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Posts Tagged ‘industry neepery’

Jim Hines Explains It All

Many years ago, I remember hearing an incredibly vague story about some fanfic writer who sued a professional author for writing a book they claimed was too similar to a pre-existing fanfic.

I suspect that was the product of this story going through a game of Telephone, with details being dropped at every turn. Jim Hines, Hero of the Revolution, has dug through the dustbin of the Internets to try and ascertain the actual facts of an incident in the early 90’s, involving Marion Zimmer Bradley and the fanfic writer Jean Lamb. Why? Because when arguments come up concerning fanfic, sooner or later somebody ends up trotting out this particular tale, often in moderately warped form (though rarely as warped as the version I heard). So it’s worth taking a step back and asking, what actually happened there?

We’ll never know for sure — particularly since, as Opusculus points out in one of the posts Jim links to, the incident almost certainly involved one of MZB’s ghostwriters, and none of the likely candidates has given a detailed account of the events. (Neither has Lamb, possibly — as suggested somewhere in the comment threads — on advise of counsel.) But if you’re interested in the boundary between fanfic and profic, and what kinds of legal issues can arise when something wanders across that boundary, definitely read Jim’s post, and follow the links if you have the time. At the very least, the story is not quite what folklore has made it out to be, and so the lessons to be taken away from it are not necessarily what you think.

Or at least what I thought, since I was operating from a very warped version of the facts. So I owe thanks to Jim for the breakdown.

because they’re cluttering up Firefox

I meant to offer these with more commentary, but I don’t think I’m going to get around to it. Two last links on the Amazon vs. Macmillan thing, both from Making Light:

1) An explanation of the “agency model” that Macmillan’s pushing and Amazon’s fighting, in case you’re wondering just what the fight is actually about, and,

2) Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s commentary on a post (which she links) by a music industry executive, talking about what happens when you let retailers start calling the shots in your line of work. Fascinating material in there about what happened to the music industry, and then Teresa relates it to publishing in some very enlightening ways.


the fallout of Amazon vs. Macmillan

John Scalzi is valuable once again. This time he’s discussing what you can do to help the real victims of this publishing slapfight — “real” in the sense of “people who are losing something, right now, that they can’t afford and aren’t going to get back.” Amazon — which still hasn’t put back the buy links, last I heard — is losing sales, sure, but they can survive it. Ditto Macmillan, though their survival is less easily assured. And readers can buy the books elsewhere, or pick them up from Amazon once this mess is resolved.

For authors, though, every reader that doesn’t buy their book represents not just lost income, but the possibility that whichever subsidary of Macmillan publishes them won’t offer another contract in the future. Because when contract time rolls around, the bean-counters are going to look at how their previous books have sold. And for some, the losses they’ve been incurring since Friday — much less any of the ill-conceived boycotts flying around — may break them.

I bring this up because of a post by Jay Lake, where he describes the attitudes and assumptions he’s seen on the Kindle message boards. The list is really disturbing to anyone working as a writer — well, see for yourself:

1. Authors are greedy
2. Authors are rich
3. Authors hate ebook readers
4. Authors control pricing
5. Authors control what their publishers do
6. Authors should be punished for what their publisher does
7. Authors are taking orders from their publishers’ PR departments
8. Authors should self-publish, because they’ll make lots more money that way
9. Authors don’t know what they’re talking about
10. Authors aren’t necessary
11. Authors are bullying Amazon

My thoughts on this are, once again, rather long, so they’re going behind a cut.

It’s almost enough to make you cry.

Amazon vs. Macmillan: my verdict

The part behind the cut is going to be long and somewhat arcane, but if you want to know some of how the sausage gets made — just what’s going on with ebooks and Kindles, how pricing gets determined, and why Amazon’s strategy is problematic for the industry (let alone the petulance of their tactics) — then read onward. Outside the cut, I’ll point you at the response from Macmillan’s CEO, and the more belated response from Amazon’s Kindle Team (dissected by anghara). If you read only one other thing on the topic, it should be John Scalzi’s magesterial (and highly amusing) analysis of how Amazon failed, because his post is about the tactics, and why they were such a resoundingly bad idea. The rest of this will be about the strategy, the behind-the-scenes stuff that explains why so much of the publishing industry is up in arms against Amazon.

