One of the interesting aspects of being a writer online is that you get to see a lot of other writers from all walks of life and philosophies. There are a lot of successful writers that everyone follows, of course, but beneath the big names you have a wide variety of people who have seen every level of success and have taken just as many roads to get there. And these people network a lot: having conversations and following each other on social media all the time. So one of the things you can really see if you follow enough people is how the writer community divides across certain lines. One of the lines I’ve noticed is pretty clear between three big schools of thought is just how likely your work is ever going to succeed.
The first school of thought you’ll find without much effort is the group that wants to cheer each other on. Being in a creative industry isn’t easy and a lot of people get discouraged, so there are people who will constantly be doing what they can to let you know you’re not alone. The second group, not pessimistic, will focus more on the grind of it all. These people will tell you can make it, but it’s uphill battle, it’s going to be exhausting, and you’re going to need a plan. Meanwhile, the third group is the one that says it’s basically pointless to try unless you get damn lucky or you’re supremely talented. And, of course, the people in the third group tend to think they’re among the chosen – even if the numbers don’t bear it out yet.
The third group is just a fact of life. I have a friend of mine who does script coverage who has had to deal with quite a few of them already in her young career. But one of the things I’ve noticed trending among several of these people lately is the idea that self-published authors were just too immature to follow the traditional publishing route. In their eyes, clearly, if your work was worthwhile then you would have gone to the publishers instead of trying to do it on your own. Either you weren’t confident enough in the work, were too arrogant to accept edits, or just weren’t patient enough to let the system do its work. According to this meme floating around, traditionally published works are better than self-published works by default. And at first I was just going to brush it off as their standard MO and not comment on it, but then a thought occurred to me:
Years ago, when people were still feeling out the eBook market, I had what we would call a “rough year” and made a couple rash decisions. The first was that I was going to self-publish a book because I’d seen numbers suggesting that my chances with and without a publisher were roughly about the same. This was during that hazy time back when the economy was crashing and no one was confident about anything – advances were down, advertising was shaky at best, and Amazon was starting to eat enough of the market to kill Borders (ironically thanks to a deal they made with Borders). So, of course, I wanted me a piece of that action.
But self-publishing lead to my second rash decision: I was going to start trying to promote myself – something that anyone who knows me can tell you was probably the bigger mistake of the two. My personality, in real life, is fairly conflict driven and yet introverted. For those of you doing the math, yeah, that generally means I’m my own worst enemy. So the idea of trying to be my own hype man is a bit like having Moriarty give the elevator pitch on Sherlock. Sure, he’s well aware of Holmes’ strengths, but he’s also invested in ruining the guy.
Still, I went about making content on a fairly regular basis by starting this blog. It wasn’t a vanity project as some critics have suggested, but an attempt to look like I know what I’m doing. Perhaps, with enough effort, I can find my audience and make those efforts worthwhile. And, despite everything, there is a benefit to the fact I second guess every move I make: I am constantly using this blog to do a self critique.
As such, I occasionally go back through old posts, old work, and old concepts to find new ways to hate on my younger self. It’s beneficial, despite how I make it sound, to take stock of what mistakes I made in the past and then learn from it. I know I’m not perfect (something we should all keep in mind), and that I have to constantly improve to progress. So I’m willing to give myself an honest performance evaluation every once in a while. There’s just one thing I tend to regret about these evaluations: I end up re-reading or remembering comments I’ve gotten on the internet.
Rejection, it sucks. If you’re here, you’ve probably followed this link from somewhere on Twitter or Facebook where writers share tips, advice or pep-talks and, unfortunately, that probably means you know the fear of the rejection letter.
It’s easy for us to think, because we got that letter, that it closes the door on our chances. Even if it’s just the opinion of one person, that opinion is devastating because it holds the weight of someone who, at the very least, has control over your career for however long it may be in front of them. And, with an opinion of that weight, it’s hard not to take it personally. But there’s something that people need to understand about rejections, something that’s hard to grasp:
(To ensure there’s no confusion here: I am not a lawyer, I am a writer who has an interest in this subject because I would like to not be sued or ripped off. Noble motivations, I assure you.)
