How Much Is That Pie In The Window

Come gather around and let me tell you of the bad old times.

This was prompted by a realization in recent days that most writers – and a few editors – have/had eczema.  It is a known fact that eczema is a stress-related auto immune disorder.

There was also a persistent rumor, in the old days – before indie publishing – that dentists could tell who was a writer, because we wore our teeth out with grinding them.

There was a reason for this.  Reasons, actually.  There was a limited number of slots per publisher, and that a writer who was doing well kept his/her slot, which was usually once a year (though that tightened to twice and eventually four times a year about five years ago) which meant for a newby to get in, he had to hope someone’s career would die.  But also there was a limited number of slots for “lead authors” – the ones who got if not publicity at least prompt reordering and better opportunity at bestsellerdom.

Add to this that most of your success in the field was determined by things you could not control: when the book was published; what cover it got; how much push reps were told to apply.

What it came down to was that no matter where you were in the process, you were either hoping someone ahead of you would fail so you could take his/her place or you were very afraid you’d fail and one of those climbing the ladder behind you would take your place.

Given all this, publishing, at least in the areas you worked in, could sort of become a mini-Hollywood.  The tabloids didn’t give a damn if you feuded or not, but the conventions could be nerve-racking days, filled with false friendship and a hint of dagger beneath.

For someone like me this was particularly annoying.  First, because I tend to say what I mean and mean what I say.  If I have to think to decode whatever you just told me, and figure out if there was a veiled insult in there somewhere, I’m just not going to talk to you – or not talk to you much.  Second, I was deep in the political closet then, and had to literally watch my every facial reaction, because I knew – KNEW – the minute my politics came out, the publishing world would drop me like a hot potato.  Unless I were a bestseller, and perhaps even then.

To make things worse, the field was riven by crisscrossing alliances, conspiracies and betrayals, enough to make an Elizabethan courtier feel dizzy.  As someone who likes who she likes and hates who she hates and largely ignores people she doesn’t deem interesting enough, this was very difficult to keep track of, let alone navigate.  Imagine the largest Southern family reunion, where at any time two or three members are feuding with four others because of what their grandmother did at great uncle Bob’s funeral.  Now multiply that by a hundred, add in history going back before I was born, most of which was hinted at but never talked about openly, and pour in the competitiveness of a just before going bust.
The number of times I came back from a major con, determined never to write for sale again – before Dan talked me around – was roughly close to the number of times I attended a major con.

To make matters even more interesting, and give it a sense of slow-unfolding disaster, starting in 2003 massive numbers of writers got “let go” at major cons.  I.e. they got told they’d never sell again.  Every con you’d see half the authors standing around crying their eyes out.  And then they disappeared.

I continued working, and I’m not the only one of my “class” to still work, but I’m probably one of ten percent.  Tops.  Maybe five.  We came in as this loud, noisy group in 2000, the people published for the first time that year.  Of those I personally knew, I count five still working.

The feel was very much “The Titanic has sunk, I’m floating on the grand piano, but those other poor clowns are doomed.”

Worse – though I never engaged in it, because heaven knows, I still have to look at myself in the morning – was that those of us who were still afloat, would often outright undercut or try to undercut those in the water when they tried to get into the boat.  If your best friend regained her employment with the publisher, would yours be the slot lost?  (I figured the chances were minimal I’d survive anyway – being a fatalist helps – and tried.  It didn’t work, but G-d knows I tried.)

What this meant was that writers had very few true friends among writers, unless they were in wildly separate fields, or at wildly different places in their careers.

It was also hell for editors, at least those editors who were human and decent.  Do you become friends with a writer to whom you might have to deliver a death blow tomorrow?  How can you?  And how can you be sure you’re not favoring them if you do?  (One of my editors, and not one I was particularly friends with, drunk herself blotto on the day she had to fire ten authors.  I was the last, which is why she made a hash of it and I worked for her till recently.)

If this seems like a little slice of hell – it was.  As I’ve said before, I haven’t even gone REALLY indie yet.  Most of the indie stuff I have out is short stories, which sold traditional first, and my space opera short stories/novellas which I couldn’t give away for love or money because my future history was “unlikely.”  (Meaning I was operating from unusual – for publishing – social and economic models.)  I have out A Touch Of Night, an Austen-alternate novel, (yes, yes, A Flaw in Her Magic is one of three novels I’m trying to finish.) Other than that… nothing.  I will put out Witchfinder and, eventually, The Brave And The Free.  BUT for now, my novels are traditional.

On the other hand, I KNOW the possibility is there.  And that it can be done.  So if my traditional career dies – well, then, I go fully indie.

I think a lot of us have realized that, even those who aren’t doing indie yet.  Cons have become way more relaxed, the interaction between writers way more natural.

There are still rivalries.  We’re human.  But by and large we no longer feel that everyone who succeeds, somehow, stole it from us.

Used to be that any mega bestseller got assailed on all sides with accusations of being awfully written, trite, ridiculous.  For some of them it was even true.

Now bestsellers, particularly bestsellers to the public (i.e. those that first came out indie) don’t bother me.  If they’re in a genre or subgenre I work in, I will buy them and analyze them to figure out what they’re doing that people like so much.

I will be blunt with those of you who say things like: “Oh, public taste sucks.  My exquisitely written saga should outsell this dreck.” –   You’re fooling yourself.  Public taste might or might not suck.  Certainly if you are writing historical you’ll pull your hair out at the roots when something like The DaVinci Code is given credibility (though I’ll point out it came out under the old model and with tons of push) or even (GAG) The Other Boleyn Girl.

BUT if you read the books, and you’re honest with yourself, you’ll find what made them popular.  There is usually a combination of an accessible style, fast moving pace and easily digestible background (meaning that like The Code, it might be wrong, wrong wrong, but it plays into decades or centuries of misinformation to sound plausible.)

Yes, sometimes you find that what makes a series do really well is not something you can DO.  I can read Laurell Hamilton’s relentless sex-and-violence porn.  In fact, it’s impossible not to read it, at least for the early books.  It holds you with the fascination of a train wreck, in which people also happen to be screwing.  The pacing and graphic nature of it are enough to hold you reading more.  OTOH if I read two of her books in a row, an investment of maybe two hours, at the end of it I need a shower, and not because it made me hot.  It’s more like I feel tainted by contact, and like all my thoughts are of a sex-and-graphic-violence nature.  It’s not a place I like.  I don’t’ think I could stay with it for even the three weeks it takes to write a “fast” book.  I know how to do it intellectually, but not emotionally.  Not even for money.

I have no intention of reading Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight, because neither of them are things I have any interest in writing.  There is enough stuff I WANT to write for me to bother my head with what I don’t.  Now, if someone makes it big in indie Space Opera, or mystery or historical, I’m going to be all over that, trying to figure out if there are elements I can borrow, ways to reach a public I don’t know.

Sometimes the reaction will be, “Oh, that.  But I can’t write convincingly about demon-ducks.”  (Don’t ask.  Family joke.)  And sometimes it will be “Oh.  If I put this in chapter five.  I see.”

What the reaction will not be is “OMG, how much are they spending to promote this dreck, and my books are completely unknown because they won’t give a dime.”

There is no “they”.  For good or ill your career is in your hands.  This doesn’t mean your stress will be lower – maybe – but mine will be.  I’m a control freak, see.  I like being in control of my own success and failure.

And I like associating with people I like, indie, high list, low list, or mere wannabe.  I don’t want to worry about what it will “look like” if I give a friend a quote when they’re “only” beginners… or indie published.  Good writing is good writing, I couldn’t care less if it’s self published or chiseled by artisans onto marble walls.

