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It's come to my attention that some people find this Journal a tad on the depressing side. That wasn't my intent. Nor has it been my intent to position myself as an expert of any sort; because of the nature of Journals in general, I've assumed that this is a somewhat personal take on professional things. Because of that -- and face it, because I'm lazy and no one is paying me to write these -- I'm not particularly careful about punctuation and proof-reading; I tend to write what I think and send it up.

It is entirely what I think, and what I observe. I try to put down the tracks by which my observational trails can be followed, this being the basis of my odd universe's sense of causality -- but as I've said before, and will no doubt say again, there are writers, agents and editors who would disagree with what I've said here. Or take issue with some of it.

Publishing is a business. All businesses are wonky. You only have to read Dilbert to get that. There isn't any business I've ever seen that runs smoothly and efficiently 100% of the time; if you get 80, you're doing well.

Publishing is also a business in which people begin because they love books. They usually start at a non-living wage, and work their way up slowly, if they don't eventually tire of the pay, the hours and the stress, and leave for other employment in which these things don't exist. This is as true of editors as it is of writers, although it can be argued that the non-living wage that assistant editors earn is more than the non-living wage that beginning writers earn. It can also be argued that none of those editors, assistants or no, are earning what someone like Robert Jordan earns <g>.

I haven't said this often enough; let me say it now, and clearly.

I care about books. No one starts working in bookstores who doesn't. The pay, as is the case for most retail operations, is abysmal. The hours are better than editorial hours, and there are wonderful elements of store work -- finding the right books for the right readers, whatever those books may be -- that make it seem like a worthwhile job.

I care about stories, especially mine. I won't write something I can't emotionally invest myself in because I can't write it. I've tried once or twice, and that was more than enough.

The news about book lengths? It's not good news to me. Those of you who've read my books know that I'm so far away from 120K words the idea of 120K words gives me hives and a bad case of jitters. But I know it's not personal; it's business. For better or worse, the large publishers are tied to a set of rules and dictates that have to be followed; they have flexibility, but not a lot of it.

Every writer who starts out in the business knows that the one thing you have to develop calluses from is rejection. You've got to learn to take rejection for what it is, and you've got to live with the gnawing sensation that something you've poured yourself into just isn't wanted by the market you sent it to. If you're going to get better, you just keep going, and after a while, it doesn't hurt as much. It's never happy, but it's just one of the things that you learn to dodge.

In some sense, examining your work from an industry view is not unlike learning to live with rejection; it's something that's outside of your control, and it's something that is separate from your text. Even getting published doesn't mean that you won't have to deal with this issue -- in fact, it guarantees that you will.

What I've been hoping, in these posts, is to give you a sense of why inexplicable business decisions aren't actually all that inexplicable. And in those cases where I think they are? Doesn't matter; they're sort of like weather. Or geography. They're what you have to just live with.

Writing for market is always a tricky proposition. Sometimes the market favours you; sometimes the trends in the industry favour you; timing is not everything, but being in the right place at the right time really does grease the wheels. Sometimes, however, it doesn't. In that case, my advice is to write anyway. Write the stories that you care about passionately. Finish them. And then start worrying about the business of selling them, with the understanding that it's trickier.

kate_nepveu posted notes about a panel for New Writers at Noreascon. It's here, and you should read it.
http://www.livejournal.com/users/kate_nepveu/70493.html

And, since I've already mentioned John Scalzi's wonderful blog, The Whatever, I want to also slide in a pointer to his advice to writers, which is funny and in many ways dead on. It's here.
http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/archives/000701.html

Anyway, part of tonight's short ramble is about format. Yes, format.

Hardcovers and trade paperbacks are for the bookstore trade, as someone mentioned in a different thread here. For the most part, the colloquial use of "trade" to mean "large-size" will do. But mass-market paperbacks in North America started out being distributed by magazine distributors in the days before my birth. Magazine distribution works in one of two ways. The expensive way, in which retailers make very little money, involves trucks and delivery people who will both drop off new magazines and at the same time pick up the old ones that haven't sold.

The less expensive way involves tearing off strips of the covers of the magazines (the titles and dates) and newspapers; these are returned, and the rest of the magazine is pulped or thrown out or read by employees. This is how most places deal with magazines & newspapers to this day -- and as the people who were distributing much of the mass market paperbacks were used to doing business this way, this is how it was done, and this is how the strip cover returns started.

