It’s not like I quit writing or anything. I have spent the past two years, and most intensively, the last year, learning how to most-effectively use Medium. You can find me on Medium here. I am using it because of its ease of access to any and all readers on any device.
Why am I publishing the work I most believe in for free on Medium first?
First, because everything published on Medium can be read on any device at any time. It also looks great on any device.
Second, because the recently-completed U.S. election has made it crystal clear that money is not the answer to anything.
And third, because we already know that many people are shut out of the careers, education or jobs they would like to do because of racism, gender bias and class bias. This book is what I most want to do, have most wanted to do, and believe in with 100% of my mind, body and soul.
It’s who I am, and it’s what I did. As I recently commented on Medium regarding a person’s unwarranted criticism of writing by a diverse author, “I don’t care if only one person reads my work here on Medium. It is what I believe in, it is what I want to do, and I know it is the right path for me.”
As recently as early 2015, I believed that if I just worked hard enough, I would have sufficient opportunity to pay my basic bills and earn a basic living as a writer. In the past, I have absolutely paid my basic bills and provided many things for my daughter through my writing. I believed that the self-publishing revolution was a good thing, and that it enabled people to reach an audience. I knew there were some problems; for example — I could see that self-publishing worked best for people who were writing a type of already-recognized or popular fiction. I saw that the “successes” were those associated with established fan or other types of internet communities.
If you think “Mainstream Media” is messed up and not working, reporting only what corporations or the wealthy .00001% want the rest of us to see and hear, the same is true of popular “Entertainment” from books to television to movies. And then some.
Up until this past year, I spent my entire life thinking if I just worked harder and “got good enough” I could be “successful” like other writers I knew who had $20,000 book contracts, or who had large empires “selling” instructional material, newsletters, e-book omnibus editions, and so-on. I had stopped believing the common wisdom that “getting good enough” was a matter of copying other writers’ work or known formulas years ago.
I built a whole publishing company and motivated others. Years ago, I agitated with my writing friends that we could combat the collapse of the midlist writer and other egregious problems in the publishing industry that seem quaint in hindsight, and was a co-founder of Book View Cafe (I am still the treasurer). I convinced Igor Goldkind that his poems were good and motivated him to get all of his friends, the best comic artists of their generation, and unbelievably gifted fine artists like Mario Torero together to make the beautiful, groundbreaking e-book Is She Available? Igor and his friend Addie printed a fantastic hardcover version and had two big presentations at the San Diego ComicCon.
I did everything humanly possible to send Igor’s legitimately spectacular, groundbreaking book out to reviewers. Two major publications reviewed the e-book, both in Chicago. Igor got mentions from various others in the comic industry. Nobody reviewed the hardcover. The Washington Post was among many publications to sell the hardcover to used book dealers. Igor is a new poet, but the art is by Eisner-winning artists, one of the founding members of the Chicano movement in America, and the e-book had music by a British album of the year Jazz artist. It wasn’t an unprofessional “self published” book.
It was new, different, unusual, represented a man’s voice and journey that didn’t include war, death and destruction but love for family, heritage and history (and there is an anti-war, gorgeous comic panel in it).
So it was sold to used book dealers and not even looked at. I have two downloads of the e-book by reviewers and I know who each of them are. Joe Wikert featured us on his industry blog. Other than that? Jack Diddley. If you are reading this as a second-language speaker, this means “nothing” happened.
We do learn more from our failures because instead of my best work and Igor’s best work, and the best work of award-winning, influential artists who have made millions for their corporate masters, but whose own work of their heart is hidden in back of their studios or must be given away free –
We have this.
The whole system is broken. Book sales were down by 4% during the recent U.S. election not because of the election directly, but because of this picture I show above. This type of repetitive, derivative, unoriginal material that purposely encourages UNORIGINALITY for a quick buck isn’t going to bring new customers through the door.
As I pointed out previously in articles read by no more than 1,000 people, and to audiences at writing events numbering no more than 500 people total, 20% of North Americans regularly buy and read books. 80% do not, yet 100% of people are literate, and can read, and DO consume written content on their mobile devices. Before you Corporate Media Troll me, everything I learned about that I did through independent market research, relying primarily on the Pew Center. People also discuss and interact with each other through, primarily the written word, on social media. There are more texts sent than voice or video calls.
It is about the content. It’s about what is provided. Sales are down because the content doesn’t meet the needs of the people who currently buy and read books who are good with the corporate media slant: violence, certain types of sex, certain types of “addictive” content, and simply reinforcing the current status quo in any imaginable way.
The current publishing system cannot create books to meet the interests and needs of the 80% of people who don’t regularly buy and read books; it is increasingly failing the 20% who do.
I’m not telling you “I am the content provider.” As I said; I am happy if only one person reads what I have written for free on Medium and enjoys it.
I’m telling you that I, who have written under the “old system” for a lifetime, who believed in it, who did everything “right” –
I have a BA in Literature from Scripps College, where I won the Claremont College writing prize not once, but twice, a blind-judged contest.
I was admitted to, but chose not to attend, the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the UC Irvine MFA program.
For reasons of time, cost, and wanting to be a sci-fi writer, I applied to, was admitted to, and successfully completed the Clarion Sci Fi Writers Workshop in 1984.
I gave up writing as “impractical” about two years after that. I did not write for another eight years.
I returned to writing in 1996, and applied to and attended the nearest MFA program to my home (Chapman University in Orange, CA). I completed this program in 1999.
I published my first sci fi story professionally in 1996 (“Jonny Punkinhead, F & SF).
I did the usual drill with short science fiction and published my first novel in 2001.
I was also nominated for a Nebula Award that year.
Now – where I am today is related to my not going the route of $5,000 novel “advances” and selling 4,000 to 6,000 books and so-on.
I worked with Alan Rodgers as he established Alan Rodgers Books (and there wouldn’t be Chameleon Publishing if Alan hadn’t spent the last 10 years of his life doing that).
I worked with the others to set up Book View Cafe, the largest author publishing cooperative.
In between all the rest of that I am sure I’ve published well over 2 million words, about 75% of it nonfiction.
A troll on Twitter said, “anybody can publish a book these days.”
Until we can somehow reinvent the system of publishing as it stands, an unhealthy, struggling system, the books will be selected and published for that ever-dwindling 20% of readers and never, never will get beyond that. And above all, they won’t be written by people who are generally willing to say and do what I have:
I do not care if only one person ever reads what I’ve written. That is enough for me because I have done what I believed was right, what was right for me, and what is the best path for me and best work I can do.
That person has read what I have written. Others I am close to also have read it. I am okay. I know I have done my best.
It shouldn’t have to be that hard. People shouldn’t have to work for free for a lifetime just to express a story with emotional truth, of meaning and worth to at least one other person.
Storytelling is important to people at a level beyond money and more than momentary “entertainment.” It helps us imagine our world and future. It helps us to make choices about ourselves, and it helps us to understand people who are different from us.
Our society and economy has now made it so it is the province of a very limited group of people.
And — it’s creating things like this:
I’m not saying there is not a place for commercial genre fiction, fan fiction or related work. Of course there is. Just not to the exclusion of there being something new, different, and individual or expressive of individual human creation and nature. The majority of what is out there right now is similar to these “Kindle Worlds,” not to things like Alice in Wonderland, David Copperfield, or War & Peace. Of these three books, each author was male, each author was white — in Dickens’ case, he was a poor boy and self-made man. The other two: they had some money. Leo Tolstoy was Russian nobility.
Imagine what stories the young woman who did his laundry may have told.
This is what I’m saying and as I have in the past few months told others “I was at some time, the one who did the laundry.” And as she told her friends, so now I tell others.
You can start reading Like Fire for free here. (Medium Publication with additional information and links to all chapters – I will also be putting some short fiction suitable for kids and young adults by request).
Shannon Page is putting a book together covering different writers’ “paths to publication” and I told her — I’ve got one!
If you’ve read my essays about the Writers of the Future Contest, you’ll recognize parts of this story, but I tell the complete tale here for the first time!
I didn’t change any of “Jonny Punkinhead,” my first professional science fiction sale, which appeared in the “New Writers” issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1996. Yes – here it is – the infamous “Nazi Clown” issue. The painting is by my now-friend Kent Bash, who also did the cover for “Chromosome Circus” – somewhat of a sequel to “Jonny” (a much nicer clown!).
So here is a draft of my “Path to Publication” …
My path to publication would have been very different, and may never have happened, if I hadn’t entered the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest between 1995 and 1998. Eventually, I ended up winning two prizes and attending the Writers of the Future events in Hollywood in 1998 and 1999. But my first professional publication wasn’t a story entered in the contest, it came as a result of it, especially help from the head judge: Dave Wolverton (who also writes fantasy novels as David Farland). Another judge of this contest, Kathy Wentworth, was a writer and editor beloved by many. Kathy suffered from cancer and died in 2012. At that time, Dave Wolverton returned as the head judge, so he is also currently the judge of this contest, which continues to help new and aspiring writers and artists.
