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Category Archives: Publishing

A Trend in Trends: Why No Genre Ever “Dies”

Trends are a major force in commercial fiction these days.  Forum threads, blog posts, magazine articles, even how-to-write books are teeming with theories on how to spot, find, catch, ride, avoid, etc whatever the hot new trend is.  Dystopian is dead, the nail’s in the coffin on vampires, and we’ve found the cure for lycanthropy.

 

But it’s actually a lot more complex than that.  Vampire books are still being picked up, dystopians are still coming out, readers are clamoring for the next John Green-style YA contemp.  And there’s a good reason for that.  The anatomy of a publishing trend can be summed up in a few easy steps:

  1. Someone, probably long ago, wrote a story.  A novel or not, doesn’t matter.  The knowledge of it has survived until now.  There may be a few similar books, but no one really connected them before now.
  2. Someone, pretty recently, wrote a story.  It happens to have some elements in common with our previously discussed story.  There may or may not be direct inspiration involved.  The story sells, possibly for a lot, possibly for a little, to some publisher.  The publisher puts some marketing behind it–or doesn’t–and it’s a huge success.  It might take a few years, but eventually, the book hits its tipping point and suddenly everyone is reading it.  It struck a note, embodied the zeitgeist, whatever.  Suddenly, whatever the topic is, it’s hot.
  3. Several people, with previous novels, novels in the pipeline, or novels on sub wrote similar stories.  They were probably tapping into the same spirit.  Whatever the reason, these books are now hot.  They’ve managed to get in ahead of the trend.  If their book was previously published, now it’s getting a bump from comparisons to the hot novel.  If it was in the pipeline, their publisher is sad they missed the trend-setter, but glad they have a quick follow-up, bound to be successful.  If the book is on-sub–and decently-written–agents are chomping at the bit to snag it and pass it off to a publisher for the big bucks.
  4. The follow-ups come out, make bank, for more or less than the original.  People were hungry for more of what the original gave them, and these feed that hunger, more or less.  Now we have a full-blown trend.  Everyone wants more, movie deals are going out left-and-right.  Now anybody who ever thought about writing a novel, or writing this kind of novel jumps on their computers, starts typing.  Inboxes are flooded with queries, everyone jumps at the shot for more money.  The market gets flooded with books.
  5. Publishers buy, put out new books as fast as possible.  These books also sell well.  People who rarely read normally buy into this new hot thing, especially after seeing the movies.  The market hits saturation.  Agents stop asking for these books.  Writers keep sending them.  Maybe some really good ones get picked up.  Some sell to publishers, some of those do well; many do badly.  Trend is “over”.
  6. Nobody wants these anymore.  Agents and publishers are all booked out.  Authors still send them.  Some are still trend-chasing but have missed the window.  Others are just writing what they want to write and had bad luck with timing.  They get told no one is looking for those books anymore.  Maybe, if they’re really lucky, and have a great hook or fantastic writing, they might get picked up.
  7. The trend is dead.  And then someone writes a new book.  It’s great.  Most people only remember one or two of the trend books, probably including the original.  (Twilight, for example.)  The book gets picked up; rinse and repeat.

 

We’re around step 5 or 6 for YA dystopian right now, near step 7 for paranormal romance.  Traditional high fantasy is around 7, as well.  This cycle is faster now, tending towards around 5 years from first book to first book, and around 3 years from first book to step 5.  And while you may have to update a few things between cycles, there will never be a point where a book becomes forever unsaleable based purely on having missed the trend cycle this time around.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2014 in Publishing

 

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Your Opinion Does Matter: On Privilege and Conversation

I read a very interesting blog post recently.  That post was “I’m Still Here” by over on YA Highway.  Daud makes a lot of good points in this post.  About the issues of using your privilege to take over a discussion, for example.

However, she makes a key point in the post which I have to disagree with.  Particularly: “But here’s the thing: your opinion doesn’t actually matter.”  Please do click the link and read the entire post before you jump to judgement, or even conclusion.  Context is important.

