Just As The Map Is Not the Territory, The Book Is Not the Story
Bill Quick

Boston Review — Richard Nash and Matt Runkle: Revaluing the Book

Why do we think that a person won’t buy a print book because in theory they could read it for free online? What is it that people are buying? What is it that people want? In many respects what people want is to read it on their own terms, so in many cases, people don’t want to have to read it on a screen.

This is an interesting discussion, and you really should read the whole thing, but I believe the above is a misperception that lies at the heart of most wishful thinking about the future of books and publishing.

It’s all tied up in the notion of books and objects. What they really should be thinking about is the objectification of perception as related to the story form.

A book is nothing more than one way of presenting a story – or some other discrete bundle of information – in a particular physical form that allows a reader to perceive the story itself.

We have had other such objects – scrolls, chapbooks, writing on walls, whatever. We have also had non-object methods of accomplishing the same goal – storytellers, chants, songs, and so on.

The form of the object of choice for presenting the story is changing. We are rapidly moving away from a form that has been ubiquitous for several hundred years: the bound paper book. There are a number of reasons for this, but suffice it to say that the shift is proceeding with ever greater rapidity. That tipping point is long past, and will not be reversed.

That particular story presentation object – and the production, marketing, and distribution system that grew around it, is dying. The many object, one story model is now a relic of the past, as we quickly shift into a one-object, many story model. That object is your digital book reader. You buy a Kindle, say, or just a Kindle app for your smart phone, and then you buy many stories that do not come inextricably attached to individual objects (books), and read them on your single book-object (your digital reader).

This shift is exposing another huge fault line in our understanding of books and what they are. For several centuries, book-objects and stories have been one: in order to perceive an individual story, you had to buy an individual book-object. That is no longer the case, and because that is so, we need to take another look at the difference between the story itself and presentation/perception object that channels the story.

The core of the matter is story, not object! I cannot emphasize this enough, because it is a basic understanding that seems all too often to go entirely missing in discussions of the future of books and publishing.

Books have no real future. Stories have just as much of a future as they ever did, perhaps more.

Where do stories come from? They come from human minds. They have certain rules and conventions and talent requirements that have been developed over thousands of years to mesh with inputs that give pleasure to human minds. We have certain basic understandings of what makes good stories and bad stories. Writers whom we consider to be good (ie, we enjoy them more than writers we don’t think are good) usually follow conventions and use techniques (and draw on talents) that appeal to lots of people like us – and, for the purposes of this analysis, most people are like each other when it comes to making judgments about what is, and is not, a good story. Why? Because story is perceived far more deeply than on conscious levels. We like stories in which heroes survive, because we subconsciously become those heroes and our own survival instincts are triggered in support of the hero. If the hero fails and does not survive, at some level we fail and die as well.

We mostly don’t like those stories, even if they are beautifully crafted and all the hard-learned conventions and techniques are employed, that force us to “die,” if only in our own imaginations and subconscious identifications.

And then there is the issue of craft.  We don’t like stories that are, for reasons of spelling, punctuation, grammar, style, continuity, and a host of other reasons, make a story difficult for us to immerse ourselves into.

“Good” writers generally craft stories that many, many people like. That word “craft” entails a lifetime of hard work, trial and error, self-education, and, yes, native talent. Not everybody can do it. In fact, not very many people at all can do it relatively well or successfully. And therein lies the issue over which the dying world of book-object-story is currently dashing itself to pieces. The commercial structure undergirding our previous method of story delivery – the mass-marketing of book-objects that present individual stories – acted as a gatekeeper that prevented all but those regarded by hard-eyed editors using a definition of quality that included notions of profit – Will this story sell enough books to make a profit in our current commercial structure? – from reaching a significant number of readers.

That structure is dead – and the gatekeeper function it performed is equally dead. And that is what the argument is about these days, because here is a simple truth: Good writers are few and far between, and good writing is very difficult to produce. In short, producing good writing is very hard work, and should therefore command a certain amount of value in the marketplace for the person who can do it. If it does not, then good writers will not, for the most part, make the effort. We are talking about simple matters of opportunity cost here. If a writer puts in 40 hours a week producing a good story, that is 40 hours a week that cannot be devoted to other income-producing endeavors. If the time devoted to writing produces zero income, then the writer starves, along with his family. This is why most writing prior to contemporary times was produced either by religious writers supported by their churches, or by aristocrats or others with private wealth who didn’t need to work for their daily bread.

As with so much else that the onrushing technological singularity transforms, we have here yet one more vast, long-developed cultural structure, accepted and well-understood by all, being destroyed in a few short years, far more quickly than the replacement structures to support a new paradigm can be established.

That’s what we’re fighting about right now: How are we going to incentivise the production of good stories within a framework of an entirely new delivery system that does not involve the marketing of individual physical books-as-objects? I’m sure that we will eventually find ways of doing so, but until we do, the outlook for publishing – and for story-creators – will remain unsettled.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

UPDATE: Academic critic D.G. Myers (see trackback, below) spends several paragraphs windily sneering at me for my supposed ignorance, for arriving late to the commentary on the entire issue of paper vs. digital books, and a host of other sins, including using italics and not using some of his favorite academic cant by failing to include “codex” in this post.

