What’s Wrong with Publishing? #6: Oh Yeah???

Welcome back.

The usual disclaimer: The opinions and ideas expressed in WWwP? entries are ruminations, not rants. I’m thinking out loud here. Even if it seems like I’m demonizing some quarter of the industry, I’m really not — I want publishing (every aspect of it) to be stronger and better. Everyone has a role to play. I welcome your thoughts in the comments. I adore just about everyone I’ve met and worked with in publishing; nothing I say here should be construed as denigrating any sector of the industry.

Holy crap. Has it really been that long since I’ve prattled on about What’s Wrong with Publishing?

*double-checks calendar, gulps guiltily* Yep, it sure has.

I meant to have these blogs coming out a couple of times a week, but Real Life and Real Work both conspired against me. But I’m back now, and we’re going to forge ahead as though there never was a hiatus. (These are not the droids you’re looking for, and thank you, George Lucas, for giving the universe such a convenient and useful catchphrase…)

Back when I started this little series, a fellow commented early on. I promised to address his thoughts at a later date and today that later date has come. If you don’t remember my first blog on this topic, go check it out here. You can see the comment there, too, but I’m going to reprint it below in its entirety.

Ready? Here we go!

i think they should publish more books
By: Joe, the Dancing Mule on Tue June 01, 2010, 23:03:11
I’m afraid I must disagree with your prescription, Mr. Lyga.

To the stockade with you!

The scattershot approach at least gives more openings to authors – a tentpole strategy similar to the one you advocate leads to a very conservative mindset, in my opinion. If the publishing house has to make its bones on fewer releases, then there is more pressure to hit the ball out of the park every time. As such, like in movies, television, music, etc, there will be big pushes around the same set of proven stars/themes/products, over and over again. This leads to more superhero movies*, more comedies with guys getting bodily fluids on themselves and getting whacked in the balls, more Dick Wolf shows, and more manufactured pop pablum**.

Well, either you misunderstood what I was saying or — more likely — I didn’t express myself clearly. As I responded in the comments back then, I’m not talking about a drastic scaling back the likes of which you seem to envision, but more along the lines of cutting back enough so that a tentpole isn’t necessary. One of the open secrets of publishing right now is that the Big Books support all the little ones, mainly because the little ones never break out enough to support themselves. With more effort spent on each book, we could come closer to that beautiful world in which each book supports itself…or at least nears that goal.

Basically, I don’t want the number of books to be cut in half or by a third. I have no particular arbitrary figure in mind, honestly. But even if each editor had one less book, s/he could then focus that much more on the others in the pipeline. Would this make editors look for more “blockbusters?” I don’t think so. I think editors would realize that with the added time/resources that they could break out that cherished book that otherwise might not stand a chance.

Right now, the tentpole books are a necessary evil. If more books were breaking even and paying their own way, the pressure to have a tentpole blockbuster would be lessened.

I fully acknowledge that this would require a shift in the way people think about acquiring, editing, and selling books. But that’s why we’re all here.

I think the answer is to go the other way – more opportunities for more authors, and more profits realized to authors.

I’m all about that, too! 🙂

I am not a writer, but it seems to me that the writer has fewer opportunities for ancillary income based on his talents than others. Bands who get screwed by their record label deals can always go on tour (and be screwed by their tour management, but much more gently), actors and directors and such can make commercials and straight-to-dvd schlock, even athletes can make publicity appearances, endorsements and autograph sessions. While I’m sure book signings are wonderful things, they don’t seem to drive much cashola to the author (unless I’m seriously mistaken).

Unless you sign hundreds and hundreds of books per signing, yeah, they don’t drive a lot of cash into the authorial coffers. Signings are really about marketing and publicity, not sales. It’s a way of generating good will with the bookstores and meeting your fans. It’s not really a revenue driver for most authors. And, yeah, there are fewer opportunities for ancillary income for authors, though I suspect creative thinkers will find ways to change that. (For example, I post deleted scenes toBoy Toy on this site for free. Some people have suggested I should have made them available as a cheap e-book.)

