Certainly, The Game Is Rigged

*Sorry to be so late.  I originally had a different post written, but I realized some friends and mentees needed THIS one.  So I wrote it this morning, while dealing with interruptions.*

I confess I feel a little sheepish going over this yet again, but it’s clear I’m not getting through judging by the number of friends who are in a panic because they’re being dropped by their traditional publisher.  And then it occurred to me that though I’ve covered the differences between traditional publishing and indie publishing until I’m blue in the face, I never explained, at the basic, mechanic level, the difference between sales models.  I’ve told you that you’re free to do all yourself: hire an editor, do the layout, etc.  I’ve told you that you can do it.  I’ve told you that you will be better off and make more money that way.

What I’ve failed to tell you is why the traditional publishers are pushing 9 out of 10 promising newbies that way (if not more these days) and why you absolutely must take your career in your own hands.

And it’s shocking I have failed to tell you that, since I too had to be told, by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith.  Repeatedly.  And it only finally sunk in when I took their publishing workshop.  I urge you to follow those links to their pages and read the Business Rusch going back at least two years, and read Dean’s series Think Like A Publisher.  or buy his book from Amazon and/or Creatspace. And no, they don’t give me a kickback– it’s just everything I’ll say here they said earlier and better, and I don’t have the time to go into the detail they go into.

I confess I’ve dismissed all “younger” (which in my field means you entered the publishing game after me) writers who refuse to go indie witha shrug of the shoulders and a “If you want prestige you’ll screw yourself for it.”  I might have been doing them an injustice – except for those few who explicitly told me they want the prestige.  For those, I say only – on your own head be it.

For the others, the ones who are in honest and understandable despair –  after either a career of some length, or after earnest attempts to break in, crowned by encouraging letters from publishers – at the state of their prospects, I apologize.  I should have not dismissed you out of hand, nor would I have save for all the twits who want the “prestige” and who drove me nuts long before you came to me with your real problem.

I understand your doubts.  I understand your fears.  I understand your (misguided, for those of you I’ve read) conclusions that your writing must suck like a Dyson.  I understand you despair and your tears.  I was there, as little ago as a year.

First full disclosure.  As far back as my first rejection slip, I framed a Heinlein quote and hung it on the wall near my desk – so at some level I understood it even then, back in the eighties (and yes, it took me that long to put it together, though to be honest, it also got much worse over time.) – it says “Certainly the game is rigged.  Don’t let that stop you.  If you don’t bet, you can’t win.”

This countered all the times when I was sure the story was publishable (and it got an honorable mention in year’s best when it finally came out, so I wasn’t even wrong) but it got eighty five or eighty eight rejections most of them standard and impersonal.  I looked at it and I went “The game is rigged” – which it was, though not on purpose or nefariously – and went back to playing.  (Yes, Heinlein continues bringing up some of us from beyond the grave.)

We’ll go into how that game was rigged FIRST so that you understand how, with no malice on either side, things can stack against you.

First you have to understand this is NOT school.  In school, if your work is good enough you get an A.  Unfortunately that’s the model most of us know well, when heading out into publishing.  Also unfortunately it has very little to do with old style publishing.  (It might have more to do with indie, and I’ll explain later.)

In a magazine, which is what I was mostly submitting to at the time (well, novel publishers too, but that’s a whole different ball of wax), you have x slots per magazine – be it monthly or quarterly or whatever.  You buy for those slots, and when those slots are taken up, it’s all gone.

Having read slush, I can tell you how that process goes.  First, you look for names.  Why?  Names sell magazines.  When the magazine is on the shelf, or displayed on line, people who are fans of an established author are going to buy the magazine for the author.  And even if the magazine is tiny press, they’ll get a number of “names” – with trunk stories or reprints.  So, you read those immediately, as soon as they come in.  And if one of them fits the theme of your magazine, you buy it.