Like many academics, he hoists himself on the explosive petard of his own ignorance. I was writing and publishing about the issues facing dead tree books, digital publication, and their future effects on writing and publishing in general (in stories like “Bank Robbery,” written in 1987 and published in Analog Science Fiction in 1989) long before Meyers had even become aware of these issues, let alone turned the vapidity of his turgid intellect onto them. I was publishing at book length in digital format a decade ago, but I am of course inexperienced and unknowlegeable about these sorts of things.

It is often said that those who can write, do. Those that can’t write, teach. And those who can do neither become critics. Myers takes this one hilarious step further: He published a book of academic criticism about teaching writing. Perfect!

UPDATE: You’ve heard me mention my story Bank Robbery, originally published in Analog Science Fiction, many times. I finally got around to dictating it from the original Analog publication and cleaning up the transcription errors. It’s in .doc format. If you’d like to read it, here is a link to the manuscript of Bank Robbery. It will be up on Amazon and elsewhere as a .99 cent e-book within a day or two. Hope you like it.

This entry was posted in Books, Business, Culture, Singularity, Technology by Bill Quick. Bookmark the permalink.
Bill Quick

About Bill Quick

I am a small-l libertarian. My primary concern is to increase individual liberty as much as possible in the face of statist efforts to restrict it from both the right and the left. If I had to sum up my beliefs as concisely as possible, I would say, "Stay out of my wallet and my bedroom," "your liberty stops at my nose," and "don't tread on me." I will believe that things are taking a turn for the better in America when married gays are able to, and do, maintain large arsenals of automatic weapons, and tax collectors are, and do, not.

Comments

Just As The Map Is Not the Territory, The Book Is Not the Story — 47 Comments

  1. Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » BILL QUICK ON the unfortunate state of the publishing industry. Meanwhile, we’re thinking of doin…

  2. Interesting post. I don’t think that the effort to sell an individual story vs a book will be that hard for an undistorted market to work out. Platform restrictions (e.g. only kindle) are more likely to be an issue, but that is likely to resolve over time (e.g. VHS) to one accepted solution.
    I think the same model applies to TV shows and is playing out in a similar manner. The idea of having a time selected for you to watch a show will seem quaint soon. As with books, I think one of the hard lessons will be that more can often be earned with many smaller payments than fewer larger payments. A book download for $1 will have much less than 1/10 the purchase resistance than the same book at $10. Successful authors will be likely to give away the first book in a series in order to get people hooked (at least after a series is established).
    A bigger issue is likely to be how does the quality newbie break into the market. For all it’s plus and minuses, the established publishing industry had a flow and a way to introduce new talent. Without the gatekeeper function, we will see the 100x “slop pile” manuscripts make it to “publication”. This means the noise to signal ratio of mediocre vs quality writing will increase. This in turn means that for the readers, they will either have to do the job of the editor and sort through the dregs on their own dimes, or a new kind of gatekeeper will likely arise.
    The new gatekeeper will be someone who enjoys the genre and willingly wades through the trash to find the nugget of gold. They will likely do this as a passion, rather than an income. As their following grows, they may be able to turn it into a profit center or even their main support either by advertising or being paid to review stories. As you say, we will tend to like the same things. If I find a reviewer whose tastes matches mine, that can help me weed through the mounds of manuscripts.
    The other likely gate keepers will be the “army of Davids” approach where lots of people give thumbs up or you find new writers based on lots of people buying a writer you haven’t heard of in a genre you like. Any of these will get you to try, though as now, only quality will keep you coming back.
    Jim Baen was showing some innovation in the transition period. He would post the first few chapters for free to lower the cost of trying an author and provide earlier works of an author for free to introduce new readers. Those are likely to become standard.
    Two other questions that come to mind are the fate of the public library in this new publishing world and how the niche of editor as someone who improves the writing of the author will play out.

  3. It will involved the marketing of the writer of good stores, just as it does today, rather than the book object.

    I just started writing a little ebook on self-publishing for the absolute novice to help them decide on whether to take the plunge.

    I started reading a lot more ebooks, and I just did not like some best selling authors. I won’t buy more of their books even at 99 cents. But I will also keep testing other authors at ebook prices.

    I can only test authors who have a reputation of one sort or another.

  4. Pingback: The End of Books—This Time for Sure! « Commentary Magazine

  5. I just did not like some best selling authors

    Likewise. I’d use some of my (very limited) leisure time to read some fiction and declare in disgust, “I can write better than this!” However, the Big 6 gatekeepers, in their demonstrable feel for the market*, told me that consumers don’t want short stories and so I couldn’t get a foot in the door. Kindle and other very-low-outlay streams give me, and a bazillion others, a foot in the door.

    but that is likely to resolve over time (e.g. VHS) to one accepted solution.

    I certainly hope not. That would put Amazon in the position of solitary gatekeeper. As both author and reader I’d prefer the current situation, with competing hardware, competing formats, and especially competing vendors.

    * A lot of non-regular readers will likely see this, so I ought to note that this is sarcasm. If the Big 6 had a feel for the market, they wouldn’t all be on the skids. (Note added afterward, as I got distracted by an excited 4-year-old and forgot)

  6. Oh, and having read about Heinlein working with Campbell, all I can say is I’d love to be edited like that. Alas, not in the current publishing field but — being a glass half full kind of girl — perhaps in the future of “editors for hire.”

  7. While a new author can easily publish his or her works through Amazon, LuLu or Smashwords. they still have a problem: obscurity.

