For Your Consideration: Publishers Need to Adapt in the Digital Age

I’ve recently been re-listening to the Writing Excuses podcasts and found them as enjoyable as ever (including LOL moments every few episodes). In this blog post I want to drill-in slightly to Season 1, Episode 20 and then pivot from that onto my own thoughts, especially about how I think publishers need to continue to evolve.

Setting the Scene

(Bare in mind that this podcast is now a decade old. Predictions made about the future of the industry may be well-along to either fruition or stunted after the passing of time, fruit unrealised).

In this episode Brandon asks a question of audience member, author Mike Stackpole who had this to say (slightly paraphrased, mostly verbatim):

“It’s only been the last 70-80 years we’ve been churning out literature, prior to that, we were entertainers. Now with the coming of e-books we can sell direct to endusers and cut out the publishers. … The problem for traditional publishing is they only own the electronic rights on manuscripts since about 1996 and since now were in 2008 they’ve got 12 years’ worth of novels and no writer needs to sell electronic versions to them anymore because we can sell direct. They’re in trouble.

The big problem for traditional publishers is their business has never been about bringing us fiction. It has been about them bringing to us blocks of wood. Their whole business is based around printing, shipping and warehousing blocks of wood. Their not that vital any more. We can find editors, copy editors, etc ourselves.”

To emphasise his point he says he can make greater profit by selling a short story from his website for $2 than he makes selling 2x $8 paperbacks. Additionally he gets the money instantly, not 9-15 months later as he would with a publisher.

As it relates to the Author

It’s pretty hard to argue with the real-world example given. There’s more profit in it for the author to sell direct-to-consumer, rather than via a publisher.

And there’s certainly truth to the point that the writer’s efforts are the main commodity being sold by a publisher. That’s not to say that the publisher doesn’t add value. The publisher brings professionals who have expertise and more experience than most authors ever will in their chosen field: editors, marketers, illustrators etc.

As an example, there’s a reason why most authors aren’t consulted about what their front cover look like. Publisher’s know what will sell, and also have a better understanding of what’s in the marketplace at the present time.

Publishers also bring credibility. Until you’re an established author you’re trading on the brand of your publisher.

However, the publishing world is changing. It is now easier for the author to editors, line editors and research assistants online. Websites like 99 designs exist to let you choose between competing artists for book cover designs. Sites like Patreon make it easier for creative people to be funded by those who love their creativity.

Personally, I don’t want to have to make all of those decisions. I prefer to think of myself as focussed on the writing, not lazy. Just like I could change the oil on my car, but I’m OK with paying someone else to do it.

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many fantasy books lately but I wonder in an internet full of people offering their services if we will see a return to guilds? Where groups of similarly skilled people will form to enhance their own credibility and exposure to potential customers.

For the Publisher

I am not unbiased in this discussion. Not too long ago I submitted a manuscript sample to a US publisher via the postal system as prescribed. And it disappeared.

Thinking about this podcast and the changing nature of technology it made me wonder: why would a publisher ever want to receive a manuscript by mail? The only reason I can possibly think of, is that it lowers the volume of submissions. What if embracing technology could actually make the submission process easier and cheaper?

What I’d suggest is that publishers should provide an electronic submission process. They could even charge an administration/submission fee (which would cover the costs of printing at their end, if printing is still necessary?). There are numerous benefits for the publisher:

  • An additional revenue stream (submission fee)
  • Automated-checking to see if the document complies with the submission guidelines. If it doesn’t you can reject it outright. (If you’re nice you can let the author know; if you’re so inclined you can reject it ‘quietly’ and keep their submission fee without much guilt. They, after all, didn’t follow the rules, so be it on their own head).
  • Use machine-learning to automatically check and redirect to the recycle bin. (Too many spelling errors? Rejected. Tense confusion? Rejected. Swear-word tolerance breached? Rejected. Foul content? Rejected).
  • Author-filtering. Get a submission from someone who is truly terrible at writing? Auto-reject anything they submit for the next year. (Or if reject is too strong, though I doubt it, at least put them toward the bottom of the slush pile).
  • Implement a “submission alpha reader” process where unpaid minions can up-or-down vote manuscript samples.
  • Environmentally friendly: less printing.
  • Author-history. Hit gold with an excellent author? Want to see everything else they’ve submitted before?
  • Faster submission process. When you’re already waiting for months, it’d be nice to streamline any part of the process as an author.

