Welcome to the Real World

Between not feeling good this past week and having to leave earlier for Denver this weekend than she expected, Sarah wasn’t able to do a post for today. So she asked if I would mind cross-posting my Mad Genius Club post here. Of course, I’m thrilled to be back at ATH and I promise Sarah will be back tomorrow.

–Amanda S. Green

Yesterday I wrote about why I’m a Human Waver. I want to thank everyone who has so whole-heartedly jumped into the conversations this week about the new Human Wave Science Fiction, starting with Sarah’s post, Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, over on According to Hoyt and continuing with What is Human Wave Science Fiction here on MGC.

For me, part of my desire–no, my need–to embrace this new movement, for lack of a better word, goes far beyond just wanting to be able to read books like those I enjoyed so much when I was younger. It is a reaction to the legacy publishing industry, the same industry that has told so many of us that our stories aren’t deep enough or socially relevant enough or don’t carry the right message.

I’ll admit, part of the reason for this post today is because several of us involved with Mad Genius Club have been told that we are getting too serious on the blog. We’ve been asked if we are trying to cut off any chance we might have to work with the NYC publishers. In short, we are questioning the status quo and that just isn’t done.

Then, earlier this evening, I read a comment on a discussion board I frequent–several comments actually–where the posters made sweeping condemnations of authors who are taking paths that don’t lead through legacy publishers. According to them, there is a cache that comes with being published by these folks (And, for the record, I am exempting Baen from this conversation because I know their process and it isn’t that of the “big” publishers). This cache includes things like editing and copy editing and promotion and support for authors, etc., etc., etc.

All of which is bull. But we’ve discussed that before. In fact, I’ve been accused of harping too much on it. So I simply suggest you go back and look at our earlier posts about just how much push and promotion all but a few big name authors get. Compare the level of editing and copy editing and proofreading of books, paper and digital, today as opposed to twenty years ago. Ask most authors about what sort of support they get from their publishers. After they stop laughing, be prepared for a lesson in real life publishing.

Again, Baen does not fall into this category.

No, this post is aimed at those who feel we are being too negative and confrontational in our comments about legacy publishers. What these people don’t understand, mainly because they aren’t living the writer’s life, is that this is how most of us feel.

Publishing is changing and the many of the players are running scared. Publishers are trying to hold onto business models that should have evolved years ago. They are grabbing for rights to books that weren’t even dreamed up at the time contracts were signed. They are refusing to relinquish rights for books that have been out of print without the threat of litigation. They are insisting on non-compete clauses in contracts that can prevent authors from not only submitting work to other publishers but from also self-publishing something, even if it isn’t the sort of book the initial publisher puts out.

Worse, you have publishers fighting for a pricing scheme (agency pricing) that they admit makes them less money than they made under the earlier pricing policy. WTF? At a time when they are struggling to survive, they are fighting to make less money. Why? Because it would, in their minds, screw with Amazon. They aren’t looking at the bottom line for their companies or what this means to authors. And, authors, if the publisher makes less money, you’ll make less money.

Then there are the agents who are now acting as publishers or assisted publishers or whatever. Agents who are supposed to be representing their clients’ best interest are now going into a part of the business that, at least on the surface, looks like it could be a direct conflict of interest.

But it’s worse. There is what I am tempted to call a conspiracy of conformation taking place. We saw some of it last week on Sarah’s post, War is Hell. The trolls came running to the blog to beat her over the head because she wasn’t toeing the correct line. Her facebook page was hijacked when all she did was repost a Heinlein quote.

Folks, like it or not, but there has been a movement to keep writers in line. If you don’t believe me, listen to what editors and agents say at cons when they think they are in “friendly territory”. It hasn’t been more than a month since someone I know overheard an editor talking about having to drop someone because they’d found out this person was, gasp, conservative. If they are dropping friends for not being of the “right” political bent, believe me, they are dropping writers for the same reason.

Why else are writers having series dropped by editors with such questionable reasons as the series never caught on with the readers when that series is still on the shelves in bookstores more than two years after publication? Go ask anyone who works at a bookstore if they keep books in stock, much less on the shelves, if it isn’t moving. They don’t. And yet editors seem to think writers aren’t smart enough to check for themselves if their books are selling.

For years, writers have bitten their tongues and have made changes to their manuscripts in an attempt to keep their editors happy. That ought to be a red flag right there. Keeping the editor happy instead of the buying public. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?

Writers are frustrated and, to be honest, we’re just as scared as the publishers. We don’t like change any more than the rest of the world. Worse, we’d really just like to be left alone to write. But we also want, and need, to make a fair wage for our work. That means publishers need to adjust their royalty schemes–or once more give that cachet of benefits that reader thought they still did. It means agents need to adjust their mindsets as well and remember there are legitimate options for their clients that don’t necessarily mean going with a legacy publisher.