    Think about it. When you go into a brick and mortar book store do you look at every book on the shelf? No, of course not. You do not have the time to pick up every book and thumb through it to see if you might possibly be interested in it. Now think on this: On Amazon there is over a million books how do you search them all? You don’t, matter of fact it’s harder for the simple fact you have more to search through.

    That is the single biggest obstacle for any new author and where the publishing houses are needed. They do more than print the books they market the books.

    It doesn’t matter if they are in Ebook format or Dead Tree format, you still need that publisher if you want to be successful.

    If you want to read well thought out ideas about ebooks, DRM, publishing and E-piracy I recommend reading the works of Eric Flint an author and editor with Baen Books one of the pioneers in ebooks.

    What about the future? people ask. Even if reading off a screen is not today as competitive as reading paper, what about the future when it will be? By which time advances in technology might make piracy so easy and ubiquitous that the income of authors really gets jeopardized?

    My answer is:

    Who knows?

    I’m not worried about it, however, basically for two reasons.

    The first is a simple truth which Jim Baen is fond of pointing out: most people would rather be honest than dishonest.

    [Snipped for brevity]

    The reason I’m not worried about the future is because of another simple truth. One which is even simpler, in fact — and yet seems to get constantly overlooked in the ruckus over online piracy and what (if anything) to do about it. To wit:

    Nobody has yet come up with any technology — nor is it on the horizon — which could possibly replace authors as the producers of fiction. Nor has anyone suggested that there is any likelihood of the market for that product drying up.

    The only issue, therefore, is simply the means by which authors get paid for their work.

    That’s a different kettle of fish entirely from a “threat” to the livelihood of authors. Some writers out there, imitating Chicken Little, seem to think they are on the verge of suffering the fate of buggy whip makers. But that analogy is ridiculous. Buggy whip makers went out of business because someone else invented something which eliminated the demand for buggy whips — not because Henry Ford figured out a way to steal the payroll of the buggy whip factory.

    Is anyone eliminating the demand for fiction?Nope.

    Has anyone invented a gadget which can write fiction?Nope.

    All that is happening, as the technological conditions under which commercial fiction writing takes place continue to change, is that everyone is wrestling with the impact that might have on the way in which writers get paid. That’s it. So why all the panic? Especially, why the hysterical calls for draconian regulation of new technology — which, leaving aside the damage to society itself, is far more likely to hurt writers than to help them?

    The future can’t be foretold. But, whatever happens, so long as writers are essential to the process of producing fiction — along with editors, publishers, proofreaders (if you think a computer can proofread, you’re nuts) and all the other people whose work is needed for it — they will get paid. Because they have, as a class if not as individuals, a monopoly on the product. Far easier to figure out new ways of generating income — as we hope to do with the Baen Free Library — than to tie ourselves and society as a whole into knots. Which are likely to be Gordian Knots, to boot.

    http://www.baen.com/library/

    Read that and then click the link to the Prime Palaver series of articles. From there I recommend his “Salvos Against Big Brother” articles in Jim Baens Universe particularly his articles titled the “Opaque Market”, “A Matter of Symbiosis”, “Paper books are not going to be joining the dodo any time soon. If ever.” and “The Internet is Not a Magic Wand”.
    http://baens-universe.com/columns/Salvos_Against_Big_Brother

  8. boballab, I’m sure it would never occur to you that, as a professional science fiction writer with 28 books published by major NYC publishing houses, I might have some familiarity with all of the sources you mention, and even some personal familiarity with the players you mention, as well as many others you don’t?

    Any more than it would occur to you that most of us have faced these issues long, long before you ever came upon them, and that the outcomes you cite as indisputable, (Paper books are not going to be joining the dodo any time soon, if ever) are by no means even close to being dispositive?

    Although, you know, keep on keeping on. Soon enough this question will be as settled as the role of papyrus scrolls as instruments of mass story retailing. And as important. It is not interesting enough even to bother debating any more – nor did I attempt to, although any mention of the possibility of the death of books seems to rivet the attention of the faithful to the exclusion of all else.

  9. boballab,

    Two things are going to happen: 1/ You will see one heck of alot more authors. 2/ People WILL find the books that they wish to read.

    To the first point. This country is awash in talent, gushing in fact. Sedaka found that out in a talent search endeavor a decade ago. There are well thought authors who never get a chance to publish because the NY pipeline can only handle so many events in a given period. The internet washes that away.

    To the second point. Sadly you are suggesting that you can’t do an Amazon search? Of that many other people can’t find what they want? I take that as a arrogrant presumption of your view of the public. When they walk into the bookstore, good chance they already know what they want and fair chance the author too, for he or she scratches their itch. It will be no different online.

    The public will also find authors to their liking in the $1.99 pile on Amazon. Many will flounder but many will flourish given the chance to develop a following. Nothing is static in this biz. Samuel Clemens was a dime novel purveyor before he became a living classic. We are experiencing those times again. I look forward to it.

  10. Certainly. One clue is a tiptoe through all those .99 and 1.99 offerings at Amazon. See what percentage of those you’ll be able to get more than ten pages into.

    Unfortunately, I speak as a former reader of slush. It is pretty much a myth that publishing houses turn down huge amounts of well-written, entertaining stuff.

