There’s No Business….

There are two times that movies made me and a friend who is also a writer laugh so loud we were almost kicked out of the theater.  This was made worse by the fact that the lines weren’t particularly funny.

Not to anyone not in our business.

The first one is from sliding doors, when the girl tells her no good writer-wannabe boyfriend “I know you’ll finish your novel and we’ll be rich, but…”

Yeah.  It happens.  Look at the mountain who is buying a a mountain.  Of course it happens.  But it takes so many things.  Talent, that’s a given.  Under the old system, many were pushed, few had the staying power.  It takes push, too, so it takes a house believing in you.  The debacle that was my first trilogy kind of did for that.  Sure I could get a house to pick me up, but not to pick me up with any sort of push because I’d “failed” once.  (Oh, yeah, and “fail” in this field is interesting too.  I “failed” while earning out the advances on all books.  But, oh, it was SUPPOSED to have push and go big.  The fact it didn’t actually GET push didn’t matter.  It’s all still my fault, as per rules of traditional publishing.)  But once you get push you have to have the talent there, to back it up.  And you had to have the sort of book that is just right for that place and time.  And… and…. and…

Someone says it’s like one in a thousand in this field that even makes it to making a living (yay, me, I’m a winner) and perhaps a tenth of that that makes it to “rich” by any definition.

I was once told that Heinlein ran scared (financially) his whole life.  It seems impossible, for someone who had millions of dollars in advances, but million dollars in this field is qualified.  Usually those are benchmarked to this and that performance and paid over ten years.  In the end, you get the kind of money you’d make at a normal day job, but with twice the work and the hassle.

So my friend and I laughed and laughed at that line.  Years later, while working nights at Target, she got told that she must be there to do research.  Her books were still on the shelves, so surely she had millions.  I don’t know if she laughed or cried.

Then there’s the other line.  It was at the end of Chicago, the musical.  One girl had told the other she wasn’t sure they could do their act together because they couldn’t stand each other.  And the come back line was “Well, honey, this is the one business where that doesn’t matter at all.”

Is this true of writing?  Oh, brother.

It used to be way worse.  I get a feeling it’s still worse for other people.  For me?  Once I realized I’d always have indie and proved with witchfinder that indie would pay me at least as much as I made from trad (or in this case more) I stopped clenching, stopped minding my words, stopped being envious of my colleagues, and just generally started liking the people I liked and hating the people I hated and not generally giving a damn.

But it used to be you watched yourself and your back all the time. If a friend were in bad odor, particularly if you didn’t know why, you distanced yourself, because there might be a whisper campaign, and it might rub off on you.  If someone you hated were a bright rising star, you at least tried to be nice in public.  And if you got a chance to work with someone you purely couldn’t stand you did it if it was good for your career.  (I’m an oddity.  All three collaborations this year are with long-time friends who-are-like-family.)

There were currents running through the field that fans never saw, and you tried not to let them see.  After all they might love you and what’s his name who is always sticking a knife in your back, and you didn’t want to disappoint them.

Perhaps it is this way still.  I suspect for most people it is.  Particularly for newbies who don’t seem to view indie as quite true, since they suffer from the velveteen syndrome and want to be “real.”  (A lot of them after being ‘real’ once regain their senses and hie off to indie again.  But some don’t.)

The problem is that unless you’re one of the darlings, right on top of the heap, with book tours and ads in Times Square, it’s kind of hard to read if you’re in favor or disfavor at the publishing house.  I had an editor that, while I was earning out, would often completely cut me dead at cons, not answer my emails, and treat me like trash, and then sometimes, when I was in trouble (or not) out of the blue would be my bestest friend.  Never figured out why, but she was a hell of a strain on the nerves.  Around here we called her “the hot and cold running editor.”  Possibly it corresponded to the stage of divination of my political leanings that week.  Who knows?  Or perhaps to the birds she saw out her window in the morning.

This reduces most writers to the state of teen girls with a middle-school crush.  “My publisher sent me an email this morning, so they probably like me.”  Or “I didn’t get invited to dinner at Little Con so they probably are about to punt me” or the truly crazy making “my editor only had three minutes for me and turned off my pitch like a faucet, but she spent an hour with that new chick they just hired.  OMG, they love her and hate me.  They’re going to give her my promo money.”

It’s crazy making, and if you ride it it will make you crazy.  Don’t.  I was only able to do this when indie became a possibility, but indie is a possibility.  Even if you are hell bent on traditional, you have other options.  Relax.  Be nice to newbies, even ones who look like they will take your promo.  If a colleague tries to stick his knife in your back, he might be a dick.  Or he might be completely insane at the moment, from trying to read the tea leaves of his career.  File whatever he did as in the realm of possibility with this person, but don’t retaliate.  Shrug and smile.  Get over it.  Try not to have an enemies list.  Yes, of course, I DO have one, but those are people who have sunk more than an incidental knife in my back.  No, you may not know what it is, nor what the knives were.  None of your fracking business.  And the biggest retaliation I’ll do against these people is not work with them.  I.e. they won’t get invited to anthos I edit, and should I become big, I will not offer a hand up.  In a business as shaky (and getting shakier) as ours is, that’s punishment enough.

Be nice to those above you, unless you really, really, really can’t stand them, and then just avoid them.  Be nice to those below you.  Offer help.  Shrug off the shallow cuts to the back.  Make note of the deep, and don’t take it too personally.

Writers be crazy.  And part of it is business induced.

Which brings us to the other part: relationships outside the field.

Years ago, when I was green AND cabbage looking, Kevin Anderson offered me friendship.  I was shocked and said something along the lines of “I don’t know why you’d bother with a newbie.”  His answer was that I had written three books in two years, so I was probably in it to stay “and writers end up only having REAL friends who are writers, because they’re the only ones who understand our crazy business.”

Boy.  Howdy.  Was he ever right.

So far this business has cost me two outside-the-field friendships, both more or less the same way.  This might not seem like much in 19 years, but you have to understand I don’t make friends easily and as one of my long-term long-suffering friends put it last time I talked to her (oh, hell, Court, I need to call or text or something.  Was that a year ago?) “you have friendships that are more like platonic loves.  Friends are not just people you hang out with.  Friends are people you have feelings for.”  And she was right.  And that insight is probably why she puts up with my being the world’s worst correspondent.

