Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fifteen Hours of Flame - The Militant Writer

"Scorched Earth Tactics" are they worth it?

What would you do to get 6,000 hits and 200 (flaming) messages in one day?

I'm not about to stick my neck out like Mary at the Militant Writer did. Not today. Though I think that a sufficiently clever approach could be useful one day. I think that Mary was far more clever than she realized.

Kinda like the kitten chasing a 'rope' and coming up with a great Dane's tail. Oops.

The rubbernecks (like me) come in to see what's going on. The trolls come to shed blood. A few interesting people show up. A couple of editors and a publisher (e-publisher Flying Pen Press) and of course the Agent Rock Stars Bransford and Reid. Maybe a few more.

What am I doing? I'm backtracking people to find out who they are. That's why I'm writing this. Because it is so interesting to see who is whom. They are gathering again, the blog-junkies of the publishing world. People who missed out yesterday are coming in to take a gander, some to take a swipe. More I think, because some twit 'tweeted' about it and brought the legions in to partake.

Yesterday was the second #queryfail day. The slush pile bees mourned the 'lack of snark' as being 'no fun.' All that sharpening gone to waste because the bosses were watching?


No, wait, here's a target. (The stampede begins.)

Here's a deep thought for the day: Where does all the snark come from?

Hate of the writer - the lowly worm who dares aspire above their 'rightful' place. (After all a million people would kill for the position of slush pile bee.)

Is it an instinctive process to keep the pecking order? I think that is part of it. We know from psychology (and the school yard) that children will fanatically police 'gender roles' and social standing amongst themselves.

Whenever a writer DARES to step from the shadows, is there are part of the brain that fires off a command to attack?

I believe so. The step up in any society is running the gauntlet, a battle for place. The lowly store clerk who gets promoted must take a lot of crap from their peers until they have won their place. I've been on the wrong side of the pecking order myself.

Saw that yesterday when Mary stepped out of the shadows into that '15 minutes of fame' that (Worhol?) spoke of. Saw that during the StarCraft invasion of Authonomy.

I use that in my stories. Show the crap that my protagonist takes from her own family and from her employees when she takes charge.

That's what is so fun about writing, we get to make commentary on human behavior.

The story continues.


Ink said...

Interesting posts, Kitty!

Chicken and the egg: Well, it's a bit of both, I think. They co-evolved! Publishers don't publish it, and it's not because it doesn't sell... it's because it doesn't sell enough. It sells a bit, but still at a loss, and Publishers can only take so much loss. Expecting them do so simply isn't feasible (and they do publish lots of midlist, really, just not as much as they might, and not as much as many people want). Now, to me, part of the problem is the rather wack publishing system, like the old-fashioned return policy. This sort of thing ties the hands of publishers and forces them to adopt these policies. But, bookstores are hurting too... what will happen to them if there are no return possibilities? It's a bit of a quagmire, I have to say.

I do think Mary's logic faltered in a lot of areas, though. Or that her wants outstripped her own logic. She's suggesting that if you give more of these good literary books a chance they will make money - eventually. Wait ten years and they'll earn you a nice little profit. And she's right. They will earn a nice little profit. But those books are filling a slot on bookshelves at stores, and while that book is sitting and waiting ten years for its profit another book is left out, a book that might earn a profit in two months. Yes, publishing those good writers and pushing them along over the years might be good for publishers (and for the writers who can be built into good sellers with time). But the problem is the bookstores won't survive, because in today's market they can't afford those slow burners slowly building acclaim over ten years. The margins simply won't support it. They need to move books and maximize sales space.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that there are simply a ton more writers now. And a ton more good writers, too. And, really, they're publishing more books (and more new books) in this decade than in any other in history. But it doesn't match the rise in writers. We're everywhere! Education and computers for all means hordes of people producing manuscripts from all walks of life... and lots of them will be good. And that means lots of competition at the top of the chain. And the brutal fact is that "good" might not be enough - you might have to be great. Or at least be great in one aspect... as being great at one thing might be much more saleable than being good at a whole bunch.

I think economics forced a change in the model. Sucky, but true. There used to be less good writers (simply because there were less writers). Publishers would publish them, nurturing them towards the later books where they might be great. Some writers will always be great, and smack it out of the park on the first try. The rest of the good writers would mosey along, with publishers watching their sales and development. I think all of us writers like this plan. But there's a lot more of us now, and no room to publish and nurture all of us. No time to see if we develop into great writers. But the publishers are okay, since there's more of us now... and more of us who'll hit the ball out of the park on the first try. I think the same number of great successes will occur... it's just less likely that those successes will come from any one writer. It's a much smaller window of opportunity. Competition! Maybe we're crazy to try...