Am I a genius or diabolically evil?

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My Muse

Sometimes my fictional Muse sits in my consciousness and entertains me with stories of great battles, wonder and adventure.

Other times, like today, my Muse is banging around at the back of my mind creating a great deal of noise, as though furiously hunting for something amidst the clutter. “There’s some gold here,” she says, frustrated that it sits just outside of my conscious mind.

Highlights from ‘The Path Of Daggers’

My favourite quotes from The Path Of Daggers: Book 8 of the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.

  • “Be certain to hold your tongue, Verin Mathwin, or you will use it to howl.”  (Page 21)
  • The Fisher was always worked as a man, a bandage blinding his eyes and one hand pressed to his side, a few drops of blood dripping through his fingers.  (Page 34)
  • she could tell you to your face that you were a blind idiot, yet let anyone else say it, and she would defend you until she went hoarse. (Page 72)

And this one is a good moral for work, or sometimes, writing too/l

  • You hammered the iron that lay on your anvil instead of daydreaming about working silver. (Page 160)

 

  • Faile was smiling, pride shining through the sweat on her face. Her look washed away some of Perrin’s revulsion. He would walk barefoot through fire for that look. (Page 176)
  • …he could not pick one from another, yet these women smelled like wolves studying a tethered goat. (Page 223)
  • If need demanded, she would use them both for mulch, and others too, but she did not intend to lose either because they grew careless. (Page 286)
  • Despite the men following, he felt alone. Despite the Power, he felt empty. (Page 305)
  • But she still carried compassion in her eyes as she herded them out. (Page 321)
  • Exhaustion made as thick a blanket over the camp as the snow. (Page 331)
  • The only one not in fine array, he looked as he always did, plain and slightly battered. A rock that had weathered storms and would outlast more to come. (Page 375)
  • “If all we’ve heard is true, then at best, allowing you to pass through Andor unhindered may seem like giving aid, or even alliance, in the eyes of the White Tower. Failure to oppose you might mean learning what the grape learns in the winepress.” (Page 383)

I’ve written before about the over-abundance of Siuan’s fishing analogies. This paragraph then stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb:

  • Siuan snorted. “I don’t mind sailing the Fingers of the Dragon in the dark if I must,” she muttered half under her breath. “We discussed that; we weighed the dangers, and anyway, there doesn’t seem to be a gull’s last dinner for choice. But you have to set a fire on deck just to make things interesting. Netting lionfish isn’t enough for you. You have to stuff a prickleback down your dress, too. You aren’t content trying to wade a school of silverpike—” (Page 390)

An excellent description of being surrounded by enemies:
(a sigil is a banner which shows the allegiance of the soldiers who follow it).

  • Half the sigils I saw out there belong to men who’d bite their tongues if they saw a fellow behind you with a knife, and most of the rest to men who’d try to hold your attention. If they hadn’t paid the knife man in the first place.” (Page 453)
  • When you die, people begin to forget, who you were and what you did, or tried to do. Everybody dies eventually, and everybody is forgotten, eventually, but there’s no bloody point dying before your time comes.” (Page 463)
  • A raken appeared in the east ahead, skimming low over the treetops, twisting and turning to follow the curves of the land like a man running his hand down a woman’s back. (Page 479)
  • “Do you think to abandon your men?” Jadranka snarled. “We rally them and attack, you—!” He cut off, gurgling, as Karede’s swordpoint went neatly into his throat. There were times fools could be tolerated, and times not. (Page 482)
  • Sword in hand, Bashere barely reined in before leaping from his saddle. (Page 489)
  • Semaradrid looked like a man who had eaten an entire bowl of bad plums; (Page 504)
  • when I first had the suspicion you might be suckling at your mother’s breast. Just before I decided to go back into retirement. Babes are messy things, and I could not see how to find you before you stopped dripping at one end or the other.” (Page 587)
  • Trust was a knife, and the hilt was as sharp as the blade. (Page 620)