    I personally had only one book turned down out of 29 submissions to major houses – in which the reasons given at five houses boiled down to, “This is very well written, but we don’t have a clue how to market it.”

  11. Interesting web object :)

    I found it helpful to read the linked story as well. Thanks.

    [Bill and Clayton, this smells like a spamming dirtbag, but there's no link or anything. I don't know if my nose is off or if the would-be spammer is incompetent. If the latter, I don't know whether to plonk it to discourage 'ez' from trying again. -- SteveF]

    [ez: If you are a decent human being and not an incompetent would-be spamming dirtbag, my apologies.]

  12. EZ’s posted here before. He’s real.

    He’s also making a play on my distinction between “book objects” and digital delivery of story content. Which would be a bit of a reach for the average spambot.

    And he read my story, ancient (nearly a quarter of a century old) though it now is! Thank you!

  13. Pingback: Why Self-Publish? | The Chiles Files

  14. Some how Mr. Quick gets the idea that I have some type of belief in Dead Tree Books even though I stated:

    It doesn’t matter if they are in Ebook format or Dead Tree format, you still need that publisher if you want to be successful.

    Somehow, it seems Mr. Quick takes it as an affront that I expose readers of his blog to another person whose articles have a lot in common with his position.

    The point here is that, in the worst conceivable eventuality, the transformation of publishing into a predominantly electronic form might force authors to change the form in which they told stories. It might, conceivably, force authors to either abandon old methods and develop new ones or lose their livelihoods.

    And . . . so what?

    Being blunt about it, a person has a right to try to make a living as a story-teller. You do not, however, have the right to dictate to the public the form in which you choose to tell the story. That’s their prerogative, not yours.

    In fact, the public’s taste has continually changed over time, forcing authors to adapt. And, every time a change needed to be made, not all authors were able to make the adaptation. That was tough for them personally, of course, but that’s just the nature of the trade of story-telling. It’s a very chance way to make a living, and always has been.

    http://baens-universe.com/articles/The_Nature_of_Transitions

    Then we come to the patronizing “I knew about this well before you” attitude. Well Mr. Quick as a person that has worked in mobile electronics since 1984, I knew about the hardware well before the people outside the electronics industry and as an avid reader contemplated what that meant.

    to JohnMc:

    It’s amazing that you take it as an arrogant presumption what I stated about the obscurity new authors face, then turn around and prove my point when you state this:

    When they walk into the bookstore, good chance they already know what they want and fair chance the author too, for he or she scratches their itch. It will be no different online.

    And that is my point they already know the author and skip over all the other books and authors. That means they ignore the new author in favor of an already established one. If you had taken the time to read the articles I linked you would have noticed this

    According to R.R. Bowker, the company that compiles the Books in Print database in the USA, in the year 2003 there were approximately 175,000 new titles published in the United States. That’s one new book coming out about every twenty seconds. The figures for the UK are smaller but comparable—the best estimates are that more than one hundred thousand books are produced in Great Britain every year, in recent years.

    That’s at least a quarter of a million new titles in the English language, published every year. And in case you were wondering—given the endless yapping about “the decline of reading”—the number is increasing, not decreasing. Over the past half century, since the advent of television—which many doomsayers insisted would destroy reading—the production of books has increased four-fold. That increase is faster than the population increase, by the way. World-wide, we’ve gone from about a quarter of a million books produced every year to a million, which translates into an increase from one hundred new books for every million people to one hundred and sixty-seven new books per million people.

    [Snipped for Brevity]

    Again, it’s simple. The book market is so opaque that, willy-nilly, almost all book-buyers react by being extremely conservative in their buying habits. “Conservative,” at least, in terms of which authors they’re willing to spend money on, if not necessarily in terms of how much money they spend overall.

    They simply have no choice. They have neither the time nor the money—especially the time—to do anything remotely resembling a thorough search of the market to see which authors they might like more than any other. They can’t even do that in one corner of the market, such as science fiction and fantasy, much less the market as a whole.

    So, with the exception of a few adventurous types, most readers stick with a small number of authors whom they’ve come to know that they generally like. They venture afield only rarely, for the good and simple reason that people are generally reluctant to spend money—and time, perhaps, even more so—on what amounts to a pig in a poke. Unless they have some reason to think they might enjoy an unfamiliar author, they will simply ignore them. For years, and years, and years.

    http://baens-universe.com/articles/salvos7

    So it is an arrogant presumption on my part that people will not have the time to search through a million new books a year to find a new author they might like? Yet at the same time you state that because the people already knew what author they like they can do that? The logic there is not squaring up.

    You see I do deal with a lot of people that are trying to get their works read. One such has just gone through the self publish route and ran smack into the obscurity problem that Eric Flint stated. He has his “book” in both paper and ebook format and had no sales in 6 months and is not shy about telling other aspiring authors that not being “known” is a killer. You are not going to be able to earn a living writing just by putting your book up for sale for $.99 or $1.99 on Amazon. You are going to have to spend most of your time promoting and marketing it yourself.

    Further evidence is an author by the name of Larry Corriea. He self published a book that you might have heard of: Monster Hunter International. Now when did you hear about it? When he was hustling from local bookstore to local bookstore, from convention to convention? Or after Baen books picked up that title, marketed and promoted it?

    Without Baen picking that book up, Monster Hunter International never would have been the success that it was and Larry Corriea has stated it himself that going the traditional publisher route is better. As he put it:

    So for me, self publishing was how I broke into real publishing. That said, it certainly isn’t for everyone. The vast majority of self published work is pretty bad. If you do take the plunge, you have to be a self-promoting, self-marketing son of a gun. The deck will be stack against you. If you can get published the normal way, do it. Your blood pressure will thank you.

    http://bar.baen.com/messageview.aspx?catid=18&threadid=20371&highlight_key=y&keyword1=Monster+hunter+International

  15. He’s spouting a bunch of bullshit. The single advantage the big publishers have had was the ability to manage product channels and marketing strategies that were antiquated beyond belief. That is no longer enough to give them a path to survival.

    He doesn’t know anything at all about the current state of publishing, and his ranting about the absolute necessity of a publisher is nonsense.

    There will be gatekeeping functions attached to the marketing of digital content, but they won’t look anything at all like the current publishing structure. Ignore him. He’ll be revealed an an ignoramus in a fairly short period of time – less than five years, I expect, by which time I predict most publishing houses will go into a state of full collapse, followed by oblivion.

    I treat him with disdain because he deserves nothing better.

    Well Mr. Quick as a person that has worked in mobile electronics since 1984, I knew about the hardware well before the people outside the electronics industry and as an avid reader contemplated what that meant.

    Talk is cheap. Why don’t you read what I actually wrote in 1987 on the subject, later published in Analog SF: link to the manuscript of Bank Robbery.

    You could also read my full-length book on digital publishing, a Writer’s Digest Book Club Main Selection, written in 2000: How To Get Your E-Book Published.

  16. Damn, I just put my first short story up on smashwords.. for free… I’ve got other longer stuff written, but am trying to get a little feedback before investing in an editor for my Novel… I got a novella ready to submit to Amazon as a single…

    How do you gin up reader ship for a short story?

    Brave New World out there…

    Oh, I got it, post a link!

    http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/84537

    (Will probably get banned…However I have been blogging for a couple years…www.practicalstate.com)

  17. Banned? No, I’ve been a writer since I was sixteen. I wrote at least two million words before selling a single one. I’ve since sold dozens of short stories, and dozens of books to national magazines and major NYC publishing houses. I have a very well known NYC agent (among her other clients is Charlie Stross) and I am working on a new trilogy at the moment – which will be marketed to major NYC publishers.

    Why? Because I am in a position to effectively do that. Very few of the kazillion authors currently flooding the free, .99, and 1.99 sections of Amazon are in that position. I fully expect that advantage to evaporate with the publishers themselves over the next five years, but I will try to get what I can while the getting is good. Amazon doesn’t pay advances.

    Anyway, what I’m saying is I am sympathetic to would-be authors trying to get a leg up in this brave new digital world.

    I’m also considering what my strategy will be as far as my own writing goes in the wake of the publishing train wreck now clearly visible over the near-term horizon.

  18. I meant banned from your site…

    I got a 15 year old that hates harry potter but loves the kindle… My gripe is that except for the public domain books (Lord Jim was free), some of the kindle available books on his “read list” (he is going to the local collegiate High School…another blog topic) cost more than the paperback in many cases. Brave New World on the kindle was around 8 bucks… I went to the local Barnes and noble and they had it for 6.

    Something has to give…

  19. My gripe is that except for the public domain books (Lord Jim was free), some of the kindle available books on his “read list” (he is going to the local collegiate High School…another blog topic) cost more than the paperback in many cases.

    Yep. This is another issue contributing to the imminent failure of traditional publishing structures.

    Read Charlie Stross on the issue. Charlie wrote that in the middle of last year. I’d be interested to see how, or if, he would update it to take account of current events.

  20. First to erwhitejr.

    I did not state that, I stated that a new author will not be able to throw a book out on those platforms and sit back and watch the money roll in. You will have to be the marketer and promoter. This is not just my belief but also by authors that have tried it including Larry Correia whose statement I copied above.

    Here is the experience of one such author’s attempt:

    Ahh, yes. Seeing your book online for sale is a lot of fun and a bit of an ego boost. Holding a copy of your own creation in printed form is kind of great.

    It is easy to do. I don’t mean it doesn’t take a bit of work because it does. What it doesn’t cost is a lot of money, or, in my case, not a dime at all.

    [Snipped for brevity, he is explaining how Smashwords and Amazon work]

    I’ve done them all. THEN you have a problem. Who the hell is going to buy it?

    For instance I feel that many if not most of Gina and Bruce’s books are superior in content to mine. Who knows that? We do, we have our favorites. I have my own forum, blog, etc. Guess what? With a few exceptions they are NOT the potential buyers of my published works.

    I know how many books I’ve sold both Kindle and Amazon and I can see what Bruce ranks next to me, and let’s face it, when the royalty checks come around we won’t be able to afford a bottle of bubbly to celebrate it. Not even if we pooled our funds.

    Why? In spite of what I’ve learned about self-publishing in the last few months all I have is a book. One book, or cone electronic book, sitting there among millions of others with nothing there to call attention to it. Kindle has a million titles, how to they find mine?

    What we are missing here is not good content or the smarts to navigate the self publishing/POD jungle, but any clue as to market the product once it’s done.

