Archive for category publishing

embracing abundance

Can we talk about this Huffington Post essay for a moment?

tl;dr: The author is basically saying that, because JK Rowling already had her time in the sun and that every time she publishes something new, it creates so much buzz that it crowds out everybody else, she should stop writing. For example, of The Casual Vacancy, this essayist writes:

It wasn’t just that the hype was drearily excessive, or that (by all accounts) the novel was no masterpiece and yet sold by the hundredweight, it was the way it crowded out everything else, however good, however worthwhile. That book sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere. And I chose that analogy quite deliberately, because I think that sort of monopoly can make it next to impossible for anything else to survive, let alone thrive. Publishing a book is hard enough at the best of times, especially in an industry already far too fixated with Big Names and Sure Things, but what can an ordinary author do, up against such a Golgomath?

The solution to this “problem” is to tell Rowling to quit.

This assumes that there are a finite number of slots available for all published books. It assumes that JK Rowling and the rest of us are competing for the same readers. It assumes that one runaway bestseller will somehow hinder every other writer from getting her voice out there.

There are a few things to pick apart here. I mean, we can dispense with the argument about quality pretty quickly, right? The value of a book is subjective. This essayist admits to never having read Rowling. (I’m somehow still surprised to find people for whom this is true. I don’t read much YA or fantasy and yet have read every Harry Potter book at least twice. You can make arguments about them being derivative or childish or whatever, but I was highly entertained by every one. I haven’t read Rowling’s adult novels, so I can’t speak to those.) Still, it’s an argument that gets trotted out a lot: It’s inconceivable that _____ is so popular because s/he is terrible! And yet, there are some people that love the punching bag books, and there’s always at least one in the popular mindset. Before Fifty Shades there was Twilight or The DaVinci Code or [book you made fun of at parties with your well-read friends]. Something in each of those books resonated with readers, so even if the book didn’t work for you, it did work for thousands of others. And, let’s face it, quality and popularity are not synonyms.

But to the greater point that the popular writers should take a seat so that everyone else can get a chance: Nope. That’s a problematic argument. You can’t tell a creative person to stop, because they won’t, because creating is what they do, a part of who they are. But also, there is no reason why the continued existence of Rowling (or Stephen King or James Patterson or E.L. James or whoever) prevents anyone else from becoming a bestselling author.

But Kate, I hear you arguing, this is obvious. I need Rowling to keep writing so I can have enough fodder to complete my Hermione/Ginny femslash, and also, duh, obviously no one REALLY thinks Rowling stepping aside will suddenly create a gaping hole to fit all our books in.

Well, but, the thing is, I have seen writers treating the market as if there are only a finite number of books that can be sold. Just this morning, I fell into the rabbit hole of reading Goodreads reviews on which this one author was harassing reviewers who gave her books bad reviews. Authors still buy reviews to get the coveted 5 stars so they sell more. They also bash other authors, publicly put books down, treat the industry like a contest.

It’s not. Publishing is not a race. Especially if you write romance, there are PLENTY of readers. I believe that any of us has the potential to be the Next Big Thing.

One of my friends said on Twitter last night that this is a classic example of scarcity mindset. That’s the belief that there’s not enough of anything to go around. In this particular instance, the author of the piece on Rowling is assuming that success is somehow quantifiable and that there is not enough of it to go around. That there’s a zero-sum game such that if Rowling has all the popularity, there’s nothing left for anyone else.

That’s not true. Personally, I think there’s benefit in taking on an abundance mindset. (I like that post a lot. It’s a little new-age-y, but the gist is to give away instead of hoard, to not assume things are finite.)

For example, deep in my soul, I want gay romance to be successful. It doesn’t matter if it’s me making the Times bestseller list or accepting a RITA or someone else, I love this niche of romance and this community and there’s room for us to share in its successes. One of the things I love about the romance community generally is the willingness to share and talk about books we love.

This is part of why I personally don’t write negative book reviews. I mean, I have a degree in English lit and have worked as an editor for twelve years; BELIEVE ME, if your book has flaws, I can see them. Sometimes I can overlook them if I’m finding a book entertaining. Sometimes I can’t. I feel like such a Pollyanna on Goodreads sometimes, squawking about how much I love things. Books I don’t love don’t get rated, and I tend not to talk about books when I don’t like them, and part of that is selfish and face-saving, but part of that is I just don’t want to tear other authors down. (That’s me, though; your mileage may vary. I certainly don’t begrudge other authors adopting other policies in this regard, and you can say of my books whatever the hell you want. I actually think negative reviews are good because they show potential readers that plenty of real people read and reacted to the book. I’m personally leery of books that get all 5-star reviews.)

Over the weekend, I was playing around with this new Ken Burns app on my iPad and watched a segment from his documentary on the Shakers in which Burns talks about how the Shakers made a number of technological innovations and then shared them with anyone who wanted them. It led to a lot of other Americans taking Shaker technology and expanding and developing it, spurring some even greater inventions. Burns asked rhetorically if we could imagine current technological innovations being shared in the same way and how that might affect technological development. It’s an interesting thing to think about. I mean, it’s why open-source software exists, for one, but so much technology is hoarded and proprietary. If more people were allowed to play with and innovate these new inventions, would that change how fast new gadgets are developed?

