Not the Monthly Post

Writing as Microcosm, Part One: Publish and Perish

I’m not sure how many of my readers have noticed the massive realignment going on right now at the foundations of the industrial economy. Venture below the towering abstractions of notional wealth that fill business websites, all the way to the base, and you’ll find that the whole gargantuan structure rests on certain relationships between individuals and the economy. Most people in the industrial world participate in economic activities in two ways: selling their time and labor to businesses as employees, and buying goods and services from businesses as consumers. That’s the base from which the whole tottering mess rises.

What we’re seeing now is that a growing number of people have lost interest in continuing to fill those particular roles. Intractable labor shortages are becoming the norm in today’s industrial societies. Part of that is a function of the soaring number of people who are struggling with bad health just now—no, we don’t have to get into why that’s happening—but not all of it. At the same time, the consumer side of the equation is also collapsing, and stores are floundering as inventory builds up and sales slump.  Quite a bit of that is a function of the wicked blend of inflation and recession that’s got the global economy in its grip, but again, that’s not all of it.

You can catch a whisper of what else is going on if you listen to the frequent rants heard from the managerial class these days about how young people just don’t want to work any more. Talk to the young people in question and you’ll find that quite a few of them are working very hard on projects of their own. What they’re not willing to do is waste their lives working in abusive and humiliating environments to make someone else rich, in exchange for rock-bottom wages, no prospect for advancement, and no benefits worth mentioning. That their reaction comes as a surprise to anyone is a good measure of just how detached our society’s comfortable classes have become from the reality their preferred policies have created.

The same thing is happening on the consumer side of the scale. One of the major unintended consequences of the Covid-19 shutdowns of 2020 and 2021 is that many people, given much more free time than they expected, decided to try things like baking their own bread and knitting their own hats. That led no small number of them to realize just how miserably shoddy, absurdly overpriced, and generally useless most consumer goods are these days. Decades of product debasement have come home to roost, and many former consumers have grasped the fact that if they provide goods and services for themselves, they get all the value of their own labor and can quite easily achieve the sort of quality that big corporate stores can’t even begin to match.

It’s no accident, in other words, that the labor shortage is happening at the same time as a boom in small business formation and a vertiginous drop in shipments of consumer trash across the Pacific to US ports. All those are taking place, at least in part, because the immense ziggurat of corporate profit has been built so high that the ordinary people on whose labor and purchases it all depends are no longer getting enough return on their labor, and enough quality in the products they buy, to make it worth their while to participate. Too many people have grasped that the system is rigged against them, and they are turning their backs on it and finding other ways to live their lives. As they do so, the system they abandoned is in trouble.  If that process continues, there’s a real chance we may see the whole ramshackle mess start to come apart.

I want to explore this same process in more detail by a somewhat roundabout route. It so happens that my line of work is as subject to these same pressures as other productive jobs.  Writers have seen steady erosion in income in recent decades, while the product oozing out of the orifices of the big publishers has suffered the same steady crapification as so many other products of the current system. With that in mind, I’m going to devote a few posts to talking about the industry I know best, as a microcosm of the economic system of the industiral world.  As a successful full-time writer whose income ranks well above the average, I might be expected to have a positive bias about the industry as it now exists, but—well, dear reader, I’ll let you judge for yourself.

Imagine for a moment that you’re a budding author eager to make a career writing novels. If you pick up a copy of a glossy writing magazine or surf on over to one of the equally glossy websites that cater to authors, you’ll find what looks like authoritative advice from industry insiders offering you a range of appealing options. If you fancy landing a contract with one of the half dozen huge corporate publishers that dominate the industry, why, there are plenty of articles and books telling you how to put together a book proposal, try to interest an agent, and hit the big time. Meanwhile, a whole gallimaufry of literary small presses, highbrow journals, and prestigious contests encourage you to dream of becoming a creator of serious literature. If the odds in those two fields don’t appeal to you, there are plenty of resources teaching you how to self-publish your books and create your own niche. It all looks very promising, until you try it.

It’s only fair to note that there was a time when all three of those options were viable paths to success as a writer. Even today, it’s possible to succeed in each of these three ways, but let’s be frank—the odds aren’t much better than your odds of turning a job flipping burgers into your first million dollars. The reason’s the same, too:  all three have been gamed from top to bottom to profit someone else at your expense.

This is why an Authors Guild survey just before the Covid shutdowns found that among full-time freelance authors who made any money at all from their writing—not all do—the median income was $20,857 a year. (The median, for those who aren’t statistics geeks, is the halfway point; half the writers surveyed made less than that figure, and half made more.) Those are sweatshop wages. There are reasons the pay is that low.  Let’s talk about some of them.

We’ll start with the first option, the dream of hitting the big time by placing novels with one of the huge corporate combines that dominate the industry. Those firms aren’t run by people who care about books. They’re managed by MBAs whose sole interest is boosting quarterly profits and stock values, and who base decisions on sales figures, proprietary algorithms, and the latest fads in the industry.  (For all their pose of cold analytic ruthlessness, MBAs are as fashion-conscious as a bunch of twelve-year-old girls clustered around the latest issue of Tiger Beat.) They tell the acquisitions staff what to get, the acquisitions staff tells the agents what they want to see, and the agents shovel their way through the 250 proposals that arrived that week to decide which ones to forward.  If you happen to know the latest industry fads, you might be able to guess right; otherwise, it’s a crapshoot and the dice are loaded in the house’s favor.

So what you can write, if you want to play with the big dogs, is determined strictly by what a business model wants, and no, you don’t get to see the model.  Still, let’s say you’re one of the lucky ones. Your proposal gets sent on by an agent, or you happen to be writing in one of the niche markets where the big boys deign to accept unagented manuscripts, and the publisher decides to buy your novel.  You sign the contract, you get a five-figure advance, and a year or two later your book comes out. Home free, right? Not a chance. More often than not these days, the publisher will give your book one hardback print run and one paperback print run, and when those sell out, no matter how quickly your book was snapped up by readers or how many more people want to buy it, your book goes out of print. That seems stupid to me, too, but the MBAs have decided that they can make a fraction of a per cent better return on investment on average by doing that than by giving good books the chance to become unexpected bestsellers.

That policy is more damaging than it seems, because it keeps authors from building a backlist. As a writer, your backlist—the books you published earlier in your career that are still in print—has your back. The advance and initial royalties you get from each new title are nice, but it’s the backlist that pays your rent and buys your groceries via modest but steady sales on each book, and gives readers who like your latest book something else to buy. That’s what current practice among big corporate publishers keeps you from doing. Once your book goes out of print, it might as well never have existed, for all the good it does to your career.

Your contract may give you the theoretical right to reclaim rights to the book and take it to another publisher once it’s out of print; most do.  Good luck trying to exercise that option.  The contract you signed is very likely boobytrapped six ways from Sunday to keep you from doing so.  If you sue, why, they can afford better lawyers than you can, and—well, let’s stay out of the ugly interface between the US legal system and corporate bribery, shall we?

Of course you can always write another book and place it with the same publisher, if you’re lucky. If the sales figures change or the algorithms change or fads in the industry change, your publisher may not be interested. That contract you signed is also probably boobytrapped to make it difficult for you to go to another firm, for that matter, and if you don’t know about the alternatives, you might think that you’re stuck choosing between a handful of huge corporate publishers that all rely on the same algorithms and fads.  I’m sure you can recall, dear reader, certain writers who published wildly popular novels or series of novels, and then…vanished. Tolerably often that happens because their publisher turned down the next thing they wrote and one factor or another kept them from going elsewhere.

So that’s what you’re facing if you try to land a contract with one of the big corporate firms. The literary presses?  They’re predatory in a different sense. Very few people read literary fiction these days, which is why the big corporate combines tolerate the literary scene; the market’s too small for them to bother with.  It’s also riven by abstruse quarrels. To land a contract with one of the literary presses, you have to be aware of every last detail of current cultural fashion, and hit the right notes without fail. If you succeed and get a contract, your novel might be lucky enough to reap favorable reviews in highbrow periodicals and sell ten thousand copies, but it also might get negative reviews or no reviews at all and sell much less. You can very easily starve to death publishing one moderately succesful literary novel a year.

Okay, what about self-publishing or, as it’s euphemistically termed these days, independent writing? To begin with, the kind of “independent” publishing the glossy sources love to talk about isn’t actually independent. The vast majority of writers in this field are for all practical purposes content providers for a very few huge online retailers, which profit mightily by marketing your work on their terms. You can make a living at that gig, but it’s brutal; many writers have to turn out a novel every six to eight weeks to make ends meet.  Writers in that scene are pressured to fit into very narrow niches—Sasquatch-themed paranormal gay erotica, say, or cozy Christian romantic mysteries with a country/western music tie-in. Don’t try to do anything original with those, either; that’s not your job. Your job is to make your life into a digital sweatshop and churn out cheap interchangeable parts for an entertainment machine until you drop. There are other ways to self-publish, mind you, but you won’t learn about them from the sources the industry wants you to read.

So those are the options being pushed on you by the glossy magazines and the glossy websites. They’re not the only games in town, not by a long shot, but you won’t learn that by listening to a bevy of corporate flacks whose job is to provide fresh meat for a carnivorous system. You can dodge the system’s jaws by knowing someone who will clue you in, or by being much more observant than most novice writers are, or by sheer dumb luck.

What did it for me was sheer dumb luck.  It so happens that almost thirty years ago, at the dawn of my career, I started writing occult nonfiction at a time when that field had been abandoned by the big publishers. That was what led me to discover an option that nobody in the glossy magazines or glossy websites wants to talk about:  small to midsized independent publishers. That’s not the only alternative out there, not by a long shot, but it’s the one that I know best, the one that’s become the basis of my career, and so I’ll use it as an example.

There are thousands of small to midsized independent publishers in the United States alone, and many more abroad. They have their own trade organization and their own conventions, and they have access to the same distributors as the big boys.  (There are long and bitter quarrels between the big corporate publishers and the distributors, and the latter have been building relationships with the smaller presses in retaliation.)  Independent publishers range from one-person shops working out of the owner’s garage to companies with a hundred employees and their own warehouses and sales force. I’ve never encountered an independent publisher that requires book submissions to go through agents. Most of them are looking for new manuscripts right now, and they choose what they publish the way that used to be standard:  manuscripts come in, the staff sorts through them, the boss picks the best of the lot, and the presses start turning.

Crucially, too, every small to midsized publisher I’ve ever worked with has a backlist-centered business strategy. A backlist is just as valuable to a small publisher as it is to an author; if you’re in the publishing business and you’ve got a hundred backlist titles bringing in a modest but steady income year after year, you’re in clover.  That pays your office rent and your staff salaries, and gives you the flexibility to take risks on new authors and unusual books. So it’s a win-win for author and publisher alike—and again, it’s the way publishing used to be done.

Is the world of small to midsized independent publishers Utopia? Of course not. You can be ripped off by a small publisher just as readily as by a large one, though your chances of getting a fair judgment in court are a lot better with the small press. You also have to get used to small advances, or none at all—smaller publishers can’t afford the five- or six-figure advances the big boys hand out—but you make more money in the long run from a thriving backlist your publisher is eager to help you promote.

By and large, you’ll have a much easier time prospering with the independent presses than with the officially approved options.  I’ll cite my own experience here; I’ve had books of mine published by three of the biggest publishing firms on the planet, and I’ve also done self-publishing, but I’ve built my career with small to midsized presses, I’ve prospered mightily doing so, and I have no great interest in pursuing anything else.

One caution, though: if you go with independent publishers you’ll be excluded from quite a bit of official writerdom. The same spirit that keeps the glossy magazines and glossy publishers from mentioning the existence of small to midsized independent publishers also shows up in plenty of other contexts. I’ve had people insist that this or that book of mine was self-published because it wasn’t issued by one of the big corporate firms, and I’ve also had people talk right over any comment about independent publishers so they could keep on insisting that the big boys and self-publishing are the only games in town. It’s quite entertaining to watch people police their own thoughts so they don’t diverge from the corporate party line.

It gets even more fun to watch when you turn to writers’ organizations.  As most of my readers know, I’ve published quite a bit of science fiction and fantasy, both novels and short stories, but I’m not eligible to join SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), the trade association for writers in those fields.  Why? As far as SFWA is concerned, you don’t count as a real SF/fantasy author unless you’ve published with one of a strictly defined range of acceptable venues.  The magazines where my short pieces appeared don’t count, the small publisher that brought out most of my fiction doesn’t count, and the midsized publisher that’s bringing out my fiction now doesn’t count either. Hundreds of other SF and fantasy authors with dozens of other small to midsized publishers are in the same boat. SFWA claims that it’s revising its list of acceptable venues right now, but I’ll be very surprised if they change anything that matters. It’s a cozy little cartel. If you’re outside it, get used to standing where the cold winds blow, but that’s always the place where new possibilities take wing.

Let’s take a step back from the microcosm of writing for a moment and apply these same lessons to the economy as a whole. By and large, the advice you get from pundits, professors, and other sock puppets of the status quo is meant to keep the system running at your expense. Following that advice is not in your best interest. Going to college in the United States today, for example, is for most people a ticket to lifelong poverty: most college graduates never recover financially from the impact of the predatory loans pushed on them by the academic industry. Going to work for some big corporation or another is no better:  it costs less up front but it chews people up and spits them out even more mercilessly. The other gimmicks being pushed at you by the shills of the status quo are the same sort of thing, a trap as merciless as a big publisher’s contract.

So the first requirement faced by those who hope to create better futures for themselves is to turn a beady and suspicious eye toward anybody’s advice. (Yes, of course that includes mine.) Remember that we live in a society in decline, where the classes currently in power are trying to maintain their wealth and privilege at everyone else’s expense, and lying themselves blue in the face to try to get you to ignore your own interests for their benefit is all in a day’s work. Assume they’re lying to you, and look for the options that they don’t want you to notice.

Second, keep an eye on how many other people your work is expected to support. One of the reasons that small businesses are blossoming just now is that profit margins are faltering; in many contexts, a small business can make enough of a profit to cover its overhead, where a huge business can’t support its gargantuan administrative and financial superstructure. (Look at the accelerating pace of layoffs in the big tech corporations if you want additional evidence of this.) If you can work for yourself and have all the product of your own labor at your disposal, great. If not, the smaller the number of people your labor supports, the better.

And if the discussion of writing above has you panting for a career as a writer, publishing with small to midsized independent publishers, or pursuing one of the other officially nonexistent options?  We’ll talk about that in the second installment of this sequence, two weeks from now. The theme of that post will be the ways that you’ve been taught not to think and feel and imagine, and we’ll explore that by discussing how your schoolteachers went out of their way to convince you that you can’t write. Stay tuned!

225 Comments

  1. Thanks. Useful and timely as ever. I tried to dip my toe in a couple of years ago and couldn’t reach the water… therefore I’m looking forward to part 2.

    One minor point: I live very comfortably on less than 21k (albeit in the UK rather than US) and while I know cost of living is very different elsewhere, 21k here is ok.

  2. This reminds me of what the comedian Dave Chapelle had to deal with early in his career. He signed with a big name entertainment organization for a show with his name on it because he was broke. After a while he discovered that the contract gave the company (not Dave) the right to use his work and likeness “in perpetuity.” He ended up walking away from the contract. He’s still having issues with that company today. I’d link the video, but I know you don’t go in for dancing colors on a screen. 😉

  3. Excellent point about how the consumer/producer/employee model is breaking down across many career fields. One of the wild cards in the mix is how much more intrusive government can get, as they scramble for tax dollars (err, “revenue”) to keep their bloated fiefdoms running.

    I continue to be astonished at the effort the more wealthy classes are putting in to preserve the current schemes in place. Apparently morality was checked at the door a long, long time ago. I wouldn’t want to be a lifeboat with any of them.

  4. Oh JMG, you speak the truth!

    The first 15 years of my career was mostly spent as a freelance writer for magazines. And yes, I made quite a bit more money than the average ink stained wretch, mostly because I wrote in an uncommon niche. Enough to support my family comfortably. But about seven or eight years ago, the increasingly exploitative nature of the industry drove me to accept a job as a writer for an academic institution.

    In 2000, I could get $5/word from Cosmo for an article about cosmetics chemistry and cancer, or $2/word from a highbrow science mag. When I left the magazine scene, rates had plummeted by 50%, and young unknown writers were lucky to get even $1/word.

    (The fact that this timing corresponds with the rise of the internet does not escape me.)

    Many of my former freelance colleagues have written books in the past few years, and there are definitely trends. Like over the past few years, friends have published books on sweat, feces, toilets, sewer systems and similar. Did the algorithms decide that books on formerly scatological topics were ‘in’? It seems so. Perhaps there’s a broader commentary on the group mind right there.

    As an individual writer, I thought perhaps my personal experience of the economy was uniquely personal, or just the natural arc of the career of someone who was good enough to cut it in the industry but old enough to be sick of doing the dance. Thank you for shedding light on the broader picture.

    –Ms. Krieger

  5. Many thanks, Mr Greer! That is exactly the advice I have been needing – although I admit I never expected to receive it. I have worked for a big corporate publisher, and my experience exactly reflected your description. As an editor, I hoped to help authors produce creative work; but I found the job remarkably similar to burger flipping. I even heard an executive talk about “hiring authors” as if they were day labourers.

    I look forward eagerly to your next article on the subject, particularly if you have anything to say about self-publishing through (say) Amazon.

  6. Hi JMG. I don’t think you are on Twitter but I have just started a new Twitter account that will be linking your philosophy with my Appalachian Trail experiences. I am focusing on bringing ThruHiking methods and practices to a wider audience. I used you quite “Collapse Now and avoid the rush!” Credited to you in my profile as you said I could.
    Find me at @thruhikerprep on Twitter. Will post this article right now!

  7. What happened with the viral marketing campaign for The Flesh of Your Future Sticks Between My Teeth? So far there aren’t any reviews online.

    Though in looking for reviews I did find, if anyone wants more industrial cannibalism, there are the novels Meat by Joseph D’Lacey and Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica. They have hilarious reviews like “WTF did I just read?”, “A book to be read with an open mind and an empty stomach”, “I hated every second of this book – FIVE STARS”, and “Never before have I thought a book should be banned, an author put on a watch list…”

    I’ve read them and, while I went with happy and positive cannibalism, both these carry extreme warnings for exploitation, dehumanisation, and violence against women. However they’re still well worth reading if you need another fix of this…niche genre.

  8. Your advice reminds me about something I say about Government — “If they tell you that you shouldn’t have something, then you should definitely get it.”

  9. The comic book business is equally demented. Since Disney bought up the rights to Marvel and Warner Brothers to DC comics we’ve been treated to an unending stream of movies and streaming video of varying quality along with a monster tsunami of garish plastic figurines of respective superheroes to decorate your what-not shelves with, all in the name of profit. I have no idea what writers and artists for the comics go through but it’s probably very similar to what book writers experience.

    Comic books themselves have been turned into a major money pump. While looking over an old comic collection I have, wondering how to unload some of it, I found comics are now regarded as an ‘investment’. One way to boost the power of your ‘investment’ is to have your comic professionally graded and slabbed at $75 a pop (that’s the average). Slabbing involves encasing the comic in a hard plastic case with the grade noted on a bright colored panel across the top of the slab. A comic I originally purchased many decades ago for 40 cents is now (because it’s a key issue) sold slabbed on Ebay for eye watering prices. Never mind that the comic is now hermetically sealed and you can only look at the cover, not read it. Now the comic has ‘value’. The result is that comics book young people might want to buy are priced beginning at $3.99 a magazine reflecting the view that they are an ‘investment’. Good luck starting your own collection if you are low income.

    I can’t see this lasting. It’s just too crazy because it catapults what was once a fun pastime (reading comic books) into a stratospherically high-cost industry which creates big profits for the Hollywood studios but leaves many kids outside the doors peeking wistfully at something they can’t afford. Fortunately, the majority of my comics are not ‘key’ and therefore have little ‘value’. I can easily sell them at a yard sale for the next generation to enjoy without beggaring themselves.

  10. Really excited for this series!

    I just published my first novel, a fantasy fiction that doesn’t fit neatly into the trends of that genre. I wrote it in order to learn how to write, and to rediscover my love of writing by writing exactly what I wanted. To that end, it was a huge success. I’m already cranking away gleefully on book 2.

    As far as a career, it looks pretty bleak. One of the things I like is really long books with tons of detail. Combine that with a new writer’s lack of skillful brevity, and my word count ran amok. I explored a bunch of small- to mid-sized publishers, but none of them allowed submissions of even close to that number of words. I knew shooting for the big boys was pointless, so self-publishing won by default. (For reference, the published version ended up being 772 pages and 358k words).

    For those of you considering self-publishing, be prepared to do a lot of research on every little detail of things like how to distribute your book on websites, how to contract cover design, interior design, editing and proofing (if you need it, I skipped the expense), choosing your categories and keywords, buying ISBNs, and a thousand other things.

    As this was something of a reward to myself, I did it with the mindset of spending time and money on my hobby, rather than from a business or career standpoint. Three months after release, I’m still very much in the red. The majority of sales were to friends and family, and now sales have died out. The other problem with self-publishing is how to make people aware of your book. The guides all suggest social media, which I don’t have and refuse to get. I imitated JMG by starting a blog, but that just creates the same problem: how do you make people aware of your blog?

    It’s hard to see the route to a career. Maybe the next few posts will change that. I don’t blame the industry, because I made my choices and I’ll live with them. I wrote the book that I wanted to read, not the one that would be popular, and I have to accept that my writing skill needs a lot of development.

    That said, writing a book was a wonderfully transformational experience. I can’t control if people buy or like my work, so I’ve focused on what I can control, which is sitting down and writing things I enjoy. By treating it a hobby, I don’t feel as much of the sting as I would if I saw myself failing at a career. The downside to that freedom is that I have to work a day job to pay my bills, and can only write 10-15 hours a week, plus a few for blogging and other side projects.

    Self-publishing favors writing to niche markets and being very good at self-promotion. That said, I have the joy of holding the finished product in my hand as soon as I want it, as opposed to rewriting to the demands of editors and waiting years for the book to be released. It will never go out of print, and my next book always has the green light.

    If I ever write something shorter and more palatable, I might also try the approach JMG suggests in this post, though, and leave the passion projects to self-publishing while seeking a career through the little guys.

  11. Hi: I’ve been reading your commentaries here for some time and I wanted to tell you how much I’ve gotten out of them particularly posts like this one. I’m a writer of historical fiction somewhat unorthodox in its nature and I’ve always
    been concerned regarding the best way to go about getting published, and articles like this really give me a better and more hopeful perspective on how I might do so. I’m a 57 year old relic of another somewhat better age and this modern era so more far gone in corruption than I ever imagined it truly could be often depresses me so thanks again for offering rational perspectives on things iy gives me much-needed impetus to keep pursuing things. As one whose life has been about history and its manifold lessons so many keep ignoring I find much to commend/agree with with the Long Decline thesis. It’s basically the story of Rome all over again just to pick one example, most people don’t even realize it took Rome over 2,000 years to truly “fall”, and some would say that it still holds on to this day though obviously not in its original form. On the other hand, based on what I’m seeing lately I’m not sure decline won’t swiftly morph into full-on self-destruction far sooner than I would’ve hitherto presumed. I mean, it’s all so surreally absurd, nuclear war being threatened over the likes of Ukraine, Taiwan, the Koreas, Iran etc. I thought this lesson was learned back in 196 2 but apparently not. Of course you can never under-estimate the subconscious drive towards death, n less than the overt deliberate psycho-sociopathic one displayed of late by the so-called “elites.” Sometimes I liken all so-called human civilization to the poor old monster of Dr. Frankenstein who only ever really wanted the peace of the graves he came from and lumbered out blindly causing mayhem until he got it. Before the First World War when there had been general peace in Europe for over 40 years there was a saying “Better a horrible ending than a horror without end.” It’s something current events are making me think more and more about as daily absurdities rise that push a seemingly delirious world that much closer to the edge of perhaps willfully sought abyss. I can only hope there’ll be a future to contribute to, I would like to have something I write (I write poetry and songs as well as HF) endure for a time to bring some joy and maybe some insight to a relatively young world I try to keep believing can/will improve providing it lasts long enough to finally grow a little bit wise. If I’m rambling a bit I apologize. I lost my right leg last year due to diabetes and I’m still recovering from all the complications. Being ill lends you some critical perspective I wish the greater world could grasp. You realize yourself to be small fragile and transitory in nature and at the same time it leaves you with a profound sense of all that’s good and beautiful in the world, all the possibilities inherent in life and yourself, and an intense desire, at least upon my part, to passionately pursue them all, for myself, and others’ benefits as well I hope.
    Well, I’ll stop now. I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your efforts here and the advices on writing you’re kind enough to dispense from time to time. Best wishes for your continued success. William M. Head in NNJ

  12. I have a large library going back 55 years in my collection. Viewed ebooks with scepticism until the health stazi came to town. Lots of small bookstores I delighted in hunting are gone and chapters is the pottery barn for COVID Karens. So in desperation got a Kindle and discovered a lot of work that would never get past the PMC purchasing dept. Lots of dross, especially in the doomer porn, but gems everywhere. Being paranoid I have three kindles. Two are kept off grid in case the muddy river decides to delete certain deplorable bad think.
    I, as a rule, buy hardcopy only of occult works (yours and others) as a proper book in hand, a nice cuppa tea and a flickering fire help with my meditations and study. Something not “right” to read on a screen. As things decline I expect the Kindle will join my vhf tapes but I’m enjoying what I discover and adding those works to my hardcopy library. Pleased to see the four adult children curiously dipping into the stacks.

