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  1. #46
    Master Obfuscator Dawnstorm's Avatar
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    Me the reader: A text can be too well done. Too much polishing will take the writer out of the story and create a vacant story. I want odds and ends. I want edges. I want it obscure. I'll forgive flaws more easily than perfection.

    These days, I often think it's the readers that need the education, not the writers.

  2. #47
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    The idea that publishers are only interested in profit and that this is the only criteria they use in selecting works of fiction to publish is cute and very flattering, but erroneous. It is also quite simply impossible to do with any great degree of accuracy -- the prophetic powers ascribed to editors, agents and booksellers are laughable. (And the magazine editors, most of whom aren't professionals at all -- do you really see these people as business tycoons while they wallow in debt as the magazine market collapses?)

    It is also erroneous that publishers focus primarily on their target audience for fiction or that they even know who their target audience is half the time. This is a belief sponsored by our over-knowledge of the workings of Hollywood, the music industry and advertising, where focus groups and market research are the name of the game. While general market information about book publishing is gathered, individual publishing houses do no market research for fiction (non-fiction, they do a little.) It plays no role in editorial acquisitions of fiction beyong editors' guesses about what the market might want -- and I do mean guesses, guesses that are often faulty.

    In Gary's case, he was writing for the children's market, and there, target audience takes on a little more meaning because publishers are putting out titles for specific age groups, and receiving more consistent and detailed feedback from teachers and libraries than they can ever hope to get from booksellers. In children's fiction, trends are watched, but come and go so quickly that publishers usually find themselves playing catch-up and watching books they didn't expect to sell that well become stars. If you think anybody in children's fiction predicted the phenomena of Harry Potter, you're deluded. In the adult fiction arena, in all genres and areas, chaos reigns. Even in category romance, which used to attempt market research and targeting, it's all gone to pot and they're scrambling to be less market-oriented and broader in scope so that they can continue to exist.

    This is an industry in which profits are as thin as wafers and losses are common. Where the book they put all their big marketing push behind sinks like a stone while the one they did absolutely no promotion on becomes a huge bestseller from word of mouth. Where the bestsellers actually lose money for the publisher. Where just when you think the high-action thrillers are going to own everything, the ethnic literary women's novels take over. Where most of the sf/fantasy that is being published have no in-house publicist assigned to them and only get basic, general imprint promotion at all. Business practices, marketing, promotion, distribution -- in all of these areas, fiction publishing is hopelessly backwards and inefficient to the extent that businesspeople from other industries who come to write books scratch their heads and cry from their inability to understand the stupidity by which book publishing operates.

    What you've got is a bunch of people, some professional editors, some amateurs running their own magazines, and those ubiquitous literary agents, almost all of whom love fiction. And they chose with their gut, and then they try to convince others to trust their gut. And sometimes they put out a piece that they know won't sell all that well and make a profit in the hopes of planting a seed that will eventually grow and bear ripe fruit. And sometimes they cut authors from their list who may be one day proven geniuses because word came down from on corporate high that mysteries aren't selling so reduce how many we're putting out (because the corporate owners do indeed chase profit and they can't figure out why fiction book buyers won't behave like reasonable demographic product users and buy what they're told to.) And there's quite a few people in it running around making pronouncements who have no real clue what's going on. It's high-stakes, no net, probably we're going to the poorhouse because we backed the wrong horse, gambling.

    Formulas? Ha. Go ahead and try it, and seriously, if it works for you, I wish you all good things. But if writing to a formula (the mysterious formula that somehow satisfies the target audience that publishers supposedly seek,) really was all there was to it, there would be 2 million fiction titles published a month in the U.S. alone. And they would all sell like the dickens, and the book publishers would start buying the movie studios. Instead, reality is that it's a crapshoot and there's no way to load the dice or even really calculate the odds.

    Honestly, I get scared. It's like watching a bunch of sheep head to the slaughter house. This vision of fiction publishing as an organized, profit-driven, coordinated factory operation is so far off the truth that it's frightening. And the little magazines, run by fans who want everything they publish to seem like the stories of the three genre writers they love, the ones who will probably be out of business next year -- these are your gurus? These are the people you trust to tell you what you should put in a story? Okaaay.

