Operation F.E.C.A.L: New Publishing & The High Cost of FREE
FREE! For the love of all that is chocolate, free us from FREE! *takes soothing breath* I’ve been blogging for over ten years, a witness to the terrifying and extraordinary changes in publishing.
Initially, I was NO fan of self-publishing because entropy is alive and well…even with books. I knew once we opened Pandora’s Publishing, there would be no turning back.
Sometimes I really hate being right.
Amazon (and others) weaponized on-line shopping and launched us into an age of FREE, EASY, CHEAP, ACCESSIBLE and LEGAL.
Or, as I like to call it—Operation F.E.C.A.L.
Amazon wanted to implode traditional publishing. Their goal was to dominate on-line retail and raze the big-box model in order to make room for new brick-and-mortar Amazon stores (smaller and smart-stocked using algorithms). What better way to obliterate publishing than by handing out author participation trophies?
Yet, there have been plenty of consequences. Namely, LOTS of F.E.C.A.L. material out there.
A lot. *swats flies away*
It began innocently enough…
Authors Longed to Be FREE
Before social media, Amazon, self-publishing, etc. authors had little to no control over the business of their business. Only two viable publishing options existed—traditional and vanity press.
So let’s make that ONE viable publishing option. Vanity press published anyone willing to pay to play author.
Vanity publishers had a singular standard writers needed to pass—a credit check. If the check cleared or the credit charge went through? Bada bing bada boom! Welcome to being ‘a published author.’
I want to make it CLEAR that I hold no allegiance to any one form of publishing. All paths have advantages and disadvantages.
The traditional publishing model pretty much tossed authors against a wall like spaghetti noodles. If you ‘stuck?’ Go you! You get another contract.
For more on how the publishing business ACTUALLY works, I’ve already explained, in detail, the ugly truth about traditional publishing and how to actually support the authors we love.
The Book Borg
Anyway, once the big-box bookstores arrived on scene like the Borg suddenly warping into sensor range, writers took the hardest hit. Publishers looooved the big-box concept because their business model relied on massive pre-orders to fund the machine (and still does).
****Take a gander at HOW many books it takes to FILL bookstores that had an average size of 26,000 feet (going as HIGH as 60,000). Can you say KA-CHING?
Publishers reveled in the boom. Meanwhile, many authors who’d previously made an excellent living during the Indie Bookstore era, had to dust off the resume.
Big-box stores bought books in volume. Yet, they ordered a TON of what books were most likely to SELL in volume. Thus, many mid-list authors who’d previously enjoyed a healthy income off twelve, twenty or even forty books now only made royalties off ONE (their most current novel).
Authors who were already household names did better than ever because of simple math and Business 101. What Borders or Barnes & Noble wasn’t going to carry every single Stephen King book ever written?
Nothing personal. Only business.
Problem was, virtually the entire author middle class stood shellshocked, ears ringing, arms loaded with a backlist of excellent books now rendered worthless.
Publishers—smitten with paper—didn’t even consider releasing these titles solely as e-books. Instead, they blithely handed seasoned authors their rights to these mothballed backlists.
Amazon (and other self-publishing outlets like Smashwords) breathed life back into great books that HAD passed the gatekeepers. Many could legitimately claim New York Times Best Seller or USA Today Best Seller status.
Self-publishing provided authors who’d passed the gauntlets and invested years cultivating a vetted backlist a fresh way to breath new life into ‘old’ books.
In Christmas of 2009, when e-readers finally tipped into mainstream, readers were dying for titles to load on the new Kindle. Authors who’d defected made bank. These authors also improved self-publishing’s image problem.
Before 2009, most viewed self-publishing as a cheap version of vanity press. It certainly was not seen as a viable publishing path.
But, then writers got creative and soon success stories emerged. The dark horse authors like Hugh Howey and Wool, Andy Weir and The Martian, and Amanda Hocking emerged.
Yet, something ‘else’ emerged.
Before Amazon, Smashwords, social media, algorithms, etc. most writers became writers because they loved to WRITE. Sure, I think it’s fair to say most of us wanted to be successful and make money, but cash was not our primary motivation.
