I don’t mean to pick on this writer. Her article is valid – to an extent. Or at least I GET her fears. (
BTW, I’ll also note that after reading her blog, to get her name I needed to go to Amazon. EVEN THE LINK TO HER BOOKS doesn’t give her full name. I can see her name in Ie. For some reason it won’t show in firefox. Is it time to update already?)
This is the point she’s making:
But I’ve noticed: The new self-publishing king/queenpins are almost entirely novelists, meaning they write fiction rather than non-fiction. (*1)
They crank out a novel or two (or three) a YEAR. I’m sure that many of them have to do research for their books, but for MOST fiction writers (not all of them), that research is minimal and is the kind of thing that can be taken care of with good googling or a trip or two to the public library.
As a result, they don’t understand that for people like me, the “traditional” publishing industry is my only lifeline, my only means of support.
She’s not alone in her situation, or at least not as alone as she thinks she is. While I “crank out” – why the terms implying that I’m doing less work than she is? What if I said that non-fiction authors are “compilers” and just “jot down” stuff? (No, I don’t think this is true. Writing non fiction calls for different techniques that’s all. It’s a load of work.) How derogatory would that be? – more than three novels a year, I’d be in a world of hurt if I didn’t have Baen right now. This year I’ll probably get 2/3 of my income from Baen, and I get it in more substantial up-front chunks. And with two kids in college, health issues going on and various other things, I’m glad of the up front money.
I’m not alone. In fact, almost all of us who depend on writing for some amount of our livelihood (in my case, for the butter on our daily bread – as in my husband’s income pays for food, roof, clothing and such, but repairs, tuition and the occasional weekend in Denver come from my money. It’s the difference between living pinched and scared and living okay. Not swimming in money, but okay) right now are doing complex calculations. It goes somethign like this: Any book I sell to a publisher I might never see. (Yes, even Baen. G-d forbid, but in the convulsions of publishing, Baen has deals with Simon and Schuster which I don’t get and S & S is under scrutiny by the DOJ. I DON’T think Baen is at risk, or at least not beyond the risk of “what if a safe falls on me during my morning walk?”, but it’s something that COULD happen and is beyond my control.)
Yeah, I know contracts say, or SHOULD say, that in case of bankruptcy you get your book back – but bankruptcy is a complex, drawn out process and … well, you’re at the mercy of the courts. Your book could be considered “assets” and held back by some judge you never heard of. Now, even I, with my “cranked out” books do have books that are “heart’s blood” – A Few Good Men – for instance. If that book were put out of my grasp, in the sense that I couldn’t publish it, and no one else could, for even ten years, I’d be very, very unhappy.
I have to look at it, and look at the money, and look at the house handling it, and then bargain with myself. “Is this worth it?” In the case of AFGM I’m dealing with Baen, whom I trust to do the absolute best they can for me and the book (within limits of human error), I need the money, and, well… in the coming roiling waters of publishing, I think Baen has a good chance NOT to drown. Better than other houses. So, the risk is worth it.
BUT there is a negotiation with myself that wasn’t there before. Indie or traditional? Money up front versus money over a long time? More distribution or more control?
However, this lady not only thinks she is the lone ranger (which is weird, because she doesn’t look like a teen, but apparently no one else has problems like she has) but also doesn’t seem to know her readers. So… let me highlight a few of her ideas, and explain where I think she got it wrong.
The self-pubbers canNOT wait for the day when the entire traditional publishing complex falls into a huge hole in the ground. The self-pubbers have the funeral all planned. (If the self-pubbers spent as much time writing as they do gloating over the slow death of publishing, they could easily crank out another book or two each year.)
Dear Lady, if the publishing establishment had treated as it has treated most of us who have gone the way of self-publishing, you too couldn’t resist a little dancing on the grave. But if you read any of us, you’ll also see that our glee is tempered with fear, and that what we write about the slow death of publishing is designed to shape what comes next as much as to “gloat.” Oh, and I do write – crank out, you say? – more than two novels a year, and have for the last ten years. This charming pace was imposed on me by the establishment you revere. I had to keep it up to make a starvation wage.
As a result, they don’t understand that for people like me, the “traditional” publishing industry is my only lifeline, my only means of support.
Consider: I started working on the meat book in early 2007. I finished it in early 2012. You do the math.
Yes, I’ve DONE the math. Tell me, just for the record – enquiring minds want to know – HOW much of that time was spent on “enjoyable” research? Traveling for instance. Reading. Going to museums. Don’t tell me that’s part of your job. Of course it is, but you can do jobs in various ways. HOW much of it was done in a more leisurely way than needed? How much time off do you take? How many hours a day do you work?