TV: The Bleeding Edge

large_bleeding-edgeI recommend watching Netflix’s The Bleeding Edge which is an exposé into the “medical instruments” industry. The documentary clearly shows that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is failing the American people by not adequately checking that products (often very expensive products too) are safe for their proscribed purposes. This includes hip replacements which break down and cause neurological symptoms and contraceptive devices which will stop you having children… by virtue of the fact you won’t be able to have sex because of pain and injuries. (The latter device, Essure, is still for sale in the US for the remainder of 2018 – despite being pulled from overseas sale when regulators asked for more data).

The scam and failure seems to be multi-faceted:

  • a clause which allows companies to claim a product is “similar” to an existing product, and so it doesn’t need to go through approval. (A product can be similar to a similar to a similar…)
  • much less stringent testing is required for devices than drugs. (One would think a device which stays in the body would need more testing than a drug which passes through the body).
  • the FDA’s inability to recall or reject approvals based on “similar” items, even if those items are recalled due to adverse outcomes.
  • the partisan-nature of FDA management, who seem to have very cosy relationships with the medical device industry – frequently working with them before and after a stint in the FDA. (Not to mention lobbying of politicians).
  • doctors are unaware (or some, complicit) and assume if the FDA approves an item it is safe.
  • even when compensation is received from a company, it often is a token-amount of their overall profit (and so hardly going to change their behaviour).

Well worth watching, and telling your friends to watch too. I’d love to see the

Another deleted scene from Vengeance Will Come

It’s been an anxious couple of weeks on the writing scene. Weeks is an unfair way for me to describe it… possibly 10 hours is more accurate in terms of available writing time. And yet a couple of hundred words spread over 10 hours is enough to make me anxious. In fact it did more, it sucked my enthusiasm dry and wrapped it in the cold embrace of a black hole. I literally had no enthusiasm left.

In an effort to reduce the number of point-of-view (POV) changes, I had decided to delete the scene below.

It’d been a day and a half since the female Brethren agent had discarded her cloak of normality. She dropped to the rubber mat for some rapid push-ups and then did a series of stretches before returning to the wooden chair. She let her head and neck relax into position behind the thermographic scope of the sniper rifle.
It had started by been comm’d and told to not go into work. The same morning the Shadow Generator had been delivered to her house in the shell of a large fridge-freezer unit. The nameless ‘delivery men’ had reassembled the device while she used a laser cutter to dig into the house’s foundations to the secret weapons-cache.
Throughout the day construction workers had begun building a pool and patio in her backyard with heavy machinery. The work outside was purely to hide the noise of the real construction: a shield box in the attic where she now sat. The shield box was a large metal cage which protected her high-tech weapon from the Shadow Generator in the kitchen.
While some of the workers had left at nightfall others had remained with their supplies and equipment. They watched through the ground floor windows, ready to defend the Shadow Generator with their lives. She had never met them before but they were Brethren; that was enough.
Her mission was clear, even if its ultimate purpose was not: keep the Shadow Generator running for as long as possible and prevent the enemy from capturing it. She was honoured to have been chosen as a martyr of the New Order.

The enemy arrived in under three hours, approaching in a staggered formation with the lead squad moving through her neighbour’s yard. The forward unit was closing in, but she watched further up the street for the unit leader. As the unit leader stepped around the corner she placed the crosshairs on his face and pulled the trigger. She shot two more soldiers in the chest before the Tadorian squad returned-fire at her en-masse, shredding the attic and forcing her to roll down the stairs to escape the inferno of lead.