The last of these friendships I suspected was lost but confirmation came of course during the last week, now known as “week from hell” for various family reasons that aren’t mine to tell.  I suspected so because this person had intimated as much, but not WHY.  We found out why last week.

Yep, it’s the old “you don’t care about us.  You never make time for us, and this project I’m interested in helping with you keep putting off.”

With the exception of the project (more on that later) I got this in the last friendship I lost.  (The other two were political, yes, even the one at 18.)

The last straw in that one was when my friend called me in the middle of the day, three days in a row and “just want to talk.  We haven’t seen you in so long.”

This was 2003, the summer of paying two mortgages, finishing the house we’d moved out of to sell, and no one (NO ONE) touching my stuff.  I was hanging on and making mortgage on SHORT STORIES by the skin of my teeth.  (Bless the late Marty Greenberg of the old Tekno.  If you told him you were in trouble, he’d put your name up on the list of people to call when there were holes in anthologies.  At that time I was on call and could get “we need 10k word story on fairies in three hours.  Can you do it?”  and hell, somehow I did it.

At the same time, I had a new agent, and she wanted to submit my stuff, but we needed a blitz if I was ever going to work again.  Yep. That was the year of the 17 proposals and two ghost written novels.

The third time my friend called, I pointed out it was my working time, and I REALLY couldn’t talk.  (Back then my working time was when my kids were in school.)
I got hit with a tirade, half of it tearful, about how I was too greedy and I was trying to “roar everyone off the field with my sheer volume” and I didn’t care for anyone or anything but writing.  And she could see she and her spouse had never mattered to us, and I had no decent feelings for anyone.  It was all about my career and my ambition.

Keep in mind, at the time I was very nearly completely broke and she knew, or should have known that.  But that image of the “rich writer” is so powerful, that in her head, the only reason I could want to work that hard is because I wanted more millions to roll in.  Or something.

In this later case it was complicated by our friend coming over, for a scheduled thing, in February, also known as death-month.  Neither Dan nor I had our heads on straight, and we must have come across as imbeciles.  But if you think of writing as really high status and suspect people are looking down at you, then, oh, yeah, you’ll think we’re being snooty or something.

Then there was the side order of “this project I’m really interested in, you keep putting off.”

Which is when I sigh.  I’m really interested in the project too.  If it’s the one I think it is.  And at least three of my fans email me about it weekly.  But you know…

I’m a midlist writer.  Yes, I know, this mean I work for myself and I’m free as the birds.

No, no, really.  It’s okay, it only hurts when I laugh.  And I ain’t laughing.

I’m grateful for the collaborations this year.  REALLY grateful.  These guys are my friends and in two cases I’m a fan of their world (in the other it’s a new world.)  One of the paths up for people like me appear when bestsellers share their worlds and their fans.

I’m not a natural collaborator.  Hell, I’m not a natural series writer.  I get really nervous I’ll forget details or mangle them.  So, I’m doing the work, but it’s slower than it would be without the fear of f*cking it up (particularly for series I like.)  But yeah, those collaborations come first, because people count on me.  And you don’t disappoint your friends, much less friends who are extending you a hand to climb up.

After that come the series continuations, which means another three books I’m hoping to do for Baen this year, and three for the indie side.  Yeah.  Because, you know, I not only owe it to my fans (and I do.  You’ve been extraordinarily patient through my years of illness and moving.  And yes, I’m mailing loot out.  That too has been back burnered, partly because I still have unpacked only HALF the office, because well… 5 moves in two years.  Some stuff I can’t find at all and might have to re-order, like t-shirts and mugs.) I owe it to the house.  Baen is re-issuing DST, so I owe them a “future history” post-scriptum, to distinguish the edition, but the investment calls for my also giving the series continuation asap.  Hell, the series has suffered from long hiatuses.  If it’s ever going to recover I need to hit it hard.

There are books I want to write, practically climbing their way out of my head, but you know… this is my day job too.  And there are considerations beyond “what I really find oh so exciting.”  EVEN when you have friends who’ve done research for you and are waiting.  Because you’re a midlister.  You can’t just say “Yo, publishing house, there are these books you’re waiting for, but I want to write THIS instead.”

I probably actually shouldn’t have been surprised — and I actually wasn’t, because as I said, there’d be allegations and intimations — because under those lost friendships (only they weren’t really friends, more like friendly acquaintances) we could add a fifth: a couple Dan and introduced.  She was my college friend.  He was Dan’s college friend.  We introduced them and they got married before us.

They happened, pure happenstance, to be at our wedding.  But they were never exactly friends, because they wouldn’t stay in touch.  We called when we were near.  We spent years trying to call and didn’t have their number.  That kind of thing.

After one of those hiatuses, when Dan was working on assignment near DC (they live near there) we called.  My first book had just come out (and sank without a ripple) and I knew my career was in serious trouble.  No, this matters for the story.  We called, because we had a day in the area and thought we’d visit.  They weren’t close friends, but they were college friends.  We thought we’d talk.

Turns out the girl worked at the time in an airport bookstore and had seen my book.  When we called we got screamed at and told we were looking down on them, because she worked in retail, and I was a rich-and-famous writer (given the area they lived and worked in, she probably made as much in a month as I did from that book) and they knew we didn’t care about them, and get lost.  Then we got hung up on.

That one didn’t hurt much, though it still sort of did in a hurt-and-perplexed sort of way, because other than the college connection, we didn’t have much linkage to these people.  But it should have impressed me as a warning of things to come, instead of leaving me staring at the phone in a hotel room, wondering if the world had gone crazy.

The other two… the other two hurt like hell, and the last is still hurting like hell.  This too shall pass.  And it would probably not have hit as hard except for the Murphy week for this family.

If you’re friends with a writer, cut them some slack.  No, they really aren’t horrible human beings (well, some of them might be, but most probably not.)  Yes, we forget lunch dates.  Yes, we spend months not calling.  Doesn’t mean we don’t think of you.  Yes, you might live three blocks away and we never see you.  At least with writer friends, you often (though not always) see each other at local cons.  KJA and I average twice a year for face to face meetings, and we usually have to make an effort.  He lives… 45? minutes away.