Is this a generalization? Yes. It's more complicated than that, but that's the historical essence of it.

I've heard many people say that British mass market paperbacks aren't returnable. This is hogwash. And technically, the "mass market" term for British books isn't applicable; they're all trade paperbacks. British paperbacks, just as the large format ones and the hardcovers, are fully returnable -- you just have to send the whole book back.

Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Sep. 13th, 2004 12:52 am (UTC)
Depressing?

I have been enjoying your posts. Thanks for writing them.

Harry
(Anonymous)
Sep. 13th, 2004 03:11 am (UTC)
Depressing?
Unfortunately the truth is sometimes depressing to hear. I really enjoy your posts and find them enormously informative. Keep up the good work!
oldmotherchaos
Sep. 13th, 2004 05:50 am (UTC)
Re: Depressing?
I couldn't agree more. Your posts are always fascinating, and very valuable for all of us. They aren't always "happy skippy joy joy" material, but that's reality for you... :)
devilwrites
Sep. 13th, 2004 04:16 am (UTC)
People have been griping, huh? Oh well. The truth CAN be depressing, but I think it's important for each writer to come to terms with both their own ability and the market. Me? I'm a ways off from being published as far as novels go. The market may change by then, and even if it doesn't, I intend to be fully aware enough to know what I'm getting into and hopefully figure out how to manipulate the system. It may not happen, but there's no harm in trying. ;)
msagara
Sep. 13th, 2004 09:33 am (UTC)
People have been griping, huh? Oh well.

Actually, griping I get all the time in so many venues, I'm immune to it <wry g>. It's the people who are slightly shell-shocked or actually down-in-the-mouth, or worse, somehow concerned that it's all about the business, period that are unintentionally making me feel somewhat guilty.

(Intentional guilt is like a nuclear bomb, just so we're clear).
devilwrites
Sep. 13th, 2004 02:07 pm (UTC)
Gotcha! :)
(Deleted comment)
msagara
Sep. 13th, 2004 09:37 am (UTC)
You occasionally get some British paperbacks that have to be stripped, though when I used to help out in an SF bookshop I used to refuse to be the one who actually physically did it, on the grounds that I couldn't bear to hear the books scream. It depends on the publisher and the distributor. You're right that most British books of any format are returnable as whole books, but there are exceptions. (Who was publishing Raymond E. Feist in Britain in the 1990s? That's the only one I can positively remember required stripping.)

Thank you -- I (obviously <wry g>) didn't know this (I know that some of the Canadian distributors will allow strip covers for books that are usually full book return in certain circumstances, but you kind of have to jump through hoops, and then it's balancing the time of jumping against the cost of shipping).

I hated to strip the books :/. I don't think there's anything that's quite as tramautizing to a new person in the store than having to do it the first time -- and yes, although I didn't say it in so many words, the idea that they were screaming was front and present.

The Feists that we got were the Bantam US edition, so I'm not certain what the UK edition was, though.
mmarques
Sep. 13th, 2004 06:07 am (UTC)
I find your articles fascinating, but not depressing.
haikujaguar
Sep. 13th, 2004 06:25 am (UTC)
Finding things like this depressing is like finding rain depressing. It's just something you have to plan around if you want to make a career out of writing. :)
sleary
Sep. 13th, 2004 07:20 am (UTC)
Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a longer description of the history of mass-market and returns and whatnot in this old SFWA Bulletin interview.

I'd rather be depressed than clueless, so keep the depressing stuff coming. :)
msagara
Sep. 13th, 2004 10:02 pm (UTC)
Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a longer description of the history of mass-market and returns and whatnot in this old SFWA Bulletin interview.

Not only does he address mass-market returns, but he covers a lot of other ground as well -- the article is copyright 2001, but it's still relevant, and everyone should go and read it.

loupnoir
Sep. 13th, 2004 07:25 am (UTC)
I love the reality of your posts. It's so easy to slip on the denial goggles and pretend that getting published only requires that you dash off some deathless prose. You insights into the publishing/retail end of things are also fascinating. Nice to get a big chunk of the picture. Thanks!
alicebentley
Sep. 13th, 2004 08:02 am (UTC)
As you said:
In some sense, examining your work from an industry view is not unlike learning to live with rejection; it's something that's outside of your control, and it's something that is separate from your text.

