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February 4, 2010

“No one goes around suggesting that everyone should become their own autonomous cheesemakers and cheering the death of the cheese industry. Why? Because that would result in a lot of shitty cheese.”
Posted by Patrick at 05:47 PM *

Novelist Cat Valente addresses the idea that in the glorious, friction-free digital utopia of the future, all writers will electronically self-publish:

Funny thing is, if this future came to pass and the market were nothing but self-published autonomous authors either writing without editorial or paying out of pocket for it, if we were flooded with good product mixed with bad like gold in a stream, it would be about five seconds before someone came along and said: hey, what if I started a company where we took on all the risk, hired an editorial staff and a marketing staff to make the product better and get it noticed, and paid the author some money up front and a percentage of the profits in exchange for taking on the risk and the initial cost? So writers could, you know, just write?

And writers would line up at their door.

Comments on "No one goes around suggesting that everyone should become their own autonomous cheesemakers and cheering the death of the cheese industry. Why? Because that would result in a lot of shitty cheese.":
#1 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:01 PM:

Not sure about the cheese metaphor - I saw 'selection of artisanal cheeses' on a menu last night; are artisanal cheesemakers the equivalent of Subterranean Press? I bet they wouldn't put 'selection of Kraft cheeses' on the menu.

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:08 PM:

Hey, Kevin, cheesemaking is a sacred calling. "Blessed are the cheesemakers," remember?

#3 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:21 PM:


Although that may refer more generally to all sellers of dairy products...

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:25 PM:

The equivalent of artisinal cheesemakers would be small, quality-focussed publishing imprints, and/or makers of fine limited editions.

The people Cat is arguing with aren't calling for the equivalent of "artisinal publishing," they're making the silly claim that the existence of e-readers, cheap bandwidth and server space, and "desktop publishing" tools renders the apparatus of traditional publishing (including all the "artisinal" outfits) irrelevant.

#5 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:33 PM:

Having dabbled in the artisanal cheesebook market, I'm finding new depths of appreciation for the traditional industry. I think the "self publishing rules because the corporations are evil!" mindset is related to the "let's privatize everything including firefighters and cops" mindset. It appeals to the overenthusiastic amateur in all of us but is ever so slightly divorced form reality.

#6 ::: Summer Storms ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:45 PM:

And here I sit, wanting to copyedit this entire thread. That probably says it all, right there.

#7 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:48 PM:

@ Kevin #1: The equivalent of "everybody self-publish" in cheesemaking would be every dairy farmer doing their own cheese and selling it, instead of selling the milk to cheesemakers. It would work if the economy was still what it was in the Middle Ages, I suppose.

#8 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:54 PM:

Kevin Marks at #1:
Cheese is sometimes subterranean. (they age it in caves) and sometimes pressed, too.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:57 PM:

Erik Nelson #8: Thus leading to the celebrated Subterranean Homecheese Blues. Or was that the Mediterranean Bluecheese Homes? My mind is going.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 06:59 PM:

The guys that run Subterranean are talented publishers. So are Gavin Grant and Kelly Link. They just work on a small scale. It's not the same thing as making every writer act as their own publisher, which would be a huge waste of everyone's time and energy.

#11 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:07 PM:

Scalzi's little 3-act play does a pretty good presentation of the same realities also.

I've been trying to think of the closest thing to the reality-detached cheering going on, and the nearest I can come is the website insanity of the mid-'90s when the Internet was just hitting the awareness of the general public.

ISPs and web designers in those days got an awful lot of calls like "Hi, I had this great idea for an Internet thing and I don't know exactly how I'm going to make money on it, but it's going to make me rich, so I want you to host it for free. Oh and I don't know how this web stuff works, so I need someone to design it for me. What? You want to be paid for it? Don't be crazy, the Internet is changing everything! It doesn't cost you anything to design or host a web site! Oh, and you need to put in one of those things that takes credit cards so people can give me money."

Man, would people be pissed when you explained that you were running a business here, and yes, all this stuff did cost money, and no, you weren't going to launch their business for free. (Usually it was not necessary to go into explaining why their big idea was both unworkable and a poor copy of something someone else was already doing far better, which it always was.)

In this case, at least the people involved don't want the writers to start paying them (yet), they just want their books to be free or as close to free as possible, so they want everyone involved to work for little pay and no profits. If they do get that, maybe then they'll start arguing that they should be paid to read ebooks. You know, for promoting the writers.

#12 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:08 PM:

Summer@6 copyediting can be compulsive. Apart from wikipedia, one place to sate the urge is Book Oven that breaks PD texts into little bit for your proofing joy.
Are people really arguing that every writer should be made to be their own publisher? That seems enough of a Straümann that I expect it to be dancing along a yellow road singing "If I only had a brain."

#13 ::: -dsr- ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:09 PM:

In the described scenario, what exactly is the risk, please?

My friend who is acting as his own publisher orders copies of his book from a printer and sells those, so he has risk in physical inventory.

If he were only selling ebooks, the printing costs and warehousing wouldn't exist. Nor would distribution costs... and in any case, we have been repeatedly told that the physical costs of a $25 hardcover are at most $5. I'm pretty sure that the opportunity cost risk taken by devoting time to writing rather than other things vastly outweighs any amount of cash he would ever put into the system.

Editorial might make his work better, but he outsourced it to friends who didn't charge him. Not everybody has such friends, but there are writing critique groups, private blogs, rec.arts.sf.compostion, and the ability to acquire friends. When there's no cost to put out a revised edition -- heck, essentially no cost to tell every reader that there's a revised edition, and make it available for free -- editorial becomes a matter of taste. I'm willing to admit that some people have better taste than others, but I also believe that LibraryThing and siblings and descendants can provide some or most of that function.

Marketing costs can be reduced significantly with Google AdWords, placing online ads in the right places, and most importantly, electronic word of mouth. Remember, in this scenario there's no Barnes and Noble department head to dicker with over shelf positioning, soft money, mentions in the newsletter...

I don't think the risk exists* unless the author chooses to make it exist.

*In this scenario, which I don't actually believe is going to happen.

#14 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:18 PM:

Now, I do generally advocate homebrewing to anyone who likes to drink good beer, but even I don't think homebrewers are going to make Anheiser-Busch obsolete...

#15 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:21 PM:

-dsr- @13, your entry makes my red pencil itch. And that's why you need professional editors.

#16 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:23 PM:

Xopher @ 2... And don't pick your nose!

#17 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:23 PM:

dsr @ 13:

There's nothing wrong with it, if it's your hobby. It starts to enter the realms of the unreal when you think you can scale homebrew book making up to the level of a full time job that pays the bills, buys you health care, sends your kids to college and provides you a pony.

#18 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:28 PM:

I think that Cat Valente is drawing a straw man: " with which a sizable portion of the internet is heralding the "death" of the industry that employs most of the writers they know and love, and a whole lot of other people besides."

Who is urging on that publishers will fail in exchange for self-publishing? I just don't see that anyone of consequence is either saying that or urging it.

_Everyone_ is agreeing that big changes are happening. I think that editors and authors and marketing will do great. Printers and distributors and book-stores not so good.

But honestly, have any credible people been urging on that publishing will and should fail? I just haven't noticed that.

#19 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:28 PM:

dsr@13: You're overlooking the fact that for every writer who's a John Scalzi or a Cory Doctorow, gifted with a charismatic internet presence and a lot of spare energy, there are ten or a dozen who would sooner have their teeth pulled without novocaine than have to do self-promotion, or negotiate with booksellers and printers and cover artists and copyeditors, or do any of the other myriad non-writing things that go into making a manuscript into a book.

#20 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:34 PM:

Over the past few years, I've watched Rose Fox, my lovely and talented wife, read through selections of the Amazon first novel collection. Each one gets a "PW style review" and Rose gets a lower than min-wage recompense when you consider her hours spent reading and reviewing.

The majority of the manuscripts are painful to read. Not even a professional editor would help them. A few might go somewhere, if the author learned how to write, but ought to be rejected by a right thinking agent or editor. One or two out of a hundred manuscripts could even be publishable with a lot of work.

Keep in mind that these manuscripts are filtered. There were even worse ones rejected by Amazon.

#21 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:38 PM:

Dave - I posted just such a rant on my LJ.

And trust me, this guy isn't alone. I've seen quite a few people who want "big publishing" to fail.

#22 ::: JD Rhoades ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 07:41 PM:

What I have trouble understanding is why a lot of the same people who are making the "e-self-pubbing is the wave of the future" argument are also the most vociferous defenders of Amazon in the recent stand-off with Macmillan (yeah, I'm lookin' at you, Joe Konrath).

Yes, it's true that Amazon allows you to publish and market your own stuff to the Kindle, and at a very attractive-seeming royalty...but it's ONLY to the Kindle. If they do what they seem bent on doing, and drive other e-book readers and paper books off the market with the loss-leader pricing they demand, not only are you going to get a lot of shitty self-pubbed're only going to be able to get them on Amazon. Worse, you're only going to be able to publish them on Amazon, and then, how long you think that sweet royalty will last?

Amazon isn't trying to expand e-publishing. They're trying to contract it to one machine, the one Amazon makes.

It's a bad idea. Fight it.

#23 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:00 PM:

Here's what I really think, for what it's worth.

There are some players in the book production/consumption cycle who should expect to have their lifestyles severely cramped by the transition from hardcopy to affordable electronic content distribution. Not among them, I would argue: editors, publishers, illustrators, authors, other members of the production black gang and most readers.