But in the end he was right.  Only other writers fully understand the crazy business we’re in.  Only other writers get that we don’t think we’re massively important because we write stuff.  Holy hell, people, we get paid about as much as a secretary.  And that’s the ones who are LUCKY enough.  And there’s a reason I used to cry when I heard Billy Joel’s “running on ice”.  I no longer remember who said that far from being a series of plaudits and triumphs a writing career more resembles a series of kicks to the teeth.  (It might have been Jerry Pournelle.)  Whoever it was, he was right.  I could tell you of the year I wrote six books and NOT ONE made it to the shelves in ANY bookstore.  (And yes, of course that WAS my fault, duh.)

If a writer even TRIES to keep up a semblance of contact, you’re probably massively important to them.  Yes, I know, we’re incredible pains in the ass and more so as friends, but don’t attribute to malice what can more easily be explained by a crazy making career.  Don’t count on us, but don’t count us out either.  Because more kicks in the teeth, we don’t need.

And meanwhile…

And meanwhile, I have a future history to finish.  I’m late on the collaboration with Larry and I HAVE to send him chapters today (and again on Wednesday.) Week from hell with side-order of sprained ankle as mom would say “emburked” everything.  (Always wondered if that came from Burke and Hare.) And I’m hoping the week from hell is past, and I can get some work done and catch up on what was lost to Drama!

I’m grateful for indie, which makes my relationship with my publisher WAY more relaxed, but I still owe them a modicum of professionalism (we owe it even before we are professionals, which is weird) and reliability.  Not much of which has been in evidence the last five years.  And for that I’m sorry, and I’ll seek to improve.

There’s books to write and places to be, and no time to mourn for lost friendships.  And this too shall pass.  It only hurts when I laugh.

And I ain’t laughing.

 

 

 

 

 

160 responses to “There’s No Business….

  1. Christopher M. Chupik

    “well, some of them might be”

    If the last few years has taught me anything, is that a few of them definitely are.

  2. …wondering if the world had gone crazy.

    People still wonder this? Has it not been established that the world hasn’t been truly sane in years, possibly decades, and maybe even far longer time scales? There might be the odd anomaly of apparent relative sanity, but that’s like a local maximum on a curve – sure it’s there, but…

  3. What??! Are you suggesting that Pop Culture (and Mom Culture, too, although I never really did believe Her claims “I could have it all” if only I tried just a little harder) lied to me! I am despondent.

    • The translation of a Mom who claims ‘you can have it all if only you tried a litter harder’ is: You can have everything I envision for you if you will just do it my way. Anything else is not worth having.

  4. Once I realized I’d always have indie and proved with witchfinder that indie would pay me at least as much as I made from trad (or in this case more)…

    There are moments in life where everything changes. We know this happens when something life altering, like the birth of a child occurs. But can also be a simple realization that leads to a new way of thinking about the world.

    I am glad Our Esteemed Hostess realized that indie really could work for her and that meant she was no longer enslaved by the dictates of trad publishing. This blog is one of the joys of my life. Thank you all.

  5. And on the post overall? That’s why while I might be “Yay, Goldport!” and Bowl of Red progress, I try very hard NOT to pester about it. Good things, waiting, and better right than fast. Also, it’s a very Bad Idea to annoy the Creator of the world you (or your simulacrum) inhabit. Thus, if I might seem rather quiet on such (I suppose there’s another laugh, there.) it’s not lack of interest, it’s trying not to be an irritation. I know, I can be very trying… (Someone was gonna say it. Might as well be me.)

    • paladin3001

      I forget where or when (here and last year maybe?) someone said that it was very rude and impolite to pester writers/authors with questions about a next book or book X in Series Y….I kinda took it to heart and may have slipped once or twice. So I now take updates on WIP’s with joy, and show patience when the work I am interested in isn’t as forthcoming as I would like.
      I am definitely starting to understand more about the life of a writer.

  6. This passage from that talk Heinlein gave to the Annapolis cadets seems appropriate:
    It means working when you don’t feel like working, even though there is no one to tell you that you must. It means following these rules even when you are disheartened by a long string of rejections and your head aches and your stomach is upset—and your wife thinks you are a fool not to look for a job. It means refusing to see your best friends when you are writing. It means telling your wife and children to get out of your study and stay out! It means offending people who can’t understand that writing must not be interrupted—not for dinner parties, not for birth, not even for Christmas. It means getting a reputation as a bad-tempered, self-centered curmudgeon—and resigning yourself to living with that reputation no matter how eagerly you want to be liked—and writers do want to be liked, else they would not be trying to reach people through writing.

  7. I’m not a writer, but I’ll be your friend. No demands, but if you ever need anything just ask.

    • Heck, I don’t have a lot to offer. But I can give encouragement (I like your books, Sarah!) and an ear if you need it. And I’m decent with words (though not technically a fiction writer, I do sometimes write gov’t documents) and would gladly take a look at anything sent my way – IF it would help you along by sharing out some of the crazy. (And I’m betting I’m not the only one around here.)

    • A friend is somebody who will help you dispose of a body, no questions asked. A real friend is somebody you haven’t seen or spoken to in nearly thirty years who will help you dispose of a body, no questions asked.

      • William O. B'Livion

        A friend is somebody who will help you dispose of a body, no questions asked nor payment expected.

        There, fixed it for you.

      • You expect your friends to help you hide bodies? We must have lots of mutual friends!

        Er, um, I mean, the horror! What kind of friends would help you do such awful things?

      • A good friend will bail you out.
        A GREAT friend will be right next to you, saying, “Damn, that was fun!”

  8. I must admit that my image of the writer has always been a lot more like your other fanatasy of the woman in the tower about to eat her last three crumbs of bread and/or the mice eying them enviously. Oh, not that bad, maybe, but more like the waitress who comes home from her ten-hour shift, dead on her feet, but determined to crank out another chapter or two of that romance novel she’s working on. Perhaps when she gets very lucky, she can quit waitressing and earn a lower middle class lifestyle strictly by typing out novels.

    Yes, I always dreamed of being Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or even Stephenie Meyer, becoming rich through some combination of luck and talent and laughing at the peons as I dove into my Scrooge McDuck-style money bin, but I don’t think I ever thought (at least once I got past age 10 or so) that was how the typical writer lived.

  9. I once saw Someone On The Internet claim that writers as a class were exceedingly rich and influential. I laughed, and he pulled up a link of the decade’s 100 biggest-earning writers in support of his argument. I then pointed out that a) those were decade-long earnings (and that the yearly income was x/10), b) some of those writers were dead (ain’t nobody earning “royalties” from Shakespeare or Austen), and c) by doing the math, the lowest writer on the list was making just over $100,000 yearly… which meant that literally every other writer in the world was making less than that. Out of millions.

    I actually convinced him. That’s almost weirder than his initial belief.

    • If you don’t mind me quoting Spider Robinson, “The difference between a Science Fiction writer and a pizza is that the pizza can feed a family of four.” Of course, the same thing is said about magicians, and probably everyone in the entertainment industries.

      • Yep. After almost five years (this December), I’m finally earning a steady and decent amount from my books this year. It is not what I’d like to earn, yet, but it is there. I’m still not quitting my day job. And yeah that’s gross, not net. But it’s better than it was, at least for now. I’m scared to gloat, lest the Gods of the Copybook Headings hear me.

        • Same here – fourteen books out there, written over ten years, and just now getting enough from them monthly to pay a couple of bills with.

          • *throws confetti*

            Congratulations, you two are doing better than a lot of the authors out there! Yay! Long may your current backlist continue to bring money while your frontlist-to-come brings in more!

            • *brushing confetti out of hair*
              Yeah, the backlist is our constant money-earner. As one of the other indefatigable IAG confreres used to say (and she had been indy publishing for a couple of decades, had 21 books to her credit) – every book of yours that a reader stumbles on and likes – is an advertisement for all of your other books.
              Janet, god rest her, had been indy since it was a matter of mimeographing and comb-binding one by one at the local office-supply house. She was the most indefatigable small-market marketer of my memory.
              https://www.amazon.com/Janet-Elaine-Smith/e/B000APNSAY

  10. Don’t really know how to comment because I’m on the cold side, both naturally and as learned behavior, and what I write could unintentionally cause more pain. My take with such is “They can get glad like they got mad.” I really don’t care for drama. My wife, who’s my opposite social wise, has pretty much the same attitude, but makes more of the drama.

    The bottom line is that we can’t really influence how others think. We can bend over backwards and have it make no difference to their perceptions. As long as we haven’t been a jerk, we can hold our heads high; What they think is their problem, not ours.

    Cold? Yes. But life’s too short for perpetual Middle School level drama.

  11. > Writers be crazy. And part of it is business induced.

    The more I hear about it, the more publishing sounds like an abusive marital relationship.

    Run them down, cut them off, treat them like dirt, then be very nice for a short time, running them along the emotional roller coaster like a gambler at a slot machine. Baud knows I’ve seen enough relationships like that…

    • In some ways that was the standard American Business Model for many years. Consider how Pop Musicians were treated, or professional athletes, bound by contract perpetually to a single employer (unless traded whether or not the athlete wanted to change “owners”). Consider those employed in the film and television industry in the days of the studio system. Think about the engineering and design talent developing patents and trademarks for employers, or consider the comic book industry under which such talents as Carl Barks created work-for-hire and even had to face the possibility of being laid off while they published reruns of his prior works.

      What is remarkable might more properly be that such things have changed, rather than that they ever were.

  12. > When we called we got screamed at

    Don’t feel alone. I’ve known people for years, and thought we were pretty close friends, and then one day from out of nowhere… blammo.

    The first couple of times I thought it was me. Then I realized if I had some fault, it was for not recognizing they were a couple cans short of a six-pack. But then, *most* of the people I associate with stray pretty far from the norm..

  13. Real friends make allowances for your eccentricities, and even more allowances for the necessities of life.
    And people do change over time. Sometimes it’s a rude shock to realize that the person we thought was our friend turns out to merely be an acquaintance, and their goals in life either aren’t yours, or in some cases, are in direct conflict with your needs and wants.

    • Eamon J. Cole

      Real friends make allowances for your eccentricities, and even more allowances for the necessities of life.

      There it is.

      We’re all alien brains running around in our meaty space suits, chances are our assumptions about other aliens suffer from some degree or another of skew.

      Absent demonstrated malice, I dearly hope I’m granted the benefit of a doubt or two. I sure aim to be generous with my own doubts… (heh)

    • Yes, I agree. I always make allowances for my friends and I expect (and get) the same allowances back. Cause that’s how it’s supposed to work.
      Once it stops, they’re not really your friend anymore.

  14. I had a friend who is no longer a friend. We took writing classes together. She had more raw story-telling talent than I did. I kept writing and she didn’t. Now, we don’t speak and it took me several years to figure out why she wouldn’t return my calls.

  15. None of my friends read any of my stuff (and in my family, only my sister does). So if I ever make it onto the store shelves, I don’t have to worry about any fallout over it. Cause they won’t even see it 😛

    It’s kinda weird for me, cause I hear all these people who talk about ‘alpha readers’ and ‘first reader’ and I wonder about these mythical creatures. All of my writing takes place in a vacuum. I don’t get any real feedback until the sales numbers come in. Talk about running on ice.

    • Being a useful “alpha reader” or “first reader” is a big commitment.

      It means reading the new work carefully and trying to provide useful, timely, feedback. It also means being genre-savvy, able to separate judgment of “good/bad” from “I like/don’t like”, and being able to convey exactly *why* you think something doesn’t work well without stomping all over the writer.

      There was a time long ago I used to do reviews – a much easier task in many ways – for a newsgroup I belonged to. I finally had to bow out because I didn’t have the time needed to do what I considered an adequate job. This is also why I usually don’t respond when some authors I like ask for this sort of experience: not because I wouldn’t love to do it, but because I don’t think I can make the commitment to do it *right*.

      Kudos to anyone who can make that commitment, and the authors who are lucky enough to have first readers they can trust to work with.

      • I did a bit, way back when (’04/’05?) . Twas hard work to keep it timely and not slow the writer down. I had far more time at that point in life.

    • My critique group and some friends read my stuff. They like it. Amazon won’t let them post any reviews. Sigh.