But, even with that context in mind, I don’t agree with this argument.  Your opinion does matter.  What you have to be careful of, though, is that, because of historical issues that Daud explains in depth, the opinion of someone on the privileged side of a privilege debate is often taken more seriously than the opinion of someone on the other side.  That is definitely something that should be avoided if possible.

One of the supporting points Daud makes in her post is the issue of how the same conversation happens over and over again, and how that is evidence of people not listening.  But that’s not an issue of listening, and it’s not specific to discussions of privilege.  Neither side of the debate is a cultural monolith.  New people are constantly entering the conversation on both sides.  Constantly.  The same way they are in any conversation.  They weren’t there the last time.  They may have read the transcripts, if such exist.

But there’s a reason small group discussion is so common in schools.  That’s how people think and learn, by talking it out.  Until we get to the point where diversity is the default, there will always be more people to convince.  So yes, maybe you have just clicked with something that others have been discussing for ages.  That’s not called privilege, or not listening, or over-eagerness.  That’s called being new to the discussion.  Perhaps even relatively new to the planet Earth and life itself.  There’s a common saying in the writing community that every story under the sun has been told and retold a thousand times.  There’s a reason we get that repetition.  I still agree with Daud that new voices, especially privileged ones, should not be engaging in hostile, or even relative peaceful, take-overs of the conversation.  But to say that those new voices don’t count at all?  I can’t go along with that.

The following paragraph, on only talking to the privileged groups who control the structure of, in this case, publishing makes some good points, but I don’t think the transition to that from “your voice doesn’t matter” is quite so smooth as implied by Daud’s post.  That aside, I absolutely agree with the conclusion of the entire post: that rather than children or helpless invalids, minorities in publishing (and all other spheres) should be thought of as equals who are in fact driving the conversation.

Rather than muddying up that discussion, the people who are privileged on this issue should be having their own private rooms for private discussion, always remembering that those are side conversations, and that the real discussion is being arbitrated by the groups who actually have to deal with the unfair treatment, consideration, and lack of representation.  Your voice and your opinion are important, but they should be adding to the discussion, not taking space away from minority and under-privileged voices.  As a privileged person in any discussion, that’s a responsibility you must always keep in mind.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in atsiko, Publishing, YA Fiction

 

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Social Media and Plagiarism: How the Dynamic Web Has Changed Speech

There’s been a lot of hubbub on the internet lately, in social media circles as well as the traditional press, about the issue of plagiarism in social media.

Now, plagiarism has been a problem online for a long time, but social media brings something different to the discussion.  Back when the internet was young, and you had to pay your own hosting fees and code your own website, it was a lot more difficult, and just plain inconvenient to plagiarize.  You had a static site and relatively few ways to distribute your work.  Much like with books, the Static Web was everywhere, but not all that hard to police.

But social media and the content creation movement has changed all that.  Where once we had the Static Web, with people coding their own sites by hand, or paying someone else, we now have the Dynamic Web, where for the cost of an internet connection or a walk to the local library, anyone can have as-good-as-infinite accounts on the hundreds of content creation and social media sites whose struggles carry vibrations all across the Web.  And these sites auto-create pages from databases and some PHP/RoR/Perl code.  No more commitment-heavy hand-coding.

There are actually two issues at hand here.  Although content creation platforms and social media platforms are different in method, they are similar and ethos, and their differences shrink daily, as VBulletin includes blogging features in their forum software, and Facebook Groups function much like an old-style message board.  The effect of both of these Dynamic Web implementations is to bring written speech much closer to casual speech.

It used to be that creating written work required a commitment to the end product.  People struggled over letters to friends, competed to be published in newspapers.  Many people ascribe the various issues with Dynamic Web speech to the lack of gate-keepers or competition.  But what’s really going on is deeper than that.  Although social media sites like Facebook and Twitter store speech in text format, a status on Facebook, or a tweet on Twitter, is not really the written word.  It’s treated and acts much more like a comment tossed off in a college discussion class, or a joke made to a friend.

And where the disconnect between people in the Static vs. Dynamic Web paradigms happens is that the Tweeter or the Facebook poster isn’t thinking of their status as a publication.  So when they leave off a citation, or mis-attribute a quote, they don’t consider the consequences.  After all, we’ve never policed the spoken word to the extent that we police the written word.  It would be impossible.