Then folks like John Locke changed the literary landscape. In my POV? This is where everything changed (and NOT for the better). Granted, kudos to Locke and his success. I even (tried) to read his How I Sold a Million E-Books in 5 Months, but there were not enough antacids in the world for me to finish.
See, Locke wasn’t writing because of any love for the written word. A book, to him, was a commodity like a cheap cheeseburger (his words). To his credit, he saw and capitalized on a rare alignment of the stars and won big.
Yet, he made bank only because he hit the ground hard with ebooks right as people were starting to use e-readers and there was a dearth of e-books on the market.
Since traditional publishers refused to lower prices, readers swarmed to FREE and .99 books faster than a cloud of Alabama gnats into a fresh glass of sweet tea.
With pretty much the same results.
Readers stuck, mired and drowning and trying to escape the very thing that lured them in. Readers swarmed in for the FREE, only to realize they were trapped in bad writing, terrible formatting, and did I mention bad writing?
Plenty of other authors followed suit with FREE books! And CHEAP books! These writers sold a lot of books and earned some impressive titles.
Yet, it took time for consumers (readers) to catch on that FREE was almost ALWAYS a giant waste of time.
Over the next few years, various other gimmicks caught on. Free books, cheap books, box sets, juking algorithms, and even authors who relied on flat out deception—brand confusion—to garner sales.
I seriously had an ‘authorpreneur’ who did this and gave me this ‘business advice.’ According to this business-savvy person, I could, say, take the ‘pen name’ of Jane Evonovech then make my covers resemble a real Janet Evanovich. Similar colors, fonts, styling, etc.
Because that isn’t shady AT ALL.
Back then, Amazon was far from perfecting algorithms, so these Bait-and-Switch Rotex Authors DID sell a lot of books, make a ton of money, and were able to claim NTYBSA status…riding the tails of a legitimate author’s success.
Of course, when this person gave me said ‘advice,’ I parted with my own council. Save for a good attorney. You’ll need one. And I was right.
Also, I prefer to earn my sales and titles on my own merit, thanks.
Over the past few years, I’ve lost count of the fads and gimmicks. Amazon often tried launching new ways for readers to discover new authors AND for writers (Amazon) to make money.
The fundamental problem with Amazon has always been the same. They think like John Locke. To Amazon, a novel might as well be a selfie-stick, a tent, a push-up bra or a banana slicer.
There’s no inherent reverence for writing as a craft and an art. In the Amazon business model, consumers are the ‘gate-keepers’ for everything. Yet, when it comes to a book, Amazon can’t refund the readers’ TIME. Sure the book was free, but our time was not.
Consequences of FREE
Amazon doesn’t care about ONE author selling millions of books. Why? Easier to have half a million wanna-be-authors sell twenty books.
Then coax them to write more and more and more books that only sell twenty copies. All those eager creatives hitting PUBLISH like pulling a lever on a slot machine and praying for triple 7s.
***Meanwhile paying for cover art, interior design, and promotional material.
The big-box store supported one oligarchy at the expense of the mid-list and new authors. We broke FREE! Only to fuel a brand new oligarchy. A handful of people getting rich off the work of the many.
Sprinkle just enough success to keep the ‘many’ trying their luck.
The rest of us regular folks? Well, we’re left with the landfill of toxic waste hoping to find something worth our time. It’s why I only buy fiction off Audible. If a book sucks (and MANY do, even from Big Five publishers), I can return it with no problem. If I like a book, THEN I buy in paper.
For Love or Money?
I’ve been in this business long enough to notice the changes. Early on, writers were adamantly opposed to branding, social media, platform-building, etc. All that mattered was the quality of the book because they LOVED and RESPECTED the written word.
It’s why my merely mentioning on-line branding was enough to induce apoplexy.
The problem (as I saw it in 2008) was that eventually traditional publishers were going to require a brand, platform, social media presence as well as a superior book. They had to in order to keep up with (okay, stay alive in) the new F.E.C.A.L. business model.
Borders had imploded and Barnes & Noble was already bleeding. With fewer POS (Point of Sales) locations more people were shopping on-line.
I knew there was no getting out of building a brand and on-line platform, so might as well get started as soon as possible (without gimmicks and juking algorithms and spamming the crap out of everyone).
The whole reason I created the methods I did in Rise of the Machines was so writers had time to write, to learn and grow and improve. What I teach is EVERGREEN. Technology changes, people don’t.
Alas, the lure of easy money is hard to combat.
Too many ‘published authors’ know everything about promotion, yet not a damn thing about punctuation. I used to advise against a pen name, but now?
If I wrote that badly? I’d hide, too.
Where Do We Draw the Line?
Cait’s post last time, Five Things Your Editor Hates About You summed up a lot of frustration. I’ve always loved blogging, teaching craft, helping writers grow from newbies to real artists.
Self-publishing and indie has had plenty of benefits (I.e. I could publish books on social media for writers, YAY!). But we all need to stop and do a gut check.
Where do we draw the line? What are we willing to do and not do? What is acceptable and what is UNacceptable?
These days, there are so many tricks and gimmicks that the ‘real writers’—those of us in this for the craft and the art—are sinking deeper and deeper into so much F.E.C.A.L. material we cannot outpace it…ever.
If we can’t outpace it, we must OUTSHINE it.
More ‘authors’ know more about how to buy promotional g-strings in bulk than they do POV, pacing, and structure. Operation F.E.C.A.L. has been such a massive success, we’re all eyeball deep in free crap and about to go under for good.
Question is, are we going to contribute more F.E.C.A.L. material? Or will we draw a line and give our craft the respect, time and dedication it deserves? Because a real author writes, reads, learns, grows, takes some lumps from REAL critique, and improves.
Freedom is not FREE.
Real writers learn to spell and punctuate or at least pay or barter with someone who can help them spell and punctuate. AUTHORS learn structure, take classes, and seek mentors.
Real authors push their abilities more than free pens. They don’t shovel out $#!& and call it a series.
Ten years ago, my best advice to writers was to learn the business of their business so they didn’t get fleeced. Now? My best advice is for writers to learn how to actually write.
Spend less time and money gold-plating turds and do the work. Leave the participation trophies to those who’ve ‘earned’ them. The rest of us have real author stuff to do.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Other than I am a super mean jerk? I don’t know about you, but I’m fed up. I don’t want any free books. My in-box is deluged with free.
This is even impacting the Big Five.
I PREORDERED a book five months before release because I loved the author’s first book so much. The second book was….
Of course it ended up a NYT best-seller (probably from pre-sales from people like me who expected better). It was published by Simon & Schuster…and it was a pile of unreadable detritus.
Maybe it’s me.
Do you see traditional publishers seeming to cave on quality to keep pace? Are you tired of having to slog through crap? Is it hard to stick to your guns when so many writers are churning out books like a plastic dog-poo factory?
As for me? I don’t care. I’d love to be a gazillionaire but not if I have to churn out F.E.C.A.L. material.
I love hearing from you!
What do you WIN? For the month of JUNE, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, June 22, 2018. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST
Remember Moonlighting? Dave and Maddie were the hottest thing ever…and then they kissed…and it was still kinda hot…and then they really got together and settled down to blissful domesticated bickering. And…we all stopped watching.
Because it was boring.
Remember the X-Files? The lucullan feast of smoldering restraint that was Mulder and Scully? Chris Carter refused to give the fans what they wanted with a kiss at the series end, and while fans gnashed their teeth, it was a kind of pro forma gnashing because we were still interested and could still dream about what might happen.
While the episode-based storytelling of television allows romance to be the B-plot (and only when it feels like it), novels are different. Whether we are writing squeaky clean romance or too-much-wasabi-level-hot erotica, we are always dealing with the same basic principle of THE TEASE.
And for all that romance gets a bad rap and is scorned as being ‘easy’ to write, sustaining the delicious, rippling tension and fizzing chemistry between characters is one of the hardest techniques to master. This class can help you (literally) keep the romance alive well past the 80,000-word mark and beyond!
Topics covered in this class include:
- ‘So, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want’: recognizing what the reader wants, what the reader really wants but doesn’t know, and what the reader needs;
- How to Flirt with the Reader: giving an inch but taking a mile when it comes to sweet/romantic/sexy moments;
- Clean and Mean: putting the spark in sweet romance and fanning the flame without risking the brimstone;
- Down and Dirty: putting the emotion in erotica so every encounter leaves the reader panting for more…for more than one reason;
- The Speed Dating Trap: how to balance interest, interaction, and attraction without falling for the trap of insta-love (just add fate/pheromones/booze);
- Making it Last: how to chart a course for romance and pace it so it lasts…all book long…
- So much more!…
A free recording of the class is included in the purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER
Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $45.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, June 23, 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. EST
There’s something dashingly defiant and alluring about a proper young lady who throws caution (and often her petticoats) to the wind and picks up a sword to fight for what she believes in.
