they’ll squeeze indies. HONESTLY. They found a source of money at no real trouble. Mind you, SOPA is being enacted (yes, you read that right) by dibs and drabs and it will require Amazon to shut down indies if the bigguns complain we’re stealing their stuff (rolls eyes.) I’ve already had most of my short stories on hold for the last month because a site pirated me, so Amazon decided I was giving them away for free elsewhere — which makes no sense at all — and might have pirated them (what?)
      I say keep a gimlet eye on the government too. Those boys are way too big for their britches. Even (particularly?) the ones who are girls. Or as Heinlein would say size 2 souls in size 30 bodies, looking for power to make them whole.

      • I’ve already had most of my short stories on hold for the last month because a site pirated me, so Amazon decided I was giving them away for free elsewhere — which makes no sense at all

        I’d say “you’ve got to be kidding” except that I know you aren’t. What kind of back-and-forth are you going through with Amazon on this? (That’s the real potential problem I see with Amazon, it gets too big to deal well with small issues, particularly if a lot of the customer service people are outsourced.)

        I say keep a gimlet eye on the government too. Those boys are way too big for their britches. Even (particularly?) the ones who are girls. Or as Heinlein would say size 2 souls in size 30 bodies, looking for power to make them whole.

        You’ve been reading my mind, haven’t you. I’ve been saying this for years (you do get this type in companies, too, but they tend not to last unless they’re the only one who knows how to do something and they can root themselves in, but that requires a modicum of competence.)

        And yes (I’m female, I can say this), women are the worst at “for your own good” thinking. I think part of that is that for many, the only female authority model they’re familiar with is Mommy. Thus the idea that the whole world is full of children who have to be controlled and taken care of and Mommy Knows Best.

        • Whoops, sorry, screwed up the italics, there.

        • Actually the length of time was my fault. I got sick and didn’t check that email. Still, when I told them it was CLEARLY AND OBVIOUSLY a pirate site, they put the books back up in a week or so. But it took a week. I think the problem is they use bots to crawl around and determine if the book is cheaper elsewhere. The problem is the bots are DUMB. These sites were CLEARLY pirate sites, so I’m at a loss for how they thought this was my doing. (In fact one of them seemed to be a private, limited file sharing service, like friends lending books to each other — which doesn’t even upset me.– and I couldn’t access it because I didn’t have an account.)

      • *shakes a fist at the people who are not getting off their duffs and competing! The gub’mint’s givin’ you a breathing space already! USE IT!*

        I think Amazon’d be happy to squeeze anybody they could. Inertia would protect indies the longest, but if some bean-counter noticed that they could drop royalties to 50%… What would the indie authors do? It’s still loads more than the traditional publishers offer…

        ((I just recently contacted a site that wasn’t selling my stuff, but was claiming the price was $0. (And then having a click-through to the Amazon page, where it most certainly was not zero.) Their email bounced. Their DMAC takedown contact page… got no response. So I looked them up at geektools.com and discovered they had their email obfuscated by a privacy service.

        I contacted the privacy service and told them my tale of woe (including that I feared Amazon would notice), and they forwarded the tale to the people in question (along with a “if they don’t respond, we will stop providing our privacy service to them” — lovely company!), and I got a response and a “oh, gosh, sorry our email isn’t working, we didn’t know!”))

        And, dear stars, doesn’t everyone know that they hafta keep a gimlet eye on the gub’mint? Shock collars would be better, but oh, well.

        • (One of the Privacy company folks looked at the stories I’d linked, and said one looked nifty! …I generated and sent a Smashwords coupon. ;) )

          • I must put the stuff that slid off prime on Smashies. Sigh. My younger kid passed driving test. Why sigh? Tomorrow I have to spend day at DMV with him. (GROAN.)

            • Did you get rights back from prime books? If so what titles so we can remind you in a few weeks. :)

              And Thursday should be a decent day for the DMV, its not the first day of a week, nor the weekend, nor the end/begining of a month so the crowds should only be largish nota huge mob. I like the dmv express branch in my town. It can’t do the tests for new licenses but is muuuuch faster for the renewals it _can_ do. Closer than the full service dmv 3 towns over to!

              • I had to renew my license this week. I found out they no longer print your license at the local DMV’s and hand it to you. They now have them printed at the main office in the capitol and mail them to you, because….wait for it…….people were buying the license printing machines on the internet and printing their own.

                Only printing your license at the main office prevents this, HOW?

