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March 2017

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bear by san

The Starving Artist, Part le Soixante-Neuf

Salon.com brings us the Tragedy of a Midlist Author.

Personally, I wouldn't call it a tragedy so much as the saga of somebody who wants to be An Author, rather than a writer. Which is fine, really.

But considering that this young lady brought home on *one* advance something like five times what I made on advance for a three-book deal (and frankly, I don't think talking about how much we get paid is breaking "the most sacred rules of modern authordom"--anybody who reads Locus can figure out pretty much what I got paid), I don't know many working writers who would complain about the money she's bringing home. And that assumes that in that time she did not sell any nonfiction or any short stories to paying markets.

And how did she manage not to get paid for the movie option if a script was in development? Because, you know, normally somebody options the work and they pay you for the right to develop the script: because so many movies do not get made, authors are normally paid before the rest of that work gets done.

How much does Salon.com pay for an article, anyway?

Admittedly, I'm a writer of the genre ghetto, and so are most of the writers I spend time with. And the money isn't really in SFF.

Which is why I'm in it for the sweaty, buff, half-naked, lust-crazed fanboys.

Oh, damn. Wrong genre again.

Other comments on the Salon.com article:

Tobias S. Buckell Does The Numbers

Nick Mamatas Does The Numbers Another Way

Comments

I only skimmed this particular article, but I do have serious problems over the death of the midlist. I think the essay that cemented the problem for me was when Spider Robinson wrote that the print run for his (then) upcoming book was less than half the subscriber base for alt.callahans, even though he dedicated the book to his online fans...
*cough*

This self-identified mid-list author, however, isn't a mid-list author.

What she comes across as, to me anyway, is a Hot Young Thing who expected to stay a Hot Young Thing forever, and never figured out how to survive as a Working Writer.

Give me three years, and I'll be a midlist writer desperately trying to claw my way up to survivability.
The so-called 'death of the midlist' came about first when bookstores started buying to the net rather on the second third fourth and fifth books, and second when publishers overran the audience with derivative titles, and third when readers decided they would rather spend their money elsewhere. And it was sealed when the wholesellers imploded.

And for the record, midlist means exactly that You're not the top of the list (aka NYT Bestseller material), but neither are you the tail end of that season's books. It's ideally a place of potential growth, and should not be earning $150,000 dollar advances on a first book, because that pretty much negates any chance of the publisher seeing growth. Ever.

I've run the numbers. I know this.

Not to be overly cynical, but don't expect those fans, whereever they are, to get off their butts and actually buy those books, dedicated to online fans or not. Most of the little darlings will turn the volume into a bootleg E-book and give it to friends because "information wants to be free", which translates to "The idiots spouting this rot are so cheap that they use both sides of the toilet paper." After all, why should they be expected to pay for a book when they feel that they deserve everything for free?
I don't mean to be contentious -- it just happens to me accidentally, really! -- but the records of things like the Baen free library and Cory Doctorow's books online for free don't really support this line of argument. (Also, Janis Ian's essays on what free music give-aways have done for her sales are worth reading.) These folks give things away for free legally and still get people's money for them, and it's often the same people. Free internet copies, bootleg or not, really don't look like they're the problem from what I can see.
I think whether the free copy is a bootleg or not makes a huge difference. Yes, it might be wise marketing and for the good of the writer and publisher to have free copies floating around--but that decision is the writer and the publisher's to make, and not the Internet reader doing the bootlegging.

If the writer/publisher choose a marketing strategy that involves making copies available for free, that's all fine and well and said copies should be enjoyed. But if they don't elect such a strategy, then it's not up to the would-be freebie reader to make copies of his her own. They don't own it, it's not theirs to make copies of.

Regardless of strategies, I'd be surprised if even half the readers of any online community purchased a book published by the subject of said community. Not all are active, some are broke or sharing copies or borrow them from the library or get to it later. Having half a community go out and buy the book when it's fist published would be pretty remarkable, really.
I didn't say that bootleg copies were a good thing or moral or anything like that. I just have a very, very hard time believing that any given author's low sales figures are due to bootlegs, on or off the internet. I totally agree with you about the reasons why people in an internet community devoted to a given author might not buy a book by that author.

