Monday, May 19, 2014

Konrants

Had a few thoughts over the past few days, none of which are worthy of a whole blog post. But I've strung a few together and I'm putting them out there as both personal observations and advice for authors and the publishing industry.

First, the legacy industry seems to be keen to keep reassuring itself that ebooks sales growth has slowed or plateaued.

Frankly, I don't care what the legacy industry believes. If it sleeps better at night thinking that paper sales will still be hearty in the year 2020, that's fine by me. Whatever gets you through the night. I gave up on trying to convince people to give up delusions when I had a long talk with my parish priest at the age of 18, asking him repeatedly how he could defend faith (faith based on a millenia-old book written by a bunch of nobodies with no historical gravitas and vetted multiple times through multiple translations by those seeking power) in the face of science. He chose to remain blind to what was happening around him, willfully ignorant of easily provable facts, and I gave up God for Lent, and every day since.

If the Big 5 think that ebook sales aren't continuing to eat away at paper sales, or that more and more authors are choosing to self-publish, or that Barnes & Noble will be around forever, or that they can relax because the tech revolution is over, they are whistling past the graveyard, and I don't give a shit.

What I do give a shit about is newbies buying into the continued nonsense that finding a publisher is the only way to succeed. The religion parallel applies here as well. There are a bunch of fat cats happy with the status quo, and they keep recruiting the naive, the hopeful, the uneducated, much like missionaries bringing bibles to the third world, getting the savages to kneel at the altar. Savages who wind up no better off (or even worse off) once they convert.

Legacy publishers NEED authors to feel that they're the only way to succeed. Because without authors, the Ponzi scheme of publishing (the few successful writers supporting the entire infrastructure, including authors who aren't successful) collapses.

So we have publishers continuing to act like they alone have the keys to heaven with their holy gatekeeping system. Many of them also offer dubious services to indie authors (David Gaughran has been crucifying Author Solutions for years now as just one example). So it doesn't matter if authors accept a shitty contract from the Big 5, or sign over their rights in some vanity deal, they get screwed either way.

Let me make this crystal clear:


AUTHORS DO NOT NEED PUBLISHERS.

It is 2014. All the forms of distribution open to legacy publishers are open to indies. We can reach as many ebook retail outlets as the biggest legacy publisher, and we can reach them faster and better. We can control our prices. We can control our titles, cover art, and content. We can also get into bookstores (Dean Wesley Smith has a great blog post about this.)

Now if we want to be able to get into Costco, or airports, or Wal-Mart, we still need publishers to do so. But even if you sign with a major publisher, the chance of you getting into Wal-Mart is very slim, and you'll be giving up a lot of royalties in order for that small chance.

PUBLISHERS ARE OPTIONAL. 

If you happen to be a huge bestseller, and legacy publishers come knocking, worry about signing with them when that happens. And find an agent first. And also try to find ANY author who went from indie to legacy and has nice things to say about the experience. If you do find any who says nice things in public, try to talk to them privately and witness the completely-warranted bitchfest that commences.

Publishers keep looking at indie success as a slush pile where they can scoop up the best. They'll keep doing that until indies learn better. But very few indies who sign with a legacy publisher and hate the experience will speak publicly about it, because their books are being held hostage and playing nice with their new corporate masters is essential if they want to continue to make money. Because legacy publishers do enough to unintentionally hurt book sales--making them angry so they intentionally hurt sales is not wise.

So you won't see many authors bashing their publishers. But how many who signed indie deals sing their publishers' praises? Isn't it odd we don't see a lot of that?

As for the meme that ebook growth is slowing or has plateaued, that's a gigantic fallacy.

1. Growth slowing sounds bad, but it's still growth. Let's use a bodybuilder analogy. When you start working out, you quickly drop fat and gain muscle. After a year of hard work, it might take longer to gain ten more pounds in muscle mass, but you're still a long way from reaching your limit.

2. The numbers quoted in relation to ebook growth slowing don't include indies. Sticking with the bodybuilder motif, if everyone at Gold's Gym is training, and collectively it is taking longer for the group to gain more mass, that result is hardly indicative of the rest of the world.

Maybe legacy ebook growth is slowing down. But that doesn't mean indie ebook growth is slowing down. It doesn't count all of those authors (some of who are former legacy authors) who continue to increase their unit sales and monetary take. Check out the latest Author Earnings, which showed that for the data tracked indie authors are out-earning Big 5 authors by 27%.

Now, what Hugh and Data Guy are doing--quite brilliantly I may add--is shedding light on something that legacy publishers would prefer everyone remain in the dark about: how authors don't need them.

Whenever I see an "us vs. them" debate I roll my eyes. I've repeatedly said, there is no "us vs. them". There are only authors trying to find readers. Some do it solo. Some use publishers. The story isn't "indie authors vs. legacy authors" or "indie publishing vs. legacy publishing". There is only "what's best for the author". And what's best is a personal decision, hopefully determined by careful analysis, experimentation, and goals specific to that individual author.

So the whole idea of labeling authors "indie" or "legacy" or "hybrid" is much more important to the publishing world than it is to us authors. While the concept of identity is probably essential, I don't care how I'm labeled as long as I can continue to reach readers with my words.

Over the weekend, thousands of authors--several of them good friends--attended the Romantic Times convention in New Orleans. Many I've corresponded with seemed to have had a lot of fun, though no one has been able to point out the business purpose for the convention.

I gave up on public appearances a few years ago, because of diminishing returns. They were indeed fun, but the cost and time away from writing wasn't worth it to me. When I had legacy publishers, I felt I had to connect with readers and peers and legacy professionals in order to keep a foot in the game and keep my name out there. In the past, I met editors I later sold to, met authors who I got blurbs from (or gave blurbs to), tracked down leads for anthology submissions, and sold books. Now I no longer feel a need to do any of that, and I don't see why so many authors feel so compelled to continue to go to conferences because they think it will further their careers.

Conferences are fun. You can meet people, and learn things, and even sell a few titles (though never enough to cover your expenses). But long gone are the days of needing to pitch to agents or editors, or join organizations (Writers Guild, MWA, HWA, SFWA, RWA), or do mass booksignings.

Now, I've done more booksignings than, well, anyone. Over 1200 of them. I recognized their value. Some were mass signings with huge crowds. Some were just popping into a store and signing a single book on the shelf. But I felt they were necessary in order to maintain relationships with booksellers and readers, and to keep my books in print.

I no longer feel that way. The vast majority of my sales are digital. Paper books are wasteful, take up space, cost too much, are a pain to track down, and from a personal standpoint I no longer get a kick out of meeting authors and getting their signature. But I do respect and understand readers and authors who dig it, and I understand why conferences, conventions, and book fairs remain popular.

That said, when I read posts like Hugh Howey's latest, about indie authors being treated differently than legacy authors at the RT booksigning, I have to wonder why indie authors continue to spend money and time, and to invest emotionally, in the grade-school notion of being accepted.

Newsflash:

We're adults. We're now allowed to label ourselves rather than live with the labels others assign us. 

And when others label us something we don't agree with, we can choose not to waste any more of our time, money, and emotion on them.

Have you been made to feel like a second class citizen for being an indie author? Non illegitimi carborundum.

Stop trying to be accepted by the cool kids (who are earning 27% less than you are), and you won't get your feelings hurt. We've all been disparaged. We've all been marginalized. We've all had bad booksignings. We've all felt like outsiders. We've all watched others succeed while we didn't. Welcome to authordom.

The only one who can make you feel bad about yourself is you. So get over yourself. One of life's greatest journeys is overcoming insecurity and learning to truly not give a shit.

We no longer need the approval of editors and agents, and we certainly don't need the approval of conferences or our peers.

If you feel marginalized at conferences because of your chosen career path, stop going to conferences. Or start your own conference. Or your own organization. Or your own awards.

Personally, I think we'd all be better off spending more time writing. Treat conferences like vacations you can write off on taxes, don't take any of it seriously, and stop worrying if the world accepts you or not.

This brings me to my last rant, which is for my wife, who always gets a kick out of me going off on some pinhead.

An anonymous tool commented on my previous blog post about piracy, and I wanted to show my generosity by giving them the attention they are so desperately, obviously craving.

"When you write posts such as this one, it throws every opinion you've ever expressed into the 'probably nuts' bucket. Well, I stop by here every year or two, just to be sure you're still ranting happily, and irrationally, along. Congrats! You're doing fine."

Congrats right back at you, Anon! I'm proud that someone as apparently developmentally disabled as you are was able to figure out how to use the Internet. Mommy and Daddy much be very proud.

Welcome to the world of blogging, and allow me to give you some pointers.

1. When you disagree with something someone says, the correct thing to do is to point out what you disagree with, and then counter it with logic and facts. Simply stating an opinion, with no evidence to back it up, makes you look like a pinhead. It isn't deductive reasoning. It isn't debate. It isn't persuasive. It's just stupid.

Looking stupid is bad, especially on my blog, because I do not suffer fools kindly.

You brought a sackful of nothing to the discussion, and while it may have given you a fleeting masturbatory thrill to express your opinions about me and my post, I suggest you take a long, hard look in the mirror and try to come up with something you like about yourself to keep from eating a gun, because it isn't your sharp mind or keen wit.

2. Thanks for stopping by every year or two, but we both know it is more frequently than that. When I get bored with some pinhead, I quit. I don't check back later. Ever. The fact that you keep checking back is obsessive, and unhealthy. The crush you have on me isn't reciprocated, especially since you aren't engaging on a single point I've made. When I disagree with someone, I fisk them. Why don't you try fisking me? You made the minimal effort to post, why not actually take it a step further and try to say something, anything, substantive?

3. I allow anonymous comments on my blog so celebrities, professionals, and those who wish to spout controversial or contrary views may do so without any fear of repercussion. But I frown on chickenshit morons who think they're clever but don't say anything worth reading. This hurts society in the long run. We need anonymity for important free speech. Trolling and flaming and typing one-handed is not what our forefathers had in mind when they drafted the Constitution, and it only serves to irritate those who actually come here to learn, share, and engage in meaningful conversation.

As a result of your post, my readers and are are left with the unavoidable impression that you are a pinhead, a coward, and a waste of carbon who self-loathes for cathecting me, but can't resist it.

See what I did there? I took what you said, and showed how you shouldn't be allowed in public because you're contributing to the overall dumbing-down of Internet interactions. I pointed out how you avoided debate in favor of ad hominem fallacy, how you can't get me out of your head, and how you lack the balls to sign your name to your post.

Try attacking the argument and keeping the sarcasm relevant. That's how discourse works, both on this blog and in real-life adult situations.

And I apologize for calling you developmentally disabled, as there are millions of developmentally disabled individuals who are smarter, have more courage, and are more considerate than you are.

On the other hand, if you are a dog or monkey and you somehow learned to read and use a computer, I take it all back. Kudos to you.