The unnamed character in this scene had this, and one shorter scene and then disappears from the story line. Hence, why it was a prime candidate for POV removal.

However, I had originally added the POV because I needed someone “close to the action”. Removing her, meant I had to view the scene as a bystander… which was risky in the slowing-down of action. Try as I might, I couldn’t get enthusiastic at writing the scene from the alternate location. The words dribbled out and my enthusiasm quickly evaporated.

Making a beginner’s mistake, which I thought I was smart enough to be immune to, I misinterpreted that lack of enthusiasm as more than what it was. The story was horribly flawed, broken and should be abandoned. Not true, but that’s how I felt. I wrestled with the complete death of my enthusiasm. I tried to puzzle out what my problem was and it wouldn’t come to me. Day after day, the same soul-sucking dread. I lamented to a friend over coffee that I was considering putting the whole project aside, or completely reverting the scene deletion (and then putting it aside).

The morning following the coffee while getting ready for work, I had a brainwave. It would mean going back and changing a couple of earlier scenes but if it meant breaking the deadlock it was worth it.

Not only that, but I’m also taking a riskier step. My protagonist is going to have a slightly longer sulking session, which is a very dangerous move. If he is too sulky the reader won’t like him. But as it is currently written, he overcomes his emotional distress in the speed it takes Jack Bauer (of 24) to recover from a near-death experience. Which isn’t authentic at all. It’s a risk. I’m taking it.

Faith: Living Water – Ch1: Repentance

Living Water(This post relates to my Christian faith).

 

Living Water by Brother Yun is a book that has sat on my shelf for years. I have started to read it a number of times and have put it down because it was special. It was a meal to be enjoyed, not gulped. It wasn’t a casual read on the bus; I wanted to read it with a notebook handy and time to properly digest its message.

This post is my thoughts and related experiences on the first chapter Repentance. (I normally try to keep my posts between 500 and 1,000 words. This is a longer post at over 2,000 so make yourself a cuppa and settle in for the read).

And just because I’ve quoted certain passages, doesn’t mean there isn’t much more quote-worthy between the pages…

Continue reading

Highlights from A Crown of Swords

This is approximately the seventh in my series of posts where I share the highlights I made in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This post covers book 7, A Crown Of Swords. Given the lengths of the books, this selection is ‘the best’ highlights; otherwise there’d be several thousand words worth of quotes. As it is, this post is longer than intended…

Serious Matters: Dealt with First

It seems odd to start my ‘highlights’ post by talking about something which I found genuinely disturbing. But it needs to be discussed. Matt Cauthon, who frequently seduce any willing woman, finds himself aggressively pursued by Queen Tylin. No, I’m going to call a spade a spade: she rapes him. I’ll post the encounter here in full and then discuss it.

