Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 26: How Publishing is Changing in the new Century

Nancy Fulda, assistant editor at Baen’s Universe and  editor-in-chief and founder of Anthology Builder, joins us again while Dan Wells is out celebrating his birthday. We discuss the rise of digital SF magazines, and touch on concepts like user-generated content, the Superconducting Copy Machine, and disruptive technology. We talk about print-on-demand vs. self-publishing, we laugh as Nancy puts her foot in her mouth, and then we argue over whether free online content can generate income for authors, as opposed to webcartoonists.

This week’s episode is 20 minutes long, because you’re not in as much of a hurry as we originally suspected, and Nancy made us at least a little smarter.

This week’s Writing Excuses is brought to you by I Am Not A Serial Killer by our very own absent-two-weeks-running Dan Wells. The book is only available in the UK, but you can get now from http://www.bookdepository.co.uk which has free shipping to anywhere in the world.

Writing Prompt: Write a story that convincingly describes the death of the traditional publishing industry 25 years from now.


29 thoughts on “Writing Excuses Season 2 Episode 26: How Publishing is Changing in the new Century”

  1. 25 years from now?
    I give it 10. All it will take is a way to deliever content that isn’t so hard on the eyes. LCDs were better than CRTs, and the screens on Smart Phones are worlds better than what they were just a year ago.
    The iPod analogy is a good one. All we need is an eletronic delivery system for text that is better or even just as good as paper.

  2. Charles:
    That way of delivering content already exists. I bought Sony’s eReader nearly two years back, and the amount of actual, corporeal books I’ve read in that time isn’t very large – the total amount of books I’ve read, however, is probably even larger than before. I realise that I’m an early adopter, but I think that at the rate the eReaders are becoming cheaper and better, digital publishing will soon have to follow suit.
    My two years-old reader, in any case, is just as easy on the eyes as is paper (and it’s in no way comparable to one of those horrible flickering PDA or mobile phone screens), and the newer reader models can apparently do all sorts of funky stuff (and they’re smaller, lighter, etc.).

  3. The problem with the give it away free model for writers versus cartoonists I feel is the difference in… hookability (also community, but that would come). Art is far more immediate than text, it can make a reader scroll through a few strips before deciding one way or the other.
    Writing, unless it’s really really good just doesn’t hook that way at arbitrary page X (and if every sentence is a hook it becomes exhausting to read).

    I think the model or practice that a writer needs for it is something like 365 tommorrows, flash fiction I think it gets called now, 300-600 words, at least several times a week. For a new novelist I don’t think there’s any way around writing flash to build an audience online, Brandon was known, Peter Watts was known etc..

    That said ~2 pieces of flash a week then say ~3000 words of the novel once a week seems like a good attack. Though it’s hard because the novel needs to be done before you start posting. A comic with 50-100 words in it isn’t going to live and die by it’s editing. Ten pages of fiction though is large enough that it needs a good thorough drubbing before it goes live.

    ~3000 words a week seems like about the right size. Takes about a year to post a novel that way (which is inconvenient enough to be able to sell some immediacy), but is enough that it should move the story a bit every week.

  4. Jacob:
    My book will be available in the US about one year from now. It’s out in the UK and Canada right now (and the link at the top of the page will let you buy it for about $9, with no shipping), and it comes out in Germany in October.

  5. Regarding the licensing that was very briefly mentioned, I’m curious to know how successful Brandon has been with some of his licensed products. Figures, jewelry, etc. At this point, is it enough to make it worth the effort? Perhaps more importantly, does he feel it will develop into a major revenue stream?

  6. I’ve tried to buy Dan’s book from that website but they won’t accept me Visa card. I’m going to try to order it from Amazon UK and tell myself the shipping costs are punishment for doing something wrong.

  7. Looking at the disruptive/innovative technology graph, it’s easy to see how the end of traditional offset printing will come to pass. Whether it kills traditional publishing (editor buys author’s book, works on it with author, author gets an advance on royalties, etc) depends on how publishing houses react.