The gatekeepers have never been any good at picking what is “good writing” – defined by appeal to the public – only what appealed to other publishers and editors.  (Baen always the exception in this, for which it has paid the price of being considered low rent – I know they’ve cried all the way to the bank, too.)

Oh, I also like ignoring the people I don’t like, and not having to fawn over some asshat who is the publisher’s flavor of the month.  I was never good at fawning anyway –  congenital stiffness of the back – but even having to be civil hurt me at times.

A bestseller –  in my field or not – is no longer a threat, or even an occasion of envy, but rather a reason to be happy that people are reading.  No matter what they’re reading, reading is an habit.  If they start establishing an habit of entertaining themselves by reading…  They will read other things.  Yes, okay – the only way I would read some of those books, like, say Twilight, is if I were alone on a deserted island and it were my only book.  (I’ve read English/German dictionaries while waiting with nothing else to read for hours on end.)  But those circumstances occur, sooner or later (Okay, not the deserted island, but the waiting room or the car) and then who knows, I might fall victim… er… like it more than I expected and buy more.

So every mega blockbuster that brings people into reading is a chance at a future reader for me – no matter how unlikely.  And every writer and every story teller is a brother or sister, on the same road.

We’re not dividing a finite pie.  We’ve just bought a pizzeria, and the pies keep popping on the tables.  And the more people who taste the pie, the more market there will be.

The clouds aren’t gone, but look, there’s a ray of sun shining through.  And tomorrow, it will rain pie from the sky, by and by.

World without end.

*Crossposted at Mad Genius Club*

196 responses to “How Much Is That Pie In The Window

  1. Martin L. Shoemaker

    Since quality is 100% subjective, the market is the best objective measure of quality we have. Quality is “Goodness of fit to requirements,” and every single reader has his or her own unique, subjective requirements. Quality for one reader is dreck for another. So the market, where each individual reader chooses where to spend precious reading time and dollars, is the best aggregate measure we have of quality.

    From past experience, I suspect that people will reply by telling me that no, quality is OBjective, not subjective; and then they’ll proceed to point out their own subjective examples of quality. Inevitably, the name McDonald’s will come up; and then I’ll laugh. The bottom line doesn’t lie. It tells you what people really value, not what someone thinks they should value.

    • You’ll get NO argument from me. Value is ALWAYS what someone is willing to pay for something.

      • BTW, despite the long comment I just posted below, I mostly agree with this… but I’d prefer to call it “value” (a better name than “market fitness”) rather than “quality”. “Quality” means something else, and repurposing the word quality to talk about value leaves no way to talk about the concept originally meant by quality.

        • Robin,

          I’d LIKE to agree with you, but I don’t. Shakespeare was “trash” in his day. The lovely involuted novels with half a dozen discerning readers won’t survive, so how can they be called “quality” — with what stick do you measure? And I say this as someone who for the last ten years got told by every editor I was writing above my readers’ heads and my stuff was “very good but–“

          • For writing there seems only one “quality” that matters: does it connect with readers? No matter how well “written” a novel is (grammar, characterizations, plotting, etc.) they are irrelevant if nobody reads past page seven without hurling the book against a wall or paying a visit to Morpheus. As readers change over time, so might a book’s “quality.” Many a best-selling author has fallen into the ash heap of History’s incinerator (how many books are Edna Ferber, Pearl S. Buck or Harold Robbins moving these days?) and many a “minor” author has risen like diamonds from the coal (why is Philip K. Dick growing in stature?)

            • why is Philip K. Dick growing in stature?

              Because the 50 Shades readers think it’s dirty.

            • There are also seasons of greater and lesser popularity for authors. Jane Austen has been in and out of vogue in the last two hundred years. Dickens was on his way to being forgotten when G. K. Chesterton brought his writings renewed attention. Few things sticks out so sorely as dated as that which has just recently been rejected. Who knows what might get ‘rediscovered’ in the future.

    • I suspect that people will reply by telling me that no, quality is OBjective, not subjective …

      And I’d be one of those. But that’s because I disagree with your definition of quality:

      Quality is “goodness of fit to requirements” …

      No it ain’t. That’s market fitness, not quality. The two concepts are completely orthogonal to each other. Take the example of mass-produced furniture, as can be purchased at, say, IKEA. Compare that to the work of a master craftsman. The latter is objectively higher quality, but is also much more expensive — and so the mass-produced furniture (which isn’t bad by any means, don’t get me wrong) sells a lot more, because it is much better suited a certain VERY broad market segment (college students, people setting up their first apartment, people in low-paying jobs, and so on). The master cabinetmaker’s furniture is objectively better (that’s what “quality” means) than the IKEA furniture, but it’s suited to a market niche that is quite narrow, and so he won’t sell very many pieces.

      Basically, by calling “quality” a subjective measure, I think you’re making the same mistake that C.S. Lewis argued against in The Abolition of Man. It’s hard to find a single quote to sum up his argument — I’d have to quote the whole essay, which would be pointless since I can just link to it — but here’s the best quote I could find for my purposes:

      Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt. The reason why Coleridge agreed with the tourist who called the cataract sublime and disagreed with the one who called it pretty was of course that he believed inanimate nature to be such that certain responses could be more ‘just’ or ‘ordinate’ or ‘appropriate’ to it than others. And he believed (correctly) that the tourists thought the same. The man who called the cataract sublime was not intending simply to describe his own emotions about it: he was also claiming that the object was one which merited those emotions. But for this claim there would be nothing to agree or disagree about. To disagree with “This is pretty” if those words simply described the lady’s feelings, would be absurd: if she had said “I feel sick” Coleridge would hardly have replied “No; I feel quite well.”

      That sense of objects meriting praise is what I mean by “quality”, and what most people will mean when they come to argue that quality is objective. To take the notion of “what people like” (which is market fitness) is redefining the term away from what most people mean by it — so you shouldn’t be surprised when most people misunderstand your thesis, and violently object to a thesis that’s not exactly what you hold (because you’ve communicated it poorly by arbitrarily redefining an important term).

      • Sorry, you’re wrong, but thank you for demonstrating my point. People always think their subjective measures of quality are objective. If it’s objective, measure it. And tell me why the measures you choose to use are objective, not subjective. You show me a masterpiece of furniture, and I’ll find someone who thinks it’s ugly and prefers the piece from Ikea.

        Praiseworthy is just another form of subjectivity.

        • You show me a masterpiece of furniture, and I’ll find someone who thinks it’s ugly and prefers the piece from Ikea.

          This is a perfect example of what I was talking about below with the whole “merging the objective and subjective measures of quality into a single concept” idea. That masterpiece of furniture has some measurably objective qualities: well-built, will last a long time, won’t collapse under heavy load, and so on. It also has some subjective qualities like its design. The customer who finds it ugly and passes it up because he prefers the simple lines of an IKEA-built dresser would probably agree that its objective qualities are good, but he’s making his decision based on other factors such as his taste. That one (or even many) customers don’t like (or can’t afford) the master-crafted furniture does not make it objectively low quality, it just means that it was unsuited for that market niche. Which is a different concept entirely from that of quality. Sarah Hoyt used the term “value” earlier, and I would entirely agree with the idea if that was the term used — an object’s value is precisely what people are willing to pay for it. But to use the term “quality” for that concept is, I think, a bad idea, because “quality” already has another meaning, a meaning which becomes very hard to talk about if you redefine the term.

          To use programming terminology, you’re shadowing your variables, and I’m throwing up a compiler warning. 🙂

          Praiseworthy is just another form of subjectivity.

