Thursday, February 4, 2010

It'll take a miracle

Or: the general inadvisability of burning one's bridges while one remains on them.

I should probably start with a general apology: work remains insanely busy, and every time I think I might be getting back to more or less normal loads, a new pile lands. I feel like the victims of the Foo bird (long story, based on spoonerism and "if the shoe fits". If you still want to know, say so in the comments). At any rate, I've got a fair idea what I want to say, but what happens along the way could get interesting.

So. Back to the approximate topic. You've probably guessed, it relates to Amazon vs Macmillan and the hordes of related issues that are even now merrily spawning tribes of issues of their own. Given the situation, those tribes of issues are probably already at war with each other. It's also got a rather sideways relationship to Sun Tzu's Art of War.

He - and probably many others - advised burning the bridges after crossing them, so that there was no retreat for the troops: once you burned the bridge, you could defeat the enemy or die trying. If you won, you could always rebuild the bridge.

Right now, it looks to me like the publishing industry is on the bridge. Behind them is the way things have been for ever and ever amen, and in front is the 'enemy' - readers, Amazon and its ilk (oh, heck, might as well just go for the internet, since I think some of these places are still trying to get a handle on pocket calculators, having reluctantly abandoned the abacus and quill and ink some time in the last 20 years or so).

Except, "I do not think it means what you think it means".

Amazon also acts as though it's on that bridge, and the enemy ahead is publishers. The territory is where all those nice fat readers live, and Amazon wants to be the new overlord and control everything they've got access to.

Readers and writers? We're actually the bridge.

And that's where it gets fun, because Amazon and Macmillan just set fire to the bridge, while they were still on it. The likely result is that both of them will take a bath, but we'll all get burned.

And there won't be any kissy stuff.


Anonymous said...

Aww! C'mon, Kate, at least a minor romance among the supporting characters?

That said, I agree with you about Amazon. They haven't _quite_ grasped how neither the readers nor the writers really need them any more.

I think we all have enough exposure to slush to agree that some sort of filter is needed in between. But no one has quite figured out what it should look like and how it should get paid.

Hopefully we'll rebuild the new bridge before we forget what the other side looks like.

Ellyll said...

That may be the best analysis of the situation I've read yet. :)

(And I already know the Foo story; I'm old.)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate, I LOVE your analogy.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

"By the light of all our burning bridges" I see the collapse of professional writing...

Kate said...


If we can stop the silly buggers burning themselves and us, we might managed to get some of that kissy stuff in.

And yes, something that does the slush filtering and the marketing - the things that free writers up to actually write - is needed and good, but the current form is possibly worse than nothing.

Kate said...


Thank you :)

(I'm not that old, but I have an extensive repertoire of off-color and outright filthy jokes, some handed down by my parents. The Foo one was one of Dad's favorite shaggy dogs)

Kate said...


Thanks! It comes from thinking at strange and abolished angles to reality.

Kate said...


As currently constituted, very likely. What rises from the ashes... Who knows? Something will rise - the difference of opinion between the huge number of people who are convinced that they've been kept down by evil slush readers and the readers who look at their pastermieces and think "what drugs were they on, and where can I get some?" rather necessitates at minimum a quality filter brand that effectively says "We guarantee grammar and spelling."

If we get really lucky, the quality promise from the new brands might look more like "We guarantee characters in our books have at least two dimensions, and there will be something vaguely resembling a plot."

Chris McMahon said...

Congratulations on a particularly impressive allegory pretzel.

I guess we all need fireproof parachutes now (to jump off the bridge) and Jame Bond diving gear (for when we hit the water). I guess all writers really need Navy Seal training:)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I like Chris' solution!

And Kate, the pastermieces it's been my previlege to judge for various contests are 99% "demon sheep" bad. So bad you laugh and cry at once. unfiltered is... odd.

Francis Turner said...

I guess this is my moment to note that I wrote a few thoughts about how to get something from the rubble on my blog yesterday -

Kate said...


Thanks! I tend naturally to allegory pretzel. It gets weird sometimes.

Yeah, we need all of that, as well as ninja marketing-fu (as opposed to the marketing Foo that currently happens) and all manner of martial arts and sales techniques. In our copious spare time, of course.

Kate said...


About the slush - I know. Oh, how I know. Much of it is not so much slush as Foo.

Kate said...


I wanted to comment directly on your blog, but ended up doing it here instead.

Your ideas and solutions are good, but it's actually both better and worse. To start with, advances for established midlist are usually up to 10k. "Up to", meaning they're lucky to get that. Newbies, 4k max unless they happen to hit all the magic buttons that get them push, in which case who knows. Small press, usually no more than 1k advance.

On those numbers it's a lot easier to earn out the advance, but that also translates to fewer books. Itty bitty print runs aren't exactly rare, so it's a lot harder for anyone to actually build a readership.

Just some semi-random thoughts from a highly fried brain.

Francis Turner said...


Ryk Spoor made the opposite point on my FB version of the post. That $30k / year is not actually enough to live off and that it really should be more like $60k.

I agree with him and you. Like I said $10k was an order of magnitude thing.

What I'm looking for is some way to generate a significant chunk of income from a small number of readers and generate some more when the numbers go up.

Kate said...


Webscriptions-style bundling is actually the perfect vehicle for that. The 'name' author's reputation generates the first round of sales, and inevitably buyers will at least look at the unknowns to see what they're like - after all, they've already got the ebook, so it's not costing them anything to take a look.

Some proportion of those readers will like the unknowns, and go on to buy those authors, building their readership.

Unfortunately, Baen seems to be the only publisher of any flavor that's worked this out.