• the essential kit
    CEMurphy,  Publishing,  Writing

    Escaping Stockholm: Part 2

    Escaping Stockholm: Second in a series of publishing industry essays by author Judith Tarr, about whom the following is all perfectly true:

    Judith Tarr hates writing bios of herself. She would rather write historical fantasy or historical novels or epic fantasy or the (rather) odd alternate history, or short stories on just about any subject that catches her fancy.

    She has been a World Fantasy Award nominee for her Alexander the Great novel, Lord of the Two Lands, and won the Crawford Award for her Hound and the Falcon trilogy. She also writes as Caitlin Brennan (The Mountain’s Call and sequels) and Kathleen Bryan (The Serpent and the Rose and sequels).

    When she is not working on her latest novel or story, she is breeding, raising, and training Lipizzan horses on her farm near Tucson, Arizona. Her horses are Space Aliens, her stallion is a Pooka, and they frequently appear in song, story, blog (she is dancinghorse on livejournal), facebook, and twitter.

    Escape from Stockholm: An Epic Publishing Saga
    Find Judith Tarr on LiveJournal | on Twitter | & at Book View Cafe

    Part One | Part Three

    …Bestseller numbers ain’t what they used to be, by a long shot.) But mostly? It’s a sweatshop.

    In Stockholm.

    Today’s writers in midcareer, say ten years along, grew up as writers during the heyday of the Nineties and the turn of the Millennium. That was when the hardcover/trade paper/mass market model ruled. You got an agent who took care of you and helped you come up with book projects and presented them to editors, who bought them and shepherded them through production. You ended up with a book to hold in your hands, and mostly it was done for you, though you might do a book tour or attend some conventions to help the book sell. Your job was to keep writing new books and selling them on proposal (if you were established enough), so that agent and publisher could do their thing.

    And that, if you wanted to make real money and be respected for it, was really the only game in town. Self-publishing was vanity press, ick. Small presses that paid no or minimal advances weren’t much better, unless you were literary or an academic. Ebooks hadn’t happened yet. Backlist, past the first year or two, was dead unless you hit it big, and then your publisher might bring out a boxed set or an omnibus. But mostly it bloomed and died—which was a real problem if your trilogy or series took too long to come out or ran into trouble with distribution or sales, so that the early volumes were gone by the time the last one was available.

    In one way it was lovely. Agent worried about money. Publisher worried about production and promo and distribution. Author worried about getting the next book written.

    In another way, as the economy tanked and distributors and bookstores collapsed, it created a serious problem, because authors raised under that system, or raised to think they would be pursuing their careers under it, were horribly unprepared for what the publishing world had turned into. They were raised in a kind of learned helplessness—with Mommy or Daddy Agent worrying about the business end, and King Publisher handling everything once the book left the author’s desk. Many authors were the literary equivalent of the prince who can’t put on his own shoes.

    It created a crippling dependence. Agents would tell authors what to write, how to write it, and when—“because that’s what I can sell.” And authors would be afraid to argue because they needed an agent to get their books onto editors’ desks (publishers having shifted the job of slush reader into the agents), and agents were inundated with submissions, and what if Agent doesn’t like me or fires me? What if I can’t get another agent? How will I ever sell again?

    And meanwhile publishers were doing all the production, the packaging, the distribution—but not the promo. Gradually, they had shifted that onto the authors. Authors were feverishly printing bookmarks, holding contests, even hiring publicists at more than the amount of their advances, to promote their books. And oh, the anguish if a publication date was moved or a book was (or still is) seen on a bookshelf before that date. Total, total freakout on publication day. What if it doesn’t sell? What if it misses the golden sale period by a day? What if the other books in the series aren’t out at the same time? What do I do? What can I do? What if it fails? How will I ever sell a book again?

  • the essential kit

    Escaping Stockholm: Part 1

    I’ve said this before and will no doubt say it again: one of the coolest things about the intarwebs and growing up to be a writer is having become friends with some of my writing heroes. People I wanted to grow up to be, or whose work touched me, or who I admired the holy living bejeezus out of, or I learned from by reading their books, or all of the above. Usually all of the above.

    One of those people is Judith Tarr. She’s a tremendous writer and a splendid person, and if you’d told me ten years ago that I would chat with Judy (see!? I get to call her Judy now, and everything!) on a weekly basis, if you’d said, “and you’ll get worried when she hasn’t posted for several days, especially if the weather’s been bad where she and the fat white ponies live,” if you’d said anything like that I’d have–well, I’d have sat in a corner giggling hysterically and peeking through my fingers and saying, “Really? *Really*?” and then giggling some more.

    If you’d told me Judith Tarr would end up writing a three-part blog post about the changes in the publishing industry, inspired by my post on the myth of the rich writer, for my blog, I just wouldn’t have believed it. But she’s done just that, and I’m really ridiculously delighted to present her words to you here over the course of this week.