Macmillan may not be the good guy, but they’re the better guy in this particular war.

a brief note on the Amazon thing

Short form, for those who haven’t heard: Macmillan (publishing conglomerate that includes, among other companies, Tor) allegedly told Amazon (you know who they are, I imagine) that they wanted to price their ebooks at $15, and Amazon, in refusing to cooperate, has stopped selling Macmillan’s books. Not their ebooks; all of their books. As in, right now you can buy the Wheel of Time used from third-party sellers, but not from Amazon.

Oh, and undoubtedly this has to to with the iPad thing — Macmillan is one of the corporations that struck a deal with Apple for the iBookstore.

Cory Doctorow has a good analysis of what that means, and I think it’s a good analysis even if you’re not usually on board with his copyright agenda (as I’m aware many people aren’t). Shorter Cory: Macmillan’s $15 thing is dumb, but what Amazon did is a hell of a lot dumber, and either way it’s like two bull elephants going tusk-to-tusk while the rest of us, the writers and readers, get trampled underfoot. This is the consequence of the conglomeration of publishing, and it really isn’t a good thing.

Lots of other people have commented. John Scalzi here and here, Jay Lake here and here; also Jim Hines, Cat Valente, Janni Lee Simner, others I’ll undoubtedly see when I open up my Google Reader, and more besides.

At the moment? I’m waiting for more information. Nothing’s certain at the moment, not even that the pulling of the books was done by Amazon rather than Macmillan (though it seems very likely). Lots of authors have pulled the Amazon links from their sites. I haven’t done that yet, mostly because a) there are a lot of them to pull and b) we don’t have the full story yet; I’d be pissed if I went to all that work only to learn something that paints Amazon in a better light. I’m not real optimistic about that, mind you, but I figure it doesn’t hurt to wait another day or two. Once I know for sure what’s up with this, then I’ll make my decision.

But I gotta tell you, Amazon’s done some kind of craptastic things in the past, and adding this one to the list does more than put a bad taste in my mouth. As Jay says, what they appear to have done isn’t precisely wrong — they’re within their rights to decide which products to stock — but the implications of it are deeply troubling. Amazon isn’t just a retailer; they dominate the audiobook market, and have been trying to lock down the ebook market, in ways that aren’t good for any of us. They’ve tried before to use that weight to strongarm publishers into doing things their way (insert industry neepery here, of a lower-profile sort), and if they succeed, we’re all going to lose.

gathering data

I was going to post this myself, but Mindy Klasky has done a good job translating the survey into an LJ poll, and it’s easier to have all the data in one place anyway. Therefore, I encourage everybody to head over to her journal and answer a few questions about your preferences in cover art.

The survey in question was started by Elizabeth Moon, and is part of an attempt by some SF/F authors to suss out the decisions made by publishers’ art departments, and how those fit/do not fit with reader preferences.

a short fiction debate

That is, a debate about short fiction, not a short debate about fiction.

Jay Lake linked today to a “Mind Meld” up at SF Signal, where they had a number of people weigh in on the purpose of short fiction. The responses were thought provoking, both in the “yes, what she said” and “what crack are you smoking?” kind of way.

It starts with Gardner Dozois, whose answer reminds me of nothing so much as the “interviews” football players give after games, where they spout off the standard talking points: just focused on the game, gave 110%, couldn’t have done it without the rest of the team, etc. I’ve seen his answer again and again — but I’ve also seen things calling into question the validity of that answer, on a small or large scale. “[Short fiction is] still where the majority of readers find new writers whose work they enjoy” — really? Then why aren’t the subscription numbers higher? Or to put it differently, how are all those thousands of people who don’t read short fiction finding all the new authors busting out today — especially when many of those new authors don’t write short fiction in the first place? “For writers, short fiction is still the easiest way to break into print” — I’ve seen this one debated all over the place. Break into print, sure, given the many semi-pro and for-the-love markets out there, but there’s been evidence to suggest you have better odds of selling your first novel than getting a story into, say, Asimov’s. Ultimately it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, and finding equivalent metrics for both is harder than you think. “Even today, the best way to break in and establish a professional reputation is to write and sell lots of strong short fiction” — best? According to what measurement? It isn’t best if short fiction isn’t your natural forte, and one solid novel will establish your professional reputation pretty quickly. Sure, editors may offer novel contracts to really well-known short story writers, but they also offer them on a regular basis to people who have never sold a short story in their lives. The days when “build a rep with short fiction, then try a novel” was the standard path to a career are gone, by most evaluations I’ve seen.

