Escaping Stockholm: Second in a series of publishing industry essays by author Judith Tarr, about whom the following is all perfectly true:
Judith Tarr hates writing bios of herself. She would rather write historical fantasy or historical novels or epic fantasy or the (rather) odd alternate history, or short stories on just about any subject that catches her fancy.
She has been a World Fantasy Award nominee for her Alexander the Great novel, Lord of the Two Lands, and won the Crawford Award for her Hound and the Falcon trilogy. She also writes as Caitlin Brennan (The Mountain’s Call and sequels) and Kathleen Bryan (The Serpent and the Rose and sequels).
When she is not working on her latest novel or story, she is breeding, raising, and training Lipizzan horses on her farm near Tucson, Arizona. Her horses are Space Aliens, her stallion is a Pooka, and they frequently appear in song, story, blog (she is dancinghorse on livejournal), facebook, and twitter.
Escape from Stockholm: An Epic Publishing Saga
Find Judith Tarr on LiveJournal | on Twitter | & at Book View Cafe</small>
Part One | Part Three
…Bestseller numbers ain’t what they used to be, by a long shot.) But mostly? It’s a sweatshop.
Today’s writers in midcareer, say ten years along, grew up as writers during the heyday of the Nineties and the turn of the Millennium. That was when the hardcover/trade paper/mass market model ruled. You got an agent who took care of you and helped you come up with book projects and presented them to editors, who bought them and shepherded them through production. You ended up with a book to hold in your hands, and mostly it was done for you, though you might do a book tour or attend some conventions to help the book sell. Your job was to keep writing new books and selling them on proposal (if you were established enough), so that agent and publisher could do their thing.
And that, if you wanted to make real money and be respected for it, was really the only game in town. Self-publishing was vanity press, ick. Small presses that paid no or minimal advances weren’t much better, unless you were literary or an academic. Ebooks hadn’t happened yet. Backlist, past the first year or two, was dead unless you hit it big, and then your publisher might bring out a boxed set or an omnibus. But mostly it bloomed and died—which was a real problem if your trilogy or series took too long to come out or ran into trouble with distribution or sales, so that the early volumes were gone by the time the last one was available.
In one way it was lovely. Agent worried about money. Publisher worried about production and promo and distribution. Author worried about getting the next book written.
In another way, as the economy tanked and distributors and bookstores collapsed, it created a serious problem, because authors raised under that system, or raised to think they would be pursuing their careers under it, were horribly unprepared for what the publishing world had turned into. They were raised in a kind of learned helplessness—with Mommy or Daddy Agent worrying about the business end, and King Publisher handling everything once the book left the author’s desk. Many authors were the literary equivalent of the prince who can’t put on his own shoes.
It created a crippling dependence. Agents would tell authors what to write, how to write it, and when—“because that’s what I can sell.” And authors would be afraid to argue because they needed an agent to get their books onto editors’ desks (publishers having shifted the job of slush reader into the agents), and agents were inundated with submissions, and what if Agent doesn’t like me or fires me? What if I can’t get another agent? How will I ever sell again?
And meanwhile publishers were doing all the production, the packaging, the distribution—but not the promo. Gradually, they had shifted that onto the authors. Authors were feverishly printing bookmarks, holding contests, even hiring publicists at more than the amount of their advances, to promote their books. And oh, the anguish if a publication date was moved or a book was (or still is) seen on a bookshelf before that date. Total, total freakout on publication day. What if it doesn’t sell? What if it misses the golden sale period by a day? What if the other books in the series aren’t out at the same time? What do I do? What can I do? What if it fails? How will I ever sell a book again?
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(x-posted from The Essential Kit)