Copyright, it’s a funny thing. Most people have a basic understanding of it, but that understanding tends to be fairly black and white. Some people assume that it should be mostly common sense, but that’s not always true. Things that everyone tends to “know” about the system are usually pretty subjective and can be swayed by a good legal team. And other things that people “know” may be flat out wrong in some cases.
When I wrote the post that eventually got this discussion rolling, one of those things people “knew” is that a copyright holder is obligated to sue to defend their copyright. This is an opinion that a lot of people had based on a misunderstanding and outdated information. Once upon a time, it would have been totally true (and still is in some circumstances and locales). But one of the few things about modern US copyright law that I really like is that we currently don’t require a copyright holder to do anything to maintain their copyright. You can register, but that registration is mostly meant for your future legal cases if you want to draw damages. The minute you publish original content in the US, you own it, no questions asked. A failure to register doesn’t lose you the copyright, it just makes your lawsuits a little trickier.
Instead, lawsuits are generally used to either stop an action, punish a violation, or to ensure that the right people are being paid for a work. These are entirely voluntary. That’s not to say that filing the lawsuit makes you a dick, not at all, you should have the right to defend your work. Rather, when someone says that the lawsuit was an obligation, they’re working under a false assumption. Corporations aren’t “obligated” to protect their copyright from fear of losing it since it’s nearly impossible to lose a copyright. Their lawsuits on copyright are entirely about ensuring that no one else profits from their work or prevents them from profiting on it themselves.
Not long ago, James Patterson received the Innovator’s Award from the LA Times. This award, now in its 36th year, is one given to those with innovative business models or uses of technology to further the narrative arts. Essentially it’s given to people who happen to come up with a new idea that makes an impact on the literary world. And while I don’t know the exact reason the award was given to him this year, I can probably guess it’s because he’s the most successful author in the world… that doesn’t write books.
And for those of you who follow this blog regularly, you shouldn’t be surprised by my taking that jab at him. For some time the joke has been that I treat Patterson as if he was “he who should not be named” – taking a quick jab in his direction, refusing to name him, but posting his photo so you know what I mean.
I know I’m not alone, I know a lot of people have criticized him for the same reasons that bug me. Normally I would just move on with my life after making that kind of comment so I can go on doing my thing. But a recent rumor (that I won’t be spreading today) got me thinking about Patterson and realizing something I hadn’t before:
I don’t dislike James Patterson or his brand – I dislike what it means about our industry…
Recently, I made note that there were clear signs of a trend that the YA adaptations were beginning to flounder. Though a few of them came out strong and left a major impression on the market, several failed to meet expectations and even the larger franchises are starting to “underperform”. There are a couple of ways this could turn out in the long run, depending on how the studios read the situation. They could seek out new ways to satisfy that old audience, creating properties of their own rather than adaptation. They could change their criteria for deciding which properties they should adapt.
Or, more likely, they’re going to decide the audience was the problem and abandon them.
But something that has to be asked is why these properties started to flounder in the first place. Was it simply a flash in the pan trend that these people would spend lots of money? Is it true that female protagonists don’t actually draw mainstream attention? Has the hype train run out of steam?
Truthfully, looking at the recent reviews, it’s started to become clear that it’s not the audience (of course) but rather something about the genre itself. You see, the movies are starting to flounder because people know what’s happening and they’re beginning to feel stale. And, sadly, this is in part because the genre itself has an issue that needs to be addressed…
Finishing things – it’s kind of a pain in the ass and most of us have a hard time sealing the deal. Sure, sometimes, we get motivated and we make a lot of progress in the right direction. But finishing things? That’s harder than we like to admit more often than not. Follow-through is both a challenge and burden and no one really wants any part of those if they have the option out. Ironically, when it happens, we’re generally harder on ourselves than others. So today I find myself looking at last month’s (as of this writing) NaNoWriMo and thinking “I wonder how many people hit 50k and need to do more.”