                • Same thing here. It’s insane.

                • Don’t you know by now that ANY justification, whether it is reasonable or not, will be used to centralize power and annoyance?

                  I don’t think they have gone to that in Kentucky, yet, thankfully. Although you no longer get a Birth Certificate at the hospital when your child is born, and have to send off to the Capital for it. NO idea what that is supposed to be a response to.

                  • Well, in Charlotte NC it was an attempt to weaponize me. No. Seriously. The GENIUSES don’t ask the mother’s maiden name (or didn’t, twenty one years ago) in the forms. Instead they ask the mother’s first name and her maiden surname, from which they DEDUCE the mother’s maiden name. (Maybe it creates more government jobs? the official maiden name diviner.) Unfortunately there was a name change before I had Robert. So they said the mother was Sarah de Almeida, a creature that never existed in either country. When I told them this was a problem, they said when you change your name it changes your birth certificate… in another country. No, seriously. They told me this.

                    Which initiated a war of nerves. You see, it will shock you to know I’m a tad-bit obsessive and very stubborn so I started calling them ten times a day, escalating through the ranks, telling people WHY what they’d done was stupid.

                    After three months they broke. The main boss at the centralized location still told us — and his underlings — they couldn’t give us a birth certificate with my real, verifiable maiden name, but his secretary rebelled and told him he could answer my phone calls from then on.

                    And that’s how we got Robert’s birth certificate.

                    • Stubborn? No, say it isn’t so! ;-)

                      Anyway, with less complicated names, that’s not such a problem, so we didn’t run into anything like that. Oh, I just realized I DO know why they probably did it – they charge $18 for the BC, so it’s clearly a revenue-generating move.

                    • I guess I’ve lived a charmed life (actually I know I have, ever since I was four). We haven’t ever had these kinds of problems, even when adopting two kids. The only problem we have is that my wife uses her middle name as her given name, since she and her mother shared the same first name. It’s been a lifelong struggle, but even the government is beginning to give in.

                    • My younger son uses his middle name as his first name. He just hates his first name. Shrug. We couldn’t KNOW.

                    • My father and grandfather were both Bruce, but my dad didn’t want me saddled with a “third” at the end of my name, so they gave me a different middle name and used it as my given.

                      In school, though, the teachers insisted on calling me Bruce, so that stuck until I went to college, where the profs would call anyone whatever they wanted and I introduced myself to the dorm rats as Scott.

                      When I enlisted, I was going to use B. Scott, but the various record-keeping stages of basic training broke me of that pretty quickly.

                      Now, though, lol, my son is Bruce Edward, named after my father and grandfather, complete with the III at the end. We call him Trip, which, to me, is just friggin’ fantastic.

                    • Talk about a lifelong struggle… I was born in Canada with American parents. Because of it, I have to fight for my citizenship every two years or more. Ugh. I just had a conversation with my sister who wants to work for Homeland Security. She asked me what court had my naturalization papers. I was offended. I never had to be naturalized. I have to keep up a US passport to prove my citizenship. ….Let’s say that I am pretty torqued.

                      … So I have to prove I am a citizen so she can get a job????????? HUH?

                  • Birth Certificates are a pain, I know a couple of girls that never had them (or social security numbers) they were born at home, delivered by their father with no midwife present. When they got old enough to drive, they couldn’t get a drivers license without a birth certificate, and couldn’t get a birth certificate without proving they where and when they were born. This all took them about a year, and the only way they were finally able to get it was to have a minister sign a sworn affidavit that he was there at their birth. (you know buruacracy is bad when a minister of God is willing to lie in writing to grease the skids). I used to tell them the problem was that they were blonde, if they had been swarthy and spoken broken english there wouldn’t have been a problem.

                    Also note that at least in Washington (where I got my first drivers license) the birth certificate that you get at the hospital (you know the one with little footprints on it) is not an acceptable birth certificate. Even though it has your footprints on it, and they could print your feet to prove it was yours, its not acceptable, you have to send off and get an official one. Since later they decided to give drivers licenses to illegals with NO proof of either identity or citizenship, I am not sure if this is still true.

                    • My dang luck that I am blonde and fair. Oh yea- I had to get a blessing certificate from my parent’s church to show that I was their child with a signed affidavit from the church (it had to be original). Plus original marriage license from the Idaho for my parents. The Canadian short form birth certificate doesn’t show the parents name (and it is the only one the Canadians will send you if you live out of their country). This one is NOT acceptable to the US.