Back in those long-ago days, we still sent work in the mail, whether on submission to a print publisher, or to a contest like Writers of the Future. The idea of “simultaneous submissions” was very important. Most publications didn’t want them. What if you sent a physical story to six different publications, and more than one of them agreed to publish the work? You ran the risk of “being banned” if editors learned you were trying to save time and postage by taking a “simultaneous submission” shortcut.
The preferred method was to laboriously put the printed story in a manila envelope and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the response – you could either include a large manila envelope in which the editor could return the actual manuscript, or a small, regular white envelope, which would be big enough for a form letter response. The understanding with the small envelope was that the editor could throw away or recycle the manuscript you had sent and just return a note or form letter.
Think about the cost in time, effort, postage and paper!
So, why was I doing this? Starting in Junior High, I had the crazy idea I “wanted to be a science fiction writer.” By the time I was in college, I read an article in Asimov’s Magazine urging young writers to apply to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop – at the time held at Michigan State University. I completed a storylike document by mixing and matching what I understood (not very much!) of a literary story by the well-known author Paul Bowles with the plot of one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I sent this thing to the workshop and they let me in!
Many of the others at the Clarion Workshop were writing fantasy or horror, so I decided, “I want to be a horror writer!” Stephen King was very popular at the time – it seemed like the thing to do. This outstanding thought process resulted in my “Pudding I left in the refrigerator came alive and ate everyone!” phase. One of my Clarion classmates convinced me to send my stories to the high-paying, and to me – very intimidating – Twilight Zone magazine. I sent three stories to them. I also sent several others to less-intimidating, low paying publications and all were rejected. Considering these tales were mostly about deadly pudding, I can’t blame these editors. I got used to seeing a big manila envelope in the mailbox that I had addressed to myself. Rejection, rejection, rejection.
Because I knew no other writers to talk to after Clarion, I didn’t know that I was “getting close” and receiving personal rejections even for malevolent pudding tales – so when I got a rejection card from Twilight Zone editor Alan Rodgers*, I decided, “You don’t have what it takes, Amy – just forget about it. Devote your time to a real paying job and your family.”
I quit writing for eight years.
After my daughter Meredith was born, her father Mike encouraged me to start writing again since it seemed like my life was consumed 100% by our daughter, my ailing father and grandmother, and job/household duties. I needed something to take my mind off of these heavy responsibilities. Mike reminded me, “Didn’t you want to be a science fiction writer?”
“Yes,” I told him – that was true. I had and did.
Mike pulled out some of his old paperbacks, including Tales of Known Space by Larry Niven. As I read, I realized I remembered reading most, if not all, of these stories from the old days. I discovered the ability to complete an actual story text – and I didn’t have to combine a literary writer’s tale with Star Trek, either. I plugged along, writing from 5:00 to 7:00 a.m. before it was time to take Meredith to school.
Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. 42 of them. But they were “personal” – i.e. written notes from various editors. I knew enough by this time to know that this meant my work wasn’t completely abominable.
I also learned about the Writers of the Future Contest, and the prizes looked great. A lot of writers I respected and admired were either judges, or had won the contest. So I developed a policy: I’d send a story to all the high-paying professional sci-fi markets in order of which ones I thought had the best potential of buying it. If, by the end of this laborious procedure, the story still hadn’t sold – then I’d enter it in the contest.
The first story that fit in this category was “Jonny Punkinhead.” This story is also my first professional science fiction and fantasy sale. It appeared in the “New Writers Issue” of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in June, 1996.
When I finished “Jonny Punkinhead” in early 1995, I knew that I’d “done something.” From what I could determine at that time, it was “publishable.” Inside, I knew that I’d done the very best that I could do. Through this story, I began to learn what I was really good at as a writer. It was about a subject very close to my heart: inspired by the homeless, desperately poor children I worked with through my day job at that time — the director of a charity devoted to helping people in need. I invented the idea of “changed children,” and did much research on slow viruses and genetic mutations to come up with a scenario by which such a disaster might occur. I left all of this “background information” out of the story and instead wrote about what might happen if somebody . . . oh, somebody like me . . . had to try to take care of these kids who were throwaways — the unwanted, the unloved, the bizarre. Kids with heads like pumpkins and three eyes. Kids like “Jonny Punkinhead.”
For reasons that are clear to me today (but unclear to me at the time) I made the protagonist a male doctor – Dr. Hedrick Arlan. But at the time, I didn’t really understand what I was doing although I knew the doctor’s problems with “taking his job home” were similar to challenges I also faced in my real-world job with homeless, very low-income people.
I put “Jonny Punkinhead” in a big manila envelope, along with a self-addressed, folded large manila envelope for its return, and sent it out (one at a time) to every reputable science fiction and fantasy magazine that existed at that time. Guess what happened?
Yeah – same as the Malevolent Pudding stories. Two of the editors, who shall forever remain nameless, actually used these words: “This is an award quality story, but . . .”
But – they still rejected it.
“Jonny” was rejected by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, at that time, the editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
After all these rejections, I entered it in the Writers of the Future contest. One day, I went to the mailbox and here was another big manila envelope. I trudged back inside and put the envelope on the kitchen counter. I figured, “Another rejection.” The same thoughts I’d had eight years before flooded my mind. “Just quit. You’re no good. You’ll never sell a story.”
I cleaned the kitchen before opening the envelope, quickly recognizing “Jonny Punkinhead.”
Then a letter fell out. It was pretty long—several pages and typed, single-spaced!
The letter was from Dave Wolverton, head contest judge. “Fred Pohl and I both thought that this was the first prize winner,” he wrote. Dave went on to discuss my story in detail, my writing in detail, and by the time I finished, I could hardly breathe. Even then, though, I was still thinking, “You didn’t win anything and they’re sending the story back, unpublished.”
Dave said that the story was “publishable.” That was great! He urged me to send it to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, where he felt it would be a “good fit.”
He had no way to know that the story had already been sent to that magazine and rejected.
Keep in mind this was before regular use of the internet and I didn’t know what to do. How could I send a story “back” that had already been rejected even if Dave Wolverton said it was good and right for the publication? Then I read Fred Pohl’s letter. You may not know who Fred Pohl is, but if you love science fiction, he was the author of The Space Merchants, Man Plus, and the Gateway novels. He was also the editor of Galaxy magazine, and considered to be the best editor in the field for many years. As I read this letter, I knew that Fred Pohl had picked a number of incredibly successful, wonderful writers of short science fiction out of his editorial “slush pile.” Among them, he had “discovered” Cordwainer Smith — and as far as I was concerned, Cordwainer Smith (real name: Paul Linebarger) was a genius.
Fred Pohl’s letter was much shorter than Dave Wolverton’s, but he said, “Being able to read stories like this is why I have continued to judge this contest over the years.” He called my story “award-quality” and my writing “beautiful,” and I believed him. That was when I decided not to quit.
As far as my “but the story was already rejected” dilemma, I wrote Dave Wolverton back. Following his guidance, I put the story back in an envelope, wrote a new cover letter that said, “Dave Wolverton suggested I send this to you,” and sent “Jonny Punkinhead” back to the editor Kristine Rusch at the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Honestly, I didn’t change a word though the cover letter probably said “I revised this with Dave’s advice” (in fact, I’m certain I said that – he told me to!).
And this time, she bought it.
I kept writing. It took me a long time — two years, probably — to recapture the feeling I had when I wrote “Jonny Punkinhead.” I wrote competent, even moving stories in the meantime. But stories like “Jonny” don’t come every day. Stories like that come from heartfelt honesty, caring, and sincerity. How many words had I written before I wrote “Jonny?” I’m not sure. It wasn’t the “million words” that I heard bestselling author Harry Turtledove speak of — he said that writers had to write “a million words” before they became publishable, professional writers. I racked up a total of eighty rejections before my next professional sale.
No one can take “Jonny Punkinhead” from me, or tell me that he’s “not a winner,” because I know that little boy is a winner, even if he lost hope in his own story. Even if he smashed his own head against the wall just the way I wanted to do back then.
My grandfather always told me, “You have to take the bad with the good.” When I was growing up and reading science fiction, my ultimate dream was to be a part of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which was the place where all the writers I most loved and admired published their work. Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Daniel Keyes, Walter M. Miller. Writers like that. My writing has been sandwiched in issues between writers like Ursula K. Le Guin and Joyce Carol Oates. That’s not “the bad.” That’s “the good.”
And that *asterisk? *Alan Rodgers, the Twilight Zone editor? I met him in 1998, not realizing who he was until quite a while after he and I had fallen in love. We were either a couple, or very close friends, until his untimely death after a series of strokes in 2014. I had kept the little card he’d sent as a rejection – the one that convinced me to quit writing way back when.
When I showed it to him and told him the story of how the terse, small card had inspired me to quit, he said “Amy, I only wrote 6 or 7 of those the whole time I was at Twilight Zone. That was meant to encourage you.
If you had sent another story as good as that one, I probably would have bought it!”
First off, I just finished doing some work I really do not have a lot of extra time to do, but I did it anyway. Second, I doubt too many male writers would share my experience of having to slack off to go get some items for dinner. It’s cooking right now. Of course there are some: single dads and others.