  13. JMG,

    How do you filter the unknown publishers for quality? If I decide to go that route for my novel(la)… I do not know much about this industry. Are there any review sites where authors share their experiences with them?

    Also, the patreon model seems to be an option if you’re publishing serially? Let people subscribe for a dollar a month to read your web series.

  14. This is “an aside.”

    SPEAKING OF GLOSSY WEBSITES AND WRITING

    Back roughly between 2008 and 2013, there was an age of good writing on websites — a golden age. What took over since then, what we have now abounding on the Internet, are slick, catchy websites dripping with gooey molasses. Words reel in a person into their world of “we and our company are so great that we won’t tell you the principals’ names — we won’t tell you anything of substance about what we allegedly-offer.

    The top head-honcho working for a company hired lower head-honchos, also know as a committee. The committee of lower head-honchos wanted a cunning, dripping website hired some first marketing-web firm (based in USA) whose duty was “to write fluffy words that say nothing,” but they actually had written double-fluff, so the head-honchos fired them.

    The head-honchos hired a second marketing-web firm (based in India) whose duty was to get rid of the double-fluff writing, but they actually wrote triple-fluff writing, so the head-honchos fired them.

    The head-honchos hired a third marketing-web firm (based in China) whose duty it was to get rid of the triple-fluff, but you guess it, they wrote quadruple-fluff. And so on.

    By now, every image, every white space, ever word is designed to lure readers in, pulling them into a “we offer you nothing, we will give you the first month free but give us your credit card number and sign here to buy a monthly subscription (with a binding contract for a year) at our astronomical price per month.” We call it low, so that is what it magically is. Don’t YOU feel that $1,000/month is low?

    And so on.

    To say the least, the head-honchos’ website’s writing was so smooth, one could ice-skate on it. It gave nothing away. Pretty words.

    But the website didn’t bring in droves of clients (I mean “suckers”) willing to throw them money. The committee of head-honchos scratched their heads because they couldn’t see anything wrong with their Frankenstein websites.

    All along, the top head-honcho blamed the head-honcho committee on dwindling clients, and fired the committee but also gave them a five to ten million dollar reward (I mean “golden parachute”) for writing fluff-upon-fluff, and then garnered kickbacks. Workers collect the same piddling wage that the head-honchos had authorized.

    The upshot is that, year after year, writing by marketing-web firms’ got worse. Whenever I bump into one of these websites, I have a sixth-sense: I maybe page down one (where it gets⭐️SUPER DAZZLING⭐️) — my hackles come up, and I place the website in the category of RED ALERT formerly on Star Trek signifying “Danger, danger, shields up.” These websites don’t say about who they are or what they are selling or why or anything — it is just “gimme money” using slithery-oozing-writing.

    They use words to try to hide and extract. This category of writing gives writing a bad name.

    Maybe people will NOT want to teach their kids how to read because of all the massive deceptions🤥. It really is quite sad. Reading came about in the West because families wanted to read the Bible.

    The age of websites’ good writing is gone. It won’t be back. Good writing is what makes JMG’s writings so valuable. He doesn’t write “tricky.” Thank you, JMG‼️

    💨Northwind Grandma🧐
    Dane County, Wisconsin, USA

  15. “Writers in that scene are pressured to fit into very narrow niches—Sasquatch-themed paranormal gay erotica”

    You remember I read this blog, right? I’m feeling rather attacked right now!

    Joking aside, I have 17 self-published titles in paranormal erotica under a pseudonym, and while “come for bigfoot” series made the authoress six figures a month for a short while, I am lucky to file more than a thousand in royalties on my taxes each year. Unsurprisingly, a plurality of those royalties comes from “After Oil (volume 1)” – which as fellow readers know, is the best post-collapse anthology series available. I credit it’s better performance than my self-published works to being with an independent publisher.

    Acquisitions get far more than 250 a week, and 99% go in the slush pile after a minimum wage flunky with a checklist reads the first paragraph. I line-edited a post-collapse novel for a writer, and I probably drove him crazy pointing out it didn’t fall into the Joseph Campbell “Hero’s Journey” model or the meet that funky’s checklist. That wasn’t a problem for his independent publisher.

    Finally, I’ve worked for a mid-sized independent publisher for 22 years. Everyone in the corporate offices (which have shrunk significantly over the last decade) has been here over a decade. Supporting independent publishers often means supporting good employers – the ones who slam the door in the face of MBA flunkies offering a half-percent revenue increase if they follow their advice and treat their employees as “Human Resources”.

  16. Even a famous s/f author like Steve Stirling, who had a massive success with his Emberverse series was apparently told to wind it up in a hurry, they weren’t going to publish any more in that series. The last book, Sky Blue Wolves, had that dynamic written all over it; a leisurely beginning, as rich in details as they normally are, and then a mad rush at the end.

    He now has a second series going, successfully, but it’s turning from alternate history into a spy thriller, because, as Charlie Stross discovered, those sell.

  17. Funny that I just started this Twitter account…

    I’m writing again. And have very rough 30000 words on ThruHiking and how that intersects with preparing for deindustrialization…

    Looking forward to more on the book publishing! 😁

    Again you can now find me at Twitter @thruhikerprep

  18. Stuart, is that $20k or £20k? Those aren’t the same, you know.

    Bird, some book publishers try to pull the same gimmick. The range of predatory tricks inserted into contracts these days is pretty impressive.

    Drhooves, morality is always a luxury at best and a façade at worst for those who hold political and economic power. Remember that to the powerful, their power isn’t something they can imagine letting go of. It’s central to their identity; it’s also the thing they bought by cashing in every other human value. They’ll cling to it like grim death, until grim death takes the hint and shows up to relieve them of the burden.

    Kim Krieger, thanks for this! I’ve only dabbled in the magazine field, and (barring some pieces of short fiction recently, in the pennies-a-word market) it was many years ago. Still, none of this surprises me.

    Andy, you’re most welcome.

    Tom, thanks for this. I’ll give you the very short version now: self-publishing through Amazon is by and large no better than the gig you left. Did you notice the discussion of small to midsized independent publishers in there? That’s what I recommend.

    ThruHiker, I’m not on Twitter — not enough hours in the day! — but thanks for letting me know; some of my readers will no doubt want to follow you.

    Yorkshire, I passed a list of prospects to the publisher; I haven’t been able to follow up on it myself, having a lot of other stuff to get done just now.

    TJ, take that saying, replace “government” with “corporations,” and it’s even more true!

    Jeanne, comics are even worse. Years ago I used to read Dave Sim’s Cerebus the Aardvark, among other indie comics, and he talked quite openly about the ghastly corporate exploitation going on in the comic book industry even then. I don’t happen to know what’s going on in the indie comics scene these days, but it was pretty lively back in the day!

    Kyle, that’s also a way to go about it — I’m glad that your experience has been so positive. I’ll be talking about blogging down the road a bit, based on my own highly idiosyncratic experience.

    William, thanks for this. I’d definitely encourage you to look for small publishers, or those self-publishing venues that aren’t quite so exploitive — you might be able to find a niche for yourself.

    Longsword, if you haven’t done so already, Project Gutenberg might be worth a look — it has free ebook copies of a galaxy of out-of-copyright novels, some of them very good indeed.

    Alice, that’s something I’ll be covering later on in this sequence. Stay tuned!

    JonG, yep. As noted above, they’ll lie themselves blue in the face to keep employees on the treadmill.

    Northwind, thanks for this.

    Harry, have you considered taking your talent and writing books for a more lucrative market? A thousand a year isn’t even sweatshop wages, it’s chump change. As for the rest, exactly.

    Patricia M, there’s another good reason to go with the indie publishers!

  19. Fine business, John, fine business.

    Reading this is heartening, and as usual (though not “business as usual” 😉 filled with zingers that have me cracking up.

    I just thought I’d also mention I had a TSW moment recently. I was contacted by someone who read some of my articles on my website, and wanted me to write something for a quarterly they put out to subscribers. I did so and it ended up being the biggest check I made so far as a writer. I won’t be quitting the library in the foreseeable future, but its another step along the way. I credit what I’ve learned in the GSF work and specifically the Order of Essene’s / Burks L. Hamner material with helping me along in these pursuits. Thanks again for making both available.

    I canceled the subscription I once had for a year or two to Locus Magazine (“The Magazine of the Fantasy and Science Fiction Field”). As much as I love the genres, I could tell the magazine had become a mouthpiece.

    The cold wind brings in some good inspiration, and I hear it gives readers the chills, in a good way.

  20. As a library dude, another trend I’ve noticed since I started in the field, year 2000 for a public library, was the increase in celebrity “authors.” Every year there have been more. Now talk show hosts and A list actors write a lot more books, especially children’s books, than children’s authors themselves. A celebrity is seen as a proven income stream, unknown author/illustrator not so much.

    None of those books have made me want to buy them for any of the children in my life.

    Also, another reason to disregard writing advice: those glossy writer mags used to always say, it was so hard to get a memoir published. They said never do it, etc. No one wants to hear about you. Now, memoir is one of the biggest genres coming out of self-important publishing houses. It’s like they told you know, just so they could then churn out memoir after memoir about somebodies bloated therapy sessions.

    Thanks, I feel better now 🙂

  21. @Patricia Matthews: I really liked Charles Stross’ “The Merchant Princes” series…

    …yeah, and Elizabeth Hand’s mysteries ARE really good, but I’m sure they have more of a market than did her older fantasy & sf fare, which was literary in a good way.

    OTH… there is a lot of new SF and Fantasy I just don’t pay attention to any more.

  22. A few years back I did a website/blog with a friend and had some fun, but our business model involved Amazon referral links and when I decided that went against my principles he refused to consider anything else so I pulled the plug. It’s interesting how many friends and acquaintances came up after that asking me “what happened to the…?” They really liked it, which surprised me. I’ve definitely been taught to undervalue my own creative work.

    The other problem was that I kept writing on darker subject matter and my sense of humor became more and more gallows, which felt really icky. Maybe squeezing the grim juice was cathartic at first but at some point it started to feel probiotic, like I was creating more rather than just getting it out of my system.

    I’m glad your new series is coming out as I have just started another one with a positive proactive focus, and this time my approach is to build and audience first and then see what happens. Your next to last sentence has given me hope that this is still a possibility after all.

  23. >enough quality in the products they buy, to make it worth their while to participate

    To tie into one of your previous posts, I’d say it’s worse than that. People do not trust these corporations any longer. It’s not just the authorities, I’d say trust all across the board is going away.

    At least when you DIY, you have some idea who is accountable if a corner gets cut. Everything else is now take-it-or-leave-it and leaving it seems to be the better option in some cases.

  24. Harry, have you considered taking your talent and writing books for a more lucrative market? A thousand a year isn’t even sweatshop wages”

    It’s a tiny fraction of my income, a backlist only with no marketing on my part. I’ve not published anything in nine years, I was reaffirming the points in you were making regarding the challenges of writing for a living, and the market segment where a sliver of humanity still exists – independents.

    More than 99% of my income comes from being part of that Managerial Class, so this blog often evokes images of managerial meetings the day before, or recent sales pitches from Account Executives with MBAs. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought, “oh look, JMG’s writing about me and my fellow flunkies again” as I’ve perused your latest piece.

    I’m well aware this executive jet is flying on fumes, and my meager talent for writing is one cord of the diversified parachute I’ve been stitching together for over a decade as I watch industrialized society sleepwalk up to the brink of the abyss.

    I’m confident I’ll have a softer landing than the economy after todays 75 point hike…

  25. They also teach you not to draw or paint. Every child grows up drawing and painting and by the time they are 7 or 8, they have probably been told they are not very good and give it up. How many adults draw or paint? Likewise with writing and speaking and also sports. We learned all of these early as infants and children but have been taught to be spectators to the pros or “the very talented ones”. When the whole point was and is the fun of doing it.

    One of my most amusing experiences was taking my 4 year old grandson to the art gallery. He wasn’t much interested, but he took page after page of their 50 or 100 lb (I don’t know what it was) very expensive and luxurious paper with a questionnaire to show your appreciation on one side – the usual thing. How do you rate this or that, pre-designated questions, one to five. He took dozens of those pieces of paper and drew on the other side. He had been doing this since one and a half. I used to buy 500 sheet bundles of paper for my printer and he used to use more than half of them. Unfortunately, after me, he lived with his other grandparents for a while, they ridiculed and mocked his drawing and painting, and complained about his wasting paper, so he totally gave it up. He was ashamed and began crying when I asked him about it. He hasn’t drawn or painted since. He is now 25.

  26. I know what you mean about SFWA. I have a tidy little business recording chamber music and community bands and orchestras, but I let my NARAS* membership lapse and I’ll never get it back because I no longer get work published by the “big boys.”

    *National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (the Grammy Awards folks)

  27. As a writer seeking publication, I’m very familiar with the problems you describe. I heard a story about an editor who decided they wanted a novel set on Cape Code. Why? No one knows. Big publishers are a crazy world that you have to be lucky or supremely talented to survive in.
    My problem is that I’m writing Wiccan literary fiction, a thing that has never existed before, and for which there is no market. Your non-fiction occult work has a small but steady market supporting your small publishers. Thank goodness I’m retired and not writing for money.
    Technological change has also affected the writer’s market. Word processors with their spell checkers and grammar correctors make it much easier to write. Each draft is just a copy, not a retyping of the whole manuscript on a balky typewriter. Email makes it easy for an agent to receive 250 submissions a day, which they can’t possibly get through. The supply of manuscripts has grown manyfold, while the demand has dwindled because of competition from TV, movies, video games… Publishing madness in part reflects this deluge of supply.

  28. Very good advice. Other advise I have seen is to go with markets that have small print runs and lots of churn to get started. Mysteries and Romances were the ones that were noted at that time. Those book publishers need so much new material, they are more open to new authors. I have seen it work for people. Not easy to do, but writing is a very competitive field.

    I do recall seeing your articles in that somewhat glossy magazine Gnosis.

    Minor factoids I thought you would like. Wall Street Journal had an article “Surging Rents Push More Americans to Live With Roomates or Parents” (original title wasn’t so disparaging). Demand in third quarter fell to the lowest in 13 years and vacancies rose to 5.5% Rent prices haven’t dropped much yet, but it looks like the Wall Street rental people are getting the same resistance to higher rents that bosses are getting to coming back to the office.

    Factoid on advise: There was a recent study of Ohio State University students (it goes back to the 70s) that showed that people in writing programs (the degree is called that, it gets framed a couple different ways) are one of the least likely groups to be employed as such. They are roughly equal with doctors, and lower than lawyers. As a finance guy who was in academia told me, if you want to get a job in academia in a literary area, you really have to be from a wealthy family that can afford you to finance the long study period for such a low return in recompense. He noted that academia types who had real world options (like finance or engineering) often did pretty well. At his school, the Dean of Finance made more than the President of the University. Net is to watch out for advise from academic types who have a vested interest in filling up their grad program with students.

  29. Thank you John, I look forward to future posts on this subject. I should also say that I have learned a lot from your writing and have applied some of what I learned in my own weekly blog. (Don’t read it unless you like geology).

    I retired just before “the plague” and I am glad that I did. Now that limited freedom of association is being allowed, I have had some opportunity to talk with young people starting their careers. It’s heartbreaking at times to see talented people, often much brighter than I ever was, desperately seeking a career in a field that has much fewer opportunities than existed when I started out. When asked for advice, I can point out the knowledge they will need but also strongly recommend cultivating independent thought and curiosity. Sadly, those habits of thought have often been beaten out of them; some cannot even conceive of the need for them so thorough has been their indoctrination.

    Still, where there’s life, there’s hope, I cannot give into pessimism.

  30. Kyle 11

    As a perpetual reader, I love the relatively-new niche (less than five years old) that is “genealogical/family history murder mystery.” Agatha Christie on steroids. I grab every book I can find of this type. My point of view comes from an amateur-genealogist and family historian of forty years. More and more people are researching their ancestors so, I believe, it is “growing market.”

    I say to landscapers, “I hope you don’t find a (human) body in the backyard,” the opposite is true in regard to my own ancestors, where my attitude is (half-heartedly) “I hope I find a murderer in one of my ancestral backstories (lines).”

    Oh, I forgot. I ACTUALLY did come across a murderer (second-cousin), and she got away with it. She was never punished. All the parties involved are dead. A definite skeleton in a closet. Macabre but SO exciting to know my ancestors reflected the general population and were nobody special. I love that I am of peasant stock.

    There are so many opportunities for twists and turns in this niche. This niche provides a really good structure to delve deeply into the historical past (going back, let’s say, to an ancestor being part of Boudica’s clan), what that ancestor wanted the next generation to pass down (affecting those currently alive), plopping the character into a line of fictional family history. I really like when a writer sets part of the book in historical fact.

    Personal+historical.

    I can’t get enough of it. There are some REALLY good writers doing this niche, but not enough‼️Several on Amazon. I would buy two a week if they were to become available. I can find only one a month.

    💨Northwind Grandma😁📖🔪🔨🚘⛴🪦☠️
    Dane County, Wisconsin, USA

  31. We’re indie writers and self-publish.

    For some writers (Look! It’s Lucy Score!), it works very well but I’d say there’s plenty of luck and, often, outrageously good marketing chops involved. Some indie writers are far better at marketing than they are at writing. Some will also admit that of their 6-figure income, they spend half of it on ads.

    It’s also work. We do virtually everything inhouse, other than my “Steppes of Mars” covers. Those we pay for.

    I’m constantly reassuring self-published writers that yes, you can do your own editing, eBook formatting, trade paperback layout, copyright filing, and so on.

    You do NOT need to pay a book packager!
    But if you’re detail-oriented, able to follow directions, and willing to work, you can do it yourself and not pay $5,000 or more to some book doula. That’s a real term, by the way.

    We’re also active in the local authors scene here in Central Pa.
    I’ve seen PLENTY of tiny press efforts. Many of them are truly dreadful. It’s obvious that they took Author’s manuscript and printed it, as is.

    My advice is:
    1) Have your own lawyer vet your contract. Don’t sign until you understand exactly what you’re signing.

    2) The smaller the press, the more editing you’ll do yourself. Unless you know for sure, assume a small press will print what you send them without even running spellcheck.

    3) Assume you’ll do most of your own marketing and outreach. Again, small presses vary. Sunbury Press (https://www.sunburypress.com/), north of us in Central Pa prints a wide variety of idiosyncratic books and are worth checking out. But, I know some writers in their stable. They have to perform much of their own marketing. But that’s true of the big boys in New York, too.

    Thanks for doing this post! There are plenty of predators out there and writers do need to beware. Not every predator wears a nice suit and comes from New York.

  32. When I made my first jar of marmalade, I remember the feeling of pure betrayal on realising that it was better than the store-bought stuff. I’d been lied to! Haven’t bought a jar of jam in about twenty years since. I’ve barely bought an egg in the last decade either, between my chickens and my family’s.

    Also tried the Amazon erotica thing. I made about $30 before the algorithm changed, and the short stories everyone had trained themselves in were no longer profitable.

  33. @JMG, You wrote “what about self-publishing or, as it’s euphemistically termed these days, independent writing?” I used to work for one of the big publishers and the self-publishing industry is known to publishing insiders as the “vanity press.” No doubt you’ll find some diamonds in the rough there, but unfortunately the field is chock full of just plain bad writing that probably shouldn’t see the light of day no matter how great the idea is.

  34. Wer here
    Well I never was much into writing or reading didn’t have enought time maybe when the internet will malfunction enough people will return to libraries one can hope. Some books are garbage like thoose predictable thrillers but many books about DIY will be worth a lot in the future.
    JMG It seems that we are aproaching crisis at an express pace, the dreaded (for the elite class) mid terms are closing. And honestly I think no matter what happens there will be violence involved. The people in charge now are like elites in older eras stuck in abstractions and “narratives” (like COVID or Ukraine neither went like the’ve hoped). thoose people might easily sign their death warrant if they try something during the election and belive me considering what they had done in the past (FBI raid, RussiaGate fake news campaign, Zuckberg admiting on Joe Rogan’s show about how he was manipulating news to change the outcome of elections)
    They will try something, Joe and Drunk granny are hated enough to be kicked out soon if hte trends continue.It will be a mess……..

  35. Hi JMG

    Speaking of books and despite the “steady crapification”, do you have some good readings to recommend at the moment ?
    Preferably deindustrial novels of some kind. But not necessarily. Anything might do.
    I’m always willing to support good writers if they deserve it 🙂

    Beside, any idea why Ralph Neima’s books at not available anymore ? I enjoyed reading the first part of the Inter States series but sadly, I can’t put my hands on the next books….

    All the best

  36. JMG Exchange rate between £ and $ isn’t too far off parity hence my comparison. $21k is £18.6k at current rates.

  37. JMG: “Writers in that scene are pressured to fit into very narrow niches—Sasquatch-themed paranormal gay erotica, say, or cozy Christian romantic mysteries with a country/western music tie-in. “

    Oh my goodness, I know someone that only reads either Danielle Steele or any book with an Amish romance theme. She might not like it if I tell her by reading only one genre she is enslaving a score of Christian women writers just to satisfy her urge to learn about Amish love. And writers have to churn out a book every few months? Is that why there’s a boat load of Steele books floating about out there, with a few more launched every year?
    And hey, in the early 70’s I was that 12 year old girl, running to the drug store to snatch up the latest issues of Tiger Beat and Sixteen. Donny Osmond! *Sigh*

    Joy Marie

  38. Vanity presses prey on indie authors who don’t do their due diligence and who want someone else to do all the work.

    Money is supposed to flow to the writer! Publishers (real ones, including self-publishers) take certain risks when they sign a writer: firstly, that the book will sell enough to make it worthwhile to publish. They take most of the sales and pay royalties to cover printing, editorial, cover art costs, salaries, and other business-related expenses.

    But even so, legitimate publishers don’t ask for money. They may pay pennies as an advance (which is a LOAN on future earnings) or pay lower royalties but they DO NOT charge to publish you.

  39. Justin, delighted to hear it. TS does emphatically W — it’s what made my writing career possible, just for starters. As for celebrity children’s books and memoirs, no surprises there. It doesn’t have to be well written, it just has to keep the corporate machine churning away.

    Aloysius, delighted to hear it. It’s very much a possibility; the publishing world is in the middle of a cascade of transformations, and some of those are opening up remarkable new possibilities for writers. More on this as we proceed.

    Other Owen, and for good reason! But that’s an important part of what I was talking about. A market economy depends on the fundamental agreement that the seller will provide the buyer with a product worth buying. Now that corporations by and large no longer do this, the market is collapsing, and they have no idea what to do about it — since listening to consumers and providing them with what they need and want is nowhere in the modern corporate vocabulary.