Some agents will probably have a hard time. Maybe. Others not so much. A few readers, who are unusually concerned about the Right To Read, will probably have reason to be a bit miffed and concerned. Most won't notice or care that DRM forces them to rethink what "ownership" means in the context of books. The optimist in me actually expects that DRM will eventually mellow out into something almost invisible to everyone but the most puritanical content rights liberation zealots.

The people who ought to be worrying are A) large-scale, general-interest brick-and-morter retail book sellers, and B) anybody whose paycheck absolutely depends on those book sellers continuing to have a viable business model for very much longer.

מנא ,מנא, תקל, ופרסין

#24 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:18 PM:

j h woodyatt - Authors are already suffering. If it gets worse, I know plenty who'll just drop out. Cat herself was close enough to doing so, but fans and friends clubbed up and helped her out. Not everyone is so well loved, though.

#25 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:20 PM:

-dsr-, #13. so how many copies has your friend sold to people other than his family and friends?

#26 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:22 PM:

David Sucher: I've seen several folks saying pretty much exactly that kind of thing. Chris Meadows has been enthusiastic about it for years, and has some nastier proponents of the death of publishing in its entirety. It's an extreme view but by no means imaginary, and it's one with kin in discussions of every field I know of where it's got sales happening over the net.

Debra Doyle@19 gets at what is, for me, a really crucial thing: I don't want success in art to depend on having a specific kind of temperament. I know that I'm burned out on self-promotion, and that this is part of why I'm doing very little more rolegaming writing. I don't begrudge the Cory Doctorows of the world their place - seriously, some interesting loud willing-to-be-abrasive voices are good for the mix. But I personally want to be hearing more from (and sometimes conversing more with) people who may well be shy and retiring about everything except the art they wish to put forth.

On the side, I would be happier if I saw fewer champions of self-publishing as the path of the future also buy into anti-union arguments. As it is, I detect a persistent - not universal, but way too common - stream of thought about the desirable lack of power on the part of people doing work. I have a steadily growing awareness of how much my own well-being hinges on solidarity with others, how individually helpless I am in the face of power, and a conviction that in this need I am perfectly representative.

#27 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:23 PM:

Remember "personal desktop publishing"? No one would need professional graphic designers or printers to create newsletters, wedding invitations, etc., because non-experts could do all the work with personal computers and inexpensive (hah!) layout software. Remember what all those newsletters and wedding invitations looked like? Remember "font mania", or for that matter Comic Sans? Like to forget, wouldn't you?

Now Eva and I have done some of our own design and printing, but I have years of experience with layout software, and some graphic arts training, and Eva has a BFA in visual arts. And we certainly wouldn't attempt a large or complicated job, because we know how much work that can be, and our experience isn't up it. So what about all the people who have no experience, training, or skill?

The same is true in writing. Not everyone has the training, few have real skill, and only the ones with a real drive have much experience because it's a demanding task with little economic return for most writers.

I have heard the idea from many people that skilled work is actually more fungible than is generally accepted; certainly in the software industry where I worked for quite awhile there is a myth that using the right development process, or acquiring the right software, or casting the right management spells will rid software projects of dependence on excellence (or maybe even competence) in programming. The idea that publishers are unnecessary in this brave new world of frictionless delivery¹ seems to me to hold a similar appeal to those who don't want to pay the real cost of the product they consume.

¹ That reminds me so much of the "zipless fuck" so beloved of soft-porn writers in the '80s. I'm beginning to think there's a corollary to the Second Law of Thermodynamics that says that all information tends to become porn.

#28 ::: Dichroic ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:33 PM:

Yeah, but.... while I do see the need for publishers and editors (and in the latter case wish for them to be used more!) I still think a rational response for *readers* in the current kerfuffle is to throw our book money directly at the authors we already like, by reading and paying for their current crowdfunded projects, until Amazon and Macmillan sort things out among themselves. And in fact Cat Valente's own Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is a fine place to start.

#29 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:41 PM:

-dsr-, #13: Another risk is that he's missing a guarantee of quality.

Traditional publishers put out crap, but there's a certain minimum quality below which they will not go. They may publish Dan Brown, but they don't publish the stuff from the bottom of the slushpile. An editor has worked on the book. The text has been proofread. Some reasonably objective observer decided that, yes, this was something that thousands of people would like to read, and paid money for the right to publish the manuscript.

When I buy a book from a publisher, I know that, good or bad, at least it won't turn out to be 300 pages of semiliterate drivel. Buying a traditionally published book is as stress-free as buying food from the grocery store. Most self-published books* are the literary equivalent of anonymous lunch meat sold off a street corner in ziploc bags. It takes more than a Google ad to get me to take that deal, even for free.

* Even I admit there are exceptions--I'm likely to take a look at Keith Kisser's books at some point, for instance. But that's because I've read his blog; his writing is to some extent a known quantity.

#30 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:54 PM:

I've committed self-publishing, actually review self-published work at POD People. From personal experience, trying to make a living at self-publishing is very nearly impossible. The reason is simple - marketing. Publishers are gatekeepers, offering a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" to their wares and putting their wares in locations convenient to the buying public.

Cat's right - if we didn't have publishers somebody would invent them in a New York minute.

#31 ::: -dsr- ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 08:58 PM:

Janet @15: I'm sorry about your itching pencil.

Keith @17: How many authors are currently full-time writers without the proverbial day job? Not very many, I think. There are the top-tier names, who pen a best-seller every three to seven years. Perhaps there are on the order of a hundred in the world? Then there are the folks who are just making it full-time, writing at least a novel each year and trying for two -- I'd guess a thousand or so, not more than ten thousand. The next tier comprises all the other published authors in the world, and they aren't full-time.

Debra @19: You mention negotiating with booksellers, printers, cover artists, copyeditors... none of those people have viable careers in an all ebook market. Well, copy editors, but more hourly than salaried.

Marilee @25: I don't know his figures. He tells me that every book he now sells, physical or electronic, is profitable -- that is, he's covered his fixed costs already. If he didn't have to deal with physical copies, those costs would have been smaller.

Wesley@29: There's no guarantee of quality now. I'd say that seeing the Tor name on a book gives me about a 55% chance of liking it; Baen, about 40. Authors are much more reliable indicators for me -- there's a better than 90% chance I'll like anything that says Brust on it, about the same for Walter Jon Williams. If it's part of a series that I already like, that's an even better indicator. But when I'm looking for something new, recommendations and reviews are the best I have to go by. That won't change when the slushpile is all being made available. I am afraid it may start an asymmetric information problem leading to an overall decrease in prices for unknown authors. You have no incentive to pay more than your expected value of a book -- this may be zero. However, good recommendations and reviews will boost that value, and the reputation of a recommendation-and-review system will boost its own value.

Again, I don't expect an all ebook market. It's just that I think people are raising objections based on straw-men and fears rather than thinking
things through.

#32 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 09:09 PM:

I'd say that seeing the Tor name on a book gives me about a 55% chance of liking it

I would say, myself, that liking a book is not entirely dependent on its quality - Ghu knows there are enough books that I like which are of less than stellar quality.
Choosing books by authors you like is fine - but you'll never know how many lesser-known writers you'll miss, that you might enjoy just as much.

Also, some of us will, for our own reasons, not be going to e-books that quickly - bound hardcopies have their own pleasures.

#33 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 09:23 PM:

-dsr-, 13: I've trained myself to ignore ads, including Google AdWords. I also use AdBlockPlus, so they don't show up on my screen at all. Besides, how are you going to convince me to shell out money for your self-published book using AdWords? I need at least a blurb, and I'd prefer a 2-3 page sample.

Shorter me: this idea is guaranteed to make me run away fast.

#34 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 09:28 PM:

David Sucher, #18: "Who is urging on that publishers will fail in exchange for self-publishing? I just don't see that anyone of consequence is either saying that or urging it."

I wondered this myself; then I was pointed to various Kindle-related fora where the Kool-Aid runs thick.

#35 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 09:29 PM:

While tangential to the current discussion, Charles Stross's thoughts about related issues (and the comments) will surely interest some people here.

In regard to the Kindle being the sole provider as pointed out by JD Rhoades@22, this is an inherent issue of DRM.

Based on my experience working on computer security I don't think that DRM ever has the potential to be good. Making a DRM type system work for a military base (where harsh penalties apply to anyone who takes a computer apart) shouldn't be that difficult. Making a DRM type system work when millions of readers are sold to people in various countries with no ongoing monitoring of their use just isn't viable. If one person cracks their hardware then the DRM provider loses.

Even leaving aside the technological issues, DRM can't solve the human issues. I can lend my books to my friends or give them away if I choose. When visiting a friend's house I can take a book off the shelf and start reading it. It is conceivably possible for there to be a way of automatically removing a book from person A's Kindle and after receiving confirmation then transferring the book to person B's Kindle. But that won't cover the use case of casually reading a book when visiting a friend.

Then of course there are other potential problems. We have seen a few cases in the news of disgruntled ex-employees of computer companies causing problems. Imagine what might happen if someone programmed the Amazon computers to randomly delete books from Kindles while also corrupting payment records so that no-one could determine what books people had really paid for. Another possibility is a disgruntled employee causing books to be randomly added to Kindles without payment. Probably few readers would complain if the "customers who bought this book also bought" list from their recent purchases was sent to them for free, while most of the same people would probably tell the manager if a cashier at a book store slipped a few extra books into their shopping bag.

#36 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 09:37 PM:

I don't deny that authors/publishers/editors/your-cat are hurting, but their whole model for doing business isn't really facing an existential threat here. They're involved, yes. There are other people in the picture who are well and truly committed to a rapidly obsolescing business model. Those people are about to have the stuffing pulled out of them. (Note: I'm not cheering one way or another on this.)