          This argument is one I object to vehemently — there is such a thing as objective praiseworthiness. But since arguing my point would essentially boil down to re-writing Lewis’s The Abolition of Man and doing a much worse job of it than he did, I’ll just link to his essay and let it stand in for my argument on this subject. 🙂

          • You’re still mistaking your subjective choice for objective. Yes, loading strength is an objective quality; but that doesn’t mean everyone wants loading strength. An object has qualities. Only an individual can look at those and decide which ones constitute Quality.

            And if you think praiseworthy is objective, I can’t help you. I can’t imagine a more subjective concept than what an individual chooses to praise. That’s close to the definition of subjective.

            • And if you think praiseworthy is objective, I can’t help you. I can’t imagine a more subjective concept than what an individual chooses to praise. That’s close to the definition of subjective.

              I seem to have miscommunicated, so I’ll write one more comment before I quit arguing this point. I agree 100% with the bolded statement: what one chooses to praise is a subjective assessment. The point I’m trying to make is that there’s also such a thing as inherent praiseworthiness, which people may or may not recognize. (I.e., people can be wrong in their subjective assessments of what is praiseworthy.) One more quote from “The Abolition of Man” to illustrate what I’m trying to say:

              The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar. ‘In ritual’, say the Analects, ‘it is harmony with Nature that is prized.’ The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being ‘true’.

              This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao‘. Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical. But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself—just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind. And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.

              (Bold type in this quote was italics type in original; I bolded it so the original emphasis would be maintained when the entire quote was italicized.)

              But as I said below, I agree with almost everything else you’re saying and this has essentially become an argument about semantics. Which is fun when you’re in a dorm room at 2:00 AM, but right now I’m distracting myself from work that really does need to get done. So I’ll let your response to me, whatever it is (and if you care to write one), stand as the last word on the subject, and I’ll get back to the work I’ve been avoiding by engaging in this (quite fun!) philosophical debate.

      • And it’s not an arbitrary redefinition of quality, it’s an objective definition. And it’s not mine, it’s Phillip Crosby’s. Read his book, Quality is Free, and you get a better handle on what quality means.

        • I think the important word here is “requirements.” That’s partially what the person paying you requires (I think this will be a decent bookcase I can afford), partially what the universe of reality requires (This bookcase will stand up to gravity), partially what the maker requires for sale (I can make this and sell it for a profit), and partially for things which provide added value to the buyer, the seller, and perhaps the universe of reality (This bookcase was so sturdy it saved my books and my money; this bookcase is so artful that it lasts for generations, is loved, and keeps my name alive as its maker).

          • Exactly! And the selection of requirements is ultimately subjective and arbitrary. If I’m decorating my home and I don’t actually read books (perish the though!), then the bookcase’s book-supporting capability is less important than its appearance.

            Book capacity is A quality, and it’s measurable. Strength is A quality, and it’s measurable. A thing can have measurable qualities and immeasurable qualities (Do I like this color?); but to assess Quality, the market is as close as we can get to objectivity.

        • Obviously I haven’t had time to find and read Crosby’s book, but was able to find the Wikipedia summary. If that’s at all accurate, then what he calls “quality” combines two separate concepts into a single term. The first concept is what you could call inherent quality, which would include things like being free of defects. The second concept, which could be called market fitness, is the “conformance to the customer’s requirements” part of his definition, and that’s the point where I take semantic issue with his calling it “quality”. I can see why he called in “quality” in his book — he was writing a book on how to run a manufacturing plant, not a philosophical treatise — but to take his pragmatic definition of a term intended for use on the production floor and apply it to a philosophical debate will lead to subtle, but important, errors like merging the objective and subjective measures of quality into a single concept. That’s why I’m spending so much time arguing these semantics: because I agree with about 80% of what you’re saying, but it’s almost impossible to specify the 20% on which I disagree while you’re using the same term “quality” to talk about both objective and subjective measures.

          • Okay, let’s try this. Because I DO think this is a philosophical issue, not a manufacturing issue. So please give me your definitions of two terms. First, objective; and then second, an objective definition of quality.

            I’ll go first:

            Objective: something which can be measured or assessed by all unbiased observers without significant variation in results from observer to observer. Length is objective; delicious is not.

            Quality (subjective): goodness of fit to my requirements and expectations.

            Quality (objective): the aggregate of the subjective quality assessments of the population as a whole, commonly seen through their market choices.

            I’m willing to listen to other definitions of quality; but every one I’ve ever heard ends up being subjective preference. Crosby’s point was that until you define your requirements, you can’t objectively assess your quality. A market, though, is a good proxy for the aggregate assessment of the population.

            • Quality is pretty simple in my viewpoint. If a piece of clothing lasts more than a season, then it is made with quality. Then I will buy from that place again. I expect my shirts and other clothing to last four to five years. When it applies to furniture, handmade is the only quality that I acknowledge. Most of the furniture I see today use inferior materials.

              Quality applied to people was a class term.

            • Sorry for the delay in replying, but I just got off the phone with a pretty important phone call. I’d mostly agree with your definition of “subjective quality”, and I agree with your definition of “objective” as far as it goes (but I think the term also covers some qualities that inherently cannot be measured). I’d disagree with your definition of “objective quality”. Here are the definitions I’m using:

              Objective: something that exists independently of being observed, and does not depend on any subjective judgments by an observer. If it is quantifiable (e.g., length), then unbiased observers will come to significantly similar results when they measure it. If it is not quantifiable (e.g., truth), the “similar results” test does not apply, but the “does not depend on subjective judgment” test is still necessary (though usually not sufficient) to define whether something is objective.

              Incidentally, on the subject of truth, I vehemently reject the “all truth is relative” bull***t that postmodernist “thinkers” try to push on gullible college students. There is a reality that is objective, and a statement is true or false based on whether it conforms or does not conform to that objective reality. Statements can be true in part and false in part, and it may not always be possible to know whether a statement is true (because the objective reality behind it is something we can’t know for certain), but that does not change the fact that there is such a thing as truth, nor does our belief or disbelief change the objective reality behind the statement. If there is no such thing as God, I can believe in Him as hard as I want to and it won’t make Him suddenly come into existence. (Roleplaying settings like Planescape notwithstanding. 🙂 ) And if there is a God, I can refuse all I want to to believe in Him, but He won’t blink out of existence just to oblige me.

              Anyway, back to the semantics debate:

              Quality (subjective): Goodness of fit to my requirements and expectations. (I agree with your definition. I might quibble about terms, but I’m willing to agree to call this “subjective quality” if you like, as long as a distinction is drawn between this and objective quality.)

              Quality (objective): Here I disagree with your definition — how can an aggregate of subjective quality assessments turn into objective quality? Yes, the aggregate can be measured, but that’s market value. Which I’m not trying to denigrate, by the way: market value is an extremely good yardstick for measuring customer preference, and something that nobody wants, even if it’s extremely well-built, probably shouldn’t be invested in. I could build a fantastically well-built vehicle with huge hauling capacity and that would be extremely safe to be in in an accident, but it would get 3-4 miles per gallon. Despite its many objective qualities, it would be lacking the subjective quality called “market value” a.k.a. “people want to buy it”, and I’ll lose money by the (well-built) truckload if I decide to invest in this product. But the fact that people didn’t value those (objective) qualities doesn’t mean it didn’t have them.

              But that’s not so much a definition as a disagreement and an example, and I haven’t really defined the way I understand the term yet. So here we go.

              Quality (objective): An inherent (not subject to external judgment) trait of items, independent of the evaluation of observers. It may be quantifiable, measurable, and comparable (this bookshelf is better built than that one, as evidenced by the fact that it stands up to more weight) or it may not be quantifiable, measurable, and comparable, but it’s inherent in the thing itself, rather than in the opinion of others about the thing.