    Zeroinput, yes, and I noted in my post that there are many such alternatives. I simply discussed the one I know best.

    Harry, your talent for writing is less meager than you think. You might consider putting a little time into trying something a little more adventurous.

    Castle, yep. We’ll be talking about that in quite some detail two weeks from now.

    Roldy, I’m not at all surprised. The corporate capture of organizations for creators is very far advanced these days.

    Tomriverwriter, you’re not looking hard enough. I just exchanged emails with a small publisher that publishes Wiccan fiction of all kinds. Pop yourself out of the big-market mentality and I have no doubt that you can find a home for your novels.

    Russell1200, it’s not just that there’s more churn in romances and mysteries — those are still highly popular genres, and the small to midsized publishers are moving in on subgenres the big boys won’t touch. (Clean, romances, i.e., the kind without explicit or implicit sex scenes, are booming in the midsized-publisher field.) There are not enough people writing these to meet the demand! As for writing programs, people who can’t write go into academia to teach writing. I’ve never known anyone who went through a university writing program who didn’t have their ability to write wrecked by the experience.

    Raymond, we’ll be talking at quite some length in a couple of weeks about the way that the education industry goes all out to stop kids from thinking for themselves.

    Teresa, I ain’t arguing. The print-on-demand revolution has thrown open the door to publishing, and not everyone who went rushing in is competent enough, or honest enough, to bother with.

    Kfish, you were indeed lied to — once by the jam manufacturers, and once by Amazon…

    Joshua, er, you’re about a decade and a half behind the times. Vanity presses still exist, but they’ve been swamped by the print-on-demand revolution. Huge numbers of original works are now being published on Amazon and a few other platforms of the same kind, and some of them get scooped up by the big boys — do you recall the furore over Fifty Shades of Grey a few years back? That was self-published on Amazon, and then got scooped up by a big publisher. It really is a different world today than it was when I first broke into print in 1996.

    Wer, well, we’ll have to wait and see!

    Tris, just at the moment I don’t have anything to recommend; I’m busy reading century-old books on the occult dimensions of sex, with an eye toward a future nonfiction project! Anyone else?

    Stuart, these days people in the US who make $18k a year are generally living in their cars.

    Joy Marie, don’t tell her! Not all writers churn out a book every six months — as I said in the post, that’s just the self-publishing niche market stuff. As for your second post, er, that’s very, very far off topic this week and it’s not a subject I know anything about anyway…

    Teresa, yep. I’ll be talking about that in a few weeks.

  40. I am trying to write something myself. For the last couple of months I have been trying, with varying levels of success, to write a fanfic story based on a shameless heist of our gracious host’s “Weird of Hali” plotline.
    But the last couple of weeks have me flummoxed. For some reason the strange question of “why are you doing this?” kept surfacing in the interstices of my neurons.
    Then, not merely being content with destroying my motivations about why I was writing, I started poking around at the actual process of getting published and was appalled at what I found.
    Intermediation everywhere.
    For some reason I had the naive idea that if you wrote a good book, that you would send in the manuscript and they would pay you. Silly me. I can’t fully agree with our gracious host’s appraisal of the big league publishing arena. When you dig into it, I think that his description of the industry might actually be too kind.
    So then I went to see if the big muddy river and their “self-publishing” on Kindle might fit the bill. If anything, their contract terms are such that the big publishing houses look positively charitable.
    All of this brought me to a different way of thinking about the act of writing. While a skilled and lucky few (I’m looking at you JMG) can make a living at writing, and I am more than willing to send our gracious host a subscription fee as my contribution to the quality of his work, and his works are probably over-represented in my library. So good on JMG. But it is my guess is that most folks, like me, will probably have to write because they have something that they want to say. It just doesn’t necessarily follow that someone else will want to pay to read it.
    So, I will continue to write, but I will follow JMG’s “sometimes” method and just publish a serial over at Dreamwidth and get the writing bug placated that way.
    So, somewhere on the internet, I will continue writing my story. If anyone asks, I will tell you where to find it.
    I won’t expect to get paid for it, and if it does manage to garner a couple of nickels, I will spend them upgrading the quality of my whiskey.
    I suppose that what I am trying to say is that most folks here in the land of quiet quitting are looking for something to bring in the coin to keep body and soul going. There is nothing wrong with that wish. But I think that folks had better remember the old saying:

    “Writers almost always need to have a second job. The vast majority of the time that job is writing.”

  41. JMG – $20k is not that much different from GBP 20k, these days. Six months ago, the GB Pound was worth $1.40, but it was only $1.07 in late September. Most recently: $1.14. The Euro, by the way, has fallen from $1.20 to $0.98. This may have something to do with the recent report that the Swiss National Bank logged a loss of $142 Billion on foreign exchange transactions in the first 3 quarters of 2022. (I say “transactions”, but it may just be the result of holding declining currencies, rather than transacting their way out of a losing game.)

  42. Hi John Michael,

    Moved away from the big end of town. For many years now I ply my trade with small business. Interestingly, the system is set up in such a way that small business could not otherwise get access to my services. And I’m busy. But here’s the kicker. The professional body appears to not want me to take this path because other areas of the profession claim that income stream, but they’re too expensive (and often inexperienced) for small businesses. The professional body put up a barrier which set my income level at $25k for three years. Costs had to come out of that income too. It was difficult, but then being income poor for those years was not difficult, as you could also attest. I don’t know why people fear that state of living?

    I note that a couple of commenters have already used the phrase ‘quiet quitting’. It reminds me of what I’d heard of the end of the Soviet Empire. If the folks at the top of the pile gave the matter any thought, it should be ringing alarm bells. But you know, I doubt they’d concern themselves with the concept.

    Cheers

    Chris

  43. >since listening to consumers and providing them with what they need and want is nowhere in the modern corporate vocabulary.

    We need a new word to describe this, since it’s no longer capitalism…

  44. @Kfish re #36

    I made the same discovery about chicken soup many years ago and haven’t bought a can since. In fact, I have a little kettle bubbling away on the stove that I just added a fistful of alphabet noodles to. Yum, yum!!

  45. This is a topic near and dear to my heart! I’ll comment a lot.

    One of the more important aspects of writing or any other self-supporting endeavor is cash flow.

    If you spend $5,000 on a book packager, you haven’t made a dime until you’ve paid that back. It’s shocking how many people forget that.

    The higher your monthly nut (rent, groceries, utilities, etc.,) the more money you need to earn. If you reduce monthly expenses, you reduce the amount of $$ you have to earn to meet the bills.

    It’s easier to reduce spending than it is to increase income.

    Writing income has highs and lows. If you adjust your spending to the lows, then if a book does well and you have a good payoff, you pay off debt, build up the savings, and improve your infrastructure. What you do NOT do is raise your spending in the assumption that you’ll continue to get those bigger sales.
    You won’t!

  46. Kfish (no. 36), I’ve heard this said about milk from the Hare Krishna, or rather their cows (they worship cows).

    —————-

    russell1200 () “At his school, the Dean of Finance made more than the President of the University.”

    And the football coach more than both:

    https://www.fastcompany.com/1672861/infographic-whos-your-states-highest-paid-public-employee

    —————-

    JMG (no. 20) “I don’t happen to know what’s going on in the indie comics scene these days…”

    A lot has shifted to web-comics and Patreon. Case study: The Young Protectors, by Alex Woolfson:

    https://youngprotectors.com/ (gay superheroes)

    Another case study: The Sea In You, by Jessi Sharon:

    https://tapas.io/series/theseainyou/info (mermaid YA)

    I still see indy print comics listed (from a constantly churning roster of publishers), but have no idea how they manage distribution (also a problem for the majors). Case study: Ahoy Comics.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahoy_Comics

    —————-

    Jeanne (no. 10) “I have no idea what writers and artists for the comics go through…”

    Bad things, mostly, except for a few celebrities. It’s clearly a declining market.

    “Comic books themselves have been turned into a major money pump.”

    Not for the publishers–the big money comes from the possibility of adaptation into other media (movies, toys, games). That’s why Disney even publishes Marvel at all, so they can harvest content / IPR. The books themselves are easily read on pirate sites.

    “While looking over an old comic collection I have, wondering how to unload some of it, I found comics are now regarded as an ‘investment’.”

    This was big in the 1990s, but it was mostly a scam. Relatively few comics back-issues have this kind of demand + scarcity. (Price Guides were mostly notional.) But see what you can get on eBay.

  47. This is amazingly good timing for me. I have just finished writing a non-fiction book (my first book), and am trying to figure out what comes next. Because I have followed your blog for many years, and because of the kind of book it is, I had already decided that a small press publisher is the best way to go. But as I look at the various websites, it seems that even this is a daunting endeavor. You can’t imagine how happy I am to read your post today, and to hear that more are coming on the same topic. But then, the whole book has so far come together in a very fluid way that I did not expect.(In fact, I didn’t even intend to write a book, it just happened, with the help of my 16 year old cat who, sadly for me, passed away shortly after providing his assistance). Lots of surprising “coincidences”. Thanks so much for writing on this topic, and of course, its relationship to the wider economics of our time.

  48. Funny about the jam – advertising material for the first convenience foods, back in the 1930s, didn’t try to convince people that they were better. The focus was on convenience, and a few advertised as being ‘as good as home made’! Home made was apparently the standard that the new foods were judged by. Several decades later, people assume they can’t do as well as the professionals.

    DIY is both entertainment and therapy – two other industries that may decline if this trend keeps up. Making your own is a gateway to taking back other kinds of control.

  49. Thanks for this, JMG. I was given a class by a relative who thinks my art would make a good children’s book and found the publishing side of things to be relatively impenetrable. According to the instructor, to get published by anyone except Amazon, you basically needed to have at least three complete manuscripts and then go to several trade shows and fairs to seek an agent, who might then deign to send the manuscripts to a publisher. That is a serious barrier to entry!

  50. I’d be interested to hear if any other media creators are experiencing similar struggles to authors right now. Anecdotally, I’ve noticed some people forming their own independent houses for publishing video games, but I’d have to do some more research into this to see if it’s part of a wider trend, and perhaps even one that spans many different types of medium. Also, I’m looking forward to your second post in this series; is it going to be a successor of sorts to your older post, “How Not to Write Like an Archdruid”?

  51. Degringolade, you don’t have to settle for that unless you want to. I’ll be getting to some of the other options as we proceed.

    Chris, it’s one of the major dynamics of the corporate-bureaucratic system these days to eliminate small businesses so that everyone has to be dependent on the narrowing circle of oligarchic wealth. Barriers to small businesses are thus rising steadily — but all that that’s doing is driving more and more business under the table, into the underground economy. Very similar to the Soviet experience…

    Other Owen, au contraire, that’s what capitalism looks like in its decadence, when it exploits the influence of money on politics to establish monopolies. That’s not insoluble, but it’s one of the pervasive problems of capitalist economics.

    Bei, thanks for the data points!

    Lydia, while you’re waiting for the next installments, you might consider going to a bookstore or lurking online and seeing which publishers issue books like yours. Make a list, look them up online, and screen out any of them that say they don’t take unsolicited submissions. That’ll give you a list of potential publishers. We’ll talk later about what to do thereafter.

    Kfish, exactly. Now we know just how bad they can get.

    Sirustalcelion, your relative was completely, utterly, hopelessly wrong. That’s the official wipe circulated by the big publishers, and it’s a lie. All you need to do is find the small to midsized publishers that want books like yours, and go from there. In another few weeks we’ll talk about how to do that.

    Ethan, I get the impression that it’s quite common across the whole range of creative activities. As for the second post, not really, but there will be a few echoes here and there!

  52. Will you be touching on poetry at all? I am considering making a go at applying this to poetry, but I believe the readership for poetry is in decline.

  53. I’m interested in writing arrangements and original compositions and selling sheet music online as pdfs. That’s one of the things I hope to do with my youtube channel, once it gets big enough. Writing sheet music is not very lucrative, but multiple income streams seem to be how most musicians get by.

    They make recordings, teach, do gigs, have a youtube channel, go busking, are in a band or other type of musical ensemble etc. Varied, but complicated, and there’s a lot of non-music stuff to learn and spend time on.

    With regard to teaching music, all the inquiries I’ve had so far have been word of mouth from people I’ve met.

  54. Thank you, JMG, for this already-helpful series on a subject close to my heart.

    My own random experiences: 30+ years ago, I sent the first chapter of a novel in progress to a Singapore publisher–which was interested, but the editor who liked it moved or retired or something and that was the end of that. (We probably all dodged a bullet there, trust me.)

    20+ years ago, I got a nonfiction ms. accepted by uni-affiliated academic publisher. It was critical of a certain religious group. They sic’d their lawyers on said press, which pulled out. The experience soured me on…many things.

    I’m skipping over several episodes where I shopped around some book idea, and got nowhere. (Anybody want a medical romance written entirely in medical jargon? How about a romance that begins ” ‘Do all men scratch themselves?’ wondered Ashley.”)

    I now begin my retirement years by returning to what has become a small pile of unfinished book projects–my own white whales, and the major items on my bucket list–even as the world falls apart around us, China is poised to invade, and books / reading / intellectual life are fast declining.

  55. Kyle 11 (continued)

    Keywords include:

    ancestry
    forensic
    genealogy
    murder
    mystery

    One example is:

    Crossed by Death (Stitches in Crime Book 1)
    by ACF Bookens
    one of a series of six

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08VMTTYGX/

    I have other examples.

    💨Northwind Grandma☺️📖🔪🔨🚘⛴🪦☠️
    Dane County, Wisconsin, USA

  56. This all matches my experience with the exception that there are almost no small to medium sized publishers left here in Australia. This was due to a combination of the internet and some of the neoliberal free trade agreements which got rid of what was left of the protection for the Australian cultural sector and meant that whole lot more US product got dumped into the Australian market.

    What’s left is the literary fiction sector which operates almost entirely on government grant money. This makes it a zero sum game the access to which is mediated by a byzantine network of ever-shifting ideological parameters aka The Current Thing. I must say I find literary fiction incredibly funny since the quality of writing is usually inversely proportional to the pretensions of the people writing it. It is, in fact, unskilled writing masquerading as high art.

  57. “among full-time freelance authors who made any money at all from their writing—not all do—the median income was $20,857 a year. […] Those are sweatshop wages.”

    Funny. I make roughly half of that writing the sort of niche erotica you mention in this post, but in my country that’s still more than a full-time minimum wage worker makes and quite enough for me to live a modest life while also indulging in a few luxuries and still saving up some cash, all by working only around 20 hours a week. Which is all to say, “Your mileage may vary.”

    Anyway, looking forward to this series. Still not sure where to take my writing career from here but I hope to get some clues from your future posts.

  58. I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Flesh of Your Future Sticks Between My Teeth. And after reading this week’s post, it occurs to me that that book’s very existence speaks volumes about the difference between the big boys and small to midsize presses. Given how boisterously iconoclastic that book is, it took a truly daring publisher to put it out into the world. That kind of daring is the furthest thing from what motivates the big publishers, with their odious “sensitivity readers” and such.

  59. “Writing your story” is currently the “way in” for artists looking to “introduce” themselves. Or so has been my experience. My art and my life story are all mine. I’ll just keep an arm’s length j.o.b. or two, been paying the bills for decades. The art is about participating with the flowing intelligence that supports my life. The story behind it is mine and doesn’t ever need to be told. Thank you for the insights you provide, and I hope you get every penny you deserve from the many books of yours I have on my shelf.

  60. @ JMG – Great timing! On the topic of traditional publishing, I think it’s notable that the Justice Department’s principal argument for applying anti-trust law to block the merger of Penguin-Random House with Simon and Schuster, revolved around the notion that more consolidation would lead to worse deals and advances to writers. That’s certainly not going to reverse the consolidation that’s taken place among big publishing houses over the last 30 years, but it’s a start.

    On a related note, I’ll be attending a writers conference this weekend, hosted by our local library. I plan to attend the panel discussion about self-publishing, and I will raise the topic of mid-size presses, to see what kind of reaction the topic produces. I’ll report back!

  61. Jbucks, the market for poetry a hundred years ago was big enough that poets made their livings writing and publishing poems. That ended when most poets backed themselves into the same kind of self-defeating “I hate my audience!” routine that doomed modern art and postclassical music. In order to break out of the starvation-wage literary circuit, you’re going to have to reinvent a poetic language that speaks to people who aren’t part of a suffocatingly narrow circle of cognoscenti, and then find a way to reach an audience that’s learned to associate the word “poetry” with self-important verbal onanism. That’s a tall task, but somebody has to do it in the next generation or so if the classic tradition of English language poetry is going to survive at all. (Poetry more generally will be fine; there are many languages where it’s still a going concern, and rap and its sister quasi-musical genres are clearly warming up to create the epic poems of the coming dark ages — but it would be nice, to use no better word, if a thousand years of English language poetic tradition could be pried loose from the hands of the people who are hoarding it now, and given back to the people.)

    Pygmycory, multiple income streams is how I manage to have a decent income, and I recommend that to anyone who wants to make a living out of any creative practice. What you’ve described, amusingly enough, is what I came up with for my fictional flautist Brecken Kendall, as she scrambled around to keep herself and her shoggoth family fed and housed!

    Bei, I would pay good money to read a romance that began with those words, but I’m not exactly a typical romance reader. (Though I enjoy Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer…) As for the world going someplace uncomfortable in a handbasket, haven’t you noticed yet? It’s always doing that. Writing is one classic way to deal with the stress. 😉

    Simon S, in that case, have you considered seeing if you can cobble together a small publisher, using print on demand technology to produce books, to issue the books that the big boys won’t print and readers want? These days, with word processing, PDF software, and POD presses, it’s incredibly easy to start a small press. Just a thought…

    Writer X, that’s the advantage of living someplace with a less crazily hyperinflated standard of living! I’m glad you’re able to do that.

    Frank, exactly. That’s why we need small and midsized presses — to publish the books that say what needs to be said.

    Cobo, I’m not at all sure what “writing your story” amounts to. If it’s a glorified memoir, which is what it sounds like, no wonder so much recent writing is so dull. Most people lead dull lives — I certainly do, for example. The whole fetish for “expressing yourself” is a good half of what’s wrong with all the arts these days, because most selves are dull. Express something interesting for a change!

    Ben, yes, I heard about the ruling! It’s a small step but a promising one. I’d like to see the big combines broken up, but I’ll settle for watching them sink into irrelevance and bankruptcy as small to midsized presses become the ones producing the books everyone reads — much the same way that CNN is headed for the dumpster because they’re so dull compared to the smaller, livelier, more challenging rivals. I’ll look forward to hearing your report; my guess is that they’ll give you a blank look and then go back to talking as though the big boys and self-publishing via Amazon are the only options, but I’d be delighted to be surprised.

  62. Jbucks: your question about poetry and JMG’s answer prompted me to stick my oar in. I’ve been writing poetry mostly for my own amusement since I was a boy maybe sixty years ago. I’ve actually met a few poets who were famous in their day (Ginsberg, anyone?) and wasn’t impressed either by his poetic stylings, his theory of poetry, or the man himself. In fairness, I really loved his performance skills (I was a drama major as an undergraduate), which were outstanding. The man had charisma to burn.

    For the last several years I’ve been writing miniature essays on topics of the day, philosophy and so forth, in fourteen line increments. As a younger man I used to write “real” sonnets with rhyme and meter. My form of haiku, only my little “proems” (yes, I know other people use that term for other things) aren’t anything like that elegant. They are composed of three four line “verses” and a two line concluding “couplet” written with no concern for meter or rhyme. In fact, my main concern is to get them to fit on my “page” properly so the line lengths can’t be too great.

    Works for me, and it works apparently for the synagogue I send many of them to. They “publish” them in their weekly e-blast when they think they’re appropriate. Am I retrieving the great traditions of English-language poetry? Hell, I have no idea: that’s not my intention in writing them. I find the form works for expressing my ideas pretty well, though, but Alexander Pope I’m not.

    I once worked for an entertainment company (don’t ask) putting out many thousands of approximately two hundred word movie synopses for all sorts of obscure (mostly foreign) movies that never otherwise get marketed. I got paid for those, at slightly over minimum wage per hour. A huge number of them were still up on the internet, last I checked. Before that I worked for a mid-sized specialty publisher that, after I left, began hoovering up other similar publishing houses. They now have maybe half a dozen imprints. I’m pretty sure they live on their back list. I did their books and that’s how they got by in the 80’s and early 90’s.

  63. I can’t wait to read the next instalment of this.

    My writer well is almost dry. Trying to be an ethical one is difficult; if you’re not a liberal (or, now, in its current incarnation, a bit of a fascist) then you’re disregarded. Getting eyes on your work is an increasingly difficult and repulsive enterprise that I never did have any stomach for.

    Now I’m finally close to being able to receive the disability support I need, it’s only now I’m beginning to entertain the idea of building up a writing practice again. I aim to write for myself, for pleasure, and if anything successful comes of it, great. But I’m done otherwise. The machine has killed me.

    I wonder how many ex-writers there are whose works would be more than worth reading, who’ve given up cos they couldn’t handle the look of the monster machine. It’s hard living at the end of the story.

    Hopefully many of those will get itchy fingers after the empires crumble. It’s a cheering thought.

  64. Thank you for providing this window into your writing career, and also for the insight and assistance provided for new writers interested in getting work published.

    I am finding writing to be a practice that pulls at my mind gently throughout the days and weeks. The characters I create out of the patchwork of memory and life experiences brings me deeply gratifying feelings of self efficacy and confidence. A most enjoyable experience!

    I look at actually succeeding as a writer, in terms of career, as a fantasy as far flung as the book I am working on right now. I know a poet, for example, who writes beautiful anthologies. He self publishes them, and dutifully loses money every year on the craft. I may be ok with that kind of trajectory myself, at least for now.

    On the other hand I often use your uncanny success, the scope of your work, as evidence that people can achieve great feats of intellect on top of challenging environments and circumstances. Some kids eyes light up when they learn their counselor reads an intellectual who professes to have Asbergers and has modestly published 75+ books. Your navigation of the writing world has forged a strange but true real life story I guess.

    In my writing world I am facing unfinished subplots, contradicting events, messy timelines, thick lore, ect. It’s a fine knot right now that I will untangle and throw at the first poor soul that agrees to edit/accept the challenge of proofreading and copy editing the thing. I will gleefully employ knowledge from this article series when I begin pushing the piece towards publishers.

    Look forward to the next installment!

  65. Just as a side note; I did discover a publisher that feeds accepted books into several small associated streetside brick and mortar bookstores. It sounds like this is the kind of small publisher that a new writer might cut their teeth on.

  66. Self-publishing is a slog, JMG!
    Here are my (gently rounded) stats: 3 years, 11 books, 3k sold, 29k free copies downloaded, 140k pages read on KU, $3k in royalties. Good thing I don’t expect it to pay my rent!

  67. As a fellow author, know all too well the ugly machinery of the publishing industry. I would imagine it’s not much different for actors. However many feel that simply possessing literacy gets you halfway through the door. That ‘entitlement’ thing, mixed with the urge to Facebook broadcast.

    At some point, after wrangling with queries and agents and submissions, I came to accept it was not my fate to get money for words. . . maybe didn’t want it hard enough. Did other trades. But years of training in reading thousands of books in rooms wallpapered with vocabulary wasn’t all for nothing. One asks. . .what/whom am I writing for? There is a voice there, a message that needs expression. A perspective that’s new.

    I think you’d like ‘The Price of Time’ on Substack. The thesis is that economics is all a matter of time as luck would have it.

  68. Not long ago I had some dealings with one such independent publisher that solicited short pieces for a collection. My piece was accepted and a contract proffered (a document almost as long as the piece itself), which I signed. Consideration consisted of a few small coins and a free copy, but I was really in it for the pleasure of seeing my work in print. The piece was published, but I never received the coins or the free copy. Finally I bought a copy, which dutifully arrived, but the pleasure was similar to seeing one’s work appear in a community college literary journal.