Similarly, I think it’s important for writers to pay it forward. I teach workshops. I talk up books I loved. I want to embrace abundance because book sales aren’t finite and there is room for all of us. Sure, you have to figure out how to get heard above the noise—and there is a LOT of noise these days—but one author’s success does not translate to another author’s failure.

the future of publishing! dude lit! stereotypes!

I made kind of an off-hand tweet about this Galley Cat post with some publishing predictions, and someone said they wanted to see my analysis, so now they’re paying the price! The most interesting of the predictions to me were that 95% of books would be read on screens within the next ten years [something I would be in favor of but which I find unlikely, given an informal survey I conducted, i.e. based on conversations I've had on the subway with people who interrupt my reading to say, "Woah, is that one of those Kindle things? What's it like?" This conversation invariably ends with the other person saying, "I don't know, it looks cool, but I don't think I could give up paper books."] and that all authors will be “indie authors.” I’m not sure what this means. I think it means that indie publishers will start to take a lot of the market share away from the big publishers.

Coincidentally, I had dinner with my mother last night, and this came up in conversation. We are both publishing industry vets; I still work in the industry (albeit in academic publishing, which is an entirely different market), she’s basically retired. My mom worked at a bunch of the big houses, though, so I feel she has some insight. And we came to similar conclusions. The current advance-paying model of publishing is unsustainable. I read recently that only a very small percentage of books earn back their advances. Paying a 7-figure advance for a book penned by a celebrity, for example, seems like a big gamble for an industry already struggling.

And don’t even get me started on delaying ebooks to give hardcovers a chance to sell. When I mentioned this to my mom, she said, “That’s stupid, they’re different markets.” Exactly! I rarely buy hardcovers. Most of the hardcovers I own were purchased at used book stores or the bargain table at Barnes & Noble, you know? So even if I were not an ebook reader, it’s unlikely I’d buy the stupid hardcover. But I am an ebook reader, and there have been a number of times recently where I’ve followed a link to an interesting-looking book and thought, “Oh, not available in ebook? Guess I’m not buying it.” I mean, take my anecdotal arguments with a grain of salt, I guess, but I can’t be the only reader who thinks this way.

Although, this also ignores the fact that half the reason I wanted to own an ebook reader to begin with was that about half the books I purchase these days come from the epubs, and reading on my laptop is not as fun or portable as you’d think. Well, and also, once I realized that I could desire a book and then have it in my hands in less than a minute, I was drunk with power.

Anyway! So then NPR has this article about how ebooks will change reading and writing. So let’s pull it apart.

Apart from Twitter books and cell phone novels, Grossman, who is also a novelist, says the real challenge for writers is electronic-book readers like the Kindle. He says the increasingly popular devices force people to read books in a different way.

“They scroll and scroll and scroll. You don’t have this business of handling pages and turning them and savoring them.” Grossman says that particular function of the e-book leads to a certain kind of reading and writing: “Very forward moving, very fast narrative … and likewise you don’t tend to linger on the language. When you are seeing a word or a sentence on the screen, you tend to go through it, you extract the data, and you move on.”

Oh, where to start. Here’s the thing. I like paper books. I own a whole lot of them. I went into publishing in the first place because I love books. I like how they smell, I like how paper feels, I find the process by which they are put together fascinating. I also live in an apartment with limited space.

I would say my reading experience is not markedly different on the Kindle. Just because the words are on a screen doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate lovely prose when I see it. I still get lost in a book the same way I used to with paper books. I don’t see why or how books would have to be different, content-wise, in the ebook era. (And, infuriatingly, the NPR article talks about Twitter, makes the argument that authors will have to write pulp in order to be successful, and then ends. Um, what?)

Smart Bitch Sarah makes the argument that a book has to hook her in the first 30 pages or she’s moving onto the next thing in the queue, but I personally am this way with paper books, too. Sarah goes on to talk about single-purpose ebook readers like the Kindle and the flaws therein, which I think is a separate blog post. (I keep seeing buzz about the Apple Tablet and think “Ooh, shiny!” and I sometimes wish the web browser on the Kindle were less clunky, but I like that eInk is easy on the eyes and the Kindle fits in my purse. The Kindle certainly has flaws, but it gets the job done while I wait for the Next Big Thing.)

While we’re talking about publishing trends, there’s the Katie Roiphe essay that’s getting a lot of buzz. Honestly, I feel out of my element here. I have a lit degree and normally love this kind of analysis, but my focus was primarily on women writers. I’ve read almost all of the authors mentioned, and I’ve seen lots of reactions to the article today (everything from, “Well, of course heterosexual novelists have issues with sex; talking about sex and emotion is perceived as feminine and/or gay” to “ooh, pink infographics” to “Roiphe kind of has a point” to “why is Roiphe publishing her college term paper?”) but I still have no conclusion, just thought the essay was interesting.

Finally, via this Queerty post, I discovered this article on writing gay characters. My favorite bit is the “avoid at all costs” section. I read the list of cliches to avoid and thought, “Wow, this is basically the first season of Queer as Folk.” Bonus: there’s a list of recommended books at the end.