#37 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 09:38 PM:

@ -dsr- (#31): "There's no guarantee of quality now. I'd say that seeing the Tor name on a book gives me about a 55% chance of liking it; Baen, about 40."

The thing is, when I buy a book that went through professionnal publishing, I know at least it's readable, both in style and content. That is the guarantee of quality people are talking about. So even if it's not a book I might like myself, I know after reading a review, or browsing the first pages, if it's: a) something that I'm likely to enjoy, or b) something that a friend of mine is likely to enjoy. If I'm in the mood of getting myself or my friend a treat, then I'm quite confortable with giving money for that book.

#38 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 09:40 PM:

I happened onto a Kindle forum early on, and Patrick is right...the strawman is no longer straw. He/she is a fully operational golem cheerfully slagging off on all the authors who ventured in to explain patiently how this was a giant kick in the balls. I stopped commenting because reading comprehension about pricing windows and comparisons to hardcover vs. softcover was low, and I'd've still been typing away. (I did refer people to Tobias Buckell, Scalzi, and Jay Lake in a few posts, and now feel vaguely guilty for the incremental influx of "spoiled rotten author" trolls they may now have.)

#39 ::: Wesley Osam ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:05 PM:

-dsr-, #31: There really is a guarantee of quality. Whether or not you like a book from a traditional publisher, you at least know that the book is literate, that it's written in actual sentences, that the sentences are organized into paragraphs in some sensible order, and that the book has some point recognizable outside the writer's head. (If you want to know what a slushpile looks like, follow the link to an earlier Making Light post which I included in my last comment, and peruse the checklist in part three.)

When all the slushpile is available, reliable recommendations and reviews will dry up, because the recommenders and reviewers will be unable to find the good books amongst the slush.

Also, if you don't think cover artists have viable careers in an ebook market, you should see some of the monstrosities that have been inflicted on books that couldn't afford them. Ebooks do have "cover art," and most authors are better off not doing it themselves.

#40 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:33 PM:

Wesley@39: Ebooks do have "cover art," and most authors are better off not doing it themselves.

The cover art for an e-book, I think, is not necessarily going to be the image that displays on your ebook reader of choice when you open the file. It's going to be the image that's displayed on the web page or wireless online catalog or whatever from which you order the book, and it's going to be just as important as traditional cover art.

I base this theory on that great unregulated experiment, the world of online fanfic, where as soon as most people's online connections became fast enough to support it, we started seeing the equivalent of cover art for fanfic, in the form of images -- sometimes photoshopped, sometimes hand-drawn -- designed to convey the mood or content of the work. The quality is of course variable, ranging from "clearly a professional on a busman's holiday" to "more fannish enthusiasm than talent", and there isn't yet a thoroughly worked-out system of recognizable content and genre clues . . . but give them time.

And even in the fanfic world, most writers don't do their own covers. They're usually done for them, as a gift or as a form of appreciation/engagement with the text.

#41 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:51 PM:

I'm trying to work out how this relates to the traditional journalism/bloger split. This appears to have made it easy to find a vastly wider range of ideas, and the best bloggers (lacking editors or formal training as journalists) seem to be about as good at conveying information as what you can find in newspapers or magazines.

I suspect that one important difference here is that you can sample a blogger's work a little at a time, while you may very well waste an hour on a bad novel before giving up and tossing it. Probably price is another difference, though it's not like there aren't plenty of novels I've never read in the $2 bargain bin at Borders.

Thinking about this, the constraint on my book reading is almost entirely about my time. I don't have all that much quiet unbroken time to commit to reading, and I really don't want the experience of getting 100 pages in, putting the book down to go to the bathroom, and finding myself wondering what's on TV[1]. That makes an argument for wanting some kind of promise of quality, which for me comes from either knowing the author's work and liking it, or recommendations from people I know personally or over the net. The fact that it has been published isn't much of a draw for me, though I'm sure picking up a random book in the SF section of the bookstore gives much better results than picking up a random manuscript from the slushpile.

If we move to a world in which anyone can publish a book that I can read, I wonder if this will push authors more toward short fiction, so that readers can make a smaller investment first.

[1] Rainbows End did this to me most recently, which was a hell of a disappointment, given how much I like Vinge's other books.

#42 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 10:59 PM:

Yeah, but.... while I do see the need for publishers and editors (and in the latter case wish for them to be used more!) I still think a rational response for *readers* in the current kerfuffle is to throw our book money directly at the authors we already like, by reading and paying for their current crowdfunded projects, until Amazon and Macmillan sort things out among themselves.

- you do know that the big thing to come out of The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making was contract, right? With a Macmillan imprint, in fact.

#43 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:05 PM:

Albatross @ 41 -
I'm trying to work out how this relates to the traditional journalism/bloger split. This appears to have made it easy to find a vastly wider range of ideas, and the best bloggers (lacking editors or formal training as journalists) seem to be about as good at conveying information as what you can find in newspapers or magazines.

Except there are very few bloggers actually doing real journalism, excepting Talking Points Memo from time to time. Most of what they do is re-report news. Even TPM is just an aggregator for the most part.

And we have less journalism these days, so there's just less reporting. All of the bullshit about how journalism isn't dying is just that. It is dying. And the result isn't that the internet is saving us all. The internet saving us all hype is coming from people who brought us the internet bubble in the first place.

What's happening is that there's just less news reporting, and nothing is replacing it.

The same can happen to book publishing, if we let it.

#44 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:12 PM:

Also, if you don't think cover artists have viable careers in an ebook market, you should see some of the monstrosities that have been inflicted on books that couldn't afford them. Ebooks do have "cover art," and most authors are better off not doing it themselves.

Ditto the printers. In an ebook industry, they may not be setting actual ink to papyrus, but the parallel task is absolutely there: font choice, leading, kerning, page/screen margins, line spacing; a combination of these that lends to a pleasant reading experience and not an eyestrain or an eyesore does NOT happen by happy happenstance. I am not averse to reading books on a screen, but I want to see ebooks put together by a team who know what they're doing.

A friend of mine, about 3 years ago, asked me over coffee, "So what do you think the new industry will look like now that print publication is on the way out?" He was unprepared for me to reject his initial premise.

And I've run into the attitude that Publishers And Agents Are Evil Gatekeepers Keeping Us Out And They Fear Our New Self-Published Ebook Overlords Whom I, For One, Welcome too many times to count. Not from the mouths of "people who count," but people do, in sufficient number, get counted.

#45 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:16 PM:

putting the book down to go to the bathroom

...but whatever are you talking about? ;)

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:31 PM:

I have the feeling that the people who believe that publishers are on the way out are the same people who put up websites that are unreadable because of their choices of font size, color, and background.

#47 ::: hapax ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 12:08 AM:

Dear heavenly thank you cheese, I am incoherent with joy to finally find someone talking *sense* about this.

I've spent all week on various blogs reading comments that basically boil down to "But I wants my cheap ebook and wants it NOW and if you insist on being PAID for it Im a gonna STEAL it so there!"

(The only thing Scalzi forgot in his playlet was the constant reader carping that "Famous Author's books used to be so good, I'd buy them hardcover sight unseen, but now he's just crapping out stuff by the numbers, I'll just buy used copies instead..." Huh. Maybe the fact that authors have to do so much of their own promotion as well as increase their production while cutting down their word count has something to do with that? Or if, maybe your favorite authors have tapped out the story barrel, or the Good Lord forbid have the temerity to actually die or something, where do you think new favorite authors are going to come from?)

Honestly, the sense of reader entitlement is scary. It's enough to make me afraid of ever trying to publish anything.

#48 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 12:26 AM:

Keith @17: It starts to enter the realms of the unreal when you think you can scale homebrew book making up to the level of a full time job that pays the bills, buys you health care, sends your kids to college and provides you a pony.

What percentage of professionally published writers make that kind of money?

I've actually been kinda seething over this topic for the past day or two, ever since I saw that John Scalzi piece Teresa linked to, which could've been headlined, Onion-style, "Man Who Profits Comfortably From Status Quo Mocks Possibility of Change".

If there are prose writers who'd be better off being their own publishers -- and I think there probably are some, though not many -- they're probably going to be the ones who aren't doing well under the current system.

Apparently all this ire is aimed at some people spouting off in some comment thread on some site I haven't seen, though, so maybe my seething's been in vain.

#49 ::: sean sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 12:51 AM:

I wonder if we aren't going through a major shift in how art is created in general. I am not saying that authors and musicians should not be paid for their work...but given the way things are headed with file sharing/piracy and 'reader expectations' (#47), perhaps we are entering an age where writers and musicians will not make a living from their work.

Personally, I have struggled to make my living as a writer for years, and haven't been able to. But I still write, and I still try to find an audience for my work when I can. I would love to make a living as a writer, but I accept the fact that it is extremely unlikely that it happen. But removing the possibility of a career as a writer hasn't stopped me from writing. Maybe writing fiction as a career will end, but not writing fiction. Most of the fiction I read now I find online for free under creative commons.

My reactions to this reality were frustration, bitterness, and nowadays, acceptance.

Just from a what if perspective...what if everyone expects media to be free, what if they find ways to steal it, what if there simply isn't a business model in the future for artists to live a middle class or lower middle class life from their work?

We could see a system of patronage again, where rich folks sponsor their favorite writers like pets the way they did in the past. Or, art could be the domain of the aristocracy. Maybe the spouses of investment bankers will be the only people who can afford to take the time to write?