    As mentioned above, there are desk top publishers that offer print-on-demand services, where you can upload your manuscript at a price affordable to anyone with a minimum wage job, if they’re willing to forgo a week of avocado toast. This is a modern form of vanity press, where you are not obliged to order a garage full of unsaleable material. These services will list your book, and also cross list it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (they also offer editing and putative marketing services for additional fees, but caveat emptor). No one will buy your book, however, even with the small chance someone could be interested in your work, because no one’s ever heard of you. It’s like throwing a pebble into the Grand Canyon and listening for the sound of it hitting the bottom. Without promotion you have no chance, and if you knew how to promote, you wouldn’t have to resort to such means. Still, you can order a few copies at a reasonable cost to give away to your friends and relatives, but they probably won’t read them, if they accept them at all.

    You can start a blog to sell your work, like our host or James Kunstler, but it’s the same issue. Unless you’re already known from previous endeavors, you’ll be lost on the Google noise floor that rises past the moon. If you try promoting yourself on someone else’s blog, you’ll quickly get the gate. Does McDonalds let Burger King advertise on its website?

    When Ernest Hemmingway was asked by a literary neophyte how to get started, Hemmingway suggested writing bad checks.

  69. Jeanne

    “…comics book young people might want to buy are priced beginning at $3.99 a magazine reflecting the view that they are an ‘investment’. Good luck starting your own collection if you are low income.”

    Back in the 50s, when I read comic books, I had a large box full. In those days a comic book cost 10 cents off the rack. I had Superman, Batman, Green Arrow, Aquaman, the Disney characters, Archie, Little Lulu, Casper the Friendly Ghost and others, all hand drawn in their original iterations. Those comics would be worth a lot today. Needless to say, my mother threw them out.

  70. Excellent commentary (as always). So true. Interesting info re the publishing industry, thank you. Luckily I escaped the college debt trap by training and qualifying as nurse in the UK, at a time when trainees were paid to work as student nurses in the hospital and didn’t have to pay any “Fees” for their education. We also had subsidised housing (the famous nurses quarters) and subsidised meals in the canteen. All this was swept away by corporate greed around year 2000. Now trainee nurses have to pay an arm and a leg for their training, work on the wards for nothing and get no pay. However, I was recently terminated for refusing Pfizer et als questionable potion (as was hubby). Cashed in our retirement funds, paid off the mortgage and now selling seedling fruit trees from our two and bit acres in sunny and mild south east Queensland, Australia. They cost us a few cents germinate and pot, so there’s still a handsome profit to be made in selling them for half the price of the commercial nurseries. As you say, people everywhere are realising the system’s completely rigged against them.

  71. OK, I’m going to do some initial investigation on poetry that uses traditional forms but with plain language and topics relevant to people now. I’ve suddenly got a bunch of ideas I need to consider.

    Also because of your answer to Simon S’s question. We have the same problem in Canada, I believe, where we don’t have a whole lot of independent publishers for the same reason Simon outlines. It just so happens that I have some useful skills in this area, as I was a graphic designer a long time ago and a web developer a little less of a long time ago, so there’s quite a bit I could do myself. Hmm…

    Interesting that you’re launching this series of posts just as we are about to enter an economic downshift. I find that encouraging.

  72. Re: poetry. I noticed long ago that the poets of a hundred years ago became the songwriters of fifty years ago. What’s happened since then, I have no idea.

  73. @Stuart #1 Just out of interest, is that £20k you live on your gross salary? Do you pay rent out of that? If you are retired with no rent/mortgage/childcare/transport to and from work/national insurance etc to pay, I’m afraid your £20k is not the same as mine or others’ in Britain, and especially not in the South of England.

  74. “In questioning [the COVID] doctrine, the mutineers dragged an incipient class war into the open, between what N.S. Lyons characterises as the “Virtuals” of the laptop class, and the “Physicals” whose work is more rooted in the material world. Amid this conflict, Oster’s plea for amnesty is unlikely to be heard, since under those appeals to neutral science much of Covid policy served in practice as a Virtual counter-volley to the 2016 [populist] uprisings.”

    Great article from UnHerd:

    https://unherd.com/2022/11/the-tyranny-of-a-covid-amnesty/

    Thank you for the microcosmic view of the same thing from the were-old of professional writing. My wife and I are currently dealing with an explosion of the same sort of relentless clinging to power with an older family member. She’s the one who pops into my head every time I read about the PMC. Didn’t sleep particularly well last night…

    Not much fun to start a long day tired and pissed off. But at least my labors only support one other person (the owner), albeit in much grander style, with a much smaller contribution of effort.

    Really appreciate the balancing I always get from you!

  75. “One of the major unintended consequences of the Covid-19 shutdowns of 2020 and 2021 is that many people, given much more free time than they expected, decided to try things like baking their own bread and knitting their own hats.”

    Hey, these activities remind me Gandhi’s idea of making your own clothes, in the 20th Century India… DIY!

  76. Hi John Michael,

    It is a similar experience isn’t it?

    I must add on the topic you mentioned, that I did say many long months ago to you that they’d blow it with the interest rate rises. What is not well understood about that story is that I’m hearing anecdotal accounts that easy money sloshing into err, things like software projects, is drying up. I’ve long been dubious as to the business merits of those things, but my opinions are perhaps unfashionable. A lot less upper end jobs.

    Your small publishers are like many smaller businesses. They’re often lean and mean and have to focus on longer term relationships. Robert E Howard made a living from writing during The Great Depression, although he had troubles collecting upon debts (from what I’ve read). There can be many reasons that occurred.

    Anyway, I’m coming around to the opinion that the interest rate shenanigans are the response to declining demand for your IOU’s, a desire to continue spinning the presses, and fear of the consequences of rising prices. It’s not the only policy response, but I’m gathering that it is the acceptable option – for some. Crazy day’s huh? I can smell the wind changing, can’t you?

    Cheers

    Chris

  77. I adore Georgette Heyer, although I doubt she would be given the time of day today.

    How many Byron’s or Jane Austen’s are sitting typing away on manuscripts that will never be seen while the memoir of the 20 something Z list celebrities are bestsellers? As with everything else publishing seems to be aimed at the lowest common denominator.

    Is publishing by subscription or a patron still a thing? I suppose Patreon or similar is the closest currently?

  78. >That ended when most poets backed themselves into the same kind of self-defeating “I hate my audience!” routine

    Oh, I dunno, the educational establishment had something to do with it too. I remember being force-fed poetry when I was young and not liking the taste of it at all. Never touched the stuff again. I’m almost certain they instilled the same sort of revulsion for poetry in plenty of others as well and probably are still doing so today.

    I think like with a lot of things taught to kids, it should be made mostly optional, you have one module that goes “This is an example of poetry, this is what’s it’s like, if you want to know more, follow these links”.

  79. Examples from The Independent Record Label / Band Business Model

    Regarding the recording and music publishing industry [@Roldy], it’s really interesting to know that the band Crass, which ran its own record label, sold enough of their classic albums, such as the ever popular The Feeding of the 5000, Yes Sir I Will, and Stations of the Crass among others for multiple of their albums to qualify for gold and platinum status because they’ve been steady sellers ever since they were released in the late 70s, early 80s. But they’ll never get a platinum certification from the RIAA because they are not affiliated.

    Probably same could be true with bands like The Dead Kennedy’s (R.I.P. D.H. Peligro, their drummer who passed away recently) who also put out their stuff on their own record label Alternative Tentacles. Or Minor Threat who started Dischord Records.

    You won’t see them picking up any Grammy Trophy’s but they’ve had tremendous followings…

    Negativland also successfully operated their own label Seeland Records, after they had to leave another indie label, SST, (home of Black Flag among others). SST basically wouldn’t defend Negativland when they got sued by U2 and Kasey Casem for their Fair Use of Casem’s voice from outttakes where he was cussing out his studio staff, and U2 for using elements of their song… it’s a classic. They too have had a long independent career…

    And those are just the labels. Not to mention all the independent venues that catered to these bands and made a mint selling beer and cheap tickets.

    The band Fugazi (Ian Mackaye’s band after Minor Threat… he also runs Dischord Records) so loved his fans in Fugazi that he tried to always keep shows at $5 entrance fee. This ensured every show was packed. He also made them all ages so everyone could go. Only in places where the cost of living was higher, like California, would they charge $10. They always tried to keep it affordable and everyone in the band, and their roadies made good money off of it.

    The same is true for Steve Albini, who runs his own recording studio, Electrical Audio in Chicago. Albini has made a great career recording people from Robert Plant to Nirvana to lots of people you’ve never heard and I’ve never heard. (Nina Nastasia may be my favorite that has recorded at his studios.) No matter who you are, the costs to use Electrical Audio are the same, if you are famous, or totally unknown.

    “The cost of a recording session at Electrical Audio is the studio’s day rate plus engineering, tape, lodging or other services if needed. Use our session cost calculator to get an estimate of the cost of your session.”

    This has made a lot of money for Albini while also giving a lot of people a start who might not otherwise get one. Albini is also great because he doesn’t give a shale what your music is like, he just wants to make a great recording of it, and not interefere in the bands own creativity.

    These all seem like models that can be useful to people going forward.

    A lot can be learned from these aging punk rockers and weirdos. (Clearly I need to get back to work on my “Down Home Punk” series of articles/book, as stuff like this is part of what I intended to cover.)

  80. Hi JMG.

    Thanks for this enlightening piece. From my own experience, getting into the writing gig is a bit like entering into a game where most of the players don’t know the rules. Many people think they ‘have what it takes’ to win the game, but vanishingly few actually succeed.

    I myself have written three rather niche books, none of which could be neatly categorised, and therefore were impossible to sell to any publisher of repute. So, two of them ended up being self-published (the third being printed by Dmitry Orlov). They were generally well-received, but self-publishing requires a lot of promotion, something writers generally aren’t very good at.

    After the hundreds of hours I put into writing them, editing them, figuring out how to buy bar codes and do typesetting, cover design etc, I probably earned less than the price of a fancy restaurant meal for two. And so I abandoned the venture. Since then, I’ve been working as an editor for an international PMC-focused travel company, and am involved in magazine and website content production. I work with a lot of writers – nearly all of them ‘failed’ in that they have ended up feeling exploited and undervalued. I can say from experience that most corporate businesspeople regard texts as little more than some kind of expensive filler they begrudgingly have to have in order to attract customers.

    Working in such miserable albeit well-paid conditions where ‘creatives’ are treated as human resources is dispiriting, and so I’m working out my notice. When done, I am looking forward to returning to ‘proper’ writing, and already have a number of scribbled down plot ideas for a few deindustrial fiction works, and more besides. Your advice regarding seeking out small publishers couldn’t have come at a better time.

    Finally, a grimly amusing anecdote. Due to the aforementioned dislike of the printed word, business executives are pushing for the complete abandonment of all long-form website text, to be replaced with TikTok videos. Apparently it’s what the modern customer wants. I wish I was joking …

  81. Poetry:

    Yes, my experience as an aspiring poet was somewhat soured by my involvement in the local poetry scene. There seems to be a binary in the current poetry scene… the academic and the spoken word / open mic / slam. The academic scene is a lot of navel gazing and discussion, and steep barriers to entry. The open mic has low barrier to entry, but even with a handful of talented local poets, the readings can get kind of bleh, with the influence of the current slam / spoken word style.

    My poetic heart is with the Romantics, the Symbolists and even the Beats, as they still had jazz flowing through their veins (along with whatever drugs they happened to be on that day). It’s certainly not with the pomo people. I also like “nonsense” verse ala Edward Lear and Lewis Carrol…

    I remember the year after the sixth grade finding a book that would be important to me. I still have it… a survey anthology…just called “The Poem” or “Poetry” but it introduced me to T.S. Eliot and many others.

    I’d consider putting more effort into writing poetry again if I knew I could find a venue for it, but I’m currently focused on nonfiction and fiction. But I’d certainly compose more poems. I did self-publish a book through Large Company Who Need Not Be Named… It’s called Underground Rivers, and right after that was when I shifted gears.

    I think there would be a market for a quarterly or biannual poetry magazine aimed at the kind of people who hang out at ecosophia.

    Reading poetry is good for other forms of writing though too. I think Ray Bradbury among others advocated reading poetry as a way to keep your subconscious well stocked with interesting uses of language and imagery.

    @jbucks: I wish you luck, and keep us appraised of your work.

  82. My father has made a living for decades by publishing mostly (though not exclusively) at mid-sized publishers, in his case Christian ones. He dreamed for a while about going big, but the big houses apparently won’t touch medieval historical novels where the protagonist actually believes in God. That used to be different – my favourite historical novel is Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, which won her the Nobel prize.

    He was also told that it is almost impossible for a foreign author to enter the American market. His children’s books have been translated into Spanish, Czech, Lithuanian, Chinese and Korean, but not into English.

    Somebody mentioned children’s books’ illustrators. My main criterion when suggesting books to my daughter at the library is the quality of the illustrations, since she loves to draw. Some are just atrocious and look like the whole book was drawn in ten minutes. Others are a labor of love. Both apparently manage to find new work, don’t ask me how…

  83. About writing for profit.

    I have a blog that I just write at. I write because it is what I do. My family worked and wrote poetry on the side. I write what I want. However, I have seen many people try to make money off their blogs by trying to get a 1000 or more readers, etc. I find their writing not to be worth my time. It is usually five weird tricks in the occult or how to lose weight and gain friends, etc. Boring stuff.

    It seems that everyone wants to make money off of what they do, instead of just doing it for the enjoyment.

    As for self-publishing books.
    I know people who feel that they have to get their book out there since it is the most important thing ever. Such as a memoir on surviving an abusive husband and getting revenge on him after death. I doubt few people will read that.

    I know dark Mafia writers who churn out the same book every three months. They develop their readership through Facebook, and social media. They are published by Amazon, who burps up the same suggested books. What they do is cultivate “advanced readers” to read the book on Kindle, then promote it through out social media. Some will ask their readers for the next plot such as should these two characters get married or should we have a forced marriage, etc. So, they write for the readers, knowing exactly what the reader wants.

    I am a proofreader for an author who self-publishes on Amazon. He had a professional editor and cover artist that he contracts with. However, he asks me to look for typos etc. He sends me the paperback and I mark it up. Send it back. He is the only one that I know of who actually works on eliminating the typos.

    As a reader, I hate typos. As a brain injured person, I hate typos. Most of the self-publishing books are full of them. Great writing, story, etc. Sloppy proofreading. Argh.

    So the idea of do what you love and the money will follow, needs a bit more work on what that means. Plus a course in money and accounting practices, etc.

    As for me, I stay away from those Amish romances. My husband’s family is Penn. Deutsch and laugh at the English for writing them.

  84. @thruhikerprep
    As a section hiker of the Appalachian Trail who has completed a little over 750 miles in the past decade and collapse aware person for over two decades I love the idea of your posts.

    I think that long distance wilderness backpacking is probably one of the best ways to “collapse now and avoid the rush” and/or prep for the collapse. Having to carry all of your belongings on your back makes you winnow down the fluff of modern consumerism to the bare necessities.

    Also backpacking takes you far away from the American standards of hygiene and bathing. Within the hiker culture you see plenty of references to the “5 second rule” because when you are desperately hungry and your snack falls into the dirt you pick it up you wipe it off on your shirt and eat it. The journey makes you comfortable with being “dirty”. When I am on my section hikes, which vary from a weekend or 10 days in length, you very quickly can pick out the thruhikers based on their “natural” odor haha. Where as the day hikers (those just out for the day) all smell like laundry detergent.

    The whole “ordeal” of hiking the AT (and i say ordeal with the most love possible) makes you comfortable with discomfort (the AT hiker saying goes “No pain, No rain, No Maine”).

    I have commented on posts here before that the thruhiker and trail culture of the Appalachian Trail is definitely a fringe culture that exudes the “tamanous” spirit the our host JMG speaks of as the uniquely American cultural spirit. From the “trail angels”/”trail magic” of people giving thruhikers free food to the fluid nature of “tramilies” (trail families) as groups you hike with for a few days and don’t see for a few hundred miles until reunited later on. The concept of “trail names”. I also think the tamanous spirit is also summed up so neatly in the unofficial slogan of the Appalachian Trail “Hike Your Own Hike”.

  85. Hi JMG,

    Regarding JonG’s link to the-quiet-quitting article and your response, don’t you think their argument is partially valid ? When the economy gets bad enough, people might no longer dare to quiet quit anymore ? Would you be able to explain more your thought?

    Thanks

  86. Slightly off topic, but similar things have happened in laboratory science, too.

    I once heard and read a biochemist’s explanation for the decline of German science, which had dominated many fields at the beginning of the 20th century. According to him, the first step in the decline was the introduction of assistant professors after WW1. Now full professors were one more step removed from the hard experimental facts, sitting at the top of a pyramid of subordinates, while assistant professors were not free to pursue their own lines of thought. Of course, American (and other) science has more than caught up with this development over the last decades, so that the bigwigs now hardly ever enter a laboratory, so occupied are they on the conference cycle and writing grants.

    The second step was professors choosing their own future colleagues, also after WW1 (it used to be the minister of education who had the last word). They would tend to choose candidates who weren’t better than themselves. Later came the expulsion of many of the most talented in 1933…

  87. @ Bei Dawei re #51

    Yes, I found I could read a few comics online for nothing (except for the cost of the electricity I used while viewing them). Comics are still being touted as an ‘investment’ by YouTubers some of whom I suspect are shills for the industry. Slabbing is definitely a scam as it renders the comic unreadable unless you want to crack open the slab to read it. And isn’t reading it the whole point of a comic? I avoid Ebay as that’s where many of these grossly overpriced magazines are being auctioned. I’ve also seen a few being sold there that I know to be counterfeit versions of what they purport to be.

    @ Klcooke re #75

    For me it was an ongoing battle with my younger brother who also liked reading them.
    Between the two of us, we read more than a few to death. Our parents were tolerant though
    it wouldn’t surprise me if they had tossed a few of the junkier ones out, hoping we wouldn’t notice.

    I haven’t bought comics for quite some time, though I will hold to a few favorites and
    if I see some at yard sales or flea markets that I like and aren’t overpriced I
    will buy a few but otherwise I’ll avoid them until the market regains some sanity.

  88. I belive that the same processes that you wrote here apply to my industry, the so-called Information Technology.

    The first lie is the need for a college degree – you don’t need a degree to learn how computers and networks work nor to learn how to take a big problem and divide it in smaller problems (that what programming is in the end of the day). That lie is enforced by the HR departments that refuse to consider candidates without diplomas even when most of the bachelors churned by the colleges can’t program their way out of a wet paper bag. You avoid this lie by creating your own company, by going to smaller companies or by publishing software directly to the global markets.

    The second lie is that the path to success is to work for big tech or aggressive startups – Big Tech pays handsomely? Yes, for now, but it sucks your soul while aggressive startups will give you a burnout and spit you out once you can no longer develop. You avoid this lie by going to places where software and development isn’t the reason of existence but something that augments the process, like factories that need someone that knows how to program programmable logic arrays and deal with sensor data.

    Which takes us to the third lie: that you have to follow the fashions. Fashions come and go and to keep up with them will only get you an stomach ulcer and tobacco addiction. One has to learn what will always be useful, not the latest tech that only benefits those that developed it and sell courses and books on using it.

    The fall of american big techs will rock the IT world and will see like an unmitigated disaster for the workers. But we are not deep enough in the deep descent for IT to be uneconomic, what is uneconomic now is the Big Tech-Cloud Based-AI Worshipping IT. The european energy crisis alredy hit Microsoft and Amazon and soon world-wide clouds will be unprofitable, while local, less ambitious clouds, that can cut themselves off from the european disaster will survive just fine.

  89. In terms of fads in publishing, one thing I’ve noticed in the UK in the last few years in a couple of subject areas in which I buy frequently buy books – nature and cookery – is what I call clone-books. A book is published and sells well, then 12 months or so later out come several more books in the same subject area which are the same size and format, with covers and spine of similar design, colour scheme and typeface. The titles are different but of similar length and the internal layout of chapters and pictures if any, is practically the same. The biggest difference with one or two exceptions, is their quality and usefulness.

    I usually inspect books fairly carefully before buying in a physical bookshop but I must admit I have fallen for one or two clone-cookbooks, which seem to be prevalent here for Asian and middle-eastern cuisines. The first one or two of this type have each yielded a dozen or two frequently used recipes. As for a couple of later ones I unwisely purchased – not cheaply as the style is large handback – as far as preparing a nutritious meal with easily-sourced ingredients in a reasonable time is concerned, they are almost entirely useless.

  90. Northwind Grandma,

    Thanks for the inspiration! I like that twist on a good murder mystery. I doubt I can write that genre, but it has made me think of other underserved categories that would suit my style. That said, I wish you luck in finding a dump truckload of those books in the near future. Maybe consider posting on some of the subreddita for aelf-published authors. They’re like pioneer weeds, always looking for the next genre to populate once the old ones get crowded.

    Pipistrello,

    Thank you very much! Hope you’ll find something to enjoy there.

  91. SueS, that’s one of the reasons I’m making a point of talking about options that don’t require offering yourself as a sacrifice to the machine. There are plenty of small and midsized presses that don’t dance the wokey pokey, for example.

    Pygmycory, I based her approach on the freelance musicians I know! Most of those don’t have shoggoths to feed, either, but children can be nearly as omnivorous.

    Ian, you’re welcome, and thank you for all of this. I wish you the very best fortune placing your fantasy with a publisher who will do justice to it.

    Cs2, that’s my understanding — and it’s also why I don’t self-publish. It’s much easier on me to concentrate on writing, and leave the rest of it to people who publish books for a living.

    Robert, trust me, we’ll get to the entitlement thing in due time.

    Klcooke, when I started blogging on The Archdruid Report in 2006 nobody outside of a tiny subset of American occultists had any idea who I was. I’d argue that the landscape is less bleak than you suggest. Yes, I know about the small publisher in question; if it’s any consolation, I didn’t get my free copy or my money either.

    Moriganne, thank you for this — your fruit tree business is a great example of the kind of unique niche market that’s booming just now.

    Stuart, I’m glad to hear that it’s not the case where you are.

    Jbucks, excellent! The traditional poetic forms are crucial; the people who rejected them as “limiting” missed the whole point. They’re crucial tools to achieve good poetry. I may just make room for a post one of these days talking about why. As for setting up your own small publisher, I’m sure a lot of people will be delighted if you do that.

    Patricia M, anyone with any talent went into songwriting, leaving the poetry journals and the literary scene to posturing hacks. The same thing that happened to modern art, in other words.

    Grover, sorry to hear that. I hope you can find a graceful way to deal with it.

    Chuaquin, Gandhi was a very smart man. That was one of his very smart ideas…

    Chris, the wind is indeed changing, and those soaring interest rates — yeah, part of it is definitely that the manufacturers of unpayable IOUs are having to sweeten the deal considerably to get people to keep on snapping up worthless paper. It’ll be interesting to see just how harsh things get as the debt machine grinds to a halt.

    Dormouse, all of Georgette Heyer’s novels are still in print, and being snapped up by new readers. There are also plenty of people writing Regency romances of the same kind — again, for small to midsized publishers. I’ve considered more than once trying my hand at one and publishing it under a female pseudonym. Once again, all you have to do is stop thinking of the big corporate presses as the only game in town, and you’ll discover a vastly wider range of options.

    Other Owen, very likely, yes. We’ll be talking two weeks from now about how and why the schools make sure that most people can’t stand their own culture.

    Justin, thanks for this! I had a punk girlfriend for a while when I was at college the first time, and got to listen to Stations of the Crass when it first came out. I’m delighted to hear that it’s still in production. More generally, it’s good to hear that the indy record scene is that lively. May it blossom!

    Jason, the game metaphor works, but it’s worse than that — the rules you’re given by apparently authoritative sources are not the real rules, and if you follow them, you lose. It occurs to me that with your background, if you wanted to launch a small publishing venture, you could end up with plenty of good, talented authors — all you’d have to do is treat them decently. As for the executives and their TikTok videos, no surprises there. I’m sure you recall some of the lectures I used to field from people who were convinced that I had to be bullied back into the approved website style.