The answer is that it really depends on what people were hoping to get out of it. Most people don’t really go into NaNo with the intention of actually being an author. They go in with the intention of proving they can do something of that scale but have no aspirations for greater. Others, as I’ve pointed out in the past, have far different goals in mind. Everyone’s come to the task with a different endgame. If you were just aiming to hit 50k and don’t have much care for a follow through, then congrats on hitting the goal and hope you give it another go next time. On the other hand, if you’re one of those people who were using that event as a starting point, I know from experience that the months after NaNo can be harder than the challenge itself.
Honestly, being a writer itself – especially a beginning writer – is harder than the NaNoWriMo challenge. If it were the leisurely task that people think it is from time to time, it wouldn’t require a month dedicated to it. After all, who needs a challenge to do something you work on all the time? If it were something easy, there wouldn’t be a need. Even the writers I know look at the challenge as something of an excuse to get motivated again. So… the question that’s been posed to me once is, “how do you keep going?”
It was a dark and stormy night this last Friday. Creepy children wandered the streets dressed as that guy from Minecraft and a couple Superheroes. And on that night, for the first time in ages, it rained in my area – purging the evil walnut haze. And as the haze lifted and I rose from my grave, I realized October was done and a new month had rolled in: November. That means one thing for those of us in the online writing world: It’s NANOWRIMO TIME.
Welcome to the time of the year where I’m going to spend at least a couple entries talking to people who are trying to crank out their first novel or are considering getting their pet project published. For those in group #1, I hope you enjoy the wonderful hobby of putting words down in an order that pleases you only to later develop a neurotic problem where you hate everything when you read it again. To those in the second group, you’ve probably gotten past that stage and are either delirious or had a moment where you realized there’s enough shit published in the world that you definitely have a chance. Either way, good luck my masochist brethren and welcome to the warzone.
But those people in the latter group gave me something to think about recently. We’ve all heard a variation of the concept by now: “The good thing about eBooks is that anyone can be an author now. The bad thing about eBooks is that anyone can be an author now.” Hell, it was even uttered on @Midnight recently by the guy best known lately for this one picture.
You don’t know it, but right now there’s a war going on for the soul of the publishing industry. It’s been fought long and hard and there have been casualties: bookstores, newspapers, the hope that any doctor’s office would update their reading selection. All in all, it’s not gone well for anyone. But the war rages on and recently it escalated because two powers decided to mobilize everything they got at each other.
It started back with that price fixing thing I was pissed off about a while back. Several book publishers had decided among themselves to fix the prices of eBooks so they could try to make sure that none of them had to actually compete to sell a book. They effectively made the rest of us look like assholes and idiots for running our book prices as low as we could while laughing and forcing the consumer to pay more for each copy.
I hated them.
But then they got busted and they started to fold pretty quickly. One of the chief forces behind this was Amazon, who realized that their ebook market was the most successful ebook market out there and that they were making mountains of cash off of it. So someone threatening those mountains of cash by working behind their backs just would not do. Amazon went after them and everyone started to play ball except for one publisher: Hachette.
Hachette huffed and puffed and refused to drop its prices like everyone else. So Amazon decided to just stop pushing Hachette books. They figured that Hachette would fold and that everything would start coming up mountains of cash again. But Hachette had a plan, they had a nuclear option that Amazon didn’t think to contend with: authors who actually make enough money to buy the GOOD ramen.
So Amazon panicked and did something that most people can agree was pretty stupid, they tried to mobilize their Indie Authors from the Kindle Direct Publishing. I mean, they were just standing around in line at the soup kitchen anyway.
I’m not sure how many people that have reached this blog are actually writers. Though I devote a lot of posts towards the inner workings of the profession as I see them, from tropes to alternative mythologies, I can’t be sure who’s reading it. There is no survey that has you tell me your profession and I’m not entirely sure who does follow the links more often than not. Still, in my heart, I like to think that there’s at least a few of you out there who are writers and appreciate where I’m coming from. And I want you to know I appreciate you too.
Group hug time
Almost every writer I’ve ever talked to has had a similar problem in their life: feeling accomplished. Even Isaac Asimov, famous as he was, still feared the idea that he could be rejected with his next manuscript. JK Rowling started writing new books under a pseudonym so she could see if she could sell her writing and not just her name. Even the most successful of us feels they stand in a precarious position overlooking a pack of hungry wolves.