Michael Shatzkin: Chicken Little or Nostradamus (if Nostradamus was right most of the time)? He knows his stuff. I’m going with Nostradamus.
Shatzkin has been writing for months about the possibility of the coming collapse of traditional print book distribution. It goes something like this. As more book sales move not only online (of course, that’s been happening for a while), but more importantly towards digital ebooks (something occurring at an astronomical pace), so many bookstores–most of which are already struggling–will become unprofitable. Even small changes in how we buy books could tip the scales and create catastrophe for brick and mortar bookstores, because profit margins are slim throughout the publishing world. And more returns by those bookstores aren’t going to help publishers either.
Yesterday, Shatzkin wrote one of his strongest blog posts yet about what appears to be the coming bookstore apocalypse. I find his argument more than persuasive. Even if bookstores do better than he anticipates, it’s pretty clear that many stores will have to close shop, and all of them will have to reduce their shelf space for books, in an attempt to widen out and sell other products that will keep them in business.
People argue that the death of publishing has been long predicted. Granted, big publishing will survive, but it will also drastically change. Relatively new technology, from Amazon.com to the Kindle and Nook and iPad, is changing the book business and how books are sold. And for better or worse–and it’s some of both–gatekeeping is shifting from the publishing houses to readers and bloggers. Power to the people is always a dangerous proposition, but that’s the new world.
I’ll be perfectly honest. I think most writers are totally in denial about what’s happening. They’re stalking agent blogs (hey, I’ve been there, done that), writing queries, adding to slush piles, crossing their fingers for years, and praying for a winning lottery ticket. Yes, some of them will find success this way. I may still try it myself. Traditional publishing may not be dying, but in five years, when there’s drastically less shelf space for books, that business model will certainly slim down and change.
I want to echo one of the boldest points that Shatzkin made, because it has huge implications for new writers and those who aren’t already happy where they are in the publishing game. Here:
Although it isn’t often stated this starkly, the core value proposition for the biggest trade book publishers is that they can put books on shelves. All of the rest of what they do (and often do quite well) — selection, editing, development, packaging, and marketing — is fungible. And usually not scaleable.
So what if the bookstorepocalypse is real? If getting published traditionally doesn’t especially help you to get your books on the shelves of stores (unless you are talented, awesome, hard-working, and lucky enough to be a Jim Butcher), then you’ve got a legitimate reason to question whether you want to roll the dice with traditional publishers (who absolutely offer many great advantages), or get 70% royalties on your indie ebooks and get paid 80% of your print book’s list price (minus the cost of POD printing) with your print-on-demand book via Lightning Source and their 20% short discount option–which gets you right into Amazon.com and other online bookstores, just like the big boys do.
Of course, the road to self-published glory will be littered with the carcasses of many bad books, as well as so many good books that just couldn’t find their audience in an over-saturated marketplace–then again, that happens sometimes to traditionally published books, too. And while I tend to think that quality work will usually be eventually found, there are no guarantees of success in any direction, so you’d better be following your passion. And if you want to hear the arguments in favor of going rogue, you can join me in following J.A. Konrath’s blog, and you can and should find Zoe Winters in many places, including the Indie Reader blog. Michael Stackpole is another pioneer and independent author well worth following.
If the distribution advantage for large publishers becomes much less significant, and I think that’s inevitable within the next five years and has certainly already begun, then the ‘pocalypse will be bigger than just bookstores, because it will affect everyone in the publishing food chain, from agents to writers to editors and everyone else. Think ahead and plan accordingly, and find the best path forward for you.
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First reason for admiration: Not only has Erikson written an awe-inspiring 10-part fantasy series, he’s sticking by the roman numerals with this blog series, already up to VIII. The man is not afraid of big numbers, and he’s got the attention span to back that up. Much respect.
But the topic of “With Regret” is a serious one, and it demonstrates one of the best potentials of both celebrity and of writing: The ability to transform an audience with mere words. It demonstrates one of the greatest virtues an author can possess, perhaps the only virtue that matters: The ability to be honest with his readers.
I’ll let you read his story, and only say that it unravels his regret surrounding the death of his mother, and then of his father. It took the words of one of his characters, a gift from his subconscious as he wrote the tenth book of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, to open up the floodgates:
Today, a fictional character uttered the opinion that the only worthy place to die is in someone’s arms. And in the wake of that utterance, everything just sort of tumbled down inside.