I was struck by Mary's whole "generation of lost writers" argument, because I think she's both right and wrong. I think there's more writers of a good calibre being left out in the cold than ever before. But it's not a lost generation, it's a lost half-generation. There's simply not room for all of us anymore, and so the publishing industry chooses those they think have the best shot. And they give 'em one shot... if it doesn't fly, there's always that next good writer in line. The only safe thing is to be truly great. Mary seems to think they're not out there, but they are. I notice she ignored Nathan's list of bestselling young Lit authors doing interesting and experimental things. I guess the only problem with the list was that she and her friends weren't on it. It struck me that she writes small press stuff for a small market (and knows it) and yet somehow wants to be published by a big commercial house to big commercial acclaim. Even though she knows she doesn't write what they want. It seemed wishful... and yet I wonder, too, if she wasn't just happy to put on a show. Stir the pot, see what happens... get some attention on her writing and see if a little publishing interest sticks. Better than banging her head on the wall...

It seems a bit like she didn't like the rational options, either. Self-publishing or continuing with small presses. If you prove yourself there I think the big houses will still come calling. But it seems like she felt the only reason her books were good and not great was because she didn't have a great editor. Small presses can't afford great editors!Seemed like a bit of a cop out to me. I think if my greatness is dependant on the skills of someone else... I'm in trouble. An editor can't make a book great. They can make a good book a little more good, and a great book a little more great... but the heart of it has to come from the writer. I think I like that, too, that I get to stand or fall on my own.

A quagmire! Some interesting discussion, certainly, though a lot of it seemed misguided. And toasty with flame! Where's the marshmallows? Geez, people can be mean. Can't they just make their point? I did enjoy some of the responses, though. One small press publisher had a very interesting take on it all.

And look, I've ranted so much that your blog will implode from the sheer weight of my words! Bad Ink.

Ms Kitty said...

Good Ink. Nice Ink comes to visit. (g)

I agree with you 100%. Chicken, meet Egg, Egg this is Chicken.

BTW I read Mary's first chapter, and the first thing I thought was that she did her job too well. The character came off - craven - which is a primary no-no in Chick Lit. I caught the vibe that she didn't read the same Chick Lit that I read - the voice wasn't the same.

Otherwise the woman can write.

Now for the literary problem - I think the solution stepped out of the shadows and said "Hello, I'm the publisher of Flying Pen Press."

It is only by eliminating the overhead of publishing that it can be streamlined so "mid-list" is profitable.

The big boys can't do it, the books can't sit on the shelves. Print on demand is going to slag the dinosaurs who won't adopt new technology.

I can keep a hundred books on my hard drive - hell - I can keep 23,000 books on a thumb drive. Burn them to CD - with photos and a reader software so I can read it, print it or listen to a hundred titles. Load them in your Blackberry and read whenever you get 10 minutes.

I'll be willing to bet that the people running these places aren't tech-savey enough to know the new market niches out there.

Short stories should be all over iPod and Blackberry. Got 10 minutes? Listen to a book. People at work watch movies on those teeny tiny screens. I'm glued to Authonomy like a heroin addict hunched over a spoon.

I digress.

I was impressed with how cool Mary stayed during the - flame-fest. I was yelling bad words and beating the arms of my chair. (G)

I dropped an email to Flying Pen, asked they if they were interested in Women's fiction.

Hey, Flying Pen wrote back:

We spent last year building our Science Fiction line because the World Science Fiction Convention came to Denver last August. We also got our start by finding authors at several science fiction conventions.

Having said that, we are looking for a large variety of genres, and so yes, we would certainly welcome your submission of women's fiction.

Hmmmm - What do you think?

Ink said...

Well, he seemed like a sharp guy. A little rebellious, a little opinionated... but definitely interesting. I think the thing you have to check out with small presses is distribution. Can they get the book in anywhere? Marketing? Because some of the small presses are more hopeful than anything else, and a small press with no distribution... it can be not much different than self-publishing. Which isn't necessarily bad, but puts the writer back in the selling, plugging, peddling mode. Which some might like and be good at, and others... probably not.

I supppose whether you're looking for an agent or a small press the key is finding a good fit. I would like to find an agent with integrity. That's one of the reasons I like Nathan. He's honest and decent. I mean, he actually called people out for ripping on Mary and asked for a little respect. I like that. I think someone like that would be good to work with. And the same would go for a small press. Will they be good to work with? Are your aims and expectations similar?