I really have no idea. I get emotional about it based on my own fears and experiences, but if I try to detach, I figure there are a lot of ways that the creation and transmission of art and culture could change, maybe in ways that seem inconceivable to me now.

All the media I enjoy these days is free. I listen to streaming radio online, I read free fiction online, and I listen to a lot of podcasts. I enjoy it all, but nobody gets paid a penny for any of it. I don't see how that's sustainable for the creators, but if any of the media I enjoy now went behind a paywall, I would just find some more somewhere else, I think.

That said, I am living in rural Japan on a teacher's salary, so I am not in a position to buy much media either. It isn't that I am stingy, I just have so much free media to enjoy these days that I don't find myself needing to buy any.

And my advice to people who want to create media nowadays is to throw themselves into writing, filmaking, podcasting, or whatever they want to create, and to never expect a paying career from it. In other words, get a day job. If you find a way to make a living at it, that is fantastic. But to expect to is a risky proposition.

Sorry for the ramble.

#50 ::: sean sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 01:02 AM:

Sorry for another post, but I wanted to respond to the cheesemaking analogy.

As a reader, for years I paid attention to authors only, and I think that was pretty much the norm. I never really cared who the publisher was. I didn't even notice most of the time.

But as my taste evolved, I found myself caring who the publisher, and then who the editor was. Maybe it is because of the internet, but I began seeking out fiction based on who edited it, precisely because I found that I really enjoyed that editor's taste.

I agree with the premise, that people will always want a taste maker to show them what's worth reading. I think that having an 'editor' category at the Hugos was part of a process that may be evolving, of bringing that gatekeeper into the public sphere.

The internet has made editors like the Nielsen Haydens and Lou Anders visible in a way that I think is new. Maybe devoted readers in the past always paid attention, and my awareness grew as the internet grew, I don't know.

But I wish there was more emphasis on the editors in publishing. Why not have star editors like we have star authors? I mean, a great author can crank out a good book every year at the most, but a star editor has dozens to show me.

#51 ::: Mike Scott ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 01:39 AM:

Having most cheese manufactured by six large multi-national companies would result in even more shitty cheese, so this may not be the best analogy to be deploying.

#52 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 01:42 AM:

A certain mean part of me wonders how much of the anti-Macmillan frothing I've seen comes ultimately from horror at the thought of having to wait on anything. It's not like tiered pricing puts anything permanently out of reach - it just says "if it's not worth top price to you, wait a bit". Me, I'm fine with that, I wait on almost every purchase. But there seems to be a certain Internet subculture in which wait of any kind, ever, for whatever reason, of any duration, is about the greatest of sins.

#53 ::: David Sucher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 02:00 AM:

Just a surmise.

What I think is genuinely valuable about publishers is that they are gate-keepers if they do a fair and responsible job. Could be lots of different new publishers

But gate-keepers have just gotten a whole lot cheaper.

Why wouldn't there be a new imprint -- just an example -- like "Krugman & Company Books" with 20-30 titles per year specializing in economics, politics but ebooks only etc etc (Maybe there is a POD for libraries.)

Professor K. has enormous prestige and his opinion about the quality of a book carries weight. (And let's assume that he does have good practical 'readability' smarts.) He teams up with people -- or they go to him -- who know management, ebook design and how to market (Krugman certainly will help get his first 20 titles reviewed) -- and presto! you now have a new publisher.

Maybe Krugman is not a good example as a person, (though why not?) But you get the drift.

The gate-keeping function is important -- but it no longer needs printers and warehousing and far less cash.

#54 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 02:49 AM:

Professional publishers are also allies to authors in copyright enforcement. No respectable publisher would be caught dead knowingly printing and selling copyright violating work. It is also in publishers' interests to make sure their own rosters are not be pilfered. Lawyers are not cheap.
I find a good chunk of the self published, some of which is on Amazon, to be questionable in its legal standing. That Star Wars fanfic incident a while back comes to mind.

#55 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 03:29 AM:

David@53: That's a really good idea. I expect that both Keith Olberman and Bill O'Reilly could run their own imprints with great success. They could even have the books published by the same publishing company. :-#

People like RMS and ESR could run imprints for technical books, and every former head of government/state could have one (I'm sure that Bill Clinton could do it well).

sean@49: One thing that I think we should consider is the fact that a lot of the art produced under the patronage system is widely regarded as superior to modern art. I don't think that a modern equivalent to the Medici family is necessary to incubate the next Leonardo da Vinci, but it probably wouldn't do any harm.

Now it is inherently unfair that outgoing people like Cory Doctorow can profit from a variety of things peripherally related to writing while some other very talented authors seem unable to do so. But life is always unfair, and no matter what happens some very talented and potentially successful authors will end up not quitting their day jobs. I sympathise on an individual basis with people who can't do what Cory does, but in terms of the overall industry it is conceivable that we could have a suitable quality and quantity of published work from only people like Cory, people who are sponsored by wealthy patrons, and people who are independently wealthy (or retirees).

Finally in terms of sympathy for the position of the publishers, the thing that concerns me is the benefit of the public. There are works which will remain in copyright for a long time, which will not be printed because not enough copies would be sold to justify the expense, and in some cases which if they were published in a small run (maybe on would not give any money to the author (or the author's estate) because the advance exceeded the revenue.

Eva Whitley (Jack L. Chalker's widow) is apparently in this position. If the publishers who have rights to Jack's work were to put every book that lacks demand for a full print run on and let her have a fraction of the proceeds then I wold have a lot more sympathy for their case. It's fair to deduct the advance from the royalty payments, but it isn't fair to sit on the book rights and not print any copies!

The above has a copy of Eva's blog entry about this, currently her blog is broken.

#56 ::: Peter Darby ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 04:29 AM:

dsr @13 : I've done that, and it earned me a whole £20.

Which, given the amount of work it took to transform a manuscript into a Lulu product, works out at around £5 an hour, if not less.

Coming soon: all that plus proofreading (provided as a favour, but I'm having to do all the changes myself by hand), cover design (again, friends who can do that), and promotion above and beyond another friend who is a published comix writer saying "look at my friend's book".

And at THAT point I'll be linking to the damn thing on public fora again.

As for the self-publishing types who want mainstream publishing to fail... you know that a lot of these folks have been denied a voice by the evil publishing conspiracy, right? That there is an infinite amount of worthy stuff that "you guys" won't publish because you're too scared by political correctness / the profit motive / your venusian masters?

That and, you know, traditional publishing takes YEARS between manuscript and book, and I want to foist my baby on people NOW.

£20. As I said at the time "have received payment from Lulu, can now buy SEVERAL SANDWICHES."

#57 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 07:36 AM:

David Sucher@53: But why on earth would they want to put the investment into being anything like publishers for that? In the vast majority of cases, they can recommend books others have published - there are a lot of good books getting to market without attention, and what they need is influential pointers. And publishing supervision would take away time they can use for what they're actually good at. Ricardian advantage at work.

#58 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 08:05 AM:

-dsr- #31: There's no guarantee of quality now. I'd say that seeing the Tor name on a book gives me about a 55% chance of liking it; Baen, about 40. Authors are much more reliable indicators for me

There is no guarantee, but there are probabilities. 55%? Goodness.

I read a lot of free amateur fic and fan fic, and I know how to avoid the bottom of the slush pile, but even with a pre-selection by author or recommendation, I get about 20% that are nice to read, and of those, 75% read like an entertaining blog entry, but not like a story.

That makes five per cent. Of the upper ten per cent of the pile.

Fortunately, slush, sand and (most) online fic is free. Put a price tag of even 50 cents to every fic, and with the above success rate every good fic costs me ten bucks to find.

Russel Coker #55: One thing that I think we should consider is the fact that a lot of the art produced under the patronage system is widely regarded as superior to modern art.

This is comparing the NYT bestseller list to the "just in" page at

What we have left of 500 year old art is the best of the uppermost layer of the top of the top of the heap. People have considered this stuff worth preserving for centuries in an unbroken chain. Everything people lost interest in and did not protect or copy is gone.

#59 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 08:05 AM:

Dave @ 53 - The larger a corporation is, the more they can trim margins, and fund huge projects.

So big huge imprints basically exist to keep the Dan Browns of the world in business. Small presses already exist, and do passably well, like Nightshade or Small Beer. But they're not publishing the huge name authors.

#60 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 10:58 AM:

josh #43:

I think there are relatively few bloggers doing the bottom-level research, where they're picking up facts and interviewing people on the street. There are a lot of people doing the next level up, where someone like Greenwald or Balko takes open documents and quotes and articles, and weaves them into a more sensible, more coherent explanation than anyone else was doing. And both Greenwald and Balko sometimes manage to do original reporting, calling the sources, doing interviews, etc. When they do, they tend to actually know a lot about the story and subject on which they're reporting, probably because they're specialists selecting what to investigate rather than generalists being assigned stories to report on.

Related to this is a massive disintermediation. Instead of reading the New York Times' take on some technical issue, I can read the blogs of researchers in the relevant field discussing it. That's not for everyone, but I'm much more interested in the Reveres' take on flu than on the NYT's science reporter's take on it. Now, looked at one way, that's a loss of original reporting--there's not a reporter calling a couple of public health doctors to talk about the spread of the flu. Looked at another way, the public health doctors are talking about the flu themselves, without an interviewer other than what's provided in the comment threads.