So hell I sit around and way more often than I should, I feel sorry for myself. I just counted up all the Nebula Award nominated stories and authors since this award began in 1966. I wanted to make the case that “who the story is about” is more important than “who wrote the story.” I discovered that my betters, Joanna Russ, Kate Wilhelm, Nancy Kress, Connie Willis, Vonda McIntyre, Nina Kiriki Hoffmann, Carol Emshwiller, Lisa Tuttle (who has ethics – she did not want her award, the only person to so-decline to date), Esther Friesner, Ursula Le Guin, and Jane Yolen – had all written stories with female protagonists who received the award.
I only dealt with the short story category. It would drive me insane to deal with all the other categories. And then there’s the Hugos, with which there is some, not a lot, of overlap.
So here’s who these babies are about – by year:
1966 The Harlequin and the Ticktockman
1967 Geology assistant/WWII Vet (“The Secret Place”) and “dead boy’s sister”
1968 Neutered Spacers (Chip Delany)
1969 Dr. Darin (male), monkeys, mentally deficient boy (Kate Wilhelm)
1970 A man (“Passengers” by Robert Silverberg – first person narrative)
1971 – no award –
1972 A man (“Good News from the Vatican” by Robert Silverberg – first person narrative)
1973 Janet Evason – this story is “When It Changed” by Joanna Russ about an all-female planet
1974 Moggadeet – an alien who is eaten by his female mate (by “James Tiptree, Jr.” – “Love is the Plan, the Plan is Death”)
1975 Laia Asieo Odo, an elderly woman (aka Odo, in male form, in “The Dispossessed” – by Ursula Le Guin)
1976 Dolf, a man running out of time, who must catch that Zeppelin
1977 A man (“A Crowd of Shadows” by Charles L. Grant – first person narrative)
1978 Jeffty – he’s five. He is always five.
1979 Rob (a guy, a musician)
1980 “An old scientist” and “young female reporter” and giant ants.
1981 Boyd, a male archaologist who discovers his acquaintance Luis is an immortal
1982 An unnamed woman (Lisa Tuttle “The Bone Flute” the only author to refuse the award, due to problems with another author campaigning)
1983 A girl and her dog (Connie Willis)
1984 A young boy who survives a global flood
1985 An old man and a young boy (Williams and John)
1986 Sally Gourley, a truck stop waitress of indeterminate age (by Nancy Kress!)
1987 Pal Tremont, a Korean boy
1988 Gordon Sills (male), Avery Roda (male), love object “Anna” (female)
1989 Sheila, a prostitute rescued from the Biblical Flood, and mother
1990 Male physicist who discovers time travel
1991 Guy who observes that bears have discovered fire
1992 Vietnam guy, Charlie
1993 Three women discuss menstruation (Connie Willis!)
1994 Vietnam guy, first-person narrative
1995 Anli (female) and Derren (male) (Martha Soukup)
1996 The Librarian and Death (Esther Friesner!)
1997 A woman who has the day off for her virtual child’s birthday (Esther Friesner!)
1998 Sister Emily (Jane Yolen!)
1999 Vietnam guy (my dear friend Bruce Holland Rogers – but this theme is starting to look like “Never go full-retard” as stated by fake black guy Robert Downey, Jr. in Tropic Thunder)
2000 Professional (female) victim (Leslie What)
2001 Investigator of Victim Rights Closure Statements (anti-death penalty story by Terry Bisson)
2002 Maria, African albino women
2003 Mother with a creature for a child (Carol Emshwiller who is better than all)
2004 Female narrator hunting gorillas (Karen Joy Fowler “What I Didn’t See”)
2005 Daughter coming to terms with elderly dying father
2006 A succubus-type of indeterminate gender who lives with a typical middle-aged working woman
2007 An abandoned mistress
2008 17 year old, formerly youngest female resident of Always
2009 Alanna and Ylva (by Nina Kiriki Hoffmann)
2010 “Nameless female survivor” of spacewreck
2011 A man who creates a tiny man
2012 A little boy with a paper tiger
2013 Quy an “older sister”
2014 A narrator of indeterminate gender
2015 Grandma, Eva, a Jackalope wife
Now, nerds and dweebs and geeks – this is who I am. The majority of these winners are either my friends or friendly acquaintances. Some of them have been my teachers and mentors.
I started feeling unholy sorry for myself. Some of my friends, acquaintances, teachers and mentors have unbelievable Publishers Weekly reviews for their work. They have loving retrospectives, and in-depth reviews, story-by-story, of collections of their work. And I saw book after book, whether single, standalone story or collection, with one, two, or three reviews on Amazon. I saw the same b.s. (maybe not the same “quality” as me – but I am “special”) on their work — two star reviews, etc. Judging by Amazon, my dreadful crap has even outsold some of their outstanding work.
So, what I wrote about was this:
To Kiss the Star
Mel Armstrong – 17 – wheelchair-bound, blind, spastic, chosen for spaceflight The Renascence of Memory
Carol Meyers – 80 – Alzheimer’s patient, former wife, mother, college professor This Monster
Grendel’s Dam – ageless Jenny, With the Stars in Her Hair
Jenny Julian – 35 – addicted to extreme cosmetic surgery The Color of Time
Gia – 21, Nana – 81, Faith – 31 Smiley the Robot
Miss Gia – 85 Everything I Have is Yours
Helene Bacon – 50 – famous film director, Sarah Bacon – 16 – her daughter Heart of Jade
The Lady – 30 – daughter of 20 Rabbit, the last great king of Copan Shakespeare in Hell
Emilia Bassano – 35-ish (actually died at age 74) – reputed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets The Ruined Gods
Ginger – 28 – a cat woman; Rikki/Roxane/Roksana – 73 The Gods That Men Don’t See
Ginny Baumann – 33 – primatologist Digger Lady
Vi Elliott – 73 – paleontologist Incandescent
Paperwhite – a newborn Her Name is Jacqueline
Lori Johnston – 36 – attorney
The thing is, I might not write very well. I might be crude and maybe not very talented.
But I think I am honest. And I listen. So.
Disabled people really will go to the stars, once it is time. Women will continue to use extreme cosmetic surgery to get what they want, although it doesn’t work. There will be a sub-cellular level treatment for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases – even a reversal of the aging process. People will come to understand that time and space are artifacts of our sensory perceptions. Some day, a robot will fall in love with and care for an old lady, because he knows no better. A woman will one day win the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award as a film director. Some day, a woman will write better than Shakespeare. A woman likely did co-found today’s Mayan community. Some day a woman who lives only a short time will travel faster than the speed of light and save many lives. There probably were early humans here in North America 100,000 years ago. The Mayan howler monkey god is real. Gender reassignment will become much more common and complete. People will so seriously clone for companionship and then – some – the scummy few – will use for organ donation.
There is a hot trade in Altoid mints, intergalactically-speaking.
“Don’t write about your little life,” said Toni Morrison. Open your ears, open your eyes, open your heart –
FREE YOUR MIND
I didn’t know this advice over the years. I know it now, and I’m glad I took it, instinctively. As I say to students, why should we become so upset about abortion, when medical science can and will solve this? Why should we become so angry about the death penalty, when the crimes to which it is the penalty will cease due to evolution?
You think I am wrong? I am an optimist; I am a listener.
When I was 13, one of the most popular songs was “At Seventeen,” by Janis Ian. I had a record player. There was no such thing as an iPod. If you played a vinyl record enough times it got a grayish tinge and started to crackle and pop. After a few months, I could hardly play Janis’ album any longer and it was gray as hell. I not only idolized Janis — her “look,” her fashion, her voice, her poetry – I related to this song just like every other teen girl. It turned out, later, that the song really was about Janis at age 13, my exact age.
I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
And high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired …
I had no sense I was “beautiful,” and as far as future career path, I pictured being the secretary to a wealthy and powerful man. I wanted to marry a handsome, strong man. My ideal wedding dress was an “empire” dress — but I didn’t know what it was called back then. I wanted two children: a boy and a girl. Sure, I wrote storylike objects and I painted pictures and I made things. I “whittled” and woodcarved and banged stuff together with old nails. I foraged and hunted and hiked and explored with my dog. I shoveled the manure out of my pony’s stall —
It had been nigh upon three years since I’d gotten a copy of A Wrinkle in Time from my aunt Donna.
The summer I was 13, as I listened to “At Seventeen” over and over, I read Lord of the Rings front to back four or five times. I got the “pancake tan” (didn’t want to turn over so brown in front, white in back). I read Dune. I read Warm Worlds and Otherwise, stories by James Tiptree, Jr. I read through all of Ray Bradbury. I read England Swings edited by Judith Merril. I read Dangerous Visions, and Again, Dangerous Visions. Those were edited by Harlan Ellison. He looked like a handsome guy, judging by his picture. But I wouldn’t have said anything like that to anyone. Admitting I was reading this stuff was beyond weird and nerdy.
Nobody told me I couldn’t be a sci-fi writer. Somewhere in the back of my head this idea took root. I liked to imagine things. I couldn’t help it. I imagined things whether I wanted to or not. These things: they were stories. Not about me. About people I didn’t know, lots of the time. Places, sometimes very far away in space and time, from where I was.
Then my grandfather died and my grandmother didn’t talk to me for a year, and then I moved away to Hollywood and then I came back to Redlands.