    Juzzza's "700 Words" is difficult to place because of four things -- it's short, it's satirical, it's allegorical, it uses big words. All of which throws many a magazine editor for a loop. None of which has anything to do with characterization, plotting or conflict. Eventually, it is to hope that he will find an editor with a brain who will publish it. But it's a crapshoot, so who knows. No guarantees, no restitutions, no gold stars, no commonsense -- welcome to Wonderland.

  3. #48
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    Do I sense a bit of anger here?

    So what's the bottom line, KatG?

    For me, I write what I want to, what I love, and if the market wants it, then great. I am not counting on that royalty check to pay my next bill. Of course, when they don't want what I write, I rail against the system, though it's not the system's fault. As you so clearly explain, there really is no system.

    You are also right when it comes to the children's market. It is more targeted, and many publishers, including my own, thrive on the school and library market. So, they develop programs well in advance based upon the grades and they market a group of 20 titles, targeted reading, to the schools, which are shipped as groups. Yes, it is done years in advance, so the titles they purchase now may not ship for three years. But since they are designed for the educational market to an extent, not that much will change in that period hopefully. That market is not as fickle as the market most of us here are trying to publish in.

    But I will disagee with you on one point. I sat with Tom Doherty of TOR for four hours, just the two of us, and talked about the industry.**** It was pretty clear that no author is beyond the sharp knife of their company's bottom line. If the biggest doesn't sell as well this time around, then the next advance will reflect that fact. And if you are a new author and your sales don't meet the computer models, they will not publish your next book. Potential profit drives their acquisition choices, and their editors know that, and the agents that sell the authors to them know that as well. Whether this is something that their own sensibilities are comfortable with is a totally other issue. With Tom, it is not, but he still has a company to run, and he has no choice but to read those spread sheets.

    ****Just wanted to qualify this: Tom Doherty is not my friend. We just happened to be sitting next to one another on a cross country flight. I didn't want anyone to get the wrong impression.
    Last edited by Gary Wassner; January 21st, 2005 at 02:48 PM.

  4. #49
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Putting aside - just for the moment - any thoughts of money associated with this most magnificent of games, KatG, help me out with one nagging little problem.
    Most people learn shortcuts to make their jobs easier or more fun or less soul breaking. These shortcuts become the job description in the sense that the shortcut describes how they perform the job. Been there and done that although not in the publishing industry.
    Now, here is your mail room in this medium to large publishing firm. Daily the stuff streams through the door, the majority headed for the slush pile. What is the thing that gets the story the decent look it might deserve? What is the thing that tells the screeners that an editor might want to look at this?

    Oops, Sorry! That's another one of my dangerous assumptions.
    BTW, wouldn't that make a great Victorian novel, Dangerous Assumptions?

  5. #50
    Edited for submission Holbrook's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gary Wassner
    I jumped in a little late here, and though I glanced over the posts, I admit I didn't read them all that closely.

    Red or white? French cheese?
    It was usually red, often followed by a good single malt. Cheese was what ever made into my shopping trolley and the bread was usually crusty, like the conversation, rough on the outside but soft in the middle.....

  6. #51
    Light, sweet, crude. Wildeblood's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG
    Business practices, marketing, promotion, distribution -- in all of these areas, fiction publishing is hopelessly backwards and inefficient to the extent that businesspeople from other industries who come to write books scratch their heads and cry from their inability to understand the stupidity by which book publishing operates.
    Why are business practices, marketing, promotion, and distribution hopelessly backwards and inefficient?

    How could it be done better?

    If it is so obviously inefficient, it must be an industry with low barriers to entry. Why doesn't someone new come along and do it better, and make a killing?

    Honestly, I get scared. It's like watching a bunch of sheep head to the slaughter house. This vision of fiction publishing as an organized, profit-driven, coordinated factory operation is so far off the truth that it's frightening.
    Why isn't it organized?

    Why isn't it profit-driven?

    Why isn't it a properly co-ordinated operation?