Let’s say you bought two. You now have eight slots.  What you’re going to look for is stories that sort of fit the theme of the magazine issue established by your anchor stories.  And you’re going to look first for what I’d call medium-names.  Why?  Well, because you hate new writers of course.  Okay, I’m joking.  No, it’s because solid mid list usually needs very little editing and takes instruction well.  So you pick up people whose name is familiar and read those.  Say, with a couple of rewrite requests, you now have two open slots.  (And this is optimistic, btw.)  Now you turn to the raw newbies.  By this time, though, you have length as well as theme requirements.  Typesetting might give you some flexibility, but you really can’t buy a ten thousand word story for a thousand word slot without running into some serious issues.

So, that game was rigged for good and sound business reasons on the publisher’s part.  I was right on that.  And hopefully now you understand why so many people experienced what I did where, after a hellish time breaking in, almost everything of theirs sold, including very old trunk stories.

Now let’s come to the way the novel market was rigged when I broke in, in 1999.  In some ways those seem like halcyon days compared to now, though reading Kris and Dean that’s when they consider the business to have gone off the rails.

The game used to be rigged the same way the magazines were.  Given a certain number of slots, they bought a certain number of books, and the precedence was kind of like above.  First, buy the bestsellers, who are going to bring in x amount of money.  Then buy the midlisters who will pay for themselves and a little more.  Finally buy the hopeful beginner and give him or her (at least) three tries, so long as he or she isn’t losing you massive amounts of money per book.  Baen, to an extent, still follows these business model. They admit they are a “mid list” house, meaning they don’t kick their midlisters out and let them grow, so long as they are growing, no matter how slow.  Now, they might give them fewer slots, compared to better selling books, but they don’t shut them off.  They understand midlisters are – or should be – where bestsellers come from.  They are, as far as I know, unique among even medium houses in the business today, let alone fairly large and established, which they are.  Heck, even quite small presses (those I’m not associated with) are trying to follow the “go big or go home” model.  Which is stupid, but is their funeral.

I first ran up against this business in October 2001.  Please, note the date.  As far as I understood from my publisher (I might have been wrong, mind you.  I was very young and hopeful and starry eyed) they had planned to do medium push on my first novel.  Nothing insane, but since Ill Met By Moonlight had a literary bent, and was going hard cover, they had (this I know for a fact) bought an end-of-row display for it in the chain stores.)  Then September 2001 intervened and things went very odd.

There were things before that, that led to there being only 2 copies or so ordered per store (I’m not going to wash dirty laundry in public.  Suffice it to say it had nothing to do with me or my book, but with their suddenly needing to push another book which had been delivered late.) The bookstores, faced with two books on hand, couldn’t understand why someone had paid for an endcap display, and just didn’t – for Borders – for the most part unpack my book at all.  It was returned a month later, without ever being on the shelf.  BUT even those that made it on the shelf, didn’t always sell.  After all that was (till then) the worst quarter ever for American publishing.  But wait, there’s more.  Because the book had been slated for medium push and because they thought it would appeal across genres, it didn’t say anything on the spine, not even fiction and the cover was a pre-raphaelite painting.  As a result, it was shelved in biography, theater, art (!) main stream, mystery… anywhere but fantasy where it belonged.  When I did drive-by signings, there was always a fun game of “hunt the book” lasting up to an hour.  Friends and fans who were waiting for the book would email me ten months later to ask if it was out yet.

So…  Of a printrun of eight thousand, hard cover, I sold about twenty five hundred.

Now, look at the list above and tell me what I did wrong?  Remember most of the books didn’t sell because they were never on the shelf and no one had ever heard of them.  I confess the book is “literary” and involuted, but it must have a public because I STILL get fan mail.  However, books that aren’t on shelves can’t be found.

The company had already bought the next two books.  So they couldn’t just tell me to go away.  But they did the next best thing: they printed the absolute minimum on the next two books.  There are die hard fans of Ill Met By Moonlight who DON’T KNOW there were two more books.  People approach me at cons and go “I loved your Ill Met By Moonlight, but you never wrote more historic fantasy.”