    Justin, no argument there. Classic poetry is ripe for a revival. Why not see what you can do?

    Aldarion, hmm! I can see a niche right now for an English language publisher, picking up bestsellers from European markets and issuing them in English translation. It’s not the readers who are opposed to reading European fiction — it’s the big corporate publishers who want to keep the market to themselves.

    Neptunesdolphins, well, of course — there’s always ample room, or should be, for people who want to write purely for their own enjoyment. A fair number of people would rather do that for a living than slog through some other job, though, and I want to offer them some help. As for the unpublishable memoirs, yes, we’ll have to talk about that too, won’t we?

    The Amish romances strike me as far more significant than they look. That’s one of the few socially acceptable venues where people are allowed to dream about ditching modern lifestyles, getting out of the consumer rat race and the high-pressure sexualization of everything, and think about something more sane. The fact that it’s become so popular shows me that a lot of people want out of the modern trap. Silly as it doubtless seems to Penn. Deutsch, it’s a straw in the wind of no small importance.

    Foxhands, the problem the corporate sector faces is that they’re no longer doing anything to motivate their employees, and the supply of chumps willing to put up with the conditions of employment these days is not sufficient to keep up with the demand. As the economy contracts, that won’t change, because more and more people are discovering ways to support themselves that don’t depend on being a corporate wage slave. People will still need goods and services, but here again, more people are turning away from the big box stores and seeking other ways to meet their needs — once again, outside the corporate system. Thus there’s a growing disconnection between “the economy” and the actual exchange of goods and services, and more and more of the “quiet quitters” will be able to shrug and walk away completely as the corporate system comes apart.

    Aldarion, yes, indeed, it has! The big journals with their tightly knit circles of peer reviewers serve the same function as the big publishers: restricting access to those whose papers further the goals of those already in positions of power is their stock in trade.

    Luciano, it does indeed — that’s what I’ve heard from people I know in IT; they say the same things you do. So it’s a problem throughout the corporate economy.

    Robert, yep. I’ve seen ’em too. They’re churned out by hack writers who are paid very badly, and the quality is commensurate. It’s a great example of the way that many publishers have become too focused on marketing to produce good books.

  92. Tris #39, one option is Glister by John Burnside. It’s set in a decaying mill town in northern England or Scotland, and its poisonous, derelict chemical plant. It’s the best depiction of industrial ruin I think I’ve ever read, and some of his descriptions of teenage life had me wondering if we’d gone to the same school. Also includes mysticism and human sacrifice.

  93. Here’s a way writers make money (some quite a lot) that you’ve probably never heard of.

    I was a member of RWA and Bill has been a longtime member of 20Booksto50K, a Facebook group of indie writers. We’d never heard of it until our son told us.

    You’re probably familiar with Archive of Our Own (AO3) and Wattpad. They’re both places to upload fiction, mostly fanfiction. AO3 doesn’t host much original work. Wattpad does more but it’s still mostly fanfiction. I’ve serialized my novels at both sites in first draft form.

    As far as I know, the writers on AO3 and Wattpad don’t monetize what they write. It’s supposed to be free because it’s fanfiction. I clean up my first draft original work and self-publish (Odessa Moon and the Steppes of Mars).

    Now move to RoyalRoad (https://www.royalroad.com/welcome). They’re a much glossier, showier platform devoted to web novels. Mark, who’s 23, told us about it. He rarely reads physical books or eBooks. But he reads there voraciously.

    According to Mark, RoyalRoad (and there are other, similar sites) specializes in young men’s adventure. Young men slay dragons, fight monsters, vanquish villains, save the kingdom, rescue the damsel, demonstrate their courage, and prove they’re men of worth and value.

    This is not a genre that tradpub even considers viable anymore! But Mark, and many, many other young men read voraciously at RoyalRoad.

    They are not counted in any way.

    Nor does their money count! Mark tells us that many of the writers on RoyalRoad have Patreon subscriptions and they can make money! His go-to writer, Alexander Wales, earns about $35,000 a year from Patreon and he’s one of the small fry!

    LitRPG is very popular at RoyalRoad. This is a Role Playing Game written in novel form. So are fantasy, sci-fi, and boys’ own adventures. Stories that tradpub no longer pays attention to, where the story matters the most.

    What’s especially interesting is that 20Booksto50K, the author group Bill’s been a member of for years, doesn’t seem to know RoyalRoad and similar sites exist! They’re all indie writers but they’re fixated on publishing books, even if only eBooks.

    The books on RoyalRoad are almost unpublishable.

    This is not because of writing quality. It’s because they’re wuxia, but I’ve also seen it as xianxia. They are LONG. So long that 100 chapters is considered a short novel!

    The online format is perfect for 500,000 word novels, something no traditional publisher would touch.

  94. “Home made was apparently the standard that the new foods were judged by. Several decades later, people assume they can’t do as well as the professionals.”

    To be fair to the professionals they do an excellent job on quality control in those huge batches. Budweiser make make a so-so beer, but it’s exactly the same every time. Reading on-line it’s easy to find plenty of home brewers lamenting batches gone awry.

    Another example, my second batch of canned applesauce was made with orchard second golden delicious apples, while the first batch was part Fuji, part cameo, and part Granny Smith (all also from the seconds bin) The two batches will be quite different, and that would not do commercially.

    Even in ammunition QA has gotten a lot better. The standard deviation in factory ammo is equal to the best I can do with hand loads. That was not the case back in 1990. Now the reasons to hand load are cost, especially in odd cartridges like 30-40 Krag, and the factories don’t make the load you want, like a light hollow point bullet in a 257 Roberts.

  95. re: the whole quiet quitting and corporate demotivation/misery

    I’ve seen this happen with companies in decline and at some point, the people who know they can get another job right away, they do so and they do it pretty rapidly too. Management very very very rarely knows who it is who’s doing the heavy lifting – and who isn’t. By the time they’re aware (let alone willing and able to do something about it), those people have already left. Sometimes you can get them back as an independent contractor paying multiples of what they were making before. Sometimes not. Either way –

    This creates a few 2nd order problems. One of them, the people still sticking around, they know not only is the company circling the drain, but they’re stuck there with no way out. And they know they’re *left behind*, unable to get another job quick enough. One of those is bad, but both together creates the kind of person who just wants to put in just enough work to avoid getting fired, make sure that adequate blame gets shifted and do whatever it takes to get through the day. Notice I said get through the day, not make the company successful. Or even make the boss happy.

    The other, is at some point management figures this out too. May take them sometime but they eventually do. Then they become sadistic and frustrated. Frustrated because they know the people who are left can’t do what they were used to getting out of them before (and sometimes they’re under the gun to get performance out of their underlings because the company wants to turn things around) and sadistic because they know their underlings *have nowhere else to go*. So the eyes glow red and the fangs come out and they take out all their frustration on the people who are left. Which creates even more people who just want to get through the day and nothing more, which makes management more sadistic and frustrated, which…

    In other news, megacorp A announced they are being acquired by megacorp B for almost next to nothing in a stock swap agreement that’s so opaque not even Wall Street understands it. And in other news, there’s this trend called quiet quitting, where you don’t leave your job, you just do only what’s necessary to avoid getting fired. “Those lazy underlings, we should beat them until morale improves”, say middle managers everywhere.

    And some of those people who didn’t bolt initially eventually do line up other work or find other jobs and then they bolt. It tends to happen in waves and every time it does, if you’re left behind…

  96. “It’s one of the major dynamics of the corporate-bureaucratic system these days to eliminate small businesses so that everyone has to be dependent on the narrowing circle of oligarchic wealth. Barriers to small businesses are thus rising steadily.”

    A key method that crony capitalism uses as a barrier to new competitors is the use of permitting and licensing models in lieu of sales taxes. The constant barrage of, “Taxes are bad, taxes are theft, those who do something should carry the cost, not everyone” are one aspect of that system. People are encourage to support lower taxes which means the funding for local government and services has to come from another source. Permits for new startups often provide that income, and pay for inspectors, plan reviewers, etc.

    It costs a multimillion national corporation opening another big box store paying minimum wages the same amount of up-front permit and license costs as a mom-and-pop start-up who are willing to pay a living wage.

    It cost me the same city permit fee to remodel one of my bathrooms as a rock star who spends 100 times as much on a marble-clad monstrosity they can play baseball in.

    Thus both the supply chain and the consumer pays proportionally more the lower down the food chain they are. The little guys are crushed by costs, while for the oligarchs it’s little more than a rounding error.

  97. JMG,

    Interesting idea. I’ll consider it. I have some experience doing something similar in the indie music scene so I understand the logistics of it. As always, the main problem is marketing.

    P.S. It might amuse you to know that Australia has its own version of the “Amish Romance” known as “Chook Lit”. “Chook” is Australian slang for chicken and Chook Lit is a play on Chick Lit.

    Every story is the same: Dissatisfied professional city girl goes to country town for and falls in love with a farmer. Naturally, they live happily every after.

    On the subject of quiet quitting, Venkatesh Rao wrote a classic blog series about ten years ago called The Gervais Principle. He makes the argument that every large company always has “quiet quitters”, who he calls the “Losers”. Despite the derogatory name, he argues it’s a valid response to the corporate org structure and has certain benefits. Worth a read for those who are interested.

  98. Here is a podcast which some writers/publishers may find interesting.
    http://brendanomeara.com/category/atavist/
    The podcast came about because of this story: https://magazine.atavist.com/true-grit-cows-core-banks-hurricane-dorian-survival/
    I happened upon the story because it is set on the Outer Banks which I have an interest in having lived in NC for a decade. But then it seemed synchronous to this weeks post (the podcast not the story) so I thought I would send it along.

  99. Thank you for this… I think my own business counts in the “self-publishing” category.

    I work from home and people come to me for acupuncture treatments. I have kept my prices low (I am more than convinced, by now, of the truth you yourself have shared, to the effect that if your prices are affordable to even the poorest, you will never run out of customers), and I am satisfyingly busy. Still, I live *well* on a great deal less than €20k per year.

    It helps that I have succeeded in paying off my mortgage. It helps that some of my food and all of my heating needs are obtained directly from our own farm. And it certainly helps that I have taken to heart the idea these blogs have often promoted – that living with L.E.S.S. can be a life well lived. So thank you for all these seed thoughts!

    Be well!

  100. If you want to become a publisher, there’s a *HUGE* demand from authors.

    You could publish only ten to twelve authors per year and be viable.

    I’ve read and recommend both of these books. They’re both from owners of small, independent publishers. They complement each other as they don’t cover the same stuff.

    Anne Trubek of Belt Publishing (rustbelt-centered books) So You Want to Publish a Book? https://beltpublishing.com/products/so-you-want-to-publish-a-book

    Joel Biel of Microcosm (very much it’s own, punk, left-coast thing) People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful Book Business From the Ground Up https://microcosmpublishing.com/catalog/books/3663

    Read these and start your publishing career.
    Just make sure to write your contracts carefully so they’re clear and good for you AND your writers.

  101. The hardest part of publishing, including self-publishing, is reaching the market that wants what you write.

    David Gaughran (https://davidgaughran.com/) is a big name in indie publishing.
    He used to work for Amazon.

    His contention is that about 1/5 of ALL books listed on Amazon have no sales ranking.

    Why is this?

    Because they have never sold a single copy.
    To anyone.

    Marketing is really, really, really hard.

  102. Hi John Michael,

    Just for your info, I recall that two decades ago I could get paid about $250 – $300 per published essay, and it was interesting watching the returns from those efforts decline over a number of years. Interestingly, whilst the returns declined, the demands from the publishers didn’t appear to lessen. The power imbalance inherent in the relationship was not lost on me. It expresses itself in an horrific culture (from my perspective) which is that of larger enterprises where they employ a ‘hurry up and wait’ approach, the roots of which stretch all the way back to the Roman’s, and possibly much earlier. Can’t say that it is a culture with any legs to it!

    Yeah, I’ve also been wondering about the grinding to a halt possibility too. I don’t believe that the inherent problems in economics which were displayed in the Great Depression, have ever been satisfactorily resolved – mostly because I reckon they can’t be.

    I’m guessing it’s also equally possible that the wheels of that debt machine keep on spinning, whilst the support for it disappears. Dunno, really. I tend to feel that the more appropriate way of dealing with the current mess is to reduce the supply of IOU’s by slowing the revolutions of the debt machine, but then the folks at the top would have to take a hit. How could they not? But I don’t worry about such things because the result is baked into the cake and sooner or later that will happen. By trying to foist the costs onto an ever larger share of the community, well, support will disappear. A lot of pain though.

    Cheers

    Chris

  103. Teresa, hmm! Interesting.

    Other Owen, I think you’ve just outlined the current state of our society as a whole.

    Harry, exactly. That’s one of many gimmicks that prop up the corporate-bureaucratic system.

    Simon, “chook lit” is seriously funny; thank you. As for marketing, of course, but there are ways…

    JustMe, thanks for this.

    Scotlyn, thanks for this — a fine example.

    Teresa, many thanks for this. I hope more people take this option! As for marketing, again, there are ways — and it’s worth noting that there are a lot of books on Amazon that shouldn’t sell a single copy. I’ll get to that shortly.

    Chris, no argument there — the driving forces behind the Great Depression were papered over, not solved. We may be seeing a lot of those resurging shortly.

  104. Ok
    Thanks. I’ve never heard about this one.
    For what I can find around, I’m not sure this is what I was thinking about. But I will definitely have a look 🙂

  105. Teresa,

    Thanks for the suggestion. While my 358k word Book 1 of a fantasy series is available through normal retailers, it might be the kind of thing that Royal Road would find acceptable. Might not be a bad experiment to put book 1 up for free, discreetly, to see if it generates any interest while I work on book 2. Since I’m not exclusive to Amazon, I can offer my book anywhere I like for free and still sell paid copies.

    Of the popular authors there, would you say they’re on par with other self-published authors who use Amazon, or are we talking teens cranking out and publishing a first draft? Or something else entirely? Not that I have anything against teens and first drafts–I’ve been there! Just trying to gauge the audience since mine is a much slower fiction than something like Conan the Barbarian.

  106. JMG,

    Yeah, you know me…Mr. Graceful.
    😉

    Thank you for the good wishes, though. The amount of skew between the world she inhabits and the one I dwell in is pretty impressive. It’s really pretty baffling, tbh. Too close an encounter for my liking. But this too shall pass.

  107. JMG – Amen & thank you! The publishing industry is dutifully telling the masses what books are acceptable to read. The image of George Orwell with the caption, “Boy did I call it or what?” from your essay of 2 weeks ago (10/19 – “Waiting for the Fall”) could just as easily have been included this week’s.

  108. @The Other Owen re: #102

    And the solutions are intractable because to bean counters, C-suites, and boards of directors, they look, in the short term, like intentionally reducing revenue (which, of course, they technically are), and to micromanaging types, ithey look, in the short term, like rewarding (rather than punishing) “unproductive”/”unprofessional” behavior.

  109. On the leftward edge of Tumblr, a post has been circulating recently that consists entirely of snippets from newspaper articles and opinion pieces going back well into the 19th century, each saying some variation on the same thing: that people these days don’t want to work. It’s a complaint that seems to come back whenever the labor market gets a bit tight.

  110. My attempt at niche erotica.

    ——————-

    “Oh God, my head…” Sheila struggled, without success, to recall the events of the night before.

    Then the smell hit her. A zoo smell.

    Something huge stirred beside her.

    She lifted the bed-sheet to reveal a yak-like mass.

    No, she decided, not a yak. The thing looked more like Chewbacca. With trepidation, she reached out to touch its fur.

    “Ach ya,” it growled, shifting in its sleep.

    Then its eyes opened.

    “Ach nae!” It sat up. “This…schmunzla… is verboten! Is against the Ordnung! I will be shunned!”

  111. The hardest part about writing Amish romances is figuring out how to distribute them to the Amish.

  112. Darkest Yorkshire, I’m happy to report that I will be reviewing The Flesh of Your Future Sticks Between My Teeth shortly. I will post the link once the review is up!

  113. Since there’s some interest in poetry, may I share a little something from my own? It is part of a project titled “Los Sonetos Policrestos”, which I have been working in-and-out for the past year. It uses the form of classic sonnet to encode and compress the most salient information about the most used homeopathic remedies. Without further ado…

    Aconitum Napellus
    (English translation, I expected this to be much harder)
    Boy how I detest ’em, chilly darksome night
    when the reaper stalks, very cold blooded.
    Of thinking and thinking, my brains just boiled
    I shall be drowned, encircled by gloom sights.

    With wind comes the malaise, cold and sweat coat-ed
    Attacked by fever my life does burn away.
    Prompt it comes in a hurry, from night to day
    I remain still, dry and swollen, postrated.

    May the thirst compell, for cool water forage?
    May it be that cough, throat in the raw, piercing
    May diahrrea flow out like chopped spinach?

    When fever arrives in the worst of timings
    Beware, don’t be fooled by this red vi-sage
    The clue lays in details: anxious obsessing.
    (Original, Spanish soneto)
    Noches oscuras, cómo he detestado
    cuando la muerte acecha, tan fría.
    Cuézome el seso de pensar el día
    que me he de ahogar, de figuras rodeado.

    Viento que trae resfrío, y yo sudado;
    ardiendo en fiebre se va la vida mía.
    Llegan de pronto, de la noche al día.
    Quieto estoy. hinchado y seco, postrado.

    Será la sed buscando el agua helada,
    será la tos que quema en carne viva,
    o la diarrea de espinaca picada.

    Cuando la fiebre llega intempestiva,
    que no te engañe mi tez colorada:
    la clave es mi ansiedad obsesiva.

  114. I’m with an independent press myself, though I would note that independent presses do struggle to actually get their books into brick and mortar stores – distribution costs, alas. Online sales are the equiliser, of course.

    Meanwhile, the Big Five became the Big Four this year. Anglophone book publishing can make the sodding oil industry look competitive.

    He was also told that it is almost impossible for a foreign author to enter the American market. His children’s books have been translated into Spanish, Czech, Lithuanian, Chinese and Korean, but not into English.

    The reason for that is sadly pragmatic. Given a choice between publishing a book that is already in English, and a book that needs to be translated into English, firms will prefer the former. It is actually quite common for translations into English to have been originally “for the love of the work,” rather than something more for-profit.

    Basically, the preference for English-language source-material is rooted in several points.

    (1) It means they don’t need to hire a translator (extra time and costs).
    (2) Related to the above, translators generally work in terms of translating stuff into their own native language, and a disturbing number of native Anglophones are monolingual. Hence extra difficulty of tracking down translators *into* English. This is less of an issue with non-English speaking places, where many people can translate their second language (e,g, English) into their primary language.
    (3) The sheer size of the Anglophone literary market means that unless you are dealing with something very unique, it is generally possible to plug the market gap with an English language work.

  115. Also, about making a living as a writer, at least in Brazil: You can’t. Writing is a side-job. One of the most important 20th century writers here, Nelson Rodrigues, was a sports journalist that wrote novels and theatre on the side and, as a sports journalist, he (and his brother Mario, whose name is the real official name of Maracanã Stadium – Mário Filho Stadium) were pivotal to brazillian soccer culture – they made Flamengo, one of the biggest soccer clubs in latin america nowadays, famous thru their passionate writing as sports journalists stoking passions and making people love or hate the club. That’s what paid his (and his brother’s) bill, not the novels. More recently we had Olavo de Carvalho, whose main income source was private philosophy classes and, before that, astrology. Olavo didn’t write fiction, he wrote philosophy and politics, subjects that sell even less then fiction, and his books would never pay his bills.

    On poetry: poetry is dead, long live poetry. The bourgois, college-educated poets are insuferable self-righteous social justice warriors writing descontructed poetry that only their peers like. Poetry here, smells of marijuana, fake hippie fashion and cozy college tenures. But poetry is alive in the slums, the warrior poetry of the next civilization is being created as we speak. If you know someone that can translate portuguese, specifically Rio de Janeiro portuguese, bask at this gem: Faixa de Gaza 1 by Mc Orelha: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp4VubiR-HU&ab_channel=blackjeef

    “Gold woman and power
    Fighting to conquer
    We don’t need credit
    We pay for everything”

    “how many friends have i seen
    Go live with God in heaven
    No time to say goodbye
    But doing your part”

    Poetry that talks about what matters: power, conquest, the sadness about dead companions. It’s about crime? Yes. So what?

  116. John Michael Greer Wrote:
    Neptunesdolphins, well, of course — there’s always ample room, or should be, for people who want to write purely for their own enjoyment. A fair number of people would rather do that for a living than slog through some other job, though, and I want to offer them some help. As for the unpublishable memoirs, yes, we’ll have to talk about that too, won’t we?

    The Amish romances strike me as far more significant than they look. That’s one of the few socially acceptable venues where people are allowed to dream about ditching modern lifestyles, getting out of the consumer rat race and the high-pressure sexualization of everything, and think about something more sane. The fact that it’s become so popular shows me that a lot of people want out of the modern trap. Silly as it doubtless seems to Penn. Deutsch, it’s a straw in the wind of no small importance.
    —-
    Oh Dear. I certainly wrote myself into a pickle.

    What I meant was that it seems that everything is monetized. No one seems to have fun with anything anymore. Or do a thing just to do a thing.

    As for people writing for profit, go for it. As a reader, I have given up on the big publishers and focus on small print people. More interesting things happening there. Less James Patterson (who like Thomas Kincade, doesn’t do his stuff but has a staff of thousands doing it for him) and more Dan Willis of the Arcane Casebook – a magical detective series set in the 1930s. Heck, even the Dark Mafia stuff is more interesting.

    I remember when people in the Federal Government would dream of their second career after putting in 30 years and reaching 55 years old. Everyone reached a point where they just hated the daily grind and their jobs. The last two years would see these people using up all their saved leave to take off for very long vacations on the government payroll. One man had one year’s worth of sick leave that he burned off by showing up every third day for work. (Three days and you need a doctor’s note.) So, I get people wanting to do something other than what they are doing. One man retired to be an EMT.

    For Amish lit, well the uptick interest in the Amish life has skyrocketed. People are also looking for community. One thing that several Amish sects do is decide before adopting any technology, how it will affect the community. Hense social media etc. is frowned up and actually discouraged. My husband has no social media accounts. I have one. So, there is that.

  117. Marketing and Amazon.

    I have been there and got burned. Now I carefully read the reviews if there are any and look the author up. Been pleasantly surprised by doing that. Found a lot of self-published authors that way. But I do hate being tied to Amazon for books.

    The other marketing is on FaceBook, with their ads and reader/author groups. Once an author has a fan group, they really use the readers for input and the like. Most form a dialog with their readers.

  118. I was thinking about what the publishers do with those favored politician books where huge quantities are purchased with dark money as a graft scheme, but nobody actually takes possession. I figured that some time in the distant future our descendants will dig up a couple of giant suburban warehouses long since buried under the sands of time, and find these books by the millions. Since they will no longer understand our language ,and be able to judge the books quality, they will have to evaluate its importance by quantity. Thus, they will determine that Hillary Clinton is the Tolstoy of our time.

  119. Since I’ve got Bradbury and poetry on the brain, this advice actually seems pretty good. It’s the usual read, read, read advice… but thought I’d share. I like it.

    “What you’ve got to do from this night forward is stuff your head with more different things from various fields . . . I’ll give you a program to follow every night, very simple program. For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights. From various fields: archaeology, zoology, biology, all the great philosophers of time, comparing them. Read the essays of Aldous Huxley, read Lauren Eisley, great anthropologist. . . I want you to read essays in every field. On politics, analyzing literature, pick your own. But that means that every night then, before you go to bed, you’re stuffing your head with one poem, one short story, one essay—at the end of a thousand nights, Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff, won’t you?”

    Seems to be about feeding the muse and making sure our subconscious has good material to work with.

    I did grab my latest poetry notebook and put it in my bag. I’d been playing in it on my 30 minute lunchbreaks before, and aim to get back into doing so again. The way some people do crosswords, and JMG does translations, I can see myself doing poems. Because they can be kind of like puzzles. Especially when working with traditional forms.

