The Lyons' Den

Home of author Brenna Lyons. Join Brenna as she waxes poetic...or rants and raves.

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Location: Haverhill, Massachusetts, United States

What do you get when you have a child writing seriously at the age of 7 and competing at the age of 11? A woman raised in an inner-city DMZ, weaned on too many nights of watching classic Chiller Theater until the wee hours of the morning with no parental guidance? Someone who is rumored to have picked locks to libraries to get her reads in? You end up with the Susan Lucci of e-publishing, the president of EPIC, and a driven, sleep-deprived author of fantasy and horror, straight genre through romance, dark romance, and erotica, poetry and articles. You find a woman who narrowed her college degree choices based on a comment a teacher made about her becoming "the perfect auditor or the perfect thief." And, you probably find a woman who is rumored to have once incited a mutiny...by accident. With degrees in accounting and computer programming, backgrounds in everything from teaching to clerking, tracking fraud suspects to working for the Air Force and the Navy as as civilian, it's strange irony that Brenna Lyons will become best known for her first love...writing. Brenna is an active member of EWAG, BroadUniverse, EPIC, WRW, ERWA and TELL.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cream and Crap...the integrity of publishing

This week was yet another reminder to me that some people just don't get it. Small press is...well...small. We're small because we're new. Believe me, Dorchester wasn't a big boy in it's first years, either...or Daw or Baen or Tor or Berkley... None of the big boys were big for their entire existences. They were little boys that grew and grew until they were playing with the big boys. Have we established that much as fact?

Okay...let's move on. Being small press doesn't mean that a publisher is not good. It means that, like the youngest child in a family, there are things the little guy doesn't get to do yet. Instead of "you can't stay up until ten o'clock at night, because you're only five years old and haven't proven you can get up and make it to school on that little sleep," it's "you can't be stocked in chain bookstores, because you haven't proven that we can count on you yet." That sounds just a little condescending, but it's really not as bad as it sounds. It doesn't mean that the small press will never make it into the stores; several have. It just means that a particular company won't make it there this month, because it's not big enough yet.

But, being the little kid in a world of established big kids has a down side. I'm sure you can see what's coming...bullies...more or less. At the very least, you have the patronizing individuals who honestly think they're being helpful. I find it hard to be really irate with them, because they don't get it, but they aren't the ones I'm talking about when I say someone doesn't get it.

The ones I am referring to are the small press authors themselves. Not all of us. Thankfully, most of us are level-headed, intelligent people who really do have a feel for how things move, how they grow and how to help make it happen. But, there are some real hotheads out there who just don't get it.

Let me start at the beginning. What don't they get? As I mentioned, there are bullies out there. Some of them don't trust the new industry emerging from e-books and small press. Some don't understand it. Some think it's too radical. Some are jealous...and some are outright scared, though they will never admit it.

The ones that don't trust the emerging markets are easy enough to understand. Any major change in the way things happen is sure to shake up people who are set in their ways, in the way things have always worked. Some people work best in a framework, an ordered view of the way things SHOULD be done. A new but related industry challenges that, and when it's successful, there is a certain amount of resentment, a desire on the part of the old guard to dismiss the early successes as a fluke.

Look at the advent of the printing press for a moment. When Guttenberg thrust his view of reproducing books upon the world, he was met with resistance. Why? Who reproduced books up until then? Usually monks and scribes, most under the eye of the Church and some in the employ of powerful nobles and royalty. Reproducing books on a press meant several things... The Church and nobles wouldn't hold a monopoly on knowledge, and by that, they would lose a certain hold over those beneath them. They couldn't rewrite the books to fit agendas if the printing was out of their hands. There would be little need for the masses to depend on them, and their scribes would be a lower commodity. You want to bet that the poor man met with a certain amount of animosity, resistance and mistrust? A lot. His was a revolution of publishing. So are many of the business decisions utilized by e-publishers and small press. Revolutionary...thus, mistrusted.

Why would they be jealous? For the same reason that many NY authors are working in both small press and NY or choosing to come to small press! I've covered this before, but the short and sweet is that small press allows authors to write the books they WANT to write, their loyal readers WANT to read, and NY doesn't (yet) WANT to put out. In addition, small press usually consists of a family atmosphere between the authors with a company, the understanding of how joint marketing really works and release from the pressures of the NY sales machine. (Now, mind you that I get this information from NY authors, so this isn't supposition on my part. I'm not making this up. This is how THEY describe working in NY vs. working in small press.) Some also report that they were pigeonholed in NY and wanted to write something different WITHOUT changing pen names; to do that, they had to leave NY.

Why would they be scared? This is even more simple. The numbers bear out. While NY is losing ground every year... What were last year's numbers? Somewhere between a 5 and 10% drop in overall book sales, I believe. NY is losing ground, but OeBF reports that e-books (and keep in mind that most e-book publishers have become small press publishers with the rise of Print on Demand technology, and most small press publishers have added e-books, effectively making the two synonymous...or nearly so) are gaining approximately 65% per annum in sales. Okay...admittedly, that 65% doesn't make up for the loss in NY yet, but doing the math here, we're not talking a straight progression. 100 becomes 165 becomes 272 becomes 450...4 and a half times the original in 3 years! At the same time, 100 becomes 95 becomes 90 becomes 86 in NY, bearing in mind that they are starting with millions rather than a hundred, but the progression stands, though I am dealing in percentages of the current volume and not raw numbers of books. You see that the loss in NY compared to the gain in small press/e-books is vastly different? Conventional wisdom says that e-book gains will eventually level off, but probably not in the near future. Why do I say that? Fictionwise, wresting at the moment for the #1 spot as a reseller of e-books (think Barnes and Noble for e-books), reports that their usual 100% rise in sales was closer to 120% last year.

Back to the issue...bullies...mistrust...talking down the little guy. Does it happen? Of course, it does! This is where we come into the part about small press authors not getting it.

In order for the big boys to have something to pick at to make us look like lesser beings, they have to have a target, weak links. Never mind for a moment that they have weak links. The very idea of letting authors negotiate editing out of their contract is a HUGE weak link. The fact that they are seen clearly using small press successes as their spur for opening new lines is a weak point. Yes, it shows they have fiscal common sense, which is good, but it sets them up as the followers and not the industry leaders. Small press has that distinction.

Back to the subject... I do tend to have a problem staying on subject today.

In order for the big boys to have something to attack, there has to be the appearance of weakness. It is worthwhile for every author, editor and publisher in small press/e-publishing to strive for the very finest quality. That means books that are engaging and without plot holes or continuity errors. That means books with strong characters and plots, consistent world rules and characterization. That means books that have passable grammar (accounting for regional dialects in speech), spelling (accounting for the differences between Americanized and British/Australian English), and punctuation. It means not rehashing the same old story over and over but looking for a fresh twist. That means striving to be the cream of the crop and not the crap that we are often accused of being.

Now, some people like to point fingers at certain genres, but this is not genre dependent. Look at the pecking order post, if you have any questions about why people choose to point fingers at genres.

The truth of the matter is, there is bad writing in EVERY genre...and good. The genre doesn't MAKE something bad. Lazy or ill-educated authors make it bad. Sloppy attention to editing makes it bad. Those things can occur in any genre, and in fact, they occur in NY as well as in small press. There is bad science fiction out there...bad romance...bad fantasy...bad horror... And there is also good in each of them.

A genre doesn't make a book "bad." When someone says this, they are expressing a personal dislike of the genre and not an objective look at the offerings of the genre. I don't personally LIKE to read Regency Romances. That doesn't mean Regency is bad. There are some engaging and well-written Regency books out there. Just because they aren't to my personal tastes does not mean I can't appreciate that they are GOOD books.

I've stated my case. What does this have to do with the price of beer? What do I firmly believe these authors don't understand?

A call for stricter adherence to good-writing and editing skills is not a personal attack. Nor is it off base. It IS a good idea for all of us to practice it...even NY. Why anyone would argue this is beyond me.

Furthermore, getting upset and arguing the fact is more pointless. There will always be...in any genre, in any format...people putting out cream and people putting out crap. The people putting out crap may or may not know they are. If they know it, they don't care that you know it. If they don't know it, they are unlikely to believe you that they are...or they will accuse you of being spiteful and mean by telling them it, probably because they don't believe it. Even if you convince one crap-peddler to change their ways or quit, there are a thousand more out there, and you would be fighting uphill. The attempt may even tarnish your own public image.

So, there is crap out there! While it does give the big boys a target, and I won't deny that, there is no way to insure there is no target to give them. The best you can do is insure you are the cream, that you can point to your contest wins and 4 star RT reviews when someone makes a snide remark, that you can hold your head up and state categorically that you will put your books up against their best and know they will compete well.

Then the simple rule of economics comes into play. Serious readers will gravitate to the cream and spend their dollars there. The crap, like the early slipshod e-book publishing houses, will thankfully die out one by one...and good riddance to them.

While there will always be more crap popping up, they will always have one disadvantage in this business. The small publishers want to grow. That takes time. That takes a reputation for excellence. Only the cream will be able to do that in the long run, because the crap will lack the resources to grow and will never be more than small.

In service,
Brenna

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