The big loss seems to me to be anyone willing and able to ask hard questions of powerful people. (Many people would like to ask such hard questions, but there's no reason for Obama or Bush or Geithner to have to listen, when it's some blogger asking instead of a well-known reporter for the Washington Post. OTOH, the last decade hasn't exactly been a commercial for the ability and willingness of traditional journalists to do that kind of hard questioning of the powerful.)

#61 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:13 AM:

Certainly selecting books for being worth reading, and improving the quality of a book (finding typos, inconsistencies, outright mistakes) are valuable to the reader (and hence to the author). Those will continue to happen, and continue to garner some reward, under whatever future system of publishing we end up with (which might be totally the same, or totally different, or some mix -- I'm betting on "mix").

I'm not sure about cover art. Doyle makes a case for it with an online example, certainly. On the other hand I've bought some of the worst covers I've ever seen, and skipped lots of the best. And read more ebooks without cover art (Gutenberg and manuscripts) than with, I think.

Personal network recommendations are the best way to find good things to read, and those don't involve the cover so much. Social networking is a nearly untapped medium for authors, so far. Do you tweet about the books you're reading? Maybe you should!

It's very likely that there will be winners and losers in the changes; since there always are. I hope it's not authors, editors, or copy-editors who lose, since it seems to me that they're badly enough treated under the current system. I'd kinda prefer it not be readers, either. I do feel like the physical production and distribution chain is terribly expensive, and that most of that money is from my point of view wasted; so I hope that what ends up happening is essentially the demise of physical distribution (including bookstores, and my apologies to various friends who own them), a slight decrease in cost to readers, and a significant increase in payments to midlist authors, copy-editors, and editors and reviewers.

There are always personality types that work best in particular jobs. What those are may change in this transition, though. Ideally, there would be room for more diversity.

I've heard authors rail about book design and cover illustration and incompetent copy-editing and editorial interference a lot. (I've also heard them talk about inspired editing, copy-editors saving their ass, and incredibly brilliant covers they've gotten. Sometimes it's even the same authors, indicating that they're able to perceive differences and respond to them :-).) Some of them would like more control over that. Some wouldn't.

I find mistakes in books from major publishers at a fairly high rate, dozens per book overall; and I'm not a particularly skilled copy-editor, I don't have the magic eye that instantly goes to the mistake on the page, so there are probably more present than I'm seeing. Some authors think they could produce a direct-to-ebook product of higher quality than what comes through traditional publishing.

Ebooks will, of course, eliminate arbitrary word-count limits (often based on how many books will fit in a wire rack slot). The length decision can be driven more by the needs of the story than the physical package.

I very much hope dedicated ebook readers lose out. The last thing I need is another gadget to carry around, and my phone and my PDA both work excellently for reading ebooks on. Also dedicated ones are much more likely to be encumbered with DRM and proprietary formats.

Movable Type seems to do something that NoScript sees as an unsafe cross-site-scripting call the first time I go to preview a comment in a browser session. An unsafe reload gets me to the preview, and then for the rest of the session things are okay.

#62 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:14 AM:

I have been thinking about this cheese metaphor a lot since yesterday and have come to the conclusion that it is a really bad metaphor. Cheese is not a collaborative process, and homemade cheese is almost always better than the industrial product. Where the analogy almost makes sense is when you talk about scaling distribution - but that doesn't help your argument if you compare Tor to American processed cheese food product.

And in fact, while it's true that many of the services provided by publishers are required for the production of good books, it's also quite arguable that some of those services are not particularly serviceable for anybody - take the slush pile. (Please.) The current model is horrible for everyone involved. Compare that to a distributed slush model; I give you The less bad stuff and authors bubble to the top, but there are still people combing the slush for you to find new possibles.

The slush pile has no parallel in the cheesemaking world.

And homemade cheese is still better than industrial cheese; I'm sorry, but it just is, and I can't easily get past that. The only shitty cheese I've ever eaten in my life has had the Kraft label prominently affixed.

This is probably beside the point, but ... man. Cheese was the wrong industry to choose. I guess this says more about my emotional attachment to good cheese and my dad's generation's back-to-the-land movement than anything else.

Please carry on where you left off.

#63 ::: Evan Goer ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:40 AM:

I've been thinking along the lines of Sean Sakamoto -- that we're re-entering an age where writing books is a gentleperson's pursuit.

On the subject of creating one's own ebooks, here's an article about someone who had to do his own formatting for the Kindle.

#64 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:51 AM:

Avram @48:

What percentage of professionally published writers make that kind of money?

A practically infinitesimal percentage. But the popular delusion among many of the self publishing crowd* is that if they can just harness the power of the Internets, they'll become the next Neil Gaiman or John Scalzi and do it all without having to be digested in the gut of the publishing industry. Which is of course absurd.

If there are prose writers who'd be better off being their own publishers -- and I think there probably are some, though not many -- they're probably going to be the ones who aren't doing well under the current system.

There are a few. Wil Wheaton comes to mind. Also, Warren Ellis' recent flirtation with POD collections of his internet rantings. But both have a sizable geek cred and cultural presence due to other factors, such as their celebrity, and in Ellis' case, his long standing work in traditional publishing endeavors, which makes them outliers. They can successfully self publish because people already know who they are. Average schmoes without such celebrity don't have the edge of being able to ride our own coattails into the annals of self publishing success stories. That's not to say it couldn't be done,** it's just highly unlikely and not a stable path to success.

* At least here in the US where this delusion that one is mere minutes away form becoming rich and famous due to absolutely nothing but sheer entitlement is a disturbingly common phenomenon. Perhaps this is common in other parts of the world but it seems to make up a significant part of the American myth.

** Ape Lad's Laugh Out Loud Cats started out as an internet meme, which he then self published on Lulu, which then led to a traditional book of his cartoons being published.

#65 ::: Bill Altreuter ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:53 AM:

I'm not so sure that the comparison between the publishing business and the sale of recorded music really holds up. Historically record labels had their origin as local business, and were often created by people who were actually trying to sell playback hardware. Sheet music sales were probably a closer analogy, I think, and even there the comparison seems flawed.

#66 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 01:13 PM:

There is a finite market for fiction, not infinite sales and revenue and distribution potential.

That is, consider for the sake of example, a publisher which publishes four books a month, including back list reprints. That's 48 books a year. Say there are ten publishers (yes, I know there are a lot more than that...) each doing that, that's 480 books a year.

Say that the market is that each book on the average sells 25,000 copies [I am making these number up, the intent to provide -numbers- for following the analysis].

That market, therefore, is 12,000,000 books per year. Few people buy 480 books a year or read that many--yes, there are people who read an average of more than one novel a day, but the typical person is the USA is much more likely to have maybe read -on-.

If one of those publishers adds two more books a year, and the market doenn't increase above that 12,000,000 books per year, it mean the average number of sold copies per book overall is probably going to drop--increasing the number of titles published/available, assuming the increased numbers of titles published have those additional titles gettin sales, without the market getting bigger, "fragments" the market--more titles, no market size increase = decreased sales per title.

Reprint titles tend to have even less market potential than new title in market with what economically gets called "a surplus of supply over demand." And ebook reprints compete against new titles--there is that limit to how many books any one person is interested in/above to read/buy in a year.

If the person buy and reads a Jack Chalker reprint, there is probably some other book, particularly a new one with probably a higher price, the the person therefore did -not- buy.

People who are explicitly out looking for Jack Chalker books, wouln't be buying the Chalker book instead of something new, but generally, reprints compete for market share with new books--but the earning potential for a publisher for new book, probably is a lot higher, than for more reprints by dead authors--

There's an aggregate "installed base" of existing printings/editions of books which are not new books. That installed base cuts the demand for additional copies of a book which has been around a while. Things that change that include film production hype, or a -new- book by the author suddenly going low number bestseller, or Oprah recommends the author's writing, etc.

The publisher quite understandable want to maximize revenue, minimize costs, minimize risk, minimize exposure, and minimize its effectively debt load (in terms of "the publisher has in effect signed a contract with the author providing the author with a no-interest loan and services contract, where the publisher gives money up front to the author ahead of the author writing the book with the contract siging, money for service rendered when when the author delivers a manuscript, and another paymet upon book publication--which is when the service might start getting the publisher "a return on investment."

Until and unless the publisher gets sales income from the book, the publisher is paying upfront money hoping for a later return to get back what it spent and the portion of its operating expenses and profit otherwise, which allocate to the book.

Ebooks have a different cost structure for deployment and distribution and even I suspect marketing than printed books--printed books are about tangible merchandise with physical component, which have to have physical ink, paper, printing equipment, binding equipment, trucking, inventory control, warehousing, etc. Ebooks go from file to perhaps file reformatting, and require an "original server" for host and an ecommerce system for doing sales and "distribution." None of the physical book production involved for printing and shipping and physical warehouse and physical merchandise inventory operations and expenses apply... but what do apply include sales operation, marketing, original server and ecommerce operations expenses, formatting and editing for ebook application, and the limits on what the market in terms of volume and buyer abillity/willing to spend time and money on buying/reading novels. (And for that matter buyer/read level of interest and effort spent finding out that a book exists, and then going to the effort to buy it--books in stores have a convenience and visiblity factor of being literally on the shelf for people to notice (more difficult generally in e.g. New England Mobile Bookfair with some quite dimly lit rows of high bookcases doublerowed with spineout books than in B&N which in Burlington cut its inventory and faced the new books and spread them out with space in between, and cut back on book which weren't out within the past month or two or three, them being spine out and the areas for thme reduced...).