I was a different person; I’d lost a year. The normality of my life before was gone. I no longer imagined I’d marry a wealthy, powerful man, although that seemed like a pretty good plan if it ever did happen. I just wanted to survive from day to day.
And so it goes.
This is my third collection of short fiction. Three stories are fantasy; eleven are science fiction. All are about women. Although the fantasy stories are told with male viewpoint characters, their linchpins are the women.
The degree of prior professional publication and recognition on these stories is directly graphable by age. The younger the protagonist, the easier the sale — in fact, “To Kiss the Star,” the first story, was a cover story of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and nominated for a Nebula Award. Its protagonist, Mel, is seventeen, just like Janis Ian’s song. And I realize now what song I heard when Mel looked in the mirror after the ISA “cowboy” doctor gave her sight. In stories I have written, the older the female protagonist, the less likely the story would be to appear in a top publication. At best, these appeared in small press or anthologies edited by friends.
Now, these stories about women age 30 and over are in a book that is published in e-book form by Book View Cafe, the first, largest and most-successful author publishing cooperative, and in trade paperback, by Chameleon Publishing, the publishing company I founded.
Carol Meyers – 80 – Alzheimer’s patient, former wife, mother, college professor
Grendel’s Dam – ageless
Jenny, With the Stars in Her Hair
Jenny Julian – 28 – addicted to extreme cosmetic surgery
The Color of Time
Gia – 21, Nana – 81, Faith – 31
Smiley the Robot
Miss Gia – 85
Everything I Have is Yours
Helene Bacon – 50 – famous film director, Sarah Bacon – 16 – her daughter
Heart of Jade
The Lady – 30-ish and thought barren – daughter of 20 Rabbit, the last great king of Copan
Shakespeare in Hell
Emilia Bassano – 35-ish (actually died at age 74) – reputed “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets
The Ruined Gods
Ginger – 28 – a cat woman; Rikki/Roxane/Roksana – 73
The Gods That Men Don’t See
Ginny Baumann – 33 – primatologist, unmarried
Vi Elliott – 73 – paleontologist, never married
Paperwhite – a newborn Vogue girl
Her Name is Jacqueline
Lori Johnston – 36 – attorney, married, male genes, female nature
For many years, I did not know that nobody wanted to read a story about a woman over age 30, or a story with a female character over age 25 who wasn’t a “black widow,” a canny elderly detective or nosy old lady next door.
Of course I know that now.
Of course I know there should be romance stories for women, men and transgendered people. There should be stories about crises of conscience for men. How stupid is it, for example, for there to be a story about Helene Bacon, the first female film director to receive an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award? There’s some sci-fi for you. Imagine that this successful, powerful director never had time to get married, but she did have a daughter, Sarah — a daughter very much like her. And right when she has achieved the height of her recognition and power, Helene learns she’s dying of lung cancer. Only a total lung transplant will save her. And Sarah’s not just her daughter: she is her clone. Oh, what to do? God, what a ridiculous, idiotic story. Its mate (architect dying of cancer learns that only his cloned son can save him) was a Writers of the Future winning story. When people questioned that a man would consider using his son that way — what about a mother? — the story was born.
“Digger Lady” has not so much been rejected, but rather – lost, three times, by three different editors of two major sci-fi/fantasy magazines. It is inspired by a lady I got to know at age 17 — some coincidence? — Ruth “Dee” Simpson, the archaeologist at the San Bernardino County Museum. That was my first real job — the “intern” at the museum. The character inspired by “Dee,” Vi Elliott, is explicitly said to be 73 in the story. She is being forced into retirement. There are few women who can claim to have discovered Early Man in the Southern California desert along with world-renowned paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Ruth “Dee” Simpson is one of them. Nobody wants to read about someone like that.
I think they’d rather read about a naive 3-day old genetically manipulated prostitute who is bound to save the world from an alien plague, all the while being beaten to a pulp by a vicious, burned-out case who learns at the end, the value of what he valued so-little. I did write that story and it is in this book; I will not continue to write dozens of them.
It makes me sad when I think of the stories I was given to read while in school (this includes college and graduate school). “The Yellow Wallpaper” – a classic by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The husband’s name is John; the young female narrator has no name. This story was written well over a hundred years ago.
My life, oddly enough, was not over when I turned 25, nor 30, nor even the dreaded 40 and unholy, impossible, “no man will ever want you!” 50. Such adventures I have had – and still have.
The best stories are those which tell themselves. It isn’t “who writes the stories” that is so important; it is the stories themselves.
These are the stories that came to me, as they came to me. For a long while, I didn’t realize that I was, as far as getting paid or getting anybody to read the work, literally wasting my time even attempting to write stories outside the conventional genres (romance, mystery) and genre conventions (like Ellie Sattler in the Jurassic Park movies – she retires, is married, has children and becomes a children’s book writer) about women. Now I do understand that.
I’m writing them anyway. I’m publishing them anyway.
At 13, at 17, at 53, it was and is my job to listen.
You can read stories about women in love, women’s problems, or women’s issues.
Or, you can read stories about the future of women.
In the Nebula Award-nominated “To Kiss the Star,” gravely disabled Mel Armstrong gets the chance to explore the stars, but doesn’t want to leave the man she loves behind. In “The Renascence of Memory,” nanotechnology returns 80 year old Alzheimer’s patient Carol Meyers to her former youth and beauty — but everyone she knew and loved is dead, except her former young lover — he is now too old for her. Famous female film director Helene Bacon will be the first woman to win an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award — but she’s dying of cancer and her daughter is the best donor. How will she choose? The Lady, the only daughter of the last great ruler of Copan wishes to be a man, so she can save her father and her city. Dr. Vi Elliott believes she’s discovered Early Man in the Southern California Desert — maybe she has, and maybe she has not — but she does run across a couple of mint-addicted intergalactic eBay traders in this sequel to “Mad for the Mints.” And lawyer Lori Johnston is happily married to insurance guy Jack — until he tells her he’s committed to gender reassignment to save his job. What Jack doesn’t know is that Lori appears and is female, but her biology is male: born with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome.
The Instrumentality of Women
First eBook Edition Book View Cafe
18 January 2016
First Trade Paperback Edition Chameleon Publishing
4 April 2016
This is the original introduction: it will be changed now but probably will still include the information about Asimov’s.
At the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin famously said, “We must all hang together, or we most assuredly will all hang separately.”
It’s like that for writers these days.
In nearly every area, people have figured out how to make money off the creativity of others. I just reviewed the education app Nearpod this morning. It is primarily aimed at K-12 teachers and classrooms. While very interesting in terms of providing a tool for interactive classroom content (especially for tablet-enabled classrooms – it is mobile oriented), I was little surprised to learn that the “App” requests teachers who have made their own Common Core-friendly lessons to apply to be “authors” who will be able to sell their lessons to other teachers at prices ranging from $2.99 for a single lesson to $40 and $50 for “bundled lessons.”
The time and effort to make a decent Nearpad interactive lesson (the app’s beauty is it allows teachers to pace the lesson and break it up with assessments – quizzes, questions, etc.) is far in excess of being paid a few dollars here and there, most certainly what the Nearpad people would offer for the “lucky” teachers “selected” to be “Nearpad Authors.” There are a few such authors featured on the service. There are many more professional “educational content” companies listed. These in turn pay the people who make their lessons as little as possible, usually piece rates for “work for hire,” while making huge amounts of money from it.
We turn to “self-publishing” where authors are encouraged to make their own money and told it’s the “new frontier” enabling them to have creative and financial freedom.
The reality is, there is less freedom than ever. As to financial freedom, the small numbers who are making good money right now … or at least purported “experts” like Jane Friedman (who make money from aspiring writers and conferences and fees) … appear blissfully unaware of the writing on the wall.
Search engines are going local. Mobile advertising and customer contact is going local and device-specific. Because retail stores aren’t going away. People will probably *never* buy everything online and after more than a decade of every algorithm known to man developed in the absence of direct human contact …
What any real salesperson will tell you is: you can guess about the customer but you won’t know until you talk to them in person.
Which authors other than James Patterson and J.K. Rowling are going to be able to afford targeted mobile ads? Everyone who was previously successful in self-publishing has gone for a traditional publishing contract if possible.
Why would that be so?
Because if we do not hang together, we will most assuredly, hang separately. They have some type of partnership with their publishers.
Yes, that is the future. It was the past – it was exploitive. It broke down. Now authors are being exploited individually.
Of course there’s a better way. But it sure as he** is not going to come from “subject matter experts,” “book formatting experts” or “author assistants.”
I have been a professional writer since 1996. I have worked in nearly every aspect of the publishing industry, from educational to trade fiction to magazines, and every conceivable type of online “content.” I’ve also worked as an executive in the nonprofit world, with government, foundation and private funders and a huge range of projects, and as a business development professional, with over 160 businesses. And, I’m a college teacher.
Writers, by far, have the least ability to work together to benefit each other of any group I have ever worked with. They are at present, hanging on every word of gurus that promise riches and hanging separately.
Mene, Mene, Tekel, Uparshin.