The irony, of course, is that the authors who have great ancillary opportunities are the ones who don’t need it. If I put thoseBoy Toy scenes on Kindle for 99 cents, I don’t think I’d make much money. But if, say, J. K. Rowling e-published some material she cut from her books, I bet she’d make…well, much money.

Of course, the plan is simple: (mumble) (mumble) internet (mumble) electronic readers (mumble) profit!

The best plans are always that simple, aren’t they? 🙂

so, anyway, thoughts:

1 – the truly big authors should consider using their power to make the relationship between publishing house and author more equitable. (or like recent experiements by trent reznor and radiohead, cut out the middleman altogether.) the little guys have no power, and so a sort of benevolent cadre of big fish looking out for the little fish is probably the only way the little guy is gonna get a fair(ish) shake.

I think there is a lot of opportunity in this regard, and I’ll be talking about it later in more depth. But, yeah, it would be great to see bigger authors and smaller authors team up to each other’s mutual benefit. Even the biggest author has audiences s/he doesn’t reach, audiences s/he may be able to reach with the help of a smaller, niche or cult author. And the benefits to the smaller author are obvious.

2 – writers are creative people – they should find ways to use new technologies and such for story-telling. I’d like to think the days of the linear reading/text-only experience are coming to an end. Video and audio and non-linear storytelling are the new hotness, IMO. People who can trailblaze this area can fundamentally alter the relationship between reader and writer and show others the way.

I would like to think that the days of the linear reading/text-only experience are NOT coming to an end! There’s something inherently magical about that experience, and there’s a reason it’s endured for so long. I agree that there are lots of exciting possibilities with new technologies, but at the end of the day, there will always be a place for a good book, told in a traditional format, whether it’s printed, beamed, lit from behind, or read aloud. This isn’t a zero-sum game: Embracing new technologies and modes of storytelling does not have to mean abandoning the older methods.

3 – Internet supernerditry, part deux. Authors (like Barry Lyga and barrylyga.com) must continue to push the interactivity between writer and reader.*** This not only bonds the fan to the author, it allows the author to consider alternate methods to reach the fan base.

Agree emphatically. I also think, though, that publishers need to get into this mix, as I’ve discussed in previous blogs. Publishers have resources that authors can’t match and they can make it a lot easier for this to happen. Without rehashing my previous argument: Publishers can help brand their authors to everyone’s benefit.

4 – self-publishing. sure, it’s much-maligned, and given the state of the self-publishing industry of the past, deservedly so. but in the click-to-print era, i think a talented and charismatic author could control a significant portion of the delivery (and monetization) of his work.

This is happening already. The problem, of course, is separating the wheat from the chaff, not to mention getting the word out without the resources of a publisher behind you. (Yeah, I know anyone can promote themselves on the internet, and that’s the problem: Anyone can promote themselves on the internet! And while “the wisdom of crowds” is an attractive ideal, no one has yet proven to me that it’s inherently any better than a gatekeeper system.)

anyway, those are my two rubles.

Joe

* – which I enjoy, but it’s still a larger problem overall. the mass death of the truly indie movie house in the last 20 years has been breathtaking and sad.

Oh, I know. There’s a decent little indie theater a few blocks from where I live, and I first took notice of it because I was shocked to see it at all.

** – who or what is a Bieber?

Isn’t it a kind of carpet? Oh, wait — that’s a Berber.

*** – and I have to tell you, on a philosophical level, there’s something difficult for me to contemplate in the democritization of fandom to writership, but this is the world we live in. even a misanthrope such as myself understands this.

Interactivity between author and reader is one thing; democritization is another. I enjoy my contact with my readers, but at the end of the day, they’re my stories and I’m gonna tell ‘em how I want to. As Steve Jobs once said, you can’t give people what they say they want because by the time you do, they’ll have changed their minds. You have to produce the best work you can and hope people will recognize it for what it is.

Thanks for your thoughts, Joe. Next time, I’m going to respond to some more

Writing Life #12: Mutually Exclusive

As has been the case for the past while, my main focus right now is on I Hunt Killers, which currently lives at the intersection of “Ready?” and “Hmm.” I have a very solid draft finished and the ending is, in my opinion, dead-bang perfect. But I’m still not sure about the early parts of the story, so in the next few days, I’m going to go through the whole thing again and see how strongly I feel about it. And then it’s going to go to my beta readers.