Have I wound up severing any chance I had of landing a contract with a big publisher? Possibly. With an agent? Again, possibly. But I couldn’t get one to accept me as a client or author before Naked Reader Press. I’ve had agents forget I’d sent back edits they’d asked for and, when I did finally ask about it, they asked me to send another round of edits, WITHOUT FIRST SEEING THE INITIAL EDITS and without offering representation. I’ve had editors give me great feedback but tell me my books just “weren’t right” for them. That’s fine. I’ve found other outlets and I make pretty good money from these outlets. So, much as part of me would like a contract from a legacy publisher, I’m not going to cry if I never get one. (Of course, I still want a contract with Baen, but that’s because it is the only “major” publisher that consistently publishes books I like to read.)

So, have most of us at Mad Genius Club been negative? You bet. We’re human. We’re writers. And, like so many other writers right now, we have had enough. We want to be able to write the books we want to write. Books and short stories that fall squarely into Human Wave Science Fiction. We want to be able to bring these books and short stories to our fans. More than that, we want to be able to expand the Human Wave from sf to fantasy, mystery, romance, etc. Is that so wrong?

15 thoughts on “Welcome to the Real World

  1. “Too Negative”?

    Yep, but that’s only a “crime” when you’re “negative” about the “wrong” things.

    [Sarcasm] Now if you’re “negative” about Amazon, that’s OK. [End Sarcasm]

  2. Amanda, there’s a trend here I was just fuming about yesterday, on a subject that had nothing to do with publishing , but everything to do with “criticizing the wrong things”. On my FB page, I posted a link to an economic opinion-piece I liked, with my own comment expressing regret that I suspected the “target audience” was unlikely to grasp the point. One friend, who generally disagrees with me on such topics but does so thoughtfully and reasonably, asked me to explain why I agreed with the author. Other friends jumped in to hijack the discussion, responding to emotions they projected onto what I had written, while carefylly sidestepping any actual substance. In other words, for being “too negative” about something which I should appreciate and was disparaging unwisely …

    My only problem with that is the fact that the hijackers seem to have been successful in chasing off the one person who was in danger of breaking ranks with them and making an effort to understand something other than the conventional wisdom.

    1. Steve, that’s why I’ve had my fill of the trolls and hijackers. There really are times when I feel that there is the “conspiracy of conformity” I noted in this post. If you dare think something, much less say it, that doesn’t conform to the “accepted” wisdom–ie, correct political or social trend of the day–the mini-mob comes out to shout you down. I am sorry it happened on your fb, especially if it did chase off someone who could have benefited from a discussion.

  3. I wonder if all this push back from the non-writing community stems from the “book=print” mindset some of the reading public seems to cling to. I’m still being asked when some of my titles are coming out as “real books.” The readers don’t know what to make of these changes, so, as humans are wont to do, they fall back on familiar forms.

    I’ve been told that choosing a small press or e-publisher means I’m impatient or lazy. “If you’d only given the big print houses the kind of stories they want!” I submit that impatience has little to do with it. Writing the kind of stories I love to read, and thereafter connecting with my readers, is.

    1. Hm. I dunno. I decided that I didn’t want to wait for the publishing climate to change, nor write X more books in order to get the ones I had (which were “too long” and a weird genre) into circulation by somehow lucking out and becoming a Name. So… Impatient, I’ll plead guilty. A lot more rewarding, though. 🙂

      1. Beth, I hear you when it comes to your books not fitting the mold. Nocturnal Origins is best described as urban fantasy because it has shapeshifters as main characters. But there’s no sex in it. The main plot is police procedural. It’s in third person limited point of view. Yes, it drove traditional publishers crazy–as well as some agents. One editor said they’d reconsider publishing it if I rewrote it in first person. More than one said I needed to go back and put sex, lots of sex in it. They just didn’t get that it wasn’t a paranormal romance. So, when my bosses at Naked Reader Press demanded I give it to them, I did and I haven’t regretted it.

    2. Deb, I think that is part of it. I think another part is the reaction caused by the “freebie effect”. There are a number of folks who will download free books/short stories every day just because they are free. They don’t check the preview and rely upon the meta tags for the titles to determine if it’s something they want to read or not. Unfortunately, that means they do run the risk of finding freebies that aren’t what they think or are poorly written/edited/formatted. After getting more than one or two of them, the reader starts hesitating before downloading anything else for free. Worse, they assume that the badly edited or formatted (or even poorly written) titles are self-published. Which, considering how poorly formatted the last few paid titles I’ve read have been belies that belief, especially since these titles came from the big six publishers.

      As for going small press or e-pub being lazy, all I can say is those telling you that are either deluding themselves or have never tried to break into the business. I applaud you for wanting to write enjoyable stories and wanting to connect to your readers.

    3. “If you’d only given the big print houses the kind of stories they want!”

      There are plenty of people writing the stories that the big print houses want. Are those the only stories worth telling? Are those the only kind of stories that the public wants? Is there something wrong with satisfying the buyer? (Which lead to the principle: you are competing for someone’s beer money and for their time.)

  4. In the second novella of Ringo’s Princess of Wands (the one at the con) there’s a brief section which I think pretty much nails the basic conflict that leads these people to cut out the “wrong” sort of people:

    “Tribal instinct,” Janea answered, ignoring the group but speaking loudly enough that they couldn’t ignore it. “Also fear of social status. Maintenance of social status for a high status person is a full-time job. People like these four have status to maintain and these days they have to live in fear of the oddballs that control things like computers and information technology. Since suits can rarely figure out how to turn on their computers, much less do anything more complicated than a simple spreadsheet, they increasingly fear geeks.”

    “You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” one of the women snapped. “I can figure out a computer just fine.”

    “Yes, but use the word ‘router’ around you and you think it’s something used in a woodworking class,” Janea said, turning to her and smiling thinly. “But primarily it’s a throwback to primitive society where the higher status got to eat the better parts of the mastodon. And they’d eventually get kicked out of status and end up eating the knees. Keeping people in their place was important for them. Now, they go through high school and college in a comfortable in-group and then, upon exiting into the real world, find that they’re dependent upon the people they denigrated in both areas. It has to be terrible for you,” she added with mock caring.

    1. Yep. And, right now with the publishing industry changing so rapidly and drastically, those folks are scared to death and clinging to the old ways even tighter than usual. Thanks for the bit from Ringo. I’d forgotten it and now it has me wanting to go back and reread PoW.

      1. Panicking crowds are prone to trample. The publishers and agents are panicked.

        The Emperor’s New Clothes fails on (at least) two counts. First, no politician is going to risk his dignity on an assumption of the People’s intelligence. Second, anybody calling out the Emperor’s nekkidness is going to be set upon by those wishing to curry the Emperor’s favour (we call them MSM.)

        Y’all are gonna get inter trouble pointing out Imperial nudity while folks are in a panic.

  5. About a year ago I documented several blogs which appeared to have been set up by industry insiders to push the view that ONLY books published by publishing industry professionals were worth:

    1) Reviewing
    2) Reading
    3) Selling

    I’d also noticed trolls saying, “but only professionally edited books…”, and that the same patterns of words appeared on comments from one website to another. When I wrote all this up I was described as paranoid.

    I stood by my statements. I’d seen the exact same pattern of events in the Software Industry over GPL Software and in the Music Industry over the Grateful Dead Business Model.

    I’m glad to see that it is finally sinking in that the other side really is playing for keeps. They don’t mind hiring trolls to make a mess of blogs by posting scatological arguments. Hell, it’s worth their effort if they can get you to shut down.

    The sad thing is that if you turn up the screws on moderation, it will reduce the number of comments, and the community. But there really isn’t any choice, unless you want to let them win.

    Wayne

  6. You want cachet, the real cachet is in printed manuscripts. You know the kind: illuminated letters, hand printed on vellum — none of that cheap paper and sloppy “set” type that Guttenberg uses. Avoid the printing press, that’s for losers who can’t interest a real publisher in their work. Besides, look at the kinds of people buying Guttenberg’s stuff: real riff-raff who would know a well-turned phrase from a cow pie only because they’ve trodden in the latter.

    If you haven’t already exhausted your monthly allotment of NY Times articles, this book review might be of interest:

    THE RIGHTEOUS MIND: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
    A psychologist argues that people base decisions on moral intuition, not reason.
    By JONATHAN HAIDT
    Reviewed by WILLIAM SALETAN
    You’re smart. You’re liberal. You’re well informed. You think conservatives are narrow-minded. You can’t understand why working-class Americans vote Republican. You figure they’re being duped. You’re wrong.

    This isn’t an accusation from the right. It’s a friendly warning from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a partisan liberal. In “The ­Righteous Mind,” Haidt seeks to enrich liberalism, and political discourse generally, with a deeper awareness of human nature. Like other psychologists who have ventured into political coaching, such as George Lakoff and Drew Westen, Haidt argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments. But Haidt is looking for more than victory. He’s looking for wisdom. That’s what makes “The Righteous Mind” well worth reading. Politics isn’t just about ­manipulating people who disagree with you. It’s about learning from them.
    [ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html?ref=books ]

  7. I am positive i will continue to write aliens interacting with humans without army guns blazing.
    I am positive I will never join Facebook.
    I am positive i will make all changes an editor suggests after I bank the cheque.
    I am positive I will find and follow authors who write the wonder and adventure of humans surviving on other planets.
    I am positive humans do not have science figured out yet, so I will write about science principles that expand on what is currently known.

    Thanks everyone, for the smiles at the comments. Glad J.A.Marlow linked to this site.

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