              As an example of the latter (non-quantifiable quality), I would argue that the works of Shakespeare are inherently better, regardless of the subjective value judgment of others (or myself), than the typing output of a million monkeys. You’ll claim that in saying so, I’m simply promoting my subjective value judgments to pseudo-“objective” status (I prefer Shakespeare to the million monkeys’ output, and so does almost everyone else, but it’s a subjective judgment), and I’ll disagree with you on that point: I maintain that it is possible for one work to be objectively better than another work, such that it’s possible to be wrong in saying “A is better than B”. Naturally, it’s also possible for people to promote their subjective opinions to pseudo-objective claims: “Harry Potter is better than Twilight!” “No, Twilight is better than Harry Potter!” But the fact that the argument can be misused does not invalidate it, any more than the existence of nuclear bombs would mean that nuclear energy cannot be used to generate electricity.

              But since I mostly agree with you on almost all your other points (market preference is a nearly-objective measure which can be used to assess the value of a work, and “fitness to customer’s requirements” is a vital thing to consider when bringing anything to market) and I’m mostly arguing about definitions now, I should probably quit arguing this point into the ground. 🙂

            • Popularity and quality are not synonyms. I can recognize the quality of one thing, but buy another because I can’t afford the former or it doesn’t match the rest of the furnishings. The maker of the high quality bookcases may decide he wants to eat, and turn out a line a cheap, plain, ordinary, perfectly functional bookcases. But no one is going to think he’s improved the _quality_ of his product.

              Argue all you want, but if you want your readers to understand, use the right word.

              • Popularity and quality are not synonyms.

                Please, by allowing such information to become known you might ruin one of the common advertising ploys.

              • Until you can give me an objective definition of quality, I am using the right word. Quality is goodness of fit to requirements.

                • So long as your readers or listeners share your understanding, no problem. Do they?

                  • Martin L. Shoemaker

                    Of course not. Like you, readers all think there is an objective definition of quality; and more than that, by some blessed miracle, they and they alone know what it is! But just as on this thread, when I ask for that objective definition, I get subjective answers, including variations on “everybody knows” and “I know it when I see it.” Those aren’t objective.

                    But my audience here isn’t readers, it’s writers; and writers who lay claim to an objective definition of quality (their own, naturally) are doomed to be surprised and disappointed by the market. The market is as close as we will ever get to an objective definition of quality: what the largest group of customers prefer. When we stop asking “Why is everyone reading a low quality book like ’50 Shades of Grey’?” and start asking, “What requirements did ’50 Shades of Grey’ satisfy, and are those requirements I can satisfy? Or are there requirements it didn’t meet, an unmet demand that I can satisfy?”, we’ve stopped substituting our subjective judgment for objective truth, and we’ve started asking questions we can learn from.

                    I understand this is a difficult concept. Few people are trained to think about quality with precision. For most people, quality is synonymous with preference, but they like to believe it’s more than that. Quality only has meaning in reference to your requirements and expectations, and those are different for everyone. That’s the definition of subjective.

                    I’m willing to retract this position if someone can offer me that universal, objective definition of quality. In five years of asking, every answer I’ve gotten has been some variant of:

                    * “I know it when I see it.”

                    * “Everybody knows that…”

                    * “Book A is better than Book B, so it’s higher quality.”

                    * Appeal to authority, when that authority ultimately is as subjective as anyone else.

                    * “Objective” definitions that are built on subjective terms (praiseworthy) and simply assert that those terms are subjective.

                    Then there are specific examples: “These clothes last longer.” “This car gets better milage.” “This bookcase holds more books.” Those are indeed objective, but they’re neither general nor universal. Ugly clothes that last for years are low quality to a teenager who prefers the latest style and wants to change with the fashion next year. One person may say gas milage means a Honda hybrid is higher quality than a Porsche, but don’t tell the Porsche driver that! The Honda is better ONLY after you define your requirements.

                    Stamping your feet and telling the market that it’s wrong is a sure-fire path to frustration and low sales.

                    • There are very definite objective definitions of quality, but generally only for physical things, ie furniture, tools, equipment, clothes, etc. Writing however is only judged subjectively (unless your an English teacher grading assignments). It is judged on what people like, not on any objective qualities.

                      By the way, if you would have said Honda Accord instead of using a garbage hybrid for your example I might have argued it being high quality compared to a Porsche, Porsche’s have a lot more mechanical problems, objectively the Honda Accord is higher quality mechanically because it is much more reliable. The Porsche however has an objectively higher quality interior. Now if we want to get into the quality of the looks or fun-to-drive aspects, that is subjective;)

            • It may not be possible to define absolute quality objectively but it is certainly possible to define relative quality objectively independent of market preferences or other subjective phenomena once a particular property of an object is defined as part of its essential nature.

              For instance, one element of the essential nature of a bookshelf is that it holds up books. All other things being equal, the bookshelf which is stronger – and therefore can hold up more books more reliably – is of higher objective quality. A bookshelf which uses screws and glue in its joinery but is visually indistinguishable from one which uses only nails is of objectively higher quality than the latter in this regard.

              Of course, what the elements of an object’s essential nature are are often if not mostly subjective, but once we start arguing about whether things like “holds up books” are an essential element of the nature of a bookshelf, we are off into pure philosophical masturbation. Which can be loads of fun, but isn’t really a refutation of the idea of objective quality.

    • Martin, as you said, quality is “goodness of fit to requirements.” And writing happens to be one of those enterprises where the requirements are not necessarily apparent. Mere conformance to the rules of grammar is a readily apparent requirement. (You can get all Chomsky on me and say the rules of grammar are mere social convention. Then the arbiters of taste, the gatekeepers, can say that they define social convention… This way lies madness.)

      There are well defined formulae for story telling going back to Aristotle. Conformance to one of these is another readily apparent requirement. The virtues are well known, and narratives upholding humanistic values is a readily apparent requirement.

      When you try to cut the Gordian knot and say, “the requirement is what sells” you must be aware that bad things which are pushed will sell better than good things that are not pushed as forcefully. Complaining about a bestseller like Davinci Code is complaining about the choice of what was pushed.

      Half of what I’ve said is in a foreign language to many. Because implicit in these remarks is the premise that beauty inheres within the art itself. It is not mere social convention. Instead social convention through pragmatic considerations is bound to realist criteria of beauty that is recognized by the buying public. (Pragmatic consideration means what doesn’t sell despite a big push.)

      The disagreement about Objective quality stems from the fact that reality does not come labeled with this thing here good and that thing there crud. We subjectively estimate beauty and these subjective estimates are what we bandy about when we talk or think about quality.

      This is why Human Wave is such a big deal. It posits in old-fashioned Humanism a set of requirements to which we can gauge a work’s conformance and thus assess quality.

      Oh, my, I just wrote a blog post…

      • Martin L. Shoemaker

        Steve, I don’t think Aristotle defined quality; rather he gave heuristics for trying to achieve it. And they’re good heuristics. But I’ll find a successful story and a successful writer who violates every single one.

        But beauty is also subjective. Sarah’s rule is that quoting Heinlein is always on topic here, so I’ll quote (or more likely misquote): “A lady hippopotamus is beautiful… to a male hippo.” There are qualities that are generally admired: symmetry, complementarity, variety, and such. But again, for every example that is widely praised as beautiful, I’ll find people who don’t agree.