Yeah, I thought Mary handled things really well. I didn't agree with a lot of it, but she was honest, forthright, and totally willing to accept the criticism - even the stuff that was entirely unearned. She kinda slagged genre folk a little, though that might have been more unclear writing than anything else. She tried to rectify in the comments, but... a little too late for a lot of folks, many who probably wouldn't stop to read a long thread.

I had a feeling from her comments, though, that she wasn't entirely sure about what she wanted to write or how she wanted to write it. She said she wrote lit fic, but then she said she wrote other stuff, and then she slagged chick lit but then said her book was chick lit... but not. I just got the feeling that she was caught between writing literary and writing chick lit and ended up not really doing either... and the thing she ended up with is maybe hard to place. And unintentionally so... more like it's hiding between genres than it is mixing them. Could be wrong. If I wasn't crazy busy right now I might check out her story. But I have to move my store over the next two weeks. Which will probably kill me. So I shall skip it!

Ms Kitty said...

Nathan Bransford is the Steve Tyler of agents. Complete with groupies, that will obey his every word. But yeah, he seems to be a good person that doesn't let it go to his head.

Marketing is not what it used to be. Granted, even if carries a book that doesn't mean anyone will read it.

But the people I work with are all techies - they are plugged in to the web in the oddest ways. They have a network like the old grapevine, that's faster. They game, read, chat, have friendships and spend money, all online.

There were two guys on shift last night, who were getting ready to beta test a game with a bunch of guys from China. They had a translation program ready where they could get the instructions in English. Cut and paste.

Maybe this is the market for my work - let's face it, I'm not going to get an agent to look at my work. I'm going to have to hock my own books, if I go Create Space.

I'm working the synopsis tonight, going to submit this Monday. My chances are just as good (or bad) with a publisher as anybody else.

"Contempt prior to investigation" is not a good policy. I can always say no.

You are moving your bookshop? Holy Haddock Captain Marvel! I hope this is a good move? I can't imagine moving a shop full of books. That's back breaking work.

Take care, and two Advil before bed time!

Ink said...

Yeah, Nathan is very nice even to those who come on his own site to try and take a bite out of him. And there is an aura of kowtowing about a lot of writers on agent sites... but I think it's fairly shallow and fairly normal. There's a lot of value there despite the "I want this person to represent me", but that feeling is there. So people put on their happy professional faces. People could read that really cynically, or just that it's the same sort of thing everyone does. You know, a waitress at a restaurant smiling cheerfully and trying to charm... maybe they're always like that, or maybe they're having a bad day but being grumpy is bad for tips. It's an everyday sort of thing. And Nathan is a bright guy, so I'm pretty sure he's aware of that "extra-smiley" attitude and its relations to the wants and needs of writers. Admittedly, I do get a bit tired of some of the "Nathan, you're so cute! I love you! Thanks so much!" Um... a bit over the top. I think you can just say thanks and say you appreciate his blog. The flirty stuff is... discomfitting. I mean, the guy is married.

And good luck on the synopsis! So you're thinking small presses and ebook stuff right now? A frien of mine owns a small literary press. Interesting business... and tough! He used to be a bookseller like me. His little publishing house is called Biblioasis. Always liked that.

And my back is already feeling the move... I'm hauling 30,000 books out of a basement and up a flight of stairs. By hand. By myself (for now). Gah.

Ms Kitty said...

30,000 books? You must have a big store. Take care of yourself during the move.

I've got the synopsis down to four pages from seven.

I'm going to look into small presses because the story doesn't qualify for Harlequin. Its too long for the 'beginning' lines and agents aren't interested, so I can't send it to the other lines.

Harper's Avon has rejected my query, which stops me cold at Authonomy. (That was fun, but too time consuming.)

The romance market is huge. There is a niche somewhere, I just have to find it.

Ms Kitty said...

PS. It is disgusting the way these people fawn on him and savagely attack Mary for saying the system is broken.

He even agreed with her. What else could be said? There are too few publishers to keep any kind of mid-list going.

Just between us - I'd like to see an Authonomy type of set up, where you pay a monthly charge to read the postings. (a Blackberry/PDA format.)

Say you pay $5 a month to join as a reader. The slush pile (of short stories) is a penny a read. After 10 "thumbs up" the work jumps to say a nickle a read. Same goes, until the work is priced where the writer will make some money and so will the 'publisher.'

Same basic idea with the books, only they would start at a buck.

I'm still doing some research in what's out there. Somebody has probably already done it.

It would be literary fast food, but look how many people eat fast food?