                      Plus every time I go through something official I have to start all over again with the documents. Plus every government agency keeps the documents. You see where this is going? That is why I did the passport and have kept it up since I was in my early twenties. Some people don’t like to accept it, but it is OFFICIAL. And, I can call my senator if they try to be hinky with me. You can’t imagine how hinky it can get.

                      Despite it all I was in the Navy six years with a security clearance and before my illness I was able to get jobs. Oh yea, as soon as bosses see Canada, they want to see a birth certificate and a SSN number. ARG.

                    • First: I just had a conversation with my sister who wants to work for Homeland Security. She asked me what court had my naturalization papers. I was offended. I never had to be naturalized.

                      Then: Despite it all I was in the Navy six years with a security clearance and before my illness I was able to get jobs.

                      Arg! Sputter. Mumble, grumble, spit. Opp, eep, oop. Cough.

                      (The Spouse is looking at me strangely, and I insist that the comment is completely logical given the illogic of the government. I explain, ‘She had a Navy security clearance…can’t they just cross check?’ I get a quizzical look. ‘Oh, that. Yes,’ The Spouse says.)

                    • *snort – yea they can cross-check, but it would be actual work.

                    • More accurately: Why should they?

              • Do you mean Prime crime — mysteries — or Prime Books — vampires? The first I need to deal with. Unfortunately I need money for lawyer. I’m going to try a few things first, and if not, I might run a fund drive “Help me free the musketeers.” Vampires they have for one or two years, hard close. I’ll have to look it up.

                • Free-range Oyster

                  I know a fantastic IP lawyer who’s also a SF&F geek, heavily involved with the Life, the Universe and Everything literature symposium for many years. If it’s something fairly simple, he may be able to help you out at little or no cost. I can’t make any promises on that, but I can vouch for his character and work quality. Shoot me an email and I’ll see about putting you in touch with him.

                • If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am a licensed attorney and have been practicing intellectual property law for… let’s see here… seventeen years. My, how time flies.

                  I can’t represent you in court for various reasons, but if you want a sternly-worded letter, I’m your man. :) Or perhaps just some helpful advice, if that would be helpful.

            • Maybe the scariest words in the English language are “Dad, can I have the keys to the car?”

        • YES! On the shock collars :)

  15. Sarah, I’m surprised you’d be surprised that crap authors would be the biggest opponents of Amazon. When you’ve spent your life learning to mentally fellate publishers in order to sell second-rate literature, the last thing you’d want is a tsunami of first-rate writing.

    • Yeah, when you’ve spent a career making connections, jumping through the flaming hoops, and writing to order, and at last catching the brass ring offered by the literary-industrial complex, and seeing all that as an affirmation of your mad skilz … probably the last thing you do want to see is a tsunami of better stuff.

      Granted – there’s a lot of awful stuff produced by indies. And quite a lot of awful stuff produced by the mainstream publishers; but at least, with the mainstream pubbers, you can be sure that the spelling, punctuation and layout are to somewhat of a professional standard … for what that is worth.

      I’ve read a lot of both – which includes some awesomely good stuff by indies, and stuff by mainstream-published writers which were total wall-bangers. (That is – you throw it across the room so hard that it bangs against the opposite wall.) All the c**p authors have to uphold their good opinion of themselves and prove that they are a success at last!

      But every reader who can scan the ‘look inside’ feature, or read a couple of sample chapters on an author’s website – well, they can look and judge for themselves. That is a privilege that advance reviewers, or people flipping through an actual book in an actual bookstore had the capacity to do.

      And that is probably the scary part – and the aspect of Amazon which is the most frightening. That the larger public can look … and judge for themselves.

      • Keep in mind the true danger of the change in market structure: people able to read what they like instead of what they should. Who knows where so dangerous a principle might lead???

        Already the New York Times has been forced to reconfigure their Non-Fiction Best Seller list to separate the quality from conservative tripe, like those books from Levin, Hannity, Palin and that ilk!

  16. When you’ve spent your life learning to mentally fellate publishers in order to sell second-rate literature, the last thing you’d want is a tsunami of first-rate writing.

    Actually, Ken, what they’re afraid of is a tsunami of COMPETITION, whether it’s first-rate or not. I ended up with a little extra money last month, and made a trip to my local book store. I picked up only four books, all by people I’ve spent the last 40 years reading. I bought five more online. Three of those were from people I haven’t read before. I enjoyed two of the three. The third has been placed in permanent storage.