However, the publisher’s conclusion, from these events was that there was something wrong with my writing of historic fantasy.  They thought I might still be salvageable though, so they bought an historic mystery.  And then a contemporary mystery.  We will not go into those sad tales.  They have decided that neither of those series will make money (yes, the tales are similar to above.  With the additional fun that the contemporary mystery is still on the shelves two years later, but they tell me it failed to catch with the public.  Also their statements are internally inconsistent.  Yes…  There are reports ordered, and I promise to publish all third party reports and publisher reports right here.)

There was another historic fantasy series with another publisher that went roughly the same.  Low laydown, low expectations and low sales.

So, right now you’re going “Is it possible your writing sucks like a Dyson?”  I admit I thought that.  I mean, it’s the logical conclusion, right?  Except that at the same time this was happening to me, the publishers were bleeding mid-listers.  Solid, established mid-listers, people I had grown up reading and loved to read.  Also, as a reader, I was having more and more trouble finding people to read.  Old favorites disappeared and new favorites had a book, maybe two and vanished.

I confess I’m not brilliant, and when I’m involved, my default position is “It’s all my fault.  I must suck.”  It took reading Dean and listening to a couple of editor friends talk frankly about what was going on behind the scenes to GET it.  It actually wasn’t my fault.  Yeah, I might not be the most brilliant thing since polished brass, but the truth was, I never had a chance.

You see, late nineties – in addition to a lot of other forces – publishers acquired full control of shelf space (pretty much.)  Do you know what the most influential thing was for getting on a bookstore shelf?  Not the book, not even the cover, not even the author’s name or previous book figures (though that counted.  Google “ordering to the net” and “books” and you’ll understand the statistical misuse that was screwing midlisters then.)  THE most important thing determining how many books went on the shelves was how many books the PUBLISHER said they were going to print.  If the rep said “We’re printing a hundred thousand copies, you should take fifty” the bookstore did, because this indicated “high confidence” on the publisher’s part.  And given that shelves were the only way to find a book, you usually sold at least half the print run.  (Because you took up so much shelf space.  People FOUND you easilly.) And no one called a book with fifty thousand sales a failure, even if half the print run had to be scraped.

So, how many books got this treatment?  Well…  Maybe one in four.  Often less.

Were these books exceptionally marketable.  The publishers thought they were.  And here you have to understand MOST publishers (other than Baen, again) are creatures of New York City.  They live in New York City, they attend the same parties, they come from the same colleges.  Once they could control what books sold (by controlling shelf space) they could indulge in their own fancies, and enjoy having them confirmed (Yes, power corrupts, but we still need the electricity.)  This meant the books that got this treatment were books the publishers would like to read.  People tend to think everyone is like them, more so if they live in the same closed millieu.

Unfortunately a lot of the ones they took a fancy to translated to “the writer’s story.”  By which I don’t mean the story they wrote, but their personal story.

I’m not the world’s most politically correct person, and I know the last time I said this people got all upset at me to the tune of “What do you mean being a minority gave you an advantage.”  So, I’m going to explain.  Being a minority-who-made-good gave you an advantage.  Come on guys, it’s the quintessential American story.  Why should it surprise you?  Of course, these had to be “right thinking” minorities who agreed with the publishers and were duly grateful for the hand up.  (And apparently counting as “Latin” – who knew? – I found the suggestion that I should play up my personal story as an immigrant incredibly smarmy. I was never oppressed because I don’t let people oppress me, and my ethnicity is the least of my concerns.)  So it was if anything harder for minorities who aren’t duly grateful.  Other things that might get you a good laydown – beyond writing the dream book of NYC – were: having contacts in the field (If you possibly could, you should definitely room with a future senior editor while in college); being pretty and young (while I was reasonably pretty while young and I still don’t break mirrors, I only broke in in my late thirties.  So I failed the second.  At any rate, just as well, since I don’t understand what looks have to do with writing well.  I think it’s publishing thinking they’re Hollywood); having an interesting “slant” other than personal history (say you have an egg farm and write about dragon farms.  That sort of thing.); there were other factors, of course, but none of them were writing.

