Robots and Echoing Kate

Today is one of those very weird days.  I woke up with the vague idea I’d do a post on foreshadowing, which seemed appropriate since today I’m building a robot out of cake, which is probably not something any of you would anticipate as one of my activities for any given day.  Not something I’d anticipate, either, for that matter.  Though I can bake, since we’ve been on low carb for… eternity give or take an eon, very little of it has happened.  And I was always more of the “make it tasty” school of culinary excellence.

So? — So.  It’s the final party for the robotics kids, and they’re SUCH good kids, and the parents are bringing stuff in for them, and I lost my mind.  THREE TIMES.  First, I volunteered to bring a cake.  Second, I decided not to order it (our favorite bakery has gone out, I don’t know the others, and if I’m paying it best be VERY good.  And third when I decided this would be a tri-d robot.  IF I can assemble it without all of it falling apart, I shall post pictures.

Anyway, I was going to do a post about foreshadowing, except my mind is full of devil’s food (as opposed to being the devil’s playground!) and frosting, so I was very glad to find that my friend Kate Paulk at Mad Genius Club did a post that SHOULD be echoed.

Kate’s post is important because it captures HOW NEW this all is.  Metaphorically speaking, this is not the seventh day and the Earth shiny and new and not quite dried in places.  No — hard as this is to believe with how many pioneers there are who’ve been doing the indie thing for years — this is the third day.  We just got plants, we’re not sure what the animals will be or if there will be animals, and those lights in the sky might be stars or oncoming meteors.  Half of our posts are to figure out what in heck is going on FOR OURSELVES.  I’m not sure readers get that.  And I’m fairly sure that the writers who are like a c-section trying to crawl back into their mother’s womb DON’T get that.  They think we’re “gloating” or “dancing” or being “ingrate” to the publishing establishment.  (But that’s a bad thought, and I have a robot to build.  You guys who read Asterix, Asterix and the Cauldron to be exact, should recognize the allusion: FUNDAMENTALLY I have a robot cake to build.)

Without further ado, I give you Kate Paulk, aka da Mad Aussie, aka, the Winch Wench.  (And if you haven’t read ConVent, you should.)

Talking to the other side

by Kate Paulk

And no, I don’t mean dead people. I mean non-writers and writers whose usual fields aren’t the ones we frequent.

Why? Well, between the furor that seems to have finally died over Sarah’s analysis (and anger) over a non-fiction author’s assumption that fiction is easy – just making things up (and therefore more amenable to self-publishing and not getting destroyed by changing times), and the non-fiction author’s response (and challenge) I realized that yeah, we do tend to get wound up in our own universe and frame of reference and forget that there are other people out there with other points of view.

For those who choose to read the comments, especially on Sarah’s blog (things got rather… ahem… animated – I had fun playing with the guy who was either criminally dense or deliberately obfuscating, and may have crossed a few lines there, but that’s me for you. I like playing whackatroll, and seeing how much it takes before the brains splatter everywhere or they start flapping and frothing and contradicting themselves… What? I never said I was nice). Um. Anyway, I realized that between the Mad Genius Club and Sarah’s blog, there’s been quite the evolution of views and development of a new paradigm.

So here’s where I see it. Apologies if this is way too obvious for anyone: I’m trying to look at where we are here from the perspective of someone outside.

Essential vocabulary:

  • Heinleining: fitting the salient details seamlessly into the narrative and action, without overloading the reader with details
  • Good research: in the fiction world, especially genre, this is research that’s mostly or entirely invisible but makes the whole piece feel solid and ‘real’. Even if it’s about cyborg zombies.
  • Time: a mysterious entity no author has enough of.
  • Money: see ‘Time’.

Where we stand: in the middle of an ever-widening chasm, trying to keep enough appendages (virtual or otherwise) attached to something so we don’t plummet to our metaphorical deaths-as-writers in the gaping pit that used to be traditional publishing. Traditional publishing is the corpse kind of sort of straddling the gap. I know it’s still twitching: ignore that. Some kind of parasitic outgrowth could still find roots in there and produce something, but for all bar the uber-bestsellers and the industry daaaaahlings (they’re the ones who got gifted with the numbers that should have been credited to the midlisters – visit The Business Rusch for details – that thing is deader than dead, the serious kind of dead that doesn’t get up and start lurching around. There may be a bridge somewhere off in the distance but most of us are right here near that corpse, since it used to be what fed/kept/chained us. Us in this case not including me personally. I’m generalizing here, okay?