    For all I can and will help those of you who wish to self publish, how do we get these titles seen? How do we get them in the faces of the buying public not just so they will buy them, but at least know that there is an option to buy. That is where my experiment into self-publishing has run into a huge roadblock and I don’t have any real idea what to do.

    http://www.beyondthefarhorizon.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1606

    You see if Tom Clancy, Steven King or J.K. Rowling decided to self publish today they would not have much trouble because they are the top of the heap and well known. However how did they get there? By themselves? Or did they have help being pushed to the top by a publishing house?

    Look back to how Tom Clancy started as an example. His first book was Hunt for Red October and was printed by the Naval Institute Press. Not exactly what you would call a “major publishing house”. Now did the book immediately set the world on fire? No. That book didn’t take off until President Reagan talked about it during a press conference. That is when Penguin picked up the rights to the paper back version. Now instead of going that route Clancy had self published it (assuming they had todays technology then) and did not get that lucky presidential endorsement. Would Tom Clancy have become the Tom Clancy that we know? The odds say no, we wouldn’t. Hunt For Red October would have just been another title awash among thousands of others.

    So far between Mr. Quick and myself I have presented statements from 2 authors that have tried self publishing and hard numbers provided by Mr. Flint. What has Mr. Quick provided? Hand waving assertions of how Publishers are not needed.

    Now to Mr. Quick. You have been denigrating and patronizing without knowing a thing about me, while at the same time pounding your chest about your 28 published books through *gasp* those same publishing houses you state you do not need. If you did not need them why did you submit to them? Why didn’t you not only write those books but also print them, market them and promote them?

    Could it be Mr. Quick that you knew that those publishers would have done the printing, marketing and promoting for you? You keep waving your hands about how they are going to go away but have yet to show an alternative to them. Until there is a viable alternative to the marketing and promotion aspects that publishing houses provide they will survive no matter how much handwaving you do.

    There is an old saying about killing a certain goose and that sir is what you are advocating, killing the goose that made it feasible for you to earn money off those books.

  21. You’re still full of shit, and you are apparently unable to read any of my follow up posts for comprehension.

    Anyway, what happened with authors twenty five years ago and more, (back when King and Clancy – and I – were getting off the ground) has zero relevance as to what is going to happen shortly.

    You also are dim enough to seem to think that because I am predicting the demise of publishing as we have known it, that I desire that demise. Why would I? Trad publishers have made me a hell of a lot of money over the years. I’m hoping, (which you would know, if you read my comments) to squeeze even a bit more juice out of the walking corpse before it goes belly up.

    But belly up it’s going, and all your ancient, anecdotal “evidence” isn’t going to slow it one whit.

    And I don’t mind pounding my chest over my accomplishments in the commercial writing field. They are evidence that I, unlike you, have real-world experience with publishing, and actually do have a clue as to what I’m talking about. Now get back to me when you can call up a real editor in a major NYC publishing house or a real literary agent in a major NYC agency and chat about what both of you see coming in the near future. As I have done more than once.

  22. Whoops, just noticed this load of horseshit:

    You keep waving your hands about how they are going to go away but have yet to show an alternative to them. Until there is a viable alternative to the marketing and promotion aspects that publishing houses provide they will survive no matter how much handwaving you do.

    Yeah, history is just replete with examples of things that simply could not collapse until replacements for them were ready to take over.

    Can you really be this stupid? Things collapse when they fall down and die. Their deaths are not slowed one bit by considerations of whether their replacements are ready, or even exist. In fact, “replacements” are quite often not even considered, let alone created, until the collapse reveals a need for them. Or reveals that no need exists, and the buggy whip industry vanishes forever.

    Especially ludicrous:

    Until there is a viable alternative to the marketing and promotion aspects that publishing houses provide they will survive

    No, they won’t, unless an income stream to support them can be found. Traditional publishing isn’t vanishing entirely because of technological innovation. In large part what is dumping it into the grave is the fact that it is broke, broke, broke. And getting broker. (Which is, of course, being largely driven by the tech, so….you do the math).

  23. Mr. Quick what you have experience in is getting a publisher to buy your works not directly in publishing, marketing and promoting those books yourself. Someone else has done that work for you.

    As to me being dim, not hardly. I noticed very well how much of a hypocrite you are. You keep stating about how you are going to keep getting your money from them at the same time telling others they don’t need the publishers.

    Also how you got off the ground is very relevant to today’s discussion. You keep dodging telling how a new author is suppose to market his new book after he self publishes. Why is that? We both know that if you were a new author today and self published you would be in the same spot as the authors I linked to: A nobody with a book awash in a sea of others hoping that someone stumbles over them.

    Larry Correia was in that spot, hustling around actively selling his book. His break came when a local store manager who knew Toni Weisskopf at Baen Books recommended him to her and that was 2 years ago not 25. So the paradigm was the same 2 years ago as it was 25 years ago: If you don’t have someone else that knows how to market and promote your “story” you will not be a success.

    Another thing weird about your argument is that everyone should listen to your “expert” analysis about publishing but shouldn’t listen to the evidence put forth by another author that has not only done that but has been an editor. We should also discount the experience of authors that have tried the self publish route, including a best selling author.

  24. You keep stating about how you are going to keep getting your money from them at the same time telling others they don’t need the publishers.

    I defy you to show me one place where I have said anything like that. There is an uncrossable chasm of meaning seperating “You don’t need publishers,” and “The publishers are going away.”

    Sigh.