The big publishers are still buying that way, and most of the medium/small publishers still imitate them.  They still control laydown (somewhat) though some bookstores have got smart (or desperate) and are taking account of things like Amazon numbers in what they order and stock, so the push model is failing before our eyes.  To be honest, it was before.  Which is why the market was ripe for Indie.  (Publishing didn’t fall, it was pushed.)

So, if you are a new writer and they’re dropping your series, remember a) It’s probably nothing to do with your writing.  b) You can do better indie.

And right now you’re saying “How can I do better indie?  I’m promoting as fast as I can, and people aren’t buying fast enough for me to stay in print.”

Okay – no one can promote fast enough for the book to stay in print.  NO ONE.  The publisher either “pushed” or didn’t.  And if the publisher pushed, you don’t NEED to promote.

The beauty of Indie is that you don’t need to “promote fast enough.”  There is a sense of urgency in traditional publishing because so much depends on the laydown (on how many shelves you are) and velocity (how fast you sell.  If you don’t sell x books by three weeks, they’re all returned and then you can’t sell them.)  So, you’re on the clock the moment that book comes out.  Because shelf space is precious, they treat the books like produce.  Three weeks and they’re “old” and must be removed to make room for new ones.

You don’t have that in Indie.  The book goes up and stays up.  What I’ve seen with my own stuff is that sales GROW per title, as word of mouth has time to work.  So that book will only make you more.  Oh, you can still promote, by doing things like blogging and going to conferences and getting your name out there.  It helps, and it’s all cumulative.  One push feeds on the other.  The time pressure is off.  And it works.

And of course, in Indie you can keep a much larger percentage of the price, so you can live on a much smaller number of sales.

You don’t need to promote fast, for indie.  You need to promote steady and slow.  And keep promoting.

But Sarah, you say, I still want to be on shelves.  You can be. At least as much, maybe more than your publisher is getting you on shelves. I haven’t tried it yet for my Indie stuff, but if you read Dean he outlines ways to do it.

In any case you should read him and Kris.  There are many things I glided over, and this post is already epically long.  And you should take their publishing workshop if you can afford it and they accept you.  TOTALLY worth it, and it’s cheap, plus spouses count as one person.

So, that’s what you should do.  But for now, be aware only that if your series failed it’s not your fault.  The publisher slanted you to fail.  (Yes, there are economic reasons for that – some crazy – and I’m not going into that here.) There is nothing you could do after that.  No human being could promote “fast” enough.  (Well, maybe Bill Gates.)

It’s not your fault.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer.  And you can make a living going indie. Depending on how hard you want to work, on both your quality (this is where school-like comes in.  More readable stuff sells better indie) and your quantity, you can make a GOOD living.

Be not afraid.  The game is rigged.  So, play to win.

37 responses to “Certainly, The Game Is Rigged

  1. ppaulshoward

    Fits what else I’ve heard about publishers. [Sad Smile]

  2. I always thought that the game was rigged. I decided not to deal with the publishers after being told by a couple of agents that my work was derivative. What does that mean anyway?

    Anyway, I am now on Amazon in digital and print (indie-published) and I have steady sales. I hope to do better and eventually support myself.


  3. So I’m coming to this from a reader’s perspective, not an author’s perspective. For me, the value of publishers, and specifically Baen (since 90% of the books I buy these days tend to be Baen books) has been the consistency of their offerings. In other words, I know I liked authors X, Y and Z, who have published through Baen. Here’s authors A, B and C who have published through other companies, and author D who just got her first book picked up by Baen. I know there’s a very good chance I’ll like D’s book, but I don’t know a thing about A, B and C. So I go buy D’s book (after reading 25% of it online — another clever move by Baen), and chances are I’ll never even touch the books by A, B and C.

    Given all that, here’s my question. What mechanisms exist in the indie market that would duplicate this feedback mechanism that’s built into the traditional market? (If you can call Baen traditional: yes, they do put books on shelves, but most of the Baen books I own I bought in electonic format, not paper format — and the whole “lots of our books on this CD that you’re encouraged to copy and give away” thing is as non-traditional as it comes.) I’m sure you’ve probably covered this already, but I only just discovered your blog, and I haven’t even come close to reading through the archives just yet.

    • Boy, that was unclear. I should know better than to try to write complex thoughts when I’m groggy from lack of sleep (it’s midnight in my time zone right now). What I meant to say but somehow omitted from my post was “I’m sure you’ve probably covered this already, so please don’t feel you have to write 3,000 words to answer me — just point me to where you’ve written about this and I’ll go read that. I’m sure I’ll find it eventually as I read through the archives, but if you give me a pointer in the right direction it’ll probably save me a couple of weeks’ worth of looking.”

      • Pretty much every book has a few “extra” pages — I think it has to do with the mechanics of printing, the same way that newspapers tend to come in multiples of 4 — that are bound at the back. Sometimes these get left blank, sometimes they provide a listing of other works by the author or another author in that publisher’s stable. So far as I’ve noticed, Baen is the only publisher to fill those pages with lists of authors in the form: If you like this author [Column A] … You might also like [Column B].

        Baen has been almost unique among publishers in being reader focused. They are less “what do we want to sell?”, more “what do people want to read?” Funny how an approach like that builds a publishing brand and a reader loyalty that typically is only awarded authors.

      • I’ve covered it, but don’t ask me to find it. TAGGING, I so must learn to do it. The answer is: people follow writers outside Baen, not publishers (And I intend to keep working for Baen, so that part is covered.) 🙂 And for “free stuff” I put stuff for free on Amazon every once in a while and try to mention it here.

    • Well… First of all you’re assuming that Baen and the other publishers work the same. I agree with you on Baen, but this isn’t true for the other publishers. This is why Baen has house loyalty, the others don’t. Second, most people follow authors, not houses (Unless they’re Baen fans.) Indie leaves that unchanged.

      • Thanks, that gives me a much better picture of the (dire) state of the rest of the industry. One last question I had that hasn’t been addressed yet (and this one’s answer might also be “I covered that, you’ll eventually find it as you dig through the archives):

        Are there any mechanisms in the indie market that would fill the role of “I like author A, therefore I’ll probably like author B”? Word of mouth is an obvious answer, and Amazon’s “people who bought X also bought Y, Z and W” will sometimes lead to new discoveries… but those are the only two I know about. What mechanisms (if any) in the indie market end up leading readers to discover new authors? (New to the reader, I mean, not new to the market).

    • What mechanisms exist in the indie market that would duplicate this feedback mechanism that’s built into the traditional market?

      At the moment, the best mechanism I’ve seen is, *sigh*, Amazon. (I sigh because I think Amazon is like fire; a useful tool, a horrible master, and something to keep an eye on in case it’s spitting things outside the fire grille. But thus far, no other online book-seller has managed to be half as useful this way. *kicks the others in the duff*) Anyway, where was I… Ah, right. Amazon has this interesting “also bought” feature all over the place, because Amazon rightfully wants to enable your book habit.

      What’s the first thing under “Book Description” on an Amazon page? Well, if it’s sold about 20-odd copies, “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” (And I really hope that the person who also bought all those paranormal erotica books isn’t disappointed in my duology.) Go down a bit further, and you get the “What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?” section. In the case of the book I’m looking at, the sequel (heh!), a freebie by M.C.A. Hogarth, and the Foglios’ Agatha H and the Airship City. (Not bad company!!)

      And then there’s tags! You can go down and look at the tags associated with that book, click on one, and see a list of all the books with that tag. (You can also add your own tags and up-vote or down-vote the existing ones.) Or you can type in your own tag into the “Search Products Tagged with” field right next to those tags, e.g., alchemy (this is not a self-serving example at all, and I have a very nice bridge I’d like to sell you), and presto! All the books with that tag, which you can sort by things like popularity, recently-tagged, etc.

      Go to Amazon’s home-page, and at the bottom? Your recent history of what you’ve been looking at, and a little list of “Customers Who Bought Items in Your Recent History Also Bought…”

      Amazon wants you to find the books that you will want to buy. They want it desperately. They want to enable your book habit like nobody’s business. They may not be quite as good at it as a hyper-focused publishing house like Baen, but they want to get there.

      And, of course, you can always look stuff up on Amazon and buy elsewhere if you own a Nook or Sony ereader or whatever Kobo calls their device.

      Excuse me. I need to go browse what’s in that “…Items in Your Recent History Also Bought…” list.

  4. Martin L. Shoemaker

    Have you actually found a link to buy Dean’s book? I can’t find it yet. I thought the book was still in the second draft phase.

    • ? I’ve got a copy (OK, he handed them out at the Think Like a Publisher workshop 🙂 )

      This page on Amazon (US) will take you to both e-book and paperback print versions:

      • Martin L. Shoemaker

        OK, I saw that one, but “The Early Years” in the title made me wonder if it was a subset of the essays he put online.

        I’ve read all the essays, and all the comments. I’m happy to buy the book even so, because it will be nice to have them all in one convenient cover and probably cleaned up, But if it’s not all and there’s gonna be an “all” edition at some point, I can wait.

        Hmmm… Listing says print length is 28 pages. Is yours that short? I don’t think you can economically print a book that short!

        • Mine has numbered pages to 143. It’s from their publishing house: WMGPublishing.com — but I don’t see it on their pages. From what Dean said, he just took the blog entries and stuck them all into a file, and then printed x number of them via POD (I think he said CreateSpace, but not sure). You can probablly use the WMG Publishing website to contact him to order one (the preprinted price is $7.99). I don’t know the economics of a 28 page book. It would be hard to get on bookstore shelves, because it probably doesn’t have a spine, and they tend not to want to carry anything that be sold spine out.

          Hope this helps!

          • Martin L. Shoemaker

            Thanks! I left a comment on Dean’s blog, and he confirmed that the paper version you have is the full series, not the 28 page excerpt. The link for that one is here: http://www.amazon.com/Think-Like-Publisher-Step-By-Publishing/dp/1463698224/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1333573194&sr=1-3. I don’t seem to find it when I search, but I find it through that link.

            He also said he expects to soon do a reformat and a new cover, incorporating what he has learned since then. This is a learning experience even for the teachers. (Somewhere right this moment, Sarah is inexplicably reminded of Manny and Professor de la Paz…)

            But me, I’ll wait for that full version in Kindle format. My motto these days (said in my best Montgomery Scott imitation — which is not very good): “Paper? How quaint…”

            • I sort of figured mine was the full series, since he *handed* it to me at his “Think Like a Publisher” workshop 🙂 Which, btw, I can’t recommend highly enough! Now that I found out that spouses (spice?) can come *free*, I may take it again and drag Tech Support, Sr with me 🙂 (Besides, the Anchor in Lincoln City is *very* romantic…. 🙂 )

    • uh. He gave us copies at the workshop!

  5. In school, if your work is good enough you get an A.
    If your work is good enough AND provides the expected/desired answers. Try giving your Environmental Science teacher a 5-page argument on the flaws in Anthroprogenic Global Warming Theory. Try an in-depth explanation of the economic and cultural conflict underlying the conflict that came to a head in the War of Southron Secession. You don’t get credit for the Right answer, you get it for the Correct answer.

    You don’t sell a story because it is a good story, you sell it because “it meets our current needs.” Whatever those current needs might be — 5K words, Dystopian fantasy-themed issue, having a high ratio of the letter q at the same time the publisher has a surplus of that letter about to spoil.

    “Good” is merely one of the initial hurdles, right after “printed double-spaced one side only.”

    • “You don’t sell a story because it is a good story, you sell it because “it meets our current needs.”

      I made this point recently to a friend of mine who is being pubbed by a trad house, and beginning to have doubts about what she’s gotten herself in. I’m helping her prepare a short she’s been unable to place for self e-pub.

      “It’s far easier,” I told her, “for a reader to risk $1.99 than it is for an editor to risk a couple hundred dollars on your story.”