  120. @Luciano #122 …. yes! As the bard in the mead hall strikes his harp like a percussion instrument and begins “Listen up! Let me tell you of the toughest, meanest warrior to ever swing a sword or carry off a captive maiden….” And the men listening pound their mugs of beer on the table …

    Same goes for American rap. It’s a genre al in itself.

  121. Bei Dawei – did you check the urban dictionary for the meaning of “Yak porn” before you penned that short teaser?

    I was taught to write women’s erotica by Erika Masten, who one point was making over $25k a month with her “His” series, and checking the meaning of terms in the urban dictionary was one of the first things she taught me, pointing out that “taint” no longer means “corruption” to the target market.

    Perhaps you would consider expanding it for an upcoming anthology, a parody of paranormal penmanship: I’m calling it “Cryptid Confessions”.

    Inspired by my cats habit trying to sleep on my head, my entry will be a gay panther shapefshifter theme with similar nocturnal habits, called “Teabagging Tommy”.

  122. Grover, my wife keeps on threatening to cross-stitch a sampler to hang in the bathroom, saying “This, too, shall pass”…

    PatriciaT, it could indeed. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve decided it’s time to point more people toward publishers that don’t have that bad habit.

    Joan, good. Yes, it does indeed.

    Bei, the genre went a long, long way past that point years ago…

    CR, the Polychrest Sonnets! A brilliant idea. I may try my hand at sonnets for the cell salts — though I’ll doubtless use the Lovecraftian sonnet form. (Yes, he invented his own, for his poem-cycle Fungi from Yuggoth.

    Strda221, one niche market that would be viable in a city of any size is a small brick and mortar bookstore that carries *only* books by independent presses. Another would be a small publisher that focuses on translations from other languages into English. It’s a waste of time waiting for the corporate slobs to get around to anything useful; if I had the spare time, I’d seriously consider doing one or both of these.

    Luciano, that’s a serious problem in any language with restricted usage; correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know someone who writes in Portuguese can only sell books in Brazil, Portugal, and a few small markets such as the Azores and the Cape Verde islands. A Brazilian author who could write books in both Portuguese and English would have much better chances.

    Neptunesdolphins, nah, don’t worry about it. I agree about the small presses — they’re doing most of what’s interesting these days.

    Clay, my guess is that they’re quietly pulped once the statute of limitations runs out.

    Justin, that’s very, very good advice.

    Tomriverwriter, it’s Burrow and Grim, the new fiction line being launched by Cross Crow Books. It’s mostly aimed toward genre fiction, because (ahem) that’s what sells these days, but I gather from comments that they’re open to a wide range of Wiccan, neopagan, and magical-themed projects. You might also have a look at Sphinx Books over in Britain — they do literary fiction, and will be reprinting my tentacle novels, so it might be a good fit. More generally, a hint — don’t tell the publisher that you’re writing literary fiction, since that says “won’t sell worth crap” to any publisher that knows the market. Just send ’em your manuscript and let them choose the label.

  123. @Jeanne

    Re:Comics

    With the periodical market having dwindled to an ever shrinking middle-aged fan base, the big publishers apparently no longer even care if anyone actually reads their output.

    https://fourcolorapocalypse.wordpress.com/2022/06/22/do-comics-publishers-need-readers-anymore-part-one/

    Smaller publishers at the mainstream end of the spectrum are also increasingly only interested selling options for potential TV and film adaptations, stiffing their talent accordingly.

    https://fourcolorapocalypse.wordpress.com/2022/06/23/do-comics-publishers-need-readers-anymore-part-two/

    Of course, as JMG mentions, being stiffed as a creator in comics is hardly a new phenomena. But, much like finance, the industry does seem to have detached from even the flimsiest connection to making comics and getting people to read them.

  124. @Patricia Mathews (#128) and the commentariat on poetry:

    Take a look at Maria Dahvana Headley’s recent awesome translation of Beowulf: It begins:

    Bro! Tell me we still know how to talk about
    kings! In the old days,
    everyone knew what men were: brave, bold,
    glory-bound. Only
    stories now, but I’ll sound the Spear-Danes’ song,
    hoarded for hungry times.

    Translating the opening word Hwæt! as “Bro!” is simply brilliant.

  125. Other Owen, you said, “I think like with a lot of things taught to kids, it should be made mostly optional, you have one module that goes “This is an example of poetry, this is what’s it’s like, if you want to know more, follow these links”.”

    Might I suggest, instead, that children be exposed to poetry the moment they arrive? [They kind of are, if you consider that they’re hearing pure sound in the vocalizations of others before they understand what any of it means and that it’s this that tunes their deep and visceral connection with word/intonation/cadence, etc.]. Kids LOVE language. They love onomotopoeia and “good” words and “bad” words. They love to name things in surprising ways, and to make unique connections (metaphors and similes, essentially). They love to repeat and repeat and improvise.
    They love to memorize. And the bold love to recite.

    So then you take a baby, toddler, preschooler who has grown up with natural poetry (with emphasis on the rhythm and the rhyme) and who has a storehouse of it internalized and you expand upon it with poetry that has challenging themes. And then, when they’re learning critical thinking, you take those old poems they’ve known, or new ones they can appreciate and you look at what’s been done to make them powerful.

    That’s how you cultivate both poetry appreciators and poetry creators. Now, it’s reduced to the equivalent of a skin-tag on our culture.

  126. @JMG:

    “The traditional poetic forms are crucial; the people who rejected them as “limiting” missed the whole point. They’re crucial tools to achieve good poetry. I may just make room for a post one of these days talking about why.”

    I’d be most interested in that!

    @Clarke aka Gwydion:

    I didn’t really read poetry at all until much later than you did from the sounds of it, and I’m making up for lost time! I’m quite interested in the limitations of sonnets, the only poetry I’ve written in sonnet form, it’s perfect for the miniature essay, as you suggested.

    @Justin Patrick Moore:

    Will do! And thanks a lot for the Bradbury quote, that is great. Where is it from?

    “The way some people do crosswords, and JMG does translations, I can see myself doing poems.”

    This is exactly the way I see it, too! The difference is, after you’ve done your daily crossword, you end up with a mini-essay. I also look at it as tying a intricate yet loose knot, which you can’t pull too tightly nor leave hanging floppily, it all needs to fit just so.

  127. @ Kyle #112

    WRT RoyalRoad. I only know what Mark told me and what I learned from some extremely casual viewing of the site.

    It is *HUGE*. A single genre like romance or mystery will have dozens to hundreds of entries. I suggest spending time on the site, seeing what they’ve actually got.

    According to their own numbers, some of their fiction gets hundreds and hundreds of followers.

    I’d guess that like everything else, the outliers who make big bucks are just that; outliers. Most writers don’t make anything. What they can get is exposure and feedback.

    Mark said that the big dogs, who make huge money, have Patreon accounts to reward their followers. They get the story chapters EARLY in exchange for $$. For some writers, they can be as much as 50 chapters ahead of everyone else reading for free. That requires substantial early planning but since your novel’s already written and in chapters, that may not be a problem for you!

    You MUST read the terms and conditions VERY CAREFULLY. They may only accept works that haven’t been published elsewhere. That is, they get the first draft, which you clean up for publication later.

    That’s what I’ve done at Wattpad and AO3. I published my novels, chapter by chapter, but it was first draft. What I published is better, cleaner, and sometimes substantially different. I left the first drafts up at Wattpad and AO3. I don’t earn any money from the sites.

    According to dear daughter who publishes fanfiction extensively on AO3, they actively discourage marketing. They skirt darned close to the legal edge (pornographic Harry Potter and the like) with some of the fanfiction they publish and fanfiction’s only legal if you don’t sell it. They’re run as a nonprofit charity so writers are not allowed to sell anything. A link to a personal website is as far as they’ll go.

    Wattpad is more complicated but again, I don’t bother monetizing because I knew I’d be publishing my books myself. Read their terms of service before posting anything.

    For all the online fiction sites, READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE FIRST. The sites spell out what they allow, what they expect, and if you can monetize what you write.

    Spend time looking at what everyone else has done. Do you fit? I sort of fit into AO3 (they’re not big on original fiction) and marginally better at Wattpad (they accept more but I was plankton in the ocean). When I start Wardogs of Barsoom, I’ll post chapter by chapter on RoyalRoad as well as the other two and see what happens.

    If you can get traction (good SEO will really help you and many of the writers are terrible at it), you’ll gain fans who’ve never heard of you.

    Give it a try and see what happens! But first, research RiverRoad and read the terms of service. Save yourself the headache.

  128. If you’re able to write it (I can’t), erotica sells like crazy.
    There are indie writers you’ve never heard of who make good livings at it.
    But they have to be careful marketing.

    Believe it or not, Amazon does have marketing standards. Plenty of the stuff I’ve seen can’t be sold via Amazon ads! They’ll put you up for sale, but they put you in the porn dungeon.

    The way indie writers get around this is by having trade paperbacks and going to specialized shows such as Rebels and Readers that cater to that market. There’s a huge circuit for direct sales this way.

    I attended one that was in Hershey (Rebels and Readers). I paid $20 to get in the door (plus a ticket for Bill). It was research. Hours for the general public were limited. The show did no local advertising, despite being in the Hershey convention center because they did NOT want the general public coming in and discovering Pepper North books. (DO NOT LOOK UNLESS YOU WANT TO BLEACH YOUR COMPUTER AFTERWARDS). Ms. North and her proud husband aka business manager flew up from Orlando for the event. They made money.

    They weren’t the only ones. I’d guess that 3/4 of the authors came from far enough away (like Seattle!) that they had to pay for hotels. Yet they made money to the steady stream of eager buyers.

    It was a bizarre experience. I’ve never seen so many restraining order romances or shapeshifters or reverse harems or bully romance or my Russian mobster or motorcycle club romances. Those were the less fringy ones. I’ve got a post about it (with clean pix) on my Instagram feed.

    If you’ve ever seen the Sandra Bullock movie, “The Lost City”? The romance convention scenes nicely show Rebels and Readers type shows, including studly male models, but without some of the more … unusual table accessories.

    These are not typical book shows like “Readers Take Philly” or Apollycon. Those shows segregate the erotica in a room of its own (aka the porn dungeon).

    They’re different ways of reaching readers and for some writers, they work!

  129. Teresa, I sent Bill (and you?) an email last week or so regarding something you mentioned about publishing POD books of public domain works. Haven’t heard back, which is fine if that was the intent, but in case my message got swallowed somewhere, I thought I’d mention it (which I thought I did last week, but I didn’t see it when I went back to look AND it’s somewhat more relevant this week)…

    Msg. would’ve come in from my mimeograph email address.
    Thanks!

  130. @tomriverwriter #130 – at least with genre fiction, you know the book will have a plot. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Do not bet on it with litfic. Or why I find murder mysteries quite rewarding. Some of them.

  131. On poetry, from Diana Paxson’s novel Brisingamen. The main male character is speaking. “I believe that poetry is an oral art, and if people are going to listen to it, then the poet ought to use rhyme and meter and alliteration and any other damn device that will hit the ear. Did you like poetry when you were in school?”
    The protagonist shakes her head, “a little shamefacedly.”
    The man goes on “Don’t be ashamed of that.– neither did I. I doubt you’d find three people in this room who did. But I’ll bet you never got to memorize it or read it aloud. That’s the trouble –the teachers all thought it just had to look pretty on the page, and that free verse was ordained by God at that, and they killed poetry!”

    There’s a similar, much shorter and simpler moment in the vintage YA novel Understood Betsy. Her great-uncle asks her to read from a book he has. She had been asked to read aloud back in her urban public school, but their concept of reading aloud is of standing up and reciting things sentence by sentence in, apparently, a monotone. (I don’t think they demanded a monotone; the students just fell into it. I say from having been in public school once, a quarter of a century later that Betsy.) But the rhythm of “The Stag At Eve catches her ear, and she ends up reading it as a storyteller or a bard would, to her new family’s delight.

    There are probably several other quotes like that in my various collection of novels.

  132. @temporaryreality #138

    Bill says he didn’t get anything. Would you send it directly to me?

    Use t d b peschel @ gmail.com removing all the spaces.
    These days, I’m more likely to get something than he is.

    Thanks!

  133. Thank you for the insights – I get the impression that it’s the same thing for illustrators and type designers… some time ago, a lavishly illustrated and designed book was expected to be more expensive; nowadays, bookstores are flooded with beautifully illustrated books, nonfiction on any subject is available with original drawings and designs – I guess they send those manuscripts to India to be designed, or buy drawings online at breakneck prices…

  134. temporaryreality, Teresa’s husband here. it appears we didn’t receive your email. If you want to try again at peschel for peschelpress.com, we’ll be happy to open the bag about our experiences.

  135. I find it always interesting to get an “inside view” into a field of work or society that I don’t know very well. With that in mind – while I don’t intend to start a career as a writer anytime soon, I am really looking forward to this series of posts!

    Many people seem to have a very one-dimensional image of things beyond their direct experience and unfortunately they usually can’t mirror their experience that they frequently become furious when they have to face this attitude in others when it comes to their own field of expertise.

    I’m working as a teacher at a German Gymnasium (I have yet to figure out how to match that on the school system in the US – but this type of school is where you usually go to in grade 5 if you want to attend university after completing your “Abitur” in grade 13). Sometimes we have people of different professions visit our school to give our students an insight in what “the world outside” looks like – which unfortunately the vast majority of teachers can’t do, since they don’t know anything else than school, university (attending courses that are specifically designed for becoming teachers, beware that you see something else!) and then school again – in stunningly many cases the school that they already knew so well as a student.

    For some reasons in which dumb luck might have played some role, I took a different path, studied physics, worked as a scientist for a few years, worked in industry for a short time, too, and then decided to become a teacher. While this doesn’t make you a great teacher automatically, I do have to say it makes a huge difference. And all the time I am asking myself, why, why on earth do we train teachers the way we do? Why don’t we expect teachers to have seen something else than university and school for a few years? Why do we allow this highly insulated microcosm which is really very highly insulated since teacher marriages are very common (ok, I admit, my wife’s a teacher, too 😉 )???

    And then there’s the school by itself which has all the mechanisms you just described in the context of writing books, too. Having to give marks is a corset not to be underestimated. It very effectively prevents you from structuring your lessons in a way that anybody can really learn. And the students themselves play a key part in this as they are highly indoctrinated to value marks as the absolute. “Marks are the only thing that counts” is a sentence you hear frustratingly often. “… and we’ll explore that by discussing how your schoolteachers went out of their way to convince you that you can’t write.” It’s not only that you can’t write, I can tell you! It’s a multi-layered mess and in every layer you find the same structures that try to coerce it’s inhabitants into submission.

    There are alternative schools, Waldorf, of course, but also Montessori-schools which make a very strong impression. As far as I can see, they are gaining traction, but they are still very rare and scattered. I’ll probably have to found my own!?

    Greetings,
    Nachtgurke

  136. Harry Lerwill (no. 129), no, and google isn’t returning any Urban Dictionary results–just porn links. Hmm, do people realize that in Tibetan, “yak” (g.yag) refers to the male animal? A female would be called a “dri” (‘bri). So no “yak milk.”

    (“Dear Journal of Sino-Tibetan Morphology, I’d heard about this kind of thing happening, but never thought it would happen to me…”)

    Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll think about it.

    Patricia Mathews (no. 127), thanks!

    Clay Dennis (no. 125), when I ponder what works from our era are likely to survive into the far future, the title that leaps out at me is the Falungong book, Zhuan Falun.

  137. neptunesdolphins (no. 123), a few years ago I was surprised to find e-books marketed as “Amish science fiction.”

    https://www.ozy.com/the-new-and-the-next/amish-science-fiction/39477/

    But it actually makes sense. The Amish aren’t anti-technology, they just think more about the social consequences. Which is what science fiction is supposed to do. The ships that brought them to the New World were examples of technology, as much as spaceships.

  138. If you want to talk about schooling you should read John Taylor Gatto’s books and give his work some much needed attention, He’s criminally underrated. John Holt too. I’ve always had this innate and inalienable feeling that something was horrifically wrong with the way we raise our young and in turn society in general. Maybe it’s somewhere in the brutal juxtaposition between the way we entrust preschoolers in daycares with teaching themselves and the freedom we give them contrasted with the barbaric compulsion, grading and schedules we enforce on them once they exit that stage until they’re 18. Then people wonder why the creativity, love of learning and ultimately souls of our generation are so deadened. Perhaps that’s a big reason why nobody seems to read anymore. Finding his essay “Against School” online while bored in class at 16 or so looking for reasons why school is bad changed my life irreversibly for the better.

  139. Jbucks, I’ve put it on the stack. I found the discipline of writing sonnets extremely useful as a tool for thinking.

    Patricia M, two very good quotes. I fell in love with poetry at the age of seven, reading Vachel Lindsay aloud — and I’ve memorized quite a bit of it. (Bilbo’s poem about Earendil in The Fellowship of the Ring, for example — word for word.)

    Tomriverwriter, you’re welcome.

    Njura, very likely, yes.

    Nachtgurke, you will indeed very likely have to found your own. I’m not sure what to call a German gymnasium in English, either, but I’ve read enough German fiction in translation to have some sense of it; it sounds utterly stifling.

    Anonuser, nope. I write my own ideas based on my own experiences; I’m sure both those writers are fine, and I’ll encourage readers to check them out, along with Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society — if you haven’t read Illich yet you might want to give him a try. But I’ll have my own message to say.

  140. I set myself the challenge to write one my fourteen-line essays on the topic of poetry as discussed here, and this is what resulted:

    On poetry, and it’s state

    When in the course of human events…no, that’s the other one, right?
    The great political speech thing, that actually requires great writing,
    Which requires great minds to be accomplished. Once upon a time
    And always, really, poetry required, requires the same: great minds

    Think, and seldom alike. Cats aren’t herded except on the moon and
    Mostly in rare fantasies populated when such as Greer and Derleth
    Sing out. But if you were to herd cats (you can’t, this is a metaphor)
    They would all be in the room labeled “Great minds.” Be ye not fooled,

    Great minds aren’t always great people, or interesting people, or nice
    People or even good people. And great poetry comes from this patch
    Of the human forest (I defy you to find it elsewhere). Is it profitable?
    Is breathing profitable? Is humming to yourself alone in a forest so?

    Really, to quote a great Lewis character from one of his unusual tales,
    “What do they teach nowadays.” Oh yes, poetry is profitable, always.

  141. In re:
    “You can catch a whisper of what else is going on if you listen to the frequent rants heard from the managerial class these days about how young people just don’t want to work any more. Talk to the young people in question and you’ll find that quite a few of them are working very hard on projects of their own. What they’re not willing to do is waste their lives working in abusive and humiliating environments to make someone else rich, in exchange for rock-bottom wages, no prospect for advancement, and no benefits worth mentioning. …”

    Well, it seems that the global PMC is eager to return the favor, in cards and spades. Here is what Yuval Harari has publicly stated recently:

    https://www.newstarget.com/2022-10-31-klaus-schwab-mass-extinction-event-great-reset.html

    “Another leaked video has emerged to show that the World Economic Forum (WEF), led by the infamous globalist kingpin Klaus Schwab, is planning to unleash mass genocide as the catalyst for its promised “Great Reset.”

    “Yuval Noah Harari, who is described as Schwab’s ‘right-hand man,’ is on a promotional tour right now shilling a new book he allegedly wrote. That manuscript asks questions like: What do we need so many humans for?

    “Now that the globalists have attained near-total control over pretty much everything, they appear ready to cull the herd of human slaves. …

    “Referring to non-globalists as ‘common people’ who are fully disposable, Harari’s latest leaked statements reveal a profound attitude of self-perceived superiority and globalist supremacy.

    “Harari says the common folk below him are right to be fearful about the future because their lives could end at any moment. And it would not be any great loss, he says, because non-globalists are ‘redundant.’
    ‘We just don’t need the vast majority of you,’ says Israeli globalist”

    So, now our “dominant minority” (Toynbee) has taken off its collective “Mask of Sanity” and Shown everyone exactly who they are and what they intend to do. Their behavior is marked by an ever increasing want of hypocrisy. They truly cannot be bothered to lie about what they are doing anymore.

    “Pride goeth before a fall, and a haughty attitude before the hot-foot!”

  142. @Patricia Mathews #140

    I don’t have much to do with poetry although there are one or two pieces I’m fond of. Under Milk Wood springs to mind; I actually saw it performed by a small troupe of actors many years ago. It struck at round about that time, that trying to understand poetry without hearing it spoken was akin to trying to experience a piece of music given the sheet music but no instruments. A practiced musician who can sight read might manage this – me not so much.

  143. Whew JMG! That really brought a lot of things into sharp focus!
    It will not surprise you that the same sort of game-rigging and rent-collecting is going on in many disciplines–
    When I graduated from Pharmacy school in 1984, it was possible to go into retail, hospital or a number of specialty branches right from graduation. All you had to do was apply yourself to learning the specialty skills, usually on the job training with colleagues that were already there.
    Pretty soon though, the gatekeepers swung into action.
    The PharmD degree was brought in, and took an additional year of school, then an internship.
    The specialty workplace, where I had been for 11 years, brought in new PharmD’s. I trained them, and when they were well-enough trained, the workplace let me go.

    Specialty certifications were recommended. I got one in geriatrics.
    At first, it was just a matter of independent study and taking an exam for a couple of hundred dollars– Good for 5 years, and I learned a lot about the special needs of older patients that helped me at work.

    At the next renewal, the exam fee went up, and I was required to pay large dollars for Continuing Education (CE) that was only available from the certification body.

    At the next renewal, the exam fee went up again, the cost of CE went up, and we were required to pay a ‘certification maintenance fee’ (about $700.00 a year) each year for the 5 year renewal period, along with the fees for restricted CE. It amounted to about $5,000.00 a year. When I complained that this was a really significant chunk of my post-tax dollars, the certifying organization suggested that I get my employer to pay for it. I knew THAT was not going to happen, so I let the certification go.

    I have had time to ponder the big picture since then. I went for the geriatrics certification because I wanted to do a better job of taking care of old people–And to be fair, the earlier program did help me in that way. As time went on, it morphed more and more into a way for the certificate program to skin more money out of folks like me.

    It also seems to me that the excessively large fees, based on a business model of having a large corporation pay for them (probably at a discount) was designed to lock skilled employees into jobs with large corporations and effectively prevent them from starting their own companies.

    Today, I am no longer qualified to take a job in two specialties that I helped pioneer–But I am doing just fine, solving med problems and getting referrals by word of mouth. I no longer need the certificates.

    Thanks for bringing in this topic JMG. It is indeed a tottering tower of rent-seekers, piling on top! Many of us find ourselves down at the bottom, like “poor little Lud– And if Lud ever sneezes, his name will be mud.”

    https://media.karousell.com/media/photos/products/2022/8/10/65_pesos_each_books_by_dr_seus_1660105394_c6eef077_progressive.jpg

    (picture from Geisel TS “Dr. Seuss.” Terrible Tongue Twisters. Copyright to image and text are the property of their owners)

  144. Wer here
    well I don’t know much about writing, but I remeber that the so called bestseller books never landed in my liking much. I remember when I was a boy that Harry Potter books were landed as the next big thing in the world of publishing, I read two because frankly everybody was reading them and I wanted to at least now what was it all about ( no Internet or reviews back then) and I stroke me how stupid the plot was. I was always a beliver in God but I did not dislike Harry Potter books because of the occult elements (JMG probably is angry at people comparing the bizzare supower power reality bending to will things to actual magic)
    The plot sounded like a wish fullfilment fantasy (an abused kid finds out he is superspecial and is the choosen one – abandon ordinary life and becomes a superstar – who did not had the same dreams like that as a kid this is what this is why it is so popular in the first place)
    But in my opinion I did a great dissservice to everybody at that age in time – it created an army of entiltled people and narccisits who were waiting for their own “magical moment” and never panned out. I have a suspicion that the the depression and anxiety pandemic that is around us is the result of this failled hope, let’s not even mention the nonsensical plot points like even as a kid I asked myself why didn’t they use that spell all the time I would had fixed everything? Why do they have money when people can conjure up things from air? Or the idiotic time machine thing….
    JMG and the commentariat I think that the last straw was the forced injection of woke into everything including older established franchises including Star Wars etc. The fact that apparently long time Star Wars fans are now making more money attacking and mocking The sequel trilogy shows how bad things are. I read Lord of the Rings when I was a kid and I was way better than anything is nowadays. A fan of Tolkien that I know bought an subscription somewhere and started whatching The Rings of Power and good Lord I’ve never heard as many curses in my life as when he started talking about what he watched there….
    Let’s not forget the coming mid terms disaster. I am almost scared what might be unleashed there… Meanwhile nuclear energy cultist had taken over in Poland an screams about going full nuclear are being branded here… With the economy so bad propaganda and madness replacing news (did you hear Putin will die soon for the 60th time in a row)
    Waiting for the Fall my familly is getting serious now and it is about itme…
    Stay safe everyone Wer

  145. >I think you’ve just outlined the current state of our society as a whole.