    Escape from Stockholm: An Epic Publishing Saga
    Find Judith Tarr on LiveJournal | on Twitter | & at Book View Cafe

    Part Two | Part Three

    So Catie and I have been having this conversation. It started with her post on money, and I finally snapped, after years of keeping politely quiet. I said, “I am horrified at what I see writers of your particular generation having to do in order to pay your bills/satisfy your publishers/keep your careers alive.”

    I’m not really as old as God, but I came in at a younger age than many of my publishing peers, so I’ve been around a while. I made my first sale in 1983, having had an agent for a couple of years. So I’m having an anniversary this year, come to think of it.

    My first agent was young and fierce and determined to conquer the world. She started as assistant to Virginia Kidd—whose clients included Ursula K. Le Guin and Anne McCaffrey. Le Guin was a great name even at the time, but Annie while beloved within the genre had yet to become a monster bestseller. She was still a midlister, though a very popular one.

    So I came in, all fresh and dewy, and I got the Talk. The one that lays out the agent’s hopes for the new author’s career, cools the author’s jets when she tries to go roaring off in every direction, and sets her up to establish a nice professional profile right from the get-go.

    Two things she told me that I want to go into here, because they’re relevant to Catie’s interests.

    1. Don’t be too eager, too fast, too prolific. Don’t inundate publishers with ideas, or swamp them with proposals. It’s not just that you’ll saturate the market, it’s that they’ll start to think you’re buyable by the gross. You want to keep them a little bit hungry. Make them want you. Get them bidding on you and fighting over you, because you’re not giving away all your ideas at once or for cheap.

    The same applies once you’ve sold. Don’t let them find out how fast you really can write that book, do those copyedits, read those proofs—or they’ll start pushing you harder and making you work faster and demanding more and more and more until you can’t work at all. Take the full time, and insist that it be enough time. Not 24-hour turnarounds. Get ten days or two weeks in those contracts and make them stick to it. Publishers are inherently inclined to slop all over the place—and the author, at the end of the line, ends up paying for everyone else’s missed deadline. Don’t let them get away with it.

    2. What I see for you is a long career, well grounded, with sales sufficient to bring in around $40K in royalties a year, and advances around the $50K mark. Solid high midlist. A book a year, consistently. No more than a book every nine months; see above re. market saturation, but also, author burnout. Many authors can do a book every other year and still maintain profitable careers, but if you can do one a year, that’s better. We’ll hope for a bestseller, but realistically, what you’ll do is build a career that keeps you going for decades.

    Right. The tissues are over there. If you’re done weeping, with grief or laughter or both, I’ll go on.

  • Publishing,  Writing

    More on genderflipping

    After last week’s post on genderflipped covers, my friend Flit dug up an article she remembered reading about a a bias study regarding female playwrights.

    The article is well worth reading, but for the TL;DR folk among us (sorry, I only just learned that TL;DR meant “too long; didn’t read”, so now I have to use it at least once), the take-away is “in an as-controlled study as is possible, it turns out women discriminate against female playwrights more strongly than men do, even though plays written by women make more money.”

    That doesn’t really do the article justice, but it’s as close as I can get in a sentence-long summary. Go read it, really, if you’re at all interested in the topic at hand.

    The reasons behind the above two take-aways are complex. It appears that women discriminate against women more strongly because they percieve that if they don’t, when they bring too many womens’ work to the table, the men around them will dismiss it/them. So they’re culling early. And it appears the reason womens’ works make more money is that people will take a chance on a promising young male playwright and produce his play, but will tell a promising young female playwright “Now all you need to do is write a hit!” and only after a truly remarkable script has been written will it be produced.

    The latter in particular seems to me to fall in line with what I’ve read any number of times regarding women submitting material to anthologies/editors/conference papers/etc: that women are accepted in higher proportion relative to the percentage of submissions, because the work is of higher quality. This is due, evidently, to women being taught that they have to be perfect before they can risk trying, because anything less will fail.

    This is not saying men will throw any old shit to see if it sticks, but evidently that they’re trained to believe that they should try, whereas women are less so trained.

    So that may in effect be the answer to the Great Social Experiment I’d like to try, the one of writing two series of the exact same type, one under a male name and one under a female name. (Although to properly balance it I couldn’t even write one under CE Murphy, because that’s a name with a known quantity and reader base, which would skew the results. They’d have to be two equally unknown (or known) names, which makes it an even more impossible project.) Or perhaps that actually has no reflection at all on what the results of a Great Social Experiment might be. But it does feel like it all ties together, although of course the way it ties together most basically is “Society: it am broked.” @.@ :)

  • CEMurphy,  Publishing,  Writing

    Genderflipping covers

    So Maureen Johnson, YA author, threw down a gauntlet a couple of days ago regarding the way books are marketed and asked her jillions of Twitter readers to gender-flip some of their favorite book covers. To make a cover that might have been offered up if the book was by a person of the other gender, or was gender neutral (initials instead of full names. She’s written a terrific article about the whole problem of gendered covers here, and it is truly worth a read. Really truly honest to God.

    But if you never click through on another link I offer, go check out the slideshow of covers people did, because they’re flipping awesome. Er, so to speak. Let me show you my single-most favorite of all of them, or at least my favorite of the fantasy novels. This is a recent GRRM cover for A GAME OF THRONES:


    This is Georgette R. Martin’s A GAME OF THRONES (image by Electric Sheep Comix):


    “Her publisher decided she didn’t need the second “R” in her initials,” said the artist.

    It’s nearly perfect. I think the font is actually *too* ornate, but I totally get a Jody Lynn Nye vibe off this, and wouldn’t be surprised at *all* to see it on one of Michelle West‘s books.

    Now: for a degree of fairness, GRRM’s covers have undergone enormous changes in the past 15 years. This is the first one I actually remember seeing:


    It’s still aimed at a totally different audience than Georgette’s cover is. And honestly, of the three, Georgette’s is the least likely one I’d pick up, although for me, the fact that it has a woman’s name on epic fantasy would make me take a look, anyway.

    There’s a Tumblr tag of genderflipped covers that is one of the most worthy things on the internet. Some of them are merely in the A for Effort category, which is admirable on its own, but honestly, many of them are *brilliant*. Check out this TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY by Johanna Le Carre (image by xotus):


    This, this, *this*, this is what makes me want to run the Great Social Writing Experiment. To write two series of the same type under one obviously female name and one under an obviously male name, and not let anybody, including my editors, know the gender (clearly a theoretical agent would be in on this, but beyond that) of the person writing the books. Just to see what happened with covers, reviews, promotion, sales, all of it.

    This is not, mind you, a practical experiment. I mean, it’d be a lot of time and effort and investment and while I was getting it off the ground, what, I’m going to survive financially by saying, “Hey, here’s my Kickstarter! Fund me, and in ten years you’ll find out what the project was! Hardcover LEs all around!” or something? Yeahno. :) But oh how I would love to try it.

    (Someone asked on Twitter, so I’ll answer it here too: No, I haven’t seen any “EC Murphy” covers (and don’t expect to, because my name isn’t that big), but I have to admit I’d kind of love to see THE QUEEN’S BASTARD or PRETENDER’S CROWN with the assumption of a male writer. :))

    Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily want all covers to be gender neutral, but what prompted Maureen to do this genderflip thing was saying “If I had a dime for every boy/man who’s said “Can’t you get less girly covers so I can read this?”…” She went on to say,

    The assumption, as I understand it, is that females are flexible and accepting creatures who can read absolutely anything. We’re like acrobats. We can tie our legs over our heads. Bring it on. There is nothing we cannot handle.

    Boys, on the other hand, are much more delicately balanced. To ask them to read “girl” stories (whatever those might be) will cause the whole venture to fall apart. They are finely tuned, like Formula One cars, which require preheated fluids and warmed tires in order to operate — as opposed to girls, who are like pickup trucks or big, family-style SUVs. We can go anywhere, through anything…

    There’s obviously a larger societal problem going on here, but it’d be pretty damned nice to see Michelle West (or Kate Elliott or Judith Tarr or or or or or) getting covers that weren’t oriented At Girls.

    It would be even nicer, of course, if a cover like Georgette Martin’s or Johanna Le Carre’s wasn’t off-putting to boys. Making covers more neutral can’t be just about making them more appealing to the male of the species; that’s still assigning them a gender preference, the one we regard as default. But! As an awareness issue, this kind of project certainly does the trick, and I loooooove it!

  • the essential kit
    Photography,  Publishing

    busy day out

    We had a busy day out at the zoo, where I concluded that the 18-100mm lens, while much easier to carry (nevermind focus, since it’s got auto-focus and my Big Lens doesn’t), is not really up to the task of Kitsnaps-quality images. The absurd megapixels on the new camera makes up for that to some degree, but I fear I wasn’t, overall, enormously satisfied with today’s photography.

    Which isn’t to say I didn’t get some nice pictures, of which this wee series is one of my favorites:

    Kitsnaps: Parenthood
    Kitsnaps: Parenthood

    It was really nice to get out into sunshine and relative warmth. Last week at baby group everybody was tired, headachy, kind of sick, just generally miserable. I concluded we probably all needed six or eight months of direct sunlight. Sigh. As soon as I land that multi-jillion dollar book deal I think we’ll all retire to the coast of Spain. Well, you know. Not retire, obviously, if I have a multi-jillion dollar book deal to write for, but anyway.

    Speaking of which, I read the second DINOCALYPSE book yesterday (bizarrely, Young Indiana let me read an entire book while he played happily by himself! o.O), and there were some great Amelia moments to help me shape the character for the book I’ll be writing soon. She’s fierce. That should be fun to write.

    I had a vague thought of doing something *purely* for fun once I’ve written STONE’S THROE. I mean, my nephew’s books are great fun, but they’re verbally contracted to him, so they’re not *purely* for fun. OTOH, realistically, I have so many “ooh, that’d be great!” projects on the back burners that I’d probably never be able to decide what to write if I did something Just For Fun. :)

    It just struck me that STONE’S THROE will be my 25th published book (if you take the whole “Take A Chance” series as one, which I do). Twenty-five books in 9 years is quite a lot. Have I caught up to Jim yet?

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