Where we’re going: sod if we know, but we’re trying anything that looks good in case it works. Most of us figure that the more different tactics we can get into the mix, the more likely we’ll find one that lets us survive as writers, and maybe even thrive. We’re all banking on the long tail concept – our potential audience is now everyone in the world who can read English (say about a billion people), so we can do well with a really tiny proportion of those people as fans – and cumulative volume – twenty books or more at $5 apiece, which nets an independent $3.50 a sale from Amazon (I’ll use them as the example), each selling 100 copies a month is $350 x 20 – $7000 a month. And since the independent is the one controlling what’s there, those books never go out of print. The first one starts earning a few sales a month when it’s put up, and it’s still earning five years later when the author’s entire trunk list has gone up and there’s now a good, solid income stream. Length doesn’t matter – independents can put up short pieces (short stories, or for the non-fiction minded, monographs) that take a lot less time to write, and have a fat-looking list, all of it selling for not too much, but continuing to sell for as long as there’s an internet.

The catch – and there’s always a catch – is that it takes time for all of this to build. A young writer doesn’t have as much to publish as a more established writer, and none of us have enough money or time. It takes time to properly format anything for ebook reading, and money to get a cover that won’t scream “stock art” or “amateur” (Ask Amanda if you want info on her epublishing online course – she’ll let you in and give you the website. Or just scroll back through the history here until you find it.). Unless you’re one of those fortunate individuals who are good artists as well, in which case you’re going to need more time. So it’s slow. Most of us are holding two or more jobs. Some of us the “day job” is writing for traditional publishing houses, for others it’s a salaried thing. It’s still a time sink.

The key thing – and probably the only thing keeping all of us going – is that there’s hope where there wasn’t before. Within the last couple of years, self-publishing has become both possible and a viable way to enter the market as a writer. We’re not limited to the stale old “just like the last big hit, only different” that’s all mainstream’s managed for years. We’re not having our books – and careers – killed by editors who think we’re not “sexy” or “interesting” enough to justify selling. We’re not being nixed by glorified accountants who reward meeting the sales prediction even if it’s bad and penalize not meeting it when it’s good. (You outside the field, you’ve wondered why there’s so little that interests you in the bookstores now? That’s why. You’re not jaded. Fiction’s been murdered by glorified accountants who think one book is just like any other book. Sarah’s posted about that, too.)

So, give us time. Give us patience. We’re figuring this out as we go, and many of us are escaping an abusive relationship (with the publishing houses) as well, so the process is going to be a little (okay, a lot) messy. But we’ll get there in the end. We might even figure out where ‘there’ is.

39 responses to “Robots and Echoing Kate

  1. Kate’s post was good, and thank you. But please, do post on foreshadowing sometime soon? Ever since Dave told me I suck at it, I’ve been studying, and I’d love to hear your take.

    • Dave Freer (TRULY Baen has an embarrassment of Daves!) told me about it too. I didn’t know it existed till he told me. Which is why I was going to write about it.

      • What do you mean you didn’t know it exisited!! How did it get by you in lit classes, or what do they teach there these days? OK, Now I really want to see what you have to write on foreshadowing.

        • NO ONE EVER EXPLAINED FORESHADOWING. I mean, I knew of it as an ultra-literary device “this prologue foreshadows the entire plot of the book” but not as something needed to enjoy stories. Part of this, of course, is that I’m DENSE. in a very specialized way. The other part is that I went to college in the eighties. Ie most of my professors (except English) were the “sixties generation” the “Call me Bob” generation, the “You’ll teach me more than I’ll teach you” generation. Any learning we picked up outside the mandatory — linguistic regression, say — was PURE LUCK.

          • I thought I had it bad. At a Philadelphia Quaker prep school I was taught an experimental form of grammar which broke words down into four classes, intensifiers — and nothing more. Easy to learn, but of limited use for understanding linguistic structure. Daddy used to rant about what they weren’t teaching me in school, but it wasn’t until later I began to understand what he meant.