The effort and expense preparing a new book for ebook sale, is less than preparing an older title, particularly one from the days when publishers weren't dealing with electronic file manuscripts... Scanning in the text of an existing book, proofreading the contents of the result file, reformatting, etc., is neither trivial not negligible as a cost in terms of "unmet demand." The questions with reprint almost always include, "How interested are people going to be in buying a book that there are already a lot of copies out there of? Are there going to be enough people who buy it, to make a reasonable profit repubishing it, versus publishing a new book by a living author?"

There are publishers in niches doing reprints, apparently some of them doing very well financially (if they're publishig Public Domain material, that takes out all the expenses and frustration of dealing with agents/heirs (especially feuding ones...>/trying-to-find-rights-holders/persuading rights holders to license reprints at rate commensurate with their lower sales potential than new writing)), but they tend to be specialized and usually small operations and at low volume sales--the business set up for dealing with low volume, but not a model generally applicable to big corporations. Big corporation have all tht overhead necessary for doing Big Projects, but which make it economically unattractive to deal with books with small markets, unless trying to develop/grow a market.

#67 ::: Madeline Ashby ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 02:22 PM:

Not even scanlators and fansubbers publish individually. Granted, they're working with existing product (manga originally published in Japan, or anime or dramas published in Japan and Korea), but the average scanlation or fansub has a whole team of people behind it: one person downloads or scans the file, another translates it*, another types the subtitles (hopefully in a legible font), another times them to the spoken dialogue or matches them to the text on the page, another does the same for the opening and closing segments (sometimes with karaoke!), another encodes the video file with the subtitle file, another uploads them, another hosts the site, another promotes the finished product...the list goes on. In other words, even the grey market edits, proofs and promotes in teams. Every upright ship has a crew; life rings are for people who just trying not to drown. When even the people actively avoiding profit have to collaborate to publish, that should indicate something fundamental about the process of publishing.

This is not to diminish the efforts of self-publishers. Rather, it's to emphasize the size of their undertaking. It's a rough job and not everyone can do it. The person who herds the cattle, milks the cows, cultures the cheese, packages it, markets it and ships it can't always be the same person. We humans are limited in our capacity.

*Although most often perfectly serviceable, these translations are not without their problems. Translator Matt Thorn has some thoughts on the subject.

#68 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 03:13 PM:

Dave, you were wondering where the "die, publishing, die" voices were coming from here's a large collection of them. It's a post entitled "Maybe we should be hurting the authors".

But we have to get someone to see that this fear of all things digital is costing authors actual sales from people who want to spend legitimate money. If a spate of 1-star Amazon reviews is what it will take to send panicked authors running to their agents and publishers demanding change for us, I say Power to the People.
#69 ::: tw ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 04:41 PM:

Oh wow that is the most outstanding example of spoiled selfish entitlement I have ever seen.

Micheal 62,
While I agree artisan cheese is often more wonderful of a product than industrial this house suffered far more food poisoning cases from it than industrial. At least with Kraft when they do screw up I have a route of recourse.

#70 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 05:29 PM:

Keith @64, the reason I specified "prose writers" is that self-publishing is actually pretty common in the comics world, and doesn't have the same stigma that it does in the prose world. I know several comics people who self-publish, earn a living at it, and wouldn't be able to earn that living off of what a publisher would pay them for the same work. Good thing they didn't get frightened off by analogies about shitty cheese.

And I also know several who self-publish, and still need day jobs to keep themselves fed. But that's true of many traditionally-published authors as well.

Creative fields in general are not known for producing stable, reliable, comfortable income.

#71 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 05:50 PM:


...self-publishing is actually pretty common in the comics world, and doesn't have the same stigma that it does in the prose world.

This gets us into apples and oranges territory. The speculator market collapse of the late 90s gutted the comics publishing industry. An estimated half of all publishers went out of business, Marvel declared bankruptcy and several of the smaller indie publishers like Fantagraphics are around today only because the owners decided to put love of their art before business. Dark Horse nearly went under and was saved by its lucrative licensing deal with LucusArts. Comparing this to the publishing industry just doesn't fit.

I certainly hope the prose publishing industry doesn't follow the comics industry, as it would be catastrophic for thousands of people, both small press employees and the middling authors just scraping by. If it did, then yes, self publishing would loose the stigma. I'd like to see self-publishing loose the stigma (being a self-published prose author myself) but I wouldn't want it to happen at the cost of half the publishing industry walking off a cliff.

#72 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 06:40 PM:

Trying to make sense of the cheese metaphor (as it happens, I made some cheese yesterday):

I can make pretty good versions of two cheeses -- paneer (which is as good as any I can find) and mozzarella (which is as good as anything I can find made from cow's milk, not as good as bufala). But making cheese is time-consuming, and I can only make two cheeses. I have friends who can make the same cheeses, but if I want good aged cheddar, or Brie, or anything from sheep's milk, I need to find someone who makes cheese for a living. Scale is less important than specialization, I think -- if everyone has to make their own cheese and bread and sew their own clothing, few people are likely to have time to become truly exceptional at any of them. Likewise, I suspect, if authors needed to spend much of their time finding copyeditors (or doing it themselves) or making cover art, they'd have a lot less time to spend on their own area of specialization.

#73 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 06:47 PM:

Keith @71, yes, there is an apples-and-oranges aspect to the comparison, which is why I started that comment the way I did.

However, I've been reading self-published indie comics since the early '80s. The biggest booster for the comics self-publishing movement wasn't the market mess of the late '90s, but rather the amazing success of Kevin Eastman's and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with maybe some influence from Dave Sim (who advocated for self-publishing in the editorial columns in Cerebus). A bunch of comics people held a summit hosted by Eastman and Laird in 1988, where Scott McCloud drafted "A Bill of Rights for Comics Creators". Four years later, a bunch of Marvel's most popular creators broke off and started their own company.

Now, another difference between the comics and prose fiction industries is that prose authors publishing through big companies generally retain the rights to their work, while DC and Marvel generally treated its artists and writers as staff doing work-for-hire. So the self-publishing movement in comics came arm-in-arm with a movement for creator's rights within a traditional publishing model.

But anyway, the lack-of-stigma that self-publishing enjoys in the comics world came well before the speculator market collapse. The world we live in today, where Understanding Comics is published by a HarperCollins imprint, literally would not have come about without the Ninja Turtles.

#74 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 07:29 PM:


Very good points.

So. How do we make self publishing prose respectable? (just to be clear: I'm not being snarky or facetious-- I really am curious about your opinion on this.)

#75 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 08:14 PM:

dsr: I think you are much mistaken; that or I am privileged to know almost all of the "top tier names," and I know that ain't the case.

The guys who can get away with a novel every three years, and make a living, are anomalies; mostly because they have made such a name in the old days that people remember them (look at the publishing history for Stephen King).

There are thousands of people who make a living writing. They do it by writing everyday, and by writing prose which a publisher likes. They do it by making it a career not a hobby. They break into the field by working a day job, and writing. They hone their craft, and bounce it off of friends and send it out and collect rejections and send it out again.

They rework it, and while one (or two, or ten) pieces are making the rounds of slushpiles, they are working on the next effort.

I'm a photographer. It's the same sort of deal. I need to send out more portfolios, but that's got a lot more sunk costs than a manuscript. I also have a day job, and I have shows. I use those shows (and other published works, and events) to bootstrap the stuff I send out.

Josh Jasper: There may not be a huge amount of original reportage, but that's, in part, because it doesn't pay. Add the difficulty in getting contact with sources (I've done reportage; I well recall having an empy rolodex, and needing the cachet of my paper, or a reference, if I was going to get an interview). There is a lot to be said for the value of aggregation/analysis. A lot of what passes for news is, in fact, the same sorts of things bloggers do; but paid and from a bully pulpit (Goldberg, Kristol, Brook, et al., aren't doing much original reportage but they are getting a lot of traction).

#76 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 09:47 PM:

By day I am a mild-mannered buyer for a largish independent bookstore. By night, I write for money and take photos (which is usually the subject of the paid writing).

In my day job I will not consider any self-published or vanity press product for purchase for the store. I am certain that there is great writing being produced by self-publishers but I have no way to filter it from the dross. I do not have time to read everything. I don't even have time to skim the first pages of everything. If a publisher is prepared to put their own cash on the line to buy, edit, produce and market the book then I will be prepared to give it some shelf space. I don't want to inflict crap on my customers. A publisher helps me avoid that.

When I write, I know I am not perfect. I make tyops. I drift off topic. Sometimes I don't explain enough; sometimes I go on at too much length. I want an editor to catch my mistakes. I need someone to read over my work and help me shape a first draft into something that won't embarrass me. I don't want to inflict crap on my readers and an editor helps me avoid that as I am usually too close to the text to evaluate it myself.

#77 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:03 PM:

Keith @74, well, not comparing self-published books to "shitty cheese" might be a good start.

#78 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:29 PM:

Avram, there would be some great cheese if everyone made their own, but a lot of it would be shitty.

There are some great self-published books out there, but a lot of them are very shitty cheese indeed. Yes, there are shitty-cheese traditionally-published books too, but I'd bet there are fewer of those. (Willing to be persuaded otherwise.)

#79 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:48 PM:

Maybe, Xopher. On the other hand, tradition publishing is responsible for things like Galaxy 666 by Pel Toro (aka the Rev Lionel Fanthorpe).

#80 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:00 AM:

Paula@66: Sure reprinting old work will theoretically take away sales of new works. I can only read a limited number of books in a year, if I catch up on some JLC series I started reading decades ago I'll skip some recent releases. But they won't necessarily be from the same publisher. It has been said here that there are 6 major publishers, so if I read a re-release of an old JLC book then there's a 5/6 chance that I'm not reading a book from a different publisher. So if the company that has the rights to the JLC work in question makes more than 1/6 the profit that they would make from a new book then they win!