I think that's exacerbated by the Callahan's books: I can see a fair number of people finding the Callahan's atmosphere and the camaraderie I'm told the online group shares appealing, without necessarily wanting to read the latest installment of the series that inspired it. I don't have that reaction myself (we own Callahan's Con), but it seems more likely for someone who has created a place/group atmosphere that's wish fulfillment for a lot of readers.
Umm...that might be true for some online groups, but I actually know that group. I used to be an active member for a while. The more likely scenario there is that lots of the participants in alt.callahans can't afford the book, and a few buy copies, and pass them along. People pirating e-copies would be rather frowned on there.
As you know, Bob, it's hard to gauge the size of a newsgroup. I used to see estimates that 75,000 or whatever number of people read alt.callahans, but there were only ever a few hundred active posters.

And, honestly, for a while there, Spider's books stopped being very good. People tell me they've improved again recently, but I stopped reading them.

Callahan's

I liked the first few Callahan's short stories. I've read past those, and some were sort of okay. But increasingly, they've required knowledge of a whole lot of stuff established in previous
stories. Not knowing that made it difficult to read the newer stories -- and for someone reading a Callahan's story for the first time, it's probably too difficult.

I don't think a writer can reasonably expect any series to
sell well forever. Or any personal sub-subgenre. Just when you think "World War III between the US and USSR" novels will provide a steady income for the next few decades, those treacherous Russians pull the rug out from under you! Or the YA novels you've been writing, filled with all the musical and other references from your teen years, somehow don't appeal to the newest generation of readers.
Which is why I'm in it for the sweaty, buff, half-naked, lust-crazed fanboys.

Oooh! What genre is that? ;)
Just omit the word "buff." Then it's ours!
I got to the $150,000 advance bit and lost all sympathy for the writer. I read the rest of the article, but I kept thinking, "So what the f*ck is your problem, bitch?"

Maybe it's just envy.

Nah. :)
When I read the amount of that advance, I got a giggle: it reminded me of that whole big Bantam Spectra Star Wars novelization stink back in 1997, when the authors cranking them out were told that, because Lucasfilm was jacking up the royalties that it was charging, that authors would now be paid a straight $60k per book instead of $40k plus royalties. While Steve Perry whimpered and whined about how he'd never do business with Bantam Spectra because he wasn't getting those royalties, the general response from the rest of the SF community was "Hell, I'd do a Star Wars novel for $60k and no royalties! That's twelve times what my last advance was!" (Interestingly, Mr. Perry didn't seem to understand the laws of causality: while he swore that he'd never do business with Bantam Spectra ever again, he also bragged about how he was getting paid to "play in George Lucas' universe", never being bothered with how the decision by George or his minions to screw a few more points of profit out of Bantam Spectra led them to have to cut out the royalties in the first place.)

Therein lies the problem: writers are and always have been whores willing to work for IOUs. This woman had things a bit better than most, but you either roll with the abuse or you quit. Me, I got tired of dog crap sandwiches, but that's just me.
You have to pay me first if you're going to call me a whore, sir. *g*
You know, if someone would like to give me a $150K advance, I'm pretty sure I could coast on that money for a while. I *know* that I wouldn't turn up ten years later whining about how it wasn't worth it.

Or, to be more succinct, someone break out the tiny violins. Sounds like Jane Austen Doe needs a symphony.
I actually have a theory.

I suspect it's all part of a master plot to keep would-be writers from trying too hard, because no matter what, you can't succeed.

Cuts down on the competition.
::reads comment::

::looks at icon::

::snerks::
Napoleon et Illya: they have a million helpful uses. *g*
That one's quite apt, too. :)
Just a little gentle reminder to myself. You know. *g*
Y'know, $150,000 is more money than I've made since 1994. Inclusive. I think there was one year where I made $15,000.

No, I'm serious. That woman made more money on ONE BOOK than I have in my entire adult life combined. And she's complaining?

Nyargh

I'm finding myself catwaxing, taking what few details the author provides about herself and searching against Google and Lexis-Nexis to try to figure out who she is...

Re: Nyargh

I do not think that you are the only one....
I feel relieved.

I read that article on Salon and left with the impression. "God, what a whiner. I don't think Elizabeth got *that* much, SF versus literature aside..."

It's nice to know for a change that I am not as clueless as I can sometimes be.



Well, if I made that much on an advance, I *would* quit my day job. *g* And stand you a drink on Friday night, too....
Ms. Midlist Writer appears to believe that she is entitled to have all of her work published, regardless of its quality or marketability. She also appears to believe that she deserves to receive extremely large advances and payments for whatever she does, regardless of what she actually produced. What particularly bothered me about her whining was that she consistently blamed everyone except herself for her failures. It's the readers/publishers/agents/marketers fault that her books don't sell -- never her own fault. I was particularly irked by her indignance at having to get a -- gasp! -- day job. What an arrogant whiner.