Even though I wrote a long series of Writing Advice blogs, I don’t think I ever talked very much about beta readers. Which is a shame because they’re very important to me. I know that not every writer uses beta readers — some just type “The End” and send the manuscript off to the editor. I can’t do that.

You see, by this point in the process, I’ve lived with the book long enough that it inhabits a strangely dichotomous position in what I call my “brain.” The book simultaneously sucks and is brilliant. I know the two are mutually exclusive, but right now that’s how I feel about it, and I get to this point with every book I’ve written. (With the exception of the second Archvillain, which I felt completely confident about from beginning to end. God, I would kill to feel that way about every book I write!)

Anyway, since I’m so close to the book and keep shifting quantum states (hey, physics metaphor!), I can’t rely on my own sense of the story. So, my beta readers give me a fresh perspective, looking at the story and telling me if it falls in the “sucks” or “brilliant” category. Or if, as is more likely, it falls in the “Not bad, but maybe this stuff over here needs work” category.

Here’s another weird problem I’m having, and I’m sort of curious as to whether or not other authors have this problem: Chapter length. In I Hunt Killers, I’ve got some really short chapters and then a few that are really long. Now, I know that there aren’t any rules when it comes to chapter length (unless your last name is Patterson…), but it just feels strange to have such a difference in chapter length. At the end of the day, I’ll probably leave things as they are, but right now I’m unhealthily obsessed with it. And it doesn’t help that Scrivener easily lets you scan chapter length, right down to precise word count.

So, what else is on my plate these days? Well, in the next week or so, after Killers goes to the betas, I’ll be diving back into The Book That Will Kill Me. I’ll be printing it out — all 191,000 words — for the first time. And, yes, I have plenty of paper:

 

Lots of paper

 

 

In case you’re having trouble reading the box, that’s a case of 5,000 sheets of paper. Recycled, thankyouverymuch, because I care.

Between those two projects, that’s already a lot of work, but I have some more stuff going on. Of course, the graphic novel continues apace. My writing is done, but I still look at each page as Colleen produces it, and right now she is on fire, cranking out page after page. Almost every day brings me cool artwork, either a new page layout or a new, more complete version of a page. Right now, I’m sort of obsessed with the latest version of page 101. It’s a splash page and it looks really cool, and I can’t wait until you guys get to see it. (Hmmm… Now that I think of it, though, what I’m calling page 101 will probably be page 102 when the book is published — we’re adding a page somewhere earlier. So look for page 102!)

I’m really itching to show you guys some of the artwork from the graphic novel. I had planned to wait until September, when I’ll have all of the art and can pick from the entire book, but I may not be able to wait that long. Keep your eyes peeled.

Last but not least, there’s a special pet project that’s close to my heart: A movie. A few years ago, I came up with an idea for a movie and casually mentioned it to my brother, who immediately fell in love with it and insisted that we collaborate on it. Since then, we’ve each taken half-hearted stabs at a scene here or there, but since we never agreed on an overall structure, we were spinning our wheels. Real life intruded and while we always promised to work on it, we constantly found ourselves distracted by, y’know, our jobs and stuff.

Well, this past weekend, I sat down and forced myself to write an outline for the damn thing. So now we at least have some sort of overarching blueprint, and I really, truly hope that we can begin writing in earnest in the next month or so. I don’t necessarily think this thing will ever be made, but it’s a fun idea and I just want to have the experience of collaborating with my brother.

That’s all for now. See you again next week!

Writing Life #11

Aaaand… We’re back!

It’s been a while since I wrote about the Writing Life. Mostly because there hasn’t been a lot of writing in my life for the past two weeks or so. I’ve been busy with other things, including flying back and forth across the country (one time with an understandably cranky and quite vocal cat) and moving precisely one block away. (You would think a short move like that would be less of a hassle than a long one. You’d be wrong.)

On top of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I also suffered a personal and professional tragedy when a trusted friend who’s seen me through nearly my entire writing career almost died.

No, I’m not talking about an agent or an editor or even a beta reader — I’m talking about my iMac!

