Writing Excuses 7.54: Four Ways the Industry is Changing

And now, for the very last episode of Season 7, we shall chance taking a look forward. Is this prognostication, or reckless abandon? Neither! We get asked a lot about how the industry is changing, and how we’re adjusting to what we see happening. This isn’t us predicting the future: this is us interpreting what we’re seeing, and then describing how we plan to react.

  • Mary suggests that we’re seeing a swing from Fantasy to Science Fiction as the dominant speculative genre, and but she doesn’t plan to start writing nothing but sci-fi as a result.
  • Dan calls out a trend towards supplemental materials — shorts that tie in to flagship novels. He’s already taking part in this, and plans to keep doing it.
  • Howard hits the hot-button of “e-publishing,” and calls it “shortening the value chain.” He’s been making a living with it since it was basically brand-new, but he plans to continue to exploit the disruptions it creates — sometimes by lengthening the value chain.
  • Brandon sees increasing pressures for authors to promote themselves, (largely the result of exceptional cases of authors with good platforms), but suggests that the time can still be better spent writing more books.

And that’s it for us until 2013! We’ll be back next year with Season 8, and you’ll only have to wait a week for it to start airing.


Figure out what you would like the future of writing to look like. Now write a story about how we get there.

The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay, narrated by Holter Graham

23 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.54: Four Ways the Industry is Changing”

  1. Great season! Learned a lot.

    “And that’s it for us for 2013! We’ll be back next year…”

    2013? Typo, perhaps?

  2. This was the year I discovered Writing Excuses – and it’s driven me to start writing again, so thank you all for the willingness to keep at it. :)

  3. Yet another fine season, guys. Good work.

    As one of the self pub’d writers mentioned, I was heartened to hear your recommendations on the self promotion. The time is better spent writing more books than pushing the one book on everyone. When you have several titles to sell, then the same marketing efforts become that much more efficient on top of the broadening of potential customers, some who may be interested in one but not another of your stories.

    The fact that it helps you hone your craft and get your million practice words out of the way too is just a bonus.

    Now, to finagle mugs, dice, and t-shirts into my stories and build a platform to sell them to people… ;)

  4. Great glimpses into the ways that the industry is moving beneath our feet.

    I think Hugh Howey’s WOOL could be a tentpole work on the literary side, given the huge self-pub success and very notable paper-rights-only deal with S&S inked just this last month. http://shelf-life.ew.com/2012/12/13/wool-author-hugh-howey/

    I’d already been thinking about doing merch for Geekomancy, so it was very useful for me to hear you all (Dan and Howard especially) talk about merchandising as part of a way to expand your authorial footprint.

    Happy New Year, and I look forward to more Writing Excuses in 2013!

  5. Mary raises a good point but I have a question , what’s the point of sharing my profits with publishers if they’re not going to promote my work, wouldn’t it be better that I self-publish if I’m going to have to do the promotion work as well? My second question is if building a platform around a single book isn’t the best idea, would it be better to build a platform around the author and/or their journeys into writing?

  6. @Harbinder:

    1) Let’s enumerate the things a pubisher does for you BESIDES put up a blog and spam your Facebook friends (which, sadly, is the extent of most self-pubbed authors’ promotional activities.)
    – a) editing, and not just typos. Tightening the story, making it better. If you’ve never done this with a good editor, you don’t know what you’re missing
    – b) You are in the catalog: no amount of blogging, tweeting, or linking to your Amazon eBook will get you into the catalogs, let alone on the shelves at brick-and-mortar stores.
    – c) Promoting you to bookstores: as part of being in the catalog, your work gets pitched to the folks who buy thousands of your books at once — the bookstore owners.
    – d) Appearances: Yes, yes, you can go to conventions on your own, but your publisher has the inside track to getting you in front of volume buyers at BEA, ALA, and others.
    – e) Mass-market advertising. You probably can’t afford this. Your publisher can, and they’ve invested enough in you and your work that it’s worth their while.

    2) I would argue that both approaches are valid. Eventually, a career author will probably be working in more than one universe, or series, and will want their name as the brand, but if a particular series is huge, that might be the flagship for the platform.

    Larry Correia’s blog is “Monster Hunter Nation,” but his Grimnoir Chronicles are selling quite well. He’s doing a fine job of building his name as the brand, while using the platform that first got him noticed.

  7. Hey, do you think we will start seeing more epic science fiction rather than epic fantasy? I’m a fan of Frank Huberts Dune, although I’ll admit that novel feels more like fantasy to me, I don’t know why.

  8. Hi Guys,
    Long time fan, first time “caller”. I felt compelled to speak up today because I believe luck is a combination of preperation and circumstances. With that being said, can we Can-o-worm Howard’s situation, and dig deeper into what made him stand out from the others? He mentioned execution, but I’d be delighted to hear him elaborate on it.


  9. Fascinating discussion guys. Thanks for posting it.

    I think Howard makes a good point that the situation is much more complicated than “self-published books are crap” or “all agents are evil.” Regarding his comment to Harbinder, however, I seriously doubt that the things he lists make it advantageous to forego the self-publishing route altogether and wait instead for a publisher to pick you up. The barriers to entry for self-publishing are so low that to my way of thinking, it makes a lot of sense for new writers to start out that way, build up an audience, and use that audience to negotiate a more favorable deal with a traditional pubisher, when/if the writer decides to advance their career in that direction. For me personally, my goal is to make a living telling stories that I love. If I can best do that by focusing on ebooks in the short- medium-term and putting off expansion into brick and mortar stores for five or ten years, I’m okay with that.