    If I had to generalize that process to the whole economy. Something I don’t think the lords and masters of the official economy quite grasp – they’re not really impacting the people who have given up on participating, they’re only affecting the people who are still willing to get up and go to a job.

    And what effect are their actions having on that crowd? They’re making it increasingly more painful and less rewarding to get up and go to work. Run faster, jump higher, for less. And at the margins, they’re incentivizing that crowd to find a way to stop participating. And it’ll happen in waves, you’ll get periods where not much is happening and then bang, a whole bunch drop out, followed by another lull, etc.

    Rising energy costs all on their own, are driving things in that direction right now. It costs more to pay for the fuel to show up. It costs more to feed yourself and keep a roof over your head, etc. And they’re taking all of that and multiplying by 100. You’ll buy that job and you’ll be grateful for it. Or else.

    I guess the beatings will continue until morale improves. I know, here’s Bright Idea – let’s make unemployment illegal! What say you, Comrade?

  146. Hi JMG,

    This is a fascinating series. It’s very counterintuitive that big publishers would want previously-published works to flounder. I’m still trying to work out how that model is more profitable for them even in theory.

    I’ve known two people who have placed books with major publishers. In both cases, they were surprised to learn that the author is expected to do all the promotion and publicity themselves. This would seem to be an advantage of working with a big publisher—they could push their preferred books through the big marketing machine. But no, the author is expected to do it. One of them had a contractual requirement for the author to be on certain social media platforms.

  147. Clarke, thanks for this.

    Michael, Harari is one of those overgrown five-year-olds who gets paid to walk out into the middle of a garden party and take a crap right there in front of everybody. He’s not “Schwab’s right-hand man” — “Schwab’s court jester” would be a better description.

    Emmanuel, thanks for this! I’d gathered from some of your other comments (and what I’ve heard from other people in the pharmacy industry) that something like this was going on, but it’s useful to have it laid out in detail. I liked the Seuss image — I’m also reminded of Yertle the Turtle…

    Patricia M, thanks for these.

    Wer, I made it through three Harry Potter books and part of a fourth, though I was well past my youth when they first came out. Yes, the fake magic was dreary, but that’s all but universal in today’s bad fantasy — the era when fantasy still made use of real magic is long in the past. What bored me to tears was exactly the masturbatory fixation on the special specialness of special people, and the transparent politics: the good special people come from all kinds of backgrounds but are selected by a meritocracy, while the bad special people inherited their specialness…that is to say, the last two centuries of English politics, seen through the funhouse mirror of the post-Tony Blair Labour Party. The basic idea of a mashup between generic fantasy fiction and the English schoolboy novel was fun, but it needed to be handled much more deftly — and please, without the endless onanistic stroking of the notions that the good people are good and the special people are special, while anyone who opposes their agenda are Evil Baddies who know they’re Evil Baddies and love to wallow in their Evil Badness.

    Other Owen, exactly. The soi-disant People Who Matter have forgotten that employment is a bargain, in which they have to offer something to get what they want.

    Samurai_47, it’s quite simple. They don’t want the authors to become successful enough to tell the publisher, “Treat me better or my next book goes somewhere else.” You can do that if you have a thriving backlist and a fan following. You can’t do that if you’re a piece worker in a literary sweatshop. While they’re at it, of course, they shove as many of the costs onto the writer as possible — why not?

  148. Bei Dawei (no. 156), “no, and google isn’t returning any Urban Dictionary results.”

    Suffix you search with “urban dictionary”, or watch the videos. The former requires less brain bleach.

    “Hmm, do people realize that in Tibetan, “yak” (g.yag) refers to the male animal? A female would be called a “dri” (‘bri). So no “yak milk.””

    You’ve inspired another Crypid confession short story – “Milking the Minotaur”. I’m not sure this is what JMG meant when he encouraged folks to be more adventurous with their writing.

  149. One issue I hope you cover in this series is works that may have fallen into copyright limbo. Let’s say I wanted to bring an out-of-print book by Arnold Toynbee back into print. How would I go about securing the rights? Approaching the estate?

  150. >I’m not sure what to call a German gymnasium in English

    They’re weird from a Murican perspective. They’re publicly funded but you have to qualify to get into one. Their purpose is college prep. The closest phrase I can think of would be “College prep charter school”.

    They also integrate their college entrance exams in with their graduation exams too. So it would be a college prep school, publicly funded, where the diploma you got automatically came with SAT scores built into it.

    Here, you almost have to have parents who already know how to dance the Ivy League N-Step in order to get into one, there, you just need to get onto that Gymnasium track and the system takes care of the rest.

  151. @ Patricia M – re poetry. I’m not much of a poetry buff myself. Still, it was not hard to be suitably impressed by the sheer stick-to-it-ive powers of memorising verse. My grandmother lived to be 101, and in later years her short term memory declined quite a bit. But, right up to the end, my uncle could feed her the starting line of quite a few poems (obviously he knew which ones she had memorised) and she could take it from there, reciting verse after verse. That made me realise that those things memorised when young really sink in very, very deep!

    @ Emanuel G – re the qualification scam. Our own farm advisor (essentially the sole “liaison” between us and the increasingly alien, increasingly “tech-heavy”, farming bureaucracy, both Irish and EU) is a farm-bred woman, clearly comfortable in wellies, tramping about the farm while discussing this or that. She has a BA in Ag Sciences, but mainly, she knows her way around farms, and she keeps up with bureaucratic rules on-the-job. And at this very moment in time, she tells us, she is busy training new colleagues who have PhD’s in Ag Sciences, some of whom grew up in towns and cities. And she knows that it will not be long before they become her bosses, and (perish the thought) her replacements. Her kind of no-nonsense practicality is going to be a great loss to us.

    Over-qualification is becoming the new unfitness… 😉

  152. @JMG and Michael #159 re: Harari

    Huh, if the leaks claimed by Michael’s source are accurate, Harari’s even worse than I realized – I had thought he was simply a boring and uninsightful exponent of the cult of progress. Reading *Sapiens* did give me a useful insight, though:

    A few years back, I was listening to a lot of Silicon Valley-adjacent podcasts (Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan, and so forth). A lot of guests kept raving about *Sapiens*, so I figured I’d give it a shot. My reaction was a firm “this is what all the fuss is about? But this is obvious stuff.” After a bit of reflection, I realized that a broad, interdisciplinary knowledge of humanities topics (history, psychology, political theory, religion, and so forth) is *not* obvious to most Silicon Valley types, so maybe even a shallow treatment of that pitched in a way they found amenable could make a big impression.

    For awhile I figured “eh, this isn’t for me, but maybe it’s helpful for some folks.” These days, especially knowing his connections with Schwab and his ilk, I look a bit more darkly on his choice of the term “fictions” for any and all socially-acknowledged and accepted abstractions (laws, customs, morals, religions, nations, etc).

    Anyhow, if anyone’s looking for an Israeli’s wide-ranging, deep interdisciplinary survey of much of human history and what has shaped it, I’d much more strongly recommend *War in Human Civilization* by Azar Gat over *Sapiens*, which in my more snide moments, I have referred to as “Sapiens for grown-ups”.

    Cheers,
    Jeff

  153. Many people do not understand what an advance (from a traditional publisher) is.

    1) It’s a loan against future earnings. The advance is not free money. You will not be paid ANY royalties until your book sells enough copies to earn out. After that, if the book is still in print, you are supposed to earn royalties. Check your statements faithfully to be sure this actually happens.

    2) The size of the advance tells you things. The bigger the advance, the more advertising the publisher will do and the more help you, Author, will get flogging the book. They’ve got to earn some of that money spent upfront in sales later on.

    3) It’s easier to earn out a small advance. BUT, if Publisher doesn’t keep your book in print, it won’t matter.

    4) Your advance (Penguin told Bill this when he sold them Writers Gone Wild) is SUPPOSED to be spent on advertising! That’s your job as the author! The person least able to be a salesperson is the one who’s most responsible.

    5) Thankfully *for right now!*, if your book doesn’t earn out, you don’t have to repay the advance. I won’t be one bit surprised if this changes.

    6) Advances send signals: we’re laundering money. We’re buffing up our social credit. We’re proving how literary we are by giving $$$$$ to a highfalutin author who’ll be lucky to sell 200 copies (The Art of Fielding is a good example).

    I’ve been shocked by how many supposedly well-educated writers with MFAs never learn that an advance is a loan against future earnings. They didn’t bother teaching that little fact in writer school!

  154. The Other Owen – About “Gymnasium”: You don’t have to qualify. At the end of primary school, every pupil gets a recommendation for what kind of secondary school might be the right one. The only catch is: If you fail and have to repeat a year AND don’t have a recommendation for Gymnasium, you will automatically be kicked out. This does not happen very often, but it happens.

    The “classic” school-lineup in Germany is, btw.: “Hauptschule” (grade 9) which is merged with “Realschule” (grade 10). Then you have all kinds of “Fachoberschule” which go up to grade 12 and allow for a limited access to college or university. If you want to have Abitur, you need to go to the Gymnasium. There’s a huge variety of mixed school-forms that in some way or another incorporate all classic types of schools. And there are also various ways to get the “Allgemeine Hochschulreife” (Abitur) which will allow you at least theoretically to go to university and study whatever you want without having seen a Gymnasium from the inside. There’s much more “transparency” in the German schooling system than you realize – but you don’t find that necessarily if you go to Gymnasium. There, an equally strong as (in many cases) undeserved elitist spirit preserves.

    Cheers,
    Nachtgurke

  155. Harry Lerwill (no. 160), it seems to have been expunged. I see “yakism” (a new religion), “yakking off” (using the Twitter-like mobile app Yik Yak), “yak milk” (the milk of a yak) (sic), “yak butter” (human vaginal secretions), and “bloody yak penis” (exactly what it says on the tin; ugly people can be compared with this). Several entries are based on “yak” as slang for cocaine. I feel more literate and better informed already. Anyway, your entry must have been even more foul and pointless than even these!

    Wer (no. 156) ” I was always a beliver in God but I did not dislike Harry Potter books…”

    I wanted the series to at least acknowledge religion. None of the students mention religious backgrounds (hello,Parvati Patel), or raise obvious questions about the implications of magic for religion. I only made it through two and a half books–they felt repetitive, and later volumes (which fans say are the best) were much longer.

    But yeah–Frodo is not the prophesied Chosen One; he’s an ordinary guy who does his duty when the war comes.

  156. Hi John Michael,

    Meditating upon your essay caused my brain to swoop far out and away from the immediate words. Looking back down upon the words from a distance, it becomes clear that what you are writing about is a microcosm of the larger issues going on in our society, but from your first hand perspective. And what your words indicate to me about the future is that we’re nearing a sort of ‘woosh, and down we go’ phase, before then stabilising at a lower cost base.

    That’s the problem with exploitation, exploit enough, and either word gets out and the game runs out of existing and new suckers, there’s nothing left to exploit, or the exploiters cost base exceeds their income – even if there are new suckers coming into the game – or perhaps a mixture of all three possibilities.

    And need I point out, you then show a proven advance path through to a lower cost base. 😉

    You know what though? I’m genuinely surprised that our civilisation seems to ignore the twin possibilities of failure and decline, despite what history has to say on those matters. Sometimes I find myself thinking in response to absurd statements of belief: Sure, they might think of something, but just in case they don’t, whatcha gonna do then? Dunno about you, but this blindness baffles me. I see that there are upsides to thinking that way, but there are other more workable modes of thinking that aren’t getting a look in. What’s you take on that? Have you considered writing an essay on the gentle art of failure?

    Incidentally, I noticed that Neptunesdolphins was suggesting that “It seems that everyone wants to make money off of what they do, instead of just doing it for the enjoyment”. That got me thinking about the expectations of free content from the creative industries, and I’m not entirely certain how I feel about that. After all, I can produce free content, but, that’s only because my day job supports my hobby. Didn’t you once say that there’s no such thing as a free lunch? Dunno. It’s possible the ‘free content’ mode is failing and pay walls are a marker of that fall, but I always considered it to be a bait and switch type arrangement anyway, but then I’m cynical about such things. If a cost gets chucked onto the stuff, I doubt the tech folks will be cheaper than say, err, paper.

    Cheers

    Chris

  157. Data point: the catalog people are getting desperate. There always used to be a flood of catalogs as the holidays approached, but these days every on-line merchandiser is issuing a catalog every other day! Including the Southwest Indian Foundation. The paper recycling bins are filling up fast.

    Now headed for the Catalog Choice website.

  158. Update – and some very hot language unspoken. Catalog Choice got me into the password steeplechase. Enter your password. Forgot it? Click this link…answer this email…. sorry, doesn’t match…including an option to use a computer-generated password it rejected thereafter because I already had a password. I do not have time to mess with this. Or energy. Or patience.

    Did anybody say “Byzantine?”

  159. JMG

    SFSW replied to you via twitter


    Hello! That is actually a common misperception that work had to be sold to markets listed on the qualifying list, and clearing that up is one of the big reasons we simplified our eligibility requirements earlier this year.

    Qualifying work did have to meet certain payment requirements, but did not have to come from the markets on the list. Confusing, for sure! We have now switched to a total $$ earned over a career option. Read the new guidelines here:

    https://www.sfwa.org/about/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/

  160. Samurai_47, you’d have to approach the estate, or find out who has the rights and go to them. Without their permission, it can’t be reprinted until it goes out of copyright.

    Chris, ding! Exactly. It’s one example, the one I know best, of a broad process, found all through modern industrial society. As for an essay on the gentle art of failure, hmm. I’ll consider it.

    Patricia M, funny. The Byzantines got things done…

    Darren, funny, that’s not what I heard when I contacted them after my first SF book sold. (Admittedly that was quite a few years ago.) That said, I’m glad to hear that they’ve clarified their requirements. Since I’ve made quite a bit more than that from my SF and fantasy writings, I’ll consider whether the benefits of membership are worth what they’re asking.

  161. By coincidence, earlier this week I began reading The Weird of Hali: Innsmouth, which I’d had on my shelf for a couple months. Yesterday I went online to get the rest of the series, and have been unable to find it available anywhere. Do you know if this is temporary, or some place that may still have some copies available?

  162. @JMG, Wer, Bei Dawei regarding the Harry Potter books, if you’ve only read the first two or three books, you miss a lot because the last three books mirror first three books, but at the same time there are a series of twists and the books start subverting your expectations. As a result, a number of characters and situations become much more layered and nuanced.

  163. #159 JMG–
    Yes! Yertle the Turtle and the tower of turtles–another image that captures the suffering produced when powerful people heedlessly use others to elevate themselves. Also the instability of these one-sided arrangements. Some of these appear to me to be archetypal images that will become useful to a child as s/he ages.

    Once the copyright expires, it would not surprise me if someone made a Seuss Tarot deck. — Actually, people are already using the images like that:

    https://thecrackedamethyst.tumblr.com/post/142130043826/dr-seuss-the-cat-in-the-hat-spread-1-the-cat

    PS– Citation correction; The name of the Seuss book with Lud in it is “Oh Say Can You Say — O my brothers, O my sisters! These are terrible tongue twisters”

  164. Wer here
    Holy smokes everyone , (off topic here) one of my cowotrkers who had been anti COVID all 2 years showed me an article in the Atlantis which he heard from someone else had something important in it. Of course Polish MSM is deadly silent on the issue at hand or panicking about Putin interviering in the elction coming ( wasn’t he supposed to be long gone by this point?)
    One of the most pro covid lockdowns and vaxx mandates dr Emilly Oster is begging about an COVID amnesty for herself and maybe others !!!! The arrogance and gall of theese people is mindboggling. After destroyiong the livelihood of millions calling us uwashed uneducated morons over the media thoose people are now desperate and begging, the next weekend might be very eventfull something tells me. I did not subscribed to The Atlantis in my opioni it is a trash and preachy but this on almost front page I could not belive it..
    Stay safe everyone Wer

  165. JMG,

    Ha! I like your wife. Fine sense of humor. But then, I’m partial to Spokane girls anyway…;)

    As for dealing with our little PMC nightmare, I can report that the dialogue did in fact deteriorate rapidly just after my last comment. We were about ready to choke somebody. BUT, I was able to step back, take a deep breath, and get it back on track. And we now seem to be moving steadily towards an amicable conclusion.

    Your influence over the years, and my own magical training, had plenty to do with that, btw.

  166. I thought I sent a question in a couple days ago about your editing process, but I guess it got lost to the internet. I thought you said you self-edit your works. Could you share the process of what works for you and what to avoid doing in editing? Are you writing out the first draft by hand?

    I just started “Always with Honor: The Memoirs of General Wrangel” this morning and it was independently self-published. Absolutely engrossing memoir of a Russian general of the White anti-communist forces against the Bolshevik revolution. The book had been out-of-print for decades and I’m so glad someone published an affordable copy.

    I have so many books on archive.org saved that I’d like paper copies of. I think figuring out how to make those will be one of my winter project.

  167. Since 2016 I have been buying books about all sorts of subjects ,I for some reason feel its very important, I can see that newer publications just are not the same most seem to have a “corporate” veneer ,it seems in the 70s something started changing,its not say there wasn’t junk in the old days,

  168. Terry, by midway through the third book in the Harry Potter series I was quite frankly bored; I managed to get through the first few chapters of the fourth volume, but that was as far as I could slog. I’m quite willing to believe that there’s more nuance later on — most writers pick up skill with that as they proceed — but Rowling’s writing also got self-indulgent and verbose. (It’s a common affliction among writers who succeed too well too soon, and never learn to discipline their prose.) So it simply doesn’t interest me enough to make me wade back in. Also, I’ve read a lengthy account of Tom Riddle’s backstory and it’s exactly what you’d expect a member of the mainstream liberal intelligentsia to imagine as the backstory of an officially Awful Person, and the habit of using rehashed propaganda as a substitute for insight into character is painfully common these days…

    Emmanuel, oh my. A Dr. Seuss tarot would be great fun. I grew up on Theodore Seuss Geisel’s work — my family belonged to a book club arrangement that got us a new volume every month — and would heartily agree that there’s a lot of archetypal material in there.

    Wer, we’ve been discussing Oster’s plea for mercy over on the current Covid open post on my Dreamwidth account. It interests me that the general reaction to Oster’s article on Twitter was “#$%@ no, you can’t have an amnesty — how about a Nuremberg style trial instead?”

    Grover, I’m glad to hear it.

    Denis, these days I type my first drafts. I always let what I’ve typed in the last few days sit for a while unedited, but I routinely start my day’s work by going back over one or two older sections and doing some editing, partly to clean them up (my first drafts badly need that) and partly because I plot as I go and I very often need to fix continuity issues. So any manuscript of mine is being written in some places and edited in others at any given moment! When I finish the draft, most of it’s been through several edits and some has been repeatedly reworked. I then set it aside for a while — a couple of weeks — and work on something completely different. When I go back to the manuscript I have fresh eyes and can see all the mistakes I made; those get fixed, the whole thing gets hammered into shape. Then I print out a copy for Sara to read; she proofreads, catches more continuity errors, and notes down things that need help on the manuscript. I spend a couple of weeks doing something else then, too, and it’s after that’s over and done with that I do final revisions and send the manuscript to the publisher.

    Gus2021, you’re seeing the effects of the consolidation of publishers into a handful of huge corporate combines. That definitely resulted in bland, glossy corporate crap dominating the book market.

  169. Thanks for the encouragement, JMG. I will be glad to check your Cell-Salts Sonnets. I’ve never heard of the Lovecraft sonnet form before, I’ll have to put a remedy to that.

    For the my original poems (in Spanish) I am sticking to the classic forms from the Siglo de Oro. There’s a, frankly etheric, quality to the poetry of Garcilaso, Góngora and Quevedo that is simply missing in later Hispanophone authors (without diminishing the many merits of these later). For the first translation to English, I tried to keep above all the same metric, but I had to change the rhyme patters a bit in order to maintain a somewhat close translation. I’d definitively not try to start from scratch in English; your own tradition having its own sonnet forms that I am for the most part ignorant of.

  170. @JMG – Yes. I noticed the utter virulence of the comments in the latest COVID post. As if nobody had ever heard of someone wising up and changing her mind. Or second chances. It smelled like cancel culture with the signs reversed and the serial numbers filed off: “She said a Bad Thing back when; off with her head and into Outer Darkness forever.” “Yes. Karen, yes, indeed.” I didn’t comment there, having an allergy to thrown mud and rotten tomatoes, but it showed vividly how contagious the attitudes of these times can be.

  171. I think mid twentieth century is generally considered to have been a golden age for children’s books. The period roughly ran from the 1920s, when Trumpeter of Krakow was published till about the time when Patricia Coombs was writing the Dorrie the Witch series in about the late 70s, I think. After that came a time of absolute drek, Fancy Nancy and similar series, Stephen Cosgrove with his nauseating unicorns and rainbows and so on. For parents desperately looking for something to read to their kids, Rowling’s works were most welcome. Admittedly, they were nothing like the quality of Trumpeter, or the Wheel on the Schoolhouse or Adam of the Road, but they did actually tell a story which interested one’s children.

    They are far longer than they need to be. Fantasy series are famously and notoriously poorly edited, e.g. WOT and Martin’s never to be completed epic. Nevertheless, warts and all, I do think Rowling played a part in reviving the art of storytelling in children’s fiction. She has since been writing adult novels, a detective series of some interest, of which the individual books are also too long, and with, I gather, plenty of in jokes at the expense of various British notables. She also published one literary novel, a Casual Vacancy, which I think is very good indeed.

  172. JMG and Emmanuel,

    Physicians face similar board issues, with escalating expenses and nuisance. In Orthopedics, at first it was a test every 10 years, plus documentation of relevant “certified” medical education, where you could pick topics and courses that were useful in your practice. Then they added some affiliated organization mandated medical education (with fees). Then they added annual requirements, so called “MOC” (maintenance of certification), where you paid for the privilege of inputting the mandatory medical education details into their website every year (with fees). Then, they started adding more complicated and time consuming alternatives, and more details of your practice (numbers, rarely related to quality). Over time these became exceedingly complicated (nearly impossible without electronic records and high volume large practice including staff to fill out). Other boards require quality assurance programs that fit into the board’s protocol, which work OK for employee physicians, but often did not suit a small or sub specialized practice.

    There was a big spat in 2015 after some bad press (well at least big for physicians), https://www.newsweek.com/2015/03/27/ugly-civil-war-american-medicine-312662.html

    Our large chain hospital refused to accept the alternate internal medicine board. When I searched for a link or follow up, NOTHING came up for ten pages (found this one article link on Wikipedia). Wikipedia states 97% of physicians do not support MOC’s.

  173. Dear Mr. Druid

    Reading your nice short review of Harry Potter made me think of Goodreads. What is your opinion of this site?

    It is nice to get a second opinion of a book but it appears Goodreads has too many bots. I also notice many of the reviews are the same format – with a plot synopsis. Are these AI or a writing class?

    They also tend not to publish bad reviews – I once gave a Ziehan book 1 star as in 80 pages on the middle east the 51 state was not mentioned once. My review was gone.

    When I find myself cheering for the bad guys, time to find a new book.

  174. Hi John Michael,

    Thanks, that’s what it looked like to me and glad to have it confirmed by you. Respect.