    And, if it's as disorganized and unprofitable as you say, why can't me and two of my mates raise enough capital to take over all the struggling, close to bankrupt, publishers in the world, and create a global monopoly (bwahaha)?

    Of course it's organized, profit-driven and profitable. If it weren't, it would go the way of the dodo. It is a strange industry though, in that it seems to be embarassed to admit it is profitable.

  7. #52
    Shovelly Joe Moderator Jacquin's Avatar
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    Ok, I'd like to clear a few things up.

    Firstly I was the person who first started using the word formula in this thread. It was probably a mistake in retrospect to use such an emotive word but I stand by my comments. They were originally in response to Maus's posts stating that in his experience to get a short story published it had to contain a character, a setting, conflict and resolution. That's it.

    We're not talking about some complex - just follow this pattern and you'll be an instant millionaire - framework to drop a few of your own names into. We are simply talking about what people here have learnt from their own experiences in selling stories they have written. No-one at any point has tried to say that this is all you need. Simply that you need this on top of a decent idea, a good turn of phrase and believable dialogue.

    I challenge anyone who disagrees to show me a successfull, and I mean successfull story that has neither a character nor a setting, a conflict nor a resolution.

    J

  8. #53
    Banned Eurytus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacquin
    I challenge anyone who disagrees to show me a successfull, and I mean successfull story that has neither a character nor a setting, a conflict nor a resolution.

    J
    Was anyone suggesting you could have a story without a character or setting???

    I didn't see it.

  9. #54
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    You are right, of course. Without those elements, it would not be a story at all. I was not questioning the components of a story or the fact that it is certainly possible to analyze a good story and find those components present most of the time. I was actually making a totally different statement about the creative process and whether it is susceptible or not to the conscious imposition of strict formulas upon it. Primarily, I was talking about those authors who do write entirely for the purpose of selling the manuscript, those who in fact spend time researching and preparing before the first chapter is written, and who submit a proposal to an editor with the hope of selling the idea before it is written. I am not criticizing them for what they do, but simply stating that it is a different process and requires a different mind set. If you write to sell, then you need to compromise some of your creative desires. If you write and then you are lucky enough to sell, you may not have to. Each author must do what works for them. Some don't have a choice and other do.

  10. #55
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Okay, two posts, questions second. First off, thanks J for clarifying your point, which is what I am worrying about. And it is worry, not anger, Gar. (I'm just really ill so I sound cranky.) You can write to a formula easily enough. Writing to formula and selling it, however, is not as easy. Pick one -- and the most lauded are all pretty similar -- and you'll find not a formula but simply a structural template, a way of organizing, structuring and focusing story ideas that may or may not work for a particular story. None of these ideas are new and they are certainly not new to editors, even to callow editorial assistants who see dozens of them every day. Especially in sf/fantasy where most of the stories are adventure stories, often using structural patterns that go back to Homer's "The Iliad." And all those formula written novels and all the non-formula written novels -- most of them are rejected because they find them boring. Not poorly written, hopelessly flawed, lacking in characterization, just boring.

    So why do you see badly written, derivative junk being published that you know you write better than? Because someone, whatever the work's flaws, saw something in it, something that sparked, something that they deemed interesting and they felt the story held together and others saw as interesting and so they published it where it will either fail or readers will also find something to it as interesting -- characters, setting, the big happy ending or the murky uncertain ending -- and buy it.

    There are millions of people trying to write sf/fantasy, a market which is globally serviced by a handful of publishing imprints and small presses for what is a growing but still incredibly tiny audience. It may well be at this point that there are more people trying to write sf/f than are actually reading it, because they're all hoping to be as rich as J.K. Rowling. It's an avalanche and we're trying to ski in front of it. Will writing to a formula make you ski faster? Maybe, if the formula contains techniques that you understand and develop and which make sense with the way you conceive stories. But there are no guarantees here. And to think that there is something that can give you a guarantee is the equivalent of believing that some fairy dust and happy thoughts will enable you to fly. Which is why the only thing you can actually count on having to have in a story is words.