This concept extends in all directions - it's not just about the writing. I knew intellectually that the downward spiral my bookshop was caught in wasn't as much a failure of mine as a response to a changing envirnoment. With a novel, you have to hold to the story you want to tell. Sometimes the factors just aren't right for getting that story out where lots of people can experience it. And with my bookstore, I knew I could make enough changes to continue as a business, but it wouldn't have been the shop I wanted to run.
msagara
Sep. 13th, 2004 09:45 am (UTC)
This concept extends in all directions - it's not just about the writing. I knew intellectually that the downward spiral my bookshop was caught in wasn't as much a failure of mine as a response to a changing envirnoment. With a novel, you have to hold to the story you want to tell. Sometimes the factors just aren't right for getting that story out where lots of people can experience it. And with my bookstore, I knew I could make enough changes to continue as a business, but it wouldn't have been the shop I wanted to run.

There is so much that's true in this.

I think sometimes it's one of the easier things to forget in the crunch to, you know, write the Breakout Bestseller Novel Somehow. We can edit, revise, work with -- but if the story itself, or some fundamental aspect of it, isn't going to ever reach large numbers of people, than We have two choices: One, to ditch the story, or two, to ditch the large numbers.

In the hopes that the smaller numbers will still be there so the story gets out at all -- but if the timing is wrong, sometimes that doesn't happen either.

I remember that you published the Hughart books, and I met you at a couple of conventions where (as frequently does among booksellers <wry g>) talk turned to bookselling. Bakka underwent a change of owner and store name about a year and a half ago, and we're looking to move to a different location -- but the whole up and down of timing and marketplace strongly effected the previous owner and his eventual decision, too.
kyranjaye
Sep. 13th, 2004 09:54 am (UTC)
Depressing? No. You may not be writing about the happiest of topics, but your insights into the field are still fascinating. And the comments, rebuttals, and clarifications you get are great, too.

Maybe you should threaten to hit people more, that always seems to amuse the YahooGroup folks.... ;P
msagara
Sep. 13th, 2004 11:29 am (UTC)
Maybe you should threaten to hit people more, that always seems to amuse the YahooGroup folks.... ;P

No, that just amuses thunderchild because he's an Aussie, and I can only hit him when he's in reach. It doesn't amuse bobafet because, well, he's more frequently in reach <g>.
kyranjaye
Sep. 13th, 2004 12:04 pm (UTC)
You're discounting the amusement factor to those of us who don't willingly provoke you. <evilgrin>

quiller77
Sep. 13th, 2004 01:46 pm (UTC)
I care about books. No one starts working in bookstores who doesn't. The pay, as is the case for most retail operations, is abysmal. The hours are better than editorial hours, and there are wonderful elements of store work -- finding the right books for the right readers, whatever those books may be -- that make it seem like a worthwhile job.

You've hit on one of the major reasons I like working in a library. (It's certainly not the pay.) :-)
dancinghorse
Sep. 13th, 2004 01:53 pm (UTC)
I don't find it depressing. Sometimes a bit real, yes, but that's reality for you. Our mutual agent is a whole lot crankier about some of these things, and a whole lot less optimistic, too--and I've been dealing with his view of the world for years.

We get this sort of thing in horses, too. Too many people want to be perfect riders on perfect horses and win gold medals and get fabulously rich breeding more perfect horses. Tell them the truth about their pretty dreams and they get all bent out of shape. Doesn't mean you shouldn't dream--but you'd better know what it takes to get it.
domynoe
Sep. 13th, 2004 08:14 pm (UTC)
I have a question which kinda refers back to the agents, but also possibly the publishers. After reading this article (knowing it speaks specifically to nonfiction), I was wondering, how much do I need to be able to tell an agent/publisher on my future plans as a fiction writer.

For example, I am working on my first trilogy of a total 15+ books in the same world. Do I need to tell an agent (assuming I find an agent willng to take me on) this at any point? Or do I map out just the first trilogy? Or just the first book? How specific do I need to be with my book plans? Just the order in which I hope to write them or more specific on the timing?

I've obviously never published a book, and book 1 is probably still a year from being polished enough to discuss (although, I do have a full draft that's in its 4th revision), so I figure I can use this time to become as informed about the process as possible. One can hope that having the knowledge will help me do it all "right" the first time. Heck, maybe it will even help me actually land a deal.
msagara
Sep. 13th, 2004 09:23 pm (UTC)
I have a question which kinda refers back to the agents, but also possibly the publishers. After reading this article (knowing it speaks specifically to nonfiction), I was wondering, how much do I need to be able to tell an agent/publisher on my future plans as a fiction writer.