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The Hitler Channel (AHC) has been showing documentaries about “The Evolution of Evil.” These cover such perennial favorites as Hitler and Stalin. Both gentlemen rose to power following the breakdown of monarchies in Europe/Russia and the first World War.
Both, interestingly, were young men from relatively impoverished backgrounds — “outsiders” who rose to power in the chaos following the fall of prior Imperial structures. Hitler was a German-speaking Austrian; Stalin a Russian-speaking Georgian. Both were educated in traditional religious schools prior to becoming involved in revolutionary movements.
Russia’s “Man of Steel,” Stalin, had a lot longer run than Germany’s Fuhrer, Hitler.
So in recent months I’ve had a bit of contact with younger people who desire change. Some reminds me of my great time working with Policymic. Others — maybe not so much.
I put my experience working with Policymic in the 100% positive column. I think many of the Policymic former and current writers are doing incredible things and that they want nothing but good for other people. They want, and are working, for positive change. I was really glad to see Laura Donovan writing for Attn:, for example.
I find a number of younger people who seem to be locked into a cycle of complaints, the same type of aggressive online attention-getting we see from many male media personalities, and the same lack of respect for older generations or diverse cultures and values that is typical of the Tsars, Kaisers or “American Titans” of the past.
Like Stalin became Tsar-Plus, worse than any Russian Tsar of prior generations, once his opportunity came. Like Hitler became Kaiser-Plus, worse than Kaiser Wilhelm ever thought of being.
Stalin has been commonly called a brute and a pig. What he was, was murderer to millions. He alone took the former Soviet Union back decades. People wanted freedom and opportunity after Imperial Russia and its abuses. They got the “Man of Steel.”
I now understand in all regards how and why my grandmother was one of the six founding members of the American Communist Party. It was at this time that women had barely achieved the right to vote in America. She was a first-time woman pharmacist in New York (Hell’s Kitchen) and California. She certainly would not have been welcomed by either U.S. established political party at that time; the Communists were the only ones who would have either welcomed, or listened to her.
My Grandma Mary was probably the most humane person I have ever met, and insightful enough about human nature to have easily repelled a serial rapist who broke into her small Fairfax District apartment when she was up in her 80s by saying, “Young man, if you touch me, you’ll get the worst disease you ever heard of!”
Like Stalin, some of these young militants today respect power — what they perceive of it. After watching the AHC documentary, which detailed some of Stalin’s consolidation of power — perhaps they are like Trotsky, who little understood the consequences of his snubbing Stalin. Average people “get” that you get back what you put into something, and the way you treat others is generally how you are yourself, treated in return (i.e. “The Golden Rule”).
These days, most people’s basic needs are met. They also get basic entertainment, comfort, and sexual needs met fairly easily.
Our intellectual and spiritual needs: not so much.
So, it is my hope that as we pass from one era to the next, we do not have the same circumstances as occurred with Hitler and Stalin, where higher-class hereditary monarchs and dictators were replaced by lower-class, non-hereditary, power-mongering ones who made their predecessors look like amateurs in oppression.
If you think you’re “left out” today and want to be the dominant voice of tomorrow, having no respect for those who came before you is hardly the way to make a change and make a difference.
Everyone is familiar with the “Industrial Revolution.” In the past 500 years there have been five official “revolutions” that have changed the way people live.
(1600–1740) Financial-agricultural revolution
(1780–1840) Industrial revolution
(1880–1920) Technical revolution (or Second Industrial Revolution)
(1940–1970) Scientific-technical revolution
(1985–2000) Information and telecommunications revolution
We’re going to propose #6 and we are in the middle of it:
(2015-????) Creative revolution
Each of these revolutions was made possible by its predecessor.
This is what our current system defines as the “Value of Books.”
So, the result is clearly seen in the revenue earned by writers for their work.
The Chameleon Writer Market Survey is still open. But as of last week, among the 122 respondents, the pattern of earnings distribution is clear. The survey in fact, is weighted heavily toward working writers who’ve published a number of books.
Within this group, the earnings do correlate. The writers who had published more books all fell in the top four earning categories of $24,999 and above. The respondent who made more than $200,000 was individually recruited to complete the survey, as were a number of indy-published or self-published writers.
These results are a bit “better” than the data collected by the UK Authors Licensing and Collecting Society in 2014, or information on the collapse of writer earnings identified by the Authors Guild and currently being used in support of advocacy for fair writer contracts. The Authors Guild is actively advocating for major trade publishers to offer 50% e-book royalties, instead of the industry-standard 25%. As a number of independent publishers including Zumaya Publications‘ Elizabeth Burton, have pointed out over the course of these articles, independent publishers have been offering similar terms to writers for years (Zumaya was founded in 2001 and has a number of successful imprints and authors). The Book View Cafe “split” as an author cooperative is 95/5 – 95% to the author, 5% to the cooperative, retained as reserve and operations funds.
“Why Don’t More People Read?” was about who really reads and buys books currently — as much as can be determined. We’ve previously made the point using observable data (again, as much as can be determined) that the present systems are not reliably serving the current market of approximately 20 percent of North American adults who regularly buy and read books (some 70 million people). As other advisers have pointed out, we initially looked at rapidly rising college graduation rates, particularly among women and diverse populations, and predicted that some 140 million Americans, Mexicans and Canadians were potential book-buyers and readers. But the truth is: nearly 100 percent of adults are literate in the U.S. and Canada. Mexico’s literacy rate was 93% in 2013. Among young Mexicans (15-24), the rate is 98.5%. So, the potential market for books in North America really is just about everybody who is literate, i.e. the entire adult population, in North America. In addition, the book as a creative format is, as we’ve previously pointed out, foundational to other forms of communication. The delivery format does matter, as is shown in Pew’s ongoing research: younger readers not only read more, and more often, than older age groups, they prefer paper books. Here is a new link, regarding younger Americans and library use. While e-books are an important new publication platform, it is unlikely that they will ever replace paper books in their present form.
Yes, we are talking among ourselves about a different way of combining tech and the paper book. But we are crazy.
So, the current system of publishing, which includes self-publishing which is dependent on retailers (Amazon) which have brilliantly devised a system to acquire limitless content at no upfront cost, solving one of the problems of bringing products to market at scale, but offering no ability to control quality or expand markets (as seen in the leveling-off of e-book sales) – and let me explain this in plain English:
Unless Amazon fixes its approach, it will be stuck with its current Kindle customer base and ongoing declines in paper book sales since those customers are falling away. The independent booksellers that survived the seismic changes in the industry in the past 20 years are strong and new bookstores are beginning to open. Amazon is not the only e-book seller and their competitors are offering books on devices that have legs, are continuously upgraded, and really are good for more than one thing. And the traditional bookstore is not the only way to sell books.
Bound to Happen
It really was bound to happen, I realized this past weekend at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. We told attendees, “Chameleon is the only company of its kind right now, but five years from now, there will be a lot more.” We said, “If established publishers want to make it, they’ll adopt more of our methodology.” There isn’t much chance of business growth and success if a business is trying to make a product using flawed methodology and is siloed from its market customers all along the supply chain — a market it knows little about, and which is self-limited based in false assumptions (“Books compete with movies, TV and games,” and “Nobody reads any longer.”) Even when successes are noted, they are evaluated based in superficialities: i.e. the success of the Twilight books led to other books that were superficially similar, and even the later success of 50 Shades of Gray, based on the more “wholesome” Twilight books — like people don’t get what the underlying basic elements were (entertainment, absorbtion and a heroic fantasy for YOUNG FEMALE READERS – told actively and at a fast pace).
Metrics and Bookscan
The only metric used in the trade publishing industry outside of Amazon’s own internal metrics, used within its customer base, is Nielsen Bookscan. When we first started Chameleon and I explained to some of our initial founding group (including Silicon Valley pioneers) that established publishers were very slow in determining how many books they’d sold, and that they didn’t have very strong control over the pipeline; i.e. they pretty much had no idea who was buying any given title, how, why and where, they thought I was making stuff up. “Authors sure don’t know,” I said, “they receive their royalty statements very late and they’re hardly reliable.” At the same time, I explained, authors are also now being asked to take the lion’s share of marketing their books, when they don’t even know who’s buying them until months later and even then, they just see an aggregate number, not ‘who’s buying what, where or when’.”
“That’s not possible,” one person said.
I explained that publishers greatly relied upon a third-party service, Nielsen Bookscan, in making purchasing decisions. Right now, AC Nielsen is stating they cover 80 percent of paper book sales. Any US-based author with an Amazon Author Central account can track their Bookscan sales on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. There are probably 1,000 internet articles and posts, most denigrating Bookscan, and a few extolling its virtues — this is a post of ONE right now that’s going to contextualize it in the larger scale of industry and commerce.
AC Nielsen is a good company and produces incredible market research in general, and fantastic insight in retail market trends and potentials. Bookscan could not be characterized as a good, future or long-term sustainable BI product. Launched in 2001, it’s a POS system (business acronyms are funny, huh? In this context it means “Point of Sale”) that offers little insight beyond the basic purchase and sales volume among the current customer base.
In contrast, Nielsen offers rich data and insights for general retail, and to a lesser extent, manufacturing and services industries.
This is just one of their insights.
Most of the growth in retail spending over the next decade will be from multicultural consumers. Books are a retail product.
Why Using Bookscan is a Recipe for Failure
We’ve used cookies, organic/natural foods and Uber to try to communicate what needs to happen. Now: bicycles.
After an historical record high of 15.2 million bicycles sold in the U.S. in 1973, bicycles suffered a long decline in the 80s and 90s. Everybody was driving, and even kids started skateboarding more and riding bicycles less. Sales started to rebound during the early 2000s, but the industry slumped during the recession.
Now, bicycles are making a comeback, with almost 2 million more bicycles sold in 2014 than the previous year. The National Bicycle Dealers Association reported that 18 million bicycles were sold in the U.S. in 2014. The growth rate is found in cool, new (“retro”) bicycles, bicycles for specific enthusiasts, and basic meat-and-potatoes bicycles used for fitness and transportation.
If bicycle manufacturers and dealers were only looking at partial records covering the numbers of bicycles sold during any given period, including “down” periods like the recession, and determining their future purchases by doing more similar models, then … they would not be at that 18 million bicycles sold figure.
“Nobody rides bicycles any longer.”
“Young people don’t ride bikes.”
HELLO. If you assume this, no — of course you’re not going to make money designing, manufacturing and selling new bicycles to new riders.
Detroit, Japan, Munich and Seoul have “noticed” that millennials are not buying new cars at the rate of prior generations. I’ve heard lots of reasons or rationales for this; let’s just say the major auto manufacturers are not deciding what types of new cars to make or how to handle their brand development and customer relations based on who bought how many of a certain model and make last year. A reasonable percentage of the new bicycle sales are to people, mostly young, under 30 and urban dwellers, who do not own a car.
That is a megatrend. We have near 100 percent literacy in North America and in Canada, more than 50 percent of young people attend and graduate from college, and the U.S. will achieve that rate within the next decade. More young women than men already attend and graduate with college degrees. These are megatrends.
58 percent of current regular book-buyers and readers are women — and the current system can’t even serve them very well, much less other, more diverse, younger groups of potential book buyers and readers.
What Would a World Look Like That Valued Creativity as Much as Tech?
As we tell people, we can only “fix books.” We can’t do anything about other related industries. We can’t fix the art world, the music world, or film or TV. GoldieBlox is already doing engineering from the ground-up based in toys (and books). It’s books we know about and we want to work with books and readers.
Back to the money. An analysis of the 2013 and 2014 annual reports of the major trade publishers shows they are investing as little as 2.7 percent of revenue to a maximum of 7 percent of revenue on the people who make the basic product that is sold: the writer. Combine this with other barriers to a successful, reliable way to deliver value to the market customer (readers) and it isn’t a growth industry (as is presently seen – flatline projected by every industry analyst out there).
Are people still watching videos? (Yes, online and via numerous other channels). Are people still using digital copying technology? (Yes – eventually they’ll even be using 3-D printers). Are people still using smartphones? (Uh, yes … with touchscreens). Are people still using social media? (Uh …). Are people still taking photos? (Yes). Are people still using a dizzying array of office and business technology? (Yes). Are people still buying tires, appliances and clothing? (Yes).
“Nobody reads any longer.”
“Young people don’t read.”
“Minorities don’t read.”
“Boys won’t read books about girls.”
“Books with green covers don’t sell.”
“Books with minorities on the cover don’t sell.”
When You Make Things Using a System That Disconnects the People Who Make the Product From the Customer Whenever and Wherever Possible …
When You Seldom if Ever Talk to Your Market Customer About Their Needs
When Your Product Development and Selection is Ceded to Outside Entities Whose Interests are Not Your Own (Agents)
When Your Core Means of Product Manufacture and Development (Writer) is Siloed and Isolated from Every Conceivable Part of the Pipeline
When You Are At War With Your Vendors
When You Can’t Even Price Known Products Reliably in Response to Current Customer Needs
When You Cannot Identify Basic Product Elements Desired by Customers
When You Think You Can Get Your Raw Materials For Free or Close To It
When You Do Not Value Your People, Without Whom Nothing May Be Made or Sold Successfully
When You Think It’s an Accident That a Book is Successful and Do Not Learn From Your Failures
When You Do Not Love, Respect and Value All Business Partners
When the Engine of Manufacture (Writers) are Asked to Work for Years on a Volunteer or Part-time Basis in the Hope of Someday, Making Some Money
When There is Little to No Connection Between Formal Education and Industry Work or Performance
“Nobody reads any longer.”
“Young people do not read books.”
Yes, they do. And they deserve products made for a world in which just about everybody can read and will have some need and desire to do so, not a world in which only a few could read, and fewer still had access, means, time and motive.
Chameleon isn’t offering the “deal” that the Authors Guild is advocating for — 50% e-book royalties. Chameleon will be splitting all earnings 50-50 with authors, all platforms, all editions. It is the company’s responsibility to make this work. It is not the author’s responsibility to undertake all corporate operations (i.e. “self-publishing”).
Famously, Hillary Clinton’s book took the title of an African proverb, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.”
Everyone who’s ever worked in a successful enterprise, who’s ever launched a new product, who has ever innovated, knows it takes a team to do this. We can watch old videos of how Nikola Tesla had the right idea about alternating current, but Thomas Edison didn’t see things that way, and the two warred until finally, alternating current successfully won out. As an individual, Tesla tore up his agreements with Westinghouse in order to see his idea become reality. Tesla sacrificed his own financial future and ended up dying penniless … but I’m typing on the internet today because of what he did, not because of what my theoretical 6th cousin (Edison) did.
It Was Bound to Happen
I have given up my so-called “writing career” to do this. It was bound to happen, that someone who declared “creative writing” as a major and “creative writing” as a minor upon going to college for the first time, and ended up with bachelors’ degrees in art and literature, would then work for a nonprofit organization and change everyone’s minds about what was best to do to improve the lives of homeless and very low-income families. It was bound to happen that I would then become a college teacher and writer and be on the front lines facing classes of students forced to take English in order to transfer or graduate for 18 years. It was bound to happen that those classes would be diverse, full of all types of students, ages, backgrounds and interests. It was bound to happen that I would “market test” books with these students and see what engaged them and what did not. It was bound to happen that I’d be part of a dialog with fellow writers, of course, far behind them in ability, skill and talent, but even so, able to listen and be part of the group — and hear the same refrains over and over again of their barriers in just being able to do their work.
Publisher XXX dropped the last book of my series but I’m still hearing from readers who want to read it.
Publisher ZZZ was going to publish Book Y, which is so cool because ____________ , and they said they didn’t want it because ______________ (spurious reason).
“Why are we sitting around taking this when there’s something we can do about it?” I said. Book View Cafe. No, I’m not responsible; I’m just the one who said that.
It was bound to happen that I’d be involved in Wildside Press and Alan Rodgers Books, that my first collection and novel would be among the very first print on demand books, and that I’d also be in on the ground floor with the first Kindle books, and other early e-book services like Fictionwise. It was bound to happen that I’d do 3 years in the barrel writing for McGraw-Hill.
It was bound to happen that I’d be working for Beyond Shelter and be the person who would have to a) raise all the funds; and b) make sure the actual projects worked and delivered the promised results. It was bound to happen that I’d be the “fixer” who helped women get businesses off the ground in South and Central Los Angeles. That I would work to get employment, business development, housing development and social services projects off the ground with hundreds of families.
It was bound to happen that I would decide “All the social services in the world won’t be beneficial if families don’t have decent jobs and economic opportunity” and leave the nonprofit world to try to make that a reality by using the same process I did to make all these projects in the inner city work by doing business consulting and development.
It was bound to happen that I’d get a strong picture of how successful, new businesses worked in a huge range of sectors, the kind of operations structures worked, the kind of business ethics that were successful, and the kind of revenue, cash flow, R & D and other structures were workable on a broad scale.
It was bound to happen that I would get the gumption to write the book of my life, to finally put it all together, and to finally realized, “I’ve done it. After all these years, I really wrote a good book – my way, the only and best way I can.”
I know people will like it, I thought.
It was bound to happen that the agent to whom I had been faithful for over a decade, but who’d never done too much (in fairness – she didn’t exactly have the hardworking, fully-producing writer seeking to meet the needs of her customers … acquiring editors) would blow me off and I’d then seek to activate my carefully nurtured and stewarded list of top agents, each of whom had indicated, “Anything you write, Amy, just send it — we will always look at your work!”
It was bound to happen that this would start the engine. That I would then do the type of competitor analysis I’d developed at Beyond Shelter, which enabled the organization to go from under $500,000 raised in corporate and foundation support to over $2 million, and much more, counting government partners. I would then do the type of comps I’d done for over 100 different businesses, in numerous sectors. I would know what BI software was and how it was used, what CRM software was, and how it was used. I would know how any number of new, innovative and successful products were developed and launched. For example, I would know that in 2000, there were only 6 free-range beef operations in the US and Canada, and now – there are more than 2,000. I would know that five years ago, natural and organic products had only 2-3 percent of the shelf space in grocery stores, and now, they have more than 20 percent.
We’re not going to “share” what our comps have told us in depth, but we can share that what we’ve learned is the way that we have developed our business plan, and helped us to set our initial goals, because we are approaching the end of “Proof of Concept” and getting toward launch.
This business is based in the following benchmarks:
Average 10,000 copies per frontlist title sold – by whatever means – to the market customers for whom the book has value
Basic pricing, consistent throughout editions and formats
Long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with author-partners (this is why it’s like “job interview” not single-title purchase).
Creative and production teams: editors, designers, authors, artists, marketing and sales professionals
Now – by all means continue reading the “Author Earnings Report” for your facts considering it may possibly cover 15% of the current book-buying and reading market and is always at least a quarter behind. It’s kind of like an in-depth study of who’s buying bikes at Sears.
Right now, approximately 70 million people in North America (US, Canada, Mexico) regularly buy and read books. “Regularly” is defined as buying and reading at least one book a month.
This is frequently described in popular media as “nobody reads any longer.” In terms of media attention, books are considered a poor relation compared to high-interest sectors like film, TV, games and online/mobile “content.” If you count “seeing stuff” on your smartphone like news, weather reports or e-mail, nearly 100 percent of North Americans do see popular media; only 20 percent regularly buy and read books. TRUE.
Authors are on the front lines, and their responses to our writer market survey (yes, it’s still open) matched the popular media message. Writers overwhelmingly responded that the two main reasons more people did not buy and read books were 1) a general dislike of reading (lack of interest); and 2) competition from other media: film, TV, games, and social media.
But here’s the thing: more than three-quarters (76 percent) of American adults read at least one book last year (according to the Pew Research Center). Now, this isn’t the same group as the 20 percent, or 70 million, who are known to be regular book-buyers and readers. We may count nearly all of our young residents ages 5-18 as readers as well, since kids still read books in school.
That’s an awful lot of people, some 184 million. It’s more people than go to the movies at least once a year. It’s more people than watched the Seahawks vs. the Patriots in the Super Bowl this year (168 million). An industry-specific, pro-film survey conducted by GFK found that 62 percent of American adults go to the movies . . . at least once a year. The movie-going experience is instructive: higher prices for tickets are leading to fewer tickets sold and lower rates of movie-going, according to the Wall Street Journal. A total of 1.34 billion movie tickets were sold in 2014, according to the MPAA. For books, the nearest one can find in equivalent numbers is that 1.58 billion books were sold during the same year (using U.S. Census Bureau reporting for book retailers, which does not include many e-books and also does not include educational publishers). So, these types of surveys are instructive. About 50% of American adults own one of these three devices (hint: the Amazon Kindle share of the tablet market is much smaller than the other devices).
Because tablets are big-ticket, big tech items that drive advertising and customer relations for just about every industry, there’s a lot more information easily accessible about them than there is about books (or other products delivered via the devices).
To put this into perspective, according to librarian and researcher Nancy Herther, “In 2014, two library systems—Toronto Public Library and King County Library System in Washington—experienced more than 2 million checkouts from OverDrive. Additionally, eight library systems had circulations of more than 1 million.” These e-books and audiobooks aren’t being delivered just via Amazon Kindles … they are delivered through any/all tablets, phones and desktop computers.
This is just a personal survey, but I’ve been asking students for years whether or not they own an e-reader. About a third to half of every class owns an Apple iPad or Microsoft Surface, and 100 percent have smartphones, either Apple or Android. To this date, over the past five years, exactly ZERO students have had an Amazon Kindle, much less another type of dedicated e-reader. At the same time, 100 percent of students read: they’re in college. They buy many books, the majority of which are assigned, of course. They are also eager to get textbooks (or others) in e-book editions. When they read a book they enjoy, they ask for more . . . sometimes that’s a difficult proposition.
The number of regular, ongoing book buyers and readers is probably greater than the official 20 percent — this number could be fairly said to represent people covered in some way by Nielsen BookScan and regular online book purchases through major retailers. A 2013 Huffington Post/YouGov survey of 1,000 U.S. adults found that 35 percent read between 6 and 50 books during 2012 (this does not equate to “buy and read” — some respondents doubtless read library books or assigned textbooks). However, 50 percent of those responding to the survey said they’d spent some time during the prior week reading a physical book. Only 19 percent of those who responded said they’d read an e-book during the prior week. This survey is over a year old, yet its results broadly fit other market statistics: people still read, and they haven’t quit reading physical books in favor of e-books.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) predicts steady, slow growth in book publishing worldwide over the next three years, and a maturing e-book market.
People don’t read any more: not like they used to!
The popular media narrative goes like this: “people used to read all the time — now they don’t any longer.” So let’s look at 100 years ago vs. today. There are a lot of superficial overviews and comparisons of 1915 and 2015 out there. An overview of the American Library Annual for 1915 and 1916 points out some of the bestsellers of the day. Bestsellers were identified by “points” (mentions in review publications or magazine/newspaper lists). The top seller was Michael O’Halloran by Gene Stratton-Porter (a woman), followed by K, by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Winston Churchill’s A Far Country was also in the top-selling list. All three are available in Project Gutenberg and other free e-book editions today, by the way.
Reading in some ways still suffers from the poor social reputation a lot of us remember from our school days.
We really didn’t get a lot of optimism in the writer survey about people’s desire or interest in reading books. Only 13 percent said they thought every person who could read was willing to buy and read books.
“Back in the Day . . . “
Author responses reflect historical thought. A hundred years ago, no less a leader than President Woodrow Wilson noted in the Harper Encyclopedia of U.S. History that few people read books and “unhappily, literature is whatever large bodies of people read.” Newspapers, the “internet” of the day, had been according to Wilson, “for the last half-century, exerting more influence on the popular mind and popular morals than either the pulpit or the book has exerted in 500 years.” It’s difficult to believe that Pres. Wilson wrote that, but apparently — he did.
Here is the difference between 1915 and 2015: in 1915, only about half of American school-aged students (5-17) were enrolled in school, according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy. Approximate 8 percent of American adults were illiterate in 1915, with up to 30 percent of African-American adults being unable to read, according to the NAAL statistics. These adults not only lacked free time to read, they couldn’t read even if they had the time and money. Flash forward 100 years: nearly 100 percent of American adults can read (this is true throughout the developed world, according to UNESCO).
Eloquent responses from writers
Why don’t more people buy and read books? Why do we seem stuck at the 20 percent mark for the percentage of regular book buyers and readers? Here is what our respondents thought, in writing.
“Laziness. Reading requires effort. You can’t just stare at the page like you can a TV or computer screen or phone.”
“Our culture does not admire people who read for pleasure. We are not sexy. We are pegged as poorly socialized, which has some truth to it. American culture makes stupid people famous. The average IQ really is 100.”
“Most people read something, i.e. trade journals, newspapers, magazines, and some read just one author, James Paterson, Clive Cussler, Marry Higgins Clark, etc. and that newspaper, magazine, journal, etc. but the voracious reader who inhales all SF/F, all mysteries, all romance, etc. has always been a minority.”
“They were scared off it in school by being forced to read things they didn’t like. If they’d been encouraged to read what appealed to THEM–even if it was comic books & cereal boxes–they would be reading books. BUYING is a whole different question. Some people are cheap.”
“There are some people who do not like to read. Period.”
“I have an extremely literate niece I have never been able to interest in books — she likes movies, and sports. But she has a doctorate, so I suspect she just hasn’t found what she likes to read.”
“Reading was once the only real pastime. It has since been replaced by radio, and then movies, games, etc. Everyone has different interests, not everyone enjoys reading as a hobby/pastime.”
I KNOW — and so do you
Here is the answer. I know, because I’ve been fortunate enough to be a classroom teacher since 1998. I know what happened when I assigned students to read Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” based on another teacher’s syllabus: classroom disaster. I know what happens when I ask students to read An Anthropologist on Mars by Dr. Oliver Sacks: classroom success. I have had the personal privilege of writing to Sylvan Barnet to let him know that students said just one of his many textbooks, Current Issues & Enduring Questions, was a book that, at the end of the semester, was one that they had not only read thoroughly — was also one they would keep and not sell back for a few dollars’ credit.
Other texts I have used, with success, but not as notable as these two, include Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt, and Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser.
I’ve had students who have both written and published books. A significant number more than own an Amazon Kindle, it now occurs to me. I have had the privilege of teaching both the newsmagazine and literary magazine classes at Saddleback College. In every single regular English class I teach, at least one, but usually two or three, students tells me that they want to “be writers.” There are many others who are gifted writers, too … they’re more shy about their interests, but they, also care. As many as a third fit in this category: they enjoy writing and also enjoy reading. Another third, when engaged, discovers an interest and facility in reading and writing.
So, really, all we need to do is move the dial a little bit forward to open up the current, under-served market for books. Currently, about 70 million North American adults regularly buy and read books. A 1 percent increase in readership would be 700,000 new regular bookbuyers and readers.
There’s clear evidence that younger readers prefer paper books and when they use e-books, they prefer the tablet-type of e-book (with pages that turn and an attractive appearance) to the “flowable” format common on the single-purpose e-readers. They do appreciate the functions of e-books such as the ability to look up unfamiliar words as they are reading: an automatic boon to literacy, but most aren’t aware of them until or unless they are shown them.
So, at the same time as many self-published authors are seeking to serve a pretty small market (dedicated e-reader owners and frequent users), and at the same time as large publishers are taking their cues for what to publish, how to publish, and how to sell their offerings out of the self-published pool …
This guy has this hugely successful Udemy course and half a dozen imitators on his heels.
There’s not an entrepreneur website or publication out there that doesn’t have at least a dozen articles which mention “highly-successful people read.” Reading books is up there on just about every advice list from business gurus. The only person in that category who went against this advice is Steve Jobs, who famously announced, “People don’t read any longer.” He added that “40 percent of American adults didn’t read a book at all last year.” (2007 … false – and even if true, 40 percent isn’t “everybody”). Yes, Jobs was speaking against the Amazon Kindle, stating that the product would fail.
So we have a new motto: “All people will be readers . . . and sometimes writers.” And not for free. Our goal is to develop economically feasable models which will enable books to be written and published reaching all potential audiences, not just a selected few that have been served in the past.
PewDiePie is racking up the pre-orders for his October book.
At Saddleback a while back, I actually introduced a whole class to PewDiePie. We watched about 3 videos where he destroyed videogame characters making funny comments. My favorite was the same as he said his was — the “dad” on the bicycle with the kid in the child seat. We watched him thrash, trash, and dismember this guy and the kid over and over.
This is PewDiePie’s thing. He is the #1 YouTube celebrity and he makes funny videos. He started out with funny commentary about ultra-violent video games. Now he’s branched into other stuff, including “fan fiction” (PewDiePie-style).
Doing a PewDiePie book is a “no brainer.” It’s “#1 seller” status on Amazon doesn’t mean much right now. It’s #1 in a pretty small category (“Teen and Young Adult Internet Books”). Will PewDiePie make true #1 when this book comes out? Heck I don’t know. Maybe. My guess is that most of his copies sold will be the paper, physical books. His fans want an actual object they can put their hands on. Chances that they’ll be die-hard Kindle users aren’t good since the demographics don’t match. Right now it can be seen that people who are pre-ordering the book are also buying PewDiePie sweatshirts, not other books.
So, the takeaway is that young people who play videogames, watch PewDiePie’s YouTubes and buy his branded stuff will probably also buy his book. In a paper version. PewDiePie is known for his funny sayings, i.e. verbal wit.
Does this mean this is all they’ll ever buy and read?
Aw hell no.
There’s already an established market for this book: PewDiePie fans. PewDiePie has already developed this market himself. Razorbill (Penguin), the publisher, is taking advantage of this. To make money.
So, let’s look at another PewDiePie product: one of his t-shirts. This is from the very video I (and quite a few students – definitely not all) thought was so funny, and it’s the very character I agreed with PewDiePie, was the funniest to dismember in the videogame. People who haven’t seen the videogame review won’t get it.
So, PewDiePie’s shirts, hats, pajama pants, games and now his book have value: to his fans.
This is a whole market of millions of young people that lots of people have noticed now, thanks to PewDiePie’s YouTube dominance: something he is responsible for, not a whole lot of other people. PewDiePie’s videos did not start out as the most professional, but it’s obvious from his website and channel that now, he does have some help in a lot of different areas. PewDiePie gets his audience tastes and he interacts with them every day.
In the more traditional book area, there are some who stand out in terms of “getting” audience tastes and providing a product (books) accordingly.
First is Lee Child (as profiled in Forbes last year). Lee Child left the internet in 1996. His brand is something developed over more than three decades of writing and publishing books.
Another is James Patterson, whose background is in advertising. Patterson’s face most recently has been all over the internet as part of a $90 course “James Patterson Teaches Writing” modeled after less high-production value courses taught through Udemy and other similar online platforms. The “MasterClass” concept also offers acting taught by Dustin Hoffmann and tennis taught by Serena Williams. Patterson’s Maximum Ride series does exactly what we’ve been talking about – and it’s a mark of his power and skill that he’s managed to make this work so well.
Every time I mention this series, I get slammed. My point is that Maximum Ride is a teenaged girl. She can fly. Her friends can do other amazing things. The nearest I can come to describing the books is like “wholesome superheroes who care about each other” who have amazing adventures. Few chapters are over 500 words long. The books’ readership encompasses a much higher number of young males than most others in its sector. Max is, as I said, a young female. This flies directly in the face of the commonly-held wisdom in much of the publishing industry that “young boys won’t read about girls” and “young boys won’t read at all.” The friends in the books are equally comprised of males and females and they act like kids do when they do things together, just the way kids … well … actually do — even if their adventures are high-tech, “unrealistic” and super-hero-ey. The Maximum Ride books do engage reluctant readers. And the trouble is, a lot of times these readers read these books and then stop. Because they can’t find too much else that fits their experience with these books. They get lost in the shuffle of editorial taste, teacher taste, librarian taste, parent taste. The “formula” of the books alone is something Patterson could develop and sell. Among the thousands of others out there who might write something similar: they’re not making it through the system and process.
One reader comment about the Maximum Ride series is: “I highly recommend this book for adults, young adults, even preteens…. I talked so much about this, and obviously enjoyed it so much, that my 10‐year‐old (girl) is reading (and loving) it now, my 15–year‐old (boy) wants to read it next, and even my husband has expressed interest in it.”
As an individual corporate entity, James Patterson is doing every single thing we talk about. He’s supporting libraries and programs for young readers. He is actively developing book series to engage young readers. He’s coaching writers through an affordable online course. He’s supporting independent bookstores with cash grants totaling $1 million.
So right now, 20% of North American adults regularly buy and read books. Some of them are not being best-served by the majority of books that are out there. Many are die-hard readers who’ve already read a lot of their favorites (fiction and non-fiction) and are on the daily lookout for more. Some are more specialized readers, who are particular fans of a certain genre or type of book. There are even a few single-author readers. I’m pretty sure James Patterson and Lee Child will have some readers who fit in this category.
Then there’s everyone else. Some of these, who aren’t regular book-buyers and readers, will be PewDiePie’s fans.
When a reader comes to a book, of any type, that really engages them, their reaction is profound. James Patterson knows this. He is an ad guy and an entertainer who’s about making the most accessible products he can — from his perspective. He knows that people have to be able to access the product, which is why he’s providing funds for libraries and reading programs, and for independent bookstores. He knows that the physical process of going to a bookstore and touching a book — opening it, reading here and there, browsing back and forth — isn’t easily replaced by all of the online systems and their ever-growing sophistication. He knows that branding has to be consistent, which is why all of his books have similar appearances across series. His name is usually prominent because he knows: he’s the brand. He knows that while e-books have grown rapidly in recent years, their sales have leveled off.
So, James Patterson always did have his eye on the future, and he knows that today’s young readers in school are the adult readers of tomorrow. He knows what our culture will lose if we lose reading and writing.
If we go only to PewDiePie videos, games, and PewDiePie’s small, pithy, humorous book that’s really just an additional sale to the t-shirts and other goodies. If we go to less than that.
There’s no evidence that a vast amount of time, care, talent and skill did not go into all of Patterson’s numerous lines and products. As many should be aware, he does not write all of his books. He employs and credits numerous other writers to develop the products. He’s the “Disney” of individual writing corporations and he’s the executive producer of the “studio.” James has noticed that 56% of current regular book-buyers and readers are women ages 45 and older, so in addition to creating the Maximum Ride series that offers a chance for some escapist heroism for younger readers (male and female), he’s created the Women’s Murder Club series with female heroines who are older than age 25, have jobs, different backgrounds and histories and families — divorced, single, happily married, with and without children.
There is this example. There is James Patterson. This powerful, brilliant man who has probably kept more people reading and enticed more readers than anybody else over the past 15-20 years.
Sure, one reason we are doing Chameleon is … I wrote a YA book series with multiple points of view and a non-human protagonist (it was written long-enough ago that there were two male, one female human protagonists – 3 male if Humphree were counted). I was turned down by editorial board at a major children’s publisher because it had “multiple points of view.” The top-selling books for that publisher at that time had “multiple points of view.” I’m very open with people about my inability to sell any story in top professional markets with a female protagonist over age 25. I got a universal “no read” for the book of my life, featuring a single mom over age 25 and her relationship with her daughter and potential life partner, in a big fantasy context.
So, the response of people who are like the “experts” over at a certain blog I was reading this past week would be “Well you just suck! That’s why a major publisher turned you down! That’s why agents turned you down!” That’s the answer everyone gets when they experience publishing problems. It isn’t that there’s something wrong with the “system,” it’s there’s something wrong with them, with their work. PewDiePie can make “dumb”-seeming videos and put them on YouTube because he plays videogames, he’s hilarious, and he knows what his fans would like. Day by day, it grew. Well, the thing is, what PewDiePie is doing is of its moment (and so are a lot of books) but chances are that someone would find the videos funny and be buying his merchandise of today 20 years from now, much less 50 years or 100 years — they aren’t too good.
Well – maybe it’s more like “They can only afford to do PewDiePie because they know he’s good for x-number of copies.” And maybe it’s because — there’s only one James Patterson, with his particular combination of business sense, people knowledge, and commitment to our society and culture and reading.