    Also, there are some very disturbing trends in the traditional publishing world that are tarnishing the reputation of some once-sterling brands. I’m referring to Penguin’s aquisition of Author Solutions, one of the premier vanity presses that makes the bulk of its income by scamming aspiring writers. Indeed, as Howard said, the publishing landscape is far too complicated to take any assumptions for granted.

    Regarding Mary’s comment about the need for “gatekeepers,” I would suggest ammending that to say that we need curators instead. Of course there will still be gatekeepers, but the gated communities they guard will (hopefully) be small and insignificant compared to the larger population of readers overall. I’m firmly of Mark Coker’s opinion that the “flood of crap” is actually a wonderful thing–it means that the black swans which were inevitably overlooked and missed by the old system now have a chance to succeed.

    The true issue, then, is not how do we restrict the “crap” (a dubious enterprise anyway, since art is such a subjective beast to begin with), but how do we curate what we have, in order to match the right books with the readers who will truly enjoy them. There’s a whole lot of exciting things happening on that front, but I’d hardly call any of it “gatekeeping.”

  10. @Joe

    You are implying that after having self-published, “building up an audience” will sort of just happen. I would bet good money that this will not happen to an extent that will help “negotiate a more favorable deal with a traditional pubisher” (sic).

  11. @AT Augustine: I doubt it’s worth a whole episode, because the discussion would be full of confirmation bias. After all, that’s what humans do — we look at what happened, and we try to tell ourselves a story about why it happened so that we can either make it happen again, or make it never happen again. We leave out the details we think are irrelevant, and we usually end up omitting the butterfly that started the hurricane to begin with.

    That said, here are what I believe to be the lucky bits:

    1) One of the editors at Keenspot was a hard-SF nerd, and really liked my comic. This put me in front of 20,000 readers once a month, and grew my audience from 200 to 2,500 in the space of one day.

    2) Several “big name” cartoonists, at various times during the first five years I created the strip, plugged my work to their audiences. The mention from Penny Arcade was pretty significant.

    3) The webcomic space was dominated by amateurs, and many of them could not keep to a schedule. I was able to differentiate myself by working ahead.

    Regarding the skills required to exploit opportunity, here’s what I brought to the table:

    1) I understood how to run a business. I’d been an indie record producer, and I’d worked for a large corporation in a capacity where I could see where the sausage came from. Also, I had a college education, and I happened to be reasonably literate.

    2) I knew how to budget my time, and commit to a schedule of delivery.

    3) I had a love for science fiction, and an innate grasp of story structure and humor, and was able to leverage these in a way that appealed to audiences.

    4) I was willing to learn to draw, and I could afford to spend huge amounts of time and energy on that.

    5) I had a day-job that paid the bills, while not requiring all my waking hours. Had I needed to work two, or three jobs, like many folks do, it never would have occurred to me to attempt webcartooning.

    6) I had piles of experience with collaboration software. We didn’t have a word for “social media” back then, but I already knew how it worked, and was prepared to exploit it when suddenly everybody had it.

    7) I knew dozens of people who were able to advise me, or help me along the way.

    People forget (or maybe they just don’t know) that when I launched Schlock Mercenary I was 31 years old, pulling down a six-figure salary, and in a position where, had I not been distracted by artistic pursuits, I could have fast-tracked to a C-level gig somewhere. From that set of life circumstances I really was positioned to do whatever I wanted, with decidedly above-average chances of success.

    One of my co-workers, my “twin” in a different department, quit about six months after I did. He launched a restaurant, and there are now seventeen different locations. “Above average chances.”

    What’s the take-home for you, fair reader? Everything you learn, everything you own, everyone you know — all of that stuff — is your arsenal for exploiting the lucky break. Or for recognizing the lucky break in the first place.

  12. Okay Howard, let me see if I can sum up your path to success. Correct me if I’m off track.

    It took hard work, education, diligence, planning, professionalism, luck, good mentors & support people, and a good enough financial state to have the time to dedicate to creative endeavors.

    Sounds like a reasonable recipe to me.

  13. Ed,

    Building an audience as a self-published writer is very doable. You just have to write good books, write a lot of them, put them out frequently, and make yourself accessible in some way (blogging, social media, etc). It does take time and work, but many writers are doing it right now, and having great success with it–not just the outliers like Hocking and Huey (who DID leverage their self-publishing successes for a much sweeter publishing deal than they would have gotten otherwise), but a lot of smaller names as well.

    So yeah, it’s not something that “just sort of happens,” but it IS doable, even for a self-published newbie without a “platform” (am I the only person who hates that word?). And as for using it to leverage a better deal, the worst case scenario is that the traditional publisher decides that you’ve somehow capped out your audience–but by then, you’ve probably already got a successful self-publishing career.

  14. As far as huge science fiction tentpoles go, I think the Mass Effect series is a big step in that direction. Huge, sprawling, classic-style space operas are getting popular again, and it’s only a matter of time until that comes back in print.

  15. Also, self publishing for comics is a slightly different animal from self publishing novels. In the comics world, there si the debate between creator owned work, and corporation owned work. Specifically Marvel and DC vs. Image and Dark Horse.

    Along with a hodge podge of under qualified editors that have the logic that one page should tell the story of about 5 Japanese manga pages. My only rationalization is that American editors must think that one comic page must stand alone, while manga generally treats a page as a smaller part of a whole. (Which is generally what a page in a graphic novel is. A small part of a whole.)

  16. I’d just like to take the time to thank Howard for responding to my comment, it is very much appreciated.

  17. @Joe

    Howard wasn’t listing reasons that self-publishing is bad, he was listing reasons why traditional publishing is good. Both methods have pros and cons, and will appeal to different authors for different reasons; no one should dismiss either method out of hand.

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