Back in early 2006 (!) — before my first book had even hit shelves — I decided it was time for a new computer. So I bought what was, at the time, the state-of-the-art in Apple’s consumer line-up, a brand-new iMac. Maxed out the memory. Upgraded the graphics. It was good to go.

Since then, almost every word I’ve written has been on that iMac, with my trusty iKey keyboard. (I’m really picky about keyboards, and I don’t like Apple’s offerings. I’ve had the iMac for more than five years, but I’ve had the keyboard even longer, having used it with my G4 tower back in the day.)

So imagine my shock and horror on Friday afternoon as I sat down for a session at the computer…only to have the screen go black. No sound. No fury. Not even a vanishing white dot. Once moment, the screen was fine, the next it was black, as though the power had gone out. In fact, at first I thought maybe the power had gone out, but the lights were on, so no dice.

I checked the power cable, tried restarting… Nothing worked. Even muttering, “Come on, baby…” in my best Han Solo voice accomplished nothing.

Now, when your computer doesn’t even try to boot up, there are usually only two possible culprits: The power supply and the logic board. One of them is reasonable to replace, the other is not (especially in such an old machine).

Fortunately, I have a decent backup system, so I was certain my data was safe. Better yet, since I was sure the problem was the power supply or the logic board, that meant that the hard drive inside the computer was OK, so even if I had to replace the iMac, I’d still be able to get at the hard drive, in the unlikely event that my backup failed.

But I did learn a harsh lesson for myself in that moment: I had been working on a document for Colleen. She had sent me close to a hundred pages of art for the graphic novel and I was going through them, taking notes in a Pages document to send to her. When the computer died, that document went away for good, because I hadn’t bothered to save it while working on it. (Let that be a lesson to you all: Even if you think you’ll only have a document open long enough to type something out and then copy and paste it elsewhere, save that document!)

It’s not the end of the world, but now I have to do all of that work again. Don’t get me wrong — it’s an absolute pleasure scrolling through page after page of Colleen’s sketches and artwork, but… I just hate the idea of doing something twice, especially when I could have avoided it by not being a butthead and just hitting Command-S at some point…

But back to the computer: I made an appointment at the Apple Store, and on a hot (very hot) and humid (very humid) Saturday, walked over there with the unwieldy iMac box (yes, I still have the box it came in…) for a check-up. After a brief moment where I thought the problem might have been as simple as a dust-clogged grille, the tech confirmed that, yes, it was either the logic board or the power supply. But the store was so busy and the parts so out of supply for my old model that it would take a week to ten days before they could tell me which!

Now here’s where you need to understand something important about me: I am a creature of routine and habit. Remember: I’ve owned the same keyboard for going on ten years now! The thought of not having my computer for so long… If I knew for sure that it was just the power supply, I would be willing to wait it out. But if it turned out to be the logic board, I would just as soon buy a new computer right away. No point in waiting a week just to find out I need to replace it, right?

But I didn’t have that luxury: They would take a week to tell me which way things leaned. After some grumbling and panicking (creature of habit!) I decided to limp by for a week with my old iBook…which is even older than my iMac! (I bought the iBook for an emergency trip I had to make in 2005, just as I was beginning to write Boy Toyand didn’t want the travel to kill my momentum. I wrote all of Boy Toy on that computer.) If it was just the power supply, Ol’ Faithful would be back in service soon enough. If the logic board, then I would replace it. In the meantime, the iBook would stand in.

Came home. Hooked the iBook to my beloved keyboard. Started working on some tweaks to I Hunt Killers. Missed that nice, big screen.

And then…a mere two business days after dropping off the iMac — just when I’d convinced myself to buy a new one — the Apple Store called and said it was ready for pick-up! It had been the power supply after all, and Apple had fixed everything in record time.

So, yesterday I once again schlepped in the heat and humidity to the Apple Store, this time to bring my baby home. And now I am hard at work on I Hunt Killers. Soon, I will re-do that work I did for Colleen last week. And shortly after that, I will dive into The Book That Will Kill Me again. It’s a lot of work, and I have a lot I want to get done in the next month and a half.

But hey — it’s good to do it with the right tools. 🙂