Worldcon 2011: Friday

Wow, it feels like the second day of Worldcon was forever ago.  Usually, Friday is the first real day of a convention, but since Thursday was the first full day of Worldcon, that wasn’t the case.

I don’t remember a whole lot from it, but there were a few really awesome panels.

In the morning, I went to a social networking panel with Tee Morris and Cory Doctorow, among others.  Awesome, fast paced discussion–pure gold, every second of it.  The main takeaway I got was to try out everything, but only stick with the things I actually enjoy.  There are lots and lots of ways to use social networking tools, and if something is compelling but not enjoyable, it’s not much better than a life-killing addiction.  Also, Facebook is the equivalent of high fructose corn syrup.

In the afternoon, I went to a panel on romantic elements in science fiction, with Louis Master Bujold on it, among others.  She made perhaps the most interesting point I heard all weekend: that in romance, women typically write about love and life, whereas men typically write about love and death.  SO TRUE.  It happens all the time in my own work, to the point where you can set your watch by it.

After a long and tiring day, I took off a couple hours before the parties just to decompress (and also blog about Thursday, as you may have noticed).  Got caught up on David Gaughran‘s blog, which as usual had some interesting analysis about the latest news in the ebook revolution.  And then…well, let’s just say I got into a little bit of a discussion with a senior editor at Tor about ebooks and whether it’s a good idea now to self publish.  His parting shot: “You’re not going to win this argument!” To which I wanted to respond: “I don’t care about winning it with you; I care about winning it with the readers.”

Seriously, when it came to ebooks and epublishing, almost every editor, agent, and author at the convention either had deer in the headlights syndrome or was in outright denial.  It’s gotten to a point where they can’t ignore it, but literally everyone who brought up the subject on a panel either dismissed all successful indie writers as outliers, or brought up the flood-of-crap argument that so many people have already debunked.  I don’t think the publishers are quite as stupid as the record labels in the late 90s…but seriously, they aren’t much better.

Not that I was purposefully trying to be antagonistic.  I only brought up the subject with that particular editor because I knew I didn’t have a chance with him.  For the most part, all I did at the con was listen and observe.  But man–there’s a lot of willful ignorance out there.  And after a while, that made me a little disillusioned with the whole convention…but more on that later.

Suffice it to say, Friday was a long and eventful day that went by so quickly I’ve forgotten almost everything else that happened.

Author: Joe Vasicek

Joe Vasicek is the author of more than twenty science fiction books, including the Star Wanderers and Sons of the Starfarers series. As a young man, he studied Arabic and traveled across the Middle East and the Caucasus. He claims Utah as his home.

16 thoughts on “Worldcon 2011: Friday”

  1. I’m curious as to what that editor’s argument was – there’s tons of evidence that points towards ebooks and while there are certainly pros and cons to both sides, the good outweighs the bad in self-publishing more so than trad publishing.

  2. Saying they had “deer in headlights” syndrome is a little off, considering what I heard from them. When we were talking to Moshe, he outlined his concerns about ebook stores vs. physical stores, and I could definitely see his point. There are only so many slots on an “also bought” list, and it’s a heck of a lot smaller than the genre-based sections in a good bookstore. I browse the whole section in a bookstore, but there’s no way I’m going to go through that effort on Amazon. Electronic means don’t provide the same showcase–which was his point and why he said a lot of the “ebook question” is a marketing issue. Essentially Moshe said it’s going to take some time for things in traditional publishing to settle down (which is pretty much what Dean Wesley Smith, who you hunted for so diligently at WorldCon, said in his post “The New World of Publishing: Traditional or Indie? What To Do Now?”).

    Lou Anders said that electronic has already changed the paper industry forever, and that publishers will have to change their workflow to accommodate a way to produce gorgeous, elegant, error-free ebooks if they want to stay relevant.

    I’ll admit I didn’t ask too many other editors specifically about ebooks, but the ones I spoke with aren’t being stupid. They know what’s going on, they can definitely see it, and they’re trying to find the best way to deal with it WITHOUT risking their entire business in the process. That doesn’t sound stupid to me. That sounds like they’re trying to be careful with a lot of people’s livelihoods. Maybe you don’t agree with the way they go about it all the time, and I’ll admit that not everyone’s ideas about what to do right now are the best, but I can say the same about indie authors. Some of them have the right idea and some of them are going about it all wrong.