        • I’m going to stick with Martin’s definition of quality: Conformance to requirements. But I’ll try to synthesize this positivist thesis with Robin’s realist antithesis. I want to adopt requirements that inhere within reality (like Natural Law) as opposed to social convention. Robin’s thesis, and that of C. S. Lewis in Abolition is that goodness exists in the thing in itself.

          As a software engineer you know that requirements are not just delivered to the developer from God. They are messily discovered through blood, sweat, and tears. Similarly, it is hard to discover which things have goodness inhering within them so as to incorporate them into your requirements.

          I’m eager to take the rules of English Grammar and Spelling, combine them with the values of Human Wave SF, and declare that combination to be the Requirements of Writing.

          Then I’ll use this to define Quality. A couple days ago I asked Sarah (with tongue in cheek) where I could find a certifying authority to gauge whether Finding Time was Human Wave or not.

          A test for conformance to the Requirements of Writing could be made largely objective so as to hit Robin’s target of Objective Quality.

          (Heinlein never interviewed a hippopotamus to confirm his assertion of hippo pulchritude. He assumed his positivist thesis and repeated it.)

  2. A couple of comments here.

    1. I have never understood why somebody (other than Baen which is strictly F/SF until recently they started to expand into a little bit of mil-fic) didn’t either pick up the occasional conservative writer, or start a house that would publish them. All it took was a look at the nonfic bestsellers to see there were plenty of conservative readers out there, I mean there are ten nonfic bestsellers by conservatives like Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity for every one by a liberal. It stands to reason those readers would read fiction that backed their philosophy also.

    2. “But those circumstances occur, sooner or later (Okay, not the deserted island, but the waiting room or the car) and then who knows, I might fall victim… er… like it more than I expected and buy more.”

    Waiting rooms are how I read a couple Nora Roberts books, while it didn’t cause me to go out and buy any of her books, I can recognize the quality of her writing and understand why she is a household name, while most romance writers are total unknowns, with just the imprint being known and nobody even looking at the authors name on the cover.

    • 1 – Because they’d rather be well thought of by their peers than make a lot of money. Most of them work for conglomerates, and money won’t change their salary, and no one punishes them when they lose money. So, ideology gets them invited to all the parties. Besides, I’m given to understand by my OTHER publishers, conservatives are evil and libertarians are vile.
      2- Yes, on Nora Roberts. Weirdly, it’s also not enough to make me read more of her, partly because her contemporary romances feel SO unlikely. There are a couple who do regency who are ALMOST that good, but yes, Nora stands head and shoulders above most other Romance.

    • To (1,) not only is our gracious hostess’s answer relevant and convincing but additionally because it would have done no good for a publisher to try to break in conservative writers if the wholesalers and retailers were not interested in selling them. “Would it do you any good to go back and give Da Vinci the plans for a railroad train when it was not yet railroading time?”

  3. The Grateful Dead decided that they would not pursue the then reigning model of pop stardom. Only one of their songs charted as a single, and that in only one market. All sorts of people traveled to see them in concert. The separate members were also free to pursue their individual interests. This included mentoring and playing with other musicians. One used the recording technology he has mastered to work with the Smithsonian to preserve rare early recordings. Along the way they even underwrote the Lithuanian Basketball Team that took the bronze at the 1992 Summer Games at Barcelona. They had found a different way to make a living playing music that enabled them to do what they wanted to do — not what their producers and handlers told them to do.

    Indie should make it possible for authors to do likewise.

  4. On the subject of Twilight, I once read through all four books in a row, because I figured if I was going to criticize them, I should criticize them from a position of knowledge rather than ignorance. (I clearly remember an incident a decade ago when I got into an argument with a fellow Christian who was attempting to claim that the Harry Potter novels would encourage kids to experiment with the occult; it quickly became clear that he had never read the books, and thus his arguments were completely off-base, in effect setting up strawmen to knock down. This made me decide to never criticize a book until I knew enough about it to criticize.)

    My reaction to Twilight was that it was never bad enough to make me put it down and quit reading (the inherent creepiness of Bella and Edward’s stalkerish relationship didn’t become clear to me until post-reading reflection), and there was one clever moment early on that I hoped Stephanie Meyer would repeat: the book is structured as Bella’s diary, so after a certain event leaves her depressed and nearly catatonic, the next couple entries are “October” (blank page), “November” (blank page). (The depression is a complete overreaction to the event in question, of course, but then, Bella is a seventeen-year-old, so overreactions are pretty much the norm.) Sadly, I never found a second clever moment like that in the rest of the series. As for poor moments, there were many, starting with how Jacob’s character takes a complete 180 from the first book to the second book. In the first book, he’s a nice guy and a good friend to Bella; in book two (or maybe it was in book three — they blur together in my mind), suddenly he’s a possessive, territorial jerk. It feels like the character from book one died offscreen and was quietly replaced by his evil twin.

    As for why Twilight sells so well: it appeals to the “our love is so profound that it can effortlessly overcome any obstacle” fantasy, which appeals particularly to teenage girls (though they’re obviously not alone in liking that fantasy). Sadly, that’s a dangerous fantasy to believe: real love can (and often does) overcome lots of obstacles, but it takes a lot of work, commitment, and stick-to-it-iveness to make a long-term, healthy relationship work in the real world. I wish that fact showed up in more works of fiction. (To close on a positive note: I loved the scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus where — let me see what I can say without spoilers — where Holland comes home, kisses his wife, and tells her, “I love you”, and she says “I know”. Because she’s seen the temptation he was recently struggling with, and his actions have just proved to her that his commitment to her is the most important thing in his life. Now that’s a good portrayal of what it takes to make a marriage work in real life.)

    • Wayne Blackburn

      Having only read the first book, I was a little surprised about the way the story seemed to go in the trailers for the later movies, wondering if the movie houses had made it up, but based on what you said about Jacob, it’s apparent that they didn’t.

    • I had a similar experience with someone concerned with the Harry Potter books. I explained that some of what he objected to were classic elements of the British boarding school novel. A light came on and he said, ‘Oh? So the train is kind of like our summer camp bus?’ Imagine what he would have said if the last book had already been published and I could have referred to the quotations on the grave stones in Godric’s Hollow.

      I have not read any of Twilight. A friend, whose judgement I trust, read the them because her older daughter was so taken by them. After reading the first book she said that the most charming aspect was that Edward, coming from another time, still seemed to have some sense of chivalry.

      AND: I count my luck stars that The Daughter was taken by the writings of such as Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett Robert A. Heinlein and Stanislaw Lem at the time we had to be ‘wary’ of what she read. I am a disastrously slow reader and could never keep up with her, but at least it was good. I’d have said quality, but, all things considered, that would be putting my foot in it here, wouldn’t it?

  5. Sarah –
    I wanted to write novels in my twentys, but I had no idea how to go about it. The politics of getting a book published outweighed even the writing. So I went on with my life, joined the Navy, married, had some adventures of my own, and then acquired my BA in English literature. By then I was forty.
    I had a novel that I worked on –off and on.

    After my degree I started to become more serious with my writings. Then my disease hit (with a vengeance). It was four years before I could write again and it wasn’t at the level of before the disease. Plus my writings changed. I am a very different person than before my disease.

    So I never saw the cons, never saw the writing rivalries, never saw the ruined professions. I had a friend who is now a Harlequin novelist who had quit writing because she couldn’t get past the gateway.

    Indie publishing has been a boon not only to the publishing community but also to me. I am pretty sure that I would not have been published the normal way. Plus I am still struggling with confidence when it comes to my writings. Also, it was a shock to me how liberalism is so entrenched in the arts especially writing.