  16. “If a writer even TRIES to keep up a semblance of contact, you’re probably massively important to them.”

    This goes for introverts too, so introvert who is also a writer? X2

  17. Yes, we forget lunch dates. Yes, we spend months not calling. Doesn’t mean we don’t think of you. Yes, you might live three blocks away and we never see you. At least with writer friends, you often (though not always) see each other at local cons. KJA and I average twice a year for face to face meetings, and we usually have to make an effort. He lives… 45? minutes away.
    OMG! I’m a writer and didn’t know it!

  18. Not presuming to speak for anyone else around here – but I do think we all enjoy having several “letters from Sarah” every week.

    Speaking for myself, IMHO there are a lot of real friends in this place. I have noted that when “letters from Sarah” stop for a while, there is not the reaction of “Well, she obviously doesn’t care about us anymore!” – there is a lot of “Did Dan have to tie her up again (to haul her into the ER for “nothing, really”)?”

    So long as you type “Alive!” every so often, so we’re not wondering and worried – I think your friends here will stick around.

  19. I’ve never really understood this insistence that writers need to be traditionally published in order to be “real”. Of course, maybe that’s because I never aspired to be a professional writer, though I am making tentative attempts to write something that I might not feel TOO embarrassed to put up for sale.

    But every time I see in a story, “Who would you kill if you knew you would get away with it”, when asked of a writer, the answer is always either “My Publisher”, “My Agent”, or, rarely, “My Editor”. WHY would someone voluntarily put themselves in such a position, now that it’s not necessary?

    • Ignorance and an overwhelming desire for validation would my two guesses. Granted, it is hard to imagine that there are people out there who go to all the effort of writing and finishing a manuscript, finding an agent, submitting the work to an agent, and who have not discovered how easy indie can be, but they exist. And there’s something about seeing your book on a shelf. The first time I saw my non-fiction for sale in a store, beside works by the greats in my field, I did a little happy dance and took photos. Massive ego boost. And then I took a deep breath and got out of people’s way and went back to doing other things.

    • Historically the ration of people who’ve had anything published to people claiming to be writers has been … other than 1:1. In olden days the only way to make money from your writing (with the notable exception of authors of random notes, extortion threats and similar works of literature*) was for a publisher to buy it. Thus the distinction between “professional writer” and “useless, lazy layabout wasting paper.”

      It might be noted that Franz Kafka was in the latter category until rather late in his life (posthumous is rather late, nicht wahr?), so the distinction between “professional” and “not” is no guarantor of quality, as Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann would attest.

      *Anybody wanting to tell the story of a professional author of such works, either on staff at the Mafia or working free-lance, is welcome to the idea. I shudder to contemplate the editorial and literary criticism such a career entails.

      • SheSellsSeashells

        “STET!” “I can’t let stand, I’m short a kneecap.”

      • Nod, the line was “anybody can write a book but you’re a real writer when somebody pays you to publish the book”.

        Of course, the “anybody can write a book” isn’t accurate as it is “hard work” to “write a book” especially one that the writer would enjoy. 😉

      • Thus the distinction between “professional writer” and “useless, lazy layabout wasting paper.”

        Some of them didn’t waste it. I still remember the story of a writer who surprised his uncle, who said he was a writer, because the nephew, like, you know, wrote. The uncle said he was a writer to cover up for being a SAHF.

  20. Off topic, but just wanted to say something:

    Thank you for your recommendation on Patricia Wentworth. I found a boatload of them at our local used bookstore, bought them all, and am now devoring them. The ones I’ve finished with are making the rounds in my family (at least the family I can trust to care for them and return them), so there are quite a few people around here grateful for sending me in her direction.

  21. The thing that has always stunned me, when it comes to the traditional publishing industry, is just how disconnected most of the people managing it are from the realities of creating the raw material the entire industry is based on…

    In the end, the whole thing comes down to the writer. You don’t have the writer, you don’t have the product… So, why the general level of “don’t care about the authors…”? If the mainstream trad publishers were sheep farmers, they’d basically be put out of business by the SPCA for neglecting their animals, and I can only envision what their farms would look like–Grand new barns, huge farmhouses, the finest in tractors and support workers… While the actual sheep would be huddled up in a corner of some distant field with a couple of thistle bushes and nothing to eat, all bedraggled and starved. There’d be one celebrity sheep they relied on to shear once a year or so, hoping to get enough wool off it to keep the whole mess afloat, financially, and that sheep would be lavished with care and concern, while the rest of the flock got nothing.

    You look at the careers of some of my favorite authors, like Christopher Rowley, Steve Miller & Sharon Lee, P.C. Hodgell, and the like, and you wonder what the hell the idiots they had working those authors back in the day were thinking. I literally thought poor P.C. Hodgell had died, or something, leaving her series incomplete, and pretty much the same with Miller & Lee. Rowley’s another case, where they left a good, solid mid-rank author to wither and die, and even the backlist for these guys can’t be found on things like Amazon–Which is ‘effing ridiculous. I’d be buying new copies of the back works, were they available. But, they’re not.

    Traditional publishing in these areas is its own worst enemy. They keep putting out crap, and don’t nurture the mid-rank authors they do have. Look at Watt-Evans–He’s good for a solid book or two every couple of years, just like Hodgell or the Miller-Lee collaboration, and he’s really the only author I can think of in the SF/Fantasy realm who’s had what looks like a set of editors and publishing folks willing to play the long game and keep him out there. Which is just… Weird. Do these people not understand their own damn industry? I mean, if it wasn’t for Baen, Hodgell and the Miller-Lee books wouldn’t even be published, unless they had somehow gone indy.

    Most of these “destroyed industries” of yore, like Sears, K-Mart, and the like aren’t going out of business because some evil bastard came in and changed the rules of the game, they’re going down because they just don’t care–And, mark my words: Traditional publishing, especially in the entertainment/fictional end of the business, will die just the same way, due to apathy and ignoring the basics of their business.

    • They don’t have to care. it’s a buyer’s market. As long as there’s plenty of writers wanting to go the traditional route, there’s plenty of manuscripts to chose from. They don’t have to nurture writers to make them the next Stephen King. As long as the writer is good enough, they can publish him, and if he’s the next big thing, fine; if not, discard and run the next hopeful.