    It goes like this. Right now e-Readers have a low-margin market. POD books also have a low-margin market. Offset printing and mass-market distribution have the high-margin market.

    If or when POD books and/or eReaders become cheap enough and/or good enough to move up the chain in profitability, mass-market offset printing will be displaced. Why? Because not carrying inventory is superior cost-wise to carrying inventory, and both POD and eReaders do away with certain kinds of inventory. Offset printing and hard-copy books will never go away completely, but they may be relegated to small, low-margin runs.

  8. I’ll point out that IMO, the Baen free library is awesome, as are the baen CD distributions. Because of the free library (and thefifthimperium’s database of all baen cd promos to date) I got thoroughly hooked on the Honor Harrington novels, as well as several other series, and routinely buy them the second they hit paperback.
    Because of the free library, I now own all of the Honor Harrington series to date in physical form save for the latest which I bought a digital copy of for less than a quarter the price of the hardback.

    I love the advantages present in digital publishing, and in fact plan on buying a Kindle later this year because it solves pretty much the only problem I have with digital publication as-is (that of portability) as well as the major problem with traditional books (paying significantly extra for a block of wood.)

  9. I still like to actually hold a good book in my hands. There’s nothing like closing the back cover of a great novel, feeling all funny inside because it was such a wonderful story.

    However, people like to surf the Internet for fun, so they have a good chance of running into your work.
    I live in a very small town with a TEENY TINEY library system. (They only had one copy of ‘The Well of Ascension’ in the whole system, and it had missing pages!)

    Anyways that’s beside the point. My point being, the Internet could and dose make available things I can’t always get otherwise. And you guys didn’t even get on the subject of how easy it is to buy used books vie the Internet now.

    Thanks again for the podcast.

  10. So am I evil that I want a Kindle really badly, but still don’t have an MP3 player?

  11. That’s not evil. What’s evil is that I have an iPod and the only thing on it is audio books . . .

  12. This outfit http://aphrohead.com/ also says they have Dan’s book available with free worldwide shipping — I just saw them advertising on Schlock Mercenary and checked, I know nothing more about them.

  13. I can read your floppys!

    I even have a couple of 5 1/2 inch drives….

    (I actually use an old pc as a router, it boot’s linux from a floppy…)

  14. About Screens for e-readers, there’s lots of new display technologies coming (some of them even look like paper!) that are much easier on the eyes some of them don’t emit their own light for example, or offer more contrast, or really huge resolutions (the really important thing for long duration text reading).

    300dpi is pretty much the minimum for typical book font sizes to be practical. It’s gives you the ability to avoid trading letter shape/spacing for crispness/clarity (ie people won’t notice that it’s anti-aliased, except that it looks nicer than without anti-aliasing)

    above ~600dpi you can do without anti-aliasing (not much point really other than to avoid needing shades of grey…)

    One thing I have noticed is that I can no longer tollerate reading significant amounts of time looking at text at less than about 125dpi screens (which is fairly high res… you won’t get a cheap lcd that can do that, yet)

    I used to be just fine with low res text, but then I got a laptop with 17 inch 1400×1050 pixel display and it completly spoilt me…

  15. Very good stuff to know. I’ve been pondering the possibilities surrounding free fiction, so it was good to hear the stuff in this podcast.

    As always, I’m still a fan of 20 minutes =) .

  16. Interesting podcast, as usual. In the discussion of giving it away for free, I am a little surprised that podcast novels/writing (podiobooks) didn’t come up. I’ve listened to several dozen different podiobooks which are given away free in small weekly portions. (Though I tend to wait till it is all released before listening). I love audiobooks in general, and many authors use podcasting to turn their stories more into audiodramas with multiple actors, sound effects, and music. I’ve generally been impressed with the quality of the storytelling and the listening experience as a whole, and there are several of the unpublished authors I eagerly await to find a publisher so that I can buy their books out of appreciation for their work and to support them.

    Many of these authors seem to have been able to get published in no small part through the publicity of sharing their work in the podisphere. Brandon / Dan, as the novel writers of the group, what are your thoughts on podiobooks as a means of getting your name and product out there? Is this something you would or could do?