#81 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:18 AM:

We already know what the world looks like when anyone who wants to can write whatever they want and get it published. It looks like weblogs. (or comment threads. the horror.).

#82 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:21 AM:

It looks like weblogs (or comment threads—the horror).


#83 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 09:20 AM:

Paul Duncanson@76

Just out of curiosity.

Was "tyops" deliberate or just an especially appropriate accident?

#84 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 10:55 AM:

Paul Duncanson #76: If a publisher is prepared to put their own cash on the line to buy, edit, produce and market the book then I will be prepared to give it some shelf space.

This is really the key, isn't it? A real publisher can provide, not just an endorsement that's backed by their reputation, but a "costly" imprimatur -- because they've got skin in the game. A vanity publisher or scam artist is playing with other people's skins. And precisely because they've externalized all the risks of publishing, their endorsement is worth barely the paperelectrons it's written on.

#85 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 11:11 AM:

#80 Russell

Each company has its own expenses and profit and loss model. Doing accurate analyses involve interviewing lots of people, and recognizing that different businesses have different models....

To translate that into less abstraction, some things to consider:
1) Different companies do publicity differently. '

a) A "viral marketing" (I detest that term, "viral" to me carries denotations of noxiousness, toxicity, and illness....) campaign can be very inexpensive--hand one some inexpensive promo items to media personalities who'll write up the product at no cost beyond giving them the promo items--and very effective.

b) "Doubleday exists to bury books" -- Ben Bova Bestsellers may get huge ad budgets, and other books get solely mentioned in a catalog, for promotion. The average though adds up all the promo money and divides it by the numbers of published books in a year for a company. [Made up figures] If the company published 200 books and spend $1 million each on the ad campaign for each of 20 books, and $1000 each for the other 180 books (allocating production of the catalog and listing the books as available...), the average comes to $20,180,000/200 = $100,090 per book average promo budget....

c) Epublishers encourage their authors to participate in on-line forums--it costs the publisher nothing for an author to have a Yahoo newsgroup, and it costs the publisher almost nothing when an author goes on a weblog tour--the publisher may provide incentives of one free download of the book to site/weblog principals to use as prizes to award encouraging people to visit the weblog/site and comment, on the particular day the author is featured. Print published authors use their promo copies the same way.

2) Distribution strategies vary. Some publishers sell direct only. Others use distributors, or sell to retailers, or a combination of those, and may or may not sell direct. Some target libraries and go through Baker & Taylor (which appears to have been living in banana peel land). Traditional "channel" markups generally used to be that the price of an item in a store, was four times what the manufacturer charged to its volume customer ("wholesale") and the wholesalers sold to retailers at 100% markup from what the wholesalers paid.

Amazon demands as much as a 60% discount off suggested retail price of the merchandise, and that provides Amazon the margin to sell merchandise discounted lower than other retailers, it's getting a bigger discount.

High volume retailers' profit model is that the merchandise turns over quickly. One measure of merit for physical stores is "sales per square foot." The faster the merchandise sells, the higher the sales per square foot and the more profit.

The longer merchandise sits on a shelf not selling, the less income the store gets.... stores pay rent at a rate of X dollar per square foot per unit time. Warehouses have lower per square foot rent than storefronts generally, and hold more merchandise per square foot. Also, Amazon often uses other companies as warehouses, which means the "supplier" of books to Amazon is paying the warehouse expenses in that case, not Amazon.

High volume operations maximize profit by the "velocity" of goods getting sold. The ideal is "Just In Time" (JIT) supply. With manufacturing where the term originated, the ideal is that there is at most a three days' supply of parts on site at the factory, the manufacturer has contracts with suppliers for daily or nearly daily deliveries, and sets up a schedule for the year of quantities of parts and how many get delivered when to where. The manufacturer has the option to change the numbers up to down over the course of the year depending on the business outlet, and cancel orders. The supplier, or a shipping company, may wind up acting as a warehouse, with a stockpile of parts, and the supplier having to foot the costs for warehousing parts--at a supplier facility, at a third party warehouse, or at a shipping company warehouse, to ensure that the contractual deliveries happen.

In terms of retailers, Wal-Mart is Wal-Mart because it tracks its inventory in real-time or near-real-time and gets supply and resupply and orders and-reorders based on near-real-time data. It also dumps merchandise that isn't selling, fast. I've been in a Wal-Mart when the merchandise was getting clearanced, and it's scary how fast that happened--the goal being to get the merchandise out of the store as quickly as possible with someone paying something for what effectively is merchandise priced down to near-salvage.

Supermarkets work off volume--the local branch of Market Basket keeps adding stores, there are three of them in the town of about 40,000 people I live in, and no other supermarket brand in town--there used to be another, but it made two big missteps--moving out from a strip mall in the northern end of town, which site Market Basket promptly said, "we'll go in there!" because (misstep #2) it relocated to a then-new stripmall which as it turne out, had displaced a Historic House in the center of town, and was nicknamed, "The Berlin Mall" in detestation for the featureless brick wall and the parking lot which faced the town common. The community mostly boycotted the store, and that supermarket closed for underperformance....

Market Basket has lower prices for most of what it sells than the other supermarkets, and is more profitable than they are... the supposition is that it's doing higher volume of sales and the smaller markup per product (and perhaps lower prices that it pays for what it sells? Volume...) times the higher volume, yields higher sales per square foot per unit time and profit where some other chains aren't even at breakeven, which charge sometimes even more than $1 more for most items. The other chains also have printers at checkout counters that print out coupon based on merchandise bought, for discounts on future purchasers, some have in-store scanners, and experiment with things that sometimes cost more than they're apparently worth.

But anyway, supermarkets play the volume game.

Small markets don't have the economy of scale and don't get the volume discounts from suppliers--but they sell merchandise that's less volume-oriented and more idiosyncratic and quality-oriented that's low volume merchandise. Farmer's markets are local, and disintermediated. Selling off farmstands cuts out the distributor, and cuts out truck rides and warehousing, the corn at the farmstand comes in from the field that morning, as opposed to trucked in from hundreds of miles away picked two days ago....

Books -are- perishable in some ways--what percentage of the fiction published even a decade ago aged well enough that if it were being pitched to an editor today, would sell to the editor?

While books don't physically deteriorate as quickly as produce in a supermarket, they have sales curves where most of the sales as new merchandise are in the first few weeks of availability. Something which readers like a lot, may get additional sales peaks over time, particular for books which got little if any publicity and promotion from the publisher at least initially.

But getting back to the quoted material way above-- publishers have a limited number of slots available for publication each month. Putting a reprint in, means the slot's not available for a new book, which there aren't already thousands of extant copies in circulation of. The sales potential, again, is a lot higher for the new book, unless the reprint is of a book that e.g. a movie adaptation is about to be released of. Basic economics encourages using the slot for a new book and not for a reprint...

#86 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 12:09 PM:

eric @81 -- We already know what the world looks like when anyone who wants to can write whatever they want and get it published. It looks like weblogs. (or comment threads. the horror.).

Yeah, but....
I don't think I would ever have predicted how many people would become involved in writing so prolifically, particularly people who aren't writers/journalists/etc. anyway. Even with the conveniences that the internet offers, I really wouldn't have necessarily predicted that so many people would take advantage of it and share their opinions, poetry and prose to the extent they have.

And there are a lot of talented writers out there -- heck, with most of the knitting blogs I follow regularly, I do so more for the writing style than the knitting tips. And if I don't like the style or the formatting, it's easy enough to move on and find a substitute.

I wonder if the internet hasn't simultaneously raised and lowered our expectations about reading material? On the one hand, we've gotten used to having virtually free access to good writing. At the same time, people do seem willing to put up with bad formatting for writing they enjoy (and the consequences to the creator for sloppy work are negligible); this seems to be the case when they aren't paying for the content and the perceive that the author is, after all, an amateur and can't necessarily be expected to be able to do everything.

#87 ::: Shalanna Collins ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:06 PM:

@20 Josh: How does one get one's novel into the queue to be reviewed or read by your wife? I haven't heard of the Amazon deal you refer to. Unless it's their novel contest? They run one every year, and it's all done by popular vote, which would be why she sees such baaad stuff (grin). But if she's game to read/review new authors, please let me know . . . I'm at gmail as shalanna_collins (duh)

#88 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 01:18 PM:

eric, #81: We already know what the world looks like when anyone who wants to can write whatever they want and get it published. It looks like weblogs fanfic.

FTFY. :-) And anybody who's spent much time looking at fanfic can tell you exactly how much shitty cheese is in that mix. Which is not by any means to diss all fanfic; I've got a sizable collection of links to stories that are well-written and very readable. But Sturgeon's Law is in full force.

While I'm on this topic, there is one self-published author I can actually recommend -- Henry Melton -- although in practice I think he's better described as a "captive publishing house". Unlike most self-published authors, he's got about a dozen books for sale on his table, and IMO the writing and editing quality is good. But he's definitely an exception in the self-publishing arena.

#89 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 06:14 PM:

Shalanna Collins, #87, as Josh says, Amazon filters them before they send some to Rose, who then filters again.

#90 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 11:11 PM:


Matthew Reilly is another decent author who started by self-publishing. His first book was rejected by all the publishers he showed it to. He's not my favourite author, but I'd read his books on a plane.