So when I stumbled across the false MLK quote doing the rounds on Facebook and looked it up on Snopes.com, it didn’t surprise me that it wasn’t really from MLK.  If it had been a spoken word mis-quote, it wouldn’t have been a big deal.  The maximum propagation rate for the spoken word is relatively small.  It’s limited by memory, by audience, by time, by importance, by significance.  But because the text Web is searchable, because it allows instant access to much larger social networks, because the Web is forever, the propagation rate of a statement is significantly higher.  What would have been an un-important mistake in a casual conversation with a few friends has the potential to reach a much larger audience.  And that audience, reached through the Dynamic Web, is more likely to treat the statement as normal speech, and therefore, before passing on this mis-quotation, they are unlikely to source and cite it.  And then we have the issue that we had with the MLK quote and many others in the last few years.

As an example of this dis-connect, I have an anecdote I heard from a friend of mine.  He was perusing his Facebook feed, and came across an screencap from tumblr showing images and recipes for cocktail shots based on Eevee’s evolutions in the Pokemon games.  He shared it.  As it happened, one of his friends was friends with the person who had created the shot recipes.  And who was shocked and a bit creeped out to find it coming back to her in this circuitous Kevin Bacon effect manner.  Whoever had learned about it from her probably didn’t consider it plagiarism to pass it on.  After all, one of the features tumblr is most well known for is the “reblog” feature.  Which actually does a decent job of citation.  Tmublr has a system for that.

And so we encounter the other disconnect of the Dynamic Web.  Not all sites have the same terms of service, and very few sites, if any, have clear rules for how content is to be treated if shared outside the boundaries of its original, individual site.  You may have come across the auto-citations that many sites have started adding to links and copy-pasted quotes.  Or how a major art-based social media and display site, DeviantArt, implemented an anti-hot-linking system a few years ago.  All of these are individual sites’ attempts to combat the casual speech ethos of the Dynamic Web.  But what we really need, what would actually do something to solve the greater problem, is to educate people on the differences between social networks and content creation platforms and casual, real-world speech.  Perhaps the chat systems implemented by Facebook and other such sites are somewhat equivalent to casual speech.  But a Facebook status or a blog post is not.  You can’t treat them the same way, because as a decade or so of evidence has shown us, the consequences of such speech are very different.

Now, it isn’t a sure thing that Dynamic Web speech is the same as professional publication or journalism, either.  It may be in-between.  But better to err on the side of intentional publication than of casual speech.

(Maybe next time I’ll address plagiarism of status and blog articles more specifically.)

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Blogging, Publishing, Rants, Social Media, Writing

 

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How Getting Published Has Become Like Getting Laid: Writing/Publishing is Emulating the PUA Culture of Modern Dating

While reading a thread over on AbsoluteWrite about the old adage: “You should pitch your book as a standalone-with-series-potential” I finally made the connection to a trend a lot of dating blogs talk about: trying to game the system.  Pick-Up Artists spend a great deal of time marketing–and I assume selling, or they would get a new gig–tips and tricks and even full-fledged systems for getting laid.

There’s all sorts of different people peddling different ideas, but the major idea of PUA is that women are gate-keepers (usually for sex), and that there are sure-fire ways to trick/convince them to unlock those gates.  If you aren’t getting laid, you just need to get more game, and the PUA masters can sell it to you for ten easy payments of $9.99.  These systems occasionally include good information hidden in the dross, but their main suggestion is that you need to lie, cheat, and trick women into liking you, and there are scientific reasons why and for how to do it.  In fact, you can even convince someone who doesn’t want anything to do with you that what they actually want is nothing else but you.  Hopefully you agree that that’s total bullshit, and dis-respectful at best, possible rapey at worst.