  17. I think offering fiction for free works only if you’re an established writer. Whenever I see an unpublished writer putting up his fiction for me, my first thought is that this person thinks he’s gonna be the next Scalzi.

    However, I’m more likely to read “free” fiction by a professional writer. As Howard said on the podcast (I think it was Howard), if I like what I read, I’ll probably end up buying the novel. I can’t only read on a screen for so long.

  18. I think the best way to give away fiction for free to build an audience is the episodic audio podcast format. I don’t really have the patience to try out a new author reading their stuff online, but I find it easy to download a podcast to listen to while I’m buying groceries or something. A few authors (Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler) have made me their fans this way.

    As an aside, I read I Am Not A Serial Killer over Passover and loved it. I was amazed at how convincingly Dan got into the head of a tween sociopath. I noticed in the Acknowledgments the line: “To all of you let me please reiterate that this book is not autobiographical.”

    Hm. Methinks the lady….

  19. I’ve just now listened to this podcast and had an immediate answer to the question about making money like webcartoonists do, but with fiction. Well, so far only one person that I know of has done it, but she has: Alexandra Erin makes a living from her various online serial novels (the main one being Tales of MU), through sales of print books, other merchandise, advertising, and possibly most importantly, straight donations. Tales of MU is a story that could never have been published by traditional publishers, even if AE didn’t have a strong distrust of them. It’s weird and eccentric, it’s got lots of kinky sex, and it would probably be a very different story if it were written in book-length installments and revised as wholes, rather than being written and released a chapter (a few thousand words) at a time.

    Like I said, Alexandra Erin is making a living, and a number of others are succeeding to varying degrees at making money. I think the second most notable example is MeiLin Miranda. I also have an online serial novel and I make a dollar or two a week in ad revenues. It is possible. It’s hard–harder than webcomics, I suspect, because, like someone else here said, it doesn’t have the immediacy of art.

    For more online fiction–some of which is written in hopes of making a profit, some of which is not–check out Web Fiction Guide or its simplified, streamlined companion, Novels Online.

  20. Wow, I must say that Nancy Fulda has a very lovely voice :-)
    It was a joy to listen to :-)

    Just one question: what kind of microphone is used to record these podcasts, as I have the impression that the soundquality could be better (no offence intended)

  21. My local bookstore, Blackwell’s in Charing Cross Rd, has a POD machine in the store and it’s been there for months. Has a colossal library of books on it and can print, cover and bind your chosen book in less than 10 minutes. While I love the technology and the fact that it makes previously hard-to-find books easily available, I fear that it won’t be long until the 6 floors of book store will be whittled down to a single, small space -akin to an arcade – but lined with kiosks where you just pop in, swipe your credit card and leave with your book. This will inevitably lead to the death of ‘browsing’ which will be a sad day indeed for book lovers.

  22. What a difference a few years has made. This podcast sounds incredibly shortsighted in 2011 :) Baen’s universe is gone, kindle and the nook are going strong – in fact, the nook is just about the only reason barnes and noble is gone. Borders is on the way out. People are finding that the benefit of having a single device full of content, such as a phone or a tablet, is much superior to carrying around 5 books in a big bag, and individual devices for each kind of content. What does this mean for the future of book writing and book sales? What will happen to the publishers? That 25 years from the prompt is looking more like 5 or 10.

  23. @Saluk: Barnes & Noble is still around. Borders is the one that’s gone. And while the Kindle and the Nook may have had something to do with this, managerial practices at Borders were probably the ultimate culprit. When you’re #3 in the marketplace you have to compete aggressively, and Borders didn’t do that.

    Still, you’re right. We’re not prescient, but we’re trying to divine the future nonetheless. We’re STILL trying to do that.

    “Short-sighted” probably isn’t the right word though. We’re all gainfully employed as creative professionals, so whatever our predictions, our business plans have served us well thus far.

    There’s a great episode of the Freakonomics podcast that deals with prediction and the folly thereof. It’s worth a listen.

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