    When I was getting my English degree, the professors expected a certain mind-set. I didn’t deliver because I had a libertarian attitude. Believe me– unless you can write really really well, then you must toe the party line or you will get a bad grade. I got a pass on the party line because I was head and shoulders above my classmates when it came to writing.

    Fiction has been much harder. I enjoy it more. I want my piece of the pie. 😉

  6. Does going indie, (the ebook indie, not the Crystal Skull Indi), mean the workcount parameters are kinda gone as well? My impression that a first-timer needs to keep a novel at 100k-120k, but with ebooks, there’s no incremental cost.

    • Ummm – my books are closer to 50,000 than 100,000. Scott.
      No, there is no incremental cost. Have you published on KDP or Smashwords? The cost comes when you sell the book. In Amazon you get 70 percent back when you price the book over 2.99. You get 35 percent back when you price the book under 2.99.

      • There is in fact an incremental cost which Amazon will deduct from your royalties under certain circumstances, but it’s minimal. If you’re writing books with no more graphics than a cover image and maybe a map or two, it won’t come up much. If you use more graphics than that it might start to affect your royalties significantly.

        My books have really nice cover pictures which I include at a reasonable resolution, so at certain royalty structures I might lose a dime of a >$2 royalty payment.

    • Gone baby gone. Though I’d seriously recommend you figure out how to break it into a serial of 40 to 50k installments, because you can get 4.99 for each. You don’t have to, but it’s more money.

      • See, now, the mind recoiled at the thought of deviating from the 3-book story arc I’ve currently got planned. I have a reasonable amount of confidence that I could break it up into smaller chunks if necessary.

      • As a reader, not a writer (I once had a muse, but I long ago got the *itch drunk, took her out into the woods and nobody’s ever finding that body) I will note that an offering should be sufficient to give a potential reader a good sense of what the author can deliver without being such a goat-gagger that they are looking at spending a week finding out if what is delivered is worth the effort. It is important to enjoy the ride, but necessary that the eventual destination not leave the reader wandering a forlorn desolate plain (I prefer my forlorn desolates with sprinkles and extra syrup.)

        50K seems a reasonable cost, although if you are not an established author serials can get soggy and leave the consumer resentful.

      • Um, you know, I may just split The Novel into two now. It has a good dividing point anyway as it stands, and that would give me two 50K ish books (after editing, trimming, and a short dictionary for the untranslated Azdhagi words).

        • I’ve been thinking about that since that post, but, unlike you, I don’t have a definite midpoint to split on. Everything I’ve been working on sets the stage, establishes the conflict and then ratchets up the conflict and tension until the climax. I would have to have a mini-climax and then the big one in what would become book two.

          I mean…come on! I’m 42 and male. I’m not multi-climactic.

          • Well, climactic change is still an unsettled (or unsettling in some cases) science. *takes off running to hide behind Anthony Watts*

    • Scott, are you talking about size (kb) or words? Most of my books are between 60k and 100k words. A lot of the suspense/mystery books I read are in the 75k words range. I’ve read several very good 50k-word sci-fi books. I’ve also read several books that would be excellent in the 50k-60k length, but contain over 150k words. You don’t want to end up boring your audience to death!

      • I read too much Peter F. Hamilton, if that’s actually possible. Huge cast, many story arcs going at the same time, lots of conflicts to tense up and resolve. I’m no PFH and don’t pretend to be. I have nothing like the illusion that I could handle something on the scope of The Nights Dawn or Pandora’s Star my first time out. However, my primary, small cast, has a LOT to do and my chapters tend to run between 6k to 10k.

        We’ll see 🙂

    • The size of the book will, as noted above, add to your delivery cost (if you pick 70% royalties — which are, I note, only in effect in certain countries). My 125K-word and 135K-word books get dinged about a dime on 70% royalty purchases. (On 35% countries, I don’t get dinged the dime. Woohoo.)

      {A pause. Okay, the about 100K-word book is dinged 8 cents. The 125K is dinged 9, and the 135K-word one is dinged the whole dime.}

      However, aside from that? Yes, ebooks can deliver the novella/short novel reads that some crave, as well as the doorstop bricks that others adore. If you want to get a physical copy via CreateSpace or Lightning Source, expect for it to be pricey if it’s big, and possibly pricier than expected if it’s small.

      One reason I went indie is because after extreme chainsawing — the thing was once 400K total… — the duology was still each above 100K, and the second book even above 125K, and I’d already cut the sub-plot that didn’t go anywhere properly, removed every superfluous “that” I could find, and abused contractions like some iffily-humorous simile pertaining to Fifty Shades. Plus, it was neither fish nor fowl, being a romance plot (mostly) set amidst deep fantasy tropes.

      And by the time I wrote the sequel (which hit slightly over 100K, and is much simpler in many ways), I’d gotten the idea that I really didn’t even want to talk to the Big Six, and parted amiable ways from the (really very nice and pretty awesome) agent I’d been talking to. (Who had, I speak truth, given me some good advice about the first duology; it is thanks to a few words from her that it is much tighter than the original version.)

  7. This really strikes home with me. I‘ve watched a friend of mine, a beginning author, go through a lot of what you describe – she’s not a political person, but she did some of this, as much as her nature allowed. And watching her, and, more important, the people she was with, made me realize that I never wanted to do that, that I would rather post my stories on-line for free than have to worry about who I was seen with, or who my friends were (or even end friendships because they weren’t fashionable enough) or have to appear to agree with things I did not agree with. I’ve also found I really really dislike people who sneer.

    I have met successful authors who didn’t have to go through that, who could be themselves, honestly (they’re good people, of course), but yes, they’re Baen authors.

    • Ouch – this just reminds me of Junior High School… ugh. Does this mean that the author culture never grew up?

      • YES. It’s like Middle School Forever.

      • There’s an air of desperation among beginning writers – there’s so much at stake and most have given up so much in their lives (a mistake, in my view, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion). Watching this is what made me determine to never be in that position, to never be that dependent.

        So I got a “real” job, so my primary money was always taken care of. I got so many other benefits from this (like growing up and learning things and being around real people), but the I-don’t-want-to-be-dependent-like-these-people was the first motivation. (Yes, I’m dependent on my employer, but it’s a heckuva lot easier to find a new employer than get a publisher.) (BTW, I consider working in the home and raising children to be a real job.)

      • Had only one year and then my parents took me out of school. It was hell. I was too odd.

        • Just an example of that year (7th grade). I used to sit in the science class reading Charles Dickens. The teachers paired us up boy/girl and I wasn’t too happy about it. (I was very very shy.) Plus one of the girls would pull my chair (it was stools) out from under me. And the class didn’t have lessons, it was a notebook we had to finish in three months. Two weeks before the semester was over, the teacher told me that I was going to fail. I did three months work in less than two weeks plus the final. They gave me a B because I didn’t make the deadlines. The kids were horrible, the classes were boring, and my teachers would come to our classes (remember this is Utah) drunk.

          Not to mention the girls that would follow me around and pull my skirt down to my ankles. Hell.

          • Sixth grade was odd, but I spent 7th grade in coventry. I.e. no one spoke to me at school, save three brave souls and the teachers when they had to. There were political reasons for this, but I didn’t understand it. I was 11/12, otherwise known as the worst years of my life. That school has closed, but if I ever make a lot of money, I will buy the building and blow it up and make my inner child happy. Sorry, it truly was that miserable. We had an hour break everyday and I spent it walking around the school, making up stories to myself.

          • What a nightmare experience for you CYN. I have vague memory of Jr. High, mostly of my friends. And Roger, who introduced me to Balzac and Mitchner. He was my reading project partner. The rest is a blur. Maybe that is a good thing.