            Well, this certainly throws a whole new line of thought out for consideration.

      • Yes, sorry, I did mean Dave Freer! He’s the only Dave I consider my mentor 🙂

    • As word press, the sweet tempermental bugger it is, will not let me initate a post at the moment I am putting this here:

      Thank you, Sarah, for posting this here. Thank you, Kate Paulk, for writing this and for letting Sarah post this here.

      • ppaulshoward


      • Word Press seems to have acquired a habit of doubling Sarah’s posts: original post, comments below that, then the original post again, with a non-functional comment block under that — is this a structural problem with WP, with Sarah’s posting or just one more of Life’s Little Mysteries?

      • Kate Paulk

        Thank you. I can be an opinionated bitch sometimes, but I occasionally manage something sensible.

        • (Warning: the southern branch of my family could have been written by Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner.)

          My grandmother on Momma’s side was a very powerful southern grand dame — a true family matriarch. She could be a bitch, yes, particularly if you treatened one of hers. But she was usually sensible (except regarding her daughter – and later her husband) and one hell of a woman.

  2. Maureen Ogle

    Kate was responding to the “challenge” I threw out in the COMMENTS section of the post to which she linked. (If that sentence makes sense.) (Which I hope it does…) In brief: the rest of us don’t KNOW what goes into writing the kind of fiction you all create. So tell us. It will help move the conversation about contemporary writing/publishing beyond the “Isn’t Amanda Hocking great, but oh, she can’t really write” kind of crap. I suggested writing a (roughly) 1500-word piece for someplace like The Atlantic.

    • Except the Atlantic won’t give most of us the time of day. We’re “genre” writers so, by definition, the scum of the Earth.

      • So put one over on them: someone like Sarah Hoyt or Kate Paulk writes the article, then Maureen Ogle rewrites it in her own words (with the original author’s permission, naturally) and submits it to the Atlantic as her own work, quietly passing any revenue back to the original author. The word gets out, and the gatekeepers are bypassed. And yes, I realize I’m suggesting this in “public”, but how many Atlantic editors read the comments of Hoyt’s blog?

    • Wait a minute (of course, if you’re not receiving email notifications, you probably won’t see this). WHY, exactly, should they write an article for some particular magazine explaining what they do? You say, “the rest of us don’t KNOW what goes into writing the kind of fiction you all create.” But to what end are you suggesting this? So they will garner understanding and support from the Traditional Publishing houses? If that is the reason, you’re wasting your time. If you read prior pages here, talking about the REASONS their work has been rejected, you would see that all the writing in the world about their methods would be worthless in that respect. If the traditional publishing houses won’t take a story because of the way the storyline unfolds, and they are unwilling to butcher their story to make it fit the model they are told to change it to, then it won’t matter what kind of work went into it.

  3. Maureen Ogle

    Y’all are making my point for me! One thing I said in the original challenge-comment over at my site was the journalism is ALSO in upheaval, and as a result, it’s easier than ever before to get published in a place like The Atlantic. Every day, the mag publishes dozens of what amount to op-ed pieces and short essays. Will it pay much? No. But you’d get out there in front of a large audience.

    And with all due respect to Sarah, as long as you as a group continue to operate with a big ol’ chip on your shoulder (“…the Atlantic won’t give most of us the time of day. We’re genre writers so, by definition, the scum of the earth.”), you WON’T get any respect.

    Because (and now I sound like your basic broke 33 rpm) THE REST OF US DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU DO. So TELL us! Get past your resentment and communicate your success, your labors, your creativity, your very hard work, with the rest of the world.

    • OMFG, you don’t know what we do? We are supposed to tell you? Then read this blog. Go back to the beginning and read it. Go to Mad Genius Club ( and read it. Go to Kris Rusch’s blog and read it ( Pull you head out of wherever it is and look around you. You will see that we have been telling the world what we do. Funny thing is, most everyone but some of you non-fiction guys and the hide bound in NYC do get it. THAT is why small press and self-published authors are doing so well now. Because we are talking and, more importantly, because we are listening to what the public wants.

    • Uh. Years ago a publicist had the brilliant idea “to publicize your Shakespeare books” (which were THEN out of print) “You should write articles about Shakespeare.” Oookay. I don’t know if you ever tried this cold and without contacts. Breaking into non fiction cold is as hard as breaking into fiction, and THAT was before the upheaval. I decided I didn’t need another career. And breaking into fiction took me 9 years for mags. (Cold, no contacts, knew NO ONE.) I have fans waiting for the fiction.

      What you don’t seem to understand is that you’re in a very odd position even for non-fiction. I’ve been getting pings from non-fiction authors who say “she gets advances? HOW?” For the record I have ideas as to how, and I could explain it to you, but I PRESUME you know. If you don’t study why you’re doing better than other non-fiction authors. Yes, maybe you’re particularly talented. I know someone who thinks well of the beer book. BUT perhaps there are other factors, like where you live and your contacts — including who your agent is. It doesn’t matter much to me, since I think my circle of acquaintance and contact is larger and more varied than yours.

      I can tell you what we fiction writers do. I can tell you where I see this going. I’ve been doing it — a lot — here. I can even do it in the non-fic sites I write for.

      Will these be MSM? Er… I don’t know. Are all the imps wearing overcoats? Did you miss the part on Kate’s post where we’re all short on time and money? I sacrifice my time for money, and the biggest money maker right now is fiction. Why should I spend time I could spend with my family trying to break into a relatively small and insular market?

      Yes, the Atlantic would take me — maybe, perhaps — after I submitted for a few months, and when they thought I was serious, AND if they didn’t stumble on my unfortunately off-chorus opinions. Is it worth my effort? WHY? So I don’t speak to a small group? Well… my blog has grown 100 times since I started blogging every day 1 1/2 years ago. I think I’m getting heard. And I can reach a few more tens of thousands of readers over at websites I have the keys to. In fact one of the non fiction blogs I write for has 2 million readers. The Atlantic does not come close.

      If I fail to reach the people who don’t read beyond the big print mags that is ultimately their problem. It is THEIR world that’s crumbling, after all.

      Quite frankly your demanding I write for the venue you approve of is rather similar to your disapproving of our “glee” in what is happening to traditional publishing. Let me make this clear: you can annoy us, but you can’t control us. I DON’T need the “important gatekeeper’s” seal of approval. And if you so much as say then I don’t have a right to criticize those who don’t get us… Why not? Shouldn’t THEY be reading broadly. (For the record, I read the Atlantic, occasionally. There’s one or two authors I think well of. But I also read blogs on all sides of various issues. ) BROADENING of both reading and venues to sell in is the name of the game. NOT narrowing. Not scaling down readership and money. The price to pay the gatekeepers is too high for their narrow audience.

      • It seems while I was recreating the comment WP ate I was missing this comment from Sarah. Odd. Or rather: Odds.

        The point Sarah is addressing here connects to her most recent blog post. One effect of the crash of the TradPub starship is the recognition that authors no longer need the approval of anybody but their readers. The cool kids no longer get to decide who gets into the school literary magazine, and that is no longer the only (or even best) way to get read.

        That isn’t a chip on Sarah’s shoulder, it is the insouciant epaulet of the newly liberated. Getting the acceptance of Atlantic isn’t worth her time. She neither needs nor wants their approval or understanding. Having escaped an abusive relationship she is not inclined to seek the acceptance of her abuser nor those who enabled that relationship.

        It might be useful for Atlantic readers for Sarah (or Kate, or Stephanie or Amanda or …) to write such an article, but that is aside from whether it is useful to Sarah (or Kate, or …) to write it. My impression is that Sarah is too busy trying to make a living writing Human Wave fiction to spend energy promoting it.

        The Odd lot is no longer seeking to march in the Even parade, the Odd lot is simply demanding to be allowed their own parade, and that said parade be accorded the same respect as any other.

    • I’d had an extremely clever and witty comment, but apparently Word Press ate it. Sigh – Word Press is doing that a lot these days, it seems.

      I understand reluctance to offer work to venues that long since said: go away kid, you’re short, you’re clumsy, you have a bad haircut and your author dresses you funny. AND 1500-word Atlantic-quality articles don’t just crank themselves out.