None of my business? Fine. We’ll talk about it later.
I spent five years researching and writing the beer book, and of that, a great deal of money and time was spent on traveling to specialized libraries. The Key West book took me two years to research and write.
How did I pay for that? By entering into a partnership with a traditional publishing house that provided financial support.
Oh, gee. HOW NICE it must be. How very nice. The traditional publishing house provided financial support, you say? Out of the goodness of their hearts, I guess. You know, here’s the funny thing, we – crankers outers, let’s say – CAN’T do that. I’ve written work – just for your information – that required as great a level of research as yours. No, strangely to set a book in a time period and use a documented historical character is NOT easier than writing nonfiction. (Who would have thought it?) The most one of my historical books paid was 12k. The most time I was given to write it was a year. You see how that limited the “partnership” and the joyous feelings I had towards the publisher.
My research was done as my writing is: at my desk, usually eight to eight. Rare books? Oh, sure thing. Interlibrary loan. Travel? Well, I traveled a good deal as a young woman and had to make do with memories, other people’s pictures, and sometimes asking people who live near the places I needed to describe. Ideal? Well, no. For one, I’d like to work normal hours. I’d also like to be able to see the places I write about. I’d also like a pony and a flying car. The world is what it is. Fortunately being a cranker-outer I’m not made of fine stuff and I’m willing to work crazy hours. And, hey, sometimes I take my birthday off!
It works like this: My agent sells my book IDEA to a publishing house. The house pays an “advance”: a sum of money upfront that I can live on while I research and write the book. It’s not much money — in fact it’s an embarrassing amount of money and I also am fortunate enough to receive financial support from my spouse.
Without that assistance, I couldn’t do what I do. Period. Again, it’s not much money, and it’s the ONLY money I earn from my books. (If I were lucky enough to write a bang ‘em up bestseller, I’d earn more than the advance, but I’m not that lucky. Er, um, not that talented a writer.)
Okay, either your embarrassing amount of money is much more than my embarrassing amount of money, or your spouse has a lot more money. HOWEVER, let’s ignore that, okay? Let’s talk about “I couldn’t do it.” Sure you could. Off the top of my head, I can give you several ideas:
First, do a book about your local area. Do it in your spare time now. (You know, work nights or weekends. Think of it as a second job.) Put it up on Amazon. Take the money it makes, over the next two or three years, while you still work at your traditional work. Then use that to research the next book.
Second idea – work as a resource for fiction writers. Contrary to your idea, we do NOT pull from air. Yes, I’ve read – and I’m sure you have too – books with embarrassingly bad research. They’re not the majority. They’re not the norm. And the worst ones usually are justified. (Say you’re asked to write a book in a month. Just imagine it d*mn it. It’s happened to me. It pays 5k. You don’t want to do it, but RIGHT THEN it’s your only chance to continue publishing. You do the best research you can. I was fortunate to have an expansive education and to travel a lot as a young woman. Most people weren’t. Bad research, in those circumstances is justified.)
I’d love to be able to reach a topic-expert who has done lovingly detailed research on a topic and pay a fee. Say I need someone who IS a real certifiable expert on Christopher Marlowe. I have three contradictory sources, I want to call up and go “So, what was his mother’s background? What’s the latest research?” Let’s suppose you teach CM for a living, or have written a book on him. You should have your files, be able to consult. Would I pay for that? Yes. My means are small, but I’d willingly pay $100 for an hour of work. I’ve paid $80 for a book with a usable paragraph, so… Get a few dozen writers who depend on you – I don’t know, advertise on Twitter, Facebook and tell people you’re available? – and you can continue your leisurely and expensive research. Paid for. A little more work? Sure.
Third option, and I’ve never tried it, but there are sites where people will donate money for a project. I’m sure if you ask, tons of people know where these are. My commenters do, I’m sure. Try it. How do you know, till you flap your wings?
Fourth option – do articles. Do your research in itty bitty chunks. Put it up in itty bitty chunks. Say, I want to write a book on Christopher Marlowe. (Now that you mention it, yes, I do, though again it’s one of those cranked out things, right? Which I’ve only been researching in ALL my spare time for twenty years. Never mind.) I get money to visit England and do some primary source consulting. I blog the experience and ask for donations. THEN I put my diary of the trip up on Amazon for sale. If I can make it entertaining at all it WILL sell (trust me on this, please. I’ve seen what sells. I have done research on self publishing.) Which will bring in a stream of money, which will allow you to travel and… see how that works?
The self-publishers, in my opinion, have a distorted view of “books” and of “publishing.” In their minds, every writer is cranking out novels that don’t require much time to research and write, and the lag time between creation and payoff is short.
So I ask them: What happens when the agents, editors, and publishing houses go away? Who will write non-fiction then?
And here, I’ve been feeling guilty over being cranky with you. And then I read this paragraph again. (Takes deep breath.)
Lady, you’re an insular, blinkered and stubborn woman, clinging to the ledge of her comfort zone and creating straw men to justify yourself in not leaving it.
First, WHO do you think “self-publishers” are? Let me disabuse your mind of this idea that they/we are all very young or very naive. Self-publishers are EVERYONE. Or at least every writer who is awake and aware of what is happening around them. They come from all walks of life and all educational backgrounds.
WHY do you think we have a distorted view of books? We are WRITERS for the love of Bob. Do you think we don’t read? Do you think we read only fiction? WHY do you think that? Before Amazon I was a member of the History Book Club so I could get hold of books my local bookstores wouldn’t carry. The payoff between idea and publication is short? FOR WHOM? My Magical British Empire Trilogy took me four years to research (while writing other stuff.) Ten years if you consider initial familiarization reading. AND from proposal (ie. full research) to sale (let alone publication) was EIGHT YEARS.
WHY do you think we have a distorted view of publishing? I think you have a distorted view of publishing, if you believe it’s some sort of benevolent purse-fairy ready to hand you money for your projects, so you can, in the fullness of time, give them a little gem of a perfectly researched book. Perhaps that’s the publishing you’ve encountered. The one I’ve worked for more closely resembles a sweatshop. Other people’s experiences are anywhere in between.
However, if you don’t want me to wax sarcastic about your views, do respect other people’s views. Do a little research about what these strange creatures “self-publishers” are and the reasons they’re venturing into these nasty, nasty self-publishing waters. Right now the way you refer to us doesn’t fill me with a desire to go and look up your books. Why not? Because you didn’t do even the minimal “googling” research you imagine we do for whole novels.
And then there’s… who’ll do the serious research? We will. The people who have a passion for a subject and for learning it. We will do the research. We will do the publishing. Who will pay for it? We will. PUBLISHING IS NOT A GOOD FAIRY. If they’re advancing you money it’s because they make it back. And they make it back on a model that’s so outdated and cumbersome, that they’re wasting a great deal of it. They’re making it back by selling it to READERS. Which means you have READERS out there.
By cutting out the middle man, you can get 70% (or worst case scenario 30%) of the net sales. And if your books are worth it, you WILL get it.
Contrary to your vision of us, most of us cranker-outers read non-fiction as much as we read fiction. In the last year I’ve read obsessively about: WWI, WWI the home front (England and the US), Prohibition and life in the 1930s, degenerative diseases of the brain, a history of Cleveland. ALL of this against the background of my constant preoccupations: The French Revolution, Tudor England, Space Exploration.
I know you’re looking at that and saying “But there is no way you can do all that research SERIOUSLY.” This is akin to saying “But you write fast, so it must be crap.”
Judge not lest you shall be judged applies here too. Look, I’ve had people say “When you write four books a year they have to all be bad.” Until they read them. And until they realize the time I put into each of those books is as much as they put into each of theirs. I just have no downtime.
Burning the candle at both ends? Sure. But we each are the way we’re made. This is how I’m made. I bore easily. I have friends who work both faster and slower than I. THAT doesn’t reflect on their work. Rid yourself of that idea.
Take with you ONLY the idea that yes, the world is full of readers of serious non-fiction. Many, if not most of them, are fiction writers. So, instead of insulting us, start talking to us. You have stuff (original research) we need. Who knows, we might have stuff you need – like ideas on how to make money.
Meanwhile, you opened your post by saying it’s exciting to watch history in action. Yes, it is. Just remember, if you were a carriage maker at the time of the automobile revolution, screaming that the new horseless carriages were just shoddily built wasn’t going to bring back your steady work. Telling us automobile plants are uncouth places won’t either. On the other hand, perhaps, offering to make seats for the upper-level automobiles will net you a very good living, and allow you to do what you want to.
Life is full of these little trade offs. Like the calculation of whether to go indie or not, the tradeoffs can be difficult. But if you’re not so busy looking down your nose at the rest of us, you might spy the path of least pain through the brambles.
I wish you good luck.