      • I’ve heard all of you complain about school at one time or another, and it just doesn’t register with me. School was always fun and interesting, even when the classes were boring. I think part of the reason was that I went to the same school from grade 1 through graduation – same people, same buildings, most of the same teachers. I also had relatives by the bucket-full that went to school with me — my two youngest aunts during the first five years of my school life, and dozens of cousins and other relatives during the rest of it. I wasn’t the only one — several other schoolkids had similar experiences. One of my English teachers actually graduated from the same school, went to college, came back as a teacher, and retired after teaching there 49 years.

        It was also the district’s “odd” school, where a lot of students that weren’t accepted at other schools could attend. There were always a few people in every graduating class that were older than the rest of us, and married. One of the young ladies that graduated with me had dropped out, gotten married, and decided to come back to school in her mid-twenties. She had two small school-age children who were in first and second grade when she was a junior. Our school was also the only one that would allow young pregnant women attend school, married or not (remember, this was in 1960-64!). We also accumulated quite a few “odd” teachers, including one that was most likely gay, one that had spent five years in jail for assault, and one that had had polio as a child. All of that made teaching and learning there different from what it was at other schools. (To get an idea, twenty-one of my high school teachers had masters’ degrees, and eleven more had PhD’s. This was a RURAL school, on the “wrong” side of town, in the mid-1950’s and 1960’s. Can’t get a job anywhere else? Apply at Tioga.)

        • Wayne Blackburn

          Mike, I can’t speak for anyone else here (sounds like a lot of their troubles were worse than mine. I don’t know what I would have done in their shoes), but some time beginning in my Senior Year in High School and culminating around my Sophomore Year in college, I realized that I brought almost all of it on myself. The other children in my school weren’t particularly horrible (I realize now), they were pretty ordinary teenagers. The main difference was me. I was emotionally hypersensitive.

          Because I reacted badly when teased, it triggered a feedback in the people who did it, and became a downward spiral of torment. A relatively harmless jab like, “It’s Wiener Wayne!” could end in me breaking down crying. As you probably realize, I do a lot better with such things now (though I still get inarticulate when i do get angry). One of my biggest epiphanies was that most of them had not been effectively taught to look at things from the other person’s point of view. They simply didn’t understand what it felt like to me.

          As much as I look back and see how pathetic I was, however, at the time, it was still something that was so awful that I had stomach cramps nearly every morning before going to school. If there were a chance to go back, the beginning of 7th grade would be the place to start.

        • Ha, the girl I walked with when I graduated was married.

    • I HATE people who sneer.

  8. I used to teach English Literature at university. Trying to instill ANY interest in literature to a bunch of freshmen who are too busy flirting and posing to pay attention is most difficult. However, it seems that being a writer is much more difficult than most of us know.

    With the onset of electronic readers (I LOVE my Kindle) I see a lot more people making the effort to self publish on line. Because I am cheap (the polite word is thrifty) I get a daily email about bargain or free books at Amazon for my Kindle. I have enjoyed more “unknown” writers than I thought possible over the past year or two. Right now I have a queue of 158 books waiting to be read. (All of your books, Sarah, are in line to be read next.) I think it is wonderful to see all the people who have written outstanding stories get them published, even if it is via Kindle. I was getting to the point that buying a book in a genre I liked was difficult because there was nothing new. Even the best writers fall into the trap of becoming predictable if they write the same thing for a long time.

    By reading self published writers, I have read some books I probably would never have noticed, and some different genre that I would normally pass on, simply because they were affordable and looked interesting. Now I have a rule, I go through the ‘newly published’ free list every week to find new treasures. Then I go through the established writers each week to see what is new. I never pay more than 5.00 for a book, unless it is part of a series by a most favorite writer. The only exception is if I find a genealogy book, personal diary, or historical document book on sale. Genealogists like me simply cannot pass up something that may hold a family history treasure in it.

    I think the future is going to be self publishing. I can see writers working together to start up an enterprise that will support that sort of thing. So, Brava for sticking with it, and making it the hard way. But without Kindle and the Internet, I probably would never have picked up your books.

    Oh, BTW, I read the Twilight Series, and it is pretty good if you are a young kid between 11 and 15. I have to say S.E. Hinton’s coming of age books are MUCH better. I won’t read porn, so a lot of today’s women writers are not on my lists. And I am VERY picky about historical events being portrayed correctly. Eric Flint’s alternate histories are great, however.

  9. Though I’d seriously recommend you figure out how to break it into a serial of 40 to 50k installments

    Asking me to split my novels into installments is akin to asking me to separate lovemaking over three nights: foreplay on Night One, thrusting on Night Two, and orgasm on Night Three. (Considering I only discovered this “foreplay” thing in the late 1970s, and in the early 90s that women have orgasms, it’s even more of a stretch.)

    • I’m sure if you work at it, you can figure it out. (RUNS.)

      • I’m married. How, exactly, am I supposed to figure it out?

        • Kim – I wrote a review for you for Prime Target on

          BTW if you were breaking the orgasm in pieces I would be more worried.
          *running faster than Sarah cause if I beat her I’m safe lol

        • (looks innocent) I meant the novels, of course.

          Look, seriously, there is no requirement to do that, and I myself have an issue with it. However at Liberty con I met someone who is making 12k a year from SHORT STORIES. His trick? One a month, all in same series. Some are as short as 2k words. But… well… he’s making way more than I am. And I have shorts, which are longer. I suspect one COULD do episodic novels, like people used to do for newspapers, only it’s not how my mind works.

          • I can’t write short stories for the same reason I can’t write poetry. The required degree of miniaturization and economy of expression is more exhausting than breaking an orgasm.

            • It’s an acquired skill. I trained myself to do it because I got it in my — then very young — head that it was the way to break in. At least in SF/F, I was wrong. We once sat down and calculated chances — a bunch of us in a bar at a con — and it was easier to sell a first novel than a first short story. But you know the books are twenty years out of date. So, I THOUGHT I had to, and I taught myself to do it. I can still SORTA(?) do it except all the “shorts” I’ve written recently — usually by request and with check by return mail, which is nice — end up 10 to 20k words. In fact looking at my older short stories under 6k words, they all seem to be stupid vignettes. (It’s very sad one can’t go back in time and talk one’s younger self out of some of the inherent twerpitude of youth.)

              • My problem is that I write better shorts and poetry (I am a poet after all) than longer works. I had to really stretch to write my first novel. Now I fell lucky to write 50,000 words in one book.

                • Gawd, Cyn… I can bang out 50,000 words over a long weekend. But it would take me a month to write a sonnet.

                  • Same here. A short story takes me a week. A novel — if I’m going — takes me a week. The “if I’m going” is the big issue…

                    • Depending on the length of a short story (flash fiction can take an hour), my longest short story 10,000 words took three days. I can write a sonnet depending if I am strict on the rhyming pattern in half a day or less. I wrote a villanelle a few years back in six hours or less. A novel can take me three months more or less. If I do nanowrimo it can take me a month.

                      My first villanelle after Sept 11th.

                      Thundering at Daybreak

                      As cold sweat pours from my body, I wake
                      to dark hounds baying at fleeing gray hares:
                      to sounds of war thundering at daybreak.

                      Oh, Holy Fool, quaking for Allah, break
                      the fox’s chains, the fox who cowers in lairs;
                      as cold sweat pours from my body, I wake

                      knowing the hound, the fox, the hares will take
                      us from peace of hearth and home, from our cares
                      to sounds of war thundering at daybreak.