      • I’ve thought this was the case for a good few years. There are an enormous number of good, and adequate writers looking for that golden ring – a glut on the market, as it were. The Literary Industrial Complex can afford to publish the best prospects, and throw them aside and move on to the next when the book is not an instant mega-hit.

      • It is probably unfair, gratuitous and superficial to compare the relationship between aspiring authors and publishers to that of groupies and rock stars, but I am not sure upon whom the unfairness redounds. Some groupies do achieve fame in their own right, but rock stars usually exploit the groupies for only a short while.

      • I agree that it’s the apparent current business model, but I’d like to point out that it is a business model that isn’t working. I used to be good for spending sixty to a hundred bucks a month on books back during the mid-1980s. That essentially was my entertainment budget, y’know, and Tower books usually got the majority of it. Then, they started raising the damn prices, and ohbytheway, there wasn’t jack worth buying on the “New SF/Fantasy” shelf, anyway.

        They killed their own market, much the same way K-Mart and Sears did. I wager you good money that that one shelf in Tower Books, at least the one in Tacoma, WA, used to account for a good chunk of their volume. But, when Tower went out, mostly due to poor marketing and Borders cannibalizing their sales from the new location across the street, well… They died. And, Borders did not have the breadth of the “new stuff” that Tower had had, because the manager over there was a guy (or, girl… I could never tell who was really in charge, just observe the results) who knew the market, appreciated the genre, and made sure all the new stuff was in as soon as it was available. I don’t know that I’ve ever observed as effective a means of putting the “new stuff” out before the public–Even Amazon makes it harder, burying everything under a mountain of marketing schlock from houses like Tor.

        Pre-internet, where I was, Tower Books had it going on. Borders came in, killed Tower, and then committed commercial suicide themselves. I don’t know what the hell these guys were thinking–I honestly think a bunch of trained monkeys could have done a better job, and the weird tattooed creatures working at Tower Books managed to do a much better job than the supposed “literati” manning the counters over at Borders.

        Traditional publishing and book marketing seems to be hell-bent on committing suicide through commercial incompetence. Not to mention, the Hollywood accounting practices they seem to want to emulate. It would be really interesting to know just how many of these huge advances they’ve paid Obama and Hillary actually paid out, and whether or not they were actually semi-legal bribes. Not to mention, how many mid-list authors are paying the price for them to be able to do that crap in the first place…

        The whole shoddy facade is about due to come crashing down, and I feel not a bit sorry for that fact.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          It may have been ‘investors’ funding the bribes, not midlist authors or readers.

          • Which is where the Hollywood accounting comes in… “Investors” of that nature aren’t supposed to be legal, as I understand the laws surrounding campaign finance and bribery. Then again, who am I to question the morals of my “betters”?

            My guess is, however, that the money is coming out of the corporate till, and they really ought to be investigated for the financial shenanigans surrounding how they’re justifying that to the stockholders.

            Where it gets really egregious is when you look into who owns these companies, and where they are based. When you trace back corporate heritage to Bertelsmann and Pearson PLC, and they’re handing out millions to US political figures as “advances” on books whose sales histories are quite spotty, comparative to the advances? LOL… Tell me that’s above-board. What it is, bluntly put, is legalized bribery using supposed book sales as the mechanism of laundering the bribe.

            • Okay, that’s above-board. Never mind the critics complaining that if a Russian tourist spends the night in a Trump hotel it violates the emoluments clause and is cause for impeachment.

              Book deals for sitting officials and/or their family members are different for … reasons, reasons which your tiny, vicious, barely literate little mind cannot begin to comprehend.

              Gee, I’m so thirsty I could even knock back a Billy Beer right about now. (And I could certainly use one, if only to wash my mind clear of the possibilities presidential branded consumer goods, such as ClintonCondoms and Warren-endorsed vibrators … I’d imagine Bernie Sanders would carry no credibility with the people who actually buy and use power tools.)

              • presidential branded consumer goods, such as ClintonCondoms
                Have you been reading the Day by Day cartoon lately?

        • Tower died more from music transitioning to electronic sales.

          • Oh, they no doubt committed retail suicide by being unable to adapt, but for a few years there, they were the best option going for someone seeking to keep abreast of the news, and find a decent selection of SF/Fantasy books that weren’t stale as all get-out.

            Unfortunately, the corporate geniuses at Tower never figured out that the market was changing, and that the cash cow of retail music sales was going away. Hell, they were really in trouble long before the MP3 switchover, mostly due to an inability to keep up with the new shiny Borders folks. But, like I said… For awhile there, they were doing quite well, and I didn’t mind giving them my money.

            • Well, they were also in many areas the best option for non-mainstream music until they closed. I mean, in Richmond we had Plan 9, but their non mainstream focus was more alt rock and wannabe psychedelic, if we wanted techno, industrial, and goth we needed to go to Tower,

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      What Cheek said, plus the reasons it is a buyer’s market.

      1. Level of skill to write readable stuff isn’t necessarily hard to develop.
      2. Some people are so driven to write that they give it away for free.
      3. Low de jure barriers to entry even if de facto political barriers are impossible.
      4. We have a wealthy society, which pays for a large supply of underused manhours.

      Items one and two, I recently read for the first time a years old notice from a fanfic author I followed about them quitting. They’d started writting in their early-mid teens, and continued for a decade and half before using up the last of any interest they had.

      Okay, a lot of fanfic isn’t Bujold or Kratman, and my taste encompasses a wide range of quality. Teenagers have entertained me for many tens or even hundreds of thousands of words. That’s not an impossible skill barrier to entry. I certainly wasn’t giving them money.

      When I think of stuff I can do for money, writing is much less intimidating than stuff that’d make much more sense. Realistically, if I put the effort into coding that writing novels would take, I could find work as a programmer. Even if applying and interviewing is a lot scarier than uploading a file to a computer. Not confident you can convince someone you are not a liability or less of risk than the alternatives? Hard to screw up a storybook so bad that someone dies.

      I’ve mentioned teenagers. Lots of fanfic writers fall into some groupings. Highschool and college students who often quit after getting a job. Folks who quit after they start getting deeper into family life. Long term hobbyists.

      We still have a very wealthy society, and can survive a lot of people making personal time investments with very poor RoI. What is tolerated will happen.

      It makes sense for TradPub to have gotten used to treating writers as expendable, consumable, and replaceable.

      • One other factor occurs to me: publishers largely look at their product as serving two purposes: peer cred and lotto.

        1. Peer cred(ibility) is what they live for, that aspect of their lives which involves counting coup in their industry peer group. It means that when they gather at cocktail parties they get to brag about the “fresh, new, innovative literary experiment” they’re publishing, or the “bold exposure of how Trump/Rethuglicans are horrid people, bent on destroying the environment and eliminating the rights of all women/immigrants/ethnics/non-binary persons and forcing them to do … something, all so the rich can do whatever it is they imagine rich Rethuglicans do, probably kill Simba’s daddy from an airplane.

        Being able to claim you helped bring to market a best-seller about a Redneck-run business which travels the world, meeting new monsters and killing them nets negative nada in peer group credibility. It is the literary equivalent of cleaning porta-potties.

        2. A literary lotto ticket is that once a year book which hits the public sweet spot, becoming the “must-have” tome for the living room table (never mind that more books get read on the john than in the den.) It gets major MSM attention, movie rights get bought and the publisher can wave it at aspiring slaves authors willing to sign away their life for the hope of hitting that jackpot.

    • Hostess Twinkies. Company finally died of its own overburden of cruft. Some shark bought the empty dead corpse of the company. Two years later its a billion dollar success story. Same product.

      What did he do? Bought automated machines, changed the distribution model to something that worked, and jettisoned every worker that didn’t produce profit for the company.

      I forsee something like that happening in publishing pretty soon. Production and distribution are the place everything is falling down now. Why -can’t- you buy all of an author’s back catalogue? It’s beyond stupid. So, it will change.

      • “Why -can’t- you buy all of an author’s back catalogue?”

        This was something that made a certain amount of sense before epublishing, seeing as the profits to be made from reprinting old books were less than the profit of printing new ones.
        And, frankly, most publishers are hidebound imbeciles who haven’t adjusted to new market realities.

        • This has always bugged me. Thank goodness for the internet, where I could finally at least see the author’s writer’s complete oeuvre. Now I can figure out (if I took the time to unbox all my books) which ones I need to go back and read to fill in the gaps. (And, of course, e-books, where you can go back and read an “old” series like these very cute ones I found about a furniture re-finisher involved in solving murders.)

      • Remember Thor Power Tools.

      • That’s a pretty inaccurate description. The new Hostess, quite simply, ejected the union employees whose strike put the predecessor out of business. The union even offered them the deal that they had rejected before the bankruptcy, and the new owners said no thanks.

      • The rest of the Hostess story was that the company had so much debt baggage that it couldn’t change. And one of the things done to revive the company was to change the recipe to give Twinkies a longer shelf life. That allowed changes in the distribution model. Can you imagine the outcry if the defunct company had tried that?

      • Working in that industry, and in fact having been inside said bakeries after they were bought by a still successful company, I can say that the factories were quite well automated. The failure of IBC was more to very poor deals made with the unions. As an example, Twinkies and Wonder Bread were made by the same company, but could not travel on the same truck. With such inefficiencies, any competitor who was halfway competent could eat their lunch.

      • When even the Teamsters are telling you not to strike, striking is a really bad idea.

      • Oh, this will happen. In some places Barnes and Nobles has a “print on demand” machine – it prints softcovers while you wait. Get one of those machines and an authors backlist – and nothing is out of print – and no large print-runs to maintain them either. This will shatter the current industry – the same way that 3D printing will shatter manufacturing. We are just at the baby-stages of this stuff happening.

        • POD is not really what will kill off the TradPub. It’s still far more expensive to do single prints than the batch runs done by pubs. But simply making backlists available as e-books would be a TREMENDOUS thing, and the tradpubs are ignoring a cash cow of enormous proportions.

          • One thing that needs to be done with that, though, is something that even Amazon sucks at. They need a good listing of an author’s works that lists series in release date order, and has the capability to link non-series books that are in the same universe together, as well as covering which works like anthologies ALSO have works in the same universe.

            That might cut down on people finding new authors for a while, while readers fill up on books they had despaired of ever reading from known authors, but it would all shake out soon.

            • I have found Wikipedia an excellent source for such author information. it is one of the few (remaining) areas (relatively) free of political entanglement. Apparently the sequence of books in a series is not (yet) a political matter.

              Sure, it means an extra tab open to check while shopping Amazon, but that’s trivial.

              I also find using the Baen Publishing schedule [ https://www.baen.com/bookdata/schedule ] for Amazon ordering (or B&N or whatever) very convenient. They are currently listing planned releases through December, 2017.

          • (Looks at BigPub pricing of ebooks)

            They are not ignoring that cow, they are trying their best to strangle it.

        • unless 3d printers some with armored reservoirs for rare earth metals, no, it won’t, sorry.

  22. “It only hurts when I laugh:” Was that [that cute actress about my age that I had a crush on]’s last movie?

  23. I’m laughing.
    It may be a bit hysterical, sometimes verging on maniacal, but that’s perfectly appropriate.

  24. Anyone who has ever written anything that truely entertained me (and, Sarah, you have, K?) has given me all the attention I have any reason to expect, and I will be forever grateful. Even if they snub me at Cons. Or snap at me. Or hold political views I consider deranged (no, not y’all. But Spider has a fixation on hive minds that just Creeps. Me. Out.).

    Would I like to spend an afternoon talking with Rudyard Kipling? H. L. Mencken? Eric Frank Russell? Oh, HELL, yes. Would I do it if I was told it meant they would not be writing something new? No.

    For the same reason, if Sir Terry was allowed back, I just wouldn’t take any chance of interrupting a train of thought. Oh, if he invited ME. Maybe.

    Sarah, please do what you need to to keep writing. We’ll be here. We can ever entertain ourselves for long periods. Take care of yourself, first and foremost. Then your family. The your writing. we – or at last I- understand.

  25. And the biggest retaliation I’ll do against these people is not work with them.

    No, you retaliate against what they love most (yes, that does usually mean children, why do you ask?…there is a reason revenge is evil).

    There’s books to write and places to be, and no time to mourn for lost friendships. And this too shall pass. It only hurts when I laugh.

    I hear you…that “first novel” I had been working on got deleted last Friday as part of a “either keep waiting or just tear this whole part of your life (not writing but something connected to the book) out at the roots so you can mourn it and move on” struggle.

    But I got up and went to work then built a bookcase on Saturday and started a short on Sunday.

    The only way to carry on is to just carry on sometimes.

    • One foot in front of the other, one word at a time, then one day at a time…

      For some it’s the keeping on going. And before you know it… there’s 10k steps done! Huh! A story written! A meal cooked. Step by step.

      • One recalcitrant floor tile after another, bang bang bang pop! Next one, bang, bang…

        Tomorrow, remove ten thousand screws from a floor coated in concrete. Sawzall!

    • I was “trying” to write that first novel since about 1994. There were ideas floating around, sometimes I wrote them down, but I never thought it was “good enough.” You know? I needed somebody I respected to like it.

      So, finally, somebody did. Cranky bastard Phantom finally shared the thing, and Famous Author lady said “You need to finish this right now!” I still have the email somewhere.

      So I did. and in the doing of it, the characters took over. Charlotte Smith and Beatrice Portinari declined to be mere automatons, and asserted their person-hood. George McIntyre turned out to be a huge wise ass and practical joker, who took being transformed in stride and used it to pull ever more enormous gags on his girlfriend. The story changed completely. I wasn’t doing it anymore. It was happening, and I was trying to keep up.

      So, after I get the bathroom rebuilt, I’ll make a cover for it and we will see what we will see. Coming soon to an Indie outlet near you.

      Listen to the people in your head that are trying to get out. They’ll tell you who they are, and they’ll tell you what happened when they were making other plans. If they seem boring, hand them a problem. They’ll sharpen up quick.

  26. WP delenda est …

    maybe the hyperlink moved my comment to moderation h*ll? short summary: another author whose career was killed by Big5 is Tanith Lee, who left drawers full of unpublished manuscripts when she died.

    • didn’t see it!
      And yes.

    • I always wondered what had happened to her. I still have some of her books.

      • Tanith Lee went to writing kids’ books and YA.

        I know that sounds terrifying, but she was actually pretty wholesome with them.

        That is why the geniuses of publishing decided to reprint The Silver Metal Lover as YA, though it is not YA and not wholesome. (Not a bad book, and it has a good message; but it was written in the 1970’s; so until she gains self-respect, the young heroine is having sex and drugs with anything that moves.)

  27. I am honored to be a distant acquaintance to someone with your pedigree and backlog. Highly honored.

  28. You’re kind of scaring me. I’m still the new guy on the block, no books published, and already I feel tension between “I should be writing” and “I should spend time with my friends”.

  29. This post reminds me of why I stay at home writing and making stuff. People are f***ing CRAZYpants sometimes, and I just don’t have the energy for it anymore.

    I realize that more than half of this is down to me, because I’m old, crabby and I have weird opinions about everything. But the rest is Y’all. You’re tiring.

    This week I’m fixing the shower. I say this week, because fixing that leaking nightmare meant tearing out the whole bathroom back to the studs. Floor too. Fun wow.

  30. Haven’t read through the comments yet, but the song you’re singing here is a familiar one, Mrs. Hoyt. And it’s not because you’re a writer, or even because someone foolishly lashed out with “…the reason you’re dead to me is because you’re a snooty rich jerk now.” That just the marinated-in-Marxism-since-kindergarten talking.

    (And yes, the losing friends to disrespecting their cult hurts, but that’s not this post. I think.)

    It’s a rationale for “you don’t pay into the bank of social interaction with me. Hell, you’re badly overdrawn.” And no amount of the reality of trying to make a living as a writer amidst heath, housing and other crises will absolve you, since they’re doing the same, and (very likely) unlike you don’t love their work.

    I don’t have an answer for you on this one, since I’m much worse than you (and with far less excuse) but perhaps my grandma’s admonition might help: send roses to the living, rather than lilies to the dead. Try to find a way to pay into the relationship bank when you have a spare dime/half hour.

    As for me, I tend to give up too fast, assuming, since I’m a hard row to hoe, that the friendship is a lost cause. Dunno if I’m right or not. But I expect that’s not true for you. Godspeed.

    • Thanks for the reminder that for the majority of such Lost Friends there isn’t much to lose. I think of it as Calexit on the social level: How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?


      Dan Hicks and Maria Muldaur: Yee-haw!

  31. Eric Fithian

    2 December 1953, on the radio anthology series Crime Classics: “If a Body Need a Body, Just Call Burke and Hare!”
    [audio src="https://archive.org/download/OTRR_Crime_Classics_Singles/cric_53-12-02_ep23_If_A_Body_Need_A_Body_Just_Call_Burke_and_Hare.mp3" /]
    When I listened to that show several years ago, that was the first time I had heard of those miscreants.
    The entire series is rather over-the-top in its treatment of the misdeeds chronicled therein….

  32. Pingback: There’s No Business…. | According To Hoyt – Allene R. Lowrey

  33. I don’t believe Heinlein received million dollar advances until ‘Number of the Beast’, but haven’t tried to convert advances from the 50s or 60s into 2017 dollars.

    He and Ginny were extremely poor in the 40s. He had a year to wait for his divorce from Leslyn to finalize and being seen with Ginny would be detrimental to his legal case. He bought a small trailer and they left LA. The money ran out in the winter and they were effectively stranded outside Fort Worth for several months until some royalties caught up to him.

    As for running scared, it’s hard to say. They took expensive vacations in the fifties, eg the one chronicled in Tramp Royale. He bought land and built a house with cash, though he crabbed the whole time about how much it cost him (1950s housing boom + Korean War inflation to construction materials). He bought a fancy silenced typewriter that cost him $500 in the 50s. So they spent money as if they weren’t running scared, but impossible to say how that winter in the trailer affected them.

  34. I’ve lost more than one friend who said I was insensitive. (Also screamed at me on the phone… when I had no idea what upset her so much). I just delete the phone number and after wondering what is wrong with me… I leave it. Sometimes that is all you can do. You do have a great husband and two lovely sons. Greatest friends ever. So I think you are winning even if you aren’t rich.