First, one point: It's not uncommon for an author to have both a fiction and a non-fiction agent; there are agents who specialize in various forms of non-fiction, just as there are agents who specialize in different fiction genres. I know nothing at all about the non-fiction market, though.

For example, I am working on my first trilogy of a total 15+ books in the same world. Do I need to tell an agent (assuming I find an agent willng to take me on) this at any point? Or do I map out just the first trilogy? Or just the first book? How specific do I need to be with my book plans? Just the order in which I hope to write them or more specific on the timing?

If the first book is the first of a trilogy, I'd worry about finishing that first. When you have that in a form that you consider submission-worthy, and you begin to send it out (either to agents or editors directly), you'll want to mention that it's the first of a trilogy.

But as the other 14+ books aren't written yet, I personally wouldn't want to go that far ahead. There are many, many authors who start with a world or a set of characters that they then grow beyond, or grow tired of. There are many worlds that don't sell well enough to be published at that length; the publishers may love your writing and want you to work on something else -- and given how sales often go, this happens more frequently than not.

Keep your options open. If the sales for the first set of books take off, then planning other stories in the world will be something of import to both publisher and agent -- but they'll both probably want to see how the first couple of books do first.

At most -- and again, let me stress that this is one person's opinion -- I would say that you can continue writing in this world for books and books, if the sales warrant it.
alfreda89
Sep. 14th, 2004 08:49 am (UTC)
Michelle--

Not depressing, just a glimpse into your mundane life, which dovetails into our fiction writing lives. As dancinghorse says, better some reality. Right now you're a lot more interesting than my blog! %^) But I think I save the interesting things for my fiction--right now I don't know that I have ideas to burn.

Once I take time to set up the Dragon Recognition, though it may change. Save on fingers!

msagara
Sep. 14th, 2004 09:44 am (UTC)
Not depressing, just a glimpse into your mundane life, which dovetails into our fiction writing lives. As dancinghorse says, better some reality. Right now you're a lot more interesting than my blog! %^) But I think I save the interesting things for my fiction--right now I don't know that I have ideas to burn.

LOL! I think I'm interesting only in an information sense, rather than either an entertainment sense -- but then again, if I were writing about my other life (like, say, the 4 hours of sleep I almost got last night) I wouldn't have even that as an excuse.

Once I take time to set up the Dragon Recognition, though it may change. Save on fingers!

Voice recognition software is very useful -- but there's a learning curve and the initial bits are hard. If you need to save on fingers, though, it's worth it -- avoid the urge to throw something through your computer (or your computer across the room) in the early stages...
alfreda89
Sep. 14th, 2004 02:04 pm (UTC)
Voice recognition software is very useful -- but there's a learning curve and the initial bits are hard. If you need to save on fingers, though, it's worth it -- avoid the urge to throw something through your computer (or your computer across the room) in the early stages...

One of the reasons I've been avoiding it--I hear I have to write in it, and then paste into WORD. But it would be great for email and LJ.
alfreda89
Sep. 14th, 2004 09:01 am (UTC)
P.S.
Must admit I usually spell check entries...being aware that as a professional writer, I have a higher standard, real or put on me by others.

But I made the mistake of Googling my name once. Don't ever do that--everything you've ever said is backed up somewhere....
msagara
Sep. 14th, 2004 09:46 am (UTC)
Re: P.S.
Must admit I usually spell check entries...being aware that as a professional writer, I have a higher standard, real or put on me by others.

But I made the mistake of Googling my name once. Don't ever do that--everything you've ever said is backed up somewhere....


LOL! I know <wry g>. You can post things to usenet that don't get archived, if you post on usenet (Graydon does, and it drives me nuts to have no access to those posts, but that's a different complaint).

I habitually run across errors in my posts, though. I edit them as I notice them, and I will do a rough read through, but not more than that. For me, the whole of the Journal is like an extended conversation -- and I'm deplorable at pre-editing conversational bits so they come out sounding as if, well, I have higher standards <rueful g>.
alfreda89
Sep. 14th, 2004 02:06 pm (UTC)
Re: P.S.
I imagine before too long the spell checker will be jettisoned.... {honest grin}
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )