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  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW
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    Indie Publisher Interview

    Long interview with Leland Cheuk of 7.13 Books. I've quoted what I felt were the most interesting, provocative points. Most of you know more than I do about publishing, so I just wanted to see what points you agreed with and disagreed with, and really just to ask if it's as bleak as he maintains. I read this a few days ago and haven't been able to shake it.

    http://www.themillions.com/2017/01/s...and-cheuk.html

    Their existence as small press titles will be an indictment on the tired traditional publishing model offered by the Big Five publishers, who in reality have been out of the business of publishing literature for years, maybe decades. Three-hundred thousand books each year are published from the Big Five and maybe a few hundred are what any reader would consider literature. An argument can be made that the big houses are really in the business of publishing cookbooks, celebrity memoirs, and adult coloring pads.
    Like most writers who’ve been at it for 10, 15, 20 years, I felt I had done almost everything possible to get a book published. I’d done the work, gone to top residencies, signed with agents, and had close calls at big houses. But nothing happened. And nothing happened because the numbers are so daunting. Tens of thousands of qualified writers for a couple hundred deals. Every year, it seems like everyone is talking about the same two dozen or so titles as the big literary hits. The system is as rigged as the global economy.
    I’ve never been so bored with mainstream literary publishing. There’s an aesthetic sameness to most of the list titles. Naturalism is king. Identity is queen. And the family is the castle. And the castle is, for some reason, often located on the Upper West Side, Upstate New York, Montauk, or the Hamptons. I don’t see risk-taking. I see lots of opportunism. Great work still gets published. This year, I loved Paul Beatty’s hilarious and irreverent The Sellout, Colson Whitehead’s grimly imaginative The Underground Railroad, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s quietly incendiary We Love You, Charlie Freeman, Yaa Gyasi’s expansive, yet concise Homegoing, and Alexander Weinstein’s Black Mirror-esque Children of the New World. But honestly, I read a lot of the fiction that critics and book publicity people fawn over and just shrug.
    There’s a lot of meh-ness in the indie world too. But there’s no excuse for Big Five publishing companies dropping huge advances on meh books.

    The general mediocrity at the big houses comes from what plagues the economy as a whole. It’s this short-term, winner-takes-all economic model that doesn’t allow for more books to be successful. Right now, they’re giving huge advances at the top and making those books successful to carry the business. For that author, it’s wonderful and terrific and we all root for and envy his or her success. For hundreds of other authors, they’re screwed because no one in the house, from editorial on down to sales and marketing, cares about their books. It’s just like Hollywood. Everyone sees Age of Ultron, The Force Awakens, and Superman v. Batman. But are those films for everyone? Not really. They’re being crammed down our throats for the sake of the bottom line. The publishing industry is a billion-dollar industry. If they can’t put out a few hundred successful literary books a year out of 300,000, what good are they?
    On the indie side, there are just so many presses and so many books. Of course, there’s going to be meh-ness. There are a lot of indie authors publishing pretty good first books that would’ve gone to big houses 15 years ago when they were more interested in growing an author’s career. Now it’s just churn and burn, up and out, and you get one chance to blow.

    Everyone loves to talk about inequity for women and POCs, but an inequity no one wants to talk about is that 80 percent of mainstream literary fiction deals are sold to women. Eighty-four percent of editors are women. It’s extremely difficult to sell a male perspective right now. Recently, an agent said he brought that up on Twitter and was trolled to death. The authors I grew up enjoying like Bret Easton Ellis, Kurt Vonnegut, or Thomas Pynchon, would probably be relegated to small presses today.
    It’s a complex issue. Yes, men historically are more frequently reviewed and win more of the big awards. But if you’re a male author trying to break into literary fiction, you’re shooting for one of maybe two dozen deals each year. I’m going to try for a 50/50 gender-balanced list, which, frankly, is radical by today’s standards.
    I know plenty of well-published, acclaimed authors without agents. Both my books were published without one. An agent is a nice-to-have. You can’t make a living wage from your writing without one, but there are, like, 100 American writers total making a living wage from their books alone, and one of them is James Patterson. I tell writers not to sweat the agent search and do their thing. Send out queries like you’re going to the gym.Structurally, something in the traditional editor-agent-author troika needs to change. The transactional model is just not working. Not enough agents are making decent money and authors aren’t making any money at all. I can see a future where the big houses acquire dozens of small presses at a time to bypass the agent thing completely, leaving agents to add value by providing publicity services and career management.

  2. #2
    ... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Well he is going to say that, to promote his own side.

    He sounds a little.bitter but I guess he is entitled to be.

    I'm pretty unenamoured of the agent system.
    All praise for Columbina.

  3. #3
    Derailed WriteMinded's Avatar
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    Hmm. Well, that's depressing.

  4. #4
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    As with most such rants, there are elements of truth along with blanket statements lacking substantiation, and random bits of "smarter-than-thou" shots at books people actually buy. It's difficult to tease out truths, because he's got a dog in the fight, and that colors anyone's perspective (including my own).

    IME publishing is a weird business, because it has to turn a profit (so they can actually pay people), but it's at the absolute mercy of what people choose to buy, and yes, publishers get that equation wrong sometimes, but that doesn't obviate the need to try. It's all well and good to say "I will elevate the ones who've been missed by The System" but he's still got to sell enough to pay his bills. It can feel crass to apply capitalistic basics to one's own work, but when it comes down to it, unless you're self-publishing, the game is figuring out how to get everyone on the food chain paid.

    As for people not caring...in my experience that's an unsubstantiated accusation. People (at least the people you'll deal with as an author) don't go into publishing because they expect to be rich and famous. They do it because they love books, and it shows when you deal with them. That their love doesn't translate into huge success for everyone doesn't change the fact of it. Editors and publicists and marketing people aren't mustache-twirling villains sneering at your art, they're folks who love books - often your book - doing the best they can within a highly mercurial system. And the most mercurial part of that system would be you and me - the book-buying public.

    So I'm thinking he's got an interesting and possibly useful perspective, but there's some stuff I'd probably suggest to him about motes and eyes.

    I also want to say, about agents: a large impetus for the agent system is simply the numbers of aspiring authors out there. Publishing houses don't hire enough editors to deal with a perpetually open call for work. Agents are a way for editors to get a pre-filtered supply of potential material. And yes, good work gets missed all the time, and that's awful, although at least in this day and age there are alternatives to the trade model. But the problem with so-called gatekeepers is not that they exist, but that there aren't enouh of them - in terms of numbers, diversity, of anything else you're thinking of.
    July goals:

    - WIP #1: Finish the first draft and begin editing: 112,178/DONE
    - WIP #2: Get to 20K: 10,753/20,000

    And oh, hey, REMNANTS OF TRUST is on sale for $1.99!




    THE COLD BETWEEN - Out now

    REMNANTS OF TRUST - Out now
    BREACH OF CONTAINMENT - Preorderable

    author page | sporadically-updated blog | twitter | facebook

  5. #5
    THE EXPLORERS is out now!! Toothpaste's Avatar
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    Uh huh. This doesn't read remotely biased. There are only around 100 American authors making a living wage? Right.

    Methinks this writer is speaking about a very specific genre and market (literary/general fiction/adult). And that's fine, but the sweeping generalizations about the entirety of Big Five publishing makes me wary about any of his points, even the few that are sound. I honestly am so over these kinds of interviews and articles. I'll be the first person to cop to all the flaws in the trade publishing world, there are many. But those authors who like to suggest that the Big Five are the ONLY flawed parts of publishing, and that there aren't advantages to them at all, are either trying to make themselves feel better or sell something. Further anyone who decides to focus on making things equitable gender and representation wise by requesting more white male authors? May I just say "uh huh" again.

    (the lovely side diss about commercial Hollywood blockbusters is a nice added touch, totally makes me think this writer is unbiased and open minded . . . totally . . . )

  6. #6
    practical experience, FTW
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    Thanks for the replies.

    I haven't been at this for all that long, but long enough to know that the odds were against me. I think it was just, according to his numbers (if they are correct) just how stacked the numbers are that staggered me. I hesitated to post this, I knew it could be depressing, but I try to look at things realistically, because only when I truly know what I am up against can I put up a good fight. And I think he is talking about a specific genre--I should have made that clear.

    I guess in the end it doesn't matter. Those of us who are going to do this are going to do it regardless.

  7. #7
    THE EXPLORERS is out now!! Toothpaste's Avatar
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    I'd argue that this is not a "realistic" interview or perception of the literary scene. Negative and cynical, yes. Biased in his and his company's favour, absolutely. Neither of those however equate with truth.

  8. #8
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    Well, that's good to hear. I know very little about the publishing business. I'm trying to learn, while I also try to learn how to write a decent book. He of course has a horse in the race. I just read that article and I kept asking myself, 'wait a minute, can that be right?'

  9. #9
    Livin' la vida biblia ASeiple's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Toothpaste View Post
    Uh huh. This doesn't read remotely biased. There are only around 100 American authors making a living wage? Right.
    So I personally know about 3-5 American authors making a living wage from their work. I've met about 50 more at various conventions. Oh hey, I'm also internet acquaintances with about 15-30 indie authors who are killing it with their earnings.

    What I'm saying is that I also find this guy's statistics of a mere hundred American authors earning a living wage to be suspect. The last number I heard, which was a rough ballpark estimate at best, was that about four thousand Americans are making a living from writing books. And even that is probably too low.
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  10. #10
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maze Runner View Post
    I think it was just, according to his numbers (if they are correct) just how stacked the numbers are that staggered me.
    The thing to remember is that it's not as simple as X number of novelists and Y number of publishing slots, where Y is a minuscule fraction of X. Not all novelists are created equal, and there are things you can do that will increase your odds, like having a solid query letter, knowing your genre (and its constraints), walloping the daylights out of your MS, etc.

    The odds are still long, but you do have control over some things that can improve your chances a lot​.
    July goals:

    - WIP #1: Finish the first draft and begin editing: 112,178/DONE
    - WIP #2: Get to 20K: 10,753/20,000

    And oh, hey, REMNANTS OF TRUST is on sale for $1.99!




    THE COLD BETWEEN - Out now

    REMNANTS OF TRUST - Out now
    BREACH OF CONTAINMENT - Preorderable

    author page | sporadically-updated blog | twitter | facebook

  11. #11
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ASeiple View Post
    So I personally know about 3-5 American authors making a living wage from their work. I've met about 50 more at various conventions. Oh hey, I'm also internet acquaintances with about 15-30 indie authors who are killing it with their earnings.
    That's impressive. I haven't met any, although I know of a few. Most of the successful SFF authors I know are still working day jobs, or have other family income.

    Based on what I've seen and the folks I've talked to, it's possible to earn a living as an author, but in general it takes some time to build up a back catalog and an audience. (There are always exceptions.)

    None of which means I think the figure in the article is correct.
    July goals:

    - WIP #1: Finish the first draft and begin editing: 112,178/DONE
    - WIP #2: Get to 20K: 10,753/20,000

    And oh, hey, REMNANTS OF TRUST is on sale for $1.99!




    THE COLD BETWEEN - Out now

    REMNANTS OF TRUST - Out now
    BREACH OF CONTAINMENT - Preorderable

    author page | sporadically-updated blog | twitter | facebook

  12. #12
    cutsie-pie Curlz's Avatar
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    Of course he's "provocative", he has a business to promote. And it's a business that obviously targets the similarly-minded - his webpage begins with "Is your story like mine?" (which includes "gone to top MFA programs, spent years writing a great book"). The earth is not flat, if you ask me.

  13. #13
    ... Harlequin's Avatar
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    The odds aren't all chance, either.

    Strange Horizons accepts 1% of all short story submissions.

    But that doesn't mean your chances of acceptance are 1% flat. If you are the guy(girl) who consistently submits incoherent rants written on toilet roll in green ink, your chances are nil. No amount of getting lucky will help.
    All praise for Columbina.

  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by lizmonster View Post
    The thing to remember is that it's not as simple as X number of novelists and Y number of publishing slots, where Y is a minuscule fraction of X. Not all novelists are created equal, and there are things you can do that will increase your odds, like having a solid query letter, knowing your genre (and its constraints), walloping the daylights out of your MS, etc.

    The odds are still long, but you do have control over some things that can improve your chances a lot​.
    That's good advice, thanks. Control what you can, probably the best approach in any world.

    Quote Originally Posted by lizmonster View Post
    That's impressive. I haven't met any, although I know of a few. Most of the successful SFF authors I know are still working day jobs, or have other family income.

    Based on what I've seen and the folks I've talked to, it's possible to earn a living as an author, but in general it takes some time to build up a back catalog and an audience. (There are always exceptions.)

    None of which means I think the figure in the article is correct.
    The only authors I know are the ones I met on this board. I'd never ask them (or anyone in any field) what they made for obvious reasons.

    I think one of my problems (with regards to writing, that is) is I've come late to it. Hence my username which suggests that not only am I trying to play catch-up, but also that I am lost. I've said it before on here, but I am not in it for the money. But I would like to be read. I've got a couple ebooks out that are not selling. I'll be the first one to point out their shortcomings, but beyond that, I've gotten absolutely no promotional help from either house. It so happens that I've got what I've been told is a literary work that I'm about to start querying, and so I'm doing the research, research I should have done before I submitted my first two, which were both genre books, and I have to admit both were kind of written for a market that as it turned out, I didn't really fit into anyway. Ha, I fear I've made just about every mistake a newbie can make, both in the writing and the selling, and that's a hard pill to swallow, but I think it's true.

    Thanks again for your advice, and for all of the comments on this thread. I'm not trying to discourage anyone. Most of you are a lot younger than I, probably more talented, and without a doubt with more common sense.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    The odds aren't all chance, either.

    Strange Horizons accepts 1% of all short story submissions.

    But that doesn't mean your chances of acceptance are 1% flat. If you are the guy(girl) who consistently submits incoherent rants written on toilet roll in green ink, your chances are nil. No amount of getting lucky will help.
    Did I accidentally send you a submission?

    Thanks everyone, nothing but luck to those of you who are starting out on this journey at a more appropriate age.

  15. #15
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maze Runner View Post
    Thanks everyone, nothing but luck to those of you who are starting out on this journey at a more appropriate age.
    I don't know how old you are, but FWIW, my first book was published when I was 51 years old. (Which is meant to be a hopeful factoid. )

    And you're not the only one who's made mistakes. In the end, you have to find a reason to write that's disconnected from visibility or success. That doesn't mean those aren't things to strive for - but if you're not writing first and foremost to please yourself, the rat race will eat you alive no matter how good you are.

    IMHO, of course.
    July goals:

    - WIP #1: Finish the first draft and begin editing: 112,178/DONE
    - WIP #2: Get to 20K: 10,753/20,000

    And oh, hey, REMNANTS OF TRUST is on sale for $1.99!




    THE COLD BETWEEN - Out now

    REMNANTS OF TRUST - Out now
    BREACH OF CONTAINMENT - Preorderable

    author page | sporadically-updated blog | twitter | facebook

  16. #16
    ... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maze Runner View Post

    Did I accidentally send you a submission?
    Well, you got a grin from me ;-) Someday just to stress an editor out, I will submit exactly that.
    All praise for Columbina.

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