Paula@85: Fair point about books having a use-by date. But while some books become obsolete others remain worth reading. My todo list inludes an item of completely reading the JLC series that I started ~20 years ago.

#91 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 11:53 PM:

Just to be contrary here: In ye olden days of our grandmothers, and even still in many places of the world, why yes, we all did invidually make our own cheese (and butter and yogurt and sausage and many other marvelously edible products that not only kept us alive but provided nourishment and tasted wonderful).

Indeed, where I grew up, such things were not unusual even when I was a child. They generally tasted a lot better than anything you bought from the corporate agency model of food. These days all discriminating palates prefer artisanal cheese to that which has gone through the vetting process of supermarket retailers.

Additionally, there's that first law of being a successful writer (or musician or artist) is to have a spouse with a good job who can and will support you.

Then, there the boilerplate clauses too, in publishing contracts, that have demanded all digital and e-rights for the publishers in perpetuity. (In the music biz, we call these clauses 'intelligence tests.)

Perhaps cheese is not the best simile to express having the best interests of the creator and reader at heart?

Love, C.

#92 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:17 AM:

Michael @ 83: "Tyops" was a deliferate mistale.

#93 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:35 AM:

I have a very good friend who has written his D&D materials into books. He's had a good run at getting them printed and selling them himself, but now he's realized he should get a publisher.

And my brother is tireless in asking me about why he can't find a publisher for materials that are interesting but generally not too well written and are more family-related than of generally interest to anyone.

This all troubles me. For the first person, he's not my problem, I'm not related, I think his material is too D&D to find a home anywhere and etc. He is a good writer but has decided his stuff is so good it doesn't need editing, etc. and will likely be not a good author if he does get into a publishing house.

My brother, well, make me crazy. Because he assumes that because I've had short stories published I must be able to draft him in on my .... whatever. It has gotten to the point that I pretty much avoid talking to him at Christmas, which is the main time they are up here. He is not the best writer, but is also somewhat mentally ill so I don't know how much criticism he can take.

#94 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:59 AM:

Are people really arguing that every writer should be made to be their own publisher?

When I say in mixed company that I have a novel in submission (which I don't at the moment), I can guarantee you that at least a third of the people who overhear the conversation will suggest just that thing. Dorothy Bryant did it!

Kinda. Once. And you know what? I don't even like Dorothy Bryant's writing very much.

#95 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 03:47 AM:

I started drafting a post detailing some of the good things self-publishing has done for me, but it got to be too much of a commercial for my stuff. So, a bald assertion: self-publishing, while not remunerative, is more fun than letting good work molder on your hard drive because no one gave you permission to release it. (Which is not to say that you shouldn't get traditionally published if you can. I'm sure that's fun, too.)

Maybe fiction is different from music in this regard, but I kinda doubt it.

#96 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 02:40 PM:

#95 Tim

I think that your wording So, a bald assertion: self-publishing, while not remunerative, is more fun than letting good work molder on your hard drive because no one gave you permission to release it.

is probably closer in meaning to,

So, a bald assertion: self-publishing, while not remunerative, is more fun than letting good work molder on your hard drive because no one is willing to pay you a reasonable price (or what you regard as reasonble, or reasonable conditions otherwise) for the right to distribute it and then probably publish it.

I added the last, because there are books which people sold publication rights to publishers on, which the publishers for whatever reasons did't publish. The include the publisher went out of business, the publisher cancelled the publishing imprint the publisher bought the book for, the editor who bought the rights left and nobody still in-house was willing to champion the orphaned book, the publisher was cutting back the number of titles it published and one of the titles cut foor publication was that particular book, the manuscript delivered by the author did not meet with the approval of the editor/publisher for applicability for the publisher to publish, etc.

#97 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 02:56 PM:

I think perhaps part of the failure to comprehend the issue is that there are so many people who are illiterate enough to where all they can do is make analogies from A/V publishing. Video publishing suffers from the YouTube phenomenon that a lot of really entertaining stuff gets past or even takes advantage of terrible production values, so that the marketing model, such as it is, becomes "America's Funniest Home Videos". Audio is even more wrong because the dynamics and economics of production are so wildly unlike those of print. Self-publication of a band CD is pretty easy, and besides (and this may actually be the secret) the CD is essentially a supplement to the performing, which is where the "real money" is. That's not to say that the band is necessarily making a living off of performing; but in general the performance comes first, and it provides automatic advertising for the CD.

#98 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 03:55 PM:

Paula Lieberman @ 96: No, I meant that some people feel that self-publishing has a stigma, and that their work needs some kind of imprimatur before it merits publication. That's probably not as common as it used to be; I may once again be out of date.

C. Wingate @ 97: Self-publication of a band CD is pretty easy

Self-publishing a book is quite a bit easier, as I detailed on the other thread.

but in general the performance comes first

Certainly performing bands often make CDs, and you're not going to sell many without gigs, but there's a whole culture of self-released albums (used to be cassettes, then it was CDs, now it's mostly online) not based on live performance.

#99 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 04:36 PM:

The point is that a writer has to find a path to distribute her work, as a music person has to find a way to get her music out there too. The old models don't work so much, so well these days for many, though they do work very well still, for some. But that that some is a smaller group than it used to be. Partly that is because of the long-time process of monopolies and consolidation in every part of the music biz, just like the publishing biz.

Among other instances is that the distributors consolidated like the retailers, in both the publisher - label models -- and both industries have really horrible returns policies that chew up the writer and the small, independent. They both also are involved with pay to play product placement in various outlets, from radio to shelf space to online mention - adverts.

Both the publishing industry and the music industry ate the independents.

But as the publisher and the label are contracting still more, with new technology there might be new models. But generally, I -- this is me, alone, personally -- think that the old models' way of really big money careers in these fields is pretty much gone, with fewer and fewer exceptions.

However, people are not going to want to stop writing, telling stories and reading them, any more than people are going to stop making music, playing it for people and people wanting music to listen to and dance to.

I am seeing small indies creeping back into both industries, and for books, whereas up through 9/11 the indie bookstore had all but vanished, I see them springing up again -- though many, if not most, seem to be doing a booming business as used book stores -- which also disappeared even while B&N and the other boxes were eating the community bookshops by price undercutting, operating at a loss, etc., until the competition was gone (which the drugstore chains are always involved in here, it seems).

While I might not weep too much for MacMillan or the primary 6, of course, I'm not thinking amazon is the good guy either. It too wants a monopoly

Again, it's like those monopoly wars in which old Cornelius Vanderbilt waged so very successfully, it wasn't the customer's service he cared about (nor did his rivals -- passengers were often killed in their competition of being faster, so the steam boats would explode) nor anything except domination of what he controlled, in order to make the most money.

Nobody can say we don't live in interesting times. And I of course, am most concerned about the writer - musician - creator and the audience first.

Love, C.

#100 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 12:59 AM:

A big item on my Pony List (to borrow a term from the agency model thread) is the complete eradication of Publish America's coinage "traditional publisher" from the lexicon. To quote TNH in an earlier post,

The villains at PublishAmerica have always referred to their operation as a “traditional publisher.” This couldn’t be further from the truth, but they get away with it because there are no standards for what can and can’t be called a traditional publisher. Their authors tend to pick up that language, not understanding that the standard term for a traditional, royalty-paying publisher is “publisher.” [em. mine]
Seeing as how the phrase is so widespread as to show up as a Google suggestion when I look up the links above, I have probably as much chance of getting my wish as I have of the fulfillment of other things on my Pony List of a similar nature (e.g. immediate death of the phrase "is comprised of" and of the use of "meme" to refer to a personality quiz), but it is one of the few items on the list that seem worth sharing from time to time. I feel like every time I pick this nit in public I am at least symbolically pushing back at the misinformation that vanity scammers shovel at aspiring writers every day.

At the very least, I hope that Publish America reap their deserved reward for successfully introducing a new synonym for "publisher" in the lexicon, in that it will often be used in the sentence "Publish America is not a traditional publisher," but I would prefer the phrase simply die.

#101 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2010, 05:24 AM:

I can see how "traditional publisher" could be a useful distinguishing label. Paper books, paying the author, and so on, in a context of looking at the changing world of publishing.

There is a technical term for how Publish America uses the phrase, several in fact.

We call Publish America's usage a "lie".

#102 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2010, 06:29 AM:

Dunno if this is relevant, but, on a mailing list, I've seen sales figures of an old RPG that, 20 years on, is available as PDF or PoD reprint.

Each format does about a hundred copies a year, for each of the several books.

It's a game with a solid reputation, the Space:1889 game from GDW.

All the main pre-print work was done around 20 years ago. I don't know how closely they duplicate the original print editions, but it's possible that production datafiles from that era are the baseline, already paid for.

If it can be easily set up, a couple of hundred dollars a year will buy more than a cup of coffee. But watch for your local tax laws. It hardly seems worth trying to earn if you have to start submitting a tax return (the UK system is a bit different to that in the USA).

#103 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2010, 02:56 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little @100:
Picking a nit: in the uses I've seen, "meme" doesn't so much refer to the quiz in question as it does to its popularization. Or, rephrasing: the meme isn't the quiz per se, but the emergent behavior which is the spread of the quiz in a given social environment. I think that's a valid usage.

Although I will grant that there are probably plenty of people who confuse the two; I just don't have many such in my online social circles.

#104 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2012, 11:16 AM:

" I have seen self-published covers, my friends, and they would wake the dead. "

What I've seen of self-published covers is more meh than horrendous-- commercial publishers can and have done much worse. However, I want that zombie apocalypse.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.