Author interviews can be tame affairs. But Eric Miles Williamson had some interesting things to say in this Huffington Post interview with Anis Shivani, in which Williamson plays well the part of The Iconoclastic Writer. It’s a long interview, so I’ll pull out just a few of the many provocative threads.
“Writers should write for the dead writers and the writers yet to be born,” he says, “for only they are worthy of our labors.” Without agreeing, I respect his sentiment and his quest. For example:
My copy of Shakespeare sits on my desk so I can remember that I suck, so that I feel bad about what I’m presuming to do. Every writer should feel like a failure. A writer who thinks he is a success is a bad writer.
Here’s the part, about how he learned from jazz soloists not to write every day, that really turned my head:
Methods. They vary according to what I’m writing. I’m not one of those writers like Hemingway or Jack London or Updike or you, Mr. Shivani, who writes every day. I personally don’t think it’s good for one’s art.
When I was making my living as a professional jazz trumpeter I once met the great alto saxophonist Phil Woods. He’s without compare as a soloist, better, in my opinion, than even Charlie Parker. Parker, if you study his solos, his improvisational patterns, falls into rote patterns, repeats himself, sometimes for up to three or four measures. And it’s not a deliberate self-citation, either. It’s that Charlie Parker, like so many artists, would find himself confronted with an artistic situation and respond with a statement he’d made before. I’ve done this myself in any number of essays I’ve written, and I’ve found myself, unfortunately, doing it in my fiction. This is to be avoided. Phil Woods never makes this faux pas. Faulkner does, Miles Davis does, Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, Picasso and Van Gogh and even Bach. Not Phil Woods.
So when I met him I asked him how he did it, how he managed never to play the same lick twice. He told me that every five years he took a year off from his alto sax and played a different instrument, like the flute, for a year. By playing a different axe, he was forced, because of the physical and tonal differences, to rewire not only his thinking, but his physical relationship to his artistic medium. So when he went back to his alto saxophone, it was an alien to him, new once again, something to explore and understand and through which he could express himself differently than he had before alienating himself from it.
That’s passion for writing.
If I release my novel independently as an ebook and POD book, is this cover is good enough, or should I hire a professional to design a new cover?
p.s. I may drop the “DEUS EX KARMA,” which would free up some room, maybe for a front cover blurb.
Seriously, get this.
Survival tips for 21st century writers, from best-selling authors Kevin J. Anderson, M.J. Rose, Heather Graham, J.A. Konrath, Gayle Lynds, Alexandra Sokoloff, Jonathan Maberry, and more. How to develop your craft, improve your writing, get an agent, promote your work, embrace the digital age, and prepare yourself for the coming changes in the publishing industry. Edited by Scott Nicholson.
Other contributors include Elizabeth Massie, Harley Jane Kozak, Douglas Clegg, Brandon Massey, Mur Lafferty, Dean Wesley Smith, David J. Montgomery, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Robert Kroese, and Adrienne Jones. Covering art, craft, and business, the ever-evolving manual supports the writing blog writegoodordie.blogspot.com.
All proceeds benefit the non-profit organization Literacy Inc., which promotes reading among teens.
My Amazon review reads:
Over Thirty Carefully Selected Essays on the Craft and Business of Writing
I was attracted to this collection because of the many contributing authors I admire in it, and also because I knew Scott Nicholson (whose novels I’ve recently become a fan of) would do a great job with selecting helpful and interesting advice. ‘Write Good or Die’ met all of my high expectations.
The version I purchased contained 22 articles focused on specific areas of craft, and 11 articles focused on practical business matters for writers. Every single piece was worth reading, and the collection broadened my horizons and got me thinking about the craft and business of writing from new points of view–all of them from either successful or otherwise qualified contributors.
The current price is criminally low, and the proceeds from its sales support a writing-oriented charity. I give it as emphatic a recommendation as I can give.
Get it at:
Mark Twain: “When you catch an adjective, ill it. No, I don’t mean that utterly, but kill the most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together, they give strength whenthe are wide apart. An adjective-habit, or a wordy, diffuse, or flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”
From Tom Dupree, a great modern history of reading, on how women came to play increasingly more significant roles both within the publishing industry, and as readers.
Critters.org conducted a very interesting price survey on ebooks, and what prices people think are “fair” or too high.
On Jim C Hines’ blog, there’s an interview with a mysterious fantasy author who has decided to use a pseudonym. He talks about his decision to do so.
Why Your Book Isn’t Selling has some decent advice about selling books, though more at a beginner’s level.
1. I don’t need you to be perfect, but I do need to know I can rely on you.
5. A friendly voice on the other side of the phone [Moses: or, insert other media] means more than you can imagine.
9. I want to tell you what would make this relationship better for me. Why don’t you ever ask me?
19. I like to get little goodies no one else is getting.
20. I don’t understand how to use your Web site, but I can’t admit that because it would make me feel dumb.
28. I want to buy your product, but I need you to help me justify it to myself.
34. I have the attention span of a goldfish. Go too long without contacting me and I’ll simply forget you exist.
45. I believe I deserve much more than I’m getting.
And finally, a five-second video of my three-year-old saying grace at the table: “Thank you all dis food–AMEN!” The kid is passionate about blessing food!
Warning: Mature, sexual content to follow.
In the tiny lifeboat, she and the alien fuck endlessly, relentlessly.
My first impression of the entire story was that I thought it was quite creative, and so I understood why it won the Nebula award, but that I didn’t particularly like the story. I felt better about feeling that way after reading Kij say that she herself doesn’t like it at all. A fuller quote from her is: “This is a story I love without liking it at all … It’s a difficult story to read, and it’s hard to see past the graphic aspects to what the story is really about.”
I thought the sexual references cheapened the story a bit, and that the ending could’ve been stronger.
Then I read her explanation of the meaning of the story, which I suspected I’d missed, and I smiled. I reread the story and smiled some more. The story’s repetition of words like “cunt,” which felt a bit gimmicky to me initially, made more than perfect sense when the story became candid allegory.
Before you consider reading Kij’s explanation of “Spar,” you might want to read the story itself. Can you figure out what she’s saying first (it’s a lot more fun that way, isn’t it?)?
I think I came close at one point while reading it, but I didn’t quite get it until I read about it from her directly.
Now I’m really glad the imagery of “Spar” will stick with me.
Congratulations on the award, Kij!
Kurt Vonnegut: “Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.”
Cec Murphey has a great couple of cautionary articles on using the progressive tense (-ing verbs). Part 1. Part 2. Cec Murphy’s blog is fantastic, btw. That reminds me to go add him to my blogroll …
The difference between an alpha and a beta reader.
@Zoe Winters has a nice piece on how to be a patron of (support) independent writers.
C. Patrick Schulze explains How to Get Your Self-Published Novel Reviewed
@Xander Bennett offers advice for (screenplay) writers on how to write a kick-ass protagonist:
1 – Make her WANT SOMETHING.
2 – Make her INCREDIBLY GOOD at what she does.
3 – Have her CHANGE enormously.
See his article for his arguments on each point.
And here’s a video of me and my 3-year-old son, in which he thinks he hears the smell of poo-poo, then suggests it’s hiding:
“Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn’t writing, doesn’t.” -Ernest Hemingway.
Darren Rowse writes on the ProBlogger blog about: 4 Classic Mistakes I Made In My First Year of Blogging [and How I Got 1000 Subscribers Anyway]
Michael A Stackpole forecasts that traditional publishing distribution may crash in 2012, based on Michael Shatzkin’s estimates.
Steve White, aka Novel Dog blogs about four current authors who have succeeded thanks to their moxie, hustle, or genius rather than following a strictly traditional paradigm @ScottSigler, @JAKonrath, @JCHutchins, and Bruce Holland Rogers.
James Frenkel, longtime Tor editor, says on a PW blog: “Good writing can be, to some extent, learned. Good storytelling, however, seems to be a talent, not a learned skill.”
Kevin J Anderson explains how he writes his first drafts by dictation, while hiking in nature.
Watch out. It’s a geek debate. The David Gemmell Award Is Bad for Fantasy. No, sucka, it’s not.
Finally, this cat is better than you: