• 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.

  • the essential kit
    CEMurphy,  Publishing

    On da business

    Novelist Kameron Hurley talks about some of the hurdles of the publishing industry.

    Tansy Ranyer Roberts responds thoughtfully to Kameron’s post.

    Sarah Rees Brennan & Holly Black talk about characters of color in their YA novels. You can check out my own post on the topic, too.

    Laura Anne Gilman L.A. Kornetsky announces two more books in her Gin & Tonic mystery series! Yay! :)

    I dropped by Chapters Bookstore yesterday to pick up the two Carol Berg books I didn’t own, and I don’t have, and said to yer man there, “Two more books I won’t have time to read!”

    “Ah, we’ve all got shelves like that,” he said, and I said, “The truth is, we realized we could spend the rest of our lives exclusively reading books written by friends, and we would never run out of reading material.”

    “You obviously have too many friends!” he said, which was not at all my original interpretation, but was pretty darned funny. :)

    And actually I came home and started reading THE SOUL MIRROR immediately, because Carol is an incredible, incredible writer. If you don’t know her books, go get the first one she wrote, TRANSFORMATION, and just keep going from there. Epic fantasy of the best sort. I absolutely love them.

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