      This implies, of course, that the needs hurdle is far easier to leap in the individual case than in the industrial one. Which, I can’t see why not, it should be.


  6. People tend to think everyone is like them, more so if they live in the same closed millieu.
    Eh, some people, probably Most people make that assumption. People like you and me, Sarah, know better. People ARE NOT like us, we are rara avis in the species. Shrug – after a while you recognize the problem is a world full of round holes who can’t recognize a square peg when they run up against one.

    OTOH, people like to feel good about themselves, and one of the things that makes (almost) All people feel good about themselves is seeing their opinions, theories, biases proven right, especially in ways that make the person feel noble and enlightened. Con artists use this all the time: positively personify the mark’s biases and they’ll open their wallets every time.

    “Pushing” your Hispanic immigrant female status was the publishing equivalent of a push-up bra. It is standing there showing a little leg, making a moue and smiling tremulously to get a guy to change the flat tire you’re perfectly competent to change but aren’t dressed to do.

  7. This probably doesn’t need saying, but I am firmly of the conviction that the obvious is sometimes overlooked and it never hurts to point out the Emperor is buck nekkid.

    Publishers don’t operate that way because they’re evil. (They are, for the most part, evil, but that is beside the point.) Publishers operate that way because they can. Because they have. Speaker-to-Lab-Rats could write several blog posts on this, but it is the nature of the beast to replicate successful strategies … and the longer a strategy has been successful they more emphatically they replicate them when they stop working.

    Publishers learned they were able to push books into the public maw by controlling the advertising and shelving strategies, by highlighting authors’ “personal” stories. The editors who learned how to do this best got the raises, nicer cubicles, extra lox on their bagels and the envy of their fellow editors. They got to brag at cocktail parties (NEVER underestimate the allure of bragging at cocktail parties.)

    Publishers fear risk. Established authors, mid-list authors offer security against risk, new authors represent risk. It is why people eat at McDonalds, Burger King, Hardees and the like — you probably won’t get a Great burger, but you can be highly confident you won’t spend your afternoon sitting on the crapper, holding your abdomen moaning.

    I now return this blog to its original owner.

    • Totally off-topic… but most of the best burgers I ever ate were at Hardees. Maybe your local place is bad – but my family and I actively seek out Hardees when traveling cross-country because it’s our best bet of ensuring we’ll be able to be served quickly and find something as good or better than a “proper” sit-down restaurant. 9/10, this pays off.

      (I’ll stop fangirling now, though! Burgers are one of my favorite foods and so in the rare occasions I let myself eat fast food, I tend to turn toward what has proven rewarding.)

  8. I lately read an interview by a publisher’s CEO that said, “Oh, yes, we love writers — we take our movie and have it novelized, and if the writer is mediagenic…”

    It deteriorated from there. What ho, folks, don’t write publishable fiction, be young and cute and thin enough and mediagenic!

    • Sounds like another commercial opportunity–mediagenic stand-ins for the pudgy author.

      • Martin L. Shoemaker

        Nah… Personal trainer to the authors! Fitness means energy means more writing time!

        (Note: I don’t exempt myself from this advice. On the other hand, I am down 46 pounds since August!)

    • YEP. He just said what they think. I don’t know about you, but Terry Pratchett couldn’t be more important to me if he were twenty years younger and sparkly-vamp photogenic. And though F. Paul Wilson is kinda cute he’s not my type. I still buy every word he writes. And I bought every word Diana Wynne Jones wrote — and I don’t swing THAT way. BUT the publishers think that cute does it…

      • Cute helps get TV bookings, TV appearances help sell books — and, more important from the “editor’s” point of view, makes it look like the “editor”(wouldn’t “marketing manager” be more accurate?) is doing something to sell books.

  9. First, the trivial. “(Yes, power corrupts, but we still need the electricity.)” If this goes straight to my backbrain, to be gleefully admired until I forget where I heard it and comes out somewhere else, I promise to fix it if reminded. (And will try not to let this happen. But it’s such a lovely quote!)

    Second, the less-trivial. I want to thank Kris, and you, and an indie author named Hogarth, for showing that there was a place for when I decided that, y’know? Life’s too short to play the “write something to the market and hope that you respected the work enough not to suck at it” game. My third novel (in uploading, not in writing) went up on Amazon and Smashwords last night and if it doesn’t sell more than… (*checks*) …4 copies, at least it’ll have an awesome cover.

    My next job is to learn how to stick this stuff on CreateSpace… In between finishing two short stories and another novel, that is.

    Yeah, it would’ve been nice to’ve gotten Someone Else to take care of all that sort of thing… But then again, I’ve got the bit in my teeth. I like being a control-freak about the cover and price. I’ve had a taste of power, and it’s nummy indeed.

    • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

      Yes, power corrupts, but we still need the electricity.

      Great, we can use it to electrocute the idiot who brought us Snooki’s memoir.


  10. Random outgassings:

    One of the statements repeated at every con panel on “how to get published” I’ve ever attended is “Go where the Published Authors are, and Network with them, so they can put in a good word with the Publishers, so you can get one of those vanishingly-rare Slots on the Publication Line”; every time I hear this statement, I flash on a line from an ’80s spy-thriller novel (whose named escapes me): “Suck c*ck and read _Pravda_, and you can be a Commissar too!”

    (I wonder what the LitFen will be telling hoi polloi now the monopoly of the Big Six is forever broken…. >:) )

    RES: If you saw The Lady Hoyt at the Prometheus Award ceremony at Worldcon ’11, you’d know “showing a little leg” is nothing new to her…. 🙂

    And if school were anything like Reality, students wouldn’t be graded by teachers — they’d be graded by the other students (which means I would have failed out of kindergarten, and could go free).

    • I was graded by other students through middle school. Most miserable grades ever. We were a student commune and… never mind. ANYONE saying “consciousness raising” around me better hope I’m in full control of my temper.
      I don’t think the “suck up to published writers” method of breaking in is working anymore. Like “push” isn’t. This doesn’t prevernt people from doing it.
      And if I CAN lose another 40 lbs, I plan to celebrate with interesting stockings. Interesting stockings used to be one of my pleasures in life.

      • I did a lot of “teacher’s aide” work, which included grading other students’ papers — but there, it was “Here is the answer sheet; here are the papers; if you are found to be f***ing with peoples’ grades, your a** will be expelled so f***ing fast you will only figure out what hit you ten years from now on the unemployment line”.

        This also led to the interesting exchange with a teacher: “Are they all graded?” “All but one, ma’am — you gave me my paper, so I skipped over it.” [30 seconds of stunned silence, as teacher attempts to process the concept of a student that honest…] 🙂

  11. *chuckling* Most of the notes I’d made to comment on were covered already, so Thanks! Good to know that 1- I’m not offbase, just offbeat; and 2- my alleged mind is working on a somewhat human bent.

    So I’ll just leave a final thought.
    “Be not afraid. The game is rigged. So, play to win.” A true quote to live by.

    Thanks once again for the insight, inspiration, and motivation.

  12. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    Bill Gates didn’t promote that fast. His mother sat on a board with the chairman of IBM. It all comes down to connections.

    I spent a long time working in Sales. The way you make sales is by knowing people. Connections. If you have a connection with Joe, he’s likely to listen to you when you give your pitch. If he doesn’t know you, you have got a chance.

    The hardest thing to do in Sales is Cold Calling. Sending your novel off to a New York Publisher who has never heard of you before is the writer’s equivalent. It is a VERY rare Sales Representative that makes a sale on a Cold Call. It is a very rare writer who makes a sale on the first novel they submit unsolicited.

    Think about it. There’s only a limited number of publishers. They only have a limited number of slots open. As Sarah has explained most of those are going to folks like Steven King.

    So you’ve got to make your own luck. Go into business for yourself. Go Indie. You can’t rely on the Big Name Publishers to buy your wares, so sell them direct to the readers.

    Unless you went to college with a publisher…

    FYI – my fiction sales have all been made through contacts. I wouldn’t have made the sales if the editors hadn’t have known me.