It was too much. The woman hounded him, tried to starve him; now she locked them in together like . . . like he did not know what. Lambkin! Those bloody dice were bouncing around in his skull. Besides, he had important business to see to. The dice had never had anything to do with finding something, but . . . He reached her in two long strides, seized her arm, and began fumbling in her belt for the keys. “I don’t have bloody time for—” His breath froze as the sharp point of her dagger beneath his chin shut his mouth and drove him right up onto his toes. “Remove your hand,” she said coldly. He managed to look down his nose at her face. She was not smiling now. He let go of her arm carefully. She did not lessen the pressure of her blade, though. She shook her head. “Tsk, tsk. I do try to make allowances for you being an outlander, gosling, but since you wish to play roughly . . . Hands at your sides. Move.” The knifepoint gave a direction. He shuffled backward on tiptoe rather than have his neck sliced. “What are you going to do?” he mumbled through his teeth. A stretched neck put a strain in his voice. A stretched neck among other things. “Well?” He could try grabbing her wrist; he was quick with his hands. “What are you going to do?” Quick enough, with the knife already at his throat? That was the question. That, and the one he asked her. If she intended to kill him, a shove of her wrist right there would drive the dagger straight up into his brain. “Will you answer me!” That was not panic in his voice. He was not in a panic. “Majesty? Tylin?” Well, maybe he was in a bit of a panic, to use her name. You could call any woman in Ebou Dar “duckling” or “pudding” all day, and she would smile, but use her name before she said you could, and you found a hotter reception than you would for goosing a strange woman on the street anywhere else. A few kisses exchanged were never enough for permission, either. Tylin did not answer, only kept him tiptoeing backward, until suddenly his shoulders bumped against something that stopped him. With that flaming dagger never easing a hair, he could not move his head, but eyes that had been focused on her face darted. They were in the bedchamber, a flower-carved red bedpost hard between his shoulder blades. Why would she bring him . . .? His face was suddenly as crimson as the bedpost. No. She could not mean to . . . It was not decent! It was not possible! “You can’t do this to me,” he mumbled at her, and if his voice was a touch breathy and shrill, he surely had cause. “Watch and learn, my kitten,” Tylin said, and drew her marriage knife. Afterward, a considerable time later, he irritably pulled the sheet up to his chest. A silk sheet; Nalesean had been right. The Queen of Altara hummed happily beside the bed, arms twisted behind her to do up the buttons of her dress. All he had on was the foxhead medallion on its cord – much good that had done – and the black scarf tied around his neck. A ribbon on her present, the bloody woman called it. He rolled over and snatched his silver-mounted pipe and tabac pouch from the small table on the other side from her. Golden tongs and a hot coal in a golden bowl of sand provided the means for lighting. Folding his arms, he puffed away as fiercely as he frowned. “You should not flounce, duckling, and you shouldn’t pout.” She yanked her dagger from where it was driven into a bedpost beside her marriage knife, examining the point before sheathing it. “What is the matter? You know you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, and I . . .” She laughed suddenly, and oh so richly, resheathing the marriage knife as well. “If that is part of what being ta’veren means, you must be very popular.” Mat flushed like fire. (page 515-517)

It is such a tricky situation. Matt does complain about it, clearly uncomfortable. It is culturally appropriate in the city of Ebou Dar for women to do the pursuing. Matt doesn’t entirely hate the situation or Tylin. But he does feel so uncomfortable that he seeks his friends out for help…

“You listen to me! That woman won’t take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She’s starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag! She has more hands than any six women I ever met. She threatened to have the serving women undress me if I didn’t let her—” (Page 653)

I suspect the scene was written in a failed attempt to be funny. The gag was probably supposed to be the chaser becomes the chased. Only it isn’t funny. If you swap the genders and have a man forcing a woman into bed at knife-point it’s rape. It doesn’t matter what the individual’s sexual past has been.

It’s important to note in the world-building of WOT, it isn’t rape. Matt never describes it as such himself. It’s in a grey area that has and can be argued over. However the problem is in modern times it equates to rape in the reader’s mind. At least in this reader’s mind.

Not everyone will agree that it was rape, citing plausible arguments. That’s OK. From a writer’s perspective is it a good thing that a significant portion of your readers will be uncomfortable about the scene? (When that isn’t the goal of the scene). I would say not. I found it incredibly jarring when I realised that’s what it was. I was shocked and disturbed.

Now I’ve read other books with rape or similar uncomfortable material. (I think of Rage by Wilbur Smith in which I couldn’t warm to any of the characters due to their despicable and abhorrent natures). Part of the reason why it disturbed me so much was because I wasn’t expecting it – it doesn’t fit the rest of the WOT books. Some author’s have made their careers by making readers squirm, but Jordan wasn’t one of them.

I don’t think Jordan is bad because of the scene; it was a poor choice with unintended ramifications. Who, among us though, hasn’t had a joke which has backfired horribly? It’s just that Jordan’s mis-fired joke was written down and mass-marketed. A good warning.