      OTOH, the pay may be trifling but the brand-exposure priceless. How many new readers would such an article have to generate to justify the effort? Nor is the Atlantic the only potential market for such an article. Consider Susannah Breslin’s Pink Slipped blog at Forbes – that magazine might be interested in an author’s-eye level view of the writing industry. It might interest Bloomberg News or the Wall Street Journal, heck — couch it as plucky independent facing down soul-crushing conglomerate and you might could place it in The Nation, Mother Jones or Reason.

      • RES, except the Nation and Mother Jones knows which side of their bread is buttered. They’re very much on gatekeeper’s side, regardless of what they claim. I could get in at Forbes and/or Reason, I have contacts.
        The question is “broadening” — broadening to what? Will The Atlantic get me anything? Maybe respectability — ah, bah. You know what I think of that. Respectability in the halls of the moribund. Yeah, there’s something to aim for.
        I suspect most of the people who read Reason — or at least a significant portion — read Classical Values. I could get a bigger hit with Forbes than at PJM… possibly, but even there, just getting someone, getting yet another gig… possible… but probably not till at least ONE kid leaves the house.
        The non fiction I do, I do “at will” for a reason — and only when I have contacts, which means no ramp-up effort. Er… five series of books going. Takes time. Even when — hat tips Maureen — I ‘crank it out’.

        • Ah, well – see my later comment prior. The grammar of addressing the order of blog posts wants addressing.

          I realized after reading your reply that the crux was you (rightly) have no desire for the approval of the masters, crew and passengers of the Starship TradPub. One of the problems common to those leaving dysfunctional relationships is re-wiring a slew of reflexes. Including (especially?) the reflexes of those who were merely outside that bad relationship.

          The proposal that you owe anything to anyone not buying your output is indeed a trifle presumptuous.

          I am, by profession and temperament, inclined to present both sides of any argument. As a Gemini I am of two-minds about pretty much everything (except astrology, which is bunk.) Pay only such attention as amuses.

        • Regarding cranking one out, I’m thinking that one of your blog posts, modified to fit the formatting and readership, would do the trick – IF you wanted to. I find modifying/editing goes a lot faster than writing from blank page. (Window as the case may be.)

    • I’m a full-time journalist as well as a full-time freelance journalist (yeah that’s two full-times, I work about 70-80 hours a week just between the two full time jobs. You add in working on my first genre novel, referenced above by Kate, and the literary editing, graphic arts work, and first reading for friends and it’s probably more like 100) you are sort of right that journalism is in upheaval right now. But it’s in upheaval for the same reasons the publishing industry is. To wit: Ignoramuses who are holding on to out-dated business models.

      That being said why would I want to publish at a place like The Atlantic, for free or close to it? For the large audience? I’m not sure what the readership at the Atlantic is, but it comes not even close to the two main sources of freelance income for me — PJMedia and The Daily Caller.

      Now I grant that I am in that elite class of freelancers who have managed to break big, national stories. But lady, I don’t even open my laptop for less than $100. Certainly not for a minor publication like The Atlantic. (As an aside I say minor because it doesn’t even show up on Technorati and PJM and the Caller have readerships in excess of 8 million page views a month.) And one of the reasons I’m _in_ that class of writers is because I refuse to write for less than I’m worth.

      Now let me ask you, why should genre writers write basically for free to a non-fic magazine rather than working on something which will actually pay them money? For the recognition? Name recognition is nice and all, but it don’t feed the kiddies.

      As to the chip on their shoulder. As a writer you of all people should understand that we all spend years getting told “you should get a real job” or people who think if they can string a coherent sentence together they can do what we do. You proceeded to tell them the same thing — “what you do isn’t serious because you don’t do real research.” You compounded this error by then proceeding to tell our host where she should be published to be “serious.”

      Lady, you’ve committed the equivalent of walking into someone’s living room, dropping trou and leaving a steaming turd on their coffee table. And you wonder why they’re pissed?

      Instead of acting the victim when the residents reacted predictably to your pile of excrement why don’t you sit back, take some time to listen, do your research and find out what fiction writers actually _do_ before crapping in their house.

    • Maureen, you remind me of a guy I ran into on another blog who insisted that any book he didn’t like wasn’t “real” science fiction… including the huge bestseller Ender’s Game, which he didn’t like.

      Just because something isn’t memorialized in the pages of your favorite periodical, The Atlantic, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

  4. Trad Pub as shipwreck? With some survivors insisting on staying near the ship in hope of a) getting it space-worthy again b) being found by rescuers? Others are setting out to colonize new land, trying to figure what here can be eaten (and what will eat you)?

    And hey, ease off on the accountant-bashing, okay? Most of us aren’t interested in glory and don’t enjoy being blamed because poor managers use us to justify their bad decision processes. Don’t make me have to call Larry.

    • It’s not that accountants have rule-bound minds, it’s that the rules give us no choice! It used to be principles-based, but too many people tried to get around things, so more and more rules were added, and now it’s all rules. Blame your Congress-critters, and Sarbanes-Oxley and Franken-Dodd.

      (That being said, my father, the auditor’s auditor, said his main job was all people skills, in that he had to tell extremely powerful people that they weren’t going to make as much money as they thought they were this year, and charge them a boatload of money to do so, while keeping them happy enough that they’d hire him to do the same thing next year.)

      • My plaint is that people who don’t understand what accountants actually do too readily blame us for bad management or bad decisions (e.g., failing to understand just what it means that a set of Financial Statements have been audited.)

        I am not interested in teaching, nor do I think anyone is interested in learning what accountants and auditors do do, but I am willing to denounce accountant-bashing for the fallacy it is.

        And I really doubt anybody wants Larry to wade in on the ‘countant-bashing. ; D

        • Kate Paulk

          Laurie, RES, I don’t want Larry after me either!

          The twits who think that bean counting is all there is… can we all team up and go after them?

      • Laurie: Just a question, have you read the late (bless his soul) Congressman Billybob?

        The Spouse says that he was not the only one to call them Congress Critters, but this inquiring mind wants to know.

    • Kate Paulk

      RES, it’s the MBAs who THINK they’re accountants – they’re basically playing glorified accountant and killing things because they have clue zero what they’re supposed to be.

      I have a whole lot of respect for the real deal. MBAs, though… too many of them think that Accounting for MBA is real accounting and have clue zero. But hey, they have that nice golden parachute and can swan off to the next company, so why should they worry? It’s not as if a bankruptcy actually hurts anyone, right? (Whoops. There goes the sarcasm alarm again.)

  5. Kate, loved your sentence: “Traditional publishing is the corpse kind of sort of straddling the gap.” It is dead for many new writers – and has been for a long while – but we hadn’t realized it, just hoped that our submission would somehow shock it awake to take care of us. Now that we know it’s probably a waste of time, most of us won’t be trying that. The gratitude I feel toward all the writers who blog about the erevolution is boundless. Hope in the possibility of connecting now with readers who might like what I write, even if no agent or editor does, has lifted the writer equivalent of depression. It feels so much better.
    Maureen, thanks for the ideas – if I follow what you’re thinking here, it could be an entire new way of marketing (than what I had thought about or read about much, not that some people haven’t exploited it already): look for a non-fiction venue with decent readership, say something intelligent and useful that gets attention, let that lead to the author’s fiction. It is definitely more my style than Facebook would be, and goes into the pile of stuff to try. My brain is too disabled for Twitter, but there are some brain cells left – and lots of opinionated possibilities. Good challenge.

    • Abe
      Writing non fiction to publicize your fiction is ALWAYS a good way. The neverending blog tour I started for Darkship Thieves — writers’ blogs, politics blogs, history blogs — ultimately led to this blog, also to a part time (when I have time) non fiction gig for PJM, also to semi-regular blogging at CV, also… to DST having better numbers than books before it. (BTW as part of the tour for another book, the PUBLICIST arranged for me to have articles and excerpts at tons of traditional mags/trendy publications. Weirdly — ah! — that book sold a fraction of what DST did.)
      I’ll be restarting the neverending blog tour — no blog too big, no blog too small — come July or August, for DSR and I THINK we should form a league of indies, where we all blog for each other.

    • Kate Paulk


      Thanks. The writing world is a very different place than it was – was it only 7 years ago? – when I sold my first story. In a lot of ways with what’s emerging now that people are realizing that the corpse really *is* a corpse, I’m thankful I could never get past the door with the mainstream industry.

  6. I enjoyed this post – I will also read it on Kate’s site.