    Another thing I’m going to throw out there a bit: A lot of companies prefer not to disclose what goes on in private, internal meetings with people they hardly know. I doubt meetings at Macmillan are filled with “we’ll just wait and see, because nothing can touch us.” But if nothing is finalized and they’re not certain on a course of action, or if that course of action hasn’t begun yet, I doubt they’re going to disclose it to an outsider they met at a convention. Just saying. They’re probably a lot more conservative talking to you than they are talking to each other in the office.

  3. I can’t comment on the “deer in headlights syndrome” without knowing a few more details. What points exactly about ebooks were you debating? That indies are going to run traditional publishers out of business? (which I don’t believe) Why more and more authors are switching over to indie? (which I do see happening) It is true that the names you hear (Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath) are outliers so you cannot judge viability of the indie route by them, but it is also true that more authors are going the indie route. The question for how it becomes successful is how do the authors reach their readers? If they already have a base of readers from works that they’ve traditionally published, or a blog that they’ve steadily worked on, they can do very well on their own. If you’re starting from scratch, it can be very hard and take a long time to develop a good base. Also, not writing crap is very hard, especially since many writers tend to be overconfident in their own writing.

  4. Lou Anders is one of the few editors who seems to be on the ball with ebooks, and Moshe Feder’s concerns were definitely valid. However, the senior editor I talked with really didn’t have an argument other than “if you self publish, you’ll be drowned in a flood of crap” and “ebooks are horrid.” I’m sure these publishing companies are doing a lot of things behind closed doors that aren’t privy to us, but when it came to giving advice to aspiring writers, everything I heard was about 9 months out of date, which (at the rate things are changing) might as well be ten years.

  5. This particular editor has a hobby horse about short stories, so he was encouraging us to make a name for ourselves in the magazines first before moving on with novels. I asked what he would think of indie writers who enjoy some success first, and that’s when he went off on how self published ebooks are crap. But really, he didn’t have any arguments other than everyone who self-publishes will be drowned out in a flood of crap. Makes me wonder how he thinks his authors will avoid that flood, seeing as all ebooks are sold on the same market.

    By “deer in the headlights syndrome,” I mean those who know that change is coming but aren’t doing anything to adapt to it–basically, everyone who said “it’s the Wild West out there,” and then encouraged writers NOT to experiment with epublishing, but to follow the same route to publication as before. I’m sorry, but if the old system is broken, you’re not going to be safe by following it.

  6. A lot of the people I heard say “it’s the Wild West out there” were just advising caution. A number of them obviously didn’t want authors self publishing, but an equally strong number was, from what I could tell, trying to temper the fervor that has many under-prepared, untried writers chomping at the bit to get published on their own. There are a lot of writers who are glad they didn’t publish for 5-10 years after starting the submission process because it gave them time to get a heck of a lot better before they went out into the world, and they’re a lot more successful because of it. Right now there are few barriers to getting a book out there, which means a lot of writers who could use a few more years of practice behind the curtain will be putting stuff out that doesn’t capture a reader.

    That is one thing I see as a downside in losing a gatekeeping system. There are downsides to gatekeeping–some really good books get turned down for silly reasons–but it also creates a huge incentive to practice your craft, to hone your skill, and to accept criticism. Now it is very easy for writers to assume that traditional publishers just don’t “get” their books, so they should indie publish. Often the case is that the author hasn’t had enough practice and could achieve a lot better if they put in another couple years.

    That isn’t to say the “not getting it” doesn’t happen, because it does. A lot of people in publishing admit that they make mistakes and pass on things they shouldn’t have. But when they’re talking to a large group whose circumstances they can’t possibly know, it makes sense for them to be more conservative in their advice. Most editors get in to what they do because they love good books and they enjoy working with authors. If they start tossing around advice that tells under-practiced authors to send books that aren’t ready to readers, they’re violating both those desires. They cheat the author and they encourage a bad book. On the other hand, if you’ve got really awesome writing and you know what you’re about, you can probably figure out if a more aggressive path is better for you.

    And I’d just like to point out that you have agreed that both the editors I mentioned are not stupid. But you called editors and publishers stupid in your post, with no caveats. You have, if I may point out, stated an unkind generalization that even you don’t believe.

  7. As much as I like Lou and Moshe, they were still saying things that show they don’t understand how people buy ebooks (though in their defense, it’s arguable that no one really does). And the points that you bring up about publishing too early are quite good, but I didn’t hear anyone at the convention address that problem specifically, or give any practical advice to new authors other than “follow the old system.” That’s why I believe that the deer in the headlights syndrome is a very real problem.