    • Mike, you just have to use the proper dictionary. The Publishers’ Dictionary defines crap as: stuff we’re not making a nickel on.

  17. You’re all wrong. A tsunami of crap is what happens when I eat too much of anything with corn syrup in it.

    • Same here — 1 Wendy’s Double Baconator + 10 Spicy Chicken Nuggets +1 large fries + 1 large HFCS Pepsi = the reason I have my own bathroom in our house. >;)

    • And here I thought it was what happened when a Honey Truck ran into a manure hauler. Silly me.

      • That brings back memories, and not necessarily pleasant ones! Yeah, I recall the smell of the manure spreaders as they fertilized the rapeseed fields near the military housing area in Wiesbaden. I can’t understand why it took them a solid month to cover the fields with mechanized equipment. My short stay in Korea was during February, so I missed it there.

        • They were still doing it in 1998-2003 when we lived around Kaiserslautern.

          • The farmers around my mom would buy decaying seaweed and/or moluscs from the seaside or (I guess depending on price) offal (it was AWFUL) from the slaughterhouses, spread it on the fields to “cure” for a couple of weeks, then plow it under. The smell was HORRIBLE. However, weirdly, I think if I ever end up in the middle of mass carnage, I’ll go “Oh, smells like spring.” Head>desk.

            • That and Fernando, by Abba, which was played non stop by the “Residents collective” (no, you don’t want to know) loud enough to be heard ALL over the village every summer weekend. Its awful strains still make me go “oh, summer night.”

              You know… I have a profoundly weird adolescence.

            • When I was a kid we used to go down to the chicken farm down the road every spring, and get chicken manure to spread on the garden. Talk about something that makes your eyes burn! But yes, to this day when I smell chicken manure my first thought is, “Must be about time to get the garden in.”

            • Coming down 421 from the Blue Ridge nearing the Red, White and Blue Road exit I noticed a smell in the air. The Daughter noticed it as well, which, due to happy inexperience, she could not identify. Ah, yes, but I, who recalled childhood drives past the Amish fields of Lancaster Pennsylvania knew: natural soil enrichment.

            • My first job (after school and on weekends) was working in a slaughterhouse. Not even doing the butchering: cleaning up after the butchers. You haven’t known dread until you’ve arrived to find forty or so sixty-gallon trash barrels which contained offal and have been sitting out in the sun all day waiting for your happy ass to come along and scrub them out with acid.

              On the plus side, I haven’t got any disgust, of the physical kind, left in me. Used it all up before I was 18. This is very handy when raising kids – poopy diapers? Puke all over everything? Big deal. Run along, dear, I got this.

          • About the time I got in high school the town where I went to school at decided to spread the sewage from the local treatment plant on farmers fields (all fields that flooded every winter coincidentally). Supposedly it was all sterilized and sanitary, but man did it stink; and the farmers got volunteer tomatoes, so I question how well sterilized it was.

            • This is one of the things that truly astounds me about this weblog. Here we are, a couple of hundred of us, scattered all over the world, most of whom have never met more an one or two others from this group, yet we have so very much in common. I wonder if that’s because we’re, for the most part, the “odds” of society, or whether our experiences are what have made us “odd”. Either way, I feel more at home here than I have anywhere else on the web!

  18. I can decide which I like more, this blog post or all comments.

    Well played, Sarah!

  19. “Poopy head?” I thought the proper term was “Pee pee face.”

    • No, it is “doody head” but cut her some slack, she is an import.

      • I think it depends on location. Around here it tends to be “poopy head”. Unless you’re my niece’s son, then it just comes out “s#!% head”.

        • One of the fringe benefits of a long military career spent in “exotic” locations is that I now know how to curse in eleven different languages, two of them imaginary.

          • It says something about my brain that I misparsed your statement as “in elven different languages, two of them imaginary” and immediately went, “Well, yes, Quenya and Sindarin are imaginary, technically, but why would you need to specify it explicitly? Surely everyone here knows that” before going back and realizing which letter I’d missed in your comment.
            :-)

            • Well, yes, Quenya and Sindarin are imaginary

              A point of order! Sindarin is spoken quite extensively in and around the Willamette Valley, from the Dun’s of Clan McKenzie all the way to the PPA fiefs and even into Bear Killer territory. Hell, some of the CORA have even picked it up.

  20. Pingback: On big and small publishers – and the future « http://error451.me

  21. You must take this down — immediately. It makes way too much sense.