Ellen Datlow repeats some of the same points, but usually with a phrasing that makes the fallacies more obvious: “Publishing short fiction is still the quickest way to recognition for a terrific short story writer.” That’s very nearly a tautology: be awesome, and people will recognize your awesomeness. Publishing a novel is the quickest way to recognition for a terrific novelist, too. She also brings up the one that always annoyed me, before I learned to write short stories: “short fiction remains the best breeding ground for new writers because the form provides a smaller canvas with which to perfect their craft.” Sure — if a smaller canvas is your thing. But if it isn’t, then you’ll be stunting your chances of development by trying to force yourself into a smaller box. And writing short fiction won’t teach you to write a novel; at their best, the two forms influence each other, teaching lessons to carry across the divide, but as Jane Yolen pithily puts it down-page: “First, what short fiction is NOT. It’s not training-wheel fiction. Authors don’t practice on short fiction, nor do readers. It is a singular writing and reading experience.” (Mike Resnick hits the same point.) I think the standard advice does a disservice to those who are naturally inclined toward longer lengths — as I myself was, for many years.

But the responses further along contained some thoughts I found very apt. First of all, as several people pointed out — Jonathan Strahan, Andrew Hedgecock, Rich Horton — the question of vitality or lack thereof needs to be split into two parts, artistic and economic. The short story market is not thriving financially. But artistically? Absolutely. I think there’s no question that our genre has matured a great deal, to the point where we’re now positioned to try all kinds of boundary-pushing experiments. And that is a way in which short fiction can be like training wheels: I wholeheartedly agree with the many people who said that it’s the perfect venue for trying out something new, whether it’s a different genre, a new setting, or an unusual voice. (Case in point: “A Mask of Flesh.” I can get away with a Mesoamerican short story much more easily than a Mesoamerican novel.)

Short fiction has a valorized position in our field, especially in SF (as opposed to fantasy). I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it gets up my nose when people then take that too far. It’s the difference between John Klima’s response and Gardner Dozois’; John presents it as “here’s what I like about it,” from which I can generalize that other people share his opinion, whereas Gardner presents it more as some kind of universal truth. But it’s not a truth for me, or for many of the writers I know, who didn’t follow the Standard Path to Success — which suggests it’s not half so standard as advertised.

Regardless, though — an interesting set of answers, and worth reading through if you’re at all involved in the field.

good news, of a minor sort

In the first part of this year, I did a good job of writing new stories and getting fresh material out the door, but I should have foreseen that the novel would kind of destroy any prospect of keeping that up all year long, as I originally intended. Anyway, between the death of that plan, a coincidence of assorted delays at places I’ve sold stories to (meaning nothing’s actually appearing any time soon), and a general lack of sales in the last few months, I’ve had no short story news to report.

So, like a TV program broadcasting random “human interest” stories when news is slow, I’ll mention that “Kingspeaker,” one of this year’s accomplishments, has been passed along to the senior editors at Baen’s Universe. It now stands a still small but non-trivial chance of selling, which is cool.

And I’m not just saying that because they pay well, either. <g> I made an impulse decision to subscribe a month or so ago, said impulse being driven by reading the first part of Elizabeth Bear’s “Cryptic Coloration” and wanting to read the rest. (matociquala, I blame you. It was the vividness of Matthew’s description that hooked me in — that, and the subsequent classroom scene.) Anyway, I’m patchy about subscribing to things, because I have yet to find a magazine I like consistently enough to stick with for more than one subscription. Baen’s hasn’t hurdled that bar by any means; in fact, most of the SF I read for a scene or two and then gave up on. But the nice thing is, they publish a lot of both SF and F every issue, plus articles and the like, and don’t cost much at all relative to what you get; six bucks for an issue, thirty for a year, and every issue is about the length of a Robert Jordan novel, with far more happening in it.

I liked enough out of this current issue that I’d say it’s worth the price of a subscription. We’ll see what I think of future issues. But it would definitely be an awesome market to appear in.

poll time, but not mine

I thought about reposting this poll here on my own journal, since I know people are less likely to click through a link to take a poll elsewhere, but then I’d have to do the work to collate my data with Mindy’s. So instead I will ask all of you to take a minute or so and go fill out Mindy Klasky’s poll about book promotion, and which kinds of things have induced you to buy a book. She put it up because a group of us author-types are discussing how to promote books effectively, so the data will benefit a large number of people, myself included.