    If there was a magic lamp with a genie, I'd give it to you, really I would after I got my wishes. But there isn't. Readers are fickle, publishers have one foot in the hobby arthouse and another in global consumerism and so they gamble and don't always back their bets up. And writers try to connect. They may or may not manage it. As they say in the film "Joe Versus the Volcano:" "We'll jump and we'll see."

  11. #56
    Palinodic Moderator KatG's Avatar
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    Second post -- questions/arguments specifically directed to me:

    GW --
    But I will disagee with you on one point. I sat with Tom Doherty of TOR for four hours, just the two of us, and talked about the industry.**** It was pretty clear that no author is beyond the sharp knife of their company's bottom line. If the biggest doesn't sell as well this time around, then the next advance will reflect that fact. And if you are a new author and your sales don't meet the computer models, they will not publish your next book. Potential profit drives their acquisition choices, and their editors know that, and the agents that sell the authors to them know that as well. Whether this is something that their own sensibilities are comfortable with is a totally other issue. With Tom, it is not, but he still has a company to run, and he has no choice but to read those spread sheets.
    You're not disagreeing with me. I never said publishers care nothing for profit. I said they didn't use a formulaic sales criteria for acquisitions and as I've sold books to Tor, I can tell you that they don't. When they look for the spark, the spark is their evaluation of the work's sales possibility, how well they guess it might do in the market based on how much they like it. Part of that assessment may be that a work won't make big profits right away but if the writer can build a fan audience from it, he may eventually produce books with better sales rates, again a gamble. What you talked about with Tom are the after results -- the sales figures after they've already bought the rights and published the work, where they find out whether the gamble they took paid off or not. But they still make the gamble beforehand, as your publisher is doing with you. It's an educated gamble, but it's still a gamble and may result in a loss. Which means that they then may not gamble on that author again. Or, the sales figures may be just fine but they still may chose not to gamble on that author again because they have to slash their list for other reasons. Once you get a publisher to gamble on you and publish your work, there are still no gurantees, even of decent promotional support from the publisher which is gambling on you.

    HE --
    What is the thing that gets the story the decent look it might deserve? What is the thing that tells the screeners that an editor might want to look at this?
    Well first of all, you get a magic feather.... No, there is nothing you can do. There is no one thing. And you can go on the magic treasure hunt all you want to find this object of quest, and good luck to you, but my guess is you will get very frustrated. Also, drop the notion of screeners. This isn't Hollywood. There are no screeners. An editorial assistant, who might read your work first, is not a secretary but an editor on the lowest rung. An agent's assistant, who might read your work first, is not a secretary but an agent on the lowest rung. And these people, inexperienced as they may be, are taken very seriously but also not running willy nilly on their own when it comes to acquisitions. Free-lance readers are sometimes used, though not as much as they once were, and these readers have no authority whatsoever to make acquisition decisions. They make recommendations and then the editor or agent checks out the ms. on their own. As for magazine editors, usually they don't even have assistants and they read your work when they can get to it.

    Wildeblood -- there's no way that I can answer all your questions without writing the longest post of all time. I can mention that you haven't been able to buy up the bankrupt publishers because the conglomerates already got there first and bought them and established their large global oligarchy. And then they liquidated them and fired all their editors. Publishing does indeed search for profit, but its profit margins are thin. It is continually starved for cash, dependent to varying degrees on its backlists, and under pressure from owners who started buying up publishers in the seventies who want to see a more consistent rate of return, but can't get it because the small consumer base that buys books and the even smaller base that buys fiction is unpredictable and doesn't respond to standard marketing practices like advertising. And then there are the returns, a system that cripples publishing, but is beloved by booksellers, especially as the remaining independent stores strive to keep from going belly up. They try to fix things and they try to adjust and it's a small market which may have oddly helped it survive the Godzillas of other forms of entertainment, but it's a risky, slapdash enterprise based largely on people's gut instincts, and that's the best I can tell you.

  12. #57
    Shovelly Joe Moderator Jacquin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KatG
    Okay, two posts, questions second. First off, thanks J for clarifying your point, which is what I am worrying about. And it is worry, not anger, Gar. (I'm just really ill so I sound cranky.)

