Being lost in a sea of authors

La Jolla Waves

“Waves lajolla”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

I have a lot of friends who are indie authors of varying levels of success. All of them think Amazon is great. It allows them entry into the market where they can rise or fall on their own merits. There are no gatekeepers to tell them that NYC has decided not to publish uplifting stories this year. Some of them are lucky to buy lunch at Mcdonalds once or twice a year .Others are raking in 6 figure incomes. Why some succeed and others fail is something most of us are unsure of. Some of the ones failing are writing good stories. Some of the ones succeeding are writing crap. No one knows why and the market changes rapidly.

You would think the uncertainty would chase them away, unless of course they are one of the big success stories. It doesn’t. Why not? Well many of them would be writing anyway, so a little return is better than none. Others have the dream that they too will hit a big seller. Still others are doing moderately well. Not enough to live on , but enough to supplement their incomes. Many have no hope of making money otherwise, through infirmity or unemployability they are out of options. And there are those who never hope to make it big but hope to someday do well enough to live off of their earnings. That goal is achievable. Well, until the market shifts.

Right now it looks as if the Big 5 publishers are in trouble. I am not talking about the gaffes over the Hugos which may wind up destroying Tor and possibly taking out Macmillan as collateral damage. I am talking about the widespread failure of big publishing to adapt to e-books and modern realities. Big publishing may pull out of this. They have deep pockets and a lot of power. I don’t know. My crystal ball is on the fritz. Every time I ask for info on the Hugos ,it goes to the scene in Wizard of Oz where Margaret Hamilton gets hit by a bucket of water.

Now I have talked about why many indie authors are sticking with it despite the long odds. A lot of authors published by the mainstream publishers are becoming hybrid authors or going indie themselves. Why would they do that when they are succeeding with “real publishers”? Well there are a lot of reasons.  One is the fact that for every author you hear about getting a three million dollar deal for a handful of books there are a thousand who will get under 10K for a couple of books over the course of a couple of years. Another is the fact that publishing uses something called Bookscan to decide how many books have sold. Bookscan is effectively pulling numbers out of their …err hats. Because of the handwavium done by Bookscan, most authors apparently never earn out their paltry advance. So the next offer is less. The authors going hybrid have figured out something else. They can write several books a year, most of them, and publishers will put out one, maybe two. Hybrid means they have someplace to sell the books the publishers won’t take. And a lot of them are learning that with the fact they can sell the book slowly forever they actually make more money off their indie books.

Now we get to the reason for the title of this post. A lot of mainstream authors are vehemently against Amazon and indie publishing. The question becomes why. One reason is that they have a lot invested in the status quo, they are published authors and above the upstarts. Indie threatens that. Another is, I believe, that they are doing the bidding of their publishers. If they don’t attack Amazon and indie, they may not get the next contract. Of course, for some it is the belief that if big publishing fails they are lost as well and Amazon and the indies threaten to kill big publishing.

You see, the established authors, the big names, have things pretty good. They get money and fannish appreciation. At least in SF, I am not sure what they get in other fields for fannish interaction. The money may not be the important thing, knowing that strange members of the preferred sex will throw themselves at you given the opportunity is a heady thing for those who were probably never popular in school.   Then there is the fact that their opinions become important, in a small way perhaps, but important nonetheless. They also get invited to parties because of their fame, parties they would never get invited to by their force of personality. “Important people” pay attention to them and schmooze with them. Editors tell them how important they are. People in other unrelated fields ask their opinions, the fact that they aren’t qualified to hold opinions on most of these subjects is beside the point. All in all this is something to protect.

Another factor influencing them is that they can (or at least ought to) see the failure of the publishing houses to maintain the quality they claim. Apparently unpaid interns do a lot of the copy editing etc. that is supposed to add value to the product. It often fails to do so. The cover art can be another thing that isn’t up to the expectations of earlier years. Where once you could expect a good cover that would boost sales, you now often get a poor piece of photoshopped work that doesn’t in any way reflect the book. And unless you are a house darling or a mega best seller you don’t get any “push” to promote your work. They are now seeing the indies getting independent editing, copy-reading, and a burgeoning crowd of good quality cover designers. Marketing was done by the publishers, the writers have to do most of that themselves now, the indies seem better at it. There are a lot of reasons to fear the growing power of the little insignificant indies.

I don’t think that is really it though. When a Patterson or a LeGuin see indies, they see a sea of writers and books. I believe they are truly afraid of being lost upon that sea. For no-one can read all that big publishing puts out. How much more is this true if anyone can write a book?

8 comments on “Being lost in a sea of authors

  1. […] of the First Writer, he has an article over at the Otherwhere Gazette today talking about indie publishing and why it comes under so much fire from […]


  2. A century or so ago, it was the buggy-whip makers. Now it’s traditional publishing and TradPub authors.

    As with everything else in the world: adapt or die. It’s that simple. . .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “… the widespread failure of big publishing to adapt to e-books and modern realities.”

    I’m not sure that big publishing hasn’t adapted. The problem is, it’s adapted in ways that suit big publishing – pricing e-books deliberately high so as not to compete with hardcover sales, raking off the lion’s share of e-book royalties to the publisher rather than sharing them equally with the author, and so on.

    What needs to happen is that authors get more of a voice in (and a more equitable share of the proceeds from) the e-book market. As it stands, the share of big publishers is so unfair that I know more than a few authors who are trying to break their restrictive contracts so that they can write indie works on the side. Needless to say, their publishers are putting their joint and several feet down and refusing to permit this (the non-compete clause in most contracts tends to get in the way). I don’t think this will end well for big publishing, particularly when pseudonyms are easy enough to invent. Sure, a pseudonym loses the marketing cachet of an established author’s name and reputation, but hey – they’ve already proved themselves once. With a little hard work and ingenuity, they can do it again.

    As for Tor and Macmillan, I don’t think a boycott will necessarily destroy them. On the other hand, if Tor’s revenue is diminished by (say) 5%-10%, in an era of declining paper sales and shrinking margins, that’s a not insignificant factor. It might help to concentrate a few minds here and there.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well I don’t know, the margins are thin already, they might survive a loss of 10% they might not. And refusing to see reality has destroyed to many in the past. So, I think, though I could be wrong, that their refusal to awaken to the new realities of publishing will be their death knell long term. At least in the form they exist in now. I can see a restructuring where they offer services to authors for a cut, much like an agent is supposed to do now. Being the movers and shakers? I seriously doubt it.


  4. The old book trade is effectively irrelevant to me. In all this Tor brouhaha I tried to recall when was the last time I bought a book from someone other than Amazon and I realized I’m not sure. It was a few years ago anyway.

    Almost everything I read these days I buy as an ebook and almost all of the fiction part either is published by Baen or is Indie. Hence I mostly buy from Baen direct if published by Baen or from Amazon’s Kindle store when not. There are a few exceptions but that’s pretty much been the case for the last year or more.

    Tots up purchases this year. Yep looks like I buy 2-3 (e)books a week. Of which 2 were paperbacks and 4 were “traditionally” published from a house other than Baen.


    • And I am willing to bet that most voracious readers (more than 1 book a week) will see similar results. I have bought a lot more paper myself, but that was all older material, used books. Sometimes because it is no longer in print, sometimes because the new prices are extortionate.


  5. […] while reading about and commenting on this whole Tor thing, most recently Sanford’s post (https://otherwheregazette.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/being-lost-in-a-sea-of-authors/ ) and a post by Patri Freedman (http://patrissimo.livejournal.com/1500835.html ). The posts […]


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