Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Mindset Stuck in the Past

There's a tradition on social media called "Throwback Thursday", in which people post pictures of themselves from the past. I was reminded of Throwback Thursday yesterday when I read an article in The Guardian, a British newspaper.

In "From bestseller to bust: is this the end of an author's life?", editor Robert McCrum interviews authors who find themselves struggling to adapt to an era of reduced advances from publishers. The article suggests that the mid-list writer is an endangered species. Read the article, and then come back.

I was astonished by the defeatist mindset of the authors who were interviewed in the article. They seemed to assume that if they were no longer getting livable advances from publishers, the game was over. Say what? Has no one in Britain heard of indie publishing? Indie publishing wasn't even mentioned in the article (one reader did describe indie alternatives in the Comments, which sounded a bit like Sir Walter Raleigh  bringing news of the potato and other New World wonders back in 1589.) Other commenters then proceeded to confuse the indie industry with vanity publishing.

Most of all, the article mourns the passing of a more "genteel" era in publishing:
Publishers were toffs, booksellers trade and printers the artisan champions of liberty. Like the class system, we thought, nothing would change. The most urgent deadline was lunch. How wrong we were. 
Indeed. When it comes to adapting to a changed publishing model, I think American writers are ahead of the curve. People on this side of the pond are used to changing the way they work. Many former mid-list writers have  reinvented themselves as their own author brands. (And in so doing, have been astonished to discover that they're making more money than they did under the old system.) Other writers are content to remain in the legacy publishing fold, or they become "hybrids" who do both legacy and indie work. It's a matter of finding your own comfort level.

But judging by the Guardian article, one has to conclude that British writers are stuck in the Grief stage about the changed publishing world. 

It's not helpful to remain mired in the past. Maybe we should send our British friends some copies of WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?

46 comments:

  1. Totally agree! As a UK writer, I make 99% of my sales State Side, thanks to the terrific infrastructure that has sprouted up in the US to help indies break into the market. Can't say the same about the rest of the world - we're all playing catch up!

    Such a shame, when the UK is a major secondary market that most indies struggle to break into. I have had a few lucky months in the UK, but nothing I can figure out how to replicate thanks to the lack of indie-awareness over here, and the lack of decent advertising opportunities.

    Hopefully, the rest of the world will catch up soon!

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  2. Thanks, Nick! I confess I was bracing myself to get dumped on by irritated writers from the UK. Happy to read that your "read" on the situation is similar to mine!

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  3. I have this vision of C. Aubrey Smith, puffing his cigar, shaking his hoary head and muttering, "What has become of empire?"

    And then I see a picture of Mickey Rooney, running down the street, calling to Judy Garland and all his other friends, "Hey, kids, let's put out our own books!"

    And then there's Freddie Bartholomew, in the middle, wondering which way to go. In the end, the spirit of enterprise and optimism wins out, and Freddie even gets a date with Lana Turner.

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    1. Exactly! And Lana even splits the bill for dinner. :)

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    2. Jim--Lana did Freddie no favor. After she leaves to powder her nose (I think they're at the Brown Derby), Johnny Stompanato slips into her seat. Pretty soon, Freddie will wish he were in Reno.

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  4. I love the Guardian...their live blogs on world events (Ukraine) can't be beat. But I swear, when they write about writing, they sound like Violet Crawley on Downton Abbey -- befuddled and bitter at the death of their way of life. Give em a little tea and sympathy. On second thought...nah.

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    1. I understand it--we all wish the writing life were genteel once you make it past the gate to Emerald City. But it's sad to see excellent writers resigning themselves to poverty. Or, worse, to no longer writing. It makes me want to shake somebody by the shoulder.

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    2. I so agree, Kathryn! I've had some excellent writer clients who produce a stellar book, then let it sit idle while they waste years querying agents. "Wake up and look around you!" I feel like saying. "Just get the book out there! Don't wait for someone else to give you permission to publish it!"

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  5. Now I understand. I get many U.K. visitors to my blog, but have not managed a single sale from the U.K.
    Thanks Kathryn!

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    1. Thanks Ernesto! Reading the comments in that article is fun. It's like standing at a Toff cocktail party, bemoaning the end of the civilized world.

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  6. Sounds like we Yanks have messed it up all over again. Sigh, so, who wants to order a pizza for a working lunch?

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    1. I KNOW, right? It really gave me the sense that there's a culture gap there I wasn't aware of previously.

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  7. I read this article and I just wanted to slap the dude. Write something on the side and indie pub it! It's not the end of the world! Thanks for your take on it. I thought it was a terribly sad article, but because the authors are giving up, not because of the state of publishing.

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    1. Exactly my reaction, Kessie. I couldn't believe how defeatist they sound. Maybe that's an American trait that differentiates us--dogged optimism and a will to reinvent ourselves in the face of adversity.

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  8. Well, there ya go. I writer friend in the UK sent me the same link. I was like, what can I say? Jeez-Louise. I thought maybe British readers had stopped reading in favour of watching telly or something. I'm going to put my book up on Kindle, and that may be it. As my doctor fondly says, "Try it and see what happens."

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    1. And also, as Nick pointed out, there doesn't seem to be an effort going on to forge new paths for writing. It seems like people are saying, "Oh, the old system isn't working well any more. Guess we'll be poor now." What's up with THAT?

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  9. Who Moved My Cheese? was definitely one of my most inspirational reads! I'm the type who moves with the cheese. I go where I know it's going. That's how technology works too. :)

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    1. That's right--when your cheese disappears, you've got to get on the move! (I wonder if that book is popular in the UK). :)

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    2. I obviously need to find and read that book! :-)

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    3. It's a hoot, Jodie! Well worth reading.

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    4. You have to ignore much of the negative reviews. Despite them, the book had flourished because most people who read it will understand the allegorical nature and feel no need to respond. However, it does resonate and sticks with you for years to come. :)

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    5. Absolutely right, Diane. It's a cartoon, so people love to make fun of it. But it really gets across one simple message--that when the things in life we've come to depend upon begin to change, we must immediately start sniffing out new ways of meeting those needs. :)

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  10. This article exemplifies the mindset I encountered in Australia too...sigh...and it can be contagious and very depressing! Luckily I'm in Denver now:)

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    1. And we're glad to have you in the USA, Clare!

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  11. Good article, Kathryn! That explains the mindset of one of my British novelist clients a few years back. Wonder if he's still querying agents? I should email him and ask him - prod him a little to get it out there and start making some money from it!

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    1. Here's a snippet from one of the comments to the article:
      "The irony is that self-publication works best for exactly the writers who we are told we should despise: the vain, and those who are writing primarily for money. Literary writers are well aware of that reputation, and don't want to be tainted by association."

      That pretty much says it all, doesn't it? :)

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  12. The fate of the midlist might be thought of in terms of the effect of cable TV. Viewers are now able to watch whatever fits with their political prejudices and taste in drama--without being exposed to anything else. Similarly, I think readers are more and more guided to do the same thing (in terms of genre). Is this good or bad? No way to tell, but it does seem as though it might have a narrowing effect on some readers.

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    1. But at the same time, Barry, technology has opened up things for people. I always think of my mother, who is 85. She can no longer read printed books, but on the Kindle, she has become an absolute reading addict. She downloads whole bodies of works by every new author she discovers. True it might be "narrowing" for some, but I suspect those folks are predisposed to narrow interests, already.

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    2. Kathryn--I am a stumblebum when it comes to tech, but not a Luddite. What a great story about your mom! Think how much better life must be for her because of her e-reader.

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    3. It really has, Barry. Her Kindle went on the fritz at one point and she stopped reading until we could rush her a new one. Being able to scroll the font up to a gigantic size makes all the difference in her case.

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  13. The mid-list has been on hospice since the 90s, except perhaps in a few genres. After reading your post, two names came to mind: James Joyce and Alan Moore. Not sure why. George Orwell, where were you when my mind was free-associating?
    Thanks for this article!

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    1. The four of you would have an interesting dinner conversation, I'm sure, David! ;)

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  14. Wow, I was shocked by the article! I didn't realize there was such a different mindset over there. I was surprised by the way they feel about social media, and that they see themselves in survival mode. "Digital age will be a challenge for writers." I'm SO thankful for the digital age.

    Happiness is steeped in gratitude. I'm so happy and so grateful to be a writer in this day and age.

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    1. I think so many people (in the US, anyway) share your view, Julie. Thanks for commenting!

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  15. Sisters in Crime New England is doing a day long event on March 29 about the "Paths to Publication". I just put a link to this post on the Facebook event. We want the conversation to be about reframing what is possible, rather than lamenting what will never be again. And then taking control of your decisions. Thanks for this post, and great conversation!

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    1. Thank you, I'm honored to get your link! Sisters in Crime is a great organization for writers.

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  16. I had a massive face palm moment when I read this article. I'm a UK based author. I'm self-publishing. This article is a throwback to an era of publishing that is in its final death throes. It exemplifies the thinking of a small group of literary authors and the larger trad publishing aficionados who are clinging to a fast sinking ship. Adapt or die.

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  17. ------ ------
    0 0
    |
    \ /
    \ _______/
    *********

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    1. Oh....dang....that didn't come out right

      how about this then....


      ;-)

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    2. I was trying to figure out that drawing, Basil--I came up with a ship wearing a happy face!

      AD, thank you for commenting. I'm very interested to hear what authors in the UK think of that article.

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    3. Was that the sinking ship Basil? It's great, LOL!

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. It tried to be a smiley face that looked like a ship. But the system took the spaces out of it...the internet demons are against my funny...

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  18. I'm pretty sure most self-published UK authors banged their heads repeatedly on their desks and eye-rolled until their eyeballs fell out Kathryn ;)

    The only good that can come out of this article (and I hope to God SOME good comes out of it!) is that it'll make newbie authors chasing the trad publishing dream and established, trad published midlist authors who can see their income sinking year on year, wake up and smell the rotting roses. I hope it opens their eyes to the other avenues available to them. At the very least, they should read about all their options, weigh up the pros and cons, and make an intelligent decision about their careers. And always re:evaluate those options and decisions. If a newbie wants to try the traditional route, go for it. But set a deadline. One year, two, three. And in that time, keep practicing the craft, keep improving as a writer, get feedback from editors/beta-readers/crique groups.

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