  8. That sounds like an awesome conference. I’m not sure I quite understand what you mean by Facebook being high-fructose corn syrup. I was scratching my head trying to figure out if that is a good or bad thing.

  9. “And the points that you bring up about publishing too early are quite good, but I didn’t hear anyone at the convention address that problem specifically, or give any practical advice to new authors other than ‘follow the old system.'”

    I can agree with this. Perhaps I project this point into the editors’ minds because it has been on my mind a lot lately. I can only imagine that it’s also been on the minds of editors who have a lot more experience than I do: how do you tell an overconfident writer who is only hiring out their copyediting (i.e. grammar and fact-checking) that their writing needs two more years of work? Two years, in publishing terms, is not a long time, but in the mind of an overconfident self-publisher, there is no time like the present.

    Overall, I think a large part of the issue is that theses editors are talking to very large groups of people, with a huge variety of background knowledge, experience, and skill. They have to say things that will make sense to people who don’t already know a lot about publishing. As I said before, they may be trying to be conservative in their advice: the number one rule of editing is do no harm. If they tell someone to go traditional and that person isn’t able to break in for a few years (i.e. until after more things have stabilized), they have done very little harm. If they encourage unwise self-publishing, they hurt their colleagues, the author’s reputation, and the author’s credibility for the future.

    Could they afford to be less conservative? Most likely. (And you could argue that they are doing harm to the author’s sales in the next couple years, but at least that evens out to zero and not negative points for the writer.) But with that number-one rule at the forefront of their minds, it’s not very hard to see why they’re more conservative than you are overall.

  10. Perhaps, though I would argue that publishing too early isn’t as crippling a mistake as you make it out to be. We tend to forget all but our most favorite books, and even if a writer fails in an epic way (like The Greek Seaman), they can still reboot their careers by writing under a different name. The bigger problem, by far, is obscurity–and nobody is going to know who you are unless you get yourself out there.

  11. I guess we have a difference of opinion on that, then. I’d rather introduce myself to people in clothes that match and with my hair done well than in my pajamas before I’ve done my daily grooming (metaphorically speaking). Yes, you can reboot under a different name, but having to build and abandon personas is unwieldy and unfortunate. Since the act of being a storyteller is essentially a personal event, it’s preferable to be personal about it–especially if you’re indie publishing and your marketing concept depends on personal connections with readers.

    Not saying it can’t be done, or that it isn’t a good idea in a number of cases, just that if it were my writing, I’d rather practice in obscurity and then make public introductions after I’d brushed my teeth. I consider that preferable and desirable; much more so than needing a pen name to hide indiscretions that could have been avoided if I’d been a little more patient.

  12. I agree that writers should work hard to master the craft and only put out their best work; all I’m saying is that if they do miscalculate and publish too early, it’s not a total career killer.

  13. Sandra Tayler said that what you do and how you publish is based on what goals you want to achieve. If you want your book to be on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, then don’t indie publish. You realize that a lot of successful indie-publishers were successful in paper first. Indie publishing is only something I would look at if I had no other routes open, and I really felt my work was good/ready for the public eye. Ebooks are becoming big, but traditional publishing is still there, and nearly all big-time authors have made their way through traditional publishing. You can also understand that us wannabe writers are more likely to take the advice of professional authors and editors than the preaching of a recent indie publisher. And whether you make your name through Amazon or through the Big Six, it’s all the same industry, so it may be wise to reel in your passion and respect traditional publisher and editors instead of advertising that everything they say is a lie.

  14. I mean no disrespect to anyone involved in traditional publishing, and I’m certainly not implying that they’re trying to deceive anyone (except perhaps themselves). I’ve never argued that publishing is an either/or choice, or a zero sum game. Certainly some, perhaps many traditional publishers will thrive in the new environment, and people will still have success going that route. I wish them well and harbor no hard feelings toward them whatsoever.

    My personal goal is to make a living as a science fiction writer, and because that’s much more of a niche market today, I believe I can better accomplish that by going indie than by going the traditional route. Also, I think I’m much better suited to this career path than most people. My great grandfather came to this country when he was 13, and his son (my grandfather) started a successful oil business that put all of us grandkids through private school. On my mother’s side, practically all of my ancestors were pioneers, walking over 1,000 miles across the rugged Midwest to build cities in the middle of a barren desert. I’ve got a very entrepreneurial spirit, which is another reason why I feel this path is right for me. I do recognize that it’s not for everyone, however, and I wish those writers the best of luck–urging them, however, to make any decision with their eyes wide open.

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