    You’re dumb as a box of wet hair, and I’m bored with trying to pound some understanding into your impenetrable skullbone.

    I do have to tell you, though, that I’m not doing you any favors by leaving these comments of yours right out in public where everybody can see what a hopeless dumbass you are.

    Now go ahead: post your bullshit about Correia one more time as if it had any relevance to anything I have written here. And then…bark for me, moonbat, bark!

  25. He doesn’t know anything at all about the current state of publishing, and his ranting about the absolute necessity of a publisher is nonsense.

    Mr. Quick if my stating that a publisher is necessary to become successful is nonsense you are taking the opposite position: they are not needed to become successful. Yet at the same time your are taking that position your success as an author is due to them and you will continue to make money off of them.

  26. Bill, IF the present day paper publishers are going to go away, I don’t quite understand how authors are going to decide where/how in what format they are going to do their self-publishing. Not to mention continually changing software/hardware every 4 to 8 years will make it necessary for them/someone to change that format each time that happens. And don’t get me started on trying to find a replacement battery for your Kindle in a few years, heh, heh.
    Probably these problems will solve themselves; what do I know, I’m just an iggorant technickin…
    For the record I have in fact supported several authors who first self-published including Mr. Correia. A couple were picked up by “real” publishers and I bought their stuff in book stores. A couple are still self-publishing and I buy their stuff directly whenever they write something new.

  27. Do you even understand English, or is it a second or third language for you?

    The word “absolute” modifies “necessity.” It means I am saying that your contention that success is impossible without a traditional publisher is nonsense.

    So, all I need to do to demonstrate that your claim of absolute necessity is a crock is to find one – just one – author who has been successful without the aid of a traditional publishing arrangment.

    Okay, here she is.

    As for anything more, I am banning you from further comments. I don’t know why, but every time I post anything at length with serious intent, and Glenn Reynolds links it, I always get one egregious asshole who takes up residence in the comments and proceeds to stink the place up with his (or, rarely, her) stupidity. Eventually I get tired of them and cut them off.

    You’re cut off. Bye.

  28. Bill, IF the present day paper publishers are going to go away, I don’t quite understand how authors are going to decide where/how in what format they are going to do their self-publishing.

    If you publish via Kindle Publishing (ie., Amazon), they take care of putting the ms. into their proprietary format. The procedure isn’t difficult to learn and use, and you don’t need to be a technician to do so.

    There are now only two major formats that cover 90% of the platforms out there: mobi for amazon devices and apps, and epub for everything else. I self-pubbed all my early SF recently as ebooks – as you may have noticed – and I used both the Amazon Kindle publishing program, and a free piece of ‘ware called Caliber to do a conversion to the epub format. I am using an online joint to sell the epub versions, so I don’t have to personally manage the order fulfillment process. They do that, and cut me a check every month for whatever I’ve sold. Their service costs me twelve bucks a month plus four points of the gross for unlimited sales.

    Not to mention continually changing software/hardware every 4 to 8 years will make it necessary for them/someone to change that format each time that happens.

    The hardware doesn’t matter. Ebooks are rapidly becoming hardware platform independent. And the number of formats have been shrinking, not expanding. As I said, we’re down to two that can be read by just about everything out there. We may end up with one – depends on if Amazon becomes willing to let .epub into the house.

    Probably these problems will solve themselves;

    They have been doing exactly that. Which is a big reason why ebook sales have been taking off in a big way.

    There’s only one big issue left to resolve: How to create a way of exchanging value for value, so that good writers can get paid for writing good stuff. That’s the next big frontier, but I don’t think we’re going to get it quite tamed before the trad publishers fall apart. Which means that we’re going to lose the output of a lot of good writers as the counterfeit drives out the real in a sheer flood of slush.

    A copious supply of good writers is not, as so many seem to think, some sort of natural right. If I can’t make what I think my time and effort is worth out of writing, I’ll stop doing it. Most of us will. We’ll have to.

    But in the end, I don’t think it will come to that. We’ll find a way to make the exchange. And the new structures will only superficially resemble the failed old ones.

    Read that story “Bank Robbery” I just posted. I worked a lot of this stuff out 25 years ago. The solution I came up with may yet look a lot like what eventually comes to pass. Actually, Amazon could add editorial staff and set up a Kindle section called “Presented by Amazon” for the pro-level stuff, and it would probably work. In its essence, there needs to be some sort of widely accepted digital gatekeeper function created to replace that which was once provided by trad publishing. Whether that becomes all-digital publishing houses, or some sort of search function that can effectively judge quality, or some sort of crowd-wisdom rating system, or something else entirely, I have no idea. But it will be necessary, or else being a writer won’t pay the bills, and if that happens, well, you’ll be getting what you pay for.

    And when software comes along that can mimic professional level human writing, well…. Then we’re all pretty much done for. And it will probably happen.

  29. Bill,
    I personally had only one book turned down out of 29 submissions to major houses – in which the reasons given at five houses boiled down to, “This is very well written, but we don’t have a clue how to market it.”
    Lucky you. I run about 1/3 of rejections for that reason. A result of the mind that could complicate boiling water. I’m working on it. Still, given I came into the field post 9/11 1/3 rejections is not bad. However, I’m far enough down the tree that for me, frankly, traditional publishing might not be worth it. Not sure. Considering all this.

    On your er… spammer quoting Eric Flint. I work for the same publisher as Eric Flint. His attitude has changed by leaps and bounds. A year ago he still said something to the effect that “self publishing is wrong” but now he’s dipping his toe in. Of course, some people will go down with his words. (And I have other disagreements with Eric when it comes to philosophy and politics — actually we disagree on pretty much everything of that nature — but I’ll say that at least his opinion is changing. Some of his readers are less disposed to do the same.)

    I’ve also been following Kris Rusch’s The Business Rusch, which seems to apply more closely to my situation, since we’re at equivalent “places” — though of course she’s been in the field much longer — and she says that traditional publishing will continue because it has most money. I don’t know. In that I disagree with her. She makes her case by comparing it to Network TV and cable to traditional publishing and indie. The difference is Network TV has ease of access (elderly people or the barelly interested in TV like us, will turn it on because it’s there, if TV must be on.) I think publishers no longer have that, and it’s getting worse for them every month.

    And I have to say, gut feeling, no support for this, but my sense is that we have less time than you say. Not five years, but three. Maybe two. (Which means at my level I have to consider potential advance — not massive — against possibility of work being tied up for years in legal/financial disputes. You see where that poses a problem.)

    Oh, and on the country awash with talent… Well… There is a lot more than was accepted, particularly in recent years, mostly because of that “no idea how to market.” Publishers seem to be going with “safe” more and more. BUT “awash” might be pushing it. I’ve judged my share of contests, which by themselves cull for “working” and “can hit deadline” and uh…. Most of it it’s an effort to read past the first paragraph.

    Sorry for long comment. Late night making me verbose.

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  32. and she says that traditional publishing will continue because it has most money. I don’t know. In that I disagree with her.

    I do as well, although Charlie Stross seems to have a different opinion – he seems to think the big houses will stagger along, even though they will move the mass market to digital.

    I doubt it, but who knows? Still, as the dead tree book sellers continue to fall apart, the market for paper is going to go more and more to the Costcos and Sams Clubs of the world. Which means a much smaller sales channel for hardcover, although they may be counting on moving the sales channels entirely online, via Amazon and the like.

    Not five years, but three. Maybe two.

    Yeah. I didn’t want to sound too dismal, but that three year take is mine, too. And that’s not from talking to editors. It’s from talking to agents, who are already beginning to look around for some sort of career for “after….” “After” seems to be generally expected to occur in NY somewhere in 2014.

    I’m finishing off the first book of a massive trilogy right now. My agent wants to market a package (of course) and so I will be sending along outlines for the final two books as well. I think the strategy is to maximize upfront money as much as we can – for both of us.

    Luckily, I’m a fast writer. If I have to write off those books to the collapse, well, shrug. There are more where those came from. What is occupying my thoughts at the moment is how to leverage whatever skills and advantages I have right now into self-publishing and selling my stuff digitally. I’ve taught myself to package my stuff on my own, for zero cost. I even design and build my own covers. I build my own web sites – and have already launched a new personal writing site. I’m not doing much with it right now, but as soon as I get a deal on the trilogy I’ll start marketing it there, and also start building as much traffic there as I can. I’m thinking of asking my agent to seek some sort of auto-rights reversion in the event of a publisher bankruptcy, too.

    The biggest hope we pro authors have right now is the ten to one (or better) advantage we have in terms of income with digital self pub vs. trad pub. So I’m strategizing as hard as I can to come up with ways to generate at least one tenth of my sales in digital as I might get with dead tree channels. If I can do that, then the other advantages are obvious.

    The biggest problem is going to be for us pros to distinguish ourselves from the digital slush pile out there. That may be a very hard slog. I’m thinking about it now, though.

  33. The biggest problem is going to be for us pros to distinguish ourselves from the digital slush pile out there.

    1. Marketing of your name and advertising of your books. Time-consuming and tiring even more than it is expensive.

    2. Professional reviewers who would put their thoughts, reviews, and recommendations up on a site, probably with links to the books. Funding these guys would be a challenge; advertising probably wouldn’t suffice. Pro authors could chip in with the expectation that their books would get good reviews because their work is better, but keeping the popular trustworthiness of the reviewers would be tricky.

    3. Community sites in which ordinary people put up their recommendations and such. These fall prey to the usual politics and BS of community sites. However, so long as you have high-quality work and you don’t immerse yourself in the politicking and BS it might work out ok.

    These thoughts are just off the top of my head. However, something along these lines is what I’ve worked on for the past couple years as my main contract, so many of these issues are in front of my eyes 40 hours a week. (If I may be permitted a bit of argument from authority.)

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  35. 2. Professional reviewers who would put their thoughts, reviews, and recommendations up on a site, probably with links to the books. Funding these guys would be a challenge; advertising probably wouldn’t suffice. Pro authors could chip in with the expectation that their books would get good reviews because their work is better, but keeping the popular trustworthiness of the reviewers would be tricky.

    3. Community sites in which ordinary people put up their recommendations and such. These fall prey to the usual politics and BS of community sites. However, so long as you have high-quality work and you don’t immerse yourself in the politicking and BS it might work out ok.

    I’m thinking along the lines of some sort of combination of these two. I’m also considering trying to set up something myself….

    I don’t think I have the tech skills necessary, but maybe I can teach myself enough to get something rudimentary going…like the first yahoo page. Remember that? I still have a screenshot stored away somewhere.

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