Whether it’s Eowyn from Lord of the Rings or Elizabeth (Badass) Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we all love that moment when a woman rises up to prove she’s more than society ever expected her to be.
Yet the market today is flooded with fantasy and historical that carry more trope baggage than Marie Antoinette for a long weekend at the Petit Trianon (sheep not included).
In fantasy, there are girls raised in servitude who suddenly discover their magical powers and royal heritage and must (really quickly) learn to wield swords and spells in order to save the kingdom.
Historical often isn’t much better, taking naive nineteen year-olds and turning them into near-legendary brigands, highwaymen, and pirates within the space of a few months.
Lack of believability, lack of character depth and arc, and lack of world-building/historical knowledge are the three major pitfalls when creating Ye Olde Action Heroine.
Luckily, this class will give writers a map with all literary here-be-hippogriffs clearly marked. Whether your gal is besieged by dragons, in a castle under siege, or in a castle under siege by dragons, this class can help!
This class will cover:
- En Garde! Choosing her weapons wisely;
- Ye Olde Fight Club: getting real about time & training;
- Why, How, and When: how to realistically get her on the path from baking to badassery;
- Hard Knocks: how to use failure and lack of skill mastery to create compelling character arcs;
- The Joan of Arc trap: how to avoid creating miracles and martyrs (unless you really mean it);
- The Pirate Bride: defining femininity in fantasy and historical in order ‘rebel’ against it;
- Consequences: what are the short- and long-term consequences of flouting convention?
- World Building & Re-Building: getting fantasy and historical settings right for your characters;
- And so much more…
A recording of this class is also included with purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER
Instructor: Kristen Lamb
Price: $45.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Saturday, June 23, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. EST
Female characters have evolved from ‘damsel in distress’ to the ‘hardcore badass.’ Problem is, fictional females escaped one boring mold only to end up in another even MORE boring mold.
But with lipgloss AND karate!
Strong female characters fascinate audiences on the page and on the screen. From Atomic Blonde to Wonder Woman, Special Agent Scully to Dr. Laura Isles, women can exude power and danger in a variety of ways.
Sadly, the badass female has devolved into a tired trope with the depth of a puddle.
This class is to challenge the concept of the dangerous woman as protagonist and antagonist. Creating a powerful woman involves more than handing her weapons, a black belt, and a terminal case of RBF (Resting B$#@% Face).
- Expanding ‘who’ the dangerous woman IS;
- Still waters run DEEP;
- Broadening backstory;
- Motives matter;
- The ‘Tomb Raider’ effect;
- Combat, weapons, tactics;
- Expanding her ‘arsenal’;
- Generating authentic dramatic action/tension;
- Making the dangerous dame ‘likable’;
- AND MORE…
As an author, competitive shooter, and former combatives instructor, there are few characters I LOVE more than a kickass female action hero. Conversely, fewer things vex me more than the tired cookie-cutter female action hero trope. Women can be powerful in a myriad of ways, beyond hand-to-hand combat and shooting everyone in the FACE.
This said, while we’ll explore a wide variety of powerful women, if you long to write that female action hero, this class will (hopefully) make sure you do her justice.
A recording of this class is also included with purchase. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER
Can’t seem to choose between pirate princesses and bulletproof Barbies? We don’t blame you…and, you don’t have to!
With the Dangerous Dames BUNDLE, get both classes and SAVE MONEY.
Purchased separately, each class is $45. Go for BOTH and get $90 of instruction for ONLY $75. You also get to spend a HUGE part of the day with ME (Kristen Lamb) and my partner in crime Cait Reynolds.
Date: Saturday, June 23, 2018
Price: $75.00 USD
PRINCESS PRODIGY: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. EST
BULLETPROOF BARBIE: 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST
*Recordings of both classes included with purchase.