    Not to pile on, but yeah, I never touched the Harry Potter series (as we’ve discussed before) if only because the cover art put me off. Some spotty looking cartoon kid with a wand and other accoutrements floating around all sparkly and stuff, painted a picture I didn’t much like.

    Giving motivations and background stories for evil dudes and how and why they are variously evil in their own way, was done pretty well in Jack Vance’s series of five books: The Demon Princes. The stories also showed how the evil dudes moved through society and the impact upon the people they encountered, which wasn’t always negative. A much more nuanced approach than – this dude is evil, just because I said so.

    Cheers

    Chris

  175. CR, the best intro to the Lovecraftian sonnet, his poem-cycle Fungi from Yuggoth, is online here:

    https://hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/poetry/p289.aspx

    Lovecraft is underrated as a poet. Once he got past the clumsiness of his youth, he could turn a fine sonnet. As for the Spanish forms, I don’t know the language well enough, alas; I may have to remedy that.

    Patricia M, maybe so, but keep in mind just how many people lost their jobs and were shunned by family and former friends when they didn’t kowtow to the vaccine pushers, and how much raw nastiness was aimed at the dissidents. For Oster to up and say, “Oh, I guess it was all a mistake, I’m not going to apologize for my own nastiness but you ought to forgive me anyway” — well, she should have expected the pushback she got.

    Mary, duly noted. I know that some children, and some adults, got a lot out of the Potter series. My comments are personal: (a) I found them very dull, and (b) the fake magic was even faker than most fake magic.

    Gardener, thanks for this. Once again, no surprises, but it’s helpful to know the details.

    Anon123, I’ve never paid much attention to Goodreads; I assumed from when I first encountered it that it was marketing disguised as a forum.

    Chris, well, comparing Jack Vance to J.K. Rowling is like comparing Rembrandt to Thomas Kinkade. Vance knew how to write!

  176. Hey JMG

    I have always thought that if I became a writer, it would be by writing essays and short stories like Jorge luis Borges did, mainly because I doubt I have the inclination to write longer works.

    However, since I began my admittedly still irregular study of vietnamese I have wondered about translating also.
    If I became proficient in it, not only would I attempt translating any vietnamese occult or philosophical works I could find, I would probably return the favour and translate English works into vietnamese, such as the golden dawn knowledge lectures, classic australian authors like henry lawson, and probably some of your more popular essays.

    It is surprising that while everyone readily assumes that westerners want the literature of foreign cultures translated for their convenient reading the reverse is not. They seem to assume that a vietnamese would not care to read the short stories of henry lawson, or that a Kenyan would not want to read “the story of kieu” in Swahili, because their “lack or developement” prevents such curiosity from forming

  177. Thanks for the link, JMG.

    As for the Harry Potter series…

    I did like it as a fine piece of escapist fiction, where you have to check out your brain before entering to it. The part that still kept bothering me is that Rowling seems to have a sort of reverse-Midas touch when it comes to plagiarizing Tolkien.

    The fairest and proudest of the races in Middle Earth, the Elves, got twisted into this hideous, self hating slave race under the dominion of humans. On the other hand, the rapacious Goblins are now the trustworthy guys who keep your money safe at the bank (that one I’d give a pass, if I thought it was done on purpose). In the second book, Shelob the spider got gender-swapped and re-Christened as Aragorn (which JKR somehow managed to misspell), and she (he) kept a big happy family of biggish spiders instead of preying on its offspring (which she produced while being male!). And don’t get me started with the Dark Lord and his Seven Trinkets to Rule-Them-All-Who-Wear’em.

    Oh, and another fun fact. You know Avada Kedavra? The murderous spell that constitutes the most unforgivable of the three UnForgivable Curses? Turns out the spell is real; apparently it is a Jewish HEALING spell!!!

  178. I noted various changes in writing style throughout the Harry Potter series, and I attributed some of them to the then-unique circumstance of an author consulting for the movie versions and seeing the completed films of the early books in the series while still writing the later ones. One straightforward example that stood out were two descriptions of opening the magically hidden entrance to Diagon Alley (a brick wall that shifts and transforms into an arched opening). The first, in the first book, was vague but concise, reflecting Harry’s point of view in which he was amazed at the transformation but not really able to take it in in detail. A later description of the exact same thing happening, from over halfway through the series, is many times longer and reads like Rowling was giving step by step brick movement instructions to the CGI animator—which at that time, in her mind, with or without realizing it, she very well might have been.

    (Sorry I can’t provide more specific references to the two constrasting passages. I no longer have copies.)

  179. The discussions here around poetry have been really good.

    Since the version of my self-published poetry book (via behemoth that need not be named), has not sold any copies, I’ve decided I’d also put the PDF of “Underground Rivers” up for free on my website. Those who want a copy can grab it now.

    http://www.sothismedias.com/uploads/1/2/4/5/124587142/underground_rivers.pdf

    I may also put up an earlier chapbook I wrote called “Shards of Glass” , but I’ll need to locate the files first.

    @jbucks: I got the Bradbury quote from an article that basically pulled out a bunch of his quotes on writing from interviews and essays over the course of his career. The whole thing is really worth looking at.

  180. Many thanks for this fascinating post and the ensuing comments!
    I was lucky enough to be taken up by an independent publisher interested in my translations of neglected early 20th century German language works. (The Anglo world has never suffered anything like the huge cultural breach of 1933-45.)
    Chats with my publisher have revealed one alarming fact not so far mentioned: that one man controls an extraordinary percentage of the English language book world……. both in UK and USA. In the UK this man owns maybe 80 percent of the important bookselling real estate – through Waterstones, Foyles, Hatchards, Daunt books, and in the USA the only major chain, Barnes and Noble. In both countries he has done away with individual bookshops ordering their own books and replaced it with one person in head office responsible for a whole category, even one as big as “fiction”. So in the UK, 329 shops and probably the same number of publishers, rely on one person’s taste….

    But the important point is that head office only orders a very small proportion of new books and backlist, and small independent publishers only rarely get to see their titles ordered. The big multinationals get most of the orders

  181. Two things.

    J.K. Rowling books along with Dan Brown’s books, going back to Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull reminds me of how few choices readers have in books. It seems over time, that readers were stuck with money-making books that were like eating cotton candy. Enjoyable in the moment, but too much, not so enjoyable. Today, publishers like Penguin seem to promote diversity books, the more diverse, the better. I like reading different perspectives, but I dislike the moralizing that goes with the modern ones.

    “All That is Secret” by Patricia Raybon (published by Tyndale House) is more my speed. She writes about a mystery in 1920s Denver, Colorado as a Black woman would experience it. I enjoyed the book, the imparting of her perspective such as the Color Line and the Klan, without being repeatedly hit over the head with it.

    Second thing:
    Goodreads is owned or at least run by Amazon. They repeat reviews on both, and do the same suggestions for other books, etc. It is supposed to be more in-depth but is not.

    Meanwhile, Amazon bought out Comixology and forced readers onto their Kindle platform. It happened last year, and people have been complaining bitterly to them to put things right. i.e. a better listing of new comics that is user friendly and being able to read the darn things. I can’t read any of my comics on Kindle – it presents multiple panels instead of one at a time. Print is too small.

  182. Crisis of overproduction. The situation will not improve. Not everyone is blameless but I find it hard to pin the blame on any specific malicious actors. Marx wasn’t a prophet but he sure had good insight and could certainly relate to the plight of an impoverished writer.

  183. @ JMG – The writers conference went well, and I actually ran into a man with whom I went to middle and high school with, and had completely lost contact. Without going into too much detail, we talked about collaborating, so hopefully something comes out of that.

    As for the indie/corporate vs. mid-size route of publishing, I didn’t hear anything negative from the speakers. The author who went the indie route explained that it was simply a better fit for her as a creator, and that she did look into the small/mid size publisher route. Similarly, the bookstore owner who spoke made a recommendation similar to yours; research which presses look like a good fit and approach them. Neither woman dismissed the mid-sized route out of hand. Given the context of the event, I didn’t have much time to talk to them further about the subject, but I found out about a number of creative writing groups that meet a local bookshops that I had not know about before, so that’s another positive outcome.

    On a vaguely related note; I’m writing a horror story that I plan to serially publish as three novellas. An important aspect of the story is the role of occult magic and the way it weaves into a broader narrative. The magic system, for lack of a better term, is one of my own invention for this story, and serves as something of a backdrop for the drama playing about between the protagonists and antagonist. Do you know of anyone who would be willing to read over the first novella (21k words) and offer some feedback about basic terminology I may be misusing, or concepts that aren’t really relevant? Is that sort of feedback reading a thing that anyone does?

  184. A bit off topic, but I’ve seen my neoghbourhood pro-Ukrainian shop putting off their Ukie flag today, quietly. At the same time, I’ve heard that according the legacy media, the US givernment is pressuring (?) Ukies for arranging an agreement with Russkies. I don’t believe Zelensky is going to obey that “suggestion”, because there are two “oblasts” in Russkie power.
    ——————————
    On the other hand, a friend of mine wants to be writer, he is attending creative writing course, and maybe publish in small print houses. He is very brave! I’m a big reader, but I don’t want quearreling with editors on publishing…

  185. “I noted various changes in writing style throughout the Harry Potter series, and I attributed some of them to the then-unique circumstance of an author consulting for the movie versions and seeing the completed films of the early books in the series while still writing the later ones.”

    I remember Rowling saying that Evanna Lynch’s soft-voiced “I’m not quite in the same universe as the rest of you” interpretation of Luna Lovegood did directly influence the later writing for the character.

    Apparently Natalie Tena also influenced the writing for Osha’s character in Game of Thrones in the same way.

    Given the number of times I’ve heard writers complaining that their characters did their own thing disregarding the writer’s original plot I don’t find this very surprising.

  186. This hit home. In the early 90s I was a starry eyed college grad with dreams and ambitions of becoming a successful science fiction author. I wrote and wrote, and submitted work to every promising market I could find. And after twenty years I had very little to show for my effort. I was published, but not in any way that could gain me entrance into SFWA.

    Today I have a regular day job that doesn’t stress me out too much, and I write fanfiction and post it to AO3 (Archive of Our Own). I get no money, but I enjoy writing these stories and getting regular feedback from my readers. I write exactly what I want. If I want to spend months writing about an emerging polycule of egg-laying aliens in west-central Michigan (my current project), there’s no editor or agent to stop me. It’s a relief not to have to worry about markets and publishing trends.

  187. @JMG – I know. Well, years ago, Strauss & Howe predicted, just on the record of who reacted how in past crisis eras, that people my age would be agonized by its often-necessary brutality. And that the best thing we could do in such times was to be kind, support the young, and get the blazes out of the way. I remember this when in my daughter’s house, but sometimes forget it in the larger arena.

    We all need a purgative kick in the como se llama from time to time, and thank you for delivering mine. Or sparking a memory of forgotten words of wisdom. (Whine, “But it’s so HARD!” Yeah, Right. So? Removing thumb from mouth.)

  188. Harry Potter is weird–it starts out as Tom Brown’s School Days, then morphs into one of those apocalyptic YA series where normal life gets interrupted by the war or emergency or whatever it is, and the heroes all end up marrying their high school sweethearts. But then there’s a happy ending where they all get government jobs, and I guess the cycle continues. (I saw the movies.) What was Rowling trying to say with all this? What’s the moral of HP? Something about surviving tragedy?

    BTW, years ago I found an excellent HP fanfic, which thinks critically about how the magic works, why quiddich has the rules that it does, etc.

    https://www.hpmor.com/

  189. re Mary 189
    Rowling achieved two useful things for me. The first was that HP finally gave my dyslexic child the motivation to read a full book on her own, which had little to do with the quality of the writing and more to do with the peer pressure provided at the time by every child at school reading the book.
    The second was that her success resulting in all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books either coming back into. I’m not at all sure that Diana’s magic would meet JMG’s high standards but she wrote excellent stories.

  190. Re Karl Marx the impoverished writer: his sister Louise, three years younger, married Dutchman Jan Carel Juta. The couple moved to Cape Town where Jan Carel opened a successful bookshop and legal publishing business, and helped the Marxes out with the odd guilder or two. So maybe the good burghers of my city are partly responsible for communism. BTW Juta’s is still going today, 169 years later. They specialise mainly in academic and legal works.

  191. #39 Triss. Ralph Meima’s Inner States series is available at Amazon and other fine bookstores. It took him a while to finish it, but the final installment came out last winter.

  192. @Justin Patrick Moore: Thanks for the links to the Ray Bradbury writing advice and to your own poetry book! I like the Underground Rivers poem.

  193. @Justin Patrick Moore: I only had a chance to read through a few of the poems from your book so far, but I enjoyed Underground Rivers in particular. Thanks again!

  194. Late comment of the week:
    I’ve been reading “North and South” by E Gaskell.
    Towards the end of the book, the main character, Margaret, finds herself orphaned and taken in by her rich cousins in London. The author describes Margaret as finding luxury lapping about her.
    As a description of luxury, this makes me imagine Margaret finding herself in some warm tidal pool, safe for the moment but subject to the whims of nature.
    Such is life.

  195. >If I want to spend months writing about an emerging polycule of egg-laying aliens in west-central Michigan

    Do they obliterate Ann Arbor?

  196. No… Ralph Meima’s Inner States series are not available anymore on Amazon.
    At one point, I was able to get the book 1 kindle version. And that’s it. 🙁
    And the books are not listed on Founders House (where JMG publish some of his books).

  197. JMG said

    It interests me that the general reaction to Oster’s article on Twitter was “#$%@ no, you can’t have an amnesty — how about a Nuremberg style trial instead?”

    My Israeli friends tell me that there is a popular saying in Israel concerning the Holocaust, Nazi collaborators and so on; “We will never forget and we will never forgive”. I think a huge number of Americans and others who were victimized by the asinine policies of the liberal establishment during the COVID farce feel the same way. These people need to be brought to justice.

  198. J.L.Mc12, I think that’s an excellent idea! Several of my books are for sale in Chinese and Japanese translations, so I think it’s quite possible there’s a similar market for Western occult literature in Vietnamese — equally, I’d be interested in buying Vietnamese occult works, and Vietnamese literature more generally It’s been a long, long time, but back when I was in my early twenties I read an English version of The Story of Kieu, and thought it was very good.

    CR, well, there’s that!

    Mawkernewek, I’ve never heard of a publisher doing that, but at this point, nothing the sleazy end of the publishing industry does would startle me.

    Yorkshire, funny!

    Walt F, interesting. Yes, I could see that.

    Justin, thanks for this; I’ve downloaded a copy.

    ChrisG, that’s par for the course these days. Alternative venues need to be created.

    Neptunesdolphins, that word “diversity” has seen quite a variety of uses. Very often these days it means rigid dogmatic uniformity in ideas and opinions, papered over by putting them into the mouths of characters from currently fashionable demographic categories.

    Pym, and yet the publishing industry has repeatedly cycled back and forth between periods of excessive concentration and periods of diffusion. That’s the thing Marx never understood — taking current conditions and assuming that things will proceed in a straight line from them is the least accurate way of predicting the future.

    Ben, thanks for the data points. I hope it all works out well for you! No, I don’t know of anyone with that kind of time to spare, but I’ll throw the conversation open to anyone who does.

    Chuaquin, it’s going to be fascinating to watch NATO try to back out of the mess it’s made for itself.

    Materia, I get that, but I’d encourage people who want to make a living by writing to aim higher.

    Patricia M, you’re welcome and thank you. It’s going to be a rough road for most of us, I think.

    Bei, there’s an entire industry of fantasy, especially from British authors, that has the same weird glitch: at the end, all the wonder goes away and everyone settles down to ordinary life. Susan Cooper’s otherwise brilliant The Dark is Rising series ended that way, which is why I’ve only read the final book once. They all have this overwhelming flavor of “Okay, children, you’ve had your fun, now stop pretending about magic and dragons and all.” I’ve loathed that sort of book since childhood — which is why The Weird of Hali ended in a very different way!

    Piper, good for you! That’s a fine novel.

    Tris, I think Meima had the same problems with Founders House that I did. I hope he places his novels elsewhere, or self-publishes them; they’re good.

    Waiting, to judge from what I’ve seen, there are many, many people in America and elsewhere who want accountability rather than amnesty. This meme sums up the flavor of the conversations:

  199. Hi John Michael,

    An amusing comparison! 🙂 Thanks for that. I’d never heard of the guy before.

    As a side story, I would have thought that after the shenanigans in 2008 there may have been an inquiry into what went wrong, who done what, with people held to account. Didn’t really happen. No wonder the elites in your country appear to be so careless and reckless these days. I suppose there would be historic parallels for the lack of accountability?

    Cheers

    Chris

  200. @ Ben #201.

    You’re asking for a beta reader. They’re not developmental editors but they read like a reader would.

    A beta reader should look for ABCD and make notes about what they notice.

    Is your story Awesome, Boring, Confusing, Dumb.
    Those are things you want to know!

    Some beta readers are outstanding and others are … not so good.

    I reward my beta readers with a mention in the acknowledgements, a trade paperback copy of the book, a cloth marketing bag (which I sew myself), and a satin and lace bookmark (which I sew myself).

    Beta readers do it for love so you want to take care of them.

    I could beta read your novella except I don’t read horror.

    It is REALLY IMPORTANT that your beta readers be familiar with your genre so they know the tropes and understand why you do what you do.

    That is, if a reader complains in your romance novel that the hero and heroine fell in love “too quick” because “that’s not like real life”, then they don’t understand romance tropes.

    I suggest you ask around in your writing groups, in person and online, and at the bookstore, for someone who reads horror and magic enthusiastically.

    Ask them to read your novella for ABCD and you’ll get a better novel in the end.

  201. On second thought, maybe the moral of HP is that families are complicated and full of secrets. Or that evil-looking people may actually be good.

    JMG (217) “…at the end, all the wonder goes away and everyone settles down to ordinary life.”

    The original Star Wars movies did this, probably because of considerations like toy marketing and actors’ contracts. Dramatically, ROTJ should have had Luke turn to the dark side (as TESB hinted he would, since he left his training early), kill Han out of jealousy over Leia (no brother-sister thing in this version), then either become the new Vader (mask and all) or go off into the desert like Kenobi.

    ———–

    Some recent book phenoma, and how they did it:

    Dan Brown (“The Da Vinci Code”): married a publisher who knew what was what (they’re divorced now), also got really lucky–lightning in a bottle.

    Andy Weir (“The Martian”): serialized on the internet, then sold on Kindle for 99 cents. Geeks / nerds liked it. (Weir already had a following of those through his webcomic.)

    Hugh Howey (“Silo”): basically 99-cent Kindle + good word-of-mouth, although parts had been obscurely published before that.

    Jordan Peterson: hitched himself to the culture wars, presented himself as the authoritative father figure some seemed to need.

    Bruce Wilkinson (“The Prayer of Jabez” ): found a gimmick, and a gullible niche audience.

    Eckhart Tolle: repackaged an old gimmick, got on Oprah.

    Timothy LaHaye (“Left Behind”): repackaged an old gimmick for a niche audience

    Ruby Dixon (“Ice Planet Barbarians”): went viral on TikTok, partly for being so ridiculous

    Julia Quinn (“Bridgerton”): built a following as a traditional category-romance author, got lucky with the adaptation

    Stephenie Meyer (“Twilight”): got lucky / lightning in a bottle

    Tucker Max (“I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell”): got popular on the internet among frat boys who liked to read stories about Tucker having sex with midgets, e.g.

    Christopher Paolini (“Eregon”): traveled around the USA as a home-schooled teenager selling copies of his self-published novel (like Star Wars, but set in Middle Earth) from the trunk of his car; got picked up by a publisher

    (struggling to remember the name of that so-bad-it’s-good anti-abortion e-novel, written in very broken English)

  202. re. Harry Potter–interesting comment on US education that the British title for 1st volume is _Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone_, changed to Sorcerer’s Stone for American audience.

    re. Dianna Wynne Jones–she was actually a student in Tolkien’s classes. Her _Tough Guide to Fantasyland_ is very funny. Another book of humorous definitions for readers of fantasy is _The Glass Harmonica (reprinted in 1973 as _The Book of Weird_) by Barbara Ninde Byfield.

    re. translations–about twenty years ago I was attending an academic conference at which a presenter mentioned that the internet had had a strong negative effect on the market for translations. Since many Europeans read English well enough to enjoy popular fiction, they were purchasing the American editions of books rather than waiting for a translation. Translations were only needed for the type of non-fiction that one wants to be sure to understand–science, technology, etc.

    As for large publishers demanding that submission come through an agent–I think they are having the agents do the work that used to be done by underpaid young women with degrees in English literature who wanted to work in the glamorous world of publishing and ended up reading the slush pile.

    Rita

  203. Enjoyable post this week, JMG!
    The world of publishing is a nightmare even for translators. We got permission from the author of one book we deemed crucial for a foreign audience, and put together a team of volunteer translators with experience and expertise in the subject. A few months later when it came time to seek a publisher, the author told us he had sold his rights to one of the major publishers (which I won’t name, but they have a good reputation among organic farmers, alternative practitioners, etc.). So we contacted that publisher and they accused us of trying to profit by stealing their rights to the translation. We explained we were working voluntarily and also sent them a copy of the agreement we had with the author. Well, that was not acceptable. We were told to cease and desist, so we did.
    They, I guess, had their own system for finding translators because a couple years later they came out with a translation by someone none of us knew, with a bachelor’s degree in a superficially related but really different field, and the result sits unread and probably unreadable on the shelves of everyone I know who bought it.
    We hear the same thing happened with the Spanish translation.

  204. Patricia M. – Thanks for posting the link to the Swamp Boy medical story. The aspects of medical/industry’s confidence despite ignorance were very timely.

  205. As I was reading this excellent post and comments I recalled the early 1980s, when I worked in the features department of a magazine. Regular contributors would frequently be given an annual contract. Our side usually suggested it, so authors would be paid monthly to submit a stated number of articles to us exclusively. As JMG relates, freelance writing without such a guaranty is more ambition than livelihood. Yet, so far as I know even the plushest magazines do not do so today — well, perhaps “The New Yorker” or “The Atlantic” and others in their elite circle. The Internet rang the curtain down on that common practice. Appallingly, most writers are now paid less per word than they were decades ago.

    Painfully for us old editors, attention to detail and quality — accuracy, I should say — has also been cut from the budget by most publishers. Gone are the multiple copy editors, permission minders, and fact checkers that even the slickest of magazines once staffed. Alas, as others here have noted, the quality of those services at book publishers is also appalling nowadays. I advise anyone submitting a manuscript to first pay a sharp-eyed line editor — or to implore someone with grammatical sense and, ideally, a personal interest in your topic — to give your copy a close read. What’s most beneficial in it, obviously, will be the reader’s queries and thoughts that lead to a better book.

    Speaking of taking the wheel, do not expect a publisher to have any plans to promote or publicize your book. Even at the most reputable houses all that money is budgeted for those who drew six-figure advances. Looking back on my own mistakes, I recommend to start thinking very early about how you’ll promote your own book. It doesn’t cost much to get on the phone and call booksellers, offer interviews, get mailing lists — all the things you imagine that a house publicist might do. Set up anything you can well before the printing, and then get out there, both personally and virtually, to sell it.

    Finally, I have never hired an agent. I pitched to one or two, but the experiences were dreadful. There I had some dumb luck of my own, and I look forward to discussion of the alternatives!

Courteous, concise comments relevant to the topic of the current post are welcome, whether or not they agree with the views expressed here, and I try to respond to each comment as time permits. Long screeds proclaiming the infallibility of some ideology or other, however, will be deleted; so will repeated attempts to hammer on a point already addressed; so will comments containing profanity, abusive language, flamebaiting and the like -- I filled up my supply of Troll Bingo cards years ago and have no interest in adding any more to my collection; and so will sales spam and offers of "guest posts" pitching products. I'm quite aware that the concept of polite discourse is hopelessly dowdy and out of date, but then some people would say the same thing about the traditions this blog is meant to discuss. Thank you for reading Ecosophia! -- JMG

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