                      Beware of false prophets, who shiver and shake,
                      serpents who delight in killing human hares.
                      As cold sweat pours from my body, I wake

                      to falling towers-a large death. They slake
                      their blood-thirst with innocent lives. Who dares-
                      to sounds of war thundering at daybreak-

                      who dares to strike again? My heart aches.
                      Is this the end of choice? Must we forbear?
                      As cold sweat pours from my body, I wake
                      to sounds of war thundering at daybreak.

                      I had a poem on Dark Eye Glances… but the site is gone now. It was another villanelle. Anyway, no one buys poetry so I had to learn other ways of writing. 😉

                    • Cyn: Thank you for posting that.

                    • Plus getting poetry published on a reputable site (think gatekeepers), you have to have an MF in CW or MA/PHd in English Literature. It can be rough. I have had my poetry published in Acumen which is one of the better sites (its in England). However, there are fashions in poetry which can be really stupid.

                      Some of the English lit. majors and teachers tried to marry deconstructive theory with poetry. Ugh.

                    • Ugh indeed.

                    • oops, MFA in CW (creative writing)

                    • Humph – I was thinking the CW was for Conventional Wisdom. I figgered you’d simply lost your A to the MF.

                    • Wayne Blackburn

                      I hate all y’all. Visiting this site has gotten me trying to write a couple of the stories that I have had bumbling around my brain the past several years, but I’m lucky if I can force 500 words out in a day, before my eyes start to cross.

                    • It’s like exercise. You train up to it.

                    • Nothing conventional about CW 😉

          • Here is a VERY long thread (with a nice intro/breakdown/links to particularly interesting points in the first post) about a woman who achieved her goal of getting to the point where ebook income was matching her regular salary. She quit her regular job and now writes even more ebooks which should, if the trend continues, mean that she makes MORE money at it than she did at her regular job.


            Please keep in mind that she writes erotica, which has some rather unique aspects in the epublishing world. (Some good, some bad – for instance, Apple’s iBookstore HAS an erotica category, but you cannot browse it.)

            • I KNOW. Hence my going non-productive is very, very annoying.

              • You could run for national office. That might occupy up a day or two and, when you’re done, you can write a how-to on baby-kissing.

                • Not national. Have considered local. BUT I have a tendency to say what I think and that’s fatal. (Actually this is my regular “threat” to the Almighty. “If I can’t make it in writing, I swear… to… to… to You, I’m going into politics.” This usually brings contracts tumbling into the mailbox like snow in January. So, while I’m not presuming on His thoughts on Sarah + public office, I’d say it’s not part of the ineffable plan.)

                  • So now we know how you get contracts, but does this produce writing…I guess this is a subject is for another blog post… 😉

        • You have to hire out, but a good “editor” will usually only let you have one climax.

          • I know you’re doing a single entendre, Mr., but here’s the thing — my last two books have two climaxes apiece. I had to work not to have them end too soon, and to make sure the last climax was BIGGER.
            As for you… very, very, very bad man.

            • Are you suggesting that I have a one track entendre? I will have you know, my good hostess, (insert pithy response here with a sly use of the words sounding like in, con, and Dr. Dre).

              • Wayne Blackburn

                I think she’s implying that you can only rise to the occasion once.

                • All I know is, when I was a young man, I could keep going all through an entire CD. Now, the song that’s playing when I start is still playing when I finish up.

                  We’re talking about drinking a cup of coffee, right?

            • Yeah yeah, Sarah, we know, woman can have multiple climaxes in a single… story. Stop rubbing it in (or out).

        • (Straight faced and clinical mode) Married is a great place to start. I suggest you consult with your partner.

  10. And as for quality: I once wrote an algorithm that played quality and utility against price, but the exercise was so exhausting I had to give up work altogether and become a fulltime writer.

  11. Yet another of the multitudinous reason I am Not Published: I have never won a Popularity Contest in my life (all together now: “NO SHIT, REALLY?” 🙂 ); and until relatively recently, it’s been “it ain’t what ya got, it’s who ya know”. To which I said: “Sod that for a lark”; I forget which action novel from the ’80s had the line, but I am unwilling (and unable) to “suck cock and read _Pravda_ and you can be a Commissar too”.

    Right now, with the rise of Indie, a song lyric crosses my mind:

    ” o/~ You had the time, you had the power/
    You’ve yet to have your finest hour…. o/~ ”
    [“Radio Ga-Ga”, Queen]

    • Now I have a nebulous vision of The Buggles singing a song about ebooks killing the publishing star.

      “We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far… put all the blame on EPR”

  12. “World without end,” amen! I love you, Sarah Hoyt! You are such a trailblazer!

  13. Can’t read over 150 comments at the moment (sick and getting more so), though I did skim. xD;

    I kind of feel the same way about things, though obviously with far less experience and so forth). Once I learned about indie pub being viable, my envy (or at least snobbery) at the success of other writers turned to more positive streams.

    I read Twilight out of self defense. Two of my workmates (16 year old girls) were obsessed over it. The decision by the author to leave blank pages in the main character’s journal/the book brought them down to sobs and I just thought it was an interesting technique and I wanted to figure out this whole thing about making these girls sob over a few blank pages. First book was amusing. Second tried my patience. Third made me queasy. Couldn’t bring myself to read the fourth, though by that time my sister in law was obsessed with the series.

    Not to damper your post (which is great) but… My s-i-l also brought me to the conclusion that it won’t necessarily bring more people to my work if they’re brought into reading similar “megapopular” stuff. I tried to get her interested in some of the similar works I knew of. Patricia Briggs’s shapeshifters series seems to be a no-go. (And I still need to figure out a way to get the first book back from her. It’s been over a year now.) I think I had a L.K.H. book that I got through a bookclub. She wasn’t interested. I did get her interested in the “Carpe Demon” soccer mom series, at least so that’s some branching, but I went through about five or six suggestions before she liked that one. Most of the others she wasn’t even interested enough to take the book home. I’m pretty sure it’s just a factor of her, rather than me being terrible with recommendations. xD; She loves the Harry Potter movies and doesn’t want to read the books for some reason.

    btw – will get back to you on that thing sometime in the next few days. :3

    • I hope you feel better soon.

      There are READERS — people who read voraciously, and usually widely. These people, while they won’t read just anything, are usually looking for new things to expand their reading. Then there are readers — people who will read, but the material has to somehow hook them. They may enjoy reading, but generally seek something comfortable and familiar.

      As to the two sixteen year olds crying over blank pages? Interesting. Likely they are encountering something that caught/manipulated this particular aspect of their emotions for the first time. When I was young and silly I cried when I finished reading Erich Segal’s Love Story. By the time the movie came out I was so over it. By the time the wooden candidate claimed to be a model for the story I was ready to disavow it.

  14. The opening of this essay reminds me of Sir Terry’s description of the leveling system in wizardry. (It makes more sense if you realize that there are a fixed number of wizards at each numbered level from one to eight, and the only way to get promoted is for one of the wizards at the level above you to retire or die.)

    “It may be quite tough at the top, and it is probably even tougher at the bottom, but halfway up it’s so tough you could use it for horseshoes. By then all the no-hopers, the lazy, the silly and the downright unlucky have been weeded out, the field’s cleared, and every wizard stands alone and surrounded by mortal enemies on every side. There’s the pushy fours below, waiting to trip him up. There’s the arrogant sixes above, anxious to stamp out all ambition. And, of course, all around are his fellow fives, ready for any opportunity to reduce the competition a little. And there’s no standing still. Wizards of the fifth level are mean and tough and have reflexes of steel and their eyes are thin and narrow from staring down the length of that metaphorical last furlong at the end of which rests the prize of prizes, the Archchancellor’s hat.”