    *snip*

    -- characters, setting, the big happy ending or the murky uncertain ending -- and buy it.
    Firstly I hope you feel better soon K, secondly sorry I wasn't clearer before. The point that I was trying to make was that I enjoy threads like these because I find listening to people's ideas quite helpfull. To continue the analogy I started earlier I am searching for a more efficient tool to help me with my writing. I get inspiration for my tools by looking at other peoples (or I simply steal them). I do realise that it is simply that though, a tool to be used as I see fit. I am not too concerned because I know I am good (don't I sound like Solaar?), I am simply trying to shorten the odds when it comes to building up a few more publishing credits.

    There are millions of people trying to write sf/fantasy, a market which is globally serviced by a handful of publishing imprints and small presses for what is a growing but still incredibly tiny audience. It may well be at this point that there are more people trying to write sf/f than are actually reading it, because they're all hoping to be as rich as J.K. Rowling. It's an avalanche and we're trying to ski in front of it. Will writing to a formula make you ski faster? Maybe, if the formula contains techniques that you understand and develop and which make sense with the way you conceive stories. But there are no guarantees here. And to think that there is something that can give you a guarantee is the equivalent of believing that some fairy dust and happy thoughts will enable you to fly. Which is why the only thing you can actually count on having to have in a story is words.
    Ok, I suppose I should admit that I'm not writing spec-fic. The big project that has been bouncing around for years is mainstream fiction, though I also write non-fiction. I do write fantasy and Sci-fi shorts and am playing with the idea of a Sci-fi novel but time will tell. I know there are no secret formulas that will guarentee publication but as someone not a million miles away once told me, A good novel needs a novel idea.

    If there was a magic lamp with a genie, I'd give it to you, really I would after I got my wishes. But there isn't. Readers are fickle, publishers have one foot in the hobby arthouse and another in global consumerism and so they gamble and don't always back their bets up. And writers try to connect. They may or may not manage it. As they say in the film "Joe Versus the Volcano:" "We'll jump and we'll see."
    That's what I'm doing, I'm just interested in things people who have already jumped may have learned. They might help, they might not, but I want to hear them all the same.

    J

    P.S. I'll hold you to the genie thing...

  13. #58
    Just Another Philistine Hereford Eye's Avatar
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    Thanks, KatG, for the time and energy to answer. I used the term screeners and you substituted editorial assistants. Works for me. The concept I had in mine was that editors/buyers do not have the time to screen all those millions of submissions so they have someone do an initial screen for them. But, damn, I sure wish you'd send me an edition of that magic feather.

  14. #59
    I AM too a mod! Moderator Rocket Sheep's Avatar
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    But I smell the scent of change on the breeze.

    I smell the publishers moving away from safety publishing. I see them starting to notice that readers appreciate those new voices, even those strange voices. I see awards going to writers who are pushing the boundaries of substance and style, and heaven forbid... genre mixing! They get these awards and this interest with small publishers, semi-prozines, quality ezines. The marketplace is changing.

    Awards and interest sell books, the publishers must follow the mighty $$.

  15. #60
    GemQuest Moderator Gary Wassner's Avatar
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    I think you are correct too, Sheepie, though I am almost reluctant to say it out loud. I just read an aritcle in the Author's Guild Bulletin that talked about the collapse of the distribution system in the book industry and how trade paperbacks are now the most popular format. It seems that independents have more of a chance than ever, due to the advances in printing technology, and it may be that POD handled properly by a legitimate press, is a logical way of handling the inventory and return problems. The public doesn't care or even realize for the most part whose imprint is on a book that they buy. But bookselling is dominated by one company, and that one company still has blinders on. Barnes and Noble could easily revolutionize the business by carrying titles from independent presses. The return policy is the same. My publisher discounts just as much and accepts returns just as easily. But B & N is still so reluctant to buy from more than perhaps 8 imprints in the Fantasy genre. They could be innovative and they could even market independent imprints in a 'cool', new wave way, if they were smart. SOme of the best titles are coming from less main stream sources today anyway.

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