And after reading some of the response to that thread on AW, I’ve come to realize that a lot of publishing advice tends in this same direction, although it tries much harder to present itself as education and understanding of what publishers want than PUA tries to pretend it cares about women’s feelings.  Obviously gaming publishers into giving you a contract is morally incomparable to the sorts of rape-tastic, misogynistic, creepy bullshit that is most PUA, but while the degree differs greatly, the pattern of thinking is remarkably similar:

If you just do the right things, say the rights things, have the right timing, women publishers  will give you a blowjob contract, and the reason you’ve failed so far is because you just haven’t learned the rules.  Even if you’re ugly/poor/an asshole your book has some issues, you can greatly improve your chances to get laid be published, if you just learn these ten simple tricks/pick-up linesbody language cues query rules/grammar tips/plot structures.

But that’s not really how dating writing works.  These ideas teach you to lie to women compromise your story on the basis of a few trends or anecdotes coming from a small group of people, many of whom don’t really have the knowledge or experience to back up their claims.

The issue that inspired this post was about querying series vs. standalones.  And how you should pitch a standalone-with-series-potential, even if you wrote the book you’re pitching as a pure series/pure standalone, and some fairly significant changes would have to be made to fit this “rule” of querying/publisher’s desires.  Otherwise you’re committing serious publishing faux pas.  And this is just one example from a long list of writing and publishing truisms, such as “show, don’t tell” that don’t reflect the reality that much.  There’s a whole mythology behind this type of thinking, and it’s being perpetuated even more now that the writing community is so interconnected and interactive.  Someone, no matter what their platform, spouts off about these rules, and the people who hear them take it as gospel and repeat it to everyone they know.  I’m not saying anyone is doing anything intentionally malicious here.  The fact that 99.99% of this interaction is in good faith makes it all the more insidious and damaging.

I have a problem with this type of thinking for a few reasons:

A)  A lot of it is just plain untrue, or misunderstood from legitimate/contextually specific suggestions and advice.

B)  Not every situation is the same, nor do all agents/editors/authors/readers agree on every little detail.

C)  It perpetuates an idea that the rules are what get you published, explain why bad books get published/accounts for why your literary masterpiece is still seeking representation after five years and forty rounds of increasingly desperate querying.

Much like the great majority of PUA philosophy, it takes the responsibility off the shoulders of the AverageFrustratedChump author, places the authority in the hands of a few misogynist assholes merely lucky/misguided/well-meaning-but-misinformed authors/agents/editors.

That’s not to say that these people are lying, or stupid.  Just that success doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding of that success.  Eeveryone’s experience in dating writing/publishing is different, and you can’t apply every little thing to every single person.  Sometimes you just have to admit you’re boring/an asshole/have bad timing aren’t quite ready for publication/this book will never be published.

I wish I had some answers.  Some way to remove this fog of misinformation.  A sure-fire route to publishing success.  But just like everyone else, the process is always going to be just a bit beyond my full understanding, and I’ll have to take some risks, indulge in some trial and error, and eventually work my way there by hard fucking work or a bit of lucky coincidence, just like everyone else.

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2013 in Publishing

 

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Does Social Media Affect Book Sales?

Fuck if I know.  I haven’t done any exhaustive research.  I don’t have published books and a well-known web presence to check with.  I just have my own personal habits.

Like a lot of readers, I have a long TBR list full of great books I wish I had the time to get around to reading.  A surprising number of those books I learned about online.  Many in forums, but an equally large, or perhaps larger number from reading blogs.  I can’t say for sure how many I learned about directly from the author’s own web presence.  I’m sure a large number were recommended by other members of the online writing community.

I think that the majority of books I learn about through social media I learn of through the community as a whole, which includes writers pimping other writers’ books, but not a lot of writers pimping their own books.  So it becomes hard to say whether web presence by a specific author has an influence on the sale of their books.  Even in terms of my own buying experience.

What I can tell you is that I’ve bought a lot more books of recommendations or browsing the bookstore than I’ve bought books off my TBR list recommended by social media.  There are plenty of books I’ve decided I want to read, but once I’m away from the internet, I forget titles or just am not exposed to enough immediate incentive to buy them, even if I loved them when reading about them on a blog or twitter feed.

In my experience social media definitely generates interest, but I can’t say that it’s actually gotten books out of the store and into my hands.

It’s something I greatly regret, and I always plan to make a stronger effort next time, but it does seem to be the reality that a strong web presence is not enough to generate actual sales.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Blogging, Publishing, Social Media

 

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