Onto Better Things

Now onto the good highlights.

“The White Tower will be whole again, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever. Rand al’Thor will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger. The Black Tower will be rent in blood and fire, and sisters will walk its grounds. This I Foretell.” (Page 16)

What I particularly like about this is it’s a prophecy of the future that is guaranteed to come true. Only, the interpretation that the character puts upon the Foretelling is a different outcome to what will happen in reality. I knew this because it’s not my first time reading the book, but for a new reader it would throw them off-track. A clever manoeuver.

More on the differences between men and women:

  • Standing on the ground, she somehow made it seem that she was looking down at him. Not an Aes Sedai trick, that; he had seen Faile do it. He suspected most women knew how. (Page 71)
  • Only a fool thinks a lion or a woman can truly be tamed. (Page 354)
  • “Women keep promises in their own way,” (Page 646)
  • Usually when a woman was in the wrong, she could find so many things to blame on the nearest man that he wound up thinking maybe he really was at fault. (Page 652)

And some real-life humor, a dig at us authors:

Loial strode up, bubbling with energy despite his obvious weariness. “Rand, they say they’re ready to go, but you promised to talk to me while it’s fresh.” Abruptly his ears twitched with embarrassment, and that booming voice became plaintive. “I am sorry; I know it can’t be enjoyable. But I must know. For the book. For the Ages.” Laughing, Rand got to his feet and tugged at the Ogier’s open coat. “For the Ages? Do writers all talk like that? Don’t worry, Loial. It will still be fresh when I tell you. I won’t forget.” (Page 87)

Other good quotes:

  • The wind shook the banner hard and was gone quickly, as if glad to be away. (Page 50)
  • Defeating Aes Sedai was not easy; making them admit defeat lay on the far side of impossible. (Page 57)
  • Perhaps they would only still them. From the little he had picked up, stilling an Aes Sedai amounted to a killing that just took a few years for the corpse to lie down. (Page 59)
  • “You think I can’t teach them as well as you?” Rand’s voice was soft, the whisper of a blade sliding in its sheath. (Page 82)
  • In Cairhien, maybe in most lands, ordinary folk could be crushed unnoticed where the mighty walked. (Page 116)
  • He floated in the Void, surrounded by emptiness beyond knowing, and saidin filled him, trying to grind him to dust beneath steel-shattering cold and heat where stone would flash to flame, carrying the Dark One’s taint on its flow, forcing corruption into his bones. Into his soul, he feared sometimes. It did not make him feel so sick to his stomach as it once had. He feared that even more. And larded through that torrent of fire, ice and filth – life. That was the best word. Saidin tried to destroy him. Saidin filled him to overflowing with vitality. It threatened to bury him, and it enticed him. The war for survival, the struggle to avoid being consumed, magnified the joy of pure life. So sweet even with the foulness. What would it be like, clean? Beyond imagining. He wanted to draw more, draw all there was. (Page 144)
  • It was always better to know than to be ignorant, but sometimes ignorance was much more comfortable. (Page 269)
  • A yellow-haired woman in red belt and plunging neckline made a faint sound as her eyes rolled up in her head and she slid bonelessly from her red chair. (Page 552)
  • “Yes, but there is the matter of the Bargain.” That word was plainly capitalized in Harine’s tone. (Page 597)
  • Mat crashed into the killer’s back, and they all three hit the floor together. He had no compunctions against stabbing a man in the back when it was necessary, especially a man who could tear somebody’s throat out. (Page 666)
  • Insults to Thom’s flute or his harp were insults to himself. (Page 684)
  • Rand blinked, and snatched one hand from the crown to suck on a pricked finger. Almost buried among the laurel leaves of the crown were the sharp points of swords. …  Gingerly he set the circle of laurel leaves on his head. Half those swords